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Drama

Drama

Doubt

Doubt

They're not Amish, oh no, they're just penguins

dir: John Patrick Shanley

I have doubts about this film. It’s well made, there’s no doubt about it. It’s an interesting story. My doubts stem from the fact that Meryl Streep, for all her sheer wonderfulness, doesn’t always hit it out of the park, as an American might say. Being an Australian, I guess I’m obligated to say that she should be hitting it for six, but the truth is I like cricket even less than baseball, if it’s even possible.

My problems with the whole wide world of sport shouldn’t bleed into the quality time you spend reading my reviews, so I should back down, I guess. The fact is, Meryl’s performance in this was so off-putting that I could barely appreciate the flick at some points. Every time she spoke or overdid some physical mannerism or affectation, it would kick me out of the film and remind me that I was watching some of the alleged prime thespians of their day battle it out in a no holds barred Battle Royale.

Again with the sport, though wrestling is hardly a sport in the real sense. She plays a nun, Sister Aloysius, with the fierceness and demeanour of some kind of treasure-hoarding troll. I appreciate that she’s meant to be this fearsome personage at the school where she rules/teaches, but c’mon Meryl, don’t you think you took it a bit too far? She looked and acted like she was auditioning for the part of Gollum in a Lord of the Rings remake.

And don’t think it’s too soon. Give it a few years.

Rating:

Frozen River

dir: Courtney Hunt
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It’s funny when I tell you that this flick deals with illegal immigrants, white trash, Mohawks, people smuggling and desperation, and you immediately think it must be set somewhere on the US-Mexican border and star Tommy Lee Jones.

Funny in the sense that it’s odd, not funny as in hilarious.

It’s funny in the sense that of course this flick is instead set on the border with Canada, and instead of the main character being a noble immigrant sorrowfully leaving behind their dirt farming existence in order to come to the States to enjoy its bounty in the form of hamburgers and novelty toilet seats, it’s about one of the people smugglers.

In no sense does the story bother with the refugees as characters. Its focus is entirely on a white trash woman living in a trailer home with her two kids, who kind of falls into people smuggling as the only way to look after her kids after being abandoned again by her worthless Mohawk husband.

Rating:

Gran Torino

dir: Clint Eastwood
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What a sweet, crusty, curmudgeonly old man Clint is. And boy, is he old. He has officially reached Methuselah age, but it’s not slowing him down, not a bit. Gran Torino was one of two films Clint put out in 2008, following closely on the heels of his other massive two-film endeavour, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. So age has clearly not wearied him. He’s making more films than ever, and his films are more loved than ever. The man’s certainly not in decline.

All the same, as a director Clint happily works far harder than as an actor, since he’s earned the right to just coast along by now. And coast he does, playing the same Clint he’s been playing for forty years, just older and crustier.

And we love him for it, and are more than happy to let it slide. Even when the melodrama is as cheesy as it is here, even when the acting (admittedly by non-professional actors) is atrocious, and when the script is so appalling. We don’t care because it’s Clint.

Rating:

Wrestler, The

dir: Darren Aronofsky
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It really doesn’t feel like you’re watching Mickey Rourke’s comeback to the big screen. It feels more like you’re watching his swan song. Rourke himself and the character he plays in The Wrestler are so intertwined that it becomes impossible to tell where Mickey Rourke ends and Randy “The Ram” Robinson begins, and vice versa.

Rourke himself has undergone a transformation, but I’m not sure all of it was for this film’s benefit. This isn’t his comeback, since it was only a few year’s ago that he was being lauded for his work in Sin City, but the strangest thing is that I realised watching this that much of what I thought was make-up and latex facework when he played the Frankenstein-like Marv in Sin City was anything but.

Rating:

Visitor, The

dir: Thomas McCarthy
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Low-key. This film is so low-key that it almost shouldn’t exist. But exist it does, and I found it sweetly enjoyable, far more than most of the films I’ve watched lately and forgotten before the credits have rolled.

Which is odd, quite odd. Because little if anything happens for the whole film’s duration. And instead of using the term ‘low-key’ to describe it, it’s possible that inventing and applying a whole new term to describe such a film might be more appropriate: no-key.

This no-key film begins with an emotionally dead academic played ably by Richard Jenkins, taking piano lessons from a woman. He's not very good at it, and doesn't like the woman teaching him, informing her that though he intends to take more lessons, it won't be with her.

It's only with a bit of time, subtlety, that we figure out what's really going on. His wife, now dead, used to play the piano. Since her death, he tries to keep playing it in order to honour her / remember her, but it doesn't really work. When he speaks to people, he is completely shut down, completely uninterested in those around him, especially when it comes to his work. He teaches one class, and even that's under sufferance.

Rating:

Stop Loss

dir: Kimberley Pierce
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Stop Loss is the latest entry in the new genre of American war flicks examining just how terrible it is for young Americans fighting in Iraq. Thanks to a cruel administration and a cruel commander-in-chief, these noble, selfless men (and a fair few women) are suffering, suffering for their time spent in country nobly fightin’ them over there so they don’t have to fight ‘em over here. Or in Texas, as the case may be.

Even those soldiers who aren’t killed or horribly maimed; they suffer on the inside. They suffer even when they go home. Then their families and loved ones suffer. America, how much suffering can your poor nation endure?

And, to add insult to injury, the ruthless and cruel Army is sending them back to the meat grinder against the express conditions of their assumption that entering the Army enhances instead of comprises your free will.

What? How dare they? Don’t they have any consideration for my feelings? How dare they send me back to kill more Iraqi civilians? What gives them the right?

Oh, wait, is it because I enlisted voluntarily in the Army? Yeah, okay, that’s why.

Rating:

Darjeeling Limited, The

dir: Wes Anderson
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Quirkfest abounds. So much goddamn quirk that it’s fair dripping from the screen. But what would you expect from a Wes Anderson flick?

Every goddamn flick the guy’s made has been so quirky and idiosyncratic that, by now, you know if you can tolerate any of his new flicks based on whether you’ve tolerated any of his other flicks.

Of course, then there’s the fact that some of his flicks are less tolerable than others, even when you like them.

I have liked some of his flicks, and hated some of them, so: flip a coin, guess how I went with this one.

I was not a fan of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, despite the fact that every Anderson film is the same, and some, like The Life Aquatic, are more the same than others. So I approached The Darjeeling Limited with ample trepidation.

This flick, thankfully, is less bad and more enjoyable than Life Aquatic. The reason is that it’s not as aggressively annoying as the former film, and it doesn’t have a character as rampantly annoying as Bill Murray was in that film.

Rating:

Kite Runner, The

dir: Marc Foster
[img_assist|nid=31|title=Go fly a kite, boys, while you still can|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=340]
The Kite Runner, based on the book by Khaled Hosseini, is a simple story about some Afghan people living through some interesting times.

I have a talent both for understatement, and for inaccuracy. More importantly, the story is about the life and character of a young man called Amir (Khalid Abdalla as an adult, Zekeriah Ebrahimi as a boy). He grows up in Kabul, in the 70s, under the watchful eye of his liberal, wealthy father (Homayoun Ershadi) and family friend Rahim (Shaun Toub).

He also has the constant companionship of servant boy Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) who worships the very ground he walks on. His devotion to Amir is nothing short of heart-breaking, but, to me at least, the devotion is not the sadomasochistic dog-like devotion of a weak, dependant neurotic. Hassan’s loyalty is fierce and strong.

And it would need to be, because Amir himself is something of a coward. When confronted by other child bullies and thugs, it is Hassan who steps up for the fight, protecting his ‘master’, even when the reason that the thugs are harassing them is that Hassan is of a different tribal ethnicity (he is often referred to as a Hazara). Amir’s own father senses that there is something missing in Amir, which is only one of the sources that fuels his resentment.

Rating:

Savages, The

dir: Tamara Jenkins
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Oh, parents. They are either the bane or the boon of our existence (or both), as children and even more so as adults, in their prime or their decline.

The Savages has Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in the lead roles of this quirk-free, fairly downbeat story as siblings looking after a demented elder parent who never really liked them and who rendered them fuck-ups as adults. At least that’s the premise as it seems to me.

The film starts in a surreal fashion with shots of a mystical place called Sun City in Arizona, presumably where old people who aren’t Jewish go to live out their remaining years. The sight of a chorus line of old girls appearing as if from nowhere and starting a dance routine is a strange one that will stay with me for a while.

And not in a pleasant way. We are introduced to an irritable old arsehole called Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) who lives in this Arizonan elder community, just before he becomes single again for the last time. And after a spot of finger painting prior to hospitalisation.

Rating:

Lars and the Real Girl

dir: Craig Gillespie
[img_assist|nid=100|title=The Perfect Anatomically Correct Couple|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=392]
Part of me knows I should hate this film, hate it with a passion. Hate it with an unholy passion usually reserved for reality television, politicians and those times when you jump out of bed in the middle of the night and stub your toe whilst desperately trying to get to the crack pipe.

But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, I didn’t hate it. Come with me as I try to unravel through the writing of this review what highly improbable series of unfortunate events has led us to this sorry conclusion.

The Lars of the title is played by Ryan Gosling, who is a fairly young guy getting a lot of press and attention despite the fact that he acts pretty much the same way in everything that he’s in. He’s been giving these identical, artificial, affected performances in flicks like Half Nelson, United States of Leland, Stay and Fracture, but people are still screaming and wetting themselves over him like they’re teenage girls and the Beatles are playing The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time.

Wow, how old did I just make myself sound? I swear, Ed Sullivan and his show were long gone way before I came along, with a suitcase and a song.

Rating:

Paranoid Park

dir: Gus Van Sant
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Gus Van Sant really likes them teenaged boys. No, I’m not going for the obvious gag here, I mean that there really is something he seems to love in terms of capturing, trying to preserve this brief moment in their lives between the adolescent and adult worlds.

Paranoid Park has a really simple story fractured into pieces and told in a manner whose purpose seems to be less the telling of a story and more capturing how Alex, our main character, feels about stuff. That sounds like some deep shit, doesn’t it.

There is something enjoyable about watching a flick about a teenage kid that isn’t about popularity, that isn’t about getting laid, it’s not about the prom and it’s not about some stupid bet usually involving sleeping with one particular girl until the protagonist realises that the girl who truly loves him was the slightly tomboyish but still totally feminine best friend who was alongside all etc etc.

In terms of other flicks Van Sant has made, it’s also refreshing to watch him make a film about teenagers that isn’t about a Columbine-style massacre, about two morons wandering lost in the desert or the last days of a drug-addled rock star.

Rating:

Atonement

dir: Joe Wright
[img_assist|nid=26|title=Feed me, I'm hungrier than Christian Bale|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
Atonement is an exquisite rendering of an exquisite book, brought to life in a way that is surprising in the sense that good literary adaptations for the silver screen are rare.

Whilst I do find Keira Knightley’s anorexic and perpetually hungry features disturbing, she makes a decent Cecilia, in fact everyone seems perfect in terms of casting and what they bring to their roles. So full praise to the casting director.

Kudos to you, sir or madam, kudos.

What’s doubly surprising is that the book could be transformed so readily into so decent a film, sacrificing little that made the book so compelling. The three-part structure is intact, the key moments and situations as seen from crucial view points are well presented, and there’s even room for some directorial virtuosity in the form of an incredible long take on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Rating:

Rendition

dir: Gavin Hood
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Rendition is, yes, another one of those recent films tagged “political” by those reluctant to be drawn into the culture wars (which is, usually, most people) but eager to dismiss something with the least amount of effort required.

Just in case you thought movies don’t mean squat unless they’re based on something true, Rendition is based on the ordeal of Khaled el-Masri, a German national of Kuwaiti descent, who was taken from the Serbian-Macedonian border and held and beaten in prison in Afghanistan for five months in 2004.

And then released when they figured out that it was Khaled AL-Masri that they were looking for in the first place. Because if they’d beaten that guy for five months, it would have been all right.

Rating:

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

dir: Sidney Lumet
[img_assist|nid=9|title=Good God I'm loathsome|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
The title might be a bit confusing to people who haven’t heard the whole phrase before. It refers to having the temporary good fortune to get to heaven a half hour before the devil, who’s keen to get His due, knows you’re dead. In other words, getting a few minutes grace before the hammer, or, in this case, the pitchfork, comes down on you.

As you wandered into the cinema, wondering what the title was referring to, you’d sit there, munching on your highly unhealthy popcorn, chipping into your choc-top, which drips shards of chocolate onto your already dirty clothing that take a while to melt into the fabric real good. After enduring the trailers and idiotic commercials for mobile phones, 4WD trips to South Australia and switching your mobile phone off before the film starts, you’d be greeted with a sight that will push the question regarding the title out of your empty little head.

The first entire minute of this film concerns itself solely with Philip Seymour Hoffman drilling Marisa Tomei in the doggie style position and watching himself in a mirror as he does it. You can like or admire Hoffman’s acting abilities and performances, but I’ll bet your firstborn that you never really ever wanted to see him pretending to fuck anyone, let alone watch that chubby arse wobbling back and forth.

Rating:

Into the Wild

dir: Sean Penn
[img_assist|nid=51|title=I'm even dirtier than I look|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
There are films and books that purport to be about genuine individuals, about iconoclasts, rebels who are unlike everyone around them. Mostly it seems like it is praise for the latest sporting icon or actor/directors getting paid millions to indulge their affectations and the contempt they have for other people, in an easily marketable and digestible package. When the real thing comes along: a person in the modern age completely unwilling to live life like the vast majority of the people around him, we might not know what to make of him.

Into the Wild is based on a book by Jon Krakauer and looks at the life and times of one Christopher Johnson McCandless. The only really notable thing about this chap is that for seemingly no reason, but in reality a whole heap of reasons, he chooses to eschew the luxuries of modern life and travel the lonely road.

Rating:

We Own the Night

dir: James Gray
[img_assist|nid=62|title=Maybe we should kiss to, you know, break the tension|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=290|height=238]
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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

There Will Be Blood

dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
[img_assist|nid=104|title=There Will Be Moustaches|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=460|height=226]
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.

Rating:

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
[img_assist|nid=734|title=I bet you $500 that I'm going to sleep with you eventually|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

Black Snake Moan

dir: Craig Brewer
[img_assist|nid=746|title=Moaning Christina Ricci|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=393]
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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

Freedom Writers

dir: Richard LaGravenese
[img_assist|nid=759|title=Don't you dare call me horseface|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=200]
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.

Rating:

Reign Over Me

dir: Mike Binder
[img_assist|nid=761|title=Check out my crazy hair|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=200]
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.

Rating:

Noise

dir: Matthew Seville
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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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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