Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Case for Citizenry

Citizen Four, the documentary about the Edward Snowden revelations, attracted a very diverse group of cine-buffs to an early evening session at one of the smallest of the Lighthouse Cuba cinemas.  There were young and old, suited and students, groups and singletons – the latter myself.

The documentary itself is not the most engaging one I have ever seen, but the subject matter itself made up for a lot of the film’s faults.  It follows the story of how Edward Snowden approached Glenn Greenwald, seeking assistance to reveal the extent of US and other governments ability to tap into the electronic communications of their citizens and the fact that they are indeed doing so.

As crops up a couple of times in the TV footage when the story breaks, so what?  Surely we knew all this already?  Surely the government would never do anything that wasn't in the best interests of the people?

Well, that depends on how trusting you are.  And what the information ends up being used for.  And rights to privacy and things like that.  And the fact there has been a huge... one can't say conspiracy but established deception to hide what is going on, the extent of what is going on, and how the information can be used.

Snowden flees Hong Kong for asylum in the Russian Federation; Greenwald and Snowden's family is subjected to intimidation and harrassment; the media doesn't quite know what to do and (besides the usual suspects) which side to take.  Obama and Republicans end up on the same side.  The world basically goes a bit wobbly for a while.

Snowden comes across as a really nice guy.  He seems fiercely intelligent, a strong sense of honour and morality that transcends national security to how he views the founding principles of the United States.  

And the documentary does a good job of showing him in a good light, and showing the reaction to both his revelations and Greenwald's style of publicising them to the world.

The fact that several years later it all seems like nothing has changed even though it is "out there" was the strange feeling that haunted me when I left the movie theatre.  Sure, the US oversight committees have got more pressure on them now, but after a bit of a broohaha at most of the English speaking world's security agencies, it all pretty much seems to be a bit forgotten now.  

Though not for Snowden of course.  He is still on the bad guy list.  Perhaps forever?

Verdict: CitizenFour is a good documentary that sometimes focuses a bit too much on the people telling the story than the story itself.  It will be interesting to see the follow up to this documentary, charting what happens in the aftermath of the revelations.  Perhaps less sensational, less exciting, but in the long run, probably more to the point of what Snowden hoped to achieve.  7 wikileaks out of 10.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Case for being Sheepish

A TV show called Shaun the Sheep.  Aardman Productions.  Put them together in movie form and you have magic.

Odd that for a movie with basically no dialogue, I laughed more than I would have in any of the most recent comedies I have seen advertised starring Adam Sandler.  I deliberately avoid those as I am a snob and want to save myself for the delightful treats of films like this, where subtle and obvious and old and immature humour combine and mush together to form overall a great ball of woolly fun.

The plot is super simple.  Shaun and his dimmer flossy friends conspire to send their beloved farmer to the city so they can live a life less ovinely ordinary.  However, after a short period of Gremlins like behaviour, the sheep realise they miss their nominal master and set off into the city to try and get him back.  Mirth and merriment ensue.

As I went to the latest session at 6pm, it was not that surprising to find that the audience (about half full in one of the smaller Readings cinemas) was mostly adult, but it was wonderful and a bit surprising to hear regular laughter as many of the jokes and japes hit home.

There is not much else to say besides the fact that this was short (for a film), sweet and stupid all in amazingly wonderful measures.  Fashion, driving, animal control, mesmerism and what constitutes beauty all get covered and used for amazing effect, and in the end, everyone left the film with a smile on their face.  

I still have no idea what half the lyrics to the Shaun the Sheep theme song are about, but I was humming it on the way home nonetheless.

Verdict: Another Aardman classic, this one with barely a comprehensible word.  Masterpiece.  8 shearings out of 10.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Case for Kingsmen

I am not entirely sure why I held off going to see the Kingsman for so long.  It had got good reviews, was meant to be in the same vein as Kick A$$ (and not at all like Kick A$$ 2) and the mock James Bond-like premise appealed.  But still I stayed away for a while until finally getting off my own a$$ to go and see it.

And I was not disappointed.  The Gentlemen killers (and the odd woman too) are up against the baddest of bad guys, one with charisma and conviction and the ability to convince many other people that his megalomaniacal plan is the right thing to do. 

The main villain of the piece is played with lisping gusto by Samuel L Jackson, not a strutting tough guy wielding a pistol of destiny but rather a tech millionaire with a vision and a bevy of loyal henchpeople to help him reach his goal.

Standing against him is Colin Firth as Harry Hart, all manners and reserve yet a lethal killer ready to stand up for what is right.  And he has a protégé, Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton), a young man with potential (a military background, an incredible gymnast, high IQ scores… the usual secret agent recruitment tropes) but who comes with personal private demons, mainly in the form of his traumatic family history and so comes pre-loaded with a chip on his shoulder and Something To Prove.

The story itself unfolds pretty much as every other tale of this ilk has since the beginning of film, but the level of violence and the strength of its language set it apart and make it intentionally hilarious at times.  There are amazing gadgets and secret hideaways and international travel and amazing feats of danger and tests of courage… and a couple of privileged pr!cks who want to stand in our hero’s way.

Without going al the way through the plot, lets just say that the performances are all as excellent as they are cliché (Mark Armstrong and Michael Caine are in there too as the technological genius and patriarch, and they fill those roles really well) and the villains are suitably dastardly, even if the lead villainess seems to be a rather unexciting knock off of the super excellent Hammer Girl from The Raid 2.

The secondary characters are not really given anything to do: Eggsy’s friends possibly died somewhere (no idea what happened to them after initially providing a sounding board for our hero) and the female characters are wildly uneven, Eggsy’s fellow trainees being shown as competent but left almost literally wandering around in the snow as the majority of the action happens.

And the Norwegian Princess… well I had heard that a joke at the end of the film almost ruined the experience for a lot of moviegoers with its misjudgement, and while the audience all laughed nervously in my screening, the scene in question did seem very not in keeping with the overall tone of the film.  Perhaps it was meant to push buttons and envelopes rather than match the rest of the movie. 

At any rate, the film overall was a lot of fun.  Action, adventure… not really any romance, but some Maccas in there at an appropriate time.

Verdict: The Kingsman is a great deal of fun, even if the fun and the action are further into R territory than a lot of other films in this genre.  A couple of off jokes (and one BIG one) stop this from being a great film, but still, worth a look.  8 suits out of 10.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Case for Going Wild

I have to admit, I was rather blown away by Wild.

Reese Witherspoon wandering around in the bush at first did not hold that appeal.  I have seen Into the Wild and remembered that film depressed me quite a bit. 

Still, the Oscar buzz around this film and a dearth of other material got to me, and as I hadn’t visited the Paramount for a while, I thought it was a good opportunity to go.

And, aforementioned, I was not disappointed.

Witherspoon draws on the real life tale of Cheryl Strayed, a woman plagued by demons and deciding to exorcise them by a multi-month hike up the western United States.  Starting in desert, she goes up mountains, along rivers, through bush and trudges through snow.  The country side throughout is spectacular, and seeing this alone was enough to make me want to do the trek myself – not that I could handle one evening out there without toilet or shower facilities.

Strayed’s tale is told in flashbacks, showing us glimpses of life with her mother (played by the always luminous Laura Dern) and her husband and friends, and then cutting back to the hard trudge of the tramping life, the monotony of camp food and the solitude of the trail.  It’s a tale of ups and downs and, as always, Witherspoon playing a quiet, determined woman is more than capable of holding the whole film together through her solid, strong performance.

More surprising is the way the film also messes with expectations.  A young woman alone on the trail would seem to be a target for all sorts of unwanted male attention, and so almost every male that encounters her appears at first to be a predator waiting to pounce  It is refreshing and reassuring then that most are honest, decent folks whose perception as potential criminals is purely what the audience puts on them.

And the trip itself is extraordinary: over 3 months of hiking, sometimes lacking for food, water and warmth, the occasional warm meal and “camping ground” for those on the trail, an hilarious encounter with a well meaning journalist who just doesn’t listen, a stop over in hippie heaven in the city of Portland and onwards and ever upwards.

The one off note is an incredibly fake fox that finds our feisty female in the middle of the snow covered mountains, but I later assumed it could have been some kind of hallucination so absolutely awful the sequence, so I am going to stick with that interpretation.

Overall though, the film is gritty and hard but ultimately beautiful and, in its own way, enlightening.  Wild doesn’t really seem to refer to the landscape really.  The country side just is.  Wild seems to refer more to Strayed than anything else, and the wilderness seems to tame her.

Verdict: Witherspoon is amazing in a touching, beautiful tale that takes its time telling Strayed’s story, walking with a slow and steady pace.  And the trip through Wild and the destination make it worth the while.  8 Wild Things out of 10.