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Drama

Noise

dir: Matthew Seville
[img_assist|nid=764|title=Noise|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=200|height=274]
Who doesn’t love a bit of aural every now and then?

Noise is a moody Australian character piece about a depressed Melbourne cop who’s not really that into his job. Despite the murder investigation going on around him, his story is tangential to the grand drama occurring outside his skull.

Some nutter goes crazy on a Melbourne suburban train, and shoots every person in a particular carriage. A girl, Livinia (Maia Thomas), who gets on the train just after her shift at Macca’s has ended and just after the massacre has occurred, sees the bodies and the killer as well, making her the only witness.

Concurrently, copper Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) at another train station gets a call on his CB radio, but doesn’t seem to be able to hear the dispatcher. His hearing problem gets worse until he collapses on an escalator.

His unimpressed senior sergeant, ignoring the medical diagnosis of persistent tinnitus (ringing in the ears), seconders the hapless cop to an information-gathering caravan in the suburb of Sunshine, at the site of another murder that might be connected to the train killings.

His job is to sit in the caravan during the night shift, in order to give members of the public the chance to come forward with information regarding the crimes.

Rating:

After the Wedding (Efter Brylluppet)

dir: Susanne Bier
[img_assist|nid=774|title=Let's see who can be the most melodramatic|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
It’s a testament to the abilities of the actors involved, and the skill of director Susanne Bier that this story, which sounds like the most contrived melodrama you could ever imagine, works, and works well. Bier is one of only a handful of Danish directors I can think of (the others being notorious overwrought hack Lars Von Trier and the guy who made the scuzzily vile Pusher trilogy), but she shows here why she’s such a respected director both at home and internationally.

The key is effective drama. In this entire film, there is but one scene that doesn’t work acting-wise or dramatically. That’s one scene out of dozens. That’s a pretty good hit to miss ratio.

Jacob (played by Mads Mikkelson, who most people would know as the villain from the most recent Bond film) is a strange, nervy kind of guy who works at an Indian orphanage. He speaks fluent English, and a bit of the local language, but clearly he’s not from around here, though he’s spent twenty years in the country.

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Dead Girl, The

dir: Karen Moncrieff
[img_assist|nid=791|title=The hard knock life|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=396|height=264]
There are plenty of flicks about murder. A character probably gets murdered in the vast majority of any of the flicks you can think of. It’s no surprise when you’re talking about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but it’s even in Bambi and Finding Nemo, for crying out loud.

Sure, more people in romantic comedies should get murdered to prevent the unholy hellspawn of Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock from coming to fruition even in a fictional setting, but my point is that it is commonplace. We’re so used to it. It seems weird when it doesn’t appear in a flick.

In crime stories the murder might be the initial occurrence that kicks off the rest of the plot, or it happens along the way as characters get closer to The Truth. Usually the point in such a case is the revelation of the killer’s identity or the eventual capture/killing/rewarding of the person responsible. In comedies it’s what allows the hilarity to ensue for the Bernie of Weekend at Bernie’s fame to get to live a life now dead of far more excitement than when he was alive.

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Venus

dir: Roger Michell
[img_assist|nid=796|title=Jeez, just let the poor old bastard die|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=225]
It may be based on something written by Hanif Kureishi, but you have to wonder whether Peter O’Toole played a role in writing his own eventual eulogy before the fact (he’s still alive as of Sept 2007).

Much to most people’s surprise, especially considering his notorious womanising and boozing escapades many decades ago, O’Toole is still alive and acting. Despite looking like a Madame Tussaud’s wax sculpture of himself, despite looking like the Grim Reaper accidentally forgot to mark him off the reaping list, and will get around to him quite soon, he’s still kicking and screaming. And, if this flick is to be believed, aching for some pussy.

How crude, eh? It’s not the kind of language my loyal readers have come to expect and demand from me, eh? Sure, a bit of swearing is par for the course, but not gutter-talk like that. Right?

Well, if you’ve seen Venus, you’ll actually think what I wrote was accurate and appropriate. And positively tame in comparison.

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Half Nelson

dir: Ryan Fleck
[img_assist|nid=797|title=Who's got the crack?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
Cracksmoking high school teacher. It’s a four word movie premise that sells itself. No wonder Ryan Gosling, who is definitely becoming an actor to watch out for, garnered a Best Actor nomination for this flick last year. It’s not on the strength of the performance, which is tremendous and irritating at the same time. It’s because the crack addict teacher angle is the purest of Oscar baits.

There’s not really a lot to the story past that. There’s a white teacher in a classroom with predominately African-American and Hispanic students. He tries to teach them history, but in a way that avoids the text books and engages them to look at history through its conflicts in the form of dialectic reasoning: arguments and counter-arguments.

When first we see him we sense that he has something of a rapport with the kids, and engages them in a way that is beyond the perfunctory. At first, we don’t sense that there’s anything particularly wrong with him or with anything else for that matter. We sense that teaching at the school must be difficult, and that he looks a bit rundown, but other than that, it wouldn’t be anything that a good night’s sleep and a shave wouldn’t fix.

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All the King's Men

dir: Steve Zaillian
[img_assist|nid=800|title=Not really that major a motion picture|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=316|height=483]
Of all the flicks that came out last year, few garnered more scathing reviews and cat-calls than All the King’s Men. Not in Australia, necessarily, where pretty much no-one cared (though it still got bad reviews). In the States it was treated by reviewers and audiences alike as if it was a piece of shit covered in leprosy germs. Few films lost more money last year, and few were so hated. With that kind of rep, I was obliged to see it.

In the time-honoured tradition of spruiking for worthless crap, before the film even came out, and before it played on the film festival circuit and was screened for critics, the PR minions backing the film put out bullshit hype about how the flick would doubtless kill at the Oscars, with little golden dildos all around for all involved. Instead of generating positive buzz and interest, this had the effect of souring people on the whole experience before they even stepped into the theatre.

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Volver

dir: Pedro Almodóvar
[img_assist|nid=802|title=Womanhood resplendent|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
I have to admit that I generally don’t much care for the films of Pedro Almodóvar. To be honest, I find most of them pretty goddamn pointless and irritating. I’m not saying he’s not a great director, it’s just that, like the double negative I used in the preceding part of this sentence, maybe his stuff just doesn’t work for me.

In the 90s the thing that stuck out about his flicks the most was the truly trashy nature of the action, with even trashier characters acting in ways which might seem perfectly natural to Spanish people, but looked utterly idiotic to me. When it was amusing it was okay, but generally the actions and dialogue spoken seemed beyond ridiculous.

And don’t get me started on the situations in his films where rape is practically used as a comedic plot device.

Maybe that soured me on him just a tad. At the very least, upon seeing Talk to Her (Hable con Ella) a bunch of years ago, I thought maybe he could make films that I could like. But then Bad Education (La Mala Educacion) came along, and I was reminded of all the reasons I can’t stand his goddamn trashy movies.

With all that preamble out of the way, I’d just like to say that I very much enjoyed Volver, finding it one of the most enjoyable flicks, Spanish or otherwise, that I’ve watched in a long while.

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Little Children

dir: Todd Fields
[img_assist|nid=807|title=Strumpets. The pair of them.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=172]
Quiet little stories about middle class people in the middle class burbs aren’t exactly rare, so it takes a bit of skill to make such mundane-sounding materials come alive. Little Children does come alive, which surprised even an old curmudgeon like me.

Throw in themes of infidelity, being bored by one’s children, the nastiness of mother’s groups, the hysteria over sex offenders and the joys of vigilantism, and you have a movie that’s about more than what it appears to be about.

Sarah (Kate Winslet) isn’t entirely comfortable with the whole being a mother thing. The daily all-consuming nature of being a mum doesn’t fill up all the empty spaces in her day, and the moment she looks forward to the most is when her husband gets home from work and gives her an hour or two to herself. As the films opens, she, like her daughter Lucy, doesn’t really fit in with the other kids and mothers at a local playground.

The other women, looking and acting like a Desperate Housewives version of Witches of Eastwick, are your average bunch of soccer moms who gear their whole identity around the fact that they are mothers and the self-evident fact (to them) that being a mother means they have the god-given right to be incredibly mean-spirited judgemental bitches.

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Good Shepherd, The

dir: Robert De Niro
[img_assist|nid=815|title=James Jesus Angelton, you have a lot to answer for, in hell, hopefully|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=324|height=475]
A man finds one facial expression in the 1930s, and sticks with it for the next thirty turbulent years. He plays some role in the formation of that caring, sharing organisation known as the CIA. And he’s a crap husband and father. They should make fifty films about this guy.

The plot centres around the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, but only uses that as an anchor from which it jumps spastically around in time in order to tell the important story of how one of the crucial players in the formation of the US’s intelligence infrastructure was a pretty soulless chap. Did he have a soul before the CIA, did he lose it after one too many black ops? Are some of the greatest bungles in American history his fault? And where, apart from in the reader’s underpants, are those WMDs after all?

I don’t know. The relevant people are probably dead by now, so it’s a mute moot point. And the story, as written by Eric Roth, is a fictionalised account of the life and exciting times of James Angleton; it’s not a biopic. All the G man, flat top, pasted down haircuts, horn-rimmed glasses and fedoras in the world, or at least in this flick can’t change that fact.

Book of Revelation, The

dir: Ana Kokkinos
[img_assist|nid=816|title=In a way I guess this is really a horror movie, even if the premise sounds like a porno|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=638]
The Book of Revelation is a complex and deeply unpleasant movie, which nonetheless deserves to be watched at least once. Based on a novel of the same name, and having nothing to do with the actual Book of Revelation at the tail end of the Bible, it is an intellectually interesting but flatly unenjoyable experience. I imagine it is like having sex with a kitchen appliance.

I haven’t tried it, so maybe I shouldn’t comment. Our protagonist, Daniel (Tom Long), is an incredibly toned dancer who is kidnapped by three women and sexually abused over the course of 12 days.

The gender difference means the film is approached by the makers and the audience in a very different way. If it had been a flick about three men raping a woman, it is about one thing. Reverse the gender, and you (in the filmmaker's opinion) open an intellectual can full of worms the size of pythons.

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