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Drama

The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back

Would you buy a used Coming-Of-Age story
from this man?

dir: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Coming of age stories… what would cinema be without them? It’d all be giant robots and zombies and werewolves and cars smashing all over the place, hopefully all in the same movie.

Their virtue is that they’re meant to be universally relatable, both to troubled teens and their dull, enervated parents who very faintly remember what it was like to be a troubled teen. It’s a way of reliving highly charged times, and vicariously, in some cases, getting it right this time around.

The Way Way Back, it’s pretty obvious, was initially written to be set in the 1980s. It had to have been considering the sheer abundance of 80s references and marginalia. However, someone must have decided that you could just set it contemporarily, not have people wandering around with iPhones and tight pants slightly drooping down at the crotch, and you could have the best of both worlds, as dubious a concept as that might be.

The lead character is Duncan (Liam James), a shrinking violet if ever a violet shrunk. He has good cause. His parents have divorced recently, which is bad enough, but her new partner, Trent (Steve Carrell) is the classic kind of arsehole these stories invariably require. Everyone needs obstacles to overcome, and quite often those obstacles are the people that treat you like shit.

Rating:

Stoker

Stoker

Mothers and their daughters, mirrors into each other's
dysfunction

dir: Park Chan-wook

There are families, there are dysfunctional families, and then there is the Stoker family. I went into this knowing next to nothing about it other than it was the English-language debut of the great Korean director Park Chan-wook, perhaps best known for Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, two outstanding and grim examples of the best South Korean cinema has to offer.

But, he’s also the director of films I’ve liked a lot less, mostly because I was expecting something significantly different from what he intended to show us, the fools in the audience, and that can affect how you appreciate something.

This is a very dark and macabre film. Beautiful, no doubt, beautifully constructed and composed, as are all his films, but it's cold, detached, at a remove, like some of its main characters, uninterested in having its audience care about whatever happens to most of the characters in the film.

India Stoker (Australia's Own Mia Wasikowska) is an odd girl, something of a goth, obsessed with death and clearly not quite right in the head. She dresses like a creepy girl of an earlier era, in fact she dresses like Wednesday Addams from The Addams Family. The poor girl, apart from clearly being somewhat disturbed even before the film starts, loses her beloved father on her 18th birthday, upon which she discovers a great many things about her family that she never knew about.

Rating:

Mud

Mud

He ain't no Mudhoney, that's for sure

dir: Jeff Nichols

Mud continues a fairly stellar run for an actor people wrote off as a vacant himbo jock a long time ago. 'People' being me. And yet somehow, inexplicably, the Renaissance of Mathew McConaughey continues.

But it's not even his film. Mud firmly belongs to one of the two boys who are the film's leads, not to the character of the title. It's a coming-of-age story for a boy called Ellis, a boy living a hard scrabble life on the banks of the Mississippi River, amongst and amidst a whole bunch of riverbillies or swampbillies, whatever the right term is. And they all earn our sympathies, every one of them. Every single goddamn one of them.

Ellis is the one going through the grinding agony of finding out that life is one crushing, disillusioning disappointment and letdown after another. And there's some joy, beauty and hope along the way.

It has nothing to do with Winter's Bone, another stellar flick about a young kid trying to get by in an impoverished and shitty world, but it reminded me of it a bit. It has another strong performance by a teenager in a complicated role.

Rating:

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

The less-than-Great Gatsby: at least the flick has pretty people in it

dir: Baz Luhrmann

Instincts came to the fore, hackles rose up unbidden just thinking about it. Issues filled my head with noise. No porter had to carry my baggage into this cinematic experience because I was happy to do so myself, choosing without a gun to my head, to voluntarily watch another Baz Luhrmann film.

Yet it seduced me all the same. For about an hour. Then it discarded me, ashamed and disillusioned, by the side of the road, well before it ended. Really, looking back, I should have known this would happen. It couldn’t have gone any other way.

After the crime against humanity that was Australia (not the formation of the country, but the execrable movie Luhrmann birthed in unholy fashion upon a suspecting world), I really didn’t think Baz had anything left to say that I wanted to hear. The prospect of seeing his version of the alleged Greatest of the Great American Novels brought to the screen was too tantalising a trainwreck to pass on, all the same.

Rating:

Hello, I Must Be Going

Hello I Must Be Going

These posters explain nothing about what these films are about

dir: Todd Louiso

Hello, I must be going.
I cannot stay,
I came to say
I must be going.
I'm glad I came
but just the same
I must be going.

You have to imagine Groucho Marx singing it, of course, for the full effect, but that’s where the title of this lovely little movie comes from.

I’m not going to pretend I understand what it means in the context of the movie, its deeper significance and whatnot, but I’ll smile and nod my head if you have an explanation.

Hello, I Must Be Going. is a very quiet, very low-key movie, the kind of movie I really enjoy watching and reviewing, especially after seeing some bloated big budget 3D monstrosity in the Cineplex, gorging both visually, on fake buttered popcorn and my own bile. The central performance is by Melanie Lynskey, a name most people don’t recognise, but when you see her, you go “oh yeah, her. Yeah, she’s pretty good at stuff.”

She’s been working for ages, ever since Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures: that tribute to teenage girls lezzing out and killing people who try to keep them apart. She might not have reached the heights like her co-star Kate Winslet, but she’s been putting in solid work for decades.

This is one of the only times where she’s played the main role in one of her films that I can think of. She’s usually a supporting character, which she’s fine at, but now it’s her time to shine.

Rating:

Upstream Color

Upstream Color

It's important to feel safe

dir: Shane Carruth

What a freaky film. It’s probably the strangest film I’ve seen this year. It’s probably the strangest film I’ll see all year. There are six months to go, so, who knows?

It will be very hard to give a synopsis of this flick in a coherent way that will give a sense of what it was like to watch this movie. A few films are good, a lot of flicks are mediocre, but very few films deliberately avoid pandering to an audience by being very hard to understand and aggressively difficult to watch. This, from the same guy who made the low-key low-budget time travel flick Primer, is just such a concoction.

Most flicks, with the business model/logic behind them that generates them, go out of their way to be as easily consumable as possible. Upstream Color doesn’t seem to want to go the easy route, or to really be understood or explained in the way most flicks seem to work. At least that's what I think happened. For all I know, it makes perfect sense, and I'm way too thick to make sense of it, because I'm clearly not a genius.

It’s also aggressively edited as well, and I don’t mean in the way that a Michael Bay movie or one of the Bourne movies will be over-edited to stop you from realising how deeply stupid the plot or action of such a flick is. The purpose here seems to be to keep you unsettled, deeply unsettled.

Rating:

Promised Land

Promised Land

What's over there? Is it coming this way?

dir: Gus Van Sant

Humans are by their very natures perverse creatures. We want what we don't have and forget why we wanted it so desperately once we get it.

I could go on giving you examples of the strangeness that is our legacy, as if you weren't ever aware that people were like this, but the reason why I'm even bringing this up is because this flick had a strange effect on me.

There's barely anyone on the planet that would disagree that this flick is anti-fracking propaganda. I doubt the director Van Sant or Matt Damon or Frances McDormand would be surprised by any of this. It's a position, a stance, an opinion that I basically share. The people in this flick, patiently building their straw men for the purpose of knocking them down, are saying something that I, a person who doesn't trust corporations or governments to do what's right by the people until they're forced to, basically agree with.

I don't particularly love "the environment", but I know a few people that do, and since I consider 'the environment' to be that place where I live (ie. the Earth), I lean towards not completely wrecking the place, or using the way Nature was dressed as an excuse for despoiling it.

The net effect, however, of watching a flick like this is that it makes me think, "jeez, maybe fracking isn't that bad after all."

Rating:

Ginger and Rosa

Ginger and Rosa

The key is: don't turn out like Linsday Lohan or
Kristen Stewart, girls

dir: Sally Porter

I have loved Sally Potter for a long time, all because of Orlando, from so long ago that it barely warrants repeating.

No, that's not a prelude to me spending most of this review talking about a different film, something I often do. Most of her other films since then haven't really impacted upon me to any level similar to what I got from Orlando, a level of connection that haunts me to this day.

Ginger and Rosa is no different, in that it didn't really dazzle me or resonate deeply with me, but it's still a decent film. It's very modest in its scope, somewhat lacking in ambition, but that gives it plenty of opportunity to focus entirely upon one character almost to the exclusion of all others. It's also another opportunity for Elle Fanning to show what an accomplished actress she is at such a young age.

Two mothers give birth in a London delivery room. They clasp hands without knowing the other, needing the comfort of someone else going through something transformative. They forge a link, and their born daughters are linked too, closer than sisters and bonded beyond reason. Yeah, they're the one's in the title.

Rating:

Amour

Amour

Maybe if I loved you just a little bit more,
then everything would be okay

dir: Michael Haneke

That guy, what do they call him? Oh yeah, the Grim Reaper.

As if life itself isn’t enough of a reminder of it, this movie reminds us why the Reaper is always preceded by the adjective ‘Grim’.

We live our lives knowing that they will end, but, to function every day, to find meaning in the little things, we have to push that thought and its attendant fear out of our minds. I’m not pretending I came up with the Denial of Death concept, or that I’m Ernest Becker. I wish. Things I’d do with all those royalties.

But we know, we know. Everyone one of us, everyone we know, who we love or hate, all of us go into that great oblivion, and thinking about it too much crushes us.

So we watch a film about two seniors, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), people who’ve lived fulfilling and meaningful lives together, who’ve aged the way we all do, who still, somehow, thought the ‘end’, whatever form that would take, would somehow skip over them, at least for a while longer.

But ‘this’ is ‘it’. To be betrayed by one’s body despite not having done anything ‘wrong’. It is to be helpless in the face of mortality, like we all are, but still feel the inherent unfairness of it, because it’s always going to feel unfair.

Rating:

Flight

Flight

I don't care what anyone says, you're a goddamn hero
and a role model to us all

dir: Robert Zemeckis

It’s enough to put you off flying for ever. Or drinking. Or drinking while flying forever.

This is a strange flick, with strange rhythms and strange themes. It seems like it’s going to be about one thing (a tremendous plane crash), and it ends up being about something completely different (alcohol addiction). Even then, it seems like it’s going to be more about what an unrepentant arsehole the main character is, ably played as always by Denzel Washington, than any kind of redemption, and then it shifts again.

I wouldn’t say the shifts in tone and purpose confounded me or surprised me, but the truth is they didn’t leave me any the wiser about anything inside this film or out of it.

As the film begins, a grumpy middle-aged man awakes, but not before we see his naked bed partner go through her morning routine. The routine involves finishing off last night’s booze, taking a few puffs of the chronic, and bumping a few rails of cocaine.

That sort of behaviour is all well and good for rockstars, primary school teachers and televangelists, but we see with shock and horror that this chap with this morning regimen is a pilot about to fly a plane. And the guy is still drinking, even as he’s flying!

Rating:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Perks of Being a Wallflower

If only for one night, at least for
one moment,
we
are
infinite

dir: Steven Chbosky

I’m a romantic, but I’m also fairly cynical. I watch a lot of movies, a hell of a lot, as you can probably see from just scrolling down a bit. Most movies don’t move me. Most movies provoke little more than mild interest while their playing, and I sometimes get that curious sensation of walking out of a cinema or pressing stop on the Blu-Ray player or switching cable channels, and being unable to remember, for the life of me, what I just watched.

Few movies move me. The Perks of Being a Wallflower moved me, a lot.

Why do they keep making films and television shows about high school, about coming of age? Because those of us who survive it remember it our whole lives, and we’re always hoping for some way to go back and get it right.

My heart was breaking for Charlie (Logan Lerman) within minutes of the film starting, and then, for the rest of its duration, it kept rebuilding that heart meticulously before smashing it again and again. I felt so much for this character that I started finding it absurd that I was so moved by it.

I’m not so easily moved to tears, but some elements of the human condition appeal to me endlessly, and always will, I hope. Charlie is about to start high school in Pittsburgh, I think, in the early 90s, and he’s dreading it. He has a number of reasons, the main one being that he’s a wallflower, someone who feels they are perpetually on the outside, looking in.

Rating:

The Master

The Master

Strange people doing strange stuff to and for each other

dir: Paul Thomas Anderson

I think Paul Thomas Anderson makes the weirdest Oscarbait films in the whole world. Even more so than obscure Mongolian yak herders turned filmmakers and all of France. The Master is another strange film, with a goofy ending, to add to the pile of strange films this man puts out there into the world, for our adulation and confusion.

For years leading up to its release, I kept hearing that The Master was going to be an expose on the creator of Scientology and the whole stinking cult itself. Then publicists and such backtracked those comments, fearful of incurring the wrath of the Church and its powerful devotees, you know, people like John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Will Smith. Who wants those angry, frightening people pissed off with you?

Having watched the film now, I mean, obviously, since I’m reviewing it, I am none the wiser. I mean the so-called Master of the title is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, that great pink honey glazed ham of an actor, and he’s called Lancaster Dodd. Lancaster Dodd isn’t the same as L. Ron Hubbard, is it, but there are enough consonants in common to give it some kind of commonality.

Rating:

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

The Heights, they be a-wuthering. The moors, too.

dir: Andrea Arnold

There are probably a million versions of this story, and yet this is the first I’ve watched the whole way through. I know there’s versions with chronic overactors like Laurence Olivier and Ralph Fiennes playing the smouldering Heathcliff, but none of them have ever been compelling enough to compel me to watch them.

I don’t have a good reason as to why. As a pseudo-intellectual pretentious wanker (First Class) who also happens to make millions on the side from writing film reviews read by scores of people, it’s almost a negligent crime to not have read and seen at least fifteen versions of Wuthering Heights by now. I should really turn in my union card before the Goth Union comes after me.

Still, I’ve heard the Kate Bush song hundreds of times, and the even funnier Mr Floppy parody version of Kate Bush’s song, so I thought I’d totally be up on all the details upon finally watching a Wuthering Heights film.

Jeez Louise! I never knew Emily Bronte had such a dirty mouth! They should dig her up and wash her fingertips out with soap for all the shocking, shocking language on aural display here.

Rating:

Hope Springs

Hope Springs

Just get a goddamn divorce already

dir: David Frankel

Ye gods and little fishes, if there was one message, one singular plea this film seems to be making to us in the audience, it would be thus; like the words of the ancient Queen Elizabeth to the young Orlando in the film of the same name: "Do not wither, do not grow old".

But what choice do we have? No tablet, no serum, no surgery, nothing spares us from the entrenchment of our own awful habits and the miserly ways this film alleges we inevitably fall prey to, far beyond what age naturally and lovingly does to our physical forms.

See, that I can take. The falling apart of the body doesn’t frighten me, since I’ve been falling apart like a rusty cyborg with leprosy for, oh, simply ages now. I expect it just gets easier from here on in, and if I’m wrong, please have the decency not to tell me about it. It’s the emotional ossification, the hardening of one’s life into an unvarying repetitive routine that I find truly terrifying.

Rating:

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Where the Southern Wild Things Are

dir: Benh Zeitlin

It’ll come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I don’t always understand the films I watch. I watch a lot of films, but that doesn’t mean I’m any better at deciphering them than anyone else, including and especially you.

Often that lack of understanding infuriates me, and makes me think less of the flick and the people involved, because I blame them for it. Other times it’s just a reason to be bored, which negates any effort to expend any brain power nutting it out because it doesn’t seem worthy of such labours.

Other times that confusion, if that’s what it is, doesn’t matter, and is of a piece with what I’m watching, and instead of causing me to pull away because of it, it allows me to let go, at least a little bit, of the nagging, querulous critic in my head, and just be embraced by the film. Some of my favourite films defy logical, precise, plodding explanation as to everything that happens in it, what it all means, how it happened or why.

I’m not saying that Beasts of the Southern Wild is now one of my favourite films of all time (it’s a pretty long and potentially embarrassing list), but it manages to capture some of the elements that provoke deep feeling in me, or at least it provoked in me some of the feelings that I mentioned previously.

Rating:

Natural Selection

Natural Selection

You can pick your family, but you can't pick your genes

dir: Robbie Pickering

Every now and then you need a quiet, chilled-out flick as a bit of a palette cleanser. A bit of cooling pickled ginger after the burning momentary wasteland of wasabi. A nice, clean beer after a nasty shot of rotgut whisky served in a dirty glass. Most of the last twenty or so films I’ve watched have been pretty intense, so something light and breezy is surely desirable.

Natural Selection is one of those flicks I knew practically nothing about before watching it, other than it was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival some time or another. Something being a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival doesn’t usually make me want to watch something especially much, in fact it’s more likely to make me recoil in horror and contemplate watching another Michael Bay film instead.

But it was liked by a few people who I take seriously, and so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

It’s an odd bird of a flick, but nonetheless it’s an enjoyable one about a woman going on a very modest journey of reflection and self-discovery. Thankfully, this doesn’t involve Julia Roberts or Tuscany or getting a vibrator for the first time.

Rating:

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

Don't they look like they're having fun? It's not going to last.

dir: Kieran Darcy-Smith

Wow, did I get this one wrong.

This flick was completely not what I thought it would be, either in style or content. For some reason I had this idea it was a light-hearted romantic drama about two Australian couples travelling overseas and finding out stuff about each other and coming to terms with stuff etc.

Spectacularly wrong, incandescently wrong. I could not have been more wrong if I’d thought I was about to watch a film clip for Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here, sung by Christina Aguilera as Lady Gaga spanks her with a rhesus monkey.

It turns out it’s a sly reference to the postcard one used to be able to send, saying the title, as in, Really, I’m Glad That You’re Not Here, But I Just Wanted to Rub Your Nose In the Fact That I’m Here and You’re Not. That’s what it’s always meant in reality, but this flick, which has a black streak through it a mile wide.

Rating:

Your Sister's Sister

Your Sister's Sister

Make a choice and stick with it next time, ya drunks

dir: Lynn Shelton

What is Mark Duplass bribing people with in order to keep turning up in all these films lately? Has he got some great weed? An abundance of serious green bankroll from all those indie megahits he’s co-directed or starred in? A fantastically long penis that not only hits all the right spots but sings a sweet, melancholy torch song afterwards?

However he’s doing it, here he is again, at least from the perspective of my week, in that I’ve accidentally seen him in two films in only a few days. What a harsh coincidence. What cruellest fate in the kindest month.

At the very least I can console myself with the fact that I enjoyed his performance, goofy performance at that, much more than I did in Safety Not Guaranteed. It helps that he’s not playing a mental case here. His character here, all the same, is somewhat depressed, and a bit obnoxious, so it’s not like he’s stretching himself out of all shape or comfort zones.

A group of friends, and the brother (Duplass) of a guy who died the previous year, get together to remember him and to have a drink in his honour. We don’t know who the guy was, but one of the attendees (stand up comedian Mike Birbiglia) gets up and says some nice words, making people, including Iris (Emily Blunt), an ex-girlfriend of the guy, get all misty-eyed and nostalgic.

Rating:

The Turin Horse (A Torinoi Lo)

The Turin Horse

Depression in cinematic form. Enjoy, you lucky so-and-sos!

dir: Bela Tarr

Sometimes you watch a film knowing you’re not going to enjoy it. It’s with the foreknowledge that the reason for watching the film is not the pursuit of entertainment or escapism; it’s with the expectation that the experience is going to be a difficult one with no promise of redemption or eventual meaning.

What compelled me to watch this film, The Turin Horse, and review it, for you, the utterly nonplussed reader?

Curiousity, dear reader, nothing but curiosity.

I have heard of Hungarian director Bela Tarr, but never seen one of his films before. They are famous, or notorious, for being extremely long, consisting of very long, uncut scenes of people not doing very much. His most famous film, Satantango, is over seven hours long. He’s the quintessential director of the kinds of films people who never watch arthouse films think arthouse films are all like.

As such, The Turin Horse is practically the epitome of a parody of European arthouse films: it’s in black and white, the tone is overwhelming in its sombre dourness, there are peasants in peasanty clothing doing peasant things, the soundtrack is a repetitive, depressing four tone dirge, and what dialogue we hear (or read, since it’s subtitled, unless you’re Hungarian) is either trivial, makes no sense or is pretentious drivel and the point of it all is almost a complete mystery even to the most attentive and hopeful of viewers.

Rating:

Arbitrage

Arbitrage

(to the Beastie Boys' tune ) Tellin' all y'all it's Arbitrage!

dir: Nicholas Jarecki

With a title like that they're going to be turning away teenagers from cinemas in droves, whacking them with sticks and pepper spray-smeared tasers.

I mean, who doesn't get a little wet hearing the silky, seductive word 'arbitrage'? Say it to yourself with a sensuous lilt to your voice, like you're a phone sex worker or telemarketer. From Mumbai, south of the Melbourne where you are from, mister sir.

I like to think that this is the sequel to Pretty Woman, though they couldn't get Julia Roberts to reprise the least convincing role as a prostitute any woman has played in the history of women and movies. Thankfully, they got an actual actress to play the role this time, being Susan Sarandon. But Gere, Richard fucking Gere is the lead.

I have to admit to a certain bias here that colours my ability to appreciate such a film: I'm not much of a fan of Richard Gere, in fact, I find his squinty mole-like eyes and hammy performances gut-wrenchingly difficult to sit through. It's not fair to him, or you, dear reader, but it's more honest this way, more respectful of you. That way you can assess for yourself whether my opinion is based on what I thought of what might be a decent flick, or whether it's just that I can't stand a particular element of it, skewing my perceptions shamefully.

Rating:

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

Enter the fussy world of Wes Anderson, again and again
and again

dir: Wes Anderson

Every couple of years we are graced with another Wes Anderson film, and those that hate him and all his works are gifted with the opportunity to rant again as to why they loathe him, and those who rave for him do the opposite. My relationship is somewhat more complex, in that I find myself liking some of his flicks and not others, but it never sits as simply as “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff.”

Moonrise Kingdom is his latest (well, duh), and I enjoyed it well enough. It’s of a piece. You know what to expect in every present and future Wes Anderson film if you’ve seen at least two of them, because they never vary in their meticulous look, in their affected acting and in their quirky awkwardness that we’re meant to find endearing.

That doesn’t mean they’re all equally good or equally bad. I guess if you like the underlying story and fussy aesthetics, it makes up for all the Andersonian fetish work you have to sit through in order to get to that ‘happy’ place.

Rating:

Magic Mike

Magic Mike

Manly, oily men doing manly, oily things

dir: Steven Soderbergh

If you'd told me I was destined to watch and enjoy a film about male strippers in this here year of our Lord 2012, I would have scoffed and called you a liar to your face, despite your obvious track record as a fortune-teller and clairvoyant. If it was some other year, maybe 1997, maybe it might have been possible. But not now. Not in this bright, shining time of technological pinnacles and economic doom.

And yet stranger things have happened. It helps that it's directed by Soderbergh, who's been a consistently interesting director for decades (except when making those Ocean's 11-13 movies). And it also helps that they have a real life Chippendale in the lead role. Well, maybe not a Chippendale, but research shows that Channing Tatum was apparently the actual thing he portrays in this flick before he became an actor: a male stripper, stripping not to get through college but to get by until one of his actual dreams for financial security come true. He is surprisingly good in the role, and I say 'surprisingly' not because he's not a good match for the role but in spite of it.

Rating:

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Andolu'da)

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a whole bunch of people
didn't live happily ever after

dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

This is a remarkable film, a very long film, in which very little happens. It's about something fairly important, in that three car loads of gentlemen for most of the film's length are driving around the bleak landscape of Central Anatolia for an important reason, but that reason seems to be out of proportion with the journey they endure.

In essence it becomes less about a murder investigation and more about the men involved, even though we get the barest amount of information about them. And then they drive on and on.

As the film opens, there are three men we observe behind a window, chatting about stuff and laughing, and then one of them gets up and looks out the window. This takes a fair amount of time.

The next we see, after the titles, is a barren landscape in fading light, as a bunch of cars drive across, looking for something. It will be a long time for us and them before they find anything. More so for us.

What follows is a very naturalistic, very mundane police procedural, but don't for a second confuse it with a CSI: Turkey. It's not a forensic investigation or even an investigation. These chaps know who committed the crime, and the guilty are there with them as they drive around in their cars. In fact, there's not a scintilla of mystery to the proceedings. There's just cold hard reality.

Rating:

The Way

The Way

Move along, sir, there's no redemption for you here

dir: Emilio Estevez

Of all the people in the world available to direct films, you would think or hope that one of them wouldn't have to be Emilio Estevez, mega superstar of St Elmo's Fire and Young Guns fame. Estevez, one guesses, is somewhat forced to direct movies now because he's not inexplicably sought after like his drug addled brother Charlie Sheen, or as talented as his father Martin Sheen.

What better combination could there be than Estevez directing and Martin starring? Well, I guess they could have had Charlie playing a role too, maybe in the role as the lead female.

The Way is a movie about a father (Sheen) making a long pilgrimage to honour his son, who dies while on that same pilgrimage. It's not as complicated as it sounds. The father is a stodgy opthamologist who lives alone and plays golf solely to cover the fact that he has nothing else going on in his life. The only remaining family he has since his wife's death is his son Daniel (Estevez), the last contact with whom occurred when father was dropping son off at the airport. Son was all like "Dad, you should be totally out there living life and travelling and such" and the father is like "Buckle down, grow up, get a job you hate, work it for forty years, because that's what people do."

Rating:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Shiny, unhappy British people holding hands and
cursing the natives

dir: John Madden

Movies for oldies. Why not? Many of them have oodles of disposable income, and they’re as keen about being pandered to at the cinema as much as anyone else is. Plus, cinemas like my local arthouse Cinema Nova needs something to play on Mondays to make the oldies queue up like they’re offering free flu shots.

This niche is a pleasant enough niche, smelling as it does of casseroles, Vicks Vaporub and unwashed dishes, and it often results in some very excellent films, not all of them being Merchant Ivory productions. Sure, they don’t want to startle the old folks with anything even mildly shocking, so these flicks tend to be fairly safe and pedestrian affairs, but that doesn’t mean they are lacking in beauty.

On some levels I was watching this thinking “I should hate this and everything it stands for”, but the actors involved are too good, and the episodic, sometimes haphazard nature of the narrative are woven together well enough to overcome the hokeyness of some of the material.

Rating:

A Separation

A Separation

You've got to keep them separated

dir: Asghar Farhadi

Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) are seeking a separation, a divorce, in other words. They plead their respective cases to the judge. The judge, in this case, is the camera. For five minutes they argue at each other through the ‘judge’, who keeps admonishing them for whatever they are trying or not trying to do.

They make their plaintive statements, in Nader’s case fairly passive-aggressive statements, to us, pleading for us to understand which one is in the right. The thing is, though, they are trying to use the law to get what they want: Simin doesn’t really want a divorce, she wants the whole family to leave Iran, so she wants custody of their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), to make Nader come with them to places unknown, but far away from here.

The judge’s voice says, with hidden menace, “What’s wrong with living here?” The question is left unanswered, because this is the place where answering honestly can fuck up far more than just your day. Especially for Iranian women.

This is Iran, and I can’t imagine the scenario in which a court grants a woman anything there, including an uncontested divorce. Nader won’t let go of Termeh, because he knows his wife will never leave Iran as long as Termeh stays with him. And Simin might as well be talking to statues, regardless of her determination, regardless of how right or wrong she may be.

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Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene

I'm not sure you're allowed to be looking at us. It's against your cult
leader's rules

dir: Sean Durkin

A strange film. A strange, awkward film about a strange, damaged girl called Martha (Elizabeth Olsen). Well, her name is usually Martha, and then someone else anoints her as a Marcy May, and then later on, when asked her name on the phone, she calls herself Marlene, just like all the woman in her cult when they’re on the phone.

There’s your explanation of the title, if that’s what was perplexing you. It’s also the only way to remember the title itself. For months people would refer to the film or ask me if I’d seen it, and we’d both be flustering or dribbling “you seen that Marley uh Macy Grey, uh Mandlebrot movie yet?” in the struggle for a title.

I’m not sure if it’s a character study, or if it’s just an uncomfortable look at a mildly insane woman, but what it ends up being is a tedious drag. I know it’s meant to be a great film, and that it garnered a lot of praise last year for the central performance and for the creepy and oppressive atmosphere it generates, but I really, in the wash up, don’t see what the fuss was about. I'm not trying to be oppositional just for the sake of it, nor am I disliking it just because critics wanked over it.

Rating:

Shame

Shame

Those sheets have nothing to be ashamed of, they look like they have
a really high thread count

dir: Steve McQueen

I understand shame. Believe me, I have a deep appreciation of shame, both the concept and the feeling, the horrible feeling, of shame.

I don’t think I really understood Shame.

The main reason is this: I don’t understand what it was trying to say. I think I understood what it said, in the way that if someone says to me “my cat’s breath smells like cat food”, I understand the individual words and the overall sentence. If the statement was made to me when I was standing at a shop counter asking for a pack of smokes, though, you can understand my lack of understanding from the context.

Michael Fassbender is a tremendous actor, and I’ll happily watch him in anything he does. All I did in this flick was watch him. He is this entire film, and he’s definitely a major presence, in or out of this flick, in or out of the nude. I still didn’t get what he was doing here, though, or why.

Rating:

Young Adult

Young Adult

Evil lurks in many forms, especially those wearing lipstick. Repent! Repent!

dir: Jason Reitman

Charlize Theron was terrifying in Monster, where she played serial killer Aileen Wuornos all those years ago, snagging an Oscar for her performance.

There are scenes in Young Adult where she’s even more horrifying.

She does this thing with her eyes where she leeches them of all human sentiment or human feeling. They transform into the eyes of some infinitely old and infinitely cold alien who observes our species with nothing but contempt.

And then she just acts like a self-centred brat who’s never grown up from being the high school mean/popular girl, who is doomed to be nothing but this for the rest of her life.

When Mavis (Charlize Theron) receives a group e-mail announcing the birth of her married, high-school boyfriend’s daughter, who has been out of her life for decades, she somehow twists this to mean that now is the time for her to return to her shitty home town to rescue him from a life of domesticity and human feeling.

She is a piece of work, a true piece of work. Her alcoholism is only one of her many estimable qualities. When she piles in to her car in order to drive back home to Mercury, Minnesota, with miniature dog in tow, she puts in a tape that dates back to her glory days, to the halcyon, to the peak of existence.

Rating:

The Rum Diary

Rum Diary

So many innocent livers were harmed in the making of this movie

dir: Bruce Robinson

You didn’t know this, but The Rum Diary is a superhero movie, of a different stripe. More specifically, it’s a superhero origin story, and it stars Johnny Depp.

Yes, yes, we’re all tired of those. But the superhero in question is Hunter S. Thompson, and the origin is that of his relentless, drug-fuelled campaign against the ‘Bastards’, which only came to an end seven years ago in 2005 when he decided to blow his own brains out.

Now, lest you think he fought against people whose parents weren’t married when they were born (a terrible fate for anyone not born lately, apparently), the battle I refer to is that against the dark forces, the forces of greed, the bastards who would carve up paradise and sell it by the gram, laden with sugar and other life-leeching chemicals. The Rum Diary is about how he found his voice, and how he started writing for the public in order to take the Bastards down.

Or, to at least make life difficult for them in the court of public opinion.

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