Citizenfour

citizenfour

It’s been a long while (almost two years in fact), since I posted a movie review.  It’s not that I haven’t seen any good movies in this period, but more of the fact that I tend to sound repetitive when I write these.  Watch that, this one is awesome, etc.

Last night I’ve watched “Citizenfour“, and I have to say I’m shaken by that documentary.   And I’m not a privacy or security freak, and I was somewhat familiar with Edward Snowden’s story.  This film, while portraying his personality, is not so much about him, as it is about the state of affairs.

As a non-US citizen, I have very little interest in what the US government is doing.  I don’t particularly care if someone is recording my Internet traffic, Google searches, or the phone calls I make.  I’m not worried about ending up “on the list”, or anything like that.

But not everyone is like that.  I do understand how government surveillance can be used, how data can be analyzed, and how pressure can be applied.  And I do share the point of view that the balance of power between the government and the people is way off (and not only in the US), and that we are beyond the point of any meaningful individual resistance.  It’s just that I don’t do anything about it, and Edward Snowden did.

For me personally, quite a few things were new in this film.  It was interesting to learn about the variety of NSA and CIA programs, the depth of their rich, and the technology that is in place already.  Some of it does sound like science fiction future, but is in fact very possible.   The stuff about security access in the NSA, drone video feeds, data gathering, analysis and search, with real time notifications, etc – all that was insightful.

The other side to the movie that I found interesting was the whole process that was used to expose these documents.  There is in fact no framework as to how such things can be done, what should and shouldn’t be published, how things can be verified, etc.  The move to remove his own bias and pass on the responsibility onto the journalists was interesting.

Overall, I think that the more people see this movie, the better.  The issues raised are very important and we should know about them.  It doesn’t only affect criminals or terrorists or Americans.  It affects everyone.  In particular everyone who has a phone, or a computer with an Internet connection, or a credit card.  After all, there are 1,200,000 people on the US watch lists, and from what I understand, this list is growing fast.

 

In the loop

In the loop

 

It’s been a really long time since I saw a comedy which was funny in a smart way.  Yesterday however I had excellent time watching “In the loop“.  It’s political, satirical and smart.  No toilet humor, no teenage sex humor.  It’s modern, yet it stays away from references that won’t be understood ten years down the road.  There are a few familiar faces in the cast, but not too much.  And, there is plenty of awesome English swearing, which, though, can be understood.

Overall, 5 out of 5.  Highly recommended, unless swearing upsets you.

Shooter

Being a big fan of anything that involves snipers – movies, video games, books, etc – I am surprised that I haven’t heard anything at all about “Shooter“.  It is one of those niche things that is done for the fans only.

The story is not particularly thick or twisted.  On the contrary, it’s quite straightforward and predictable.  But that didn’t spoil the film too much.  It was shot nicely, with some really nice photography.  And the casting was excellent – Mark Wahlberg, Danny Glover, Rade Serbedzija, Rhona Mitra, and the rest did their job very well.

Overall, there is not much too say more.  If you are a fan of snipers, this movie is a must see.  If not, then I don’t know – it’s a nice action movie based on a rather weak story.  4 out of 5.

Beneath Hill 60

I don’t remember how I came across “Beneath Hill 60“, but it was in my watch queue for quite a while.  Yesterday I finally decided to watch it, and now I’m glad I did.  One of the first things that stands out is that it’s not an American movie (it’s Australian).  Even though the main language is English, the story telling, camera angles, special effects, and intensity are all approached differently.

The film tells the story of the Battle of Hill 60 from the First World War.  I haven’t heard anything about the battle before watching the film, and I’ve never thought of the role miners played at war.  In fact, I wasn’t aware they were ever used for military operations, even though not that I think about it – it makes all the sense.

This movie is not a major blockbuster by any means.  But it has a story to tell and it has a soul.  It feels like it was important to people who were making it.  And so, even if you aren’t that much into war movies, it will still be worth your time.

Overall ranking, a 4 out of 5.  Well done.

Transformers : Dark of the Moon

Yesterday, I went to see “Transformers : Dark of the Moon“.  I’m not a big fan of 3D, but my wife convinced me that that’s the only right way to watch this movie, so I agreed.  And I’m glad I did so.

If you like 3D movies, or transforming robots, or action movies, or any of the previous Transformers’ films, or Michael Bay work in general, you absolutely must see this film.  And do so in 3D – even for those who don’t like 3D, it is an excellent experience.

As for the film, Michael Bay broke the measuring ruler once again.  He is off the scale.  The film is bigger, larger, and more than any other film I can think off.  It has everything previous Transformers had, and more.  And of the things that previous Transformers had, it has more.  More robots, more fights, more shooting and explosions.  More space travel.  More special effects.  More 3D. More, more, more.  It has so much of everything that I would walk away happy half time into the film.  But when the whole thing was over I really was amazed as to how much went into it.

On top of that, both of the items that somewhat annoyed me in the previous Transformers movies were corrected in this part.  First was Megan Fox.  I don’t know why everybody is so fond of her.  I don’t find her beautiful, or smart, or a particular good actress.  She’s out and Rosie Huntington-Whitley is in.  She wouldn’t be my first choice for the role, but she is definitely an improvement on Megan Fox.  Secondly, in previous Transformers, robot transformations and robot fights were too fast.  There are too many details to notice them all and they were often done and off the screen before my curiosity was satisfied.  In this part,  there are more details, more fights, and more transformations.  Also, there are a few excellent slow-downs – important moments are slowed down to a crawl with a few humorous touches added.

Actually, I have to mention humor separately.  This part is not as serious as the previous ones.  There are plenty of funny scenes, situations, and jokes all over the film.  I couple of times I was even laughing out loud, which is a rare occasion.

Overall, I think the film provides all the entertainment you could put into a movie and more.  It pushes the boundaries of sci-fi cinematography and visual effects. And for that I will of course give it a 5 out of 5.

The Practice

I have just finished watching all eight seasons of “The Practice“.  Getting through all of it took me longer than usual, but I still did.

The way I watch TV series is pretty much the way I watch movies and read books – from cover to cover and, hopefully, in one go.  If I want to watch a single episode, chances are I will watch the whole season.  If I want to watch a season, I will probably watch all available seasons.  I don’t know why I am like that and that’s not really important right now.

What’s important is that I found out about “The Practice” after watching all “Boston Legal” and wanting more.  There were no more, but there was “The Practice”, which was pretty much a prequel to “Boston Legal”.  It was created by the same David Kelley and even featured some of the same characters.  The character that I was the most interested in – Alan Shore – was introduced in the last, eighth season of “The Practice”, and initially I wanted to see just that season.  But how could I?  What if I miss something? What if there is more to be had?  I just had to watch all eight seasons.

I can’t say that I regret it.  “The Practice” is a very good TV series.  There is everything I want from my TV – entertainment, interesting stories, good acting, humor, drama, and characters I can associate with.  “The Practice” offers all of that and more.  But it wasn’t until I actually got to season eight, not until Alan Shore (played by the excellent James Spader), that I recognized why it took me only a few days to watch “Boston Legal”.

“The Practice”, as good as it is, takes itself a bit too serious.  There is a lot of realism and drama.  “Boston Legal” is a much lighter TV series.  There is more humor, it’s easier on the audience.  Both of the TV series provide plenty to think about.  But “Boston Legal” does it in a more suggestive way, while “The Practice” pretty much slams you with an idea and demands you make up your mind about it before the episode is over.

Overall, as I said, it is still a very good TV series.  If you like good quality TV, that’s something to watch.  Especially if you enjoy legal context to your stories.  But if you really enjoyed the lighthearted way of the “Boston Legal”, than I suggest you just watch the last, eighth season of “The Practice”.  It is very similar to “Boston Legal”.  Prior seasons are very different.

Rating? I’ll give it a solid 4 out of 5.

The Way Back

The other day I watched “The Way Back” – a movie, allegedly inspired by real events, about a group of people who escaped a Soviet Gulag camp in Siberia back 1940s and walked their way to India.  I’ve heard nothing of this film until a friend recommended it – no trailer, no nothing.  When I read the brief plot description at IMDb, I got slightly worried that it would turn into one of those anti-Soviet propaganda movies.  My wife shared the worries and even decided not to watch the film with me.

She turned out to be right.  While there is plenty of breathtaking scenery shown in the film, and there is plenty of good acting, the propaganda makes it totally unwatchable.  The film basically pictures the Soviet Union as one huge prison, where the government is after every single person, be he innocent or not, old or young, male or female, Russian or not.  One doesn’t even have to know history to understand that that is a huge exaggeration.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining because the film pictured Russians (or Soviets) in such a bad light.  It has nothing to do with whether they were Russians or not.  Even if they weren’t of my own nationality I’d be complaining.  I’m not even too sensitive to propaganda in the movies – Hollywood uses it all the time to praise the United States.  The problem is that in this movie, propaganda is the primary objective.  Everything else comes second.  And it’s really a pity.  Level down the propaganda and you’d have an excellent film on your hands.

As it is, I’d give it a 2 out of 5.  It’s difficult to watch and it leaves a dirty aftertaste.

Boston Legal

I just finished watching all five seasons of “Boston Legal“.  As it often happens with me and good TV series, when I start watching I don’t stop until I’ve seen all of it.   Too bad there won’t be any further episodes.  However, now I am interested in “The Practice” which were TV series preceding “Boston Legal”.

While I got hooked from the first season, I’d have to say that the second and the third seasons are the best of all.  Fourth and fifth are pretty good too, but they vary from episode to episode.  Second and the third seasons don’t.

“Boston Legal” is about lawyers.  I do realize that law system in real life is probably very very different from what is shown here.  But the purpose of this TV series is entertainment, not precise documentation.  And as far as entertainment goes – “Boston Legal” does splendid.  There are many characters, picturing a variety of human quirks.   There is plenty of humor.  And what I consider even more important – there is plenty to think about.  The setup provides for a plethora of cases, which can be argued both ways, and in this TV series many many problems are explored from a number of different viewpoints.  Really, anything goes – abortion, capital punishment, corruption, politics, family values, religion, racism, disabilities, and more.

On top of that, there is something in here that is rarely seen in other TV series – examples to follow.  Not one, but several characters show what a decent human being is, what friendship, loyalty, and humanity are; how one should behave oneself in difficult situations, and how one could correct own mistakes.

With all of that, I can’t rate it anything less than 5 out of 5.  Highly recommended.

Rango

Just return from the cinema where watched “Rango“, a cartoon that I’ve been waiting for a bit after seeing the trailer.  I have to say that trailers for this animation are slightly better than the final result, but not by too much.  It is a rather brave take on westerns with way more blackness and drama than most other kid’s animations allow.

It was a bit slow at places, and for Maxim’s taste there was a bit too much talk, but the story was good, the characters were interesting, and the whole feel to it was … unfamiliar.  If it was a movie, it would probably be one of many.  But being an animation, it stand on its own.

Music deserves a special attention.  There was as much of it as you could squeeze into a film without making it into a musicale.  It helped with atmosphere, entertainment, and more.  It changed from Mexican el mariachi to classical orchestra and back.  It faded from background to foreground and back.  And it was by my movie measures exceptional.

Overall, I’d rate the animation as 4 out of 5.  Recommended for adults and for older kids mostly, but anyone would probably enjoy it.

P.S.: If you are watching it in K-Cineplex Limassol, make sure to pick up your portion of nachos with cheese sauce at the cafeteria, which are a special served for this movie only.  Helps with the whole Mexican atmosphere, and they are indeed yummy.

Despicable Me

The other day I got my hands on a copy of “Despicable Me“.  Maxim watched all of it and somewhat enjoyed it.  For me though it was a disappointment.  One of the biggest setbacks were the characters.  I think that characters are one of the main things that separate animations from movies.  Movies are more or less forced to cast actors.  And the best actors are only a few.  So movies have to rely a lot more on the acting talent in order to create unique characters.  In animations, the characters are drawn.  And while that is not an easy job either, I think it is much easier to draw a new character than to create one in the actor.  In this animation, all characters were carbon copies of characters from other cartoons.  And that alone is enough for me to disregard this cartoon.

On top of that, the story was anything but engaging and original.  And to add insult to injury, I personally thought that the voice of Steve Carrell didn’t match Gru’s character.  Every time Gru spoke, I had a feeling that there was someone else in the scene, someone who was actually speaking, someone that I could not see.

As a result of all that, I got bored and disgusted by the animation and left the room about 20 minutes into the story.  And that is, I assure you, not something that I do very often.  Hence, my overall rating is 1 out of 5.  There are so many beautiful animations out there, and this one is not one of them.