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7 stars

One Hour Photo

dir: Mark Romanek
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Robin Williams was, to use the official psychiatric term, a complete loon. He was a complete loon for a long time. Anyone who's ever seen one of his coke fuelled stand-up performances from the 80s (such as Live at the Met from 1986), or seen anyone try to interview him on any type of show knows how much of a complete nutjob he was (and probably still is). The man used to have a chaotic level of energy when 'on' that it meant even he didn't know what was going to come out of his manic mouth next. You've never seen someone cram more free associations, impressions, parodies and downright crippling gags in such a short space of time. Of course by delivering twenty gags in the space of fifteen seconds even when ten leave you scratching your unmentionables the other five kept you giggling like a schoolgirl.

Those days of coke binges and having sex with Christy Canyon (I'm not making that up) are long gone, but the mania certainly remains. Even now you'd be hard pressed to find a better example of a person with extreme bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depression back in the old days.

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Red Dragon

dir: Brett Ratner
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I would never have believed that Brett Ratner, director of such classy fair as some of Mariah Carey's film clips and Rush Hour 2 would be capable of making a decent film. I guess films like this go against the auteur theory of film making, either that or he deserves more credit than I am capable of giving him.

It's weird. The film works, amazingly enough. It's not Battleship Potemkin, don't get me wrong, but it is not the mess that I expected. What can be said with a comfortable level of certainty is that Ratner achieved something that Ridley Scott, for all his pretensions of being a first rank director, could not: he manages to make the whole serial killer thing work again, and somehow compelled Anthony Hopkins to actually act. Like he gets paid to.

My hatred of that farce masquerading as a film known as Hannibal is well known, If it isn't, it should be. I proudly aligned myself with the masses last year in declaring it one of the most truly stupid and mishandled films ever made. I can count at least fifteen levels upon which Hannibal failed, and with a somewhat slightly less passionate zeal I can comfortably assert that in my anything but humble opinion, Red Dragon gets it right.

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Secretary

dir: Steven Shainberg
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What a fucking freaky film. It starts off being a film about one freak, who then finds an even bigger freak than herself. It just makes you hope they eventually get together and raise some freak babies.

There were certainly a bunch of people in the audience I saw this film with who didn't have a singular clue about this film. They were the ones that walked out not because of the sexual / sadomasochistic content, but because the psychosexual stuff wasn't sexy. They were actually expecting or hoping for some T & A and double entendres about taking dictation and doing a Lewinsky under the desk. Not a story about a demented self-mutilator and a sadistic obsessive-compulsive.

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Signs

dir: M. Night Shyamalan
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It's an interesting film, I'll give it that much. And it's a credit to M. Night Shyamalan that he manages to get the best performance out of Mel Gibson that I've seen in nearly a decade. As for how successful the film is overall, well, that's hardly a question for the ages.

Box office-wise, Signs has managed to dispel the fear that arose of "one hit wonderness" after the lackluster receipts that the far more ambitious Unbreakable was responsible for. He's managing to incorporate the quite difficult aspects of credible film making and ticket sale success, and then some. He is undoubtedly a populist director, making stories that are on the surface fairly straight-forward that manage to tap in to either the collective unconscious or issues of pop cultural currency without being either pretentious or lowest common denominator shit-stupid.

His level of subtlety is not what I would call delicate, but this film at the very least stands as a testament to his willingness to tackle commonplace ideas with his own individual take, willing to not always give audiences what they want initially with the view of giving them something completely different at film's end. It's a conceited bait-and-switch, I know, but as someone who's seen literally thousands of films over the years, it's something I can appreciate.

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He Died With a Felafel in His Hand

dir: Richard Lowenstein
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He died with a review of He Died With a Felafel in His Hand in his hand…

I always intended to write a review that started thusly, and now I’ve finally achieved that lofty ambition. I am a simple man, after all, with simple tastes and simpler pleasures. It doesn’t take much to amuse me, but it takes much to maintain my interest for more than a few minutes at a time.

He Died With a Felafel in his Hand is one of those classic books, like Trainspotting, like the Bible, that’s more of a collection of stories than a story with a single protagonist and a clear narrative, which, in the hands of cinema geniuses, is transformed into a story with a protagonist and a clear narrative. The book, by John Birmingham, is a funny collection of the kinds of nightmare Australian sharehouse experiences which should (but probably won’t) close the book on writing about such stuff for future generations.

The film takes some of the material and transforms it into a story about an aimless young chap called Danny (Noah Taylor), who lives in a number of sharehouses, and has a bunch of hangers-on and ridiculous experiences. The story starts in Queensland, moves to Melbourne, then finishes in Sydney.

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Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

dir: Ang Lee
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This ain't the greatest film of all time. This isn't even one of Ang Lee's best films. This is the best filmed chop socky film to date, but that's only because Ang was given a budget far in excess of what any Hong Kong director has ever been given to make a film of similar ilk look more gorgeous than it ever had any right to be. He isn't even the first "arthouse" (though it is debatable, Sense and Sensibility and the Ice Storm were mainstream fare, and I do consider Ice Storm a masterpiece) director to attempt to make an "intelligent" Hong Kong film, which is virtually what this is.

Make no mistake, though he may hail from Taiwan, and has spent the majority of his life in the States, Lee wanted to make a Hong Kong period piece heroic "epic" which is what he has made, with varying degrees of success.

I mentioned the fact that other directors have tried making "intelligent" martial arts films. Anyone unfortunate enough to have watched Ashes of Time by Wong Kar Wai (he of Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together fame) would know what a dismal failure that is conceptually and in trying to realise it onscreen. It just doesn't work, mostly. It's like getting Arnie to play Iago in a new version of Othello, it's just fucking bonkers, it doesn't work, and audiences just laugh, but not in that "nice" way.

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Tin Drum, The (Die Blechtrommel)

dir: Volker Schlöndorff
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1979

The Tin Drum has to be one of the weirdest conventional-seeming flicks about World War II that I’ve ever seen. You start off thinking it’s a depiction of life under the rise and subsequent defeat of the Nazis, but, really, it’s a catalogue of bizarreness from the mind of acclaimed author Günther Grass.

He’s the same acclaimed author who it was recently revealed had been a member of the SS-Waffen. In his youth, apparently. I don’t think they mean a few weeks ago. At least I hope not.

Regardless, that being the case, I guess the guy was uniquely qualified to write a story set during the heyday of the Reich. But what a strange story…

Birth scenes in flicks are often difficult to handle, but this flick has to have one of the oddest I’ve ever had the displeasure to see. The child who plays the main character for the entirety of the film, who was 11 at the time, plays a newborn infant as well. With vernix and blood plastering his hair down as he is pulled through the womb, he reveals that the reason he decides not to go back in is because his mother promises to buy him a tin drum when he is three.

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Rules of the Game, The (La Regle de jeu)

dir: Jean Renoir
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1939

When you’re told a film is one of the best of all time, you’re naturally going to be wary. The title is usually foisted upon Citizen Kane, but just as often it’s trotted out in terms of this film.

It’s easier to talk about popular films that have been seen by squillions of people, and judging their impact on the audience’s consciousness through the years rather than about some film from 70 years ago few people you know have ever heard of let alone seen. It one thing to debate whether Apocalypse Now is great, or Lawrence of Arabia, but arguing about something no-one under the age of 50 has seen is the ultimate in film wankery.

I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve watched the restored, Criterion Collection edition, with the commentaries by experts, the apologetic introduction by Renoir himself, scene by scene analyses by film experts, and a whole bunch of other documentaries on the film and the director. I just don’t see it.

See, I can watch Casablanca, and no-one needs to explain to me why it's a classic or a great film. If you need to explain it to me, then, well, draw your own conclusions.

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Red Dawn

dir: John Milius
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What a strange film. It looks like a weird, right wing treatise on the dangers of ignoring the threat of Communism prior to the actual fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union, but even accepting that, its kitsch value is through the roof.

Avowed right wing paragon John Milius, who wrote the script on such legendary endeavours as Conan the Barbarian and Apocalypse Now, decided that only he could do his paranoid “epic” justice by directing it himself.

And he’s probably right. Anyone else would have been uncomfortable with making a film with such terrible acting performances from the main characters. But, I guess, thinking as a screenwriter, all Milius wanted was for them to say the precious words that he’d written.

Let’s not overstate this or glide over it: much of the acting by the main players is comically bad. Uproariously bad. Showgirls bad. But, for reasons I can only put down to the seriousness of the subject matter and a nostalgic glow courtesy of the early 80s, it doesn’t sink the film. Far from it.

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Rashomon

dir: Akira Kurosawa
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1950

The Kurosawa fest continues. One of the most famous but least seen films of the last fifty years deserves a review, don’t you think. And since I saw it for the first time a few days ago, now seems like the prime time to launch into another pointless diatribe about a film few people will be inspired to run out and see.

Rashomon has been quoted as an influence in cinema for the last million years, or at least every time a story presents different versions of the ‘truth’. That’s the ‘truth’, as opposed to the truth. The simplest way of explaining this concept is the assertion that there really isn’t any objective truth because people see and experience events subjectively, as well as the fact that they lie to serve their own agendas.

So, now, every time a film shows a sequence, then shows the same event from another point of view, they bloody well are contractually obligated to mention Rashomon. The Usual Suspects? Rashomon. Wonderland? Rashomon. Hero? Rashomon. Dora the Explorer? Rashomon.

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