dir: Martin McDonagh
When I write reviews about movies, I find it slightly pointless to include info that’s readily available on the tubes of the internets. There’s no point replicating the services that Wikipedia or IMDb provide, so I don’t bother including a lot of “actually, you may be interested to know that while this film was being made, the director was sleeping with the sister of the lead actor, who in turn was snorting the cremation ashes of Charlie Chaplin off the lower back of Rita Hayworth’s great-great-grand niece” type stuff.
It would be pointless, I think you’d agree. My personal take on these movies is the only thing I have to contribute in this world, and it’s not the perspective of an insider or an expert, just a shmuck fanboy. You can guess what that’s worth.
What I’m getting at is this: I could easily look up what the actual circumstances of the writing and production of this flick were. I could find out from the horses or whorses’ mouths almost instantly. And I could include that here. But what would be the point of that? Such knowledge wasn’t with me at the time when I was watching this deliriously insane flick, so it didn’t inform my enjoyment of it. So what would the point of talking about the ‘truth’ be?
Instead, I’ll relate what I was thinking about when I was watching it instead.
Martin McDonagh came to international acclaim after In Bruges came out. I don’t think it was hellishly successful financially, as in it didn’t make billions at the box office, but for a time, for months it seemed, a whole bunch of people were talking about it. His skills probably in order of importance or expertise started with and grew from: being a successful playwright, writing some screenplays, and thence to directing.
With success, modest or otherwise, come strange riches and stranger opportunities. Someone must have said to him, here’s several million dollars, come to LA and write whatever you want, no strings, promise.
You get to LA, you start trying to write that screenplay, you hit the bottle, and the writer’s block and the pressure to write something brilliant as before but different enough to not be accused of complacency completely destroys you.
That’s when you, and by ‘you’ I mean Martin McDonagh, resort to the saddest and most pathetic cliché in the screenwriter’s bag o’tricks: if it was good enough for Barton Fink and Adaptation, then why not Seven Psychopaths?
You, an alcoholic Irish screenwriter and director, write a screenplay about an alcoholic Irish screenwriter and director who’s writing and drinking aren’t getting him anywhere as he works on a stillborn screenplay.
The resulting utter mess, and it is a mess, is Seven Psychopaths. They say that certain difficult processes can be as impossible and fruitless as trying to herd a clowder of cats. Well, imagine herding those cats as they sit on the shoulders of a bunch of psychopaths with their own contradictory, mutually exclusive storylines, and a deliberate desire to avoid and celebrate a lot of violent movie clichés, and then you have an even better idea of what a mess this is.
I haven’t decided yet whether it’s a glorious mess or not, and I’m not sure if I’ll know at the end either.
dir: David Ayer
It sounds like something you’ve seen a million times before, but it actually ends up being much stronger than that. A movie about two cops? Get out of here, it’ll never work…
The director, David Ayer, has been responsible for a lot of cop-related flicks, most notoriously Training Day (as the screenwriter), a film I still loathe to this day, but he clearly has an affinity for two things: cops and South Central LA. As he grew up there, it’s impossible to see it as anything other than a deep affection for the place. In some ways he’s demystifying some of the mystique surrounding the place, but in a lot of other ways, he’s probably perpetuating most of the clichés about the place that give it such a negative rep.
That doesn’t concern me, I’m not here to judge, just to condemn or transcend. In truth, you probably shouldn’t see his many films about cops and South Central as a form of document, covering as they do the transitions occurring over time in that one area, and in policing, as well, but I’m happy to, because how else am I going to know? The only other source of information I have about South Central comes from rappers, and they’re not known for their meticulous adherence to accuracy.
One of the strongest aspects of this flick versus everything else Ayer’s ever done is that, for once, it’s not about a bunch of sadistic, corrupt cops dealing with cops that are even more sadistic and corrupt than themselves. The intention here is just to depict two decent cops on the beat, and the shittiness they have to deal with on an almost daily basis.
The film opens with a car chase, and Jake Gyllenhaal in voiceover giving us the spiel about how cops are a band of brothers, one-for-all Musketeers and the Thin Blue Line and every other cliché out there about cops, and then lives up to it by showing how this really works out for them.
Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) are officers and partners, they drive around in their squad car, and they patrol the mean streets. They are not corrupt. They aren’t excessively brutal or brutish to the many scumbags they have to deal with, and they actually try to make a difference out there.
dir: William Friedkin
Ew, this film is sleazy and nuts.
I guessed Killer Joe would be a lurid, vile, messy trawl through white trash mania and I can’t say I was at all surprised by the end result. I mean, a title like that doesn’t conjure visions of doilies, parasols and cucumber sandwiches. Instead, surprising no-one but me, this flick ends up being a nasty, repugnant black comedy about how dumb people do dumb stuff.
The chap referred to in the title is played by Mathew McConaughey, and this caps off an incredible year for this very odd man. I’ve generally found him to be an actor I don’t have much time for, but this year he’s been great in a whole bunch of stuff. He played the incredulous prosecutor in Bernie perfectly. He played the awesome (and admittedly creepy) owner of the all-male strip club in Magic Mike. And now he’s playing the loopiest and nastiest character he’s played thus far.
Joe Cooper is a police detective who also, somehow, gets to moonlight as a contract killer. I guess if you’re potentially one of the guys who’d be investigating a murder in a one-horse shitty Texan city, then you’ve got a bit of a leg-up on the opposition.
He is hired by a bunch of white trash morons to kill a particular woman. About this he seems to have absolutely no qualms or compunctions, but the fundamental problem is that he’s dealing with Grade A morons, and they don’t have the money to pay him up front. In such a circumstance, he does what any self-respecting entrepreneur would do: he takes a security retainer, in the form of a girl called Dottie (Juno Temple).
To say that this is all very unsettling would be perhaps understating the ugliness of what’s going on. I mean, after all, a central part of the movie has to do with someone committing cold blooded murder and making it look like an accident for fun and profit. But the real ugliness lies within the family itself, of people too stupid to understand how truly stupid they are.
dir: Oliver Stone
Savages is a quiet, restrained film about two estranged siblings played by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman coming to terms with the impending death of their abusive deadbeat father. Arguments are had, feelings are expressed, Broadway plays are written, everyone except the father is happy in the end. The End.
No, wait, that was The Savages, whereas this flick is just Savages, and it’s a completely different kettle of decapitated heads. First of all, it’s directed by an Oliver Stone we haven’t seen for a very long time, since U-Turn, I think. It’s the Oliver Stone who channels Brian De Palma, and who revels in lurid, trashy, violent excess rather than conspiracy theories and political bloviating.
And no-one wants any more of that shit, not even Oliver Stone. This flick is based on a genre novel by Don Winslow of the same name, which covers the adventures in the sun of three people in love: Chon (Taylor Kitsch), Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and O (Blake Lively). Two of these people are dope growers. One of them is the person the other two have sex with. The three of them apparently love each other equally. Puts a bit of a different spin on the love triangle trope, don’t you think?
The two guys are close, but completely (the flick alleges) different men. It’s the classical dramaturgical dyad, I mean, the mismatched buddy picture dynamic. They’re Narziss and Goldmund, Arthur and Lancelot, Abbot and Costello. Chon is an ex-military, steely-eyed killer with enough affection for O and Ben, but nothing left over for the rest of the world. Ben is a gentle, Buddhist soul who’s a genius at the horticultural aspect of their business, but holds out hope that they can run their business without too much of the nasty stuff intruding.
The marijuana business has made them rich and comfortable, living a recession-proof lifestyle in Laguna Beach, California, but it’s also brought them to the attention of the Mexican cartels, who aren’t that interested in the Buddhist aspects of the business. What they’re interested in is the high THC content of the smoke Ben produces, which is in the mid 30s, something virtually unheard of in the real world outside of movies. Something that powerful would either blow the back of your head out or incur the envy of the Mexican drug lords for real, I guess.
dir: Adrian Grunberg
Mel Gibson still makes movies? After all that, you know, unpleasantness?
Apparently so. Some people you just can’t stop without silver bullets.
Like cockroaches, the thermonuclear detonation directly above their lives, self-triggered, doesn’t stop them from scuttling ever onwards. He’s completely out of the closet in terms of his hatred and paranoia towards the members of the tribes of Abraham, and has even more runs on the board as a violent misogynistic fuckhead who would beat up a woman holding his own baby.
Clearly nothing, no level of opprobrium or societal disinterest in what else he may have to say will ever stop him.
Ideally, Leni Riefenstahl would be directing this movie, and it would star Mel Gibson, Dominique Strauss-Khan and Charlie Sheen, who would spend their time alternately screaming at and beating up Jewish Russian models, who are just happy to get some attention. Screenwriter of Showgirls and Basic Instinct Joe Eszterhas and fascist poet Ezra Pound would finish the script, David Irving would do the production design, Albert Speer would build the sets, Idi Amin provides the catering, and Wagner would do the soundtrack. The perfect storm of cinematic awesomeness.
All scum, all talented at something at some distant point in the past, all unworthy of our current, continued attention. That being said, if we only spent time watching the films and discussing the merits of the ‘worthy’ people in the cinematic arts, it’d be a short conversation. The cinemas would be empty. Shelves would be bare. The internet wouldn’t know what to do with itself.
A good friend of mine pointed out that Mel Gibson didn’t just recently lose his fight with sanity because of booze and the Russians and the Global Jewish Conspiracy: he was always like this, but people didn’t care because he was on top of the world, ma, and was a good little earner. He was clearly like this even before he made that supreme piece of Jew-baiting, being The Passion of the Christ, where Christ himself was turned into tenderised beef by the Jews for our pious pleasure.
That mad gleam was always in his eye: we just chose to believe it was method acting.
It’s not. He’s mad as a cut snake, but we’re not here to do psych evaluations. The question before you, which means it was the question I put before myself, is whether or not a person can watch and review a film by this guy notoriously on the outs with decent society, in good conscience?
Can I review this without referring to his many other instances of bad behaviour, in the way that can I justify watching a film by convicted rapist (who’s never served his jail term) Roman Polanski?
dir: Justin Kurzel
By all the Gods: do we really produce people this fucked up in Australia?
Snowtown is a horrifying, crippling, debilitating trawl through a true blue Ozzie True Crime story, being the murders of 11 poor bastards in South Australia way back in the 1990s. Only one of the poor victims were killed in Snowtown, or had anything to do with Snowtown, but the name stuck so powerfully that even the people who live there wanted to change the town’s name at the peak of the public’s interest in this depressing story.
Unlike Animal Kingdom, which a flick like this will be inevitably compared to, this isn’t a stylised, fictionalised version of events. I mean, it’s still fiction, it’s not a documentary. What I mean is, it’s something almost along the lines of a feature length re-enactment, in all its banal, ugly detail, and with certainly no glory.
The eye for detail, though, isn’t focussed on replicating everything to give us all the factual minutiae. It’s more focussed on giving us an inkling as to what happened, how it may have felt to be involved, and just how awful it was.
In which case, it functions less as a True Crime kind of film. Its purpose isn’t delivering information on the empirical level. It’s about getting us to feel an overwhelming dread pervading everything.
Every story needs an entry point, not just a beginning. Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is our gateway into this unbearable story. And what a gateway. We watch how the physical and emotional circumstances of a person’s life, and the grooming of a sociopath, can lead someone into becoming a person who murders for pleasure.
They, the director and filmmakers, want us to see the world these people lived in before the crimes themselves happened. So before they even bother to horrify us with the crimes, they depress us with the ugliness of their living circumstances.
dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
Few films live up to the hype. No films really can. Hype is hype, by its nature an aggravating and ephemeral thing, which complicates how we appreciate films. It complicates the way we come to them, the angle we come at them from.
Drive is one of those deliriously (critically, not commercially) hyped flicks that, of course, can’t live up to the hype. The critical hype obscured, for me, what the flick was actually like, and about, to the point where I expected one thing, and got something completely different.
I thought this was going to be a somewhat more enjoyable or thoughtful action flick to do with some guy who can drive really fast. What it ended up being is more of a standard neo-noir crime flick. That’s not a knock against it or any of the people involved here, because my expectations and assumptions aren’t worth shit.
Really, it’s a very regular, very familiar kind of flick, with a very familiar set of characters, and a very predictable outcome. Along the way, though, it’s well acted, very well directed, and kind of arresting.
The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a taciturn, competent man, who always wears, even later on when it’s covered in blood, a white jacket with the image of a scorpion. Why? Well, maybe it looks cool to someone back in the 1980s. It’s the kind of thing you can imagine the default leader of an unpopular and weak gang wearing in The Warriors.
Perhaps, though, since this isn’t a particularly subtle film, it’s meant to remind us of the story of the frog and the scorpion, the ultimate message being the punchline of “it’s my nature”. Our driver, and protagonist, has a nature. We’re not entirely made privy to it, but it seems to be a cool, sociopathically violent nature overlayed with a placid, professional demeanour.
The flick opens with a tremendous scene of heart-pumping, compelling action. The driver drives two criminal morons to their break-in job, and does the getaway duties, co-ordinating a hell of a lot of details, and coolly dealing with every eventuality that comes up along the way.
dir: Glenn Ficara and John Requa
Gee, I wonder why this flick, which has somehow only now reached Australian cinemas (Cinema Nova in Melbourne), nearly three years after its production, never really got a decent release at the cinemas in the States.
Could it be because of the subject matter: a con artist in love who perpetrates stacks of scams in order to keep himself and the object of his affections in the comfort they have become accustomed to? Is it because it’s based on a true story? Hollywood hates that. Is it because of where much of the flick is set, being prison? Is it because Jim Carrey is the lead actor, and no-one’s heard of this young up-and-comer, or Ewan McGregor in a supporting role, and studios are reluctant to release flicks with such unknowns in the lead?
Or is it because it’s the gayest flick this side of one of those Sex In the City movies?
Brokeback Mountain didn’t really break down that many barriers or walls of prejudice in terms of changing the dynamic that dictates what flicks get out there into the intellectual marketplace or the cinematic marketplace. Sure, a casual stroll through one of those dinosaur DVD stores might grace you with the vision of a section devoted to movies considered to be representatives of the Gay and Lesbian genre (a ghetto that resides next to the world movies and ‘special’ interest documentaries and such.
Now, I’m not talking about those kinds of grotty places where people furtively seek out stroke material whilst glancing nervously about (do they even exist any more, what with cornucopia of plenty that is the magic of the tubes of the internets?). I mean the mainstream movie Blu-ray / DVD places where you can pick up your latest box set of Midsommer Murders, or, if you have no soul, season 4 of Two and a Half Men.
Films like Brokeback, Philadelphia, or ones where the gay character is in a supporting role, and is just there to be bitchy, fabulous and sexless, don’t really represent a new awakening or ‘acceptance’ as far as I’m concerned. They represent, at best, a kind of minstrel show of broad stereotyping and disco music to keep them as the Other whilst crafting comfortable narratives that won’t offend the old biddies AND which make them feel so, so tolerant for not throwing up in outrage.
How noble. The reason no-one wanted to touch this flick with a ten-foot bargepole is because, even though Jim Carrey is a painful ham to behold whether he’s playing a hetero lunatic or a gay lunatic, it’s pretty explicit in its approach to the fact that the main characters are gay. I mean, they’re not actually gay, are they, but they’re constantly simulating man-on-man action.
dir: Anton Corbijn
It must be quite a burden, not just being an American, but playing THE American. How do you summarise millions of lives and hundreds of years of complicated history in one movie?
You have The American of the title played by George Clooney.
That distinguished salt-and-pepper hair, those smoky eyes, that smug grin; who else can represent everything from exterminating the natives and calling it manifest destiny to dresses made out of meat and massive planet-sized cars that run on endangered species thrown straight into the fuel tank?
George Clooney, that’s who.
I had heard two main comments regarding this flick: 1) that it was a good flick, and 2) or that it was an extremely slow, extremely boring flick. Well, I was totally sold on those ends of the spectrum meeting somewhere in the middle. Who wouldn’t want to watch a decent flick that’s also tortuously dull?
Is it in truth a dull flick? I didn’t think so. The pace is perfect for the story it’s trying to tell, and I guess the lack of over-editing and jump-cutting shaky cam probably put off those hoping for the hyperkinetics of another Jason Bourne-type flick.
The reality is that this is of a piece with something like the Jason Bourne flicks. There’s no actual connection, and stylistically and thematically they couldn’t be more different. But there is an intersection in the overall scenario that means something to me.
The flick opens with a bearded Clooney and a bare-arsed Swedish babe lolling about probably post-coitally. When out walking in the snow, Clooney’s character seems to freak out when he sees some other footprints in the snow. A not-very-competent sniper takes some shots at him. He kills the sniper, and then, just to be sure, kills his confused and surprised girlfriend. He then hunts down and kills some other guy that was also clearly sent out to kill him.
What to make of this? Of course we understand why he kills hit guys sent to kill him, but why the hell would he kill that scrumptious Swedish fuck-bunny?
Because he’s The American, motherfucker, and don’t you forget it.
dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
Wow, the lives of drug dealers just seem so glamorous, don’t they? If I’ve learnt anything from watching this Pusher trilogy of film set in Copenhagen, it’s that: a) Copenhagen is situated somewhere in one of the uglier, more downmarket circles of hell, at least if you’re involved in the drug trade, which, considering the course of these three films, any sane Dane would be, and b) even those successful enough in the trade lead miserable lives.
These flicks were never meant to be after school specials frightening people away from drugs out of moralistic concern or tut-tutting for some sort of public service announcement. No, mostly they seem like they’re trying to say that really bad things happen to selfish, stupid and violent people, especially if they get involved in the drug trade.
The first Pusher followed the highs and lows of Frankie, a low-level scumbag who is unremittingly awful to everyone around him. Bad things ensue. The second Pusher focussed on Frankie’s sidekick Tonny, and all his comical misadventures, and launched, surprisingly enough, Mads Mikkelsen to international superstardom, to the point where he gets roles in big budget fare like Casino Royale and the recent Clash of the Titans remake. I mean, every teenage girl and boy has got a Mads poster on their wall these days, don’t they? Out with old man Johnnie Depp, in with Mikkelsen!
Not that you really want to highlight that element on your resume.
In those two films, Milo (Zlatko Buric), played a key but small role, as an affable but monstrous mid level drug dealer, whose gently-spoken recommendations that protagonists deliver upon their obligations never obscured his frightening propensity for having people brutally tortured and executed.
dirs: Alan Mak and Felix Chong
For most of this flick’s running length, I thought I was watching a pretty good movie. It had a certain momentum, and tension, and even if the characters were somewhat unbelievable, I didn’t mind that too much because I found their actions, and the repercussions arising from those actions, to be both believable and interesting.
Of course, then they had to fuck the ending up.
Oh, man, do they fuck the ending up. It’s an ending so bad it undoes almost all the good work of the preceding 90 minutes. It’s so trite, preposterous and contrived that it made me feel actively angry.
But I shouldn’t let that completely obscure the goodwill I’d previously been experiencing while watching the flick. Sure, shitty endings can leave a poisonous aftertaste, but they don’t always justify ripping the absolute guts out of a flick.
Overheard is a taut, mostly fascinating crime story about a group of surveillance expert cops who are trying to figure out what white collar crimes are being committed at, by or to a Hang Seng stock exchange-listed company.
Most of the time, the vast majority of the time, it’s a crime movie about white collar crime. White collar crime generally sounds like a fucking boring time at the movies, but done properly, it’s as interesting as any other kind of espionage / heist flick.
Though that’s not really applicable in this instance. The real problems, excluding the way the flick ends, arise within the team of cops tasked with the surveillance night shift.
Surveillance cops Johnny (Ching Wan Lau), Gene (Louis Koo) and Max (Daniel Wu) work very well together, so well that they consider each other blood brothers. Right there, what we already know, if you’ve watched enough Chinese / Hong Kong flicks, is that when these kinds of guys say things like “I’ll die before I betray my brothers” their word is almost always going to be put to the test.
So even a seemingly innocuous and non-violent plot regarding insider trading and industrial espionage is going to necessarily devolve into bloody carnage. This is Hong Kong, after all.
dir: Werner Herzog
Herzog has long been acclaimed as one of the nuttiest directors of all time, so it makes a kind of deranged sense that he would be the one that picked up the mantle no-one else wanted. The Abel Ferrara directed Bad Lieutenant, at least the one starring Harvey Keitel and his penis, is one of my all time favourite films, of that have no doubt. When I watch it even today I marvel at just how demented and heart-rending it all is. How harrowing and still funny.
This is in no way a remake, but I guess there is some kind of thematic connection. That’s being too kind – there’s no goddamn connection. The only connection is that the main cop character is at the rank of lieutenant, and he uses a lot of drugs and probably commits / ignores as many crimes as he solves or pursues.
Keitel’s character was trapped in a hideous (and sometimes darkly comic) downward spiral because of, considering the heavy dose of Catholicism permeating the flick, either his abandonment of God, or his abandonment by God. The bleeding saviour himself appears in front of Keitel, who lets loose with the most disturbing keening / primal howling you’ll ever hear or laugh at in that or any other film.
Here, I think the sometimes great, more often terrible actor Nicolas Cage, is doing whatever nutbag nuttiness pops into his or Herzog’s head, and most of the time it doesn’t make any sense, but then this isn’t supposed to make complete sense. There are long sequences where the camera focuses on alligators and iguanas that make no sense in this or any other movie, including documentaries on how the lizards of New Orleans were worst affected by Hurricane Katrina. It’s just fucking nutty.
Katrina plays its obligatory part in such a story by being the cause of Terrence McDonagh’s (Cage) promotion to the rank of lieutenant after he saves a prisoner from the rising waters, but also the source of his drug problems. He screwed his back up in some way during the rescue which means his original addiction was to prescription painkillers. Now he does coke, crack cocaine and heroin by the handful as well, and barely anyone notices.
dir: Tony Scott
Ridley Scott’s less talented brother keeps getting work, which is okay, I guess. I don’t know the personal circumstances of Tony Scott’s life, but I imagine he has people to support, children, wives and mistresses and such, or rentboys, blackmailers and dominatrixes. Who knows. The point is, even after the atrocity to the eyes and ears that was Domino, he still gets work.
Here, in a remake of a pretty good flick originally, Scott mostly tones down the irritating editing and filming techniques that have made his more recent flicks virtually unwatchable. Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw assayed the roles the first time round, and they did an okay job. Denzel’s up for the job of playing a craggy-faced blue-colour working man ‘hero’, but they really could have gotten someone better for the Robert Shaw role.
Why? Well, all that John Travolta brings to this particular role is the way his voice goes really high-pitched and whiny when he gets angry, and that he says “motherfucker” at virtually the end of every sentence. I don’t have a problem with language, in fact I love that kind of language. It makes my heart go all aflutter.
(Mou gaan dou)
dir: Andrew Lau
Infernal Affairs is a slightly better than average movie interesting only in the novelty of its bare-bones premise. As directed by Andrew Lau, it is also a very loud, aggressively overdone movie. Compared with other Hong Kong cop dramas, it’s par for the course, maybe even better than most, yet I do have to admit to a certain amount of perplexity as to why cult audiences went bugfuckingly crazy over it and why they’re going to remake it in Hollywood starring people with remodelled teeth and $500 haircuts.
Why? It’s really not that clever. Or maybe it is and I just can’t see it. I’ve seen so many Hong Kong flicks over the years that it takes something extraordinary to jiggle my brain meats into ecstatic praise. I definitely can’t muster any excitement for this hack job of a movie, though it was mildly entertaining, I’ll give it that.
Most HK flicks are trashy, let’s be honest. As a fan of the cinema, I say that without any animus towards the region or the people that make or star in these films. If anything I have a bias in their favour, ignoring their shortcomings and excusing aspects that would make me scream bloody blue murder in a different context.
Andrew Lau (the director) and Andy Lau the actor are apparently two completely separate people. The directing Lau has been responsible for some of the best and worst recent Hong Kong films, everything from the Young and Dangerous series, to one of my personal favourites, The Storm Riders. He’s also made a lot of crap, in the same way that all Hong Kong directors make crap films with a ratio of 5 crap films to 1 good film. Quality control is virtually an unheard of concept in the former colonies.
dir: Rian Johnson
Rian Johnson’s first film, Brick, was a noir crime drama worthy of the pen of Raymond Chandler, set in a high school. The dialogue sounded strange in the mouths of actors playing children, but it had style, and a commitment to its set-up that never wavered, perhaps to the flick’s detriment, but no matter.
When I heard that he was making a film about two con artist brothers, I was pleased. Pleased was an understatement. I was ecstatic. For reasons that make no sense, I felt glad that a guy who struggled, fought and agonised over making a flick with no budget (which is what happened with Brick) was getting the chance to move up in the moviemaking hierarchy, and was getting to make more flicks.
I’m still glad he’s making movies, watching Brothers Bloom hasn’t diminished that, but I realise he’s got a fair way to go as a director as long as his films require actors.
Listen to me, offering unsolicited advice to a director who’s achieved stuff I’ve never dreamed of and will never get close to creatively and professionally. How generous of me to criticise him and offer tidbits of wisdom.
Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the performances in this flick are what let the film down, which otherwise is a sporadically amusing, wry kind of romantic comedy, for lack of a better term. The script is okay, the dialogue is okay, I guess, the plot is okay, but the performances were just awkward and seemed to come from actors who just couldn’t settle into a groove with each other. For all that it looks like a quirky Wes Anderson-esque flick, replete with affectations and uniforms, the acting doesn’t match the story.
When it comes down to it, maybe I’m imagining it, or maybe I’m making too much of it, but I couldn’t really buy that Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody were brothers, or that Rachel Weisz’s character was a wealthy American heiress who’d grown up in complete seclusion. I know that Brody can give mediocre performances, having seen a few of them, but really it felt like the director wasn’t sure how to get them to do what he wanted them to do, or what the script required. Sure, Brody as Bloom was able to look like a depressed and hollow Victorian-era gentleman thief staring with melancholy off into the distant horizons of the Dalmatian Coast, but when he was talking, or fighting the urge to smile in completely inappropriate sections, it kind of shattered the willing suspension of disbelief thing they were trying to generate.
dir: David Michôd
It’s not entirely clear why the film is called Animal Kingdom until past the middle of the flick, when Guy Pearce’s character has to explicitly spell it all out: everything in nature, like in the Australian bush, inherently knows its place. There are trees that live for thousands of years, and insects that die in the space of time it takes to think of them. There are predators and prey, the strong and the weak, and they all have to compensate accordingly.
It’s a moment of exposition that sounds superfluous, because it’s rarely a good idea to explain your title, but it’s used wisely. It’s used by a character who thinks he has the measure of the person he’s speaking to, who thinks this is the best way to convince him to go along with his program.
He couldn’t be more wrong.
Australian cinema has often gone to the crime well to come up with its quality television programs and movies, and this flick certainly doesn’t come up dry. It’s as good as a lot of reviewers are saying it is, but what I failed to glean from other people’s comments and analyses was how emotionally complicated it is, how tension-filled and how grim. And how little it compromises.
Yes, it deals with a family of crims, but this isn’t a mob style organised crime story, or the tits and violence concoction that is the Underbelly franchise. In fact it’s the complete antithesis of all that trashy splendour. It’s mostly a story about a kid called Josh, who calls himself J (James Frecheville), who, upon the death of his mother, moves in with his grandmother and uncles.
(Flickan som lekte med elden)
dir: Daniel Alfredson
Ahhhh. I like it when they make semi-decent movies out of shitty books. It gives me hope for humanity.
For my money at least, The Girl Who Played With Fire was the best of the three books Stieg Larsson shat out onto an unsuspecting world before he died. By ‘best’ I don’t actually mean that it was a great book. I just mean that out of three terribly written books, the second was the least worst of the trilogy.
Since I haven’t seen the last instalment in this series of flicks yet, I can’t say whether this is the best of the three. I thought the first flick, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, did pretty well whittling down a phonebook of empty and stolid prose into a competent enough crime investigation flick, with a compelling central character (Lisbeth Salander, not the journalist Blomkvist). She becomes even more central to proceedings here, as the second story, and indeed the rest of the series becomes the All About Lisbeth show.
It opens with Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) in the Caribbean, lazing away and working on a tan despite clearly, from years lived in the land of the midnightish sun, not possessing a skerrick of melanin throughout her emaciated body. She still bears the tattoos and piercings of her first incarnation, but now she also has a fortune stolen from some tangential business character in the first film.
When she returns to Sweden, after finding out that the sadistic advocate Bjurman (Peter Andersson) is trying to get the tattoo she helpfully gave him removed, she decides to step in and remind him that she’s the one in charge.
This starts a chain of events that results in Salander becoming Sweden’s public enemy number one as she is wanted for several murders, including those of a journalist and his scholar partner writing about the sex trade and human trafficking in Sweden and Europe.
All the while, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a pudgy middle-aged journalist, tries to convince the cops that Salander is innocent, and that there is a darker conspiracy afoot, whilst trying to track down Salander herself.
Because this wouldn’t be enough, they throw in Lisbeth’s lesbian lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi), so that there can be a scene of hot lesbian sex, a giant German guy with white hair who never feels any pain (Micke Spreitz) and some former boxing champ called Paolo Roberto (played by, funnily enough, Paolo Roberto) who gets involved with the crazy goings on.
dir: Ben Affleck
This flick is still limping its way out of Australian cinemas for at least another week, and so I’m glad not only that I got to see it on the big screen, but that I have something newish to review. Because gods know the world needs more of my movie reviews. You know you crave them, too. It’s like an addiction, I know.
It’s strange that the name ‘Ben Affleck’ as director inspires much more interest in me than when ‘Ben Affleck’ the actor is referred to. One piques my interest, the other inspires my whatevers impulse. When Ben Affleck is the director and the main character, then I’m the very definition of ambivalent.
It really can’t be overstated how good a flick Gone Baby Gone was, which indicated at least that Affleck, at the time, was better placed directing flicks than being in them. Consider it his long march towards redemption for the decade or so of flailing and Jennifer Lopez tabloid hysteria. With all the critical kudos he garnered for directing his brother Casey in probably the best flick they’ll ever be involved in, he somehow decided two seemingly contradictory things: that he should direct more films, and that people were clamouring to see him in front of the camera again.
Only one part of that equation is true, but, hey, it’s his flick, so if he wants to give himself the plum role, good luck to him.
The Town refers to Charlestown, a suburb of Boston even scummier than Dorchester. How do I even know anything about a suburb of Boston? Because of Ben Affleck movies set there and other flicks based on Dennis Lehane novels like that turgid Mystic River flick.
This suburb apparently has more bank robbers than Johannesburg, and it’s considered a family trade handed down from father to son. As such, our main character, Doug MacRay, played by Affleck, is a career crim and a most excellent hand at this armed robbery game. The first eight minutes of the flick involve a bank robbery carried out with ruthless efficiency by experts. A bank employee (Rebecca Hall) is taken hostage, sees something which could identify one of the crims, and is let free. Throughout her ordeal, Doug tries to not freak her out too much. He almost seems to care about her, to want to shield her from what he himself and his cohorts are doing.
dir: Akira Kurosawa
It seems pointless to praise a fifty-year-old film, 57 actually, at the time of writing, and to praise a film made by a highly praised director, in the shape of Japanese titan Akira Kurosawa.
Pointless has never stopped me before. In fact, pointless defines certain aspects of my more faux-artistic pursuits, so, if anything, writing a review of this strong film is amongst the most important things I’ll ever do today.
High and Low is a very familiar story: rich bastard protagonist, kidnappers kidnap a child, police get involved, and we wonder if the child will be saved and the criminals will get their comeuppance. But it’s made so long ago, and in such a calm, unhurried way, that it reinvigorates the elements themselves, making them seem so fresh even to people (like myself) utterly burned out on crime, police procedurals and mystery crap of this nature.
It’s based on an Ed McBain novel, but obviously the action has been transposed to Tokyo from the States. This isn’t a problem, since everything Kurosawa ever did was based on almost exclusively on non-Japanese texts. He makes it his own like he did with everything he ever stole from Dashiell Hammet, Shakespeare, Maxim Gorky, and George Lucas.
Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune, a regular feature of Kurosawa flicks), is a wealthy industrialist who lives in a square house on top of a hill that looks down upon a slum as one’s glance travels down to the sea. He is, in this, like Mifune is in everything, a gruff, blunt character who doesn’t so much talk as bark. Even before the plot kicks in, he argues with greedy executives, with his assistant, and his demure wife, like he’s a feudal lord, and they should feel honoured if all he allowed them was to lick the rice from his sandals.
dir: Jim Jarmusch
Jarmusch has always been a very idiosyncratic, in some ways quite limited director, but he made his magnum opus here. His films were interesting before and after it, especially Down By Law, Dead Man and Mystery Train, but Ghost Dog represents the pinnacle of his art form, for my money. I don’t have a lot of money at the moment, so I realise that’s not saying much.
On the surface it seems like a simple film: strange guy who calls himself Ghost Dog and pretends to be a samurai kills a bunch of people. And I guess it is. Simple, that is. But there is this persistent vision that permeates the flick, creating the urban world as seen through the lens of an ancient warrior’s code and Ghost Dog’s eyes which elevates the flick above its seemingly generic plot.
Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a large, ominous looking brother who meticulously and methodically plans and carries out assassinations. Though he is silent in all he does, we hear his voice in voiceover narrations, imparting the ancient wisdom of the samurai to us ignorant peasants in the audience.
dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
There was an explosion of drug films after, I dunno, some indeterminate point. Probably after Trainspotting, I’d say. Whatever and wherever the origin point of the renaissance in this nasty genre was, the one thing we do know is that even the Danish needed to get in on the act.
Now, I have to admit a certain amount of ignorance about Denmark. I know vaguely where it is, I imagine it’s very cold there, but I had this ridiculous idea that it was some kind of idyllic winter wonderland that would delight Hans Christian Anderson himself, what with his tales of naked emperors and little mermaids, even today.
Imagine my horror when Copenhagen is revealed to be as grimy and sleazy a place as everywhere else.
Pusher, part of a series of films that screened as a retrospective at the 2006 Melbourne Film Festival, is an ugly, grim, vicious film about drug dealing in Denmark’s capital. There’s isn’t a single sympathetic character in the whole film with a single redemptive quality.
None of that prevents the film from being somewhat entertaining.
dir: Brian De Palma
There is a place for trash in this world, especially in the world of cinema. No-one has made more of a career making entertaining and trashy films than De Palma. He’s never been able to shake the Alfred Hitchcock-wannabe moniker long enough to establish himself as a decent, respectable director. The closest he’s come was with The Untouchables, and that was a long time ago.
No, De Palma is a trashy director whose movies work best when he lets his dirty side come to the fore. For all his attempts at respectability, it is films like Carrie, Scarface, Dressed to Kill, Body Double and the gargantuan bomb that was Bonfire of the Vanities that he will be remembered for. Not for this one.
Considering his love of sleaze and lurid subject matter, it is a double shame that The Black Dahlia fails as badly as it does. You would think the pairing of De Palma and the James Ellroy novel fictionalising the details of the real Black Dahlia case, overflowing with depravity, corruption, madness and death as it is would be a marriage made in heaven. But De Palma drops the ball so comprehensively in the second half of the film that you have to wonder whether this one was strictly for the money.
It doesn’t help the film to be compared to LA Confidential, which covers similar ground in a far more entertaining fashion. The stories are very similar, as are most of Ellroy’s novels sharing their similar dynamics: two violent cops of varying degrees of corruptness try to solve two concurrent crimes whilst in the grip of some obsession having to do with women. There are depraved rich people, there are the shenanigans of the early powerbrokers of Hollywood, and scenes of great viciousness and goriness. The difference is that only one of these films is worth the celluloid it is printed on.
To be fair, the first part of the film works and is interesting. The most substantial problems are that Josh Harnett, playing one of the main characters, has the emotional range of a turnip, and that the film is wrapped up in the crappiest way possible with scenes of exposition following scenes of more leaden exposition capping it all off.
(Hak se wui yi wo wai kwai)
dir: Johnny To
It’s been a good year for Johnny To. Exiled and Election 2 have been well received by critics, even if Election 2 was banned in China because of its implications of government collusion with triad gangs (a truly shocking and outlandish claim). Surely such a thing could never be true. To’s films don’t seem to connect with audiences in a big way, which is a shame.
Following on two years from the events of the first film, Lok (Simon Yam) has been a successful Chairman for the Wo Sing triad, but it is time for another election. Though he seemed almost reluctant to seize the reigns of power in the first film (at least initially), holding power has changed him. Where we would expect the film to focus on the new potential Chairmen (which it does), Lok decides to throw his own spanners into the Wo Sing’s processes.
Of the young turks itching to become leader, the brightest star is also the most reluctant. Lok’s godson Jimmy (Louis Koo), who is a big earner for the triad, only sees working for the Wo Sing as a means to an end: he yearns to go legit. A multi-million dollar development in China is his pie in the sky, his chance to get out of the underworld and to star in the business world.
But nothing in this life is easy, especially when the Uncles of the Wo Sing want him to keep earning for them, when Lok seems determined to hold onto power, when other contenders for the throne are likely to threaten everything Jimmy values, and Jimmy himself is conflicted.
dir: Seijun Suzuki
I’ve watched this flick twice and I still haven’t got a fucking clue what happened. Forgive me for the language, since this is a family show. And as a father I really should be more circumspect in my choice of language. But honestly, for fuck’s sake, this flick is insane.
dir: Abel Ferrara
It’s tough loving a director who treats you so rough. Sure, some people are into that kind of thing, but I’m certainly not of the ‘Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’ school of relationship maintenance.
Abel Ferrara is a director I’ve admired and, yes, loved for a very long time. Like most long term relationships, there are ups and downs, but this relationship has always had more downs than ups. For the few films of his that I have loved (King of New York, Bad Lieutenant, The Funeral), there have been so many of his that I’ve downright loathed (pretty much everything else he’s ever directed) that it makes you wonder if it’s all worth it.
Do you keep the love going because of a few great moments in the past, when there doesn’t look like there’s any future glory coming? Or do you regretfully realise it’s time to call it quits?
It depends on your personality, I guess, or how deep the love goes.
It is specifically because of how great Bad Lieutenant is that I persist in my love of Ferrara, and my hope that he will one day justify that love again with something new. At the very least, I can watch this on DVD again and remember how great the great times were.
Bad Lieutenant is an amazing, aggressive, transgressive experience. On paper, it sounds like a nightmare: a very corrupt, drug-using cop rambles around New York having ugly adventures and abuses people at random for an hour and a half. His drug use is so frequent that most of the film involves watching Harvey Keitel either: scoring drugs, using drugs, goofing off on the drugs, naked and goofing off on the drugs, or combinations thereof. But there is a tiny bit more going on.