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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Howl

Howl

Nerds with powerful words

dir: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman

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.

It’s far less, because James Franco plays Ginsberg in the 1950s as a fairly young man, basically giving a monologue about ‘his’ life and times before, during and slightly after the writing and performance of Howl. In between footage of himself reading the poem aloud to some lousy beatniks at some hovel of a beatnik club, he sits there talking about himself, mostly in black and white, but sometimes in colour. The colour bits where he sits there in his flannel shirt with a fake beard pasted on have the unfortunate effect of making it look like he’s playing George Lucas, instead of Ginsberg. You could hardly think of a worse fate for a man.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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