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Drama

Drama

Broken Flowers

dir: Jim Jarmusch
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By all that is unholy, I haven’t disliked a film this much in ages.

It’s kind of refreshing. To actively dislike the vast majority of a film directed by someone whose films I’ve previously loved. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai is one of my favourite flicks. Down by Law, Stranger than Paradise and Dead Man aren’t too shabby either.

But what went wrong here? For me, Broken Flowers was a terrible experience. Outright terrible. Leaden pacing, coupled with flat, unpleasant characters, a vacuum of a central performance by Bill Murray, and a pointless plot that irritates and grates the longer it goes on.

Jarmusch is great at realising strange, mannered narratives in weird circumstances. In Broken Flowers it seems he is undone by what should have been a straight-forward dramatic story. Clods in the audience with me kept laughing at the least possible thing that happened, convinced that if they didn’t laugh other people in the audience would think they were stupid. No, laughing at something like you’re one of Pavlov’s dogs when you don’t have to, makes you look stupid. Or at least like a wanker.

Rating:

Closer

dir: Mike Nichols
[img_assist|nid=991|title=I'd rather put the cover of Closer in the review than any picture of those vile people|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=380|height=381]
It’s not about the masterpiece Joy Division album that Courtney Love and probably some of you, your uncles or your mums lost their virginities to. It’s not about the Nine Inch Nails song that made the phrase ‘I want to fuck you like an animal’ part of popular parlance. But it is about fucking. Specifically, it’s about the way that the need for sex brings people together and destroys them. It’s about the way in which honesty causes more heartbreak than the cruellest lies. And it’s about what sad creatures we humans truly are.

As a four-hander, with four fairly well-known actors, the film continually betrays its stage origins as a play. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t exactly kill my mother over the prospect of getting enough cash to buy tickets to get to the theatre on a Friday night, but I don’t necessarily dislike movies that come across as stagey. I love decent acting and good dialogue, so a movie which is all dialogue isn’t a problem for me. Those that hate talky gabfests now know they can avoid this film like the plague. And the rest of this review, presumably.

Rating:

Maria Full of Grace

dir: Joshua Marston
[img_assist|nid=987|title=So there's a downside to the cocaine industry, you say?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=360|height=504]
Ah, drugs. Drugs are great, drugs are good. They’re fun, they let you sometimes have a great time, and they make inanimate objects, surfaces and other people seem more interesting than they actually are.

I’ve heard that they have a downside as well, but frankly I can’t see it. Drugs are simply wonderful. In case you think I’m talking about the wonders of modern pharmaceutical drugs and medicines, think again! I’m talking exclusively about illegal Class A drugs. The ones that cost a fortune and make awful people very wealthy. They also garner you a dirty cell and a cellmate who calls himself “The Stallion” if you get caught selling or smuggling them, but that’s a small price to pay, surely compared to the bountiful and constant fun they can bring.

Maria Full of Grace is a movie about two main topics: a teenage girl called Maria (played well by Catalina Sandino Moreno), and the way that drugs sometimes gets smuggled inside human receptacles into the United States from Colombia. You wouldn’t have thought it, but it’s a harsh and dangerous process, and the people who control the trade are thoroughly vile individuals who are as likely to kill you as say “Good Morning Captain” to you if the mood takes them.

Rating:

Million Dollar Baby

dir: Clint Eastwood
[img_assist|nid=985|title=My, what a muscley back you have.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=443|height=656]
Old Man Clint. It’s hard not to love him, especially when he makes films as good as this. Many will see this purely as an exercise in Oscarbait, but I disagree. I think Clint’s made plenty of films (I think about 25), has received a shitload of praise and awards over the years, and doesn’t need the added hassle of having to tailor everything to that end. I think he just likes making movies, especially since he’s 75 and isn’t really on the celebrity carousel for the column inches in the supermarket mags.

Lucky for us, he’s pretty good at it. He’s made a stack of duds as well, don’t get me wrong, but his great films more than make up for it. You can tote up Pink Cadillac, Absolute Power, Firefox, Heartbreak Ridge and those orang-utan movies as evidence of his crapness, but then my rejoinder has to be Unforgiven, White Hunter Black Heart, this here film and maybe Mystic River from the year before. If you take into consideration the great films where he just acted as well, it looks like an incredibly accomplished body of work for one man.

Add to that the fact that he’s a crusty old coot that’s reminiscent of the father or grandfather you never visit but wouldn’t mind seeing every once in a while to bask in the glow of his geriatric wisdom, and it makes him even more lovable.

Rating:

Moolaade

dir: Ousmane Sembene
[img_assist|nid=984|title=Radio is dead, after all|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=313]
Of all the films I’ve ever seen on the topic of female genital mutilation in Africa, this is the best of them. By a country mile of clichés.

Of course it’s the only film about genital mutilation in Africa I’ve ever seen, or am ever going to see. It’s the best by default.

And what kind of a person could find fault with such a film? Considering the subject material, you’d have to be heartless and genitaless not to sympathise with the women of the village of Djerisso in Burkina Faso, and the squillions of women this has been done to in the name of tradition.

Let’s be a bit more honest here: the words “genital mutilation” are too vague, and the phrase “female circumcision” is offensive in its dishonesty. What they’re talking about, when they refer to the action of “purifying” a girl, is the excision of her clitoris and labia, and the sewing up of the vagina to allow only for the urethra to do what it’s supposed to.

There are different “classes” of it practiced around the world, but they all amount to the same thing: stupidity on a grand scale, and the taking away of the basic human right of sexual pleasure.

What kind of a useless world allows crap like this to still happen in this day and age? What kind of a world produces people who believe something like this could in anyway be a good thing?

Rating:

Hotel Rwanda

dir: Terry George
[img_assist|nid=977|title=Don Cheedle with the guy he's playing in the film. Freaky.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=317]
Ah, the cinema of guilt. Worthy movies that seem to chide audiences and make you feel bad for a) not having been more concerned when something really bad happened in history, or b) feel even worse for not having seen the film sooner. All your bullshit excuses count as nought in the face of it. So you sheepishly file into the cinema one day, prepared to eat your greens and say it tastes like ice cream even if it doesn’t. Out of stinky, middle-class guilt.

If the film’s actually good then it’s a definite bonus. Because that way you don’t have to endure watching the film like it’s a trip to the proctologist just so you can convince other people that you are sooooo switched on and overflowing with compassion. Hotel Rwanda is just such a film.

It’s not Schindler’s List, but nor would you want to be. We don’t need another epic like that just yet. It’s still Oscarbait of the highest order, mostly because when a film is about such topics (the Rwandan massacres from the 90s), it feels like the height of insensitivity to raise any objections to even the slightest flaw, to mouth the tiniest of criticisms, you inhuman monster.

Rating:

Clean

dir: Olivier Assayas
[img_assist|nid=980|title=This wouldn't be the first time Canada drove someone to drugs|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=430|height=284]
Clean is a strange but oddly satisfying film. It’s strange in that there’s no clear plot, but there is a lot going on in the life of the main character Emily Wang, fantastically played by Hong Kong legend Maggie Cheung. Enough at least to keep us entertained.

This is a film that defies the genre it seems to be about: addiction and its malcontents, and derails the predictable path to redemption by offering something low key but more complicated.

Emily is portrayed at first as equal parts Courtney Love, when she still had her hooks in Kurt Cobain, and Yoko Ono as the destroyer of both the Beatles and John Lennon, eventually. That’s not a pleasant character on paper or on the screen. She has managed to attach herself leech-like to an artist, Lee Hauser (James Johnston, formerly of the band Gallon Drunk and more recently of the Bad Seeds), and brought him down to her level by sharing the depths of her addiction with him.

Anyone that still cares about washed-up Lee hates Emily and what they see as the damage she has visited upon him, but it’s not like Lee’s going to be around for that long anyway.

Rating:

Keane

dir: Lodge Kerrigan
[img_assist|nid=978|title=Look out for the crazy ginga|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=402|height=341]
This film is about a crazy guy. No, it’s not about Jim Carrey. This isn’t the fun kind of crazy, as in endlessly entertaining antics of eager eccentrics, or the transgressive kind of crazy you get from ‘enjoying’ the adventures of psychopathic serial killers like Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates or the Pope.

This is the real kind of crazy. As in, mental illness that isn’t entertaining for entertainment’s sake. That isn’t quirky, grandiose and cute. That is uncomfortable, unsettling and unexplainable.

William Keane clearly, right from the start, isn’t playing with a full deck of cards. Although, he probably does possess a full deck, it’s just that the cards are made of sea horses, radioactive gingerbread and bird teeth. He’s clearly suffering from some kind of dissociative disorder; we’re just trying to work out how bad the damage is and where it comes from.

We first watch him asking people at the station if they’ve seen his daughter. Right then and there we know he’s mad, because he also mentions that she’s been missing for a long time.

Okay, so he’s either a crazy guy; or a crazy guy with a missing daughter, or a sane guy driven mad by the loss of his daughter.

Rating:

Somersault

dir: Cate Shortland
[img_assist|nid=973|title=Shave your eyebrows, and the world becomes your oyster|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
Somersault has garnered rave critical reviews, buzz at overseas film
festivals, and an unprecedented 15 nominations for the upcoming AFI
awards. A person could be forgiven for being under the impression that
this would clearly have to be one of the truly greatest Australian
films made of all time, yea verily. An audience member going in with
such expectations of excellence is surely going to start setting fires
or engaging in self-mutilation as a violent kind of protest when
they're inevitably let down.

Rating:

Sideways

dir: Alexander Payne
[img_assist|nid=951|title=Just drink the fucking wine already!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=430|height=267]
When you’re being really pretentious and annoying about wine, you’re supposed to hold the glass at a tilted angle (sideways) to examine its colour, consistency, panoply of aromas and possibly the amount of anti-freeze in it. Also when wine is cellared it’s kept lying on its side to best protect the precious contents within. That’s where the title comes from, if you were gnawing off your leg in frustration over it. In other words sometimes to be able to look at life clearly you have to kind of tilt your reality to get a good look at it. Or maybe someone trying to get some kind of trite ‘quote of the day’ type of banality out of the title is just one of the many kinds of moron Payne loves to ridicule in his films.

Rating:

Mystic River

dir: Clint Eastwood
[img_assist|nid=1014|title=Two guys, hanging out, contemplating murder|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=310]
Such a film growing up in the shadow of Mystic Pizza necessarily must
have a hard furrow to plow.

Even in paying for my ticket at the cinema I inadvertently asked for a
ticket to Mystic Pizza. It's a film and a title hard to eradicate from
one's mind. Who can forget the horse toothed caterpillar eye-browed
Julia Roberts playing the town slut? Lili Taylor playing the same
character she's played in practically every film she's ever been in?
Vincent D'Onofrio not playing a psychopath for once? There's a lot to
recommend it. You could only hope and pray that Mystic River, clearly
trying to capitalise on its successful forbearer with the similarity
of its title, can match its artistic and commercial success.

Yeah, okay, there is no connection between the two films. Old Clint
would probably have drawn either a Colt Peacemaker or a Magnum and
shot the television if he was caught watching something as girly as
Mystic Pizza. Instead he's made a film that somewhat parallels his
earlier masterpiece Unforgiven and exists as this year's In the
Bedroom.

Rating:

Elephant

dir: Gus Van Sant
[img_assist|nid=1008|title=This world was never meant for one as awful as you|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=360|height=240]
Some people walk around. The camera follows them as they slowly amble about. They meet people, or they walk past other people who are doing stuff or doing nothing. If they get to a destination, they do something inherently banal there, and the camera captures every scintillating second of it. Every now and then, there is a time lapse shot of a sky slowly darkening, or an approaching storm.

More shots of people walking around. Banal conversations. All of this action is centered around a school. We are given people's names as the camera follows them about. Each person seems to be given a 'story',
but nothing they say or do expands our knowledge of either what's going on or what's going to happen. They're not characters, or caricatures. They're just people. Doing not much of anything. After a while, you get to see the same situations repeated from other people's point of view.

In such a context, you could say that Gus Van Sant has made a meditative film, in the sense that we are given a lot of time to think about what's going on. Nothing is really rushed, and except for the crucial element of what the central 'event' is, you eventually give up waiting for something to happen, and just wonder how much more the film can ramble.

Rating:

Shattered Glass

dir: Billy Ray
[img_assist|nid=996|title=Yes, I am mad at you, you lying hack|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=364]
When you hear about the plot of a movie focussing solely on the exploits of a journalist, you immediately think that it would have to be a rip-roaring extravaganza to match the likes of All the President’s Men, or Michael Mann’s The Insider. How else could one justify devoting all that time, money and celluloid to a profession big on typing and drinking? It doesn’t immediately lend itself to the action formula until they leave the office and start getting involved in gun fights and car chases.

As well, anyone who knows even the least amount about the notorious Stephen Glass whose rise and fall is charted in this film knows that the idea of devoting a film to his exploits isn’t meant in a complimentary fashion. It’s not meant as praise, or to lionise him for his good works for the ages. In fact it’s the magnitude of his ‘crimes’ that seemingly justifies such a study of events as they came to pass.

And what is his crime, ultimately? Did he molest children, sell secrets to the Russians, murder his mum or punch an umpire in the face? Of course not, though with a sociopath like Glass anything’s possible. Instead, he committed the gravest sin a journalist can ever consider: he made stuff up in his articles and then lied about it.

Rating:

House of Sand and Fog

dir: Vadim Perelman
[img_assist|nid=998|title=Bleak House|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=420|height=595]
Films with House in the title usually suck. Not only do they suck, but they generally suck very badly. I mentioned this recently in a review of House of 1000 Corpses, one of the dumbest movies to have the word in its title. If you think I’m lying, then allow me to retort: House Party, House on Haunted Hill (the remake), House, Houseguest, Life as a House, Cider House Rules, House of the Dead and who can forget (despite trying repeatedly) Big Momma’s House?

House of Sand and Fog is truly one of the better films with house in its title, but as I’ve shown that’s not saying much. This is an agonising emotional train-wreck of a movie that despite being in slow motion has none of its impact lessened, if anything it makes it even sadder. The characters feel like actual characters, and not caricatures, and are all flawed in their own ways. Perhaps it’s because of those flaws that they seem like real people. Far more attention is paid to issues of character than to plot, which makes for better drama but not necessarily ‘enjoyable’ viewing.

Rating:

Barbarian Invasions, The

(Les Invasions Barbares)
dir: Denys Arcand
[img_assist|nid=994|title=Bloody barbarians and their barbaric ways|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=338]
Death is the one universal human experience. I know people usually use
the combination phrase "death and taxes", but I know plenty of people
who have never paid a cent of tax in their entire lives. That includes
both social security slackers and the kind of wealthy fuckers that
could buy and sell your cheap arse. All the same, I can be sure that
they, like everyone else, one day will die. Unless they pay someone
else to do it for them. That fact is something we, depending on our
age and where we are in life, either try to desperately ignore or
embrace.

Rating:

Dreamers, The

dir: Bernardo Bertolucci
[img_assist|nid=115|title=Un Pie American, Bertolucci style|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=200]
Sure, Bernardo Bertolucci is an acclaimed director. But like every acclaimed director, he has a bunch of stinkers to his credit as well. In such a case, you greet the release of one of his new films thinking less "Great! Another film from a cinematic master!" and more "what have you done for me lately, prick?" And since my answer to him on that topic is "not much, chuckles", it's understandable that I'd have some trepidation walking into this film.

Also curiousity. I haven't liked a Bertolucci film since The Last Emperor. It's not that I've been avoiding his work, I haven't (much to my regret). It's just the only emotions that the films in between then and now inspire in me are boredom or downright irritation. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I outright hated Besieged, Stealing Beauty, Little Buddha and especially The Sheltering Sky. In fact I would go so far as to say my greatest difficulty is in deciding which of those four I hate the most, because they all anger me on different levels and for different reasons.

Rating:

Raising Victor Vargas

dir: Peter Sollett
[img_assist|nid=1061|title=On the make|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=371|height=419]
Raising Victor Vargas is an oddity and an anachronism in this day and age: it is a sweet, enjoyable film about teenagers which looks at the daily concerns of their urban lives as well as but not confined to looking at the complications that arise due to their burgeoning sexuality. But it does it without descending into idiocy, and remains honest and ‘truthful’ throughout.

Uh oh. Red flags go up immediately. No, this is neither the kind of film Larry Clark (of Kids, Bully and Ken Park fame) makes to masturbate over, nor is it the banal Porky’s wannabe that the American Pie trio of movies aspired to be (when they didn’t devolve into mawkish sentimentality). It’s a naturalistic (as ‘naturalistic’ as any film can be, without being a documentary) look at some people’s lives on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. The people the story focuses on are naturally welfare/working class Hispanic Americans, living in government housing.

Rating:

Whale Rider

dir: Niki Caro
[img_assist|nid=1066|title=Whales. Maoris. Hilarity ensues.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=515]
Whale Rider is certainly a touching, sweet film, but people shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s a children’s movie. It is a story of far greater complexity and depth than what one comes to expect from films that seem to be aimed at the kiddie market.

It’s clear, at least to me that there is much more going on here. As well, dismissing it as a glib post-feminist treatise about how wonderful girl power is would be doing the film a disservice, and would denigrate the work all the people involved put into crafting this little gem of a film. It is not a masterpiece by any estimation. It is however a sweet film about a little girl finding her destiny and teaching an old man that the links between the past, present and future can be strongest in the places we are least able to see.

Rating:

21 Grams

dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
[img_assist|nid=1037|title=Let's overact together, shall we?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=406]
Poetically, romantically, the human soul is said to weigh 21 grams. This is based on experiments inaccurately carried out long ago which claimed that upon death a person would instantly lose 21 grams of weight, thus the departure of the soul must be responsible for the change. Of course it has no basis in reality. But the central question still remains: whether the body loses 21 grams or not upon death, how much do we lose when those we love die? How much do they lose when we die? When we take a life, save a life, how much is gained? How much is lost? This film seems to indicate that at the very least it's something more than 21 grams.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu is two for two. After his most excellent debut with Amores Perros, along with writing partner Guillermo Arriaga he again delivers a compelling, emotional and thoughtful film which packs an emotional punch without resorting to cheap tricks or manipulation. Whilst most will focus on the disjointed chronology with which the story is portrayed through the complicated editing, at its core the film deals with powerful moments in these character's lives which rarely if ever overstep the bounds of genuine drama into kitchen-sink melodrama. The film achieves pathos without bathos, which is a glib way of saying that it's a damn fine film.

Rating:

Adaptation

dir: Spike Jonze
[img_assist|nid=1052|title=Don and Charlie, flowerpot men|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=446]
This is one of the best films from last year that practically no-one is going to bother seeing, I can just feel it. It probably has one of the least marketable premises of any film I can think of in recent memory, and doesn't exactly scream 'rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills' for your $13.50

It is still in my anything but humble opinion one of the best films of 2002, and Nicolas Cage manages to surprise me heartily by delivering two sterling performances, when I expected nothing from the man. Nothing at all. His last bunch of films have been dogs, so I had begun mourning the talent that Cage used to possess.
And what does the fucker do? He delivers his best performance in over a decade.

Rating:

Quiet American. The

dir: Philip Noyce
[img_assist|nid=1044|title=I wonder how that war ended up going...|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=319|height=475]
Wait, there was a war in Vietnam? Why didn't anyone tell me about it? Was it a big war? And why has Hollywood ignored this potential goldmine? They should get that room with the thousand monkeys chained to their typewriters cracking right away.

I am sick to death of films relating to the Vietnam war. Thoroughly sick to fucking death. Sure, there's been plenty of wonderful and touching films about America's obsession with that little communist country (Full Metal Jacket, Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Hamburger Hill) and the apparent deep scar it has left on the national psyche, but I think it's been done more than enough. Give it a rest, people. Hell, I love a good war film as much as the next sociopath, but there's this point where a dead horse has been whipped so much that you haven't even got enough horse left to make gravy with.

In that case am I glad that this film, though it deals again with that country, is focused upon the lead up to
the 'war' as opposed to the war itself? Well, kinda.

Rating:

Rules of Attraction, The

dir: Roger Avary

I don't have an agenda in reviewing it favourably, and I am not that egotistical as to believe that my reviews affect people's viewing decisions. I can resolutely state that I probably got more enjoyment out of it than most people would, and probably forgive its amateurish errors more readily than I should.

Rating:

One Hour Photo

dir: Mark Romanek
[img_assist|nid=1031|title=And what can I see in these missing frames from the Zapruder movie? Nixon doing what?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=353|height=500]
Robin Williams was, to use the official psychiatric term, a complete loon. He was a complete loon for a long time. Anyone who's ever seen one of his coke fuelled stand-up performances from the 80s (such as Live at the Met from 1986), or seen anyone try to interview him on any type of show knows how much of a complete nutjob he was (and probably still is). The man used to have a chaotic level of energy when 'on' that it meant even he didn't know what was going to come out of his manic mouth next. You've never seen someone cram more free associations, impressions, parodies and downright crippling gags in such a short space of time. Of course by delivering twenty gags in the space of fifteen seconds even when ten leave you scratching your unmentionables the other five kept you giggling like a schoolgirl.

Those days of coke binges and having sex with Christy Canyon (I'm not making that up) are long gone, but the mania certainly remains. Even now you'd be hard pressed to find a better example of a person with extreme bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depression back in the old days.

Rating:

Secretary

dir: Steven Shainberg
[img_assist|nid=1034|title=There have to be better ways to get the mail. But I fail to hear any complaining.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=467]
What a fucking freaky film. It starts off being a film about one freak, who then finds an even bigger freak than herself. It just makes you hope they eventually get together and raise some freak babies.

There were certainly a bunch of people in the audience I saw this film with who didn't have a singular clue about this film. They were the ones that walked out not because of the sexual / sadomasochistic content, but because the psychosexual stuff wasn't sexy. They were actually expecting or hoping for some T & A and double entendres about taking dictation and doing a Lewinsky under the desk. Not a story about a demented self-mutilator and a sadistic obsessive-compulsive.

Rating:

Ghost World

dir: Terry Zwigoff
[img_assist|nid=1032|title=She broke a million nerd hearts with this role|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=300]
Movies tend to celebrate the triumph of the individual. The underdog beats the less-likeable and usually wealthy favourite to win the adulation of the crowd. Villains get their comeuppance at movie's end, with the hero finally getting the girl and the acknowledgment that they deserve, usually with a large television audience watching in masturbatory glee.

We as people want to associate ourselves with winners, with success, with victory. We can relate to the personal hardships that the film protagonists go through, as we all have mishaps, accidents and fuckups in our lives, just probably not on the same scale. And when they (usually) inevitably triumph over the odds to win the belt, the cup or kill the bad guy, we feel that associative rush as well, sharing in their triumph. We're winners as well. Our value systems, whilst certainly not uniform around the globe, tend to prize success, coolness, triumph in competition against others, the overcoming of obstacles, prejudices etc to achieve what we all ultimately want: acceptance and approval by society and those around us.

Rating:

Rules of the Game, The (La Regle de jeu)

dir: Jean Renoir
[img_assist|nid=1102|title=The first rule is, don't mention the fact you studied film at university|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=400]
1939

When you’re told a film is one of the best of all time, you’re naturally going to be wary. The title is usually foisted upon Citizen Kane, but just as often it’s trotted out in terms of this film.

It’s easier to talk about popular films that have been seen by squillions of people, and judging their impact on the audience’s consciousness through the years rather than about some film from 70 years ago few people you know have ever heard of let alone seen. It one thing to debate whether Apocalypse Now is great, or Lawrence of Arabia, but arguing about something no-one under the age of 50 has seen is the ultimate in film wankery.

I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve watched the restored, Criterion Collection edition, with the commentaries by experts, the apologetic introduction by Renoir himself, scene by scene analyses by film experts, and a whole bunch of other documentaries on the film and the director. I just don’t see it.

See, I can watch Casablanca, and no-one needs to explain to me why it's a classic or a great film. If you need to explain it to me, then, well, draw your own conclusions.

Rating:

On the Waterfront

dir: Elia Kazan
[img_assist|nid=1084|title=When you were a young god|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=382]
1954

It’s a bloody shame that possessing too much knowledge makes it impossible to just talk about a great film and call it a great film. Either that, or you can put it down to arrogance, pretentiousness, or affected hipsterism. Whichever and whatever combination thereof that I’m afflicted with, I’m too aware of the history behind this picture to be able to blithely review it like it’s just any film.

Sure, it’s a film like any other. Although, it won a bunch of Academy awards, and it contains one of the greatest performances by Marlon Brando that you’ll ever see. And it casts a mournful eye over the waterfront upon which it is set, and the cowardice, greed and cruelty that conspires to render good men either dead or useless at the hands of a corrupt union.

And it’s directed by a man who made some great films, like this, Streetcar Named Desire, A Face in the Crowd, Splendor in the Grass, and Gentleman’s Agreement; films which I’m sure all the kids of today are big fans of and love to hear quoted in the latest emo and rap songs illegally downloaded onto their iPods.

Rating:

Last Tango in Paris (Ultimo Tango in Parigi)

dir: Bernardo Bertolucci
[img_assist|nid=1083|title=What happened to you? You used to be beautiful, man.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=358|height=375]
1972

Oh, my good gods do I loathe this film.

I find myself truly amazed that this film has such a vaunted reputation. Famous film critic Pauline Kael wrote a 6,000 word review practically calling it the death and rebirth of cinema. Other critics fell over themselves to praise Brando’s performance beyond the high heavens and to heap the shiniest and gaudiest superlatives that they could upon this film and its lead actor.

What the fuck were they snorting?

Brando may have been the greatest actor of his generation, but I find his entire performance, most of which is improvised, excruciating to listen to and behold. This is not acting, it's actoring: this is an actor doing whatever the hell he wants because he thinks he’s beyond being directed. Whether he’s saying whatever pops into his head, or smacking Maria Schneider in the head with a hair brush, he’s less of an actor than Jim Carrey is.

I mean that seriously. There’s only one genuine scene in the whole film. The most famous scene, from an acting point of view, is the one whether Brando’s alleged character Paul rails against his dead wife as she lies in state. He begins by cursing her out for the whore that she was, railing against her before he breaks down. It’s a powerful scene. I guess.

Rating:

Ikiru

dir: Akira Kurosawa
[img_assist|nid=1094|title=Old man, it's way too late for you, but you can still go out with some style|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=325]
1952

An aged bureaucrat, entrenched in the job for thirty years, finds out he is dying. The pointless busy work he has juggled for the length of his career, the professional objective to help no-one and do nothing unless it falls within the narrow parameters of the job description, now no longer seems as wonderful a task as it used to.

He wonders what to do now that he no longer has uncertainty regarding his fate. He takes out some of the money he’s been squirreling away, to see what he’s been depriving himself of for so long. He doesn’t tell his annoying, selfish son what’s going on, since he’s a greedy and overbearing prat, and the son’s wife is a bit of a bitch as well.

He tries the whole ‘drinking and bitches’ routine, but finds he ultimately has no taste for either. He laments his wasted life, and the manner in which he has been more dead than alive since his wife’s death many decades ago. It hurts him that his son doesn’t love him as much as he loves his son, choosing not to remarry upon his wife’s death (when the son is still tiny) for the son’s benefit. Now all the son and his wife can do is berate the old man and pray for his death so they can get a hold of his money.

Rating:

Graduate, The

dir: Mike Nichols
[img_assist|nid=1095|title=Probably the most famous image of an outstretched leg in cinema history|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=430|height=396]
1967

What a remarkably good film. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to see it. Seeing it for the first time just recently (29//8/2007), I was struck by just how good this ‘classic’ flick from the 1960s really is. For once the link between reputation and quality actually coincides.

Certain phrases have become pop culture stalwarts like “Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me,” “Do you want me to seduce you?” and “Plastics!” said in that conspiratorial voice. And the soundtrack by undead folk troubadours Simon and Garfunkle is as well known and much lamented part of greatest hits commercial radio package played out daily across the globe.

Then of course there was the Lemonheads cover of Mrs Robinson which propelled the song and the flick back into the public consciousness many years after the fact. And it gave Evan Dando enough money to develop a really serious drug habit.

All these artefacts, cultural signifiers and signposts don’t alter a really significant fact: The Graduate is a funny and touching flick about an aimless guy who’s unsure of his place in the world.

Rating:

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