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7 stars

Django Unchained

Django Unchained

He looks like he's going to paint a portrait with the gun.
A portrait of... REVENGE!!!!

dir: Quentin Tarantino

So, saviour of humanity that he is, using the magic of cinema to correct or at least exact retribution for the crimes of the past, Tarantino does for the slaves in Django Unchained what he did for the Jews in Inglourious Basterds: he gets historical revisionist revenge, REVENGE!

I don’t know how much moral or philosophical thinking goes into what he does, but Tarantino doesn’t really strike me as a director who has an agenda beyond making films that look like and reference other films. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve enjoyed so many of his films (to wildly different degrees) that to criticise Tarantino for what he doesn’t do (come up with entirely and wholly new themes, aesthetics and plots/stories) ignores what he does do (makes entertaining and sometimes hellishly funny films).

With Django Unchained it’s an even thornier proposition. Sure, it’s entertaining, but I can see how the criticism of trivialising the legacy of slavery in the US is a theoretically valid one. It raises the hackles of the kinds of hackle-ready outrage merchants who thought getting a wholly symbolic and fantastical revenge on Hitler and his high ranking scumbags trivialised the Holocaust in his earlier film.

Rating:

Rise of the Guardians

Rise of the Guardians

But who guards the guarded
against the Guardians?

dir: Peter Ramsay

Many, many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a galaxy just like this one except it smelled a little bit like juniper berries, I watched a film at a mysterious place called a cinema. That film was called The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Yeah, I knew it was Christian propaganda going into it. Yeah, I knew it couldn’t really be that great, considering the source material. But it did have Tilda Swinton in a key role, and that’s almost enough for me to justify watching any flick.

In this movie were four kids going on adventures. Three of the kids were painful to listen to and even more painful to watch trying to act. I didn’t mind it too much, this being a childish fantasy, after all, and one of the first books I can remember reading all on my own.

The moment that had me standing up in fury and yelling at the screen as if the actors themselves could hear me, and the director, the assistant directors and their assistants could hear me too, was the moment where Santa Claus comes out of nowhere and gives the kids all the tools they’ll need to beat the evil Snow Queen.

I screamed “Oh come on! It isn’t ludicrously far-fetched enough already, you’ve got to drop that fat fuck Father Christmas on us as well? Give us a goddamn break!”

Rating:

Looper

Looper

They made one look uglier and one look prettier to make them look alike. Good job!

dir: Rian Johnson

An appreciation for time travel shenanigans is not a prerequisite for enjoying this odd but interesting film, but a lot of attention to what’s going on is mandatory for understanding it. Let your attention drift for a while, and you’ll be yelling “where did that purple elephant unicorn come from?” at the screen, much to the chagrin of the people around you.

Looper is set about 40 years in the future, in Kansas, of all places. We are told that at a time even more distant in the future, they’ve invented time travel. Not only that, but the best and only use for it they could think of was for crime lords sending back to the past people they want killed. So in 2070, they have time travel, but they can’t dispose of bodies because of the awesomeness of forensic technology. In 2044, they don’t have time travel, but they shoot these people who are sent into the past.

These killers, who wait in a designated spot with a gun called a blunderbuss, are the loopers from which the flick gets its title. The looper we’re concerned with is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who shoots these hooded people who appear out of nowhere, collects the silver strapped to their bodies, and then disposes of the corpses.

Rating:

Submarine

Submarine

Young idiots not the least bit in love, not in the slightest

dir: Richard Ayoade

Coming of age stories are a laugh, aren’t they? Whether it’s some spotty git fucking an apple pie, or four friends searching for a dead body, coming of age stories are almost always nostalgic and poignant, because they’re watched by people far removed from the actual age. Throw in some period detail, some tunes from an earlier, ‘better’ time, and it’s like crack to oldies of a certain oldness.

The problem or virtue of Submarine is that it’s set in the 80s, which no decent person should be nostalgic for, including and especially those of us who came of age in the 80s, and also it’s a flick in love with coming of age flicks. There’s plenty of references to other classic boyish coming-of-age flicks (400 Blows, Harold and Maude, The Graduate, bunches of others), but this has its own unique take on the Bildungsroman.

That doesn’t make it good, necessarily. The reason I went out of my way to see this flick is because of the almost surreally positive reviews it has garnered, even down to local Potato Head Pomeranz and Old Farmer Stratton giving it stratospheric approval. And it was lauded and praised to the heavens around the world long before it came to Australian shores to die a quiet death at the box office.

I don’t really see it. I’m sorry. Maybe I’m not as interested in coming of age stories any more. The appeal of Submarine pretty much escaped me.

Rating:

Girl Who Played With Fire, The

(Flickan som lekte med elden)
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dir: Daniel Alfredson

Ahhhh. I like it when they make semi-decent movies out of shitty books. It gives me hope for humanity.

For my money at least, The Girl Who Played With Fire was the best of the three books Stieg Larsson shat out onto an unsuspecting world before he died. By ‘best’ I don’t actually mean that it was a great book. I just mean that out of three terribly written books, the second was the least worst of the trilogy.

Since I haven’t seen the last instalment in this series of flicks yet, I can’t say whether this is the best of the three. I thought the first flick, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, did pretty well whittling down a phonebook of empty and stolid prose into a competent enough crime investigation flick, with a compelling central character (Lisbeth Salander, not the journalist Blomkvist). She becomes even more central to proceedings here, as the second story, and indeed the rest of the series becomes the All About Lisbeth show.

Rating:

Expendables, The

dir: Sylvester Stallone
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I guess if someone absorbed and retained all the juicy goodness of crappy 80s action flicks, it was the guy who starred in most of them. And if there’s one person who can profit from perpetuating what he used to be good at, rather than doing anything remotely new, it’s Sylvester Stallone.

His last three films including this one are virtual monuments to himself (the other two being Rocky Balboa and the fourth Rambo flick creatively titled Rambo) and the time when he was one of the biggest action stars on the goddamn planet. But this flick, far moreso than the others, is more of a monument to the era itself and the trashy 80s action flicks that were so beloved by all.

Rating:

Brideshead Revisited

dir: Julian Jarrold
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Plenty of people, pretty much only the people who’ve read the book and watched the BBC series, would think that a film version of Brideshead Revisited is either redundant or pointless or both. I have watched the series and read the book, and have now watched this latest adaptation. Hurray for me.

So maybe I am one of those who think a new version is pointless. Thing is, though, I still enjoyed the flick.

Of course a two-hour version seems pointless after the majesty and scope and patience of the series, but then when you’re making a film for contemporary audiences, you’re not catering to people with relaxed attention spans and time. You’re catering to hyper-caffeinated people with the patience, attention span and morals of feral ferrets.

So, boiling a complex novel down to its essentials is the order of the day, here. I don’t have a problem with that, mostly because I’m so familiar with the source material. Sure, it is period piece stuff arising from the success of Atonement (which is a very different kettle of gay fish compared to Brideshead) with a similar kind of look, but it’s not an especially complex story.

Rating:

2008 Film Year In Review

dir: Buxbaum or Bixby Ali Van Allen O’Shea

2009

Very late in the game, very late in the year, I have decided to close the lid, as in the coffin lid, on the previous year’s festivities by summarising all of my highly valuable yet worthless thoughts on how I thought the year went movie-wise. You might wonder “why?” whereas I just wonder “why not?”

Rating:

Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The (Man som hatar kvinnor)

dir: Niels Arden Oplev
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I don’t know how many people are going to make this point, since I assume that people, like sheep, like doing stuff in concert with each other, that this is the rare instance where the movie resulting from an adaptation is better than the book it’s based on. There, I said it. In reality this is the best adaptation of a Dan Brown novel Dan Brown never wrote. But Sweden’s Dan Brown, called Stieg Larsson, sadly died before he could profit from his success, collect his royalty cheques, and watch this version of his book on the big screen. It’s a shame, because he could have gotten to see what his story looked like with most of the boring bits cut out.

When I read the three books in the Millennium trilogy, as you could say with most crime or detective mystery kind of novels, I remember thinking they seemed like they were always intended for the big screen. They all read like that, usually. I’m sure it wasn’t a fact lost on the shmuck’s publishers, or on the people who made this Swedish film version, or the American shysters who snapped up the rights and who are going to allow Fight Club director David Fincher to remake it.

Rating:

Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road

Some things are stronger than love. Like hate,
for example

dir: Sam Mendes

Oh what a miserable fucking film. It starts off with one of those miserable and uncomfortable couple fights that makes you want to slink away without making eye contact, and progresses onwards with a gruesome autopsy of a relationship that should never have been between two people who should never have been together.

Based on an apparently classic 1950s novel of the same name by Richard Yates, it’s a film undoubtedly influenced at least in its stylistic elements by the rise of that Mad Men era-philia. In truth, though, this is an earlier era depicted, even if visually they’re indistinguishable. Sure the guys all wear smart suits and those hats, and smoke everywhere, and drink constantly and such.

But this is a time meant to be closer to the end of World War II rather than the cool cat airport lounge hipsterism of the early 1960s depicted in the aforementioned (and admittedly highly loveable) television series. Men and women were still working out what their post-war roles were meant to be, and for some people the answers were never going to be pretty.

The name of the flick makes it sound like it’s going to be a film explaining to kids why they should or shouldn’t have pictures of Che Guevara on their t-shirts, but all it refers to is the suburban road in Connecticut where the unhappily married Wheelers live.

Rating:

Appaloosa

Appaloosa

Of course this is going to be a good movie. Just look at the moustache on Viggo

dir: Ed Harris

Ah, westerns. Not nearly enough of them are still being made. And, in some senses, as with musicals, X-Men films and anything made by Baz Luhrman, you could argue that there is no goddamn need to ever, ever make any more of them ever again.

The western, however, unlike the other examples cited, deserves to have a continued existence. It deserves to survive, and prosper as a genre filled with awe-inspiring scenery, people killing each other with guns, and the rugged individualism Americans like to think they’re all heirs to.

It’s the most quintessential of American genres. You can make the argument that virtually all cinema and all genres originate in America, considering the birthplace of the cinematic art form, but then you’d be being awfully pedantic, and no-one likes sleeping with awfully pedantic people. So let that be a warning to you.

Whatever the argument’s merits, the irony is that despite the ‘you’ve come a long way, baby’ that America has achieved as a country and in terms of civilisation, they still hunger to make and see films set in an era before everything was decided: before there were limits on anything, be it ambition, be it violence, or be it a complete lack of fences.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

Body of Lies

dir: Ridley Scott
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Ridley is, apparently, the decent Scott brother who directs sometimes quite decent films. Yes, he made Hannibal, and part of me will hate him forever for that one, but generally he makes okay flicks, or at least he did thirty years ago.

Tony Scott is the awful hack who makes painful films that sully the Scott name, generally. He makes occasionally less than horrific flicks, and then makes horrific flicks which are an insult to the eyes and the intellect, damning our entire species whenever a single person pays good money to watch any of his movies.

In case you miss my meaning: I’d rather watch a Michael Bay movie than a Tony Scott movie.

In genre and content Body of Lies would seem to almost be more of a Tony Scott flick than a Ridley one, since he has previously made spy – high tech thrillers, with varying degrees of success (or annoyance, as the case may be), but for whatever reason the Brothers Scott flipped a coin and it came up Ridley. Which is good, because that means the film is at least watchable, as in a human pair of eyes can be trained upon it for minutes without bursting in dual showers of vitreous humour.

Rating:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

dir: David Yates
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Another year, another Potter flick. The difference is, now, after having enjoyed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix so much, I thought I actually cared about future Potter flicks.

And then the Half-Blood Prince came along, and reminded me why I never really liked these tales of whimsy and magic in the first place.

That’s a bit harsh. Initially, going into it, I was pretty excited. I also thought, and still think, that this entry looks phenomenal as well. Hogwarts never looked so vast, so foreboding, so much more like a place that is no longer a sanctuary to these budding sorcerers.

Of course the ‘kids’ are getting older. Harry, Ron and Hermione are becoming awfully, um, grown-up physically, at least, if not emotionally mature. The story reflects and spends an inordinate amount of time fixating and developing these developments, as if the fact that they’re all acting like horny teenagers is supposed to be some kind of revelation.

Of course, this being a very successful franchise, they’re not going to turn it into an episode of the frightening school-age British series Skins, which has kids shagging, doing drugs and carrying on like teenagers having been acting since the dawn of cask wine.

Rating:

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

dir: Panna Rittikrai, Tony Jaa
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You could be forgiven for thinking that this movie was a sequel or even a prequel to Tony Jaa’s debut Ong Bak. I mean, that’s what 2 usually stands for in these circumstances. Having watched both flicks, I can’t really see any point of intersection except in the fact that Tony Jaa kicks several shades of fuck out of a hell of a lot of people.

As far as I’m concerned, as long as the fights are as jawdropping as this, I don’t care if he calls every movie he makes Ong Bak with some numerical designation following, with no more connective a story-based tissue than: ‘Some guy, for some reason, beating a lot of people up in incredibly elaborate ways.”

For all I know, that’s what Ong Bak actually means in Thai. For all I care though, I eagerly look forward whenever I hear that Tony Jaa’s stepping up and putting out another movie.

Sure, he’s not much of an actor, and spends most of this flick glaring and not saying any dialogue. That’s good, though. We don’t want him talking. Talking’s not his forte. I hear he’s not good at math or doing the dishes, either. And he’s not very considerate in bed.

Rating:

Sketches of Frank Gehry

dir: Sydney Pollock
[img_assist|nid=1127|title=Enjoy the afterlife, boys|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=372]
Friends making documentaries about friends sounds like mutual masturbation, but it can work, if you’re into that sort of thing. Your interest level in this movie is pretty much dictated by whether you can enjoy a doco about a famous architect who has designed some pretty kooky buildings. Or not. My guess is that a lot of eyes glaze over before you even finish saying the word architectu….zzzzz

Can you really imagine something as staggeringly dull as a doco about an architect? Unless it’s the architect of the Third Reich, Albert Speer, maybe, or the architect of some badly negligent buildings that fall down and kill people. Otherwise it’s a date with dullsville, you’d be forced to think. Well, force yourself to think a little more, ya deadbeat.

Frank Gehry has architected up some pretty freaky looking buildings. Even if his name doesn’t ring any of your bells, you’ve probably seen images of his crazy constructions all the same. I can’t pretend I knew anything about the guy beyond images of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, that I’d seen, and the kooky episode of The Simpsons where Gehry guest stars and designs a new building for Springfield that gets turned into a surrealist prison. Snitch 4 Life indeed.

Rating:

Election 2

(Hak se wui yi wo wai kwai)
[img_assist|nid=1123|title=Election 2: Election Boogaloo|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=420]
dir: Johnny To

It’s been a good year for Johnny To. Exiled and Election 2 have been well received by critics, even if Election 2 was banned in China because of its implications of government collusion with triad gangs (a truly shocking and outlandish claim). Surely such a thing could never be true. To’s films don’t seem to connect with audiences in a big way, which is a shame.

Following on two years from the events of the first film, Lok (Simon Yam) has been a successful Chairman for the Wo Sing triad, but it is time for another election. Though he seemed almost reluctant to seize the reigns of power in the first film (at least initially), holding power has changed him. Where we would expect the film to focus on the new potential Chairmen (which it does), Lok decides to throw his own spanners into the Wo Sing’s processes.

Of the young turks itching to become leader, the brightest star is also the most reluctant. Lok’s godson Jimmy (Louis Koo), who is a big earner for the triad, only sees working for the Wo Sing as a means to an end: he yearns to go legit. A multi-million dollar development in China is his pie in the sky, his chance to get out of the underworld and to star in the business world.

Rating:

Bronson

Bronson

A gentle soul, trapped in the body of an absolute lunatic

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

I thought I’d seen everything. But then I saw Bronson.

In some ways, it’s one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. That it is based on a true story is almost immaterial, since it’s still highly fictionalised and hyper stylised as well. And there isn’t really any story or plot, which itself is less interesting that the rendering of it, because there’s only so much you can do or say about a person as remarkable as Michael Peterson, sorry, I meant Charlie Bronson.

Though it is a biopic, it’s not a biography of legendary dead actor Charles Bronson, whose Death Wish films, numbers I to V, brought sensitivity and nuance to the debate regarding crime, immigration and vigilantism in modern America. No, this flick is about an absolutely incompetent career criminal who is clearly insane and who elects to call himself Charlie Bronson. He is still alive, so I better be careful what I say.

Not that he’s ever likely to see the light of day.

Rating:

Terminator: Salvation

Terminator: Salvation

I will destroy you, you puny filthy humans!

dir: McG

It’s a sad day when you acknowledge for your own benefit that the world no longer needs Terminator movies. New ones that is. The first two will always be classics of a sort, but it’s just a sad realisation to see that it’s unlikely that they’ll ever be able to approach them in quality, let alone match them.

The curious element was that the story we were always watching was never really the main story. The main story was always the reason for watching these various people and cyborgs run away and try to fight progressively more advanced robots, but it was never the overarching plots of these films. The battle between the remnants of humanity and the ruthless artificial intelligence called Skynet was always some nebulous threat in the future: our immediate concern was supposed to be the survival of some people in the present.

Salvation, being the first of the Terminator flicks that doesn’t have time travel as its main plot device, is set during the time when this apocalyptic conflict has already destroyed most of the world, or at least North America. Sure, the protagonists are all still trying to survive assault from fiendish and relentless machines, but it’s not for some way of safeguarding humanity in the future: it’s survival in the here and now.

Rating:

Watchmen

Watchmen

Who watched the Watchmen? Eh, not a hell of a lot of people

dir: Zack Snyder

It’s almost unbelievable to me that this flick has eventuated, has been realised and ended up on the big screen. I don’t say that as a fan of the graphic novel that spawned this monstrosity, but as someone simply who’s read the story and thought it could never work as an audience-pleasing, seat-filling, multiplex product. Watching Watchmen hasn’t convinced me otherwise.

The story, well, let’s just say I can’t imagine it ever connecting with the kinds of audiences who go to the cinema to watch a flick chock full of super heroes. People, the vast majority of people who go to the cinema to watch a flick based on a comic book are expecting and wanting something along the lines of Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, stuff with Man in the title. Maybe Dark Knight’s incredible success has broken down some barriers and prepared people for more ‘serious’ and ‘complicated’ stories, but I don’t think it’s going to do much for people’s appreciation of Watchmen.

Rating:

Taken

dir: Pierre Morel
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Taken is a glorious throwback to the 70s and 80s where revenge wasn’t a dirty word. Sure, revenge flicks are a dime a dozen, and one is released every week (to the cinemas, with about five per week going straight to DVD), and they travel very well overseas. I guess it’s because everyone can relate to revenge.

That being said, revenge is a fundamental cinematic genre in and of itself, but that doesn’t mean that most of these flicks are good. They’re not. They’re easy to fuck up.

I guess it’s the fact that they should be so easy that lulls people into a false sense of security, or a real sense of insecurity. They don’t take the time to craft them well, or to make the main protagonist worth following in their journey to blissful, blood-spattered Old Testament style vengeance.

Taken probably isn’t at all believable, plausible or remotely likely. Neither are the Bond films or the Bourne films or the Sisterhood of the Travelling Underpants films, masterpieces though they are. None of it matters, because Liam Neeson does so well in a role few men do credibly.

Rating:

Gran Torino

dir: Clint Eastwood
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What a sweet, crusty, curmudgeonly old man Clint is. And boy, is he old. He has officially reached Methuselah age, but it’s not slowing him down, not a bit. Gran Torino was one of two films Clint put out in 2008, following closely on the heels of his other massive two-film endeavour, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. So age has clearly not wearied him. He’s making more films than ever, and his films are more loved than ever. The man’s certainly not in decline.

All the same, as a director Clint happily works far harder than as an actor, since he’s earned the right to just coast along by now. And coast he does, playing the same Clint he’s been playing for forty years, just older and crustier.

And we love him for it, and are more than happy to let it slide. Even when the melodrama is as cheesy as it is here, even when the acting (admittedly by non-professional actors) is atrocious, and when the script is so appalling. We don’t care because it’s Clint.

Rating:

Changeling

dir: Clint Eastwood
[img_assist|nid=41|title=I am honoured to be working with me|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=337]
Before Gran Torino, the highest grossing and 437th film directed by Eastwood, stunk up the multiplexes and delighted American crowds with its rascally racist protagonist bellowing at Hmong immigrants to get off his lawn whilst aiming a shotgun at them, Clint unleashed this curious little true crime / period piece movie to less fanfare but more critical acclaim.

At least initially. Before it premiered at Cannes, and was still known as The Exchange, the buzz was that it was one of Clint’s best films. Of course, after actual humans and not PR cyborgs saw the film, a resounding ‘meh’ was heard to echo around the cinemas of the world. Angelina Jolie receiving a nomination for playing the main character here is very strange, unless, there’s a new Biggest Lips – Anglo Category I haven’t heard of to be honoured at the next Academy Awards, but otherwise most of the world tried to pretend the film never existed.

So it was a bit of a surprise when I found the film quite enjoyable and interesting despite Jolie’s presence, since she has the thankless role of playing a mother whose most compelling dialogue is “I want my son back” and “this boy is not my son, I want my son back.”

Rating:

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

dir: Guillermo Del Toro
[img_assist|nid=66|title=Methinks he's overcompensating for something|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
I usually give Del Toro respect for his Spanish films which have all been great (Cronos, Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth), and derision for his Hollywood flicks (Blade II, the first Hellboy). Perhaps I’m feeling more forgiving, or perhaps Del Toro is starting to meld the two ways of working into a workable whole.

Whatever the reason, or whatever is really going on, I surprised myself by enjoying Hellboy II: The Golden Army much more than I thought I would. The main reason I’m surprised is that I really didn’t get into the first Hellboy, and that one of the main reasons is something that’s carried over to this sequel.

I’m also a bit burned out by the whole comic book adaptation thing, and Hellboy is nothing if not a comic book property.

Hellboy (played, I guess, by Ron Perlman) is an actual demon, snatched from the gates of hell by a kindly scientist (John Hurt) when still a baby hellspawn. He grows up to love and protect humanity whilst fighting against supernatural shenanigans that threaten humankind.

He is bright red, with ground-down horns, a very large fist, styles his hair like a samurai, smokes cigars and loves kittens. And he loves to fight.

Rating:

Promotion, The

dir: Steven Conrad
[img_assist|nid=113|title=Dorks just trying to dork their way up the corporate ladder|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=476|height=317]
What are our dreams? I don’t just mean what do we dream of, because most of us dream of flying, or exacting revenge on our childhood tormentors, or giving speeches naked in front of our co-workers and fellow students. And let’s leave out all the sex-related dreams regarding 80s sitcom stars or bus drivers. Please, let’s just leave them out.

Most of us, not being the super-creative and talented people whose works we crave in written, visual or auditory form as entertainment, have modest hopes and dreams. We dream of having jobs that don’t crush our souls on a daily basis. We might dream of owning, past a certain age, our own homes so we’re no longer at the mercy of deranged housemates, too-thin walls separating us from annoying neighbours and independence from the whims of landlords and slimy real estate agents.

We dream of being able to do okay and avoid looking like shmucks, at least those of us that aren’t shmucks. And even those of us who are shmucks dream of somehow getting that one thing (or several things) that’ll make everything seem a bit more worthwhile, in our eyes and in the eyes of others.

Rating:

Hancock

dir: Peter Berg
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There seem to be superhero flicks coming out every goddamn week, and mostly they’re the tried and tested superhero properties carefully branded and nurtured by DC and Marvel Comics over the last century. They are, at least the successful ones, considered to be powerful box office draws and dependable investments. Yes, I’m talking about Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Fantastic Fours and the X-Men flicks. You can now, due to its inexplicable success, add Iron Man to the list.

Then there’s the second tier of flicks based on lesser known superheroes which seem not to do as well simply because they’re not as well known, and aren’t considered serious draws, no matter how well they do (Spawn, The Crow, Blade, Daredevil, Electra, Hellboy, Constantine, Ghost Rider, The Phantom, The Shadow et bloody cetera.) The primary difference is that the top tier characters are so well known and so recognisable that everyone goes to see them at the cinema, and children the world over whine until their parents buy them the merchandise. With the second tier, only the fans and nerds go or care.

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Forbidden Kingdom, The

dir: Rob Minkoff
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a young clueless kind of guy (Michael Angarano) who’s a big fan of 70s Hong Kong martial arts films gets mysteriously yanked through time in a bid to save China from the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) by returning the staff of the Monkey King (Jet Li) to its rightful owner.

From zero to hero in record time. Yes it is the same plot as every ill-advised attempt to bridge the cultural and box office gap between America and China through the distorted lens of Hong Kong cinema that has ever been committed to celluloid, cellulite and cellulose as well.

Homaging, pastiching, or downright ripping off Hong Kong flicks is nothing remotely new, in fact some hacks have made a career out of it. This flick takes a slightly different tack in that it uses CGI and current editing/post production tricks not to reference those flicks, but to at least replicate them on the whole, whilst remaining American-friendly throughout.

In other words, except for the pasty, awkward American teenager, this looks like a pretty good approximation of one of the many Shaw Brothers flicks that they talk about, except it’s in English.

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Be Kind Rewind

dir: Michel Gondry
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Being able to enjoy a flick like this is dependent upon a few variables. A high tolerance threshold for enduring Jack Black helps. Being able to put up with yet another variation on the ‘stick up for the little guy against the heartless government/corporations’ plotline helps.

Being able to appreciate the artschool, ramshackle aesthetic / messiness and the idea that an entire community in New Jersey could be delighted by and pay good money to see short films based on famous movies starring Jack Black and Mos Def, in lieu of watching actual movies, would also be paramount.

Also, where I write ‘artschool’, what I really mean is ‘artfag’. Such a term is not exactly dripping with political correctness and sensitivity, so I’m glad I never used it in the body of this review.

Phew! Dodged a bullet on that one, eh?

In varying degrees and with varying quantities, I guess I do possess or at least entertain some of the variables previously mentioned, because I didn’t hate Be Kind Rewind, despite feeling as if I should have. Sure, it’s pretty shaggy, creaky and cheesy, but I still enjoyed the shit out of it.

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Other Boleyn Girl, The

dir: Justin Chadwick
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First up: I haven’t read the book this is based on, and I’m never likely to. So this isn’t going to be either a bitchfest about how it doesn’t conform to the book, or a point by point comparison betwixt the two. Seeing the book (and, to a lesser extent, the film) advertised gives me a strong sense that it’s chick lit/flick material.

Of course, it’s not: it’s history! With Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman! And Eric Bana (who cops third billing, which must be somewhat humiliating) playing Henry the VIII! Sorry, Henry Tudor, King of England.

It’s pretty hard to take a set-up like that seriously. With due respect to Bana, who can play everything from a loathsome criminal (Chopper), to a Hulk, to a noble Trojan prince (Troy) to a Mossad hitman (Munich), such a cast list invites derision even before parking one’s arse in the theatre. It’s simply ridiculous. Hollywood goes middlebrow: that’s always a recipe for disaster.

It’s preposterous on paper, and comes at a difficult time for historical ‘epics’ to be taken seriously, especially after that recent Elizabeth: The Golden Age abomination, which was an act of cinematic atrocity inflicted upon an all-too-forgiving audience.

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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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