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War

Hurt Locker, The

dir: Kathryn Bigelow
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There hasn’t really yet been an overwhelmingly great film set during and about the current Iraqi adventure. The ones I recall that at least have war footage of brave marines and army grunts fighting the cowardly Iraqi civilian menace, being Home of the Brave, Stop-Loss, um, the Transformers flicks, In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom (yes, I know it’s set in Saudi Arabia) um, and that’s about it. None of these really worked. If you’re a war booster, or chickenhawk, they failed because they weren’t gung-ho enough, and were all focussed on issues like post-traumatic-stress disorders and feeling bad about killing civilians, instead of being all rah-rah patriotic, manly and superheroically heroic. You know, like Rambo.

The documentaries have fared a bit better, but until now, Iraq War II has been poorly represented in the feature film category. The Hurt Locker, by one of America’s only well known mainstream female directors, corrects the imbalance, and is both a good film and a good war film. It’s not great, because it has a quarter of the flick that doesn’t really cohere (I would say being the third quarter of a two hour flick), and the very end is at odds with the beginning and the end, but it's still pretty damn good.

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Inglourious Basterds

dir: Quentin Tarantino
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Look, it’s a Tarantino film. If you don’t know by now what that means, then you should probably skip this review, and this film.

Otherwise, be prepared to wallow in the geek hipsterism and pedantic cinephilia of a man-child who made the jump from obsessive fan to filmmaker to our collective eternal delight / regret. Tarantino has only ever made films about films, and this is no different.

Inglourious Basterds is not a remake of the shoddy Italian flick of similar name, nor is it the Dirty Dozen rip-off I’d heard so much about. In fact, you’d think from the trailers and promos that this was a rip-roaring action flick about a team of Jewish American soldiers striking fear into the hearts and scalps of the Nazis during World War II.

It’s nothing like that. The Basterds and their exploits take up a miniscule amount of screen time in a film that is certainly not a war film. This flick is far more about the thrill of revenge and the power of cinema.

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Red Cliffs (Chi Bi Xia)

dir: John Woo
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I’m a bit confused. There’s a film called Red Cliffs that’s playing in the cinemas at the moment, which is meant to be an amalgam of two movies John Woo finished last year. But I don’t know if what I watched is what cinemagoers got to see, since I saw something around five hours long.

Now, there are films that are epic in length, others epic in scope, and still others are epic in terms of the boredom they inspire in audiences. ‘Epic’, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily synonymous with ‘good’. Some things are great the bigger they are, and I’ll leave it up to your personal preferences to imagine which ones, but tumours, debts, jail sentences and divorce settlements don’t necessarily improve with increased length, width or girth.

Yet it was viewed at my leisure, at least I can say that. What I saw is what Asian audiences saw staggered over two releases last year when this/these films made more money than Titanic. Only in Asia though. The rest of the world could care less, and rightly so.

John Woo hasn’t made a decent flick in twenty years, so just contemplate for a moment that it has taken him twenty fucking years to make a decent film again despite so many opportunities. To call it a return to form is an understatement.

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Warlords (Tau ming chong)

dir: Peter Chan and Wai Man Yip
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I never thought that Jet Li, at this advanced stage of his career, could surprise me in a positive way. No-one in this world, regardless or sometimes because of their age, stops finding ways to surprise me negatively. But I was surprised here by Jet Li’s dramatic chops, which hasn’t occurred once in the twenty years I’ve been watching his flicks.

He’s always been a tremendous fighter onscreen, and good enough playing his usual, stoic, heroic roles in the wuxia (martial arts) flicks. But he’s often been quite terrible whenever he tries to do anything dramatic or comedic or tragic or acting in general.

This lack of acting ability has never stood in the way of his career, because his arse-kicking ability is so incredibly amazing. Amongst his peers he’s par for the course, but with age comes, if not wisdom, at least an appreciation for looking like you have the emotions and stuff the director is telling you to have.

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Rambo

dir: Sylvester Stallone
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Some things are just unbelievable, even when you see them with your own eyes. I had heard the level of violence in this film described to me by a friend, but even then I had no idea just how incredibly violent it would be.

This is one of the first times I’ve watched a flick with war footage where I seriously think actual war footage wouldn’t be as graphic and violent. Just think of that irony: an actual war would be less violent than hopefully the last flick in this holy franchise.

Oh sure, all the Rambo films have been violent, but that violence, viewed now, of a mannequin of a camp commandant being blown apart by an exploding arrow, or the torture of numerous poor shmucks at the hands of America’s enemies, seems positively quaint in comparison. Ah, the wonders of modern technology.

I’m not sure how this works, but we went from First Blood, to Rambo II: Electric Boogaloo, to Rambo III to this latest flick, titled Rambo. No, we haven’t gone back in time. No, you don’t have to go through the misery of high school and your first humiliating sexual encounters again.

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300

dir: Zack Snyder
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It’s history as the backstory for a deliciously violent computer game. Games with a solid backstory
are always more enjoyable; it makes the slashing and dismemberment all the more entertaining and meaningful.

See, there was a Battle of Thermopylae. And there were 300 Spartans who fought and died in
battle against a much larger army of Persians. But I doubt any of it looked as pretty as this.

The Spartans, proudly led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), are incredibly handsome and ridiculously
buff. They are noble, strong, resolutely heterosexual, fearless and fabulous in their leather codpieces.
The Persians are sexually ambiguous, freakish, have tattoos and multiple piercings, and are inhuman
and monstrous.

The Persians come to enslave all Greeks. The Spartans, lovers of freedom that they are, fight for
honour, for freedom and for justice.

The Persians use rhinoceroses, elephants, bombs and arrows, and all sorts of nasty tricks in battle
because they have no honour and they fight like cowardly girls. The Spartans, warriors to a man,
fight with vigour and honour, fronting their foes face to face before rending them limb from limb.

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Black Book (Zwartboek)

dir: Paul Verhoeven
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Sure, Paul Verhoeven has directed a few decent flicks in his long career, but Starship Troopers, Total Recall and Robocop were a long time ago. And they were sci-fi films.

When you think of what directors you’d hire to direct a flick about the exploits of a Dutch Jewish woman fighting with the Resistance against the Nazis just before the end of World War II, you don’t think of Verhoeven.

This is, after all, the guy who gave us the gift of Sharon Stone’s vagina in Basic Instinct, the invisible rapist fantasy of Hollow Man, and the crime against acting and humanity that is Showgirls. Showgirls is, in terms of how it treats its female characters, and the English language, the stripper version of Battlefield: Earth. That great British director Michael Powell’s career virtually ended after he made the reviled but masterful Peeping Tom in the early 60s, and yet Verhoeven continued to be allowed to make films after Showgirls, is proof positive that there is no higher power or justice in the universe. Because no metaphysical system could allow for such evil to go unpunished.

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Home of the Brave

dir: Irwin Winkler
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It’s hard to know why exactly they made this particular film. I don’t mean films about soldiers coming home from wars, or films about the current Adventure in the Middle East. I mean, I can’t fathom why they made this particularly crappy film.

If they wanted to honour the nobility and sacrifice of US service men and women, then they should have crafted a story where the characters weren’t just the embodiments of singular clichés. If they wanted to portray the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, maybe they should have spent some time actually finding out what it was. If they wanted to make a statement about the war, as in whether it should be ongoing or not, and whether the ungrateful Iraqis should be more worshipful of their masters’ gentle attempts at nation building, then perhaps they could spent some time with them.

And could they have chosen someone else apart from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson to be in it? Perhaps an actor, if it wasn’t too much trouble?

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Good German, The

dir: Steven Soderbergh
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Experiments are cool, aren’t they? I used to look forward to The Curiousity Show on the telly when I was a wee tacker, as the weird guy with the moustache and the other weird guy with the beard performed all those experiments you get to see as a kid: adding this to that to make it gush out all over the place, toothpicks in potatoes, constructing working nuclear devices out of papier mache, paper clips and mum’s pantyhose.

The interest lies, apart from the desire to watch shit blow up in beakers or on bunsen burners, and apart from the general intention to learn more about the physical world through observation, in the real sense what we want to accomplish is the viewed outcome of what happens in a controlled environment. In other words, if you put this and this in this kind of set-up, then this shit happens.

Well, if you put Steven Soderbergh, black & white cinematography, A-list actors and a script set just after World War II in Germany, it’s an experiment in film noir, and certainly a lot of shit happens.

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Flyboys

dir: Tony Bill
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I guess it seemed like prime time for a World War I war movie right about now. War flicks about WWII are a bit played out, no-one wants to watch contemporary ones to be reminded of the hell the world is presently for many people. Why not go back in time to an era where American involvement in a war was considered a good thing? Who are YOU to say no?

So it’s The Great War. 1916. The fields of Verdun, France. The Germans are warming up for the real fight in a few decades time by sending a young Hitler, amongst millions of others, to die and rot in the trenches of Europe. The English and French are fighting the good fight as the US, in the form of Woodrow Wilson, the second coolest named President the US has had so far, dithers and looks on in growing horror. Mechanical flight, having been recently invented, is applied to the battlefield because of the obvious advantages of being able to survey and travel greater distances and to be able to rain death from above. And to look like Errol Flynn whilst doing it.

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