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The Walk

The Walk

Sometimes you just really need to have a good lie down

dir: Robert Zemeckis

2015

The Walk. The Walk? What a supremely banal title!

How can you spend millions upon millions on a movie and give it such a simplistic title, eh?

Well, maybe, just maybe, Robert Zemeckis is more concerned with bringing a bizarre moment in New York history to life more so than whether there’s any actual interest in the potential audience for such an extravaganza based on a snazzy name.

This isn’t to be confused with another recent flick called The Walk which was about a completely different subject, that being the Camino pilgrimage across Spain that the faithful and the stupid take part in every year. That one was directed by Emilio Estevez and starred his father Martin Sheen. Charlie Sheen was… otherwise occupied.

This is about an altogether different kind of walk, and is unavoidably based on a true story. The reason I say “has to be” is not just because it is, but because there is absolutely no other way such a story could have been told had it not been true. It’s too bizarre otherwise.

The reason is, other than being about this allegedly famous “walk” between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, something which Americans are understandably a bit touchy about, the fact that those towers are no longer there means this flick is about more than just the walk itself.

Rating:

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything

You never know where your life is going to end up, or when
your horn dog of a husband is going to leave you for a redhead

dir: James Marsh

2014

I personally think it was brave of the people involved to dare attempt this. Making a biopic about Professor Stephen Hawking is a very daunting proposition.

For most of his adult life he’s been ravaged physically by a degenerative motor neuron disease. His achievements advancing our various understandings of the nature of the universe are staggering. He’s certainly one of the most brilliant minds to ever appear on this planet, in human history at least. There was this amazing hedgehog once…

As I kept that frame in mind, that this was about the Professor, it meant that I found the flick itself quite disappointing. It wasn’t until I realised what must have been quite obvious to other viewers, as it was obvious to my partner, who enjoyed the film far more than I did: it’s not about the Prof. It’s about his wife Jane.

Viewed from that perspective, that it’s a biopic about Stephen Hawking’s wife instead, it starts to make far more sense. It doesn’t make it that much more enjoyable for me, or a better flick, in my opinion, but its shortcomings transform from bugs to features instead.

And yet when you find out that the words “based on the autobiography by Jane Hawking” don’t actually mean that the screenplay matches the events in the memoir, you wonder whether you should just accept that it’s a touching drama about a woman whose husband might have been famous for something and has special health care needs.

Rating:

Wild

Wild

Just keep walking, just keep walking, just keep walking,
walking, walking, and you'll walk yourself all the way to
another Oscar!

dir: Jean-Marc Vallee

2014

A person goes for a long walk. A really long walk. It’s not to throw a ring into a volcano. It’s not to get to the airport to stop someone from leaving. It’s not because a drug cartel is after them, or to honour the last wishes of someone who just died.

It’s so she can…?

I’m not entirely sure why, and I loved the film. I haven’t read the book this is based on, but I think I’d like to based on this movie.

Wild is not an easy movie to love. Mostly, as you might guess, we’re watching a person walking along the West Coast of the United States.

Interspersed between scenes of walking, we get Cheryl Strayed backstory. She is a real person, a real woman. We glimpse her in the movie, as one of the kind drivers who pick up Cheryl along the way.

Most of this story, as in Cheryl’s long, agonising march to victory, occurs in 1995, but much of it comes from earlier, being scenes from her childhood, adolescence, and early twenties. In those times we see Cheryl’s mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) as a beautiful, resilient woman that never ceases to irritate Cheryl until she loses her.

You get the impression that Cheryl’s mother was very important to her, not just as a mother, but as an inspiration towards her pursuit of a life in letters.

Rating:

The Imitation Game

Imitation Game

Once you get the eyebrows right, the rest of the acting just
falls into place

dir: Morten Tyldum

2014

What kind of name is Morten Tyldum anyway? Sounds completely made up, to me. It sounds like someone started with the name ‘Tyler Durden’ and randomly started changing the consonants around. What is it, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, random name generated by some program in Mongolia?

Whoever the delightful Morten Tyldum is, he she or it has directed a truly delightfully depressing flick about true genius Alan Turing and his great achievements during World War II. Chief of these achievements would be the creation of a machine that could crack the German’s Enigma code, used for all of its naval wartime communications, and considered unbreakable at the time by both sides.

I have known of Turing since I was a teenager solely due to the use of his name in science fiction novels whenever the issue of Artificial Intelligence came up, but I didn’t know that much about him at the time. Later on, when his status as one of the progenitors of modern computing received greater prominence, I came to understand not only that he was a great man, but a martyr to the cause of gay rights as well.

Rating:

Million Dollar Arm

Million Dollar Arm

Who's idea was it to have him swing his jacket over his
shoulder for the promo? That's like the worst idea in
human history, even worse than the idea behind
Million Dollar Arm

dir: Craig Gillespie

2014

I am second to no-one in my love of Jon Hamm. There’s no way I would have watched years and years of Mad Men if it wasn’t for him. Well, that’s probably not true, the series has a deep bench of great actors and characters. I can honestly say, though, that had Jon Hamm not been in this flick, there’s no way I would have ever bothered watching it.

Seriously, I could not care less than I already do about baseball. That would have been my first mistake, because though this flick has little to do with the actual game of baseball, it hits all the same beats of a sports flick.

It’s also based on a true story, and true stories are never boring, and they never go wrong, do they?

A movie made about a bunch of people, about something that really happened invariably is either going to be about how something they did or what happened to them went really really right or really really wrong.

Honestly, with all due or no due respect to any of the people involved in the actual story of what happened here, it is un-fucking-believable that this got made into a movie. Millions of dollars were spent bringing this story to the screen, and it’s the most inexplicably bizarrely misplaced story I’ve ever heard of, transformed into a ‘success’ story.

Rating:

Jobs

Jobs

It's like looking into a great big dumb mirror. Would you buy
a used computer from either of these two jerks?

dir: Joshua Michael Stern

I want to make a movie about someone famous. I didn't know them personally, but they're really famous, so people should be interested.

I don't know much about them, either, and what I don't know about the transformative moments of their lives is probably pretty important in telling the story of their lives, but I'm not interested in finding out what they were or telling an audience about what made them tick.

I think if I get someone that looks a lot like the person whose biopic this is, then I should be okay. If we get them to do a couple of famous mannerisms, then audiences won't care that they're not doing anything interesting or revealing or watching a good movie.

Since this biopic is set in the 70s and 80s, mostly, I'll just blare lots of golden oldies during those scenes, in case the sluggards and dullards in the audience have no idea. I'll spend more on the soundtrack than I will on the script.

All in all, I'll tell a story that has no more depth or meaning than one of the ads used to advertise some of the products this person was responsible for, but I won't even make it that good.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Jobs.

Rating:

Lovelace

Lovelace

And I thought this flick was going to be about Ada Lovelace, the
world's first computer programmer!

dir: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

I think everyone deserves a biopic made about their lives. Maybe not everyone deserves to have Amanda Seyfried play them in their movie, in both senses of the word "deserves", but surely this will one day come to pass.

As for who should play me in the inevitable biopic of My Life, which should be called Drowning in Awesomeness, I'll leave that to the learned reader to decide. Perhaps bloviating windbag Kevin Smith? Or Comic-Book Guy from The Simpsons? Mark Ruffalo after a serious car accident? Philip Seymour Hoffman? Ron Perlman? Tom Waits lesser known cousin Guido?

So many choices. During Linda Lovelace's life, she being the subject of this startling and depressing biopic, if you'd shown her a picture of Amanda Seyfried, and told her that one day she would be playing Linda in the story of her life, she probably would have been flattered. Flattered and confused, as I am, a little bit.

Rating:

Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra

This is the least gay moment of the whole film

dir: Steven Soderbergh

I never thought a biopic about Liberace would turn out to be one of the best flicks of the year. I can't imagine that anyone thought a flick about Liberace could be one of the best flicks of any year.

I don't think even Liberace would have predicted it, but, based on the character here, he probably would have felt entitled to it all the same.

I mean, how many people even remember him?

People of a certain age, I guess. If you were old enough to see him on the telly, and his twinkly smile, and the countless references / mentions of him in a pop cultural sense that seemed to pop up all over the place in the late 1970 / early 80s, then he would still come as something of a revelation to you, as played by Michael Douglas.

Did you know, for example, that Liberace was gay?

I know, I know, it shocked me too. Apparently, a lot of people, including perhaps some of the guys Liberace was having sex with, didn't realise he was gay.

This virtuoso pianist who wore extravagant mink coats and costumes dripping with jewels, from what this film says, turns out not to be the paragon of heterosexual conformity that he portrayed himself as being.

Rating:

Sleepwalk With Me

Sleepwalk With Me

Nothing a good night's sleep couldn't fix

dir: Mike Birbiglia

We’ve all got to start somewhere.

This is a curious movie, in that it’s directed by a chap who’s playing himself (under a pseudonym), essentially in a re-enactment of his own life, surrounded by actors. Mike becomes Matt, Birbiglia becomes Pandamiglio, in a pointless charade that’s never intended to shade the truth, or ‘truth’, as the case may be, that This is His Life!

Birbiglia has been dining out on this story for years, and has managed to transform it into the substance of his stand-up (he’s a comedian, in case you didn’t know), a one-man stage show, a book and now a film. I’ve been hearing this story for years, as he’s honed it down to its sharpest edge, from watching Matt doing his routine, hearing it on my iPod and through multiple podcasts essentially saying the same words verbatim. I never tire of the story.

Most of all, I’ve heard excerpts of the story on podcasts from This American Life, probably my favourite of the twenty or so podcasts I listen to with religious, if not disturbing, regularity. It’s a podcast that is the new media version of the radio program from Chicago Public Radio produced by Ira Glass (who of course gets a cameo in this film, as a photographer at Mike–Matt’s sister’s wedding). So it comes as no surprise that they, being WBEZ Chicago and IFC, chipped money in to let Mike transform his multi-format extravaganza into a movie.

Rating:

On the Road

On The Road

Just can't wait to not get on the road again

dir: Walter Salles

Unfilmable books make for interesting films.

On the Road has been on that list of “Great” American Novels like Tropic of Cancer, Catcher in the Rye, Pale Fire, The Sound and the Fury, a bunch of others, that people never thought could be adapted to the big screen.

But then you think of the flicks made from Naked Lunch and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or further afield to the flicks made from other "unadaptable" books like Perfume or Cloud Atlas, and it makes it more the question of not “whether” but “how well”, as in, anything can be adapted, but not everything is adapted well, just like with any book.

Kerouac’s classic novel would always have made a good film, if the people involved knew what they were doing, and what they should avoid doing. The biggest problem it would have had is that even in a quality realisation, the flick would always (now) look just like every other road movie that’s ever come out in the last fifty years.

The majority of the flick isn’t, perhaps, on the actual road as the travellers travel down that road, but it certainly feels like it, and where it almost glows with purpose. Far more, comparatively, is spent watching these people smoke, drink and fuck in scummy apartments and dishevelled domiciles across the Americas as these people, these people, live their lives in the pursuit of life itself.

Rating:

Bernie

Bernie

Phwoar! I'd give him my power of attorney any day!

dir: Richard Linklater

Well, that was weird.

I am unsure how much of this flick is a flick and how much of it is documentary, since there is a lot of footage that doesn’t seem to be footage of actors acting.

Let me be blunt by pointing out something very secret, almost unheard of: American tv and cinema is a very discriminatory, very harsh environment. It is cruel and unforgiving. The tyranny of the slim and gorgeous is absolute in this form of media. As it should be.

I say this as a staunchly unattractive man myself, so don't go thinking that I think I'm some lithe, brutishly handsome mash-up of Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hardy. Far from it, sadly, far far from it, though it's an intriguing combination, as opposed to the rather actual combination I possess: sad old boot, wildebeest, wobbegong shark and afghan rug that genuinely comprises my DNA.

No, my point is essentially that American movies never usually have this many incredibly unattractive people in the one place at the one time unless there's a damn good reason. Plenty of other countries make movies with less than attractive people in them. British cinema seems entirely dedicated to bringing unattractive actors to the forefront so we can all gawk at them like we're looking at the freaks at a particularly anachronistic carnival.

Rating:

The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady

How can you not be thinking erotic thoughts right now?

dir: Phyllida Lloyd

Damn, that Maggie, she was a bit of a saucy tyrant, eh? Sorry, that’s Baroness Thatcher to the likes of you and me, fellow bloody peasants.

It’s still a freaky occurrence that Maggie, or any woman for that matter, rose to power to lead the Tory party to successive victories at Britain’s polls, and was, for various reasons, one of the most powerful persons in the world, let alone powerful women. For various reasons, the leadership of Golda Meir, or Indira Ghandi or any other women who’ve risen to (elected) power is more explainable than Maggie’s seizure of the reins.

Those driving forces, personal and societal, will remain a sweet mystery for you, perhaps even becoming more mysterious for you, after having watched this flick, because it never comes close to giving us an inkling of how or why any of it happened.

That’s not entirely fair. Maggie, as portrayed here, is possessed of implacable ambition and an iron will. She’s also highly intelligent, and deeply committed to her father’s conservative views about the wonderfulness of hard-working middle-class people, and the worthlessness of the lower orders of society.

Scratch that, I just remembered that Thatcher once famously said that there was no such thing as society. So there’s no society to speak of. However, if such a thing actually existed, then Maggie would be against it, not for it.

Rating:

A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method

Tell us all about your mother, Doctor Freud. We promise it will all be
kept in the strictest confidence.

dir: David Cronenberg

Famous and frightening Canadian director Cronenberg’s love affair with Viggo Mortensen continues, with every film he comes up with having Viggo in a crucial role. Who can blame him? Viggo is awesome. And even more than Viggo being thoroughly awesome, he was also great in those last two flicks of his, being A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.

Michael Fassbender’s no slouch in the awesomeness department either, so casting these chaps as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, the two titans of psychoanalysis in the early part of the 20th Century, would seem like a sure-fire box office blockbuster.

Maybe not. Both of these chaps bring solid acting chops to a story that isn’t that well known. Freud’s name is common currency, but Jung’s not as prevalent, since people don’t make Jungian slips that often, perhaps, or at least they don’t admit to it. The point of this story, however, is not a biopic about the lives of the two men instrumental into identifying and pathologising a lot of the craziness out of there. It’s about Jung’s relationship with a crazy woman, played very crazily by Keira Knightley foremost, and then it’s about the falling out between Freud and Jung.

Rating:

The Devil's Double

Devil's Double

This golden boy is going to go far: I can feel it in my bones, because there's a gun
pressed against them

dir: Lee Tamahori

Jesus Christ, or maybe by the grace of Allah, this Uday Hussein was a sick fuck!

I remember the stories from back in the day, around the time of the first Iraqi Adventure, where the tales of Saddam’s sons being monsters were coming out, and I just thought, “Eh, they’re just being mean.”

And then the many and varied stories of what a demented sociopath he was, to the extent where he shamed his own tyrant of a father, slaughterer of innocents and torturer of people who disagreed with him, and there was little doubt.

Of the many controversies regarding the second Iraqi Adventure Part II in 2003, one of the only aspects that has never troubled me were the reports of the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein. See, in my limited knowledge and understanding of history, and especially history as it applies to people, the only monsters often worse than the despots and tyrants who seize power in bloody times and rule their people with an iron fist caked in shit, are their sons.

Rating:

Howl

dir: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
[img_assist|nid=1392|title=Nerds with powerful words|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=300]
Wow – can you imagine, even for a second, anything as totally fucking thrilling as a movie about a poem? You can’t, your petty little mind can’t encompass anything as utterly mind-blowing as that without having an aneurysm, for sure.

So be warned, those of jaded palates and timid dispositions – here comes Howl to blow away your petty lives and sclerotic brains.

Yeah, well, maybe the fuck not.

A poem is just a poem, after all, and Howl, the movie, doesn’t even conform to the basic parameters of ‘movieness’ enough to imply that this is a movie about the life and times of Allen Ginsberg, Poet Laureate of the Beat Generation, and his writing of the epic poem Howl. What it is, is something more, and far less at the same time.

Rating:

127 Hours

dir: Danny Boyle
[img_assist|nid=1368|title=Rock and Roll|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=406|height=600]
Whatever problems I might have had with Danny Boyle’s films in the past, whatever misgivings I might have had dwindled to nothing fifteen minutes into this film. In the first few minutes I was worried that I was going to be watching something closer to The Beach or Life Less Ordinary end of Boyle’s oeuvre, rather than the actually watchable, decent end of the Boylian spectrum (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire).

But then something happened at exactly 15 minutes in, and the title flashed up on the screen, and I realised that Aron Ralston’s (played by James Franco) real story had just started.

And oh holy fuck what a story it is.

That it’s a true story, and a very narrowly defined story, based entirely on the relevant 127 Hours in question of Ralston’s life, would almost make you think that telling this story in movie form would be impossible. Telling it well, at least. Telling it poorly would seem to be piss-easy. Telling it so that it’s heroically bad would take real hack skills, some of which Boyle has hinted at in the past.

Rating:

Runaways, The

dir: Floria Sigismondi
[img_assist|nid=1272|title=Cherry Bomb. Awfully literal, don't you think?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=296|height=438]
The mark of a film succeeding in its job, in this case when it’s based on real events, is usually that after watching it, you know more about the subject matter than before.

Right now, at this moment in time, I know just as much about The Runaways as I did before watching this flick, except for two minor facts: that their manager was a total creep, and that the band members used to lez out at the drop of a hat.

Other than that, it’s not very educational. But then again, it doesn’t really need to be. You could argue that if a flick about the Spice Girls of their era captures the essence of the time (mid seventies, as punk was exploding across the world), and the essence of what made the band noteworthy (that they were a briefly successful all-girl rock band), then it’s achieved its mission.

That’s not what I’m arguing. I said you could argue that. I couldn’t.

Based on this flick, the two major achievements The Runaways are responsible for are a) that it launched the eventual career of Joan Jett, whose most famous single is still a mainstay on golden oldie radio, and b) it gave Kristen Stewart, the notorious non-actor from those godawful Twilight flicks, something to do in between the production of those godawful Twilight flicks.

Rating:

Public Enemies

dir: Michael Mann
[img_assist|nid=1144|title=Sometimes it's a burden being so wonderful|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=400]
John Dillinger is not really one of those names that lights up the night sky or the imagination, at least anywhere apart from the US. I’m sure he’s Robin Hood and Ayn Rand all rolled into one in the States, but to the rest of the world, if we know anything about him, it’s that he was alive at some point in the past, and is now dead.

And in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “If he’s so smart, why is he dead?”

Well, Johnny Depp, the dapper gent himself, and Michael Mann, the cop and crim obsessed-director, thought it was time to resurrect the tale of the Depression era populist ‘hero’, and his subsequent demise. Mann puts his particularly Mannish spin on things by emphasising the cool professionalism with which Dillinger and his crew conducted themselves. And, of course, the professionalism of Dillinger’s main opponents, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), also have to act as a parallel counterbalance.

Of course, all of this occurs independent of, and, in most cases, in direct contradiction to the established history of these events.

Rating:

City of God (Cidade de Deus)

dir: Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund
[img_assist|nid=1058|title=The kids are most certainly not all right|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=532]
What a fantastic, fiery, raucous flick. Brazilian cinema has come into its own and is now its own exportable genre because of City of God. I’m sure they were making films for decades before this, but this flick blew a lot of people away and made them start noticing a great kind of cinema from a previously unheard region.

Since then, the Brazilian flicks that have been appearing at my local arthouse cinema and on the shelves of my local vid store are all united by common threads: they’re based on true stories, they centre around crime and poverty, and they’re about larger than life characters living in cities so extreme as to almost seem like science fiction. But they exist. They’re real. The slum called City of God, or Cidade de Deus in their native Portuguese tongue, is a real place. They didn’t have to build sets, hire extras and dress them in costumes, or make anything up.

Of course this isn’t a documentary, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a pretty real film about a real life lived by millions in the most prosperous country in Latin America.

Rating:

Milk

dir: Gus Van Sant
[img_assist|nid=1164|title=There is a tremendous irony in this|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=533]
You would have thought that the acclaimed documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk would have pretty much covered the story of this incandescently flamboyant political icon of the 1970s. But, let’s be honest: unless someone wins an Academy award and fictionalises the fuck out of a story, we don’t really care.

And why have footage of Harvey Milk playing Harvey Milk in a documentary about himself when you can have Sean Penn overacting all over the place instead?

So much better. To be fair, Penn mostly controls himself and delivers what is a stand-out performance in a career defined by stand-out performances, overacting, having been married to Madonna and beating up paparazzi.

I knew plenty of the details surrounding Milk’s death moreso than his life, because of the hilarious manner in which the person who murdered him used one of the most incredible defences in order to beat the rap and reduce his clearly cold-blooded and premeditated crime to an act of junk food-fuelled manslaughter due to diminished capacity. Of course the truth of what was actually argued by his defence team and what has become the pop culture meme of the “twinkie defence” are two completely different things.

Rating:

Hunger

Hunger

Fancy a bite to eat? Maybe some crackers or something?

dir: Steve McQueen

When I heard that there was this apparently really cool film that was going to come out, and that it was directed by Steve McQueen, my first question was: “Isn’t he dead?” My next question was “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck had nothing better to do with its fucking time?”

The answers to both questions, surprisingly enough, are “Yes” and “Not much.” Steve McQueen is some artist, not the classic actor from Great Escape, The Getaway and Bullit. The car did most of the acting in Bullit, I admit, but no, McQueen is some other guy which doesn’t mean that the original McQueen is doing a Tupac Shakur from beyond the grave, releasing stuff despite the minor inconvenience of being dead.

The one thing I’ve never heard or seen in any of the reviews of this flick, which have been uniformly positive, is that the film would actually make me sick. I’m not, as is my wont, exaggerating or embellishing like I usually do. In the last fifteen or so minutes of the flick, when Michael Fassbender, who plays Bobby Sands, really earns his keep, the image of his emaciated and lesion/sore covered body comes up on the screen.

Rating:

Bronson

Bronson

A gentle soul, trapped in the body of an absolute lunatic

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

I thought I’d seen everything. But then I saw Bronson.

In some ways, it’s one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. That it is based on a true story is almost immaterial, since it’s still highly fictionalised and hyper stylised as well. And there isn’t really any story or plot, which itself is less interesting that the rendering of it, because there’s only so much you can do or say about a person as remarkable as Michael Peterson, sorry, I meant Charlie Bronson.

Though it is a biopic, it’s not a biography of legendary dead actor Charles Bronson, whose Death Wish films, numbers I to V, brought sensitivity and nuance to the debate regarding crime, immigration and vigilantism in modern America. No, this flick is about an absolutely incompetent career criminal who is clearly insane and who elects to call himself Charlie Bronson. He is still alive, so I better be careful what I say.

Not that he’s ever likely to see the light of day.

Rating:

W.

dir: Oliver Stone
[img_assist|nid=726|title=Mission Accomplished, cocksuckers!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]

On some level I have to suspect Oliver Stone wants to think of himself as one of the premiere chroniclers of the American nation . Kind of like a Ken Burns or Sir David Attenborough of presidents, wars and otherwise momentous times. True, he did the dirty with Alexander the Great, which is an abomination wrapped in a travesty wrapped in a fiasco, but his focus has generally been on the American soul and body politic in all its glory.

After JFK, after Nixon, he’s taken the curious step of eulogising or biographising a president still in office at the time of the film’s release, which seems odd. There hasn’t been time for history to either elevate or diminish a statesman’s legacy to any appreciable degree yet, to warrant such a going over, you could say. There hasn’t been the time for the dirt to come out, for the squealers to squeal, for the many damning versions of the truth to accrete, accumulate and overflow. You question the purpose, the intent, the objective. The point.

Oliver Stone is not a subtle man, nor a humble one. Making a film about a sitting president is as much about trumpeting the director’s view of that president to the world as it is about the president himself. You’d think the intention, thus, is critical or at least condemnatory.

Rating:

I'm Not There

dir: Todd Haynes
[img_assist|nid=54|title=If I had a hammer|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
It’s amazing to me that anyone could ever have thought something like this could have worked. A bunch of people playing their own versions of Bob Dylan? What, one person imitating him wouldn’t have been enough, or tolerable? So getting twenty people to do it, clearly, is a better idea?

To me it’s apparent right from the start that some of the concept behind the way it ends up being done is that one person playing Dylan wouldn’t work. That it would be inaccurate or disrespectful to dare to do a Walk the Line or Ray on Bob Dylan, because he’s just soooo much more important and complicated, isn’t he?

On the other hand, by fracturing the narrative in such a way, and by having all the various actors play different Dylans, with different names as well, then it obviates the need to actually have a coherent narrative and the need to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

I could be far more scathing and mockworthy about it, but it’d be fruitless. The fact is, regardless of why they decided to do it this way, it actually works. Perhaps I say that only because a) I don’t really care about Bob Dylan and b) I don’t necessarily see him as a figure worthy of adulation and worship beyond the merits of his music.

Rating:

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

dir: Shekhar Kapur
[img_assist|nid=21|title=Get me off of this fucking horse|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
I’ve figured something out. It’s been something of a revelation. I finally understood what history represents to those who make movies.

History is a brand, a logo. Historical figures, real people who once lived and did great, mediocre or dastardly deeds, are nothing more than marketing properties.

Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, the monarch who presided over a great time for the Empire, is as real to the people who made this film as Robin Hood, Captain Jack Sparrow, or Darth Vader. They’re branded characters, recognisable from their trademark physical characteristics, a few character traits (stealing from the rich, choking people without touching them, being drunk and gay) and little else. Elizabeth is whatever they want her to be, and whatever Cate Blanchett’s ego wants her to be.

Because the selling point alone is that it’s Our Cate playing the Elizabeth property for the second time.

Rating:

Rescue Dawn

dir: Werner Herzog
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What is it about crazy men and jungles that Herzog can’t get enough of? Every flick he’s ever done seems like it’s been about one or the other, or both at the same time.

His greatest flick, and one of my absolute favourites, is the utterly demented Aguirre: Wrath of God, which transpires on a river that passes through a candy-coloured brothel. No, wait, I meant to say South American jungle. The demented Klaus Kinski stars as the main crazy person.

Fitzcarraldo focussed on the actions of another crazy man who decided he’d somehow transport a massive riverboat through a jungle and over a mountain to the other side. The demented Klaus Kinski stars as the main crazy person.

His documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, looked at the true story of US Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down over Laos in 1966 and taken prisoner in the jungle, going somewhat mad from starvation and torment. Rescue Dawn is a dramatic retelling of the same story. The ghost of Klaus Kinski stars as the inhospitable jungle itself.

So, again, it’s crazy men and the jungle. I think Herzog’s a bit obsessed. His other non-jungle films still focus mainly on crazy people, but there’s always a bit of jungle lurking around the corner or in their souls.

Rating:

Control

dir: Anton Corbijn
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It’s… hard for me to review something like this. Perversely, I have adored Joy Division’s music since I was a child, but I never much bought into any of the mythologising of Ian Curtis as a tortured genius who died far too much before his time by his own hand. I say ‘perversely’ because despite having listened to both Closer and Unknown Pleasures more times than you’ve masturbated, I never really had a burning desire to find out more about the events leading up to Curtis’s suicide.

Also, fairly recently, the Michael Winterbottom film 24 Hour Party People seemed to deal with the Joy Division and Curtis story with the care and attention it deserved, devoting half (the good half) of the flick to their tale. Sure, it might have had the depth of a puddle of spilt beer, but I wasn’t really hungry for more.

Control has managed to make a fool out of me, making me doubt the flick’s and maker’s intentions at first, and the validity of the central performance, before it absolutely and utterly drew me in before blowing me away.

Rating:

A Mighty Heart

dir: Michael Winterbottom
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Daniel Pearl was a journalist working in Pakistan when he was kidnapped by terrorists in 2002. He was held for several days, as his six-month’s pregnant wife Mariane Pearl, their friends, colleagues, fellow journalists and the Pakistani police and ISI security forces, US Embassy staff, FBI, the then Secretary of State Colin Powell and probably Batman as well all tried to secure his release.

If you never heard the story in the media because you were too busy downloading pirated media of all sorts and purposes, or you were watching slack-jawed and mouth agape at the antics of the latest reality television contestants instead, then perhaps the events depicted in A Mighty Heart will be exciting and new. Perhaps then the flick’s structure as an investigative thriller might thrill you.
Of course, if that was the case you’re also probably not likely to give a damn over the fate of a journalist, loathsome creatures that they are.

If you know what Daniel’s fate was at the hands of these vile bastards, then the question this flick might satisfy for you won’t be ‘what happened?’ so much as the how and the why of it.

Rating:

La Vie en rose (La Mome)

dir: Olivier Dahan
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Outside of France this biopic about Edith Piaf was called La Vie en rose, one of her most famous songs. In France itself the flick was called La Môme, being her nickname, “the sparrow”. In Australia it should really have been called The Miserable Fucking Life of a Street Urchin who becomes Edith Piaf and Dies a Wreck in her Forties.

It has a certain ring to it, a certain je ne sais quoi, wouldn’t you say? It certainly would be both accurate and illuminating.

Despite knowing absolutely nothing about Edith Piaf and any other French singer of her era or magnitude, I have to say that the story as presented in La Vie en rose is ridiculously familiar. It’s not just because the story of the rise, fall and comeback of artists tends to have the same trajectory, it’s because the filmmakers, whether American, Hollywoodian or French, tend to create the same narrative and use the same plot devices to tell their story.

The personal, actual details of their lives are comfortably wedged into the pre-ordained format, so the whole story, whether it’s about the rags-to-riches tale of a Mongolian throat singer, or the rags-to-riches story of a member of New Kids on the Block, it’s all going to be pleasantly familiar.

Rating:

Breach

dir: Billy Ray
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Finally, a flick still playing in Melbourne cinemas, at least for the next day or two, that I can review for the hungry, hungry masses. Hungry for something that isn’t the third part in a series, perhaps. Pirates of Shrek’s Silver Spider Phoenix, Um, Three?

Do you know who Robert Hanssen is? Do you care about the single most hideous security breach in the history of the FBI that didn’t involve J. Edgar Hoover’s frilly underwear? Do you have the patience to watch a low-key, flat story about a deeply troubled individual whose surface hid terrible turmoil beneath told within the trappings of a bureaucratic thriller? No one gets shot with a silencer, no one gets stabbed with a poison tipped umbrella, no radioactive Polonium was used or harmed in the making of this movie. So you’ve been warned.

Rating:

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