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4 stars

Choke

dir: Clark Gregg
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I have respect, much respect, big respect for Chuck Palahniuk, but I’m starting to think that maybe he is the American literary equivalent of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Sure, Come on Eileen was a wonderful little pop ditty that still stinks up greatest hits radio decades after its use-by date, and it probably resulted in a lot of laundry for a lot of women called Eileen, but what else have the musical impresarios and master storytellers of Dexy’s Midnight Runners done for us lately? I’m not going to go so far as to say that Chuck is a one-hit wonder for Fight Club, which I still think is a great book and a great film (a great, great film in the hands of David Fincher). The problem is that I just don’t know what else he has to offer either the book or the film worlds anymore.

Choke is a premise without much of a meaningful plot and without a character worth following for 90 minutes. I’m not sure if it’s Sam Rockwell’s fault as the lacklustre main character, because he seems okay for the first half of the film. What I can’t tell is whether the problem is that the flick doesn’t know where to go, or whether Rockwell decided he no longer wanted to be in the flick.

Rating:

Frozen River

dir: Courtney Hunt
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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:

Max Payne

dir: John Moore
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In a lot of ways, Max Payne, which is overall a pretty mediocre action movie, is as good as you have any right to expect something to be that stars Marky Mark Wahlberg, and that is based on an extremely violent and thus extremely enjoyable computer game.

But if they can’t even use the musical theme from the game in the film, then it was never going to work, was it?

The usual dismissals and criticisms aimed at ‘based on’ fare don’t really apply, since both of the Max Payne games were a distillation of pure 80s Hollywood cop / vengeance crap filtered through a comic book / pseudo-noir sensibility, with liberal splashings of guttural voiceovers and over the top set pieces. Thus you’d think making a film of it would be easy, since there is no shortage of flicks based on a) killing mobsters, b) wanting to kill hundreds of people in retaliation for the murder of one’s family, and c) guns guns and more guns.

Rating:

Burn After Reading

dir: Coens
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People give the Coen Brothers way too much credit. Sure they make good films on the odd occasion, but, after dazzling everyone with the exhausting and nihilistic No Country for Old Men, they belched out this Washington DC-based trifle, and still people acted like it was the second coming of Allah, Buddha and Abbott and Costello.

There are Coen Brothers comedies that I have enjoyed, especially Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski, but this is certainly not one of them. In fact, I find it pretty much devoid of humour for something being marketed as a comedy.

I had similar issues with Fargo back in the day, which was lauded to the high heavens by all and sundry, but left me cold, colder than a Minnesotan winter. The humour was invisible to me, the purpose as well, though I have gotten to a better place emotionally where I don’t actively hate the film anymore.

Still don’t like it, though. And I definitely didn’t like Burn After Reading either, which has practically nothing to recommend it. Honestly, this is one of those times where I am oblivious as to what worth others see in something. Had the Coens not made it, had the cast not be the usual A-List shmucks like Clooney and Pitt, this flick would not have even gone straight to DVD.

Rating:

Speed Racer

dir: Wachowskis
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I guess we can’t call them the Wachowski Brothers anymore, since technically they’re not both brothers anymore. Allow me to illuminate your confusion with an explanation, one of the few times where one of my more obscure references can actually be explained in a sane way that might make sense to another human being.

When they made Bound and the Matrix trilogy, two chaps sharing the name Wachowski were responsible as the directors. Now, as in as of a year or two ago, one of them is still a Brother Wachowski, and the other, thanks to the type of surgery that in Australia is still colloquially referred to as the “cruellest cut of all”, one of them has undergone gender reassignment surgery to become a Sister Wachowski.

Strange, I know, but don’t for a moment feel that I’m impugning the lifestyle choices of people who I believe have every right to do whatever the hell they want as long as they’re not hurting other people. He / She can do whatever the heck they want with their pink bits, surgery-wise or otherwise as long as it doesn’t involve my pink bits.

Rating:

Doomsday

dir: Neil Marshall
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Doom, doom, doom…. Oh yes, someone is doomed. It’s you, dear watcher. It’s you if you sit through this.

Watching this movie gave me some hideous sexually transmitted disease. Not syphilis, but something not altogether nice all the same. Time for the blue lotion again, except this time I have to make sure I keep it away from open flames.

Doomsday as a title for this flick doesn’t even really make sense, but I guess they had to shorten it from its original title: Escape from 28 Days of Resident Mad Mars Aliens Later. Because this flick is little more than an attempt to do what the two prime dickheads in the recent Michel Gondry flick Be Kind Rewind do, which is to make cheesy versions of classic action flicks.

And poorly, I might add. It is so brazen in what it does, though, and I am qualifying this as much as inhumanly possible, that there are almost moments where I forgave it for how shitty and derivative it was.

It’s almost like walking through a crowd, sensing the hand of a pickpocket and grabbing it, and then feeling almost forgiving as you glimpse the little urchin’s cheeky smile beaming up at you. Before, of course, you bring the hammer down and crack his wrist.

Rating:

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

dirs: Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
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Wow, even with two directors this flick is still pretty dumb and unfunny. Maybe it needed some more directors. Maybe five directors would have been the magic number.

It couldn’t have hurt. Such a sequel sounds, from its title, like it’s going to be a ribald, politically pointed satire on the contemporary American milieu and its terror at the prospect of terrorism. What this sequel actually does is limply deliver another film where two alleged stoner friends get into scrapes and shenanigans of a generally crude or sexual variety for 90 or so dull, punishing minutes.

Crude’s fine. I can handle crude. Dumb fun I can handle to, in the right mood. The thing is, even dumb and crude humour needs a bit of wit. Without wit, it’s all just shit.

There is precious little wit and plenty of shit on offer here. It doesn’t make it a supremely painful experience to sit through, kind of like a proctological exam, but it doesn’t make for much fun either.

Rating:

Stop Loss

dir: Kimberley Pierce
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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:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

dir: Steven Spielberg
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The wave, like any wave, builds slowly at first. The forces at work that generate a wave are staggering, truly, physics and hydrodynamics on the grandest scale. The effect of the moon’s gravitational pull, weather patterns, the Coriolis effect, currents, underwater structures like reefs and rock formations, tectonic plates and volcanic activity; all combine to generate the mightiest and meekest of waves that plague our oceans and seas.

Other forces include anticipation, nostalgia, relentless marketing campaigns and the blind willingness to believe that something that has to be shit could actually be all right against all the logic and sense available in the universe, let alone under the sea in an octopus’s garden in the shade.

The wave I’m referring to is the crashing wave of disappointment that is this motion picture in its entirety: this picture in motion of such staggering awfulness that it makes me weep for the lost childhood that Spielberg and Lucas have stolen from me retroactively.

Rating:

Rogue

dir: Greg Mclean
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It wasn’t guaranteed that Mclean’s follow-up to Wolf Creek would be a disappointment, but it was inevitable that people would pick it as such. Mclean is more of a victim of unfortunate timing that anything else, which rendered his monster movie little less than a blip on the radar.

Of course it doesn’t help that the film isn’t that good.

The two strikes that screwed up any chance of Rogue succeeding box-office-wise were that it was going to initially come out around the same time as another flick about a giant crocodile (Primeval), and that another flick with the same title was about to come out (Rogue, which became Rogue Assassin in some countries, and War in the States).

But the real problem is money. Money money money. You can’t always see it, but sometimes where the money for a flick comes from dictates just so much of the content of the flick that you really feel a bit ashamed of yourself.

Money, specifically from Dimension Films, being the genre-trashy arm of the Weinstein Brothers film empire, dictated a strange, strange set-up for what is essentially supposed to be an Aussie horror flick set in the hallowed reaches of the Northern Territory.

Rating:

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