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Drama

Win Win

Win Win

Giamatti, you handsome devil, when will your day come?

dir: Thomas McCarthy

When you watch a lot of movies, you get so used to the hysterical, overbearing, oversaturated general default setting of cinema, that when a relatively quiet flick comes out that treats (mostly) dramas between people in a sane manner, it seems strange.

Not bad strange, just not at the fever pitch of melodrama that people expect from their media, or I guess have expected for decades.

Thomas McCarthy specialises in films seemingly devoted to fairly ordinary people living lives of quiet desperation, alleviated only by their interactions with other more interesting people. The films meander along, some conflict seems to arise organically, forcing some kind of crescendo, and then people’s lives continue, hopefully in a slightly better way. Maybe it sounds like I’m being derisive, but it’s not intended.

Though the protagonists of his previous flicks and the settings are all different (The Station Agent, The Visitor and this one), that approach seems to hold as a constant. You know, in case I haven’t made it clear enough, it’s a gentle, meandering, believable, human way to get a film and a premise across.

Perhaps you can guess what the laziest and most obvious criticism of these flicks could be. Something that mimics ‘real’ life in too realistic a manner runs the risk of being like actual life, in other words, tedious and painful. It can sap the will to live.

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The Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Everything... Everything... Everything... Everything... Everything

dir: Terrence Malick

It’s a beautiful film, trying to encompass in its scope, the entire world, the entire human experience, the entire universe. With such mighty ambitions, how can Malick not fall short? How could any of us not fall short?

The fact that the scope of his reach and the magnitude of his grasp are so close to each other means that when one exceeds the other, it doesn’t represent the failure that it would for other filmmakers. There are very few filmmakers (with money) like Malick, and his films are their own genre. As such they’re only really comparable to each other, not as much with other films.

You can only really know if you can enjoy a Malick film by having watched a few, and having immersed yourself in them, know what to expect. They are not conventional, they don’t follow a pattern, they don’t unfold in a conventional manner, and, mostly, they’re overflowing with beautiful cinematography, and the vast majority of the thoughts and intentions of the characters are delivered through internal monologues (voiceover).

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Small Town Murder Songs

Small Town Murder Songs

That's some serious policeman's mo you've got going there, Pete

dir: Ed Gass-Donnelly

No, it’s got nothing to do with Nick Cave, and it’s not an album. But it is a Canadian film, about a murder, in a small town, and there are some songs.

The songs are great. They’re Great. Genuinely bracing songs, mixing elements of church spirituals, violent percussion, very dark bluegrass (I guess?), and probably a bunch of other influences as well. Imagine the bastard love child of Steve Earle and Nick Cave, sitting in some muddy weeds, crying while toking on a meth pipe.

So the soundtrack, I think we’ve painfully established, is pretty amazing. The Canadian film itself? Perhaps not so much.

The setting is rural Ontario, and the small town is so very, very small. They never mention the population specifically, but it’s probably in the hundreds. It’s such a small town that the last murder was before the time of the current town police chief, being Walter (Peter Stormare).

It sounds, from my description, and that pesky title, that this is a crime movie, a police procedural about a murder, that someone has to solve. It would be a mistake to believe that. It’s a mistake I made. Sure, there are elements of that, but the flick is aiming for something very different.

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Love and Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs

Yes, you should have kept your pie holes shut

dir: Edward Zwick

It tries, oh it tries. Yes, I know it’s an old flick. I feel the obligation to review it all the same.

Why? Well, it’s not very clear to me either, but maybe I’ll stumble over a few reasons as we go along.

Love and Other Drugs sets itself firmly in the 1990s by opening to a montage set to the rocking tones of Two Princes, that fucking wretched song by no-hit-wonders The Spin Doctors. That song alone already put me in a bad mood as the flick began.

This is, somewhat perversely, based on someone’s actual life and experiences. Jaime Reidy, an actual human, apparently, worked in the pharmaceutical industry and experienced many of the experiences such an individual has to have in order to need a yuppie redemption story to be made about them.

Human history, for those either working in the drug industry, who suffer from erectile dysfunction or who are trying to have sex with someone with erectile dysfunction, is divided sharply into BV and AV: Before Viagra and After Viagra. This flick follows suit, because clearly nothing in human history has ever been as important as that single invention.

Yeah, Fuck You, Galileo, Edison, Einstein, Tesla, Newton, Curie, Franklin, Wilkins, Watson, Crick and Hawking! What have any of you achieved compared to the magnificence of a four-hour erection? Your collective discoveries amount to Nothing. Less than Nothing!

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Confessions (Kokuhaku)

dir: Tetsuya Nakashima
[img_assist|nid=1381|title=Remember the days of the old school yard? We used to bleed a lot|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=300]
From revenge… to more revenge. This time, we’re doing it Japanese style.

Now, just to get all simplistic, reductive and borderline racist, if the old saying regarding revenge goes that it is a dish best served cold, like sushi, then what this particular director and cast do is take that revenge, like a platter full of sushi, dip it into a tank of liquid nitrogen, and shatter the freeze-burned remains with a HIV-covered sledgehammer.

Man, do they serve this revenge up cold. And, man, do the Japanese hate school kids.

Confessions is a flick where a whole bunch of people confess to each other or to us in the audience in order to tell the story. There are bits where people talk to each other, but mostly people are talking in monologues.

Our first speaker is a junior high school teacher who explains to her class that she’s quitting her job, and why. For the next half hour, mostly she stands in front of the class and talks earnestly but quietly to a bunch of savages who are barely in their teens. They carry on like they’re on the island from either Lord of the Flies or Battle Royale, just with lots of texting involved, but they listen and react whenever she says any crucial element of her story.

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The Kids Are All Right

dir: Lisa Cholodenko
[img_assist|nid=1375|title=Insufferable. Utterly insufferable.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=284]
And here is the last of my reviews of the ten flicks of 2010, nine destined to lose the award for Best Picture, and the one that will doubtless win at the upcoming Academy Awards. I've seen and reviewed all the rest (Toy Story 3, True Grit, Social Network, King’s Speech, Winter’s Bone, Inception, Black Swan, 127 Hours, The Fighter), and felt, for some inexplicable reason, that I had to review the one remaining flick if I was ever going to pretend to have an informed and important opinion about the annual filmic circle jerk scheduled to occur on Monday.

Whoopee for me.

So here’s my review of The Kids Are All Right. Enjoy.

If you permit me to enter the American Culture Wars for a moment, and if you’ll grant me the license to pontificate about the aforementioned despite the clear fact that I have absolutely no stake in that polarising political / ideological bullshit by dint of nationality or geographical location, please just let me say the following: This flick reminds me of how utterly insufferable we are.

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The Fighter

dir: David O. Russell
[img_assist|nid=1362|title=Idiots on parade|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=284]
David O. Russell is a director not known for sports flicks. He’s known, if he’s known at all, for three things: directing Three Kings, which remains one of the only decent flicks set during the first Iraqi adventure; making a thoroughly stupid flick called I Heart Huckabees; and for a screaming match that occurred and was recorded between himself and Lily Tomlin on the set of that flick.

Mark Wahlberg is best known for having a brother who was in New Kids on the Block, who had a short career as rapper-performer-Renaissance man Marky Mark, and playing John Holmes stand-in Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. He is not well known for his acting ability.

Christian Bale is best known for screaming abuse at people on the set of some films he’s been on. And a wicked eating disorder. He’s also an actor, or so I’ve been told.

The three of them, oh, and a bunch of other people as well, collaborate here in order to make a fairly amazingly good film, one which, noting the participants, the location, and what they’re famous for, I couldn’t really have predicted.

Rating:

Black Swan

dir: Darren Aronofsky
[img_assist|nid=1352|title=I wonder if that crack represents her state of mind. Ya think?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=666]
Hmmmm.

Darren Aronofsky returns to the well that prompted him to make Pi way back in the day, with a different gender in the lead but the same ultimate problem: madness brought on by sexual frustration. In Pi a maths genius can’t get any, and goes mad (or madder) listening to his hot Indian neighbour have sex. In Black Swan, a sexually- repressed prima ballerina called Nina (Natalie Portman) has to go mad in order to access her dark side to become the most perfect ballerina in the history of Swan Lake performances.

With mixed results. In a way, though she’s won’t and shouldn’t get credit for it, Portman did a Christian Bale and starved herself down in order to play this character. She’s already tiny, but here she’s depleted enough here to have that horrible strained look on her sternum where flesh is supposed to be, and now there’s only bone and tendon.

It’s not for me to judge what actors do in the pursuit of money, critical respect and the adulation of the masses. If it’s okay for Bale to do it in every second flick he does, then why not a chick that probably already weighs about 40 kilos anyway?

Rating:

Greenberg

Greenberg

oh, this looks so much like a quirky indie comedy. It's not. It's so not.

dir: Noah Baumbach

Officially the most depressing flick of the year. Worse than a twenty-hour Holocaust documentary. Worse than a dramatic indie flick chronicling the breakdown of a marriage in excruciating detail. Worse than a live action film where the main character is a computer animated dog.

It always gets me when the people designing the posters for films do this, whereupon they put the name of the ‘star’ at the top linking it directly to the main character of the flick they’re obviously in. When they were making those Bourne Identity et al flicks, the posters, which featured a big muscly pic of Matt Damon, often came standard with the phrase “Matt Damon IS Jason Bourne!” as if there were any lingering doubts in the confused populace.

Of course the confusion arises because Matt Damon isn’t Jason Bourne, a fictional character, he’s the actor and soft drink salesman Matt Damon, surprisingly enough.

So when the posters for this dirge of a flick has the same type of phrase, as in “Ben Stiller IS Greenberg”, I don’t have the same pedantic reaction. What I actually think in this instance is that if Ben Stiller actually was this Greenberg person, someone should murder him in his sleep.

Rating:

Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

dir: Giorgos Lanthimos
[img_assist|nid=1340|title=The family that's depraved together stays together mostly because of the high wall around the property|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=298]
Oh, what a fucked up family, and, oh, what a fucked up film.

I haven’t had much cause or recourse to review Greek films thus far, in fact it’s never come up. In a decade or so of reviewing (and twenty years of chin-stroking viewing), there’s never been an instance where I’ve watched a Greek flick in a local arthouse cinema, because I can’t recall the last time one got to play. Sure, you can occasionally watch flicks about Mongolian yak herders, or Massai tribesmen, or Inuit fishermen fishing for fish through tiny ice holes, and every single French flick no matter how vacuous or silly, gets arthouse play, but practically nothing from Greece.

I have no idea if the European Union’s poor orphan cousin has that much of a film industry, to be honest. Can’t imagine there’s that much spare cash lying around. Still, arguably the most famous (internationally) director from Greece, called Costa Gavras, who’s a pretentious pill but an accomplished director if I’ve heard or seen one, doesn’t even direct flicks in Greek, preferring the international language of arrogance, being French.

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