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Biography

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
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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
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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
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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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