dir: George Clooney
Cloons. Cloooooons. He’s not content having every woman over forty getting wet in the gusset or drooling over him, or buying coffee just because of his ads. No, he has to direct flicks too. He has to get shiny golden statues to make him feel loved too.
And he’s directed a doozy here. Sure, the point of the flick is that politicians are arseholes, a novel and radically new idea never captured on film before, but the solid performances and commitment to following through on its depressing premise carries the picture through. And mostly these prized hams don’t overact, so they’ve all done pretty well.
Clooney can’t resist being in the flick as well as everything else, including the catering, but he doesn’t give himself the plum role, nor could he. He is Governor Mike Morris, the genial, charismatic front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in some fantastical place where democracy actually works. But he’s not the main character. That role is taken by man of the moment Ryan Gosling.
He plays Stephen, a young campaign manager on the governor’s staff, whose brash and cynical enough for the role, but not so brash and cynical that he can’t be disappointed in the brashness and cynicism of others. Hey, he’s Ryan Gosling, he can do anything at this point and people will take it and say thank you no matter how good or terrible.
Thankfully, he’s very far from terrible. He’s actually quite good here. I do feel like I’m seeing him in a film every two weeks or so, but this is probably a good performance from him. It’s much better, at least, than Crazy Stupid Love and Drive, though there’s nowhere near as much washboard abs action.
I’m going to get cut with a straight razor for saying that. Anyway, as a campaign manager, he’s not a babe in the woods, but he believes, at least, that Mike Morris actually intends to do some of the things that he claims he’s going to do, and that he should win so that he can do them, for the good of some / many / all, take your pick. Yet Stephen is not so much of a true believer that his ego can’t lead him astray when the other side come knocking.
Morris’ main opponent in the primaries (the lead-up which decides who the Democratic nominee will be) is some other guy called Pullman, who barely exists as far as the flick is concerned. But Pullman’s campaign manager is played by Paul Giamatti, so obviously the character matters. At least to them.
He has a meet-and-greet with the other side’s Karl Rove, and Stephen is completely floating on a cloud of his own awesomeness. All the flattery in the world doesn’t convince him to change teams, though, but he is told that it’s a moot point anyway, because Pullman has the endorsement of a key senator, which will really fuck up Morris’s plans for world domination.
dir: Hany Abu-Assad
How excited are you about reading a review of a film about two Palestinian suicide bombers? Thrilled, I imagine. As the eyes gloss over, and you open another browser window in order to check out the latest news on some celebrity’s sex scandal shocker, you’ll admit to yourself that sometimes it’s all right, but generally, worthy cinema about the world’s problems bores you to tears.
And who can blame you? The world is filled with such terrible occurrences on a second-to-second basis that it’s hard not to say “Fuck it, I can’t care anymore, I’m having another shot of whisky and another toke on the dutchy” which, as anyone who remembers the 80s knows, should always be passed on the left-hand side.
So maybe a story told from the point of view of two potential suicide bombers isn’t going to be your cup of tea. And if you do see it, it’ll be to impress some earnest and hot international student at your uni who you want to leave with the significant impression that you’re switched on about big worldly issues and therefore eminently fuckable.
For my money, this low budget but well put-together film was an interesting way to spend my Wednesday morning. Shot in Nablus and Nazareth, for a work of fiction it looks horribly real.
dir: Stephen Gaghan
What do you look for in films? Is it diversion, or distraction; to forget for 90 to 120 minutes about the mundane obligations and constant petty outrages that modern life deals out to you on a daily basis? Is it to laugh, to cry, to get a tingle in your ‘naughty’ places from the on-screen antics of these surrogate selves cavorting on the silvery screen?
Is it to learn about the world, as seen through the eyes of the filmmakers, to be challenged and provoked, or to have your worldview confirmed and reinforced?
Regardless, whatever your reasons for darkening the cinema’s already darkened doorstep, I kind of doubt Syriana is going to provide any of that sweet, sweet satisfaction previously alluded to.
dir: Richard Linklater
It hurts to say it, but Fast Food Nation is not a good movie. At its best, it is depressing, and at its worst it is glib and superficial. Which is a real shame, because it is about a very important subject.
Eric Schlosser wrote an article for Rolling Stone magazine back in the 90s. It was an expose on the American fast food industry, covering everything from the unhealthy quality of the food, to America’s obsession with the stuff, to the exploitation of migrant and teenage labour and the marketing of products to the most vulnerable consumers: children. It was expanded into a book, which exists as a scathing indictment of a system that allows consumers to be exposed to such crap, literally, because it’s economical, it’s everywhere and people are lazy.
You would wonder how or why someone would decide to make a movie out of the book, as opposed to a documentary, but the advantages are pretty obvious. More people are likely to see a movie at the cinema than they are going to be inspired to pay money to watch a documentary. It’s simple economics. Plus, using characters to represent the various issues tackled by the book personalises its themes, and makes it more identifiable for audiences. Watching something bad happening to a character is more confronting than having someone talk about something bad happening.
So the makers tried to make the subject matter more accessible and interesting to audiences. The problem is: the best of intentions and motives don’t result in it being a good film.
dir: Phillip Noyce
There were a number of reasons to be dubious about this flick. It’s a film set in South Africa in the 80s, but the title of the film is a Bob Marley album title, the music in the trailer is all Marley and the Wailers, the two most prominent roles in the film are played by Americans (Derek Luke and Tim Robbins) and the theme seemed to be how torture by the nasty state compels otherwise docile serfs into becoming terrorists.
In other words, it looked like a crapfest drowning in commercial clichés. Like Hotel Rwanda from a few years ago, I had to wonder how it was possible to make films about places in Africa where you don’t actually want Africans or Afrikaans playing any of the lead roles.
But then again, this is directed by Phillip Noyce, who has made a remarkable career for himself as both a hack of extraordinary hackiness (The Saint, Sliver, Clear and Present Danger) and a socially conscious director of extraordinary deftness (Newsfront, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American). It’s hard to understand how he balances the two aspects out, but I’m sure it’s probably to do with juggling his practical need for securing funding and his higher need to tell a meaningful story every now and then.
I needn’t have been worried about Catch a Fire. It tells a compelling (and loosely based ‘true’) story about a man, Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), who’d had enough. Just flat out had enough. In the 1980s of South Africa, which look a lot like 1970s Harlem, Patrick goes about his daily grind completely apolitically, to the point where his own family and friends think he’s a bit of an ‘Uncle Tom’. He stops his mother from listening to the illegal radio broadcasts yearning for freedom, because he doesn’t want to get in trouble.
All he wants to do is work at his job, look after his wife Precious (Bonnie Mbuli) and daughters, and occasionally sleep around. The rest of South Africa may be seething under the strictures of white rule, but he’s not interested.
dir: John Cameron Mitchell
I really wanted to like this movie. I went in with an open mind, and when I use that phrase, I don’t just mean it as a cliché palliative. Generally, I walk into a cinema with a mind so open wide that bits of brain matter fall out every time I open my mouth to shovel in popcorn.
It’s not a bad way to approach film watching. The more crap we see, the more preconceived ideas we have of what something is going to be like unwatched and how it is likely to turn out. It helps to preserve your sanity if you can try to switch off at least some of the voices in your head when you walk across the threshold, if you ever hope to get anything out of 90 per cent of flicks you end up enduring.
John Cameron Mitchell’s first film Hedwig and the Angry Inch was a complete surprise to me, in that I didn’t expect to like it and came out loving it. The thought of watching a post-pre op transsexual onscreen for an hour and a half didn’t appeal to me until I got to enjoy Hedwig’s sweet blend of humour, music and surprising poignancy.
It was with that in mind that I went into this hoping Shortbus would be as enjoyable, despite my initial misgivings. I fought hard against my preliminary impressions that it was going to be a pretentious arthouse wankfest so that I could enjoy it on its merits instead of letting my preconceptions rule.
dir: Edward Zwick
Ah, Africa. The current red-headed stepchild of Hollywood’s favour and heartfelt concern. The unsolvable mess, the venue of all the Western world’s exploitation, the vista of eternal desert, savannah, elephants and children carrying AK-47s.
Of the last few years I can think of: Hotel Rwanda, The Interpreter, Constant Gardener, Tsotsi, The White Masai, Stander, Sahara, Lord of War, Wah Wah, and plenty more, all set on this magical, blood-soaked continent. Okay, maybe including Tsotsi is cheating, since it’s actually a South African film, but at the very least there seems to be a clear pattern of favouritism going on here.
Well, despite having watched this flick an age ago, it appears to be still playing, at least for the next week, in some Australian cinemas. It could be because of all the promotion for it because of the numerous Oscar nominations for it, none of which it won. The biggest mistake was having DiCaprio nominated for his role here instead of in The Departed, for which he should have won. All the same, the flick will probably disappear now that the awards have been doled out like candy from inside a stranger’s car. Also, As I consider it my duty to keep those hold outs who may consider trundling along to see this in its final days from the cinemas in droves.
And, if nothing else, I’m a stickler for duty.
dir: Barry Levinson
Man of the Year is a missed opportunity, more than anything else. It starts off with promise, but squanders its potential by idiotically getting fixated upon an element that should never have been more than a minor subplot. As such, it is a waste of time for all involved. Including and especially the viewer.
The premise is that Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams), a comedian tv show host who’s like a populist cross between Jay Leno and Jon Stewart of The Daily Show fame runs for President of the United States. Except, unlike Jay Leno, he can get through a monologue without stumbling repeatedly, and unlike Jon Stewart, he’s not that funny.
dir: Michael Winterbottom & Matt Whitecross
This is an odd film, on a number of levels and for a number of reasons. In essence it is a dramatic recreation of events occurring in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the US, specifically as they relate to three unfortunate British-Pakistani guys. It blends talking head documentary style footage with film footage in an attempt to display and explain what happened when they found themselves in the wrong place at the absolute worst time possible.
Called the Tipton Three, four young lads travel from their local hood over to Pakistan, allegedly so that one of them, Asif (Afran Usman) can get married to a local girl. I say allegedly for reasons that will become clear later in the review, or at least clearer. The timing of their visit to this part of the world couldn’t be more fortuitous, because it’s just after 9/11.
dir: Mike Nichols
Charlie Wilson, you know, the guy who single-handedly defeated the Russians in Afghanistan. That Charlie Wilson?
Okay, so he’s not a household name. But if you’re not of the opinion that St Ronald Reagan, dressed as Rambo, beat the Soviet Empire to death with his bare fists, then you might be curious about this flick which purports to tell the ‘true’ story behind the Afghanistan War.
‘Good Time Charlie’ (Tom Hanks) is a drunken, womanising coke-fiend Democratic Congressman from Texas. In 1980, while drinking with strippers and hookers in a hot tub, he watches Dan Rather on 60 Minutes tell a sorry tale about the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet forces. Now, Charlie’s only real achievement to date has been getting re-elected five times, and all he really cares about is drinking and hot women. So he’s already a hero in my book.
dir: Robert Redford
Is it edutainment, or entercation? Is its primary purpose to sell tickets, or as a delivery device for a payload of sweet, sweet knowledge? What if that unasked-for education is little more than the talking points of the two opposing sides of the American ideological spectrum ladled out to you, the bored audience member, with nary a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, in the most delightful way?
Films about weighty subjects, such as political apathy, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or whether men should wear boxers or briefs, are supposed to make you think about the issues. You’re supposed to come away with more questions than answers, inspired to find out for yourself what the real state of play is. A documentary uses footage, facts and interviews to investigate and explore a situation, an issue or a set of issues. If it’s done right, then it answers some questions itself, and raises others of a more ambiguous nature if it’s balanced or about something too complex to be handled simplistically.
In a feature, dramatic film with a political agenda, you expect that an issue is raised and explored in a fictional but credible context, designed to explore ideas in a way that the currents affairs or doco formats cannot, or at least in not as compelling a fashion.
What Lions for Lambs has is people sitting around talking about the issues themselves, in probably the dullest way most audiences could imagine. And it’s probably the most pointless as well, since there’s not a person who sat down to see this who didn’t already know what they thought about America’s nation-building, democracy-spreading, fudge-packing efforts around the world.