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Fantasy

Fantasy

Conan the Barbarian

dir: Marcus Nispel

Honestly, I’m capable of being objective. I can be. Seriously.

I know you don’t believe me, but at the very least you might accept that I think it’s true.

It’s important to have perspective on various issues, be it elements of one’s own life, or the world in general. It’s especially handy when you’re trying to sift through the detritus of modern life as represented by pop culture and the world of sub-par art known as The Movies.

Having said that, let me now say this regarding the original film Conan the Barbarian that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and came out in 1982: It’s one of the single greatest movies of all time. It decapitates Citizen Kane, dismembers Lawrence of Arabia and rips the bloody, pulsing tongue out of Bridge Over the River Kwai.

It’s not only a great film, it’s one of the greatest achievements our species has ever been responsible for, up there with the pyramids, landing on the moon, and g strings.

You might laugh, or giggle a girlish titter and think, “Oh ho ho, how fucking funny. He must mean it ironically, or that it’s a camp classic, or he’s saying it as a set up for some punchline. I won’t get fooled again by his shenanigans.”

Rating:

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch

ye gods is this so terrible. This is so terrible I
hope this is the last we ever hear of Mr Snyder

dir: Zack Snyder

A lot of people get their panties in a bunch because of the descriptor usually applied to Zack Snyder, either by reviewers or the marketing people marketing his movies: “From the mind of visionary director Zack Snyder…” goes the line on the poster.

They (the collective ‘they’) got sick of always applying the term to Tim Burton, so now they have someone else to pin it to like a badge of dishonour.

I think it’s an adjective that’s appropriate. At least as far as it applies to lots and lots and lots of visionary visuals, he’s got them pouring out from every diseased orifice.

Directors, or at least the cinematographers and programmers the studios hire, are all about the visuals. Getting the look right is their main task, you’d think, it being an entirely visual medium. If he was producing radio plays I’d say he was a failure, but that’s just my opinion.

What Snyder clearly isn’t about, is writing or that pesky acting stuff. I’m sure he’s capable of possibly getting decent performances from humans, but he seems to do much better with computer generated graphics instead. So I guess it’s unfortunate that there are so many people standing around messing up his effects shots in Sucker Punch.

Rating:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

dir: David Yates
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Another year, another Potter flick. The difference is, now, after having enjoyed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix so much, I thought I actually cared about future Potter flicks.

And then the Half-Blood Prince came along, and reminded me why I never really liked these tales of whimsy and magic in the first place.

That’s a bit harsh. Initially, going into it, I was pretty excited. I also thought, and still think, that this entry looks phenomenal as well. Hogwarts never looked so vast, so foreboding, so much more like a place that is no longer a sanctuary to these budding sorcerers.

Of course the ‘kids’ are getting older. Harry, Ron and Hermione are becoming awfully, um, grown-up physically, at least, if not emotionally mature. The story reflects and spends an inordinate amount of time fixating and developing these developments, as if the fact that they’re all acting like horny teenagers is supposed to be some kind of revelation.

Of course, this being a very successful franchise, they’re not going to turn it into an episode of the frightening school-age British series Skins, which has kids shagging, doing drugs and carrying on like teenagers having been acting since the dawn of cask wine.

Rating:

Watchmen

Watchmen

Who watched the Watchmen? Eh, not a hell of a lot of people

dir: Zack Snyder

It’s almost unbelievable to me that this flick has eventuated, has been realised and ended up on the big screen. I don’t say that as a fan of the graphic novel that spawned this monstrosity, but as someone simply who’s read the story and thought it could never work as an audience-pleasing, seat-filling, multiplex product. Watching Watchmen hasn’t convinced me otherwise.

The story, well, let’s just say I can’t imagine it ever connecting with the kinds of audiences who go to the cinema to watch a flick chock full of super heroes. People, the vast majority of people who go to the cinema to watch a flick based on a comic book are expecting and wanting something along the lines of Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, stuff with Man in the title. Maybe Dark Knight’s incredible success has broken down some barriers and prepared people for more ‘serious’ and ‘complicated’ stories, but I don’t think it’s going to do much for people’s appreciation of Watchmen.

Rating:

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

dir: Guillermo Del Toro
[img_assist|nid=66|title=Methinks he's overcompensating for something|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
I usually give Del Toro respect for his Spanish films which have all been great (Cronos, Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth), and derision for his Hollywood flicks (Blade II, the first Hellboy). Perhaps I’m feeling more forgiving, or perhaps Del Toro is starting to meld the two ways of working into a workable whole.

Whatever the reason, or whatever is really going on, I surprised myself by enjoying Hellboy II: The Golden Army much more than I thought I would. The main reason I’m surprised is that I really didn’t get into the first Hellboy, and that one of the main reasons is something that’s carried over to this sequel.

I’m also a bit burned out by the whole comic book adaptation thing, and Hellboy is nothing if not a comic book property.

Hellboy (played, I guess, by Ron Perlman) is an actual demon, snatched from the gates of hell by a kindly scientist (John Hurt) when still a baby hellspawn. He grows up to love and protect humanity whilst fighting against supernatural shenanigans that threaten humankind.

He is bright red, with ground-down horns, a very large fist, styles his hair like a samurai, smokes cigars and loves kittens. And he loves to fight.

Rating:

10,000 BC

dir: Roland Emmerich
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The name Roland Emmerich, for most people, isn’t one that drips with infamy. It’s not used in the same sentence as “a horrible, big budget hack as bad as Stephen Sommers, Bret Rattner or Michael Bay”. It probably should, though.

Clearly, if the name means nothing to you, you don’t remember who directed noisy big budget shitfests like Independence Day, Godzilla, Day After Tomorrow or the loathsome The Patriot starring Mel “I love the Jews today, I really do” Gibson.

As such, it’s not clear whether Emmerich has made any films ever worth the celluloid expended in making and screening them. There are some terrible films on his resume. Awful, godawful movies that sapped the will to live of audiences worldwide.

It would be reasonable to expect that since almost every film he’s made has been dire, that any future films he makes will be dire too. It’s only fair.

Well, of all the films Roland Emmerich has been responsible, this one, 10,000 BC is the most recent. That’s probably the nicest thing you can say about it.

Rating:

Jumper

dir: Doug Liman
[img_assist|nid=45|title=I know I can't act, so is it okay if I just stand over here and pout?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=475|height=266]
And I thought this was going to be a movie about someone’s woolly pullover.

No, a jumper is a person with the innate ability to teleport around. David Rice, our main character, teleports around. He discovers he can do this at around age 15, and abandons all semblance of a normal life.

Since he lives outside the bounds of regular society (he abandons his surly father, and their small hick town of Ann Arbour, Michigan), he also freezes at this point in his intellectual and emotional development.

Eight years pass, and now David is played by Hayden Christensen, arguably one of the greatest and hardest working actors of his generation.

No, wait, I meant to say he’s a terrible, woeful actor, so – so - terrible that he is almost a joy to watch. Almost.

The greatest, most awesome aspect is that Christensen isn’t even the worst actor in the movie. The love interest is so fucking awful that she actually makes Christensen look less terrible.

Goddamn is she godawful. If no-one stopped her, I can imagine she would have started and ended every sentence of dialogue with, “like… you know, dude” as if she was a hippie chick from a 1960s Roger Corman biker pic. Oh good gods was she terrible.

Rating:

Golden Compass, The

dir: Chris Weitz
[img_assist|nid=93|title=It has angry polar bears in it|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=430|height=240]
The hardest obstacle faced by any new fantasy film that comes out now is that it has to distinguish itself from the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings movies to be taken seriously. That is, if the actual intention is to distinguish itself, instead of aping them and going out of the way to remind you of the similarities to cut down on the marketing budget.

Why craft a campaign around celebrating the best aspects of your brand new potential film trilogy when all you have to say is “It’s just like Harry Potter hanging out with Frodo in Narnia! We’ll even use some of the same actors just to remind you, you stupid muggles!”

If no distinction is entertained or sought, then you can dismiss these flicks to straight-to-DVD hell and brand them little more than a cheap Rings/Potter knock-offs, and go back to sleeping comfortably. Night-night baby.

The great difficulty faced by this film specifically is that the story stands in stark contrast to material like that of the Harry Potter franchise or, more aptly, the Narnia tales, but has been rendered into a form most calculated to remind people of, say, the Narnia and Potter franchises. Ah, familiarity and the contentment / contempt that it brings.

Rating:

Southland Tales

dir: Richard Kelly
[img_assist|nid=5|title=Fucking terrible tales|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=277|height=400]
Sure, Richard Kelly made Donnie Darko, but what has he done for us lately?

Well, pull up a pew and prepare to be dazzled: he made a really shit follow-up film called Southland Tales.

Southland Tales is, at the same time, an incoherent and over-explained mess that has almost no redeeming value except that the viewer shifts between boredom and incredulity on a second-to-second basis.

The issue that plagues me the most is that I can’t figure out why the actors and crew making this load of crap didn’t rebel and overthrow Kelly in a bloody coup. He should have, based on how painfully embarrassing scene after scene is, been strung up like Mussolini at the end of his reign of terror.

It’s pretty clear that whatever happened to make Donnie Darko a fan favourite was almost purely by accident. Not only does Kelly fail to achieve anything worthwhile in this flick, he proves consistently that he has no idea how to tell a story or how to make a film.

Rating:

Gabriel

dir: Shane Abbess
[img_assist|nid=142|title=Watching the movie Gabriel will give you cancer of the AIDS|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=354|height=500]
It’s one thing to admire the scrappy, underdog determination it takes for someone with no track record as a filmmaker to pull together the financing for a flick and then film it, their way, making up for the paucity of their resources with innovation, creative thinking and inspired finagling and wangling.

That’s admirable. But it’s another thing entirely to actually enjoy the end product of such a scenario.

So I admire the best efforts of the people involved with this, but that didn’t make it any less painful to sit through.

Gabriel is an excruciatingly bad fantasy film within the subgenre of fantasy which has angels and demons as protagonists. There was a trilogy of low budget movies a while ago called The Prophecy with ascending numerals, no less, and they essentially told the same story.

One of the big differences is that those flicks had Christopher Walken in all three of them. Sure, they were crap films, but you can never underestimate the appeal of that lunatic in any film.

He played, coincidentally enough, the archangel Gabriel, angry (at least in the first two flicks) that his pre-eminent place in the celestial order has been usurped by God’s love of humanity, thus he endeavoured to bring the monkeys, as he called them, low.

Rating:

Beowulf

dir: Robert Zemeckis
[img_assist|nid=49|title=I Will Kill Your Monster, Then Sleep With Its Mother|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=471|height=201]
This doesn’t happen very often, but between my two viewings of Beowulf, my opinion of the flick has undergone a complete 180 degree shift. I hated, hated, hated, hated this flick the first time I saw it. Now, I think it’s pretty good.

Surprisingly good. It’s like I watched two completely different flicks, and, in truth, they weren’t the same flick. One I watched in 3D on the big screen at an IMAX cinema. The other, many months later, was viewed sober sitting on a comfy couch in my lounge room, and was the better for it, I’ll admit.

They seemed like completely different films, or maybe I was two completely different people. I found 3D Beowulf ludicrous, painful, aggressively shallow and an irritating waste of 110 minutes of my life. I remember being disgusted with myself for having thought it would be remotely watchable, let alone worthwhile.

Plus I was horribly hungover when I watched it, which is a very rare occurrence for me.

It felt like I was watching one of the Shrek movies, only with less intelligence and meaning at play. The characters annoyed me, the voices of the actors playing these mannequins annoyed me, the stupid plot and crap jokes annoyed me, and the ending bugged me no end.

Rating:

Stardust

dir: Matthew Vaughn
[img_assist|nid=739|title=Go home, Starchild|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=445]
It’s been a while since a fairy tale has dared to aim itself at anything apart from the audience of infants and drooling dateless wonders. Neil Gaiman wrote the book this modern fable is based on, and that’s almost enough to pique my interest.

Not that adaptations of his works have translated that well to the big screen. Mirrormask missed the mark somewhat, and Neverwhere should have stayed there. But he is still a remarkable writer whose spin on old ideas often yields surprising and amazing results. Adaptations of great stuff like American Gods and Sandman have long been threatened, and will eventually reveal his genius to wider audiences.

Until then…

Still, Stardust feels awfully generic and little of it is new. There’s a skill in that, insofar as people want the familiar sometimes, just so they can see how the familiar can be played out in a different fashion. That explains the popularity of sports, as far as I can work out, since it’s the same shit all over again, week in week out, season after pointless season.

Rating:

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

dir: Gore Verbinski
[img_assist|nid=748|title=Even filthy you'd have me|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
I generally avoid using text speak or any of the other variations on txting, l33t speak or online abbreviations that are so popular with ‘the kids’ these. I can type fairly fast, and I find that kind of “c u l8r qt slt:)~” crap offensive to the eye and brain.

If I could allow myself to use this inelegant and conceptually ugly form of expression, and were I to write a very short review of Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End in this fashion, it would simply be thus:

WTF? I mean seriously, WTF?

At World’s End is a very curious film. Upon first watching I thought I’d just seen one of the worst films of this or any other year. Upon second watching I chilled out a tad, and realised that, if it was a dumb flick, it probably wasn’t that much dumber than the second flick in this vaunted series, Dead Man’s Chest. And that as timber-shivering, buckle-swashing experiences go, it wasn’t too painful or dull, and at the very least, had the virtue of being unpredictable.

Watching this third flick is a surreal experience, where the application of sense or logic is the foolhardiest of foolhardy pursuits. And it goes for over two and a half hours, so it’s surreal and overly long to boot, like a proctology exam when you’re tripping on acid.

Rating:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

dir: David Yates
[img_assist|nid=778|title=One day, young muggle, you'll grow up and Harry will marry you, if you're a good girl|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
Betterer and betterer…

Order of the Phoenix is probably the best of the Harry Potter films thus far, but that seems kind of redundant to point out. The story itself, of a young wizard, his friends and allies, and the evil arrayed against them, and the author herself have been improving over time. The story is getting more complicated, deeper and richer, and, as such, it is getting harder and harder for me to maintain my disdain for the books and the people who wank on about them all the time.

As with the more recent flicks, they just go straight into it, with no shilly-shallying about. There’s plenty of references to happenings and characters from the previous films/books, but not in the sense of summarising the whole premise for the clueless coming in. It’s assumed that if your bum’s on the theatre seat, you know everything that’s transpired over the course of the story, or at least have some idea.

Rating:

Stranger Than Fiction

dir: Marc Foster
[img_assist|nid=806|title=I scream at some unseen narrator sometimes too. It usually gets me arrested.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=348|height=500]
There were few films stranger yet more accessible last year, and it’s been a while since Charlie Kaufman has had one of his bizarro-world scripts made into a movie. Stranger than Fiction is a case of truth in advertising. It really is stranger than most fictional films have any right to be, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

For the purposes of clarity, I’m not saying this flick has a Kaufman script attached: the writer of idiot/savant treasures like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had nothing to do with Stranger than Fiction. It does however possess a script that these days we’d call Kaufmanesque. The actual screenplay is thanks to Zach Helm, who seems to be sniffing from the same batch of glue as Kaufman at the very merry least.

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an emotionally stunted dweeb who goes about his life and job as a tax auditor with mathematical, mechanical precision. He has no life outside of the calculation of how many toothbrush strokes he’s performed, steps walked to work or amount of strokes he takes to achieve orgasm. He has no family, no friends, no pets, and no real reason to keep breathing, as far as I can tell.

Rating:

Day Watch (Dvevnoy Dozor)

dir: Timur Bekmambetov
[img_assist|nid=812|title=Daywatch: Better than the original, but still a piece of Russian borscht|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=369|height=277]
It’s rare than the sequel to an almost intolerable film can be watchable. I’m not talking about times where the sequel is better or still pretty good (Alien/Aliens, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, Rocky/8 Mile) than the original.

I hated, hated, hated the first flick in this series, being Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor), based on the popular novel by Sergei Lukyanenko. I thought it gave the world a barely coherent fantasy flick the likes of which the world didn’t really need. And a set of ridiculous characters with no believability even in a fantasy context and no recognisable motivations for any of the inane things they would do. It had a plot so lame in its qualities and so crappy in its realisation that the ghost of Sergei Eisentein can be seen at some points in the background shaking his head in disgust.

And the lead ‘star’! Anton (Konstantin Khobanksy) would either be or seem drunk throughout the entire goddamn flick without any explanation as to what the hell he was doing. He made less sense and seemed more sozzled than recently departed ‘statesman’ and former Premier Boris Yeltsin. Long may he remain fermented in Hell.

Rating:

Fountain, The

dir: Darren Aronofsky
[img_assist|nid=91|title=Death is the path to Oww!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=499|height=309]
It’s easy for me to respect directors and filmmakers who don’t want to just make the same crap as 99 per cent of the guys and gals around them. I can respect them even when their films don’t work.

In Aronofsky’s case, his films definitely work: but they’re not easy films to like. Pi was a low-budget headfuck likely to have repulsed as many people as it attracted with its strange mathematical wizardry story of sexual frustration gone awry. His next film, a notorious adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr’s Requiem for a Dream, made addiction, in all its forms, look like the worst living hell we can imagine. Not a single character gets out of that flick unscathed. Nor audience member.

Depressing, so depressing. I remember coming out of the theatre shaking, which continued for hours afterwards and even after several drinks. I felt like the only thing that could make things better was a little bit of heroin…

At the very least, Aronofsky and his production crew (and especially his cinematographer Matthew Libatique) announced themselves as major talents unwilling or unable to make crass product for its own sake, and that they were people who wanted to and could make original, distinctive films.

Rating:

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

dir: Tom Tykwer
[img_assist|nid=837|title=Perfume|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=338]
A great book that never should have worked has, miracle of miracles, been made into a great film that could not, should not work.

Perfume: the Story of a Murderer (Das Parfum - Die Geschichte eines Mörders) by Patrick Suskind, is one of the most perfect books I have ever read. Even translated the German novel loses none of its most amazing qualities: an inspired and original story, an economical but expansive use of descriptive language to encapsulate one of the senses that you’d think would least be able to come across on paper, and a macabre, dark humour that delights as much as it horrifies. And THAT ending, oh my good god yes.

It’s the kind of book that potential writers read and then give up because of, convinced that they’ll never produce anything that good.

There’s even more going on in this amazing book that begs for it to be taught to school children from a young age. Well, maybe not from kindergarten onwards, but at least from when they’re young enough to appreciate greatness and stop picking their noses.

In calling it a perfect book, I mean that you can add nothing or subtract nothing from it to make it any better. Not a word, not a comma could be changed to improve it. It is perfect in what it has and what it doesn’t have, and what it has is an embarrassment of riches, both sensual and intellectual.

Rating:

Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del Fauno)

dir: Guillermo Del Toro
[img_assist|nid=75|title=You horny old goat, you|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=445|height=300]
So many film reviewers and other shmendricks called this film one of their favourites, if not their favourite film for 2006, that I started wondering if it was possible for me to enjoy it under the weight of so much expectation. The truth is, the film is even better than I expected.

It’s cliché time as people fall all over themselves to come up with superlatives to describe how good this flick is, but the one that I’ll happily use is that Del Toro’s career up until now has been solely in preparation for making Pan’s Labyrinth.

The thing is, directors have got to eat, too. And Mexican director Del Toro is a big guy. So some of the stuff he’s made which has been less than tolerable (Blade II, Mimic, Hellboy), kept him fed, built his profile and gave him the skills to pay the bills so that he could one day pursue a project like this.

It would be a falsehood to assert that, though. The first film of his that got noticed, Cronos, was pretty good right from the start, and The Devil’s Backbone, also set around the time of the Spanish Civil War in the 1940s, also showed promise. In fact, it was pretty damn good. And as much as I was nonplussed by Hellboy, it was one of his pet / dream projects.

Rating:

Night at the Museum

dir: Shawn Levy
[img_assist|nid=853|title=It's age that I'm really running away from|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=360|height=337]
I know, I know, no-one really expects me to be capable of sitting through a PG-rated flick without a straitjacket being involved, and those metal clasps keeping my eyes open. But I do, on occasion, watch flicks you would ordinarily require children to gain entry to if you’re not going to have parents looking at you like they were advertising for babysitters and you arrived dressed up like Michael Jackson.

Night at the Museum, something which looks utterly stupid, was playing at the IMAX theatre located just around the corner from where I live, and my significantly better half evinced an interest in seeing it on the super silver screen, so we trundled over to check it out.

I’m not remarkably surprised by the fact that I enjoyed the flick and got a few laughs out of it, but let’s just say it helps to have spent the last few weeks inundated with nieces and nephews making every moment a screaming, whining living hell. Of course, escaping to a packed theatre full of kids would seem like jumping out of the frying pan and into a nuclear reactor, but at least a couple of hours respite from the particular kids I’m talking about was still appreciated. When will the War on Christmas be finally won, anyway?

Rating:

Charlotte's Web

dir: Gary Winick
[img_assist|nid=856|title=Wholesome, earnest, pure, sickening|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=456]
The prospect of watching a new, big-budget version of a children’s classic is quite daunting. The big budget means they have to cater to the widest of wide and low-brow audiences, and the ‘classics’ origins means they’re either going to offend the purists or bore the unwashed who are also unread.

And Charlotte’s Web hardly needed to be made. Sure, the cartoon from the 70s wasn’t exactly gold, but director George Miller pretty much remade Charlotte’s Web a bunch of year’s ago and called it Babe to much acclaim.

That being the case, the film Charlotte’s Web is most reminiscent of, of course, is Babe. It has the same use of CGI mouths for talking animals, and a bunch of humans in key roles as well. What it has on top of that is a lot of celebrity voices meant to make audiences “Awww” instead of going “eh”.

Could Charlotte’s Web not have been made without the voices of Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, John Cleese, Steve Buscemi et al? Was anyone staring at a poster for this film and thinking, “this is going to be crap, I’m not taking the squealing piglets along to this”, then saw the list of people supplying wise cracks and thought “Wow, how wrong was I, it has celebrity voices! I’m taking everyone I know and their dog to see this one now?”

Rating:

Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

dir: Gore Verbinski
[img_assist|nid=884|title=Hey ladies, I bet he gives most excellent head|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=337]
If some films are like non-stop rollercoaster rides, this one here is the rollercoaster ride as viewed by someone on the ground. It’s an endless series of continuous action set pieces which don’t really amount to much but sure are fun to the people on board.

In this case, the go switch is stuck on the ride, the operator is too busy reading a nudie magazine to notice, and the thrills on board have evaporated as the passengers check their watches and just want to get off.

You could never accuse these flicks of lacking characters or plot. Dead Man’s Chest has enough plot for a dozen action-adventure-fantasy-pirate flicks, and enough characters for a Broadway production of Les Miserables.

At the end of the first flick, it seemed Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) were going to live happily ever after, with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) having regained control of his beloved ship the Black Pearl, off to commit more dastardly piratical acts.

The beginning of the sequel finds our heroic couple stymied in their attempts to enter into the devilish contract known as marriage by evil aristocrat Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), who works on behalf of the East India Trading Company.

Rating:

Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The

dir: Andrew Adamson
[img_assist|nid=896|title=Just like Lord of the Rings, except blander|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=297]
I don’t usually get to watch G or PG rated flicks at the cinema. And it’s not due to the result of any court proceedings or angry parent’s groups with pitchforks and flaming torches. Rarely does a thusly rated movie justify my scant money and precious time. It’s not only smutty hellish violence and lewdness that inspires me to venture forth. Usually, if it doesn’t have at least ‘adult themes’, I’m not always interested in what one of these sappy movies has to say.

It’s a definite, unfortunate bias on my part. It means I miss out on seeing some admirable flicks on the big, unfocused screen. It means I miss out on being annoyed by legions of hyper-animated munchkins in the seats around my position in the cinema.

It means a lot of things. But I decided to breach the conditions of my self-imposed restraining order and make the long journey into a theatre to watch this here epic.

I have fond memories of reading the Narnia books as a child. I read them at around the time where I was in my Enid Blyton-reading prime. So the activities of well-scrubbed, full of pluck, British boys and girls around the time of the second War with the Germans engaging in acts of derring-do and crime solving are part of my upbringing.

Rating:

King Kong

dir: Peter Jackson
[img_assist|nid=935|title=King Kong: Where too much ends up being, um, too much|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=358|height=531]
Some of you who’ve been reading my reviews over the centuries know that I have a bit of a problem. First time readers will know what the problem is by the end of this gargantuan review of a gargantuan film.

I’m bad at editing my own stuff. It’s hard for me to cut out the constant and endless stream of mirthful pithiness that doth roll forth from my fingers. In writing classes, one of the key phrases they first teach you is “murder your babies”. This is not a recommendation to go out and kill your children because a) they’re annoying, or b) they stop you from writing.

The phrase refers to a good writer’s need to be able cut out whole sections of their own stuff even if they think it’s the brilliantest and wittiest crap written since Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw traded catty insults in a rent boy-filled opium den. Even if it’s a great idea, even if it’s the single greatest idea you’ve ever had, if it doesn’t enhance what you were working on, or fit into the overall scheme of things, you need to be able to drown it without mercy.

Clearly, as you can well see, if the requirement is to ‘murder one’s babies’ in order to write something cohesive and coherent (and entertaining), I am the equivalent of a bloated single mother with an endless brood of hellspawn stinking up the trailer park.

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Constantine

dir: Francis Lawrence
[img_assist|nid=946|title=Great in any language except English|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=450]
There used to be a time, back in the distant reaches of the 90s when everyone knew that Keanu Reeves sucked as an actor but didn’t care. Girlies thought he was cute, and guys thought he was funny in Point Break and Speed, but no-one thought he was much of an actor. Then he starred in a little film called The Matrix, and some people started to take him seriously.

God knows why, since Kanooie’s success in that film was more a matter of him not being allowed to give the world his version of ‘acting’, standing in the right place with the right clothes on, and being an adequate support for the designer sunglasses that he was a prop for. Only for him does a wooden performance actually represent a step up in the acting stakes. In other words, by not always sucking completely in every single film he convinced us that maybe he didn’t suck.

So in coming to a new Kanooie film, you don’t ask ‘Was he good?’, you ask yourself instead ‘Did he not suck too badly?’

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Charlie and the Chocalate Factory

dir: Tim Burton
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When I heard the film was going to be remade, I had a sick feeling in my gut. When I heard Tim Burton would be the one helming it, that sick feeling grew to full blown, explosive nausea.

Maybe it was the hangover, maybe it was the dodgy curry. I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. But I can say that see the finished product was a decent cure.

It is a good film. It’s not great, but then having seen the original a few weeks ago as well, neither is that one. Johnny Depp is no Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, but then again clearly no-one wanted him to be.

Instead of going down the track of trying to replicate that experience, Burton has done to this what he mercilessly did to Planet of the Apes: he’s “re-imagined” the character of Willy Wonka. Instead of being a mysterious Wizard of Oz type, eccentric aristocratic figure such as in the book and (to a lesser extent) in the first film, here Wonka is just an out-and-out freak.

Much has been made in the press of the idea that Wonka as played by the deathless and ageless Depp is reminiscent of Michael Jackson and Peter Lorre (the bug-eyed German actor from such classics as M, Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon). There’s none of the former and more of the latter, in my estimation.

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Van Helsing

dir: Stephen Sommers
[img_assist|nid=979|title=Even for a flick with Kate Beckinsale in it, this is pretty dumb|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=315|height=395]
Not that anyone asked, or that anyone wants to know, but I can honestly say that I’ve never paid to have sex with a prostitute, a working girl, a ‘lady of the night’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a comment on the ladies, I know they do a hard job and they earn their money bringing to fruition the old business success mantra about the customer always coming first. I joke about hookers and cocaine all the time, but it’s just that: a joke. Who can afford that kind of crap when a bottle of decent single malt whisky costs between $60 and $80?

The reason I hold this particular credo, which has nothing to do with morality or personal ethics or anything of the sort, is that I can imagine after money changed hands and business was taken care of, the deed being done, I’d be filled with a profound emptiness inside. It would come from the fact that I had to pay money to get someone to have sex with me, a person who couldn’t possibly even remotely have any tender feelings towards me. Sure, live long enough and you end up having sex with a bunch of people that can’t stand you and whom you can’t stand, for a multitude of different reasons. But at the very least you shouldn’t have to pay cash for it.

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Night Watch

dir: Timur Bekmambetov
[img_assist|nid=950|title=No wonder some people fall in love with their own reflections|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=360|height=212]
If this is Russia’s answer to The Matrix and the other fantasy / vampire type films Hollywood has pumped out in recent years, perhaps it would’ve been best had the question never been asked.

I am unfortunately in that position where something receiving a lot of buzz and praise has left me muttering “eh” under my breath and in the length, width and girth of my review. I just don’t think that it’s really that good. I am perplexed as to the good press it has received. In a way it feels like people are praising the Russians for producing such a film in the way people praise a retarded child when he starts reading See Spot Run ten years after the other kids, because he’s really trying so hard, and doesn’t he make you want to hug a puppy? Awww…

For me, this film is only different from the recent Constantine film by not having Keanu Reeves in it. They both have fantasy plots based on a war between the forces of Good and Evil, they both had nil characterisation and pointless plots, and they both had resolutions more insulting than revelatory. Still, Constantine was dumb. I’m not sure what Night Watch’s problem is, but it’s not just dumbness.

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Passion of the Christ, The

dir: Mel Gibson
[img_assist|nid=13|title=Buddy Christ Died for Somebody's Sins But Not Mine|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=226|height=510]
Oh. My. Gods. I’m, I’m stunned. I cannot believe what I just saw. A movie about a nice enough chap who says a few nice things to people, ends up getting beaten up severely, is then flayed and tenderised like a cheap cut of meat, has thorns wedged though his eyelids, and is then nailed to pieces of wood. They even stab him with a spear in the end just to make sure that he’s dead.

And that’s the film. The vast majority of it centres on and is entirely concerned with his torments. It’s pretty rough, and it kind of makes me feel sorry for anyone who’s undergoing torture right now. Anywhere in the world. You know, at anyone's hands. It's nasty stuff.

Gibson is famous for a lot of things. You would wish it would be for playing Mad Max / Road Warrior films, or for those steely blue eyes, or for making a few good films in a completely idiosyncratic way.

Alas, most recently, his infamy has been based on the now clear evidence that he really does hate the Jews, and that at least in part, his version of the Easter classic was intended to malign the Jews who killed Christ. In vino veritas, and all that.

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Two Towers, The

dir: Peter Jackson
[img_assist|nid=1055|title=The Two Towers. It's about two towers, apparently|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=315|height=450]
There's no disputing that this is a technically competent film. What is debatable is whether it stands as a decent film on its own, which is the litmus test for any and every film.

Why? Well, I just didn't enjoy the film that much. Admittedly I was wretchedly hungover at the time, but I've enjoyed plenty of other films in a similar if not worse state.

Maybe my expectations were too high. My expectations were high for the first one as well, but they were satisfied tenfold that time. This time, well, I wondered a bit why I should care, a feeling I certainly did not get from the book this is based on.

By any objective measure I can think of the film does not stand on its own. Viewers who haven't seen the first one and have never read the books wouldn't have a fucking clue what's going on. That's not necessarily a fatal flaw, in that we want filmmakers who ask their audiences to put a bit more work into their viewing experience and not have to spoonfeed the dullards. But in general I like to believe that even individual parts of a trilogy should be complete stories in and of themselves. This film goes on for three hours and then kind of just ends, leaving me in the audience thinking "And? So?"

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