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Drama

We Own the Night

dir: James Gray
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That’s pretty arrogant isn’t it, saying that you own an event of such all encompassing magnitude? That’s like saying you own the words “yesterday”, “blowjob” or “craptacular”. Who did the NYPD think they were kidding when they took the phrase as their motto in the 1980s?

Yes, We Own the Night is what it looks like: a moody cop drama. And though it smells generic, looks generic and tastes generic, it’s not entirely generic. It doesn’t feel like a mass-produced slab of a movie product. It’s thoughtful and serious, where most flicks of its ilk concentrate more on squeezing through the formula like toothpaste out of a tube.

The drama focuses more here on the characters than the plot, which, less face it, is the plot of 30,000 other films: There’s cops, and there’s bad guys, cops chase bad guys, bad guys kill or hurt cops, cops kill bad guys. Et cetera, etc.

It’s a plot as old as cinema. But the story about the dynamics of the cop family in turmoil is the focus here.

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Michael Clayton

dir: Tony Gilroy
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No, it’s not the flick starring Liam Neeson about the Troubles in Ireland. And it’s not a light-hearted romp about the ethnic tensions between Greeks, Yugoslavs, Islanders and Vietnamese people living in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton.

It is, simultaneously, a film about the paths people take in order to do the unthinkable for money, and George Clooney’s shameless pandering need for another Oscar.

You already have one, pretty boy. Enough’s enough.

The title character, played by Clooney, is a fixer for a prestigious law firm. Though a lawyer himself, he never gets to step inside a courtroom anymore. All he does is try to fix situations that could damage the firm’s clients, or, for most of this film, the firm.

The film starts where it starts, with Clayton driving out to Westchester in order to calm and help out a wealthy sonofabitch who wants to avoid legal troubles for running someone over and leaving the scene of the accident. On the drive out there, the GPS display in his luxury car starts screwing up. In other words, Clayton has lost his moral roadmap. Subtle as a crowbar to the kidney. Then there’s an explosion, and the plot goes back four days in time in order to show all the events leading up to the explosion.

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There Will Be Blood

dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
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Oh, there most definitely will be blood. But the blood will be pouring from the eyes and ears of the audience members at the horror perpetrated by the ending of this movie.

For the majority of the flick’s length, I was pretty sure it was a masterpiece, even if the persistently annoying score was getting on my nerves with how busy it was. But about fifteen minutes from the end it completely, gut-wrenchingly falls apart. It’s one of those endings that’s so awful that it makes you feel like having watched the preceding two and a half hours of film was a total waste of your goddamn time.

But still, I should give it credit for what it does achieve up until then.Very loosely adapted from the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, There Will Be Blood starts off at the beginning of the 20th century and concerns itself with the origins of the oil industry in America. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a very determined, very driven man. We watch him prospecting for gold and doing it the hard way, the hardest way it can be. Even a broken leg can’t stop him from getting his few lumps of gold to the surveyor’s office.

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Brave One, The

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Jodie Foster doing Death Wish. That’s all you need to know.

If only that was the case, for your collective sakes

Foster, being Foster, of course, has to have the flick be all important and pretentious around her. It can’t just be a film about a woman pushed too far who decides to take out the trash with handgun and crowbar at hand. It has to be about how a person can lose their soul, even when they feel like they’re doing the right thing in trying to claw their way back to the person they used to be.

Jeez, doesn’t Foster ever lighten up?

Look, as a fan of hers and many of the movies she’s been in, I have to say the simple fact that Foster would choose to be in any film is usually enough of an incentive to get me to watch it. Unless you’re talking Nell, a flick I’m never going to mention again, and you’ll never bring up again, if you know what’s good for you. I mean it, I’ll go all Jodie Foster on your arse.

But the thing is, had some other actress been cast in the role, the flick probably wouldn’t have gotten as many critical plaudits or notice, and would probably have slipped into direct-to-DVD oblivion unlamented and unmissed.

Lucky You

dir: Curtis Hanson
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I have, as a film geek obsessive, certain film obsessions that trump even all the others I posses (beyond samurai flicks, heist flicks, flicks with zombies, boobs or explosions, of course). For reasons not immediately apparent to me, flicks about gambling and gamblers appeal to me immensely.

I’ve never been a gambler myself, but only because I know I have an addictive personality (hence the film geekdom), and because I’ve barely got enough money to waste on food, booze, rent and childcare, let alone to lose at the poker tables. It is perhaps the high-stakes tension that appeals, or the self-destructive characters these stories inevitably conjure with. Whatever the elements, I dig them big time, and am a keen watcher of films about these chronic fuckups.

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Lust, Caution

dir: Ang Lee
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You could say that the subject matter of Lust, Caution was a strange choice for Ang Lee, if it really was possible to contend such a thing. But he’s never been consistent in his film choices or in their content, so it really isn’t that strange, is it?

I mean, look at this CV: The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hulk and Brokeback Mountain.

If there is one consistency to point to, it's that these aren't superficial films. Clearly, he makes films about whatever he wants, and he is not bound by any genre or convention. For this he has loyal fans but an unpredictable output.

Lust, Caution looks at the blossoming, in more ways than one, of a young patriotic lass called Wong Jiazhi (Wei Tang), whose fateful job it is to infiltrate the affections and bed of a very bad man, being Mr Yee (Tony Leung Chiu Wai). The film begins when she is already in place, and then flashes back to four years in the past, to show how she got to this precarious place in her life.

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Black Snake Moan

dir: Craig Brewer
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The posters for this flick and the DVD are pure, purer, purest exploitation material. Big black man restraining a skinny white girl who is literally chained to him. The title reads “Black Snake Moan”, and your not unreasonable expectation is that this flick must be some kind of trashy crap. There’s an entire line of, uh, movies out there that focus on, um, interactions between African-American males and ‘white’ females. And the black snake they’re referring to is an entirely different animal.

You can debate the tastefulness of the promotion, and doubt the artistic merit of such an enterprise, but that would be doing this decent flick a grave disservice.

The Black Snake Moan of the title refers to the despair that can consume us whole in the face of a life spun out of control. Usually because of love gone wrong. Or stubbing your toe, whichever comes first.

The film opens and closes with ancient footage of genuine old school bluesman Son House pontificating about what the blues is about. Cut short, the blues is about the misery caused by interactions between men and women in love or lust. Same sex couples clearly are not part of this equation and need not apply. If a gay person with a broken heart listens to the blues and relates to it, then clearly they’re not gay enough.

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Namesake, The

dir: Mira Nair
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The Namesake focuses on the detail of a person’s life that must seem ridiculous from the point of view of people whose first and last names sound like two first names: the Paul Christophers, Robert Stanleys and Jane Allisons of this world. The unique pressures that arise from possessing a name that sounds strange to the ear and eye dependant upon the culture you reside within is only the most obvious issue that arises as part of the immigrant experience familiar to so many squllions of, uh, immigrants.

On top of that, though, the issue of name and identity gets even stickier for one of our protagonists here, because the name his parents bestowed upon him at birth is one that, transcending his background, he can never come to grips with.

Gogol (Kal Penn) is born to Bengali parents recently transplanted to the States. He grows up somewhat distanced from his family though not violently so. Mostly he seems to resent the fact that his dad called him Gogol.

Such a sweet sounding name. Although Gogol has inklings as to why his father chose the name, of course the flick has to take its time to tell him (and us) exactly how profoundly important the name is to his father.

He, however, resents it for most of his life.

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Freedom Writers

dir: Richard LaGravenese
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If you ever desperately prayed for a way in which to figure out just how cynical and jaded you’ve become in your stinky old age, you need to watch a flick like Freedom Writers as the true test. It’s a perfect gauge of where on the miserable old bastard scale you currently reside.

The thing is, though, it’s such a finely tuned, sensitive Geiger counter of a test that I’m not sure how many will come out smelling of roses. I think even Mother Theresa would come out of it looking bad.

The premise, which is prefaced with those dreaded words “Based on a true story”, is that in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots, a young idealistic teacher (Hillary Swank) tries to teach some underprivileged kids at an urban school whose life expectancies are akin to that of grams of drugs around AFL footballers: they’re not going to last very long at all.

Erin Gruwell starts off all sunshine and light, and remains all sunshine and light throughout. She cares about the kids right from the start, but her character arc is that she has to learn to speak to them about life in a way that doesn’t condescend and that appreciates the war-torn realm in which they live their lives. How will she achieve the seemingly impossible? By getting them to read The Diary of Ann Frank.

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Reign Over Me

dir: Mike Binder
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Hmmm, Adam Sandler in a serious role again. Smells like Oscarbait to me.

Reign Over Me is a somewhat manipulative attempt by the filmmakers to both make Sandler look like an Oscar contender and to use the September 11th attacks to tug at the heartstrings of gooey audiences everywhere.

When I think of that terrible day, I don’t say to myself: “what I really need is a way to make the tragedy personal, to understand it in the scope of the impact it had on one person. And I want that person to be Adam Sandler looking like a very dishevelled Bob Dylan”.

I mean, after all, no tragedy is more hard-hitting or better explained except when it’s done by a comedian.

In a lot of ways, though Sandler isn’t as excruciating as you would expect, he plays the role the same way he plays every role, whether it’s a comedy or not. It’s still the same character - an aging poster child for arrested adolescence deals with, uh, stuff – that he plays in absolutely everything he’s ever played.

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