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Drama

Carnage

Carnage

Parents are just the worst people, they really are, in and outside of plays

dir: Roman Polanski

Parents, as any teenager will tell you, are the worst. They’re just horrible people, perpetually using their children as surrogates, stand-ins and battlefields for all their fears, failures and furies. At least as far as movies are concerned

And they’re always convinced that they’re right, even when and especially when they’re wrong.

Four people get trapped in an apartment, unable to leave, held in place like insects in amber by societal niceties, the social contract, the fear of litigation, and eventually, the shittiness of their own marriages. What a recipe for success!

And it's all over an eleven-year-old hitting another eleven-year-old with a stick.

At least in the Australian context, it's hard not to think of The Slap, which uses the slap of the title to show the fault lines and flaws in the relationships of dozens of interlinked people. The realisation of this story, though, couldn't be more different. This flick is based on a play, and it shows. The 'action' doesn't move from the apartment, well, it only moves as far as the outside of the apartment, as two sets of parents try to wrest some kind of meaning from each other, to make up for the lack of it in other areas of their lives.

Rating:

Take Shelter

Take Shelter

What's most terrifying is the possibility that the craziest people have
been right all along.

dir: Jeff Nichols

Michael Shannon is the new Christopher Walken, only even more unsettling. And now they’re giving him lead roles in movies, which is going to scare even more children down the track.

Scooch closer, children, don’t make me tell you again about the scooching.

Take Shelter is a meditative, unsettling, measured story about a man overwhelmed by dread. Curtis (Michael Shannon) has dreams and visions of something awful that’s about to happen, and yet, because of his family history of mental illness, he allows for the possibility that it all might just be in his head.

This is a man who sees his dreams as omens, and takes actions in the ‘real’ world, which, obviously, look like the actions of an insane man, after a while. He knows they’re dreams, but, for him, it would be a crime not to prepare for what is coming. He loves his family too much to ignore the signs, and sees as absolute his obligation to do right by all of them.

His wife (Jessica Chastain, who I think was in every movie released in 2011), apart from being a redhead, is a rock, is a cornerstone, is a heroically supportive woman, but even she has her limits. Anyone would. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, though, she’s the embodiment of the concept of standing by your man to the bitter end.

Rating:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

It has a cumbersome, unwieldy title. I would have gone with
"Fuck I Really Hated This Movie".

dir: Stephen Daldry

This is the last of the nominees for Best Picture this year (well, at the 2012 Oscars scheduled for the 26th of Feb) that I have seen and reviewed, well, am reviewing right now. That’s the only reason I saw it, or at least endured its entire length without walking out, and the only reason I’m reviewing it is so I can at least have the tenuous justification for having an informed opinion about the worthiness of the flick that ends up winning.

And, at the very least, I can say that this flick should definitely not win.

At even very leaster, I can say that this flick should definitely not be watched by anyone, either.

I can’t say if it’s a faithful rendering of the book, because I’m never going to read the book that produced such an aggravating movie. An actively irritating, unsatisfying, unfulfilling, unenjoyable movie.

It’s safe to say that if it didn’t include a lot of footage of the World Trade Centre attacks, an abundance of footage and references and elegiac scenes of people falling, or the smoking towers, or the last (fabricated) words of someone about to die in one of the Towers, this flick would have never seen the light of day. I don’t think people can be casual or dismissive about September Eleven stuff yet, hence the nomination, but, goddamn is this flick unpleasant to spend time with.

Rating:

We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo

Ugh, better title would be "We Are Trapped in a Terrible Movie, Please Send Help"

dir: Cameron Crowe

There’s this feeling that certain films and certain directors provoke that’s akin to having been in an embarrassing relationship with someone completely unsuitable in some dark alleyway of your past. Sure, at the time you thought they were wonderful and fun, but then you look back with the benefit of maturity and hindsight and think “what the fuck was I on?”

And it happens, mostly, when you see them in their current state, giving the world new examples of why they were always embarrassing, and why you should have known they were a disaster way back when. Sure, I really enjoyed Almost Famous, and sit through it whenever it pops up on one of the cable movie channels, but, really, I can’t believe I ever liked this man’s movies.

We Bought a Zoo actually has a story that I found interesting. A grieving widower called Benjamin (Matt Damon) decides to buy a zoo, to take his two kids out of the city and all that reminds him of his departed wife, to start afresh. Along the way he has to say a lot of things that would embarrass even those kinds of people you know who biologically seem not to have any capacity for shame. You know, politicians, pornstars, footballers: even they would be blushing with some of these execrable words given to them. Instead, you have Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson uttering this dolorous, dunderheaded dribble, which demeans us all individually and as a species.

Rating:

The Descendants

The Descendants

I wonder how high up on People magazine's Hottest 100 Bachelors list I am this year..

dir: Alexander Payne

I was so surprised when this didn’t turn out to be a biopic-documentary about the great punk band The Descendents, from whose ashes rose other punk superstars Black Flag and All, blessing the world with their fast, brutal pop-punk noise, inspiring a legion of teenage boys in Akron, Ohio and Ringwood, Melbourne, to pick up guitars in their bedrooms and then put them down again once they finished their chemistry and engineering degrees.

No. That would have been too real, too awesome. Instead, here’s George Clooney Clooning things up for the rest of us, based on the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Cummings.

We see, for the briefest instant, a woman riding on a jet ski, who seems very happy. That’s the happiest we’re going to see her, because Clooney’s sonorous voiceover ensures that we will know quick smart that these people aren’t or can’t be happy for very long.

It turns out that the woman we beheld in all her glory is now in a coma, and her husband, Matt King (Cloons) is looking after her, and dealing more so with the fact that he now has to reengage with his family, being two daughters, which he thinks he’s not ready to do. The youngest, Scottie (Amara Miller) is getting in trouble for acting out (by saying ever so rude and hurtful things to other girls), and his elder daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) has her own problems unsuccessfully hidden away at her elite boarding school.

Rating:

Moneyball

Moneyball

This awards season, Brad Pitt IS a Ball of Money!

dir: Bennett Miller

Why would I watch a flick about baseball? Why would anyone? That is, why would anyone watch a flick about a sport they know nothing about apart from its existence, and couldn’t care less about?

Well, there have been some decent baseball flicks, for which it doesn’t matter a tinker’s dam whether you’re a fan of the sport or not. Eight Man Out, Cobb, The Babe, The Natural, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams: they're all the ones I can think of right now. You can argue that it’s not even the sport itself which is relevant in terms of whether they’re good films or not: it’s the story that goes along with it, eliciting as it does awe, hope, joy, boredom, strange sexual feelings and probably other darker emotions that I'm not privy to.

Well, truth be told the only reason I saw Moneyball is because I’d seen a lot of good reviews, a lot of praise for it, and many if not all of those reviews said stuff like “you don’t have to be a fan of baseball to enjoy the flick”. And so I watched it.

The reality is, though, if you don’t know or care about baseball, or sport in general, this film could bore you so much that you eventually hate any mention of it, or have all affection eroded you may have had for the athletic arts.

Rating:

50/50

50/50

Now boys, getting cancer is no reason to become neo-nazi skinheads, okay?

dir: Jonathan Levine

Cancer is a hard sell. It’s okay for those four-hanky weepies they make for the abundance of chick channels on cable, but for a comedy drama with nice, liked actors in it, you have to think a lot of people apart from the creative ones involved would have been a bit leery or at least anxious.

“Who’s going to see this?” muttered one studio executive, tugging on his soul patch and massaging his shoulder where Consuela, his usual deep-tissue masseuse had failed to work out the knot that had been bugging him all week.

“I mean, it’s a bit of a bring-down, isn’t it? Can’t he have, like, a cold or something less depressing?”

“What about lupus?” said his female counterpart, fighting the urge to think about food denied to herself at least until daylight hours were over. “Lupus would play well to 27 to 39-year-old one legged lesbians who like blue blankets, at least that’s what our data shows. What about an earache? No, we don’t want to alienate the people with sore eyelids. How about AIDS? Everyone loves AIDS. That’ll get the, you knows, into the theatres.”

Rating:

Bellflower

Bellflower

I can't imagine it gets decent fuel mileage, but it sure looks cool,
doesn't it?

dir: Evan Glodell

I couldn’t tell you what it’s about. I’ve watched it twice, and I still don’t know.

But I can tell you that it connected with me, for reasons I cannot fathom as yet.

Let’s fathom those reasons out together, dear reader. Maybe over the course of the review, I’ll be able to figure it out for myself.

This could be a flick about two youngish alcoholics, Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson), who really wish they were living in post-apocalyptic times. They don’t seem to have jobs or money, but they have a close friendship, I guess defined by the frequency with which they bellow ‘dude’ and ‘so awesome’ to and at each other. They’re really close, even just for best friends.

I’m not implying anything, I’m just saying. They spend their days talking about some fairly strange stuff, and they do it in a fairly casual way. Mad Max – The Road Warrior seems to have had a fairly profound impact upon them. They don’t just dream of modified beasts of cars, or flamethrowers; they build flamethrowers and modify cars in practical but cumbersome ways.

And, for fun, they chain up a propane tank and shoot it with a shotgun, just to watch it burn under escaping explosive pressure. They are, or at least think they are, preparing for something that the rest of us would desperately hope would never come to pass.

Rating:

Margin Call

Margin Call

Why so serious, gentle fellows? Is there some sort of crisis looming?

dir: J.C. Chandor

This is a non-stop rollercoaster ride of Armageddon-like thrills and fucking spills. If you’ve seen Children of Men, the incredible action / dystopian sci fi flick about a planet where no children are being born, then imagine that level of cinematic amazement, only set in an office populated entirely by shmucks working in the finance industry.

Yes, the finance industry, or the financial sector, if you want to be pedantic, and who, splayed seductively across the tubes of the internets, doesn’t? It’s the place where the best, brightest and most amazing people in society work with the largest sums of money that anyone outside of the accountant for an oil-rich country’s brutal dictator gets to play with.

Margin Call is not about a specific firm (cough Lehman Brothers cough) or a specific time (hello Global Financial Crisis circa 2008), but it does seem to be trying to represent a certain kind of muted catastrophe that some of us might remember, seeing as its effects are still reverberating, and, if you believe certain doomsayers, hasn’t even peaked yet.

Rating:

The Help

The Help

Well kiss my grits and deep fry my chitlins

dir: Tate Taylor

Yeah, yeah. I know. It can’t be good, can it?

It’s so obvious in its pandering for Oscars. It’s so worthy. It reeks of Oprah, and it’s all so, so goddamn earnest.

What if I told you that it’s actually not that a bad film? I think you’d be unpleasantly surprised. And even if the spirit of Hattie McDaniel hovers over the movie, cursing and moaning in contempt, it’s not entirely without merit.

Naturally, I’m not the intended audience, though I’m the right ‘colour’. White, American middle-aged, middle-class women are clearly the key demographic that made this flick such a success. It has dominated the US box office for the last few weeks like it’s one of the Transformers movies. Of course, some of the characters are less animated than the robots, but other than that there is little they share in common.

Apart from being big, stonking successes, that is. Of course, one is slightly less annoying and self-righteous than the other. And the other doesn’t have robots.

It’s set in the early 60s, in Mississippi. Guess what and who it’s about. Go on, I dare you, I double dare you, I triple dare you.

Yes, it’s about the Poles who fled the Nazis and the Soviets, and who emigrated to the States, and how they were oppressed and persecuted by people who sought to make them the butt of every lazy joke.

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