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Crime/Heist

crime, con artist, heist, grifter

Nocturama

Nocturama

I have to admit, that's a pretty great film poster, maybe
better than the film itself(?)

dir: Bertrand Bonello

2016

Every now and then even people, like me, who’ve seen millions of films, will watch a film and say to themselves, or someone nearby, “I have no fucking idea what that was about.”

Sometimes having an experience like that fills me with great anger, and furious vengeance, like when I watched Upstream Color and hated it so much I recently watched it with my daughter just so she could know just how terrible and pretentious a ‘grown-ups’ film could be. More recently, when a flick garners some critical praise and I endeavour to seek it out, when I have an experience like the one I had last night watching this French flick, I just shrug my shoulders and think, “well, maybe it makes more sense to French people” and then go on with the rest of my life.

I can’t claim to understand what the point of Nocturama is or was, but I’m comfortable with that. It doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. As long as the director got something out of it, and the kids in the flick are happy with their work, then who the fuck am I to complain about it?

It would seem that this flick is about terrorism, or at least the main characters commit some acts of terrorism in the heart of Paris, but giving it political significance like that might be foolhardy. This flick was apparently made well before the massacre at the Bataclan where Eagles of Death Metal were meant to be playing, or the Bastille Day atrocity in Nice, or the myriad other instances of so many human lives being wasted for the dumbest reasons possible. The kids here don’t seem to be doing it for anything like the same reasons ie. fundamentalist hatred, loneliness, not getting the biggest slice of cake at that 8th birthday party.

If the ‘kids’ here have a leader, he is the straight-laced and dorky looking son of some mainstream French politician. He seems to be inspired by something, by some desire to make a statement, and has recruited a large group of perhaps similarly disaffected kids to his cause, who each might have their own reasons for getting involved. A number of them are perhaps from the kinds of backgrounds that Marine Le Pen and the rest of the National Front would want to boot out of the country or kill or both, but they don’t seem (I have no idea, really), seem to be doing what they’re doing for ideological reasons, or nationalistic reasons.

Rating:

Sicario

Sicario

She looks like she could shoot you unless you give her a cookie.
For your own safety, just give her a cookie

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2015

Well that was… harrowing.

If you haven’t already seen it, and don’t know what it means, the word ‘sicario’ basically means ‘assassin’, as in, someone who kills people for money.

I can’t claim any particular knowledge of Spanish that let me know this previously, but I did already know the term, mostly because of a weird Colombian film by Barbet Schroeder from ages ago called Our Lady of Assassins, or, as I knew it when I saw it, La Virgen de los Sicarios.

Why do I recall something like this from 15 years ago? Well, I had the movie poster on my wall. Back then when paper still existed, you’d pick up all the free posters from places like Cinema Nova that you could because they provided cheap and slickly well produced camouflage, perfect for hiding the damaged walls in rental properties from nosy property managers.

It’s something I’ve never forgotten, not because it was a good film, but because how could I forget such a concept? Teenage assassins wearing protective amulets of the Virgin Mary, praying to her to help them in their assassinations? It’s beyond absurd, it’s child-like and monstrous at the same time. Imagine the cognitive dissonance caused by trying to reconcile the concept that Jesus’s mother wants you to shoot some guy in the face, and will protect you until you do so.

Rating:

Gone Girl

Gone Girl

Maybe, if she's Gone, you should, I dunno, be out looking
for her instead of standing about looking like a confused,
lazy arsehole?

dir: David Fincher
2014
It’s enough to make you afraid to get married, ever.

As if guys and girls weren’t scared enough of commitment as it was. Now we have a movie come along, based on the bestselling potboiler, that explodes the myth of the Happy American Marriage in this age of social media, infidelity and dubious motivations.

What it boils down to is this: how much can you ever really know about what’s going on in the mind of the person next to you, no matter how much you think you know them?
The answer is, if the person next to you is a meticulous psychopath, not a whole hell of a lot.
The next question is, which one of the main characters in this flick is which?

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, perfectly suited to playing a big galoot who may harbour murderous tendencies) comes home to find that his wife is not where he expects her to be. As in, his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is the Girl who is Gone.

You’d naturally suspect the husband in a circumstance like this. A lot of the path much of this story follows is that of the Scott Peterson case, of a handsome young guy whose pregnant wife goes missing under dubious circumstances.

Rating:

The Rover

The Rover

Come the Apocalypse, there will be no
razors no more for ever!

dir: David Michod

2014

Wow. I’ve seen some grim movies in my time, and even this week, but this out-grims them all.

Well, maybe not all of them. It’d have to go a long way to out-grim The Road, Stalingrad, or Tinkerbell and The Pirate Fairy, but it’s certainly up there.

The funniest thing for me, if there is indeed anything I can say is funny in a flick so grim, is that the setting is kind of a post-apocalyptic one. And while the behaviour of the people in this scenario is certainly post-apocalyptic behaviour, visually it is indistinguishable from what the more sparse parts of Australia look like all the time.

In other words, my fellow Australians, we’re living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and we didn’t even notice.

The opening title card informs us that what we are about to see / experience / endure is set in a time ten years after “The Collapse”. We never really find out what that was, but what it means is that people are very dirty, Australian currency is ill-favoured compared to American dollars, there are Chinese people everywhere, and civilisation has broken down.

How can we tell? Well, everyone has guns and everyone’s shooting everyone else with pretty much nil repercussions.

Rating:

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin

This is what happens when you stop buying Will Oldham's
records, he starts going on kill-crazy rampages

dir: Jeremy Saulnier

2013

Beards. Who isn’t sick of them? I have one, and even I hate them. Everyone’s got one, from the guy who poorly serves you a beer at the Grace Darling hotel, to the homeless guy trying to wheedle some cash out of you so he can get some beers at the Grace Darling hotel.

Beards. They’re not good for much. I don’t know how the ladies abide them.

The homeless bum protagonist of Blue Ruin has a beard. There’s nothing hipster about his beard, I can assure you. He has the beard of the kind of man that eats out of the trash, and doesn’t grumble about it, in fact he’s grateful for whatever he gets, which is a great contrast from the last flick I saw.

When the film starts, it’s a slow horizontal pan across, through a house, as we eventually come to a man enjoying a nice bath. When other people arrive and start entering the house, the previously mentioned bearded man beats a hasty retreat.

Ah, he broke into their house for a bath and probably some food. He’s a hero already as far as I’m concerned.

Regardless of the brief shelter, he continues to eke out a grim existence sleeping in what looks like the shell of a car, scavenging where he can, collecting bottles and cans and such for change. It’s not as pleasant a life as some right wing conservatives tend to tell us it is.

Rating:

Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives

Not even God will forgive you for being so devilishly handsome

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

Holy Shit! What the hell was that all about?

What a strange, pointless film.

Well, maybe it’s not pointless, in that its point is to be a very lurid kind of film, very similar to other kinds of lurid, nasty films that this same prick of a director has made in the past. Refn has made, to date, films as stylised, nasty, pointless and quease-inducing as the Pusher trilogy, Bronson, Valhalla Rising and Drive
.

All nasty, all distinctive (in that they look like the work of a few other directors, rather than most other directors), but hard to really pin down, or, in my case, like. Drive, his last one, was beloved by a lot of people who have the singular distinction and blessing of not being me. I really couldn't see what the fuss was all about. I will agree that a non-verbal Ryan Gosling could be a good thing if you didn't like the Canadian way he talked, but I like Gosling as much when he's talking as when he's not.

I knew that Only God Forgives would be something of a trawl, a low-life transgressive foray into the dark underbelly of Refn's brain, and I expected to hate it, hearing how pointlessly lurid and violent it was.

Rating:

The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf of Wall Street

Would you buy a movie ticket from this man?

dir: Martin Scorsese

The Eighties Onslaught Continues!

I don't want to see any more films set in the 80s any more, at least for a while. That toxic decade is being over-represented at the moment, and I'm sick of it.

I mean, sure, it was a great time that a lot of awesome people lived during, way better people than those born in the 90s, but enough is enough.

"Enough is enough" is not a phrase that people like Jordan Belfort must have heard often enough, or accepted, ever. I don't think it's a phrase Peter Jackson understands either. And I don't think anyone says it often enough to Martin Scorsese, because here he has a 3 hour film celebrating the excesses and sheer horribleness of Jordan Belfort and almost every single person around him.

Yes, it's way too much film. It felt like, after the 2 hour mark, that I was watching the Director's Cut version you watch years down the track way after the cinematic release of a successful film. A two-hour version comes out, 2 and a half if it's Oscar-bait, which this most definitely is, and then years later a Director's Cut DVD comes out adding all the stuff the studios forced the director to cut out in order to not test the tolerance level of audiences too much.

Rating:

Now You See Me

Now You See Me

Now You See Them, But I'm Telling You, Don't Bother
Looking At Them At All. You'll thank me later.

dir: Louis Letterier

It's pretty strange that I was excited to see this flick. How a man of my age gets to be excited by the prospect of watching a bunch of actors pretend to be magicians who pull off bank heists is a mystery even to me, dear reader.

Somehow the premise did its weird alchemy on my brain chemistry, and I was hungry for this flick despite knowing very little about it except for some positive reviews.

Yes, I was tremendously disappointed. Can you hear it in the tone of what's written thus far?

It would be unfair to call this flick terrible, perhaps. Calling it a worthless waste of my time would perhaps be closer to the mark.

The first fifteen minutes or so of flick introduces us to a number of magicians: sleight-of-hand guy, pickpocket, hypnotist and escapist. Someone is watching them as they do their thing. This someone wears a hood, and has his or her back to us, the audience, as they leave a tarot card for these various goons to find.

The sleight-of-hand guy is played by a guy so intensely arrogant that he could have been played by Mark Zuckerberg himself. Instead they get Jesse Eisenberg to play him. He turns down sex with a sweet young thing just because he sees this card appear in his boot.

There's no reason for the card to be so powerful; it's a mystery to us and to him for the whole film as to why he would have turned that girl down because of the card.

Rating:

Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths

I assure you there are more than seven psychopaths
involved with this movie

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.

Rating:

End of Watch

End of Watch

Porkers on patrol, pigs on parade, bacon in black and
bullies in the pulpit

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.

Rating:

Killer Joe

Killer Joe

Y'all nasty people make me sick to my goddamn stomach

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.

Rating:

Savages

Savages

You'd think this was a serious drama from the poster. Sucked in!

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?

Rating:

Get the Gringo

Get the Gringo

Crazy, I'm crazy for feeling so lonesome, crazy
for feeling so blue

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.

Rating:

Snowtown

Snowtown

Not a place you should visit for more than 2 hours

dir: Justin Kurzel

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.

Rating:

Drive

Drive

"Just shut up and keep your eyes on the road, and just Drive" she said.

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.

Rating:

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Love, exciting and new. Come aboard, they're expecting you

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.

Rating:

The American

dir: Anton Corbijn
[img_assist|nid=1346|title=You can't run away from you mid-life crisis, Georgy Porgy|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=693]
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.

Rating:

Pusher III: I'm the Angel of Death

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
[img_assist|nid=1248|title=Would you buy drugs from this man?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=425|height=284]
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.

Rating:

Overheard (Qie ting feng yun)

dirs: Alan Mak and Felix Chong
[img_assist|nid=1229|title=A little birdie told me...|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=236]
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.

Rating:

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

dir: Werner Herzog
[img_assist|nid=1207|title=Give me your drugs, ladies, please|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=394]
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.

Rating:

Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (2009)

dir: Tony Scott
[img_assist|nid=1045|title=These blue-skinned alien types always think they're so cool|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=355|height=528]
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.

Rating:

Brothers Bloom, The

dir: Rian Johnson
[img_assist|nid=925|title=Is it raining, or are we just being quirky?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=251]
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.

Rating:

Infernal Affairs

(Mou gaan dou)
[img_assist|nid=1038|title=Can I point my gun at your head for a while? Thanks.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=430|height=261]
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.

Rating:

Town, The

dir: Ben Affleck
[img_assist|nid=1338|title=Nuns on the run with guns|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=591]
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.

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High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku)

1963

dir: Akira Kurosawa
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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.

Rating:

Girl Who Played With Fire, The

(Flickan som lekte med elden)
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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.

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Animal Kingdom

dir: David Michôd
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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.

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Black Dahlia, The

dir: Brian De Palma
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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.

Rating:

Election 2

(Hak se wui yi wo wai kwai)
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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.

Rating:

RocknRolla

dir: Guy Ritchie
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I wish I could say that RocknRolla is a return to form, finally, for the guy who hasn’t made a decent flick since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. And, in fact, I can say it. It is a return to form. The problem is, the movie is still a total fucking mess. The difference is that compared to his other recent movies, it’s an entertaining mess.

Lock, Stock’s supreme virtue is that it was Ritchie’s first flick, so it was the first time we saw him do his shtick, and, on the most part, we liked it. Everything he’s done since then has either been a dull retread or a painful revelation of how little he brings to the directorial table. Don’t ever watch his stupid flick called Revolver. You’ll kill someone afterwards if you do. Possibly even a puppy.

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