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Fantasy

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:

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.

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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.

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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.

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

dir: David Yates
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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.

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Stranger Than Fiction

dir: Marc Foster
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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.

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Day Watch (Dvevnoy Dozor)

dir: Timur Bekmambetov
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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.

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