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Freedomland

dir: Joe Roth
[img_assist|nid=833|title=Terrible, just terrible goddamn film|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
As the old phrase goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s also drenched in an oil slick of egotism, smug righteousness and self-delusion.

Freedomland is a terrible mess of a film made by a director who hasn’t made a semi-decent movie in his entire career, unless you count Revenge of the Nerds II.

The plot isn’t the worst thing about this film, nor are (all) the acting performances, or its pacing or length, width or girth. The biggest problem is Julianne Moore’s performance as one of the main characters. For someone who’s considered to be so good, goddamn does she stink up the joint with her surreal attempts to act ‘down’. She is completely and fundamentally unbelievable in the role.

She plays Brenda, a recovering junkie whose son has gone missing. She works at a community outreach centre near some New Jersey projects, and tells police that she was carjacked with her son in the back seat on the way home.

Because her brother is a policeman in an adjoining borough, and because she’s white, the police go berserk on the projects, locking them down in order to find the kid.

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Miami Vice

dir: Michael Mann
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The world was crying out for a film version of Miami Vice the way that the world was crying out for a remake of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Mind Your Language or Filthy, Rich and Catflap. Yet, here it is, and here we are again, staring down the barrel of yet another review for a film that really shouldn’t exist.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Michael Mann is a wonderful director, and the film is competently and professionally well made. But it just doesn’t matter. I’ve had more heated experiences chatting to tombstones at the Carlton cemetery in a drunken stupor. Me, not the tombstones, though they were probably stoned (insert canned laughter here).

Some reviewers have had the temerity to say the film has nothing to do with the original series. I can only guess that these reviewers never watched that pastel and neon suffused series, and don’t really know what they’re talking about.

Apart from the grainy cinematography, this could virtually be a two hour version of a Miami Vice episode. The script for the film is lifted from an early first season episode. The only major difference is that there is plenty more swearing, violence and fucking than they ever could have shown on the telly.

Sweet, tender fucking. Not actual fucking of course. But, you know, it’s something different.

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Brick

dir: Rian Johnson
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Brick has a central conceit who presence balances the movie on a knife’s edge of being tolerable or intolerable: if you can stomach teenagers (or actors pretending to be teenagers) chewing over the hard-boiled dialogue of 40s noir in a contemporary setting, then you might enjoy Brick. If not, Brick will be one of the more pointless experiences you will endure this or any other year.

Brick has dialogue sometimes so hard to say and so hard to understand that you wonder if you’re watching a National Geographic documentary about some hitherto unknown American tribe discovered in the ruins of an ancient mall. But therein, for me at least, lies the fun. The director had been trying to get this project off the ground for nearly a decade, and has succeeded where so many others would have given up or caved in to soulless studio reps.

Take the thickened plot and chewy dialogue out, and you’re left with nothing of interest to anyone. Leave it in, and you get something that works most of the time, falters at others, but still remains interesting throughout. This first time director’s mistakes are sometimes as interesting as the times when he gets it right.

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Departed, The

dir: Martin Scorsese
[img_assist|nid=871|title=Dearly Departed|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=447]
The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s remake of the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs (Wu jian dao) manages something few remakes ever do: it improves on the original and contributes something more than just proving that there are no new ideas left in Hollywood.

People will argue endlessly over which is the better film, but it’s an irrelevant argument. Both films stand independently of each other, and do what they do best in their own ways. It’s not a competition, after all.

Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan take as much as they need from the original script, and add enough distinctive original material to make the film their own. They go to a lot of trouble to add substantial detail to make the story look like a product of its place and time, which makes many of the more central characters seem more believable.

The story is transplanted from Hong Kong to Boston, and the villains are transformed from triad gangsters to an Irish mob led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). With the location change, the premise remains the same: two men pretend to be something they are not.

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Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

dir: Chan-wook Park
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Considering the sheer quantity of crap that comes out at the cinemas and on DVD, it’s refreshing to occasionally get excited about a specific director’s work. It’s a grand affair to ‘discover’ a director whose work you’ve known nothing about before, whose work opens up a whole new world for you. You search out their earlier films, and you eagerly anticipate their new flicks.

The Chan-wook Park film I saw was Oldboy, just before the Lumiere cinema shut down, a year or two ago. The film, to put it mildly, and Americanly, rocked my world. It was a revelation, and not only did I set out to find out if his other films were as masterful, but I also became even more interested in checking out Korean films in general.

If you’re lucky, when this happens, you discover that the director and his people are even better film makers than you expected from the first effort you got to see. If you’re unlucky, you find out they’re a lucky bunch of hacks and their one good film was a fluke. You know, like Star Wars.

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Inside Man

dir: Spike Lee
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This would have to be the most conventional film Lee has made in his career, and of his recent films, one of his most successful.

Lacking the elegiac tone of The 25th Hour, it’s still another love letter to New York in the shape of a crime thriller with more stars than it has work for. Really, it’s too many. I’m sure Jodie Foster doesn’t really need the extra money.

Lee’s not as prolific as Woody Allen, but fellow New York spruiker Spike Lee does pump the flicks out. He has a bigger cast than usual, and a script written by someone else for once, alongside a bigger budget probably than many of his other films combined.

It’s unlikely that the racial and class themes permeating his earlier work have been abandoned. Here, they’re mostly put on hold in order to deliver a mainstream heist flick with a high wattage cast that doesn’t outstay its welcome, and, though profoundly unlikely in its conclusion, doesn’t make me want to punch random strangers in the crotch.

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Matador, The

dir: Richard Shepard
[img_assist|nid=891|title=Its no Remington Steele, but still.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=442]
For a low-key comedy made up mostly of two and then three people chatting, this is a surprisingly enjoyable flick. Also, as part of the done-to-death genre of hitmen and the people that love them, this flick manages to rise above the common morass and actually represents an amusing and entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

It surprised me, and I am rarely surprised, not counting the last time the cops knocked on my front door. No, Officer, I don’t know anything about anything. No, Officer, I don’t know anything about those death threats sent to Humphrey B. Bear, but if you ask me, the bitch had it coming.

There are only three roles of note in the flick, with Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis assaying those roles. Each of them does decent work in a talky flick with characters that seem simple but really needed to be nuanced in order to be memorable and sympathetic, which at least two of them are.

Julian (Brosnan) is a middle-aged hitman at the end of his professional tether. Though he’s enjoyed a lifetime of professional success, he finds he is losing his ability to perform at the crucial moment. As you might expect, such a person doesn’t really have an overly stable personality, and tends to live somewhat outside the norms of standard contemporary human behaviour.

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Sin City

dir: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, Quentin Tarantino and a bunch of circus monkeys on rollerskates
[img_assist|nid=892|title=All sorts of sins abound in Basin City|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=297]
Take the very essence of film noir, the constant smoking, the femme fatales, the violent goons, the black and white universe (especially). Distil it down to its purest elements, devoid of any pretensions apart from delivering the most violent, sleaziest explosion of trashy entertainment possible, and you have Sin City in all its vile glory.

And it is glorious. Glorious and unrepentant trash. It is the first movie adaptation of a comic book that looks exactly like the comic book (sorry, graphic novel). It is essentially a moving comic, animation with ‘real’ people in it. Of the recent crop of films where the only real thing in the scene is the people, Sin City is the most accomplished and best realised (on a slender budget), because it really achieves what it sets out to achieve. And at a fraction of the price.

Rating:

Election (Hak Se Wui)

dir: Johnny To
[img_assist|nid=915|title=Only slightly less corrupt than our own elections|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=588]
First off, this isn’t a review of the Alexander Payne flick of the same name from 1999. Reese Witherspoon does not star in this as an annoying overachiever who gets involved in a titanic struggle with Matthew Broderick.

This is not exactly a rare entry in Hong Kong cinema. More than half of the films made in Hong Kong since at least the 70s have been about the triads and their wicked ways. Election wants to go a little further than the usual, and tries to depict a story where the political machinations of the behind the scenes power struggles are more important than the machete fights and the slapping around of prostitutes. It also delves into the history and customs of the triads, making them seem as wholesome and long-standing as your local Rotary club or Masonic Hall.

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A History of Violence

dir: David Cronenberg
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Two men casually prepare to leave a fleabag motel in the morning. They are unhurried, a little drowsy, probably thinking about the long drive ahead. We don’t sense that there’s anything wrong until everything is so wrong that even I was surprised by their brutality.

In the next scene, a father comforts his daughter, who’s had nightmares about monsters in her closet. He keeps telling her repeatedly that monsters don’t exist, despite our recent evidence to the contrary. It is so overplayed that you know it’s not meant to just be foreshadowing. It’s meant to be Ironic.

There are monsters out there, but they’re not always the ones we expect them to be.

David Cronenberg, Canadian auteur and primary exponent of the ‘body horror’ genre, makes films too infrequently for my liking. All of his films, including the ones that don’t entirely work, are worth watching, His weakest films are better and more interesting than the best work most other directors are capable of.

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