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6 stars

Insomnia

dir: Christopher Nolan
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Well, who wasn't going to be disappointed by Nolan's follow up to Memento? Nolan had the profoundly unenviable task of moving on from one of the most critically celebrated films of the last bunch of years, and delivered a film that many would find unsatisfactory simply due to its conventionality, solely in comparison. Despite this, he has managed to deliver a decent film, again, showing that he is a quality director, and that he's not just a one-trick pony.

Many refer to the central conceit of Memento, being the non-linear format, as a gimmick, almost as if it was a flaw. They mean it as a pejorative term. That's fine and dandy, but without it, instead of being a brilliant film with a sad, occasionally affecting story, it would have been an unworkable yet mundane revenge 'thriller' with a joyously happy ending. Perhaps he should have also taken out the main character's progressive amnesia / Korsakov's syndrome out as well just to make it extra simple for the test audience demographics that he never screened it to.

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Panic Room

dir: David Fincher
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There's no disputing that this is a technically adept film. There is also no denying the irony that whilst being one of David Fincher's most successful movies at the box office, it is also one of his most uninvolving pictures to date. I have pretty high expectations when it comes to the guy.

In a recent interview in Sunday's Age, Fincher draws a distinction between the 'films' and the 'movies' he makes. His 'films' so far have been Se7en and Fight Club, his movies, in his own words, would therefore be Alien 3, The Game and now Panic Room. He loosely defined (or I am sporadically paraphrasing him in such a way as to further my own flimsy argument) movies as being made solely for an audience, whereas 'films' are where a director has greater leeway, and creates the picture for himself/herself as much as for an audience.

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Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

dir: Kevin Smith
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The question burning on everyone's lips is not "Will I be selected for Big Brother II?" or "Just how does someone sow their lips together?", it is moreso, considering the grand opening of the aforementioned Kevin Smith film in Australian cinemas yesterday, that question remains "Is Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back better than Dogma?"

The answer, like any good cocktail, is mixed at best. Smith has taken the sacred duty of satisfying the dictates of his ego to ridiculous extremes, to the point where he now has made a film about his other films, a self-referential exercise in self groin rubbing that represents an increasingly tightening spiral of self-indulgence. Couple that with a breathtaking amount of pettiness on his part, and you are left with a bloated,
embarrassing film that occasionally works brilliantly, yet more often than not stinks like week-old entrails in the sun.

Not content with the screen time he and his good friend Jason Mewes have had in the past, he's decided to up the amount of time they appear to the point where they are practically in every scene, with hilarious results ensuing. An arguably simple formula can be applied to Kevin Smith films, that being the greater the
amount of time Silent Bob and Jay appear on screen, the worse the end result.

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Ryan's Daughter

Ryan's Daughter

Strumpets, the sweaty pair of 'em...

dir: David Lean

1970

Hoochie. Ryan’s daughter is a hoochie. In case you’re not up with the latest in derogatory nomenclature, Rosy Ryan is an Irish strumpet, and this long-arse movie is entirely devoted to elucidating upon the topic of just how much of a hussy she is.

It’s a strange film in some ways, and a very simple film in a few others. It is filmed in an awe-inspiring way that makes the west coast of Ireland look like a mythical land of giants, but the story it tells is so small that you wonder why they went to all the trouble and expense. The same story is played out on daytime television every single day. Usually with lots of bleeped out swearing and people throwing chairs.

But enough about my last intervention.

Rosy (Sarah Miles) is young and headstrong in more ways than one, and she is the daughter of the guy who owns the local pub. She has decided she is in love with the local widower schoolteacher, Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum), and she wants to marry.

She doesn’t really want to be married or to have kids: she wants sex. In her mind, enhanced by reading trashy novels, she imagines sex to be a transformative experience that will lift her off of her feet and lift her up to the heavens for ever more.

Thing is, as wonderful as Shaughnessy is, he just doesn’t ring her bell.

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Pusher

Pusher

This is unpleasant and these are not nice people, shock horror

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

1996

There was an explosion of drug films after, I dunno, some indeterminate point. Probably after Trainspotting, I’d say. Whatever and wherever the origin point of the renaissance in this nasty genre was, the one thing we do know is that even the Danish needed to get in on the act.

Now, I have to admit a certain amount of ignorance about Denmark. I know vaguely where it is, I imagine it’s very cold there, but I had this ridiculous idea that it was some kind of idyllic winter wonderland that would delight Hans Christian Anderson himself, what with his tales of naked emperors and little mermaids, even today.

Imagine my horror when Copenhagen is revealed to be as grimy and sleazy a place as everywhere else.

Pusher, part of a series of films that screened as a retrospective at the 2006 Melbourne Film Festival, is an ugly, grim, vicious film about drug dealing in Denmark’s capital. There’s isn’t a single sympathetic character in the whole film with a single redemptive quality.

None of that prevents the film from being somewhat entertaining.

Pusher represents drug dealing as anything but cool or sexy. It’s shown as the trade of desperate and amoral sociopaths who would feed each other through a meat grinder alive if there was a kroner in it. That was their currency prior to the Euro, in case you’re wondering whether it’s the beer I’m referring to.

Frankie (Kim Bodnia) is a low-level drug dealer scrambling to make a living. He has multiple deals going at any given time, and always has an ear open for anything else in the offing. Though goddamn ugly, he seems to have a thuggish ease with which he carries himself through life.

When not dealing, which initially only represents a fraction of his time, he spends the rest of his time drunk and coked up, hanging out with his practically retarded friend Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen). They routinely talk about whatever crap pops into their addled heads, most of which is banal, much of which is crude. Much of the dialogue here sounds and feels improvised, which adds to the impression that you’re eavesdropping on a real conversation between two morons.

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Pollock

Pollock

Geniuses and their abject shittiness to other people

dir: Ed Harris

2000

Only recently did I have the honour of catching Ed Harris’ Pollock on DVD, at a time where it seems I’ve been watching a lot of biopic ‘prestige’ movies. You know the ones: labour of love projects produced, directed by and/or starring relatively Big Name Hollywood personages where they wish to be permanently associated with some famous artist from the recent or distant past and hopefully net themselves critical and Oscar worthy acclaim. I mean films like The Hours (at least the part with Nicole Kidman in it as Virginia Woolf), Frida (where Salma Hayek showed she had at least a little bit more to offer than just her splendid figure, but not that much), and this here pearl cast before us swine.

No, the film isn’t anti-Polish propaganda. It is about the life and times of Jackson Pollock, arguably one of the most important American artists of the last fifty years. Possibly, I don’t know how these things are measured. Especially considering the fact that most people look at his paintings and say shit like “My five year old could do a better finger painting than that!” The fact is that what is considered influential and important art isn’t always accessible to and by the purported ‘public’ that is the rest of us. I know enough about his painting and his life to know the context of his work as an abstract expressionist, but not the nitty gritty aspects of his life that motivated him, that drove him. After watching the film I’m still really left none the wiser.

Abstract expressionism is a form of art in which the artist expresses themselves purely through the use of form and color. It is form of non-representational, or non-objective, art, which means that there are no concrete objects represented. Of course none of that matters, really, because this isn’t a documentary. It’s a film, about a guy who would have lived and died a rotten life in misery and obscurity had he not been a great artist.

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Mad Max

dir: George Miller
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1979

Some works of art are classics because they have a universal, timeless quality that transcends era, class, eyesight, and anything else you can think of, in order to be beloved by many throughout the ages. Others are classics only because people have been saying they’re classics for long enough to fool the world itself.

Mad Max is a classic because people have been calling it such for so long that no-one remembers just how amateurish and cheap it truly was. In the mouths and fingertips of many, Mad Max put Australian flicks on the international map and launched several careers in the movies, not least of which being Mel “the Jews are out to get me” Gibson. Sure, it did kickstart Gibson’s career, and the production juggernaut that was Byron Kennedy / George Miller.
But the flick is pretty crap. An enjoyable crappy flick on some levels, but a crappy flick nonetheless.

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American Psycho

American Psycho

You're one scary individual, Christian Bale

dir: Mary Harron

2000

The book that no-one thought could (or should) be made into a film finally has been, and thank the lords above that uber-hack Oliver Stone or pretty boy Leonardo “Credibility” DiCaprio, both initially rumoured to be interested, were not involved in this particular production. Whether it is a successful film and / or adaptation depends on three factors, only two of which depend on your opinion of the book. If someone is an overwhelming fan of the book, apart from possibly requiring anti-psychotic medication, it is quite likely that they will like the film, as the dialogue and the lack of plot are taken verbatim from the book.

The film is a very faithful, some might say almost timid adaptation of the book. Anyone hating the book obviously is a moron for watching the film expecting anything different. The most damning condemnation of the film that I’ve heard was simply that the film is boring, with no point, and an unpleasant way to waste 2 hours. It’s hard to disagree with that kind of logic.

The most horrific excesses of the book are effectively excised, and thankfully so, more due to the fact that even in the book alone the sheer catalogue of repetitive murder and torture simply becomes tedious rather than shocking. Apart from that, the fact remains many of those occasions are unfilmable in a non- snuff, non-X rated film. I am referring to sequences involving decapitated heads carried around on engorged genitalia, pipes, rats, and the human body, child murder, nailgunning, et bloody cetera. After a while it holds all the mystery and inventiveness of a casual perusal of your local phone book. The film avoids the same trap by having a sparing use of gratuitous violence except in those non-key scenes designed to show how much of a psychopath our protagonist, Patrick Bateman, truly is.

Our hero is young, handsome, intelligent, wealthy, and a worthwhile member of society with a large social circle of people unremarkably identical to himself. Except for the fact that he seems to have a tremendous appreciation for random acts of senseless brutality and the wholesale butchery of large numbers of clueless people, predominately women. The film is somehow ambiguous as to whether these constant exercises in murder actually occur, or whether they are confined only to his demented imagination. It is arguable either way, but certain elements from the book are used to establish this in the film, taking on a different significance than was initially intended.

Bateman speaks to us at film’s beginning, telling us that he is simply “not there”. He sees himself as a shell, a cipher, incapable of feeling or expressing a single genuine emotion. He seems to fit in perfectly on a social level, but has a constant awareness that he does not really exist to any more fundamental a level than his physical appearance. We are intended to see his murderous intentions as an expression of this complete lack of a soul, beyond morality or any other considerations, reaching to fill the abyss inside with some sensation from torturing and murdering others.

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