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Brideshead Revisited

dir: Julian Jarrold
[img_assist|nid=1256|title=Brideshead's going to get Revisited tonight!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=267]
Plenty of people, pretty much only the people who’ve read the book and watched the BBC series, would think that a film version of Brideshead Revisited is either redundant or pointless or both. I have watched the series and read the book, and have now watched this latest adaptation. Hurray for me.

So maybe I am one of those who think a new version is pointless. Thing is, though, I still enjoyed the flick.

Of course a two-hour version seems pointless after the majesty and scope and patience of the series, but then when you’re making a film for contemporary audiences, you’re not catering to people with relaxed attention spans and time. You’re catering to hyper-caffeinated people with the patience, attention span and morals of feral ferrets.

So, boiling a complex novel down to its essentials is the order of the day, here. I don’t have a problem with that, mostly because I’m so familiar with the source material. Sure, it is period piece stuff arising from the success of Atonement (which is a very different kettle of gay fish compared to Brideshead) with a similar kind of look, but it’s not an especially complex story.

Rating:

Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road

Some things are stronger than love. Like hate,
for example

dir: Sam Mendes

Oh what a miserable fucking film. It starts off with one of those miserable and uncomfortable couple fights that makes you want to slink away without making eye contact, and progresses onwards with a gruesome autopsy of a relationship that should never have been between two people who should never have been together.

Based on an apparently classic 1950s novel of the same name by Richard Yates, it’s a film undoubtedly influenced at least in its stylistic elements by the rise of that Mad Men era-philia. In truth, though, this is an earlier era depicted, even if visually they’re indistinguishable. Sure the guys all wear smart suits and those hats, and smoke everywhere, and drink constantly and such.

But this is a time meant to be closer to the end of World War II rather than the cool cat airport lounge hipsterism of the early 1960s depicted in the aforementioned (and admittedly highly loveable) television series. Men and women were still working out what their post-war roles were meant to be, and for some people the answers were never going to be pretty.

The name of the flick makes it sound like it’s going to be a film explaining to kids why they should or shouldn’t have pictures of Che Guevara on their t-shirts, but all it refers to is the suburban road in Connecticut where the unhappily married Wheelers live.

Rating:

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
[img_assist|nid=157|title=Oh, the woe and suffering of the noble underclass!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
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
[img_assist|nid=33|title=Grrrr|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=316|height=474]
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
[img_assist|nid=23|title=Fear the Ram!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=321]
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
[img_assist|nid=20|title=Economics Lecturers need love too|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=512|height=343]
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
[img_assist|nid=143|title=We look like we're having fun, but inside, we're dying|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=318]
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
[img_assist|nid=65|title=Men, brothers, dickheads|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=200]
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:

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