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5 stars

Syriana

dir: Stephen Gaghan
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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.

Syriana is one of those serious, serious films, like Traffic before it, which Gaghan also scripted, that believes it’s telling you something you don’t already know. It’s like the friend that points out stuff that’s already fairly self-evident to anyone in possession of at least four senses, saying stuff like “Gee, isn’t it hot today?” on a painfully scorching day. Or “Damn, having that limb amputated must have really sucked.”

Rating:

Kingdom of Heaven

dir: Ridley Scott
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Finally, Hollywood has caught up with mobile phone technology. Now we are privy to the birth of a new age. The typewriter is dead. The clunky desktop computer is for squares and losers. Give us movies like Kingdom of Heaven. We're ready, and we're gagging for it. Just look at the way we're dressed.

Now we can watch films whose entire dialogue was compiled between two or more people sending each other text messages on their mobiles. How else does one explain the fact that no-one says more than ten words in any given sentence in this film? It's surreal. Even people in the Australian outback have longer conversations than this, laconic as they're supposed to be.

Nothing better represents this new risk-aversion to too much dialogue than Orlando Bloom's heartening equivalent of the St Crispin's Day speech from Henry the V, where he ends up yelling at the defenders of Jerusalem to "Come On! Come On!" to get them fired up. Um, isn't that what tennis player and Mensa candidate Lleyton Hewitt does to fire himself up during matches? Shakespeare, Kenneth Brannagh and Helena Bonham Carter should be rolling in their graves.

Rating:

Constantine

dir: Francis Lawrence
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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?’

Rating:

9 Songs

dir: Michael Winterbottom
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The film is exactly 69 minutes long. It consists of a smattering of banal dialogue between two people, they also do some drugs, squabble a bit, and they go to some great gigs. They also fuck. They fuck a lot. The weird thing is, they really are having sex. We see it in all its messy glory.

This isn’t meant to be a porn film. And it’s not a porn film, really. Most porn films have better production values. But their soundtracks usually aren’t this enjoyable. And they don’t usually have scenes from actual gigs at Brixton Academy, the Forum, Hammersmith Odeon, or the Empire in between the sex scenes.

I’ve used this gag many times in my reviews and conversations with people about films, where I say stuff like, “By Lucifer’s beard, the plot of that film was so bad that even porn films have better and more coherent plots”. Now I’m going to officially retire that gag and never use it again. I realised that porn films haven’t had plots for years, and anyone that watches them thinks “What the fuck you talkin’ about, Willis?” whenever I say it in a review.

Rating:

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

dir: Kerry Conran
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Kerry Conran had a vision, God love him. This is a man who had a genuine ambition. Ambition is not unknown in Hollywood, to be sure. But this isn’t a case of a guy whose ambition is only to make a film, or to get wealthy, or to fuck high class prostitutes. He had a bunch of ideas for making a very particular film, and he’s been striving for over ten years to get it done. Finally, in the form of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, he’s achieved his goal. There may have been pitfalls and compromises along the way, but in the end he brought his unique vision to the screen, goddamnit. And for that he deserves to be commended.

It’s not a particularly unique or original vision; in a way he’s doing little more than what George Lucas did decades ago when he used his memories of Saturday matinee serials and Amazing Stories-type books and comics to come up with the Indiana Jones and the Star Wars stuff, to the ecstasy of nerds the world over. And sure, more recently many of the same visual and thematic influences turned up, incredibly enough in the recent Pixar treasure The Incredibles.

It is, on the other hand, resolutely his own take on all those elements, which he uses to come up with something he can call his own, even if the origins aren’t that obscure or even remotely forgotten.

Rating:

Troy

dir: Wolfgang Petersen
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I could lie and say that I went into the cinema expecting this film to be a biography of Troy. Not the city, but the animated actor from The Simpsons. Troy McClure. You might remember him from such educational films as ‘Lead Paint: Delicious But Deadly’, ‘Firecrackers: the Silent Killer’ and ‘Man versus Nature: The Road to Victory’. Alas, I was to be disappointed…

I’m positive the day Gladiator made a tonne of money, someone greenlit this flick. Hack screenwriters who’d been pushing crappy sword and sandal scripts for years to the talentless hacks that control the purse strings in Hollywood finally thought ‘Our time has come.’ I’m surprised there haven’t been more of them already. Who doesn’t want to see big beefy men whacking each other with swords and the like? It’s legitimised wrestling without the chairs or the midgets. People don’t have to feel embarrassed about liking it. Well, most people, at least.

Rating:

Night Watch

dir: Timur Bekmambetov
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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.

Rating:

Underworld

dir: Len Wiseman
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Read here, my people, read and weep...

It is certainly not worth the wait. Released here in Ostraya about four months after its Stateside release, instead of maturing in the interim like wine it has festered like a dead possum in some particularly inaccessible part of your roof. And whilst it's not so bad that it made me want to punch other patrons for being as dumb as myself for buying a ticket, it didn't leave me with a feeling of deep joy in my underpants.

Speaking of which Kate Beckinsale is certainly cute, and isn't too a bad actress, and despite the other critiques that I've read she isn't the problem with this film. She sells most of the scenes where she's
supposed to look nasty (in a hot way) and when she's emoting and stuff. Of course she mostly looks ridiculous in the action scenes, having absolutely no range of mobility in those tight fetish outfits. When she's running in so-called 'action' scenes she's looks about as convincing a mover as Stephen Hawking with none of the acrobatics that he possesses in comparison. But she's okay.

Rating:

Mystic River

dir: Clint Eastwood
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Such a film growing up in the shadow of Mystic Pizza necessarily must
have a hard furrow to plow.

Even in paying for my ticket at the cinema I inadvertently asked for a
ticket to Mystic Pizza. It's a film and a title hard to eradicate from
one's mind. Who can forget the horse toothed caterpillar eye-browed
Julia Roberts playing the town slut? Lili Taylor playing the same
character she's played in practically every film she's ever been in?
Vincent D'Onofrio not playing a psychopath for once? There's a lot to
recommend it. You could only hope and pray that Mystic River, clearly
trying to capitalise on its successful forbearer with the similarity
of its title, can match its artistic and commercial success.

Yeah, okay, there is no connection between the two films. Old Clint
would probably have drawn either a Colt Peacemaker or a Magnum and
shot the television if he was caught watching something as girly as
Mystic Pizza. Instead he's made a film that somewhat parallels his
earlier masterpiece Unforgiven and exists as this year's In the
Bedroom.

Rating:

Irreversible

dir: Gaspar Noe
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The film's tagline, one of the first lines of dialogue and the film's final epigram is 'Le temps détruit tout', or 'time destroys everything'. Well, even after watching the film in its entirety, I don't agree. In enduring this film, I think there is greater accuracy in saying that it is not 'everything' that gets destroyed, it is we the audience. And it is not 'time' per se that does the damage, it's this film and its sadistic director, Gaspar Noe.

Rating:

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