Thursday, 20 September 2018

Samba

A predictable yet charming 2014 French romantic comedy about an illegal immigrant from Africa, Samba (Omar Sy), getting caught by French authorities 10 years after his arrival, and - on the other side of the equation - a volunteer lawyer assigned to assist him in his plight (Charlotte Gainsbourg). What saves Samba from that mundane domain of “seen it a million times before” is its humanising element for the very real issue of refugees.
Overall: 3 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Sideway (Itineraire bis)

I don’t get to watch as many non Hollywood movies as I would like to nowadays, so when I do I like to cherish the moment. Yet when I stumble upon mediocrity, as is the case with the 2011 French movie Sideway, I’m annoyed.
This shortish film (less than an hour and a half) follows a 35 year old guy still living with his mother and whose long term future is dictated by others’ choices. He never even left Corsica once in his life (to which I will add “why would he”, but I’ll shut up now). Our guy stumbles upon what can only be described as an annoying yet good looking woman who is annoyed as well for being dumped by her rich boyfriend. For reasons yet eluding me, the our hero falls for her and together they go on a road trip where they leave everything they came from behind / thrash it.
On one hand, we’ve seen that movie before in various languages. On the other, I’d sort of expect something to take place and take our romantic comedy to some newish realms, but - sadly - nothing to see here, move along. As is demonstrated through the case of the Porsche that makes its entrance at the very beginning, you just know that our renegades will thrash it by the end of the third act.
Overall: Nothing to see here (but in French), move along. 2 out of 5 crabs.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

My main point of contention with the Harry Potter movies has always been their need to satisfy viewers’ expectations to include key scenes from the books, even if these do not benefit the film. In other words, it is almost always impossible to generate a 1:1 copy of a book into a film and expect that film to be a good film, regardless of how good the book was as a book. Over-loyalty to the book is a guaranteed recipe for creating a husk of a movie.
As it happens, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a husk of a movie. It also happens to be a movie taking place in the Harry Potter universe, but at the same time it is the first of the Harry Potter movies that is not encumbered by a book because no such book was ever written. Yet, despite that fact, it still manages to come out as a husk of a film through its mimicry of its predecessors.
The emptiness is firmly tied to the fact it has no plot of any worth and very little in the way of character development. All it does is present us with the hero character we heard of in those other Harry Potter books/films (portrayed by an Eddie Redmayne whose talents are grossly wasted), put him in the USA (as opposed to the otherwise British dominated universe), and pit him against a virtually random set of events that has him present us with fantastic beasts and - eventually - a baddie character that needs to be put to rest.
In other words, just as with the rest of the Harry Potter films, events just seem to happen. Our movie is nothing more than a platform for introducing us to fantastic CGI creations, and a giant missed opportunity when it comes to exposing us more to the Potter universe.
Overall: 1.5 out of 5 empty crabs.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Molly's Game

I like Aaron Sorkin’s work. I don’t think I ever gave movies he had scripted (The Social Network, Steve Jobs) a high score, but his movies always left an impression. Long after I’d forget all about movies I have rated higher, I would still find myself occasionally pondering the meaning of, say, key events in Steve Jobs’ life. Molly’s Game is a Sorkin movie through and through: this time, he’s actually in the director’s seat.
Our movie is allegedly based on real life events, as per the book of the similar name written by the real life Molly. Molly (Jessica Chastain) was (is?) a tough character, shaped by a demanding father (Kevin Costner) and a couple of life experiences that would have left most folks in tatters, both physically and mentally.
Not our Molly, though; when opportunity presented itself to make money+status by organising high stakes poker games, she goes for it. There’s a catch there, though: there are illegalities involved, given anti gambling legislation; however, Molly takes care not to take part in the game itself or claim a stake, and thus manages to ride the wave.
Only that, eventually, she falls. We start our movie with her meeting her new attorney (Idris Alba) for the first time to discuss the Everest size of a case against her; the bulk of the movie that follows is a series of flashbacks to the events that led up to that point in time.
Molly’s Game is thus the tale of a person with strong character, strong ethics, and a solid sense of right vs. wrong who finds herself benefiting from a situation that highly challenges her morality. I found myself identifying with Molly’s character much more than I usually do with your typical film protagonists; it all eschewed of famous computer science deliberations on morality that have been brought forward to public attention through discussions on artificial intelligence and driverless cars (e.g., the famous trolley problem).
There is more to my sense of identification than computer science thought experimentation. Molly’s Game, more than the vast majority of movies I had seen, is very performance driven. Each famous actor gets their time under the limelight to show off their skills during key scenes: Kevin Costner, Idris Elba, and Jessica Chastain. Chastain's case, however, goes way further: in this fast paced drama that is constantly filled by Chastain’s own quick narration, she sails through the whole movie as if it was a one long tour de force. I will put it this way, it is impossible for me to recall a movie more dominated by the performance of a single actor than Molly’s Game. Chastain, in my view, is purified excellence throughout Molly’s Game (and, I will add, further proof to the fact the world needs more movies led by female characters).
Molly’s Game did leave me wondering a bit. Specifically, for a movie this detailed, I did question bits of the story that seem to have been left out. For example, despite our intimate journey into Molly’s life, her sex life isn’t mentioned at all; I would expect that did exist, to one extent or another, and was likely to have included folks familiar to Molly Bloom through her poker activities. Which would imply these aspects of Molly’s life would have likely tainted the moral superiority stance her character takes throughout the movie, which would have compromised the movie, hence these bits getting left out. As a firm believer in the qualities of objective truth, I am troubled by this; as an appreciator of fine art, I applaud Molly’s Game for [almost] pulling that one off.
Overall:
Through the questions it raises on ethics and morality, coupled with Chastain’s strong performance, Molly’s Game has certainly established itself in my mind as one of the strongest films I have seen in a while.
4.5 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

89

I’m sure many important things happened in the world during the year 1989. If you are an Arsenal Football Club supporter, though, it’s highly likely one of the things you’d remember most out of that year was Arsenal winning the English title (note it wasn’t called The English Premier League back then). Not necessarily it winning the title, but rather how it won the title.
It is all historical facts so I see no reason to avoid bloopers here. That year, Liverpool were the main candidates for winning the title; they were still that peak Liverpool team, that won so many English and European titles. As it happened, things narrowed down to the very last match of the season, a game that featured a top spot Liverpool hosting second place and unlikely hero Arsenal at home (as in, at Liverpool). If the game ends up with a win for the local team, or a draw for that matter, Liverpool wins the championship; for Arsenal to win it, it had to beat Liverpool. What are the chances of that happening?
As it turned out, in that year, 89, things had to wait till the 89th minute. The winner of the title was determined by virtually the last pass of the match. In other words, a climax could not be more climatic than that. In other other words, not many real life events can boast to having such a climax; when they do happen, they tend to happen in sports. Which is probably a good explanation as to why sports are so popular.
89, the film/documentary we are discussing here, tries to tell the Arsenal story of that year and specifically that deciding match. It tries to milk that climatic moment for all its worth. The question is, does it do a good enough job? Will spectators get their sports orgasm watching 89, that once in a lifetime (and probably even less) event that Arsenal fans lived through in 1989?
The approach taken by 89 is to use stock footage coupled and effectively have it narrated by the Arsenal players of the time, whose interviews make up the bulk of the film. Structure wise, 89 tells the story of how Arsenal got to that year, how Arsenal did through the year, and - eventually - how Arsenal traversed that decisive match. It’s all Arsenal from start to finish, no other view point is represented.
When the credits rolled it the end, I wasn’t surprised to see that the producers of 89 are ex Arsenal people (89 team members, to be specific). It is thus no wonder the end result ended up the way it did. Which brings us to the question of who, on the side of film viewers, would find 89 appealing?
It can be argued that this is a documentary that should appeal to football fans at large. It does shed some light on the history of the game during what, to modern eyes, seems like a completely different era (despite the fact not that much time passed): just note how Arsenal’s manager at the time discusses the way he would identify potential candidates to the squad compared to the scouting operations available today, when everyone seems to know everyone intimately through social media. Or simply the fact that most, if not all, of Arsenal’s players at the time were English (or at least UK citizens). It’s like a totally different planet.
On the other hand, it is also clear 89 was designed by Arsenal folk for Arsenal folk. The tension it builds up would probably fail to trigger the emotional response it seeks to create in the hearts of non Arsenal supporters. I guess what I’m trying to say is, with a product (and I emphasise the word “product”) that is so biased and one sided, it is hard to refer to 89 as a proper documentary as opposed to a pro Arsenal propaganda tool (something I have no objection to whatsoever when it comes to football and sports in general).
Overall: 3 out of 5 crabs, but do beware of its limited appeal aspects.
Note: If you are after another take on that great moment from 1989, consider watching the romantic comedy Fever Pitch (starring a then not as yet familiar Colin Firth).

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Double Feature: Suburbicon + Jasper Jones

Suburbicon and Jasper Jones are two very different movies, yet there is significant overlap between them. With both powered by the racism in our society, I thought it would be an interesting thought experiment to review them in tandem.
Subrubicon is a Hollywood production with some big Hollywood names to match. It is directed by George Clooney and it stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore. In contrast, Jasper Jones appears to be a small Australian production that I never heard of until it was featured on iTunes; it does feature Toni Collette in a supporting role and one Hugo Weaving in a more of a cameo role. Both deliver the goods, performance wise.
Both movies take place in an era when racism was out in the open and commonly accepted. Suburbicon takes place at a fictional all American suburb during what appears to be the fifties; Jasper Jones takes place at a middle of nowhere, WA (that’s Western Australia for you) town during the sixties. Suburbicon tells the story of what happens to our fictional all American suburb when a black family dares to settle in; Jasper Jones tells the story of the marginalisation of those at the edge of society, including the aboriginal Jasper Jones (who is actually only a minor character in the scheme of things) when a teenager disappears. Us viewers are told right from the start that she died; it's how the people in the movie react that builds this movie.
The story is pretty much the same in both movies: the whole of the dominant white society focuses on the members of the other races as the cause of all evil, while it is actually the prominent members of that white society that are the cause of all that is bad. In both movies we see things [mostly] through the perspective of a child.
Clearly, both movies were designed as retaliation to social trends affecting both contemporary USA and Australia. I am referring to that loss of inhibition around the way we deal with race, and I’d say both films do a good job in the message delivery department.
Differences wise, it is the style of the two movies that sets them apart. On one side,Jasper Jones is a pretty conventional, albeit quite well made, piece of story telling. On the other, Suburbicon tries to make a name for itself with almost caricature like characters, and gimmicks such as Moore playing two characters at the same time + Damon pedalling a kids’ trike in a scene that would normally feature a getaway car in any other film.
Best scene:
The Vietnamese friend of Jasper Jones’ hero character steps up as the last batter in a cricket game. None of his teammates want that Vietnamese scum there, and he only managed to get into the lineup as a result of others’ mischief. The dominantly white crowd leaves in disgust.
That is, until the hero of the moment bats his way to a team win. The crowd comes back and cheers him passionately [for the duration of the win] as he brings them victory.
That scene is so quintessential Australia it is hard for me to think of a better representation of the country.
Overall:
Both are good movies, but while Suburbicon errs on the gimmicky side - style over substance - Jasper Jones oozes with genuine quality.
3 crabs for the former, 4 for the Aussie out of the standard 5.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Chaining the Lady by Piers Anthony

Revisiting Chaining the Lady means, to me, going back to a book that gave me lots of fond memories back when I read it as a teenager that just made it into the two digit age realm. I didn’t remember much, but I did remember a fascinating tale of science fiction and sex. Mostly, I remembered sex.
Which goes to show how times have changed, because - reading the same book today - I could not avoid noting how little in the way of explicitly depicted sex there is in the book and how most of the sexual connotations come through the author’s extensive use of the word “mammaries” throughout the book.
Anyway. Personal background aside, 1978’s Chaining the Lady is a sequel of Cluster, although it can be read independently with little harm. What probably sets it apart from numerous other aspirants is the very well detailed universe its story takes place in: a universe in which the Andromeda galaxy is trying to take over the Milky Way’s resources, but in which interstellar travel is way too expensive for conventional occupation to take place. Instead, Andromeda tries to achieve its nasty goal by transferring the ‘spirits’ of its people to key positions in our galaxy, a feat that is possible for entities with very strong ‘spirits’. Their plan’s weak spot, however, lies in the fact the strongest ‘spirited’ entity in either galaxy is a Milky Way barren, non human, old female named Melody. She has the potential to use her might to thwart the Andromedean threat, the question is whether she is up to it.
The bulk of the story takes place inside a fleet of Milky Way spaceships fighting amongst itself as Andromeda takes control of the ships. Author Piers Anthony depicts a very complicated set of different ships, each depicting the attributes of the species that created them, as they fight one another. The level of imaginative detail is quite impressive.
Science fiction themes aside, the main themes of Chaining the Lady revolve more closely to what the title might suggest. Our female hero finds herself repeatedly chained by males, both figuratively and explicitly; similarly, Andromeda’s Greek mythology character is also chained. Thus the book deconstructs, if you will, the war between the sexes as seen through the eyes of our female protagonist.
Slightly dampening everything else that’s going for it is a mystic affection to Tarot cards, but us intelligent readers can easily dismiss it as mere fantasy in an otherwise fantastic tale.
Overall:
Sure, Chaining the Lady feels a tad outdated when it comes to its depiction of the feminine in our age of #MeToo. But it still tells a nice and very detailed tale, and I am a sucker for it due to pure nostalgia.
3.5 out of 5 crab nebulas.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

The Death of Stalin

If you know your Soviet Union history, you will know Stalin was a pretty ruthless guy on the Hitler scale. The guy really tried to compete with Hitler when it came to killing and putting people of his own country into exile (he didn't mince words with other countries, either - ask Poland). Such was the horror of living under his regime that the silliest things in ordinary life were determined by the expected whim of the leader.
Into such a reality steps The Death of Stalin, a political satire kind of a movie that tries to demonstrate to us what the USSR was like on the day Stalin died. As I’m sure you are aware of, Stalin didn’t outright die back in 1953 when he died; he first suffered from a stroke, then - a few days later - he seemed to come back to life, and then he died. Throughout that period and afterwards, there was much confusion as no one dared assume Stalin’s place for fear of what might happen once he recovers while, at the same time, those powerful enough to be there struggled to be the one that will replace him when he dies.
The Death of Stalin takes some liberties with historical events, mainly through compressing the timeline into a period of days rather than the months it actually took till the matter of Stalin’s replacement was determined (hint: Khrushchev led the USSR through the Bay of Pigs incident and the Cuban crisis). However, it is very loyal to the truth, both in its depiction of the main characters and their actions at the time, as well as in its depiction of related events of that period (e.g., a concert that had to rerun when Stalin asked for a recording after the original session wasn’t recorded; or mass executions that came to an abrupt halt as the news of the leader’s death arrived, with whether one lived or died determined by when the news had arrived).
It’s all very striking given two things. Firstly, the knowledge that the USSR was a nuclear power at the time, yet with all its might it still came to a grinding, pathetic, halt. And secondly, the realisation that our political establishments in our modern era are actually not that different to Stalin's: witness Brexit, Trump, or just the recent spill attempt at the Liberal Party in which Prime Minister Turnbull survived a coup attempt from Peter Dutton. Can us Westerners truly boast to be much better than The Death of Stalin? I don’t think so.
I would do The Death of Stalin’s cast great injustice if I wasn’t to mention the performances on display. In our movie, Russian-ness is portrayed through a strong British accent; the stronger the accent, the tougher the person perceived himself to be. Quickly going over my favourites, I will mention Steve Buscemi as Khrushchev, Jason Isaacs as WW2 hero General Zhukov (my personal pick), Michael Palin as Molotov (ok, his performance was nothing special, but a Python is a Python), Rupert Friend as Stalin’s crazy son, and last - but not least - Simon Russell Beale as Beria, the notorious leader of the secret police and our baddie for the duration of the film.
Overall:
There is a lot to learn from history, and The Death of Stalin proves the point unequivocally. It may not be the world’s most exciting movie, but it is a smart movie full to the brim with sarcasm, realism, and fine acting.
3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Ali’s Wedding

Superficially speaking, Ali’s Wedding is a Melbourne based comedy about the lacklustre love life of a young Muslim. And as such comedies go, it is pretty good and often quite funny. However, I will argue Ali’s Wedding represents much more than a comedy: it is a movie about Muslims, who live in a country that is often looking at them rather negatively, that actively try to reach out to the majority and tell them: look, this is what we are; look, we are trying to lead a normal life; look, we are all quite alike.
I am writing this during a week in which an Australian senator spoke aloud, in a parliament session, stating all sorts of negativities about Muslims and Muslim immigration. I will not give him the benefit of repeating those here, but I will point at the icing on the cake: explicit usage of the term “final solution”.
It makes me cringe to think what ordinary Australian Muslims think after such blatant demonstrations of Australian racism. Racism is rife in Australia, as any immigrant of non Anglo origins will tell you using numerous examples from day to day life. However, it is only in recent times that the ultra racists, those who are not ashamed of their racism, have allowed themselves to speak out loud. They know they will no longer pay a price for their racism. They know our society has changed to the point of them earning brownie points through being openly racist. And now we got to the point where parliament reflects the fact.
In the face of such hostility, the Muslim community reaching out with Ali’s Wedding represents, in my mind, the best possible answer.

So let’s get to the movie at hand, shall we?
The basic plot is simple. Ali, a Muslim living in Melbourne, is what you and I will call an ordinary guy living an ordinary life. Like many people growing in immigrants’ families, his has high expectations of him; they’d like him to be a doctor. Alas, Ali is no doctor material, but he feels obliged to play his intended role.
When a fellow Muslim community guy of a similar background announces his high score at the medical school (Melbourne Uni) entry exam, Ali fabricates his retaliation by faking his own score. That, in turn, only sets the bar of expectations higher, with everything that one can imagine coming out as a result of this lie.
That’s it for the basic plot engine. The main event, however, is not a guy having to deal with the ramifications of his lie, but rather exposing us viewers to Muslim community life. We witness what happens at the mosque when the community gathers (or, as Ali’s Wedding presents it, when Melbourne’s taxi drivers unite). We witness how Muslim females are treated: the top scorer on that medical exam was not Ali’s competitor, not even Ali’s fictitious score; it was a Muslim woman (and, later on, the subject of Ali’s love). We witness the way the Muslim community does things such as matching its younger people in weddings + celebrate the weddings later on. And we witness how not all Muslims are alike, yet pretty much all of them are normal people just trying to live a normal life. All is presented with a smile on the face.
To its credit, Ali’s Wedding does not skip over the more contentious. Early on in the movie, the would be doctor (Ali) is asked whether he will treat a Jew; he gives the obligatory answer (of course) in scene that does feel a tad contrived yet is also, well, obligatory given our movie’s agenda. Ali’s Wedding shows us how the woman with the highest medical exam score is prevented from studying medicine on account to being a woman. Or how, later on, she is sent for an extended “reeducation” period in Lebanon following her contamination by Aussie culture. Both of her ordeals are accepted almost with no protest by the Muslims in the film, with the exception of Ali (and the woman herself, though she cooperates), which goes to show that there is still plenty of room for progress in contemporary Muslim culture, even in its Australian incarnation [and I'm well aware of the fact merely making such a statement can land me the wrath of the left; to which I will point out, would you trade places with that woman?]. Point is, Ali’s Wedding does not attempt to wipe these off the table; it does seem to make an effort to present Australia's Muslim culture the way it really is.
The end result of this mishmash of classic romantic comedy elements, that innocence of low key Australian cinema, and the portrayal of the Muslim community in Australia is, to my mind, quite powerful. Which makes for a pretty entertaining as well as educational film.
I thoroughly loved Ali’s Wedding.
Best scene:
If you think Australia is bad with the way it treats its minorities, just wait till you see what happens to Ali and his team when they visit the USA for a sporting event.
Which reminds me: Ali’s Wedding claims to be based on true events. I don’t know how loyal to the truth the movie is, but during the credits we are provided with real life evidence of what happened during that extremely brief visit to the USA. And that was before Trump!
Overall:
Ali’s Wedding proved to be educational comedy of the type that keeps having me going back into thinking about it. I will support such an effort with a score of 4 out of 5 crabs.
I particularly recommend the movie to all the Bob Katter, One Nation, and Peter Dutton voters out there.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Disobedience

An arty New York photographer (Rachel Weisz) receives news her estranged London father had past away and goes back to the environment she grew up in: a tight orthodox Jewish community.
The people there aren’t too excited with her presence, and as Disobedience rolls along we learn why: the now very secular woman is viewed as a troublemaker on account of her past romance with a fellow orthodox Jewish girl (Rachel McAdams), who is still a part of the community, is married, and fits in the orthodox culture. Disobedience follows both our two heroes as well as the way this very tight community manages the situation.
Disobedience may not be the first film about forbidden love, but it does have certain attractions. On the general side, there are the performances of Weisz and particularly McAdams. On the more personal side, there was the aspect of a father dying far far away in another country, as well as the aspect of a child that grows to distance themselves from the religion of their heritage yet finds themselves forced to interact with it during family gatherings.
In other words, I expect to not be the only person in the world with much to identify with in Disobedience.
Overall: I’ll be generous to Disobedience, on account of its acting, and hand it 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Women of Mafia (Kobiety Mafii)

My efforts at increased exposure to non English speaking films got me to Poland and Women of Mafia, a police and thieves movie telling its complicated story from multiple angles and featuring multiple round characters. The key theme, which emerges at several points, relates to the power of women in the grand state of things.
We have seen this movie before. In order to bring justice to a successful arms, robbery and drug ring, the authorities send in an undercover cop. This time it's a policewoman who was just discharged for the crime of demonstrating original thought in capturing a large number of wanted criminals (through fake invitations to the World Cup final in Russia!). In order to do her job, our woman collaborates with the criminals in some daring robberies, in the process exposing us viewers to the robbers’ families to the nanny level. Thus we transition to follow one such nanny as she shows much ingenuity and takes over some of the criminal operations. Women of Mafia makes several such transitions in lead characters.
The plot thus develops, with key themes being a complicated plot featuring characters that go in and out of focus. The world depicted by Women in Mafia is a very grey one, a world where no one is without fault.
Women of Mafia might not be the best movie ever, but I’m pretty sure its ensemble performance would have been much celebrated and its posters would have been all over the place had this been a Hollywood production rather than a Polish one. Then again, perhaps this is the main reason why Women of Mafia is surprisingly good.
Overall: Not bad at all, and drifting between 3 to 3.5 crabs out of 5.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

A Quiet Place

What you’re about to read is a review where I express negative opinions on a movie that has been collecting much praise all over the place, hence I will start with a disclaimer: generally speaking, I do not like horror movies; further, I detest when movies pull the “make you jump” trick on their viewers, and regard it rather cheap.
So bear with me.

A Quiet Place is a short hour and a half horror movie taking place in a near future where civilisation has been wiped out by these ultra strong and non defeatable monsters that track their prey through sound (and sound alone). We aren’t given a shred of a clue on how the world got to where it is at; all we have is a family featuring mother (Emily Blunt) and father (John Krasinski, who is also the movie’s director and also Blunt husband IRL) plus their kids.
Our family lives a very quiet life. They have to, because at the mere sound of a footstep the monsters will come to snatch them up. The movie progresses by depicting several incidents of family life through a period of roughly a year and a half, in which we witness the now quietly pregnant mother & Co try to lead an ordinary life - or merely survive - in a very hostile world. The key point is the care taken by the parents and all the lengths they go to in order to ensure the survival of their kids, which makes it pretty clear that A Quiet Place is an allegory to parenthood. It's all about the efforts and energies it takes to be a good parent in a generally hostile world that requires said parents to work for their living (with a work week clearly designed for the benefit of those unencumbered by the duty of care) on one hand and also face the rebellious protests of the very kids they are trying to support.
So much for the positives of A Quiet Place.
The negatives came, to me, from all the other stuff that doesn’t make sense. Forget the whole “how did the world come to this” question; I wonder how our family managed to even make it through day one. It’s hard to think of daily activities that do not generate sound, from food making through sex (which our couple obviously engages in) to having a cracker at the toilets. I can see how our family is the only one left on earth, given these circumstances, what I don’t see is how they managed to survive.
Then there is the fact our family seems to not have to worry about mundane stuff such as running water or electricity. It’s not like they went back to the Stone Age, the way they should have given the circumstances; they lead a life not dissimilar to ours. The only things they seem to have been forced to give up are smartphones, wifi, and noise.
Sorry, but it doesn’t make sense to me. I was unable to enjoy A Quiet Place while continuously having these illogical aspects nag at me.
Overall: 2 out of 5 crabs, please refer to the disclaimer at the top of this review.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

I will apologise in advance: this is not going to be a review of Infinity War. By now I am rather tired of the onslaught of Marvel superhero movies and fully admit to have stopped paying attention.
However, I am a family man, and as such I did get to watch the latest installment of the united Marvel superhero front. To which I will say, when you add so many characters into a single dish, it is hard to expect much in the way of proper character development. I will also say Infinity War is not a movie that stands by its own right, as it fails to provide an ending (unless you count a “...will return” caption to be a suitable ending).
That said, the movie is saved by the stream of jokes coming from everywhere and anywhere to mock the whole superhero facade. So at least I came out laughing [figuratively speaking, as I watched this one over at iTunes].
Overall: 3 out of 5 rather tired crabs.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Mother!

Director Darren Aronofsky and I do not see eye to eye. Sure, Black Swan was good, but I will argue it was as good as it was because of its actors. In contrast, films like The Fountain or Noah were utterly terrible. I therefore did not expect much out of Mother!, either, but gave it a go on account of its actors: not necessarily Jennifer Lawrence or Javier Bardem in the leads, but rather the ever awesome Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer in supporting roles.
I will start at the end: Mother! gets my thumbs up, but not because of its actors (who are as good as expected, don’t get me wrong). It gets it because of Aronofsky himself. Whether this is a case of “accidents do happen” or whether there is more to it is another matter; I suspect that, given the director’s affection with mysticism and such, it is quite unlikely he & I will see eye to eye again any time soon.
Anyways, let’s talk about the movie itself. It features Lawrence as the exceptionally young wife of Bardem, with the couple living in Bardem’s childhood residence, somewhere pretty remote from anything else (on top of which, they don’t even have wifi and only have one landline!). That house was previously burnt down, so Lawrence is busy doing a wonderful job rebuilding it while Bardem, a writer, spends his time trying to come up with that piece of literature in him that he repeatedly has problems coming up with.
That Garden of Eden of a status quo is interrupted when a guest appears out of nowhere (Harris). They don’t know him, he’s there because of a wrong address kind of a mistake, but to Lawrence’s horror he’s taken in by Bardem. It doesn’t end there; soon, Harris’ wife arrives (Pfeiffer), then his kids, then all sorts of related people. The house gets fuller and fuller of people disrespecting its fragile nature, and no one bothers to listen to Lawrence. Eventually, the disrespectful guests break a pipe and the whole house floods.
Chaos continues despite the post flood’s temporary relief. Soon enough, our couple’s ordeals reach the level of the surreal, at which point I pointed a finger at Aronofsky again (a force of habit, I assume). But then there is a scene that explains the chaos [sorry, no bloopers here] and lets us figure out the symbolism behind everything we had watched thus far, and suddenly it all made sense.
Even better, for the first time I found myself in a position where I was applauding Aronofsky for his statement and criticism of the society we live in.
Overall:
Given its nature, Mother! is not a movie one watches for the sake of entertainment. If one is interested in an artistic statement delivered through good actors, one will enjoy it nevertheless.
3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Elle

The first thing I have to say about Elle, before getting into any other business, is that it is a very hard to watch movie. It is a movie about rape, it starts with a rape scene, and there is no whitewashing here; the rape is depicted in detail.

With that out of the way, I will tell you the second thing you need to know about Elle: it is a Paul Verhoeven film. Verhoeven and I go a long way: he directed two of my all time best movies ever nominees, Total Recall and Starship Troopers. More to the point, since he first exposed to world to the talents of Sharon Stone in Total Recall, Verhoeven’s specialty has been movies about strong women: Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Black Book, and now - Elle.
And the third thing you need to know? It is a French speaking movie.
Now to the film itself. Elle follows Michèle (Isabelle Huppert), whom we witness getting raped in her own house by a balaclava wearing burglar at the movie’s opening scene. She doesn’t call the police and hardly tells anyone of the incident, but it greatly affects her.
It’s not like Michèle’s life is all smooth otherwise. She is divorced, she has an affair with her best friend’s partner, her mother threatens to marry her gigolo, her son is tying himself up with a girl that’s exploiting him, and the people at her own company - the company she owns - show her disrespect. Worse, as the film goes along, we learn of a dark family secret from the past that still blemishes things today. Yet Michèle is strong, and while imperfect and often far from ethical, she soldiers through.
Then there is the rape coming on top of all that. Yet the main event in Elle is not that of a woman dealing with being raped, but rather of that woman feeling sympathy and even craving for the rapist. Which turns the movie into a whole new ballgame (and, as per the very first point, makes for a very uncomfortable watch).
I will put it this way. I see it as no fluke that Michèle’s character in the movie is the owner of a video game development company in the thick of developing a horror themed video game with female characters. Everything one is expected to think in a knee-jerk reaction upon hearing of a woman craving her rapist has been said already about video games, particularly Japanese ones with their tendencies to offer scantly clad characters bearing very generous mammaries. Think Bayonetta; or consider Nier:Automata’s 2B. Exploitative!, people say. Chauvinistic! Or are they?
The explanation always offered by the Japanese gamer camp is that, perhaps inconceivably to us Westerners, perhaps it is the case that these women derive their strength from their sexuality? As Elle makes vividly clear, Paul Verhoeven is certainly of that opinion.
And he even dares throw an “all gamers are stupid” comment into his movie.
Overall:
Hard to watch? Definitely. But Elle is also a movie that does what the vast majority of movie never even bother attempting, which is to change their viewers’ perceptions.
In other words: Paul Verhoeven has done it again. 4 out of 5 crabs to a top notch piece of [controversial] art.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Top Crab #12

It’s this blog’s 12th birthday, which means it is time for me to point a finger at the things I loved the most this past year. It is also time to analyse the trends of the last year, which I will do below.
Before diving into details, I will add the core difference in my life this past year has been having even less spare time to enjoy what the world has to offer than earlier years. And I suspect things will only grow worse until some inevitable implosion.
But enough complaining. Let’s review what happened this past year.

Best movie:
There were several movies that reached inside and pressed an inner button this year, but my winner is Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. There are several reasons for that, which I don’t see the need to repeat here; but the key allegory around the soul of USA society (and by extension, that of most of the Western world, to one extent or another) coupled with the optimistic way in which the movie ends despite the traumas at its core worked their magic on me. That, and the fact here was a movie with multiple round characters, each portrayed so well. A worthy winner!

Best book:
In the 11 years I have been awarding books on this blog before, only twice did a work of fiction win the award. This year things are different, and we will get to the why further down the queue.
For now, let’s enjoy the book that did it to me this year, The Gulf by Anna Spargo-Ryan. On one hand it is hard to see why this rather tragic story had so much appeal to this generally non fiction oriented person and, if anything else, a science fiction oriented geek. But on the other lies a very well written story, written by an author who is practically a neighbour and with whom I have the occasional online chat. Ignoring for a minute that annoying inclination that probably too many of Spargo-Ryan’s narratives are autobiographical, I think she has a way of cutting through the facades of Australian living. It has been pointed out to me that too many of Australia’s best writers are producing rather depressing pieces, but I choose to look on the bright side: The Gulf is high quality throughout.

Best music:
Perhaps it’s a sign of ageing, but if there is a trend I could pick up on with my music listening this year then it is to do with changes to my musical tastes. Having come from rock, and over the years migrated into what is normally referred to as “alternative” (I generally think that what used to be called rock is now called alternative so as to leave room for the fodder that passes as pop music nowadays), my listening is dominated by the jazz and the classical. One good reason for this has to do with the bulk of my listening taking place while I do other things (e.g., read, work), and it just happens that these genres do a better job in the background.
Another change comes in the way I identify new music to listen to. I think Apple Music is doing a pretty good job pinning the essence of my musical tastes and offering me suitable music (with the caveat of non existent recommendations in the field of classical music). The surprise source for quality music, however, happens to come from an audiophile magazine I used to devour back in the nineties, Sterophile. I no longer make significant attempts in the field of audiophilia (there’s not much point to it, given music is relegated to background duties), but I will acknowledge Stereophile’s music reviews have a knack at exposing me to new worlds that also happen to be well recorded (always a bonus). Definitely worth the single digit dollar price of a yearly subscription.
All that long introduction was to explain why pianist Vikingur Olafsson’s Philip Glass: Piano Works was my favourite album this past year. To put it simply, it has the ability to take me on a rollercoaster of emotions. Given how often Philip Glass is interpreted these days, it also shows the importance of interpretation. Regardless, I would like to point out Olafsson’s music proved an excellent background While I was reading The Gulf.

A lot more has happened for me in music this year, though.
Yes, my taste in music has changed, but no, not all of it is different. The music I always loved the best, the Led Zeppelin and the Pink Floyd, are still very much there. And while neither of these two produce new music anymore, there are still worthy artists who know their craft our there and produce the good stuff.
My pick for this year comes from an Israeli artist who sings in Hebrew and is thus doomed for relative anonymity. That doesn’t matter to me; I like her riffs and the drone like manner with which she protests against the superficiality of modern living in an aptly named album, Advert Music.
The artist is Hila Ruach, and over the years I grew to love everything she has been producing. The title song of her album, (guess what, it’s called Advert Music) represents, to my ears, her peak thus far:


Best podcast:
I thought of adding a “best podcast” category to last year’s Top Crab awards but eventually decided to wait another year. As it turns out, it didn’t matter - this year’s winner was my candidate last year, too. That, however, misses the point: and the point is that podcasts have revolutionised my life since they entered my scene in force more than 2 years ago.
For a start, podcasts have killed my non fiction reading. Why bother spending two digit hours on a book discussing one idea when I could spend the same amount of time listening to a double digit amount of ideas receiving ample dissection? To put it mildly, I have learnt a lot from podcasts this past year, much more than I could have done from reading alone.
Yes, I have some entertaining podcasts that I listen to (The Guardian’s football podcast did a good job on me during the World Cup), but my main agenda with podcast is learning and opening my eyes (ears? mind?) to new stuff.
With that in mind, the best mind opener around, by far, has been Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast. Sam and I go a long way, back from our mutual adventures in atheism, but that’s not the point; the point is that he brings worthy, smart, people to his podcast every week and discusses their core ideas in depth and at length with them. One can agree or disagree (and I often disagree; Harris, in particular, belongs to the American left side of politics, the part that the rest of the world regards as centre at best). Yet disagreement is fine; I don’t want to listen to a people telling me what I already know and agree with, I need to be challenged. And Sam Harris does the challenging by raising well established arguments as opposed to, say, shooting the messenger. The result? A weekly dose of high quality education.

Best TV:
I assume that by now we all know there are tons of good quality TV stuff around. Point being, it’s getting hard to pick a winner, but picking I will.
My winner for this year is the latest season of Black Mirror. Perhaps it’s the Netflix funding that did it, but the later seasons seem to have sharpened their focus on depicting the dystopias we are all at the brink of (if we fail to pay attention). I guess that takes a particular brand of genius to achieve.

Best video game:
To clarify, there is no room in my life for long games these days. Games that need more 20 hours of my time can pretty much disappear off the face of the earth and I wouldn’t care less.
With that disclaimer disclaimed, let’s have a look at what this year had to offer in the various relevant platforms.
On the Nintendo 3DS, I thoroughly enjoyed playing Pokemon Ultra Moon. I know, you don’t have to tell me, this is a game that sucks time from its player. However, it is also a game that one can play any time one feels like and for as long as one feels like, while offering an incredibly relaxing experience with some tactics not short on depth. While discussing the 3DS, I will add that I also fell in love with Detective Pikachu, which isn’t your classic Pokemon game but rather a game that takes place in the Pokemon world and, for the first time as far as I can tell, given fans of the Pokemon series a personal feel for what that world feels like on the inside.
On the Nintendo Switch I thoroughly enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey. On paper, such games (can I call it a platformer?) are not my cup of coffee, definitely when considering they do not offer any agendas beyond pure entertainment. However, even I could not avoid observing just how well designed this game is; the result is the best pure entertainment I had enjoyed this past year.
My winner for the year, however, comes from left field and is played on mobile. In fact, I took my time with it and I finished it all in less than 45 minutes, which I am sure will bring the wrath of all the gamerz annoyed at the poor value per hour ratio this game has to offer. I couldn’t care less about that; I applaud the Melbourne based folk who made the effort to deliver me with a game that even I, with what little spare time I have these days, can thoroughly enjoy from start to finish.
This game, my game, is called Florence and I urge you to give it a try, for Florence is further proof on how storytelling can go much further then we've grown used to through the use of modern technology.

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.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

I, Tonya

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

Friday, 11 May 2018

Self/less

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

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Una

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

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

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

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Hitman's Bodyguard

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

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Brad's Status

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

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Darkest Hour

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

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

In This Corner of the World

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

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.
Overall:
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.