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7 stars

Hoax, The

dir: Lasse Hallstrom
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I’m no fan of Lasse Hallstrom’s films (spits to the side) or of Richard Gere in any capacity (spits twice), but I was very interested to see this film. I find almost anything about crazy, dead American billionaire Howard Hughes fascinating, and the story of one of the most impressive literary hoaxes of recent vintage even more so.

Clifford Irving (Gere) is a hack, a plagiarist and a compulsive liar. He tries to palm off rip-offs of Philip Roth novels as his own in his desperate desire to be taken seriously as a writer and to make some of the sweet do-re-mi that he so craves. His Swiss wife Edith (Marcia Gay Harden) has forgiven much of his lying and infidelity in the past, but, as an artist herself (not of the bullshit variety), she has a high tolerance for even more of the same.

With the rejection of his rip-off of Portnoy’s Complaint (which he stupidly calls Rodrick’s Problem - subtle, that) by illustrious publishers McGraw Hill, Irving hits upon an idea fiendishly foolproof in its intricacies: a fabricated autobiography of reclusive billionaire eccentric Howard Hughes.

Rating:

Love & Honor (Bushi no ichibun)

dir: Yoji Yamada
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Topping off his trilogy of films about samurai on the lowest rung of the feudal order, Yoji Yamada’s most recent flick again looks at a few months in the life of a down-and-out but noble swordsman.

They’re not linked in any other way apart from being about poor samurai at the mercy of their more powerful masters, but the three films, Twilight Samurai, Hidden Blade and this one all carry through the same themes of devotion to family above duty, and the reluctant carrying-out of duty in order to safeguard one’s loved ones.

As

Love and Honor opens, samurai Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) hates his job, and jokes with his wife about giving up his status and becoming a kendo instructor to the poor and wealthy alike.

Who doesn’t hate their fucking day job? I guess some people must like them, else the productive world would fall apart. Maybe guys working in a slaughterhouse love their jobs. Police? They love their jobs. Proctologists? Well, if they don’t love their job, you wonder what keeps them coming back.

Well, whatever it is that keeps Mimura coming back, it isn’t a love of being a food taster for the local lord. When he is accidentally poisoned, one of the side-effects is permanent blindness, which really puts a dent in his and everyone else’s day.

Rating:

Road to Guantanamo, The

dir: Michael Winterbottom & Matt Whitecross
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This is an odd film, on a number of levels and for a number of reasons. In essence it is a dramatic recreation of events occurring in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the US, specifically as they relate to three unfortunate British-Pakistani guys. It blends talking head documentary style footage with film footage in an attempt to display and explain what happened when they found themselves in the wrong place at the absolute worst time possible.

Called the Tipton Three, four young lads travel from their local hood over to Pakistan, allegedly so that one of them, Asif (Afran Usman) can get married to a local girl. I say allegedly for reasons that will become clear later in the review, or at least clearer. The timing of their visit to this part of the world couldn’t be more fortuitous, because it’s just after 9/11.

For even more unclear reasons, they end up in Afghanistan, just after the retaliation has begun for the destruction of the World Trade Centre towers and of America’s illusion of invulnerability. The lads, losing one of their number, end up in the hands of the Northern Alliance, who effectively sell them to US forces.

Rating:

Bug

dir: William Friedkin
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Friedkin has had a many and varied career, probably best known for the classic horror flick The Exorcist. However many and varied his abilities might be, we should, at the very least, expect him to know how to depict all kinds of crazy on the silver screen. Oh, and he does.

Bug is based on a play, and it pretty much looks like a play, since most of it transpires in a single hotel room, with a few outside and aerial shots to make you forget how much like a play it really seems. There are more than two actors, as well, but mostly it’s a two-hander between Ashley Judd, yet again playing a white trash down-and-out with substance abuse problems and poor taste in men, and Michael Shannon, who regularly plays lunatics in movies.

And what this kind of story needs is people that are comfortable with playing absolute lunatics for the majority of a movie’s length.

Agnes (Judd) lives in a hotel room and waits tables in a nearby bar. She is clearly an alcoholic, loves her ganja and doesn’t mind the old crack/crystal meth pipe. In the flick’s opening minutes, we see that she’s probably been on the downward spiral for a while, and the silent, harassing phone calls from, she suspects, her recently paroled ex Jerry (Harry Connick Jr), are tipping her further over the edge.

Rating:

Infamous

dir: Douglas McGrath
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The makers of this flick must have been sooooo pissed off when Capote came out, with Philip Seymour Hoffman being lauded to the high heavens and beyond. It guaranteed that no matter how splendiferous Infamous turned out to be, it was always going to be seen as an also-ran, as a bandwagon-jumper, as opportunistic.

I’m talking about amongst critics. The general public wouldn’t care, because the general public never went and watched Capote in the first place. The general public couldn’t care less about Truman Capote, and probably think that if he isn’t the president who dropped the bomb on Japan, he’s the guy The Truman Show was based on.

Even if In Cold Blood is still a book that appears on the syllabus for many a high school student, an investigation into the life and times of its author hardly seems like a timely endeavour. The fact that two such films came out in such close proximity shouldn’t point to a resurgence in Capote-mania. It’s probably more a case of one studio hearing about another studio going for the prestige market, and deciding they’d get theirs out there too. Kind of like an Armageddon/Deep Impact, Dante’s Peak/Volcano, Triumph of the Will/It’s a Wonderful Life type situation.

Rating:

Black Book (Zwartboek)

dir: Paul Verhoeven
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Sure, Paul Verhoeven has directed a few decent flicks in his long career, but Starship Troopers, Total Recall and Robocop were a long time ago. And they were sci-fi films.

When you think of what directors you’d hire to direct a flick about the exploits of a Dutch Jewish woman fighting with the Resistance against the Nazis just before the end of World War II, you don’t think of Verhoeven.

This is, after all, the guy who gave us the gift of Sharon Stone’s vagina in Basic Instinct, the invisible rapist fantasy of Hollow Man, and the crime against acting and humanity that is Showgirls. Showgirls is, in terms of how it treats its female characters, and the English language, the stripper version of Battlefield: Earth. That great British director Michael Powell’s career virtually ended after he made the reviled but masterful Peeping Tom in the early 60s, and yet Verhoeven continued to be allowed to make films after Showgirls, is proof positive that there is no higher power or justice in the universe. Because no metaphysical system could allow for such evil to go unpunished.

Rating:

Venus

dir: Roger Michell
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It may be based on something written by Hanif Kureishi, but you have to wonder whether Peter O’Toole played a role in writing his own eventual eulogy before the fact (he’s still alive as of Sept 2007).

Much to most people’s surprise, especially considering his notorious womanising and boozing escapades many decades ago, O’Toole is still alive and acting. Despite looking like a Madame Tussaud’s wax sculpture of himself, despite looking like the Grim Reaper accidentally forgot to mark him off the reaping list, and will get around to him quite soon, he’s still kicking and screaming. And, if this flick is to be believed, aching for some pussy.

How crude, eh? It’s not the kind of language my loyal readers have come to expect and demand from me, eh? Sure, a bit of swearing is par for the course, but not gutter-talk like that. Right?

Well, if you’ve seen Venus, you’ll actually think what I wrote was accurate and appropriate. And positively tame in comparison.

Rating:

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

dir: Scott Glosserman
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You might have thought that Scream and its pale shadow sequels were going to be the last word on self-aware horror flicks deconstructing the horror genre even as they celebrate their dearest clichés. But no.

There’s more of that filthy, filthy lucre to mine by taking more trips to the well. In truth, these kinds of self-aware flicks will always be viable, and always be relevant as long as horror flicks keep being made.

The reason is that, as an audience member, you often sit there wondering why the characters in a horror film who are seemingly trapped in a building they can’t get out of and being stalked by an implacable killer don’t realise they are in a horror film. The willing suspension of disbelief necessarily has to extend to allowing for the protagonists, police chiefs, their neighbours and work colleagues to have never seen a horror flick in order to not know what the conventions are governing their survival or death, and therefore what is going to happen to them next.

Rating:

Half Nelson

dir: Ryan Fleck
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Cracksmoking high school teacher. It’s a four word movie premise that sells itself. No wonder Ryan Gosling, who is definitely becoming an actor to watch out for, garnered a Best Actor nomination for this flick last year. It’s not on the strength of the performance, which is tremendous and irritating at the same time. It’s because the crack addict teacher angle is the purest of Oscar baits.

There’s not really a lot to the story past that. There’s a white teacher in a classroom with predominately African-American and Hispanic students. He tries to teach them history, but in a way that avoids the text books and engages them to look at history through its conflicts in the form of dialectic reasoning: arguments and counter-arguments.

When first we see him we sense that he has something of a rapport with the kids, and engages them in a way that is beyond the perfunctory. At first, we don’t sense that there’s anything particularly wrong with him or with anything else for that matter. We sense that teaching at the school must be difficult, and that he looks a bit rundown, but other than that, it wouldn’t be anything that a good night’s sleep and a shave wouldn’t fix.

Rating:

Stranger Than Fiction

dir: Marc Foster
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There were few films stranger yet more accessible last year, and it’s been a while since Charlie Kaufman has had one of his bizarro-world scripts made into a movie. Stranger than Fiction is a case of truth in advertising. It really is stranger than most fictional films have any right to be, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

For the purposes of clarity, I’m not saying this flick has a Kaufman script attached: the writer of idiot/savant treasures like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had nothing to do with Stranger than Fiction. It does however possess a script that these days we’d call Kaufmanesque. The actual screenplay is thanks to Zach Helm, who seems to be sniffing from the same batch of glue as Kaufman at the very merry least.

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an emotionally stunted dweeb who goes about his life and job as a tax auditor with mathematical, mechanical precision. He has no life outside of the calculation of how many toothbrush strokes he’s performed, steps walked to work or amount of strokes he takes to achieve orgasm. He has no family, no friends, no pets, and no real reason to keep breathing, as far as I can tell.

Rating:

Flyboys

dir: Tony Bill
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I guess it seemed like prime time for a World War I war movie right about now. War flicks about WWII are a bit played out, no-one wants to watch contemporary ones to be reminded of the hell the world is presently for many people. Why not go back in time to an era where American involvement in a war was considered a good thing? Who are YOU to say no?

So it’s The Great War. 1916. The fields of Verdun, France. The Germans are warming up for the real fight in a few decades time by sending a young Hitler, amongst millions of others, to die and rot in the trenches of Europe. The English and French are fighting the good fight as the US, in the form of Woodrow Wilson, the second coolest named President the US has had so far, dithers and looks on in growing horror. Mechanical flight, having been recently invented, is applied to the battlefield because of the obvious advantages of being able to survey and travel greater distances and to be able to rain death from above. And to look like Errol Flynn whilst doing it.

Rating:

Last Train to Freo

dir: Jeremy Sims
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Well, this week’s a real bogan fest here at movie-reviews.com.au, because we have another Australian flick that is utterly dependant on criminal bogans as two of its main characters. Hooray!

Last Train to Freo, surprisingly enough, is about some people travelling on the last train (for that night) to Fremantle, the West Australian port city south of Perth. Two of the people on the train are clearly dangerous criminal thugs. And, as often happens on public transport, thugs can often be overcome with the delusion that they are charismatic and special, and that everyone on the train wants to hear from them.

It’s a delightful circumstance to be trapped in. It’s happened to me a few dozen times, so I assume it’s happened to you, gentle reader. These characters are at the mercy not of the private companies that now run most of the trains in Australia, but of the tyranny of distance and these two thugs.

The thugs (Steve Le Marquand and Tom Budge) clearly have no problem with jail time, with personal space or human dignity. One is tall, hideous and grandiose (Marquand), the other is a nervy and crazy junkie (Budge), but in a seemingly less dangerous way. They discuss various moronic topics on their journey before they are joined by the other passengers.

Rating:

Suburban Mayhem

dir: Paul Goldman
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This flick could have been called “When Bogans Attack”, but I guess it wouldn’t be as credible a title. It would also have conjured images of some Steve Irwin nature doco type tracking down and wrestling with bogans in their Western suburbs habitats.

Katrina Skinner (Emily Barclay) is a lethal bogan proving, if nothing else, the old adage that the female of the species can be much deadlier than the male. She is a rampaging sociopath who cares not one whit for any of the people around her, including her baby Bailey. She is an absolutely narcissistic bitch who draws the line at no extremes and cannot be stopped by man or machine, like a classic monster movie fiend.

No one goes the silver bullets / cross and wooden stake route, but maybe they should have thought about it. Or even the cleansing fire, and lots of it.

The film begins with a funeral, that of Katrina’s father John (Robert Morgan), whose death seems untimely. Even at the start, Katrina’s lamentations seem forced and overdone, and the rest of the film catches us up on what really happened to send Daddy to his maker.

Rating:

Ten Canoes

dir: Rolf de Heer & David Djigirr
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For the first Australian film made entirely in an indigenous language, Ten Canoes has quite modest ambitions. There’s nothing political or activist going on, it’s not representing anything that deep or significant about indigenous culture, contemporary problems or earnest, well-meaning social commentary. So you can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Ah, that’s better.

It’s just a story within a story about a bunch of people living at the top end of Australia before colonisation. Pretty simple. They make fart jokes, they believe superstitious nonsense about sorcerers and people doing bad stuff to them by putting spells on their shit, and they sometimes covet each other’s wives. Simple people living simple lives.

We are introduced to the storyteller, voiced by David Gulpilil, who pretends he’s going to start the story with ‘a long time ago, in a land far, far away’, then takes that back after laughing. He then tells us gradually of the Dreamtime process of birth for his ancestors, and the way of all births, being the soul waiting at their individual waterholes until it becomes time for them to be put in their mother’s womb before being born.

Rating:

Beerfest

dir: Jay Chandrasekhar
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Beerfest is one of the dumbest films I’ve seen in recent memory. Ordinarily, such an opening statement would guarantee a litany of abuse to follow for thousands upon thousands of pointless words. But it’s actually a complement in this case.

There are a lot of dumb films that are highly enjoyable and very entertaining. Classic dumb films include Porky’s, Bloodlust, Strange Brew, Half Baked, Con Air, Road House, Double Impact and Battleship Potemkin. Of course, most of the films that have ever been made are dumb, just not intentionally dumb.

The people who make those movies whose titles end in “Movie”, like Epic Movie, Date Movie, Scary Movie, try to make dumb films that are entertaining, and by and large they are failing miserably, so miserably. It makes me sad to think of them, sad like a lawn mower running over your cute puppy.

But here the formula for dumbness has worked. There’s crudity, bodily fluids, old people swearing, heroic consumption of alcohol, gratuitous nudity, bestiality and clear references to the great WWII submarine movie Das Boot.

Rating:

2006 Film Year in Review

dir: Andrew Moshos

It was the best of years, it was the blurst of years, to quote Mr Burns from The Simpsons reading something written by one of thousands of monkeys typing away at thousands of typewriters. There were a few really good films this year, a lot of crappy films, but there were a lot of mediocre films too. Mediocre movies are worse than outright shite movies.

Rating:

Night at the Museum

dir: Shawn Levy
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I know, I know, no-one really expects me to be capable of sitting through a PG-rated flick without a straitjacket being involved, and those metal clasps keeping my eyes open. But I do, on occasion, watch flicks you would ordinarily require children to gain entry to if you’re not going to have parents looking at you like they were advertising for babysitters and you arrived dressed up like Michael Jackson.

Night at the Museum, something which looks utterly stupid, was playing at the IMAX theatre located just around the corner from where I live, and my significantly better half evinced an interest in seeing it on the super silver screen, so we trundled over to check it out.

I’m not remarkably surprised by the fact that I enjoyed the flick and got a few laughs out of it, but let’s just say it helps to have spent the last few weeks inundated with nieces and nephews making every moment a screaming, whining living hell. Of course, escaping to a packed theatre full of kids would seem like jumping out of the frying pan and into a nuclear reactor, but at least a couple of hours respite from the particular kids I’m talking about was still appreciated. When will the War on Christmas be finally won, anyway?

Rating:

Charlotte's Web

dir: Gary Winick
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The prospect of watching a new, big-budget version of a children’s classic is quite daunting. The big budget means they have to cater to the widest of wide and low-brow audiences, and the ‘classics’ origins means they’re either going to offend the purists or bore the unwashed who are also unread.

And Charlotte’s Web hardly needed to be made. Sure, the cartoon from the 70s wasn’t exactly gold, but director George Miller pretty much remade Charlotte’s Web a bunch of year’s ago and called it Babe to much acclaim.

That being the case, the film Charlotte’s Web is most reminiscent of, of course, is Babe. It has the same use of CGI mouths for talking animals, and a bunch of humans in key roles as well. What it has on top of that is a lot of celebrity voices meant to make audiences “Awww” instead of going “eh”.

Could Charlotte’s Web not have been made without the voices of Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, John Cleese, Steve Buscemi et al? Was anyone staring at a poster for this film and thinking, “this is going to be crap, I’m not taking the squealing piglets along to this”, then saw the list of people supplying wise cracks and thought “Wow, how wrong was I, it has celebrity voices! I’m taking everyone I know and their dog to see this one now?”

Rating:

Catch a Fire

dir: Phillip Noyce
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There were a number of reasons to be dubious about this flick. It’s a film set in South Africa in the 80s, but the title of the film is a Bob Marley album title, the music in the trailer is all Marley and the Wailers, the two most prominent roles in the film are played by Americans (Derek Luke and Tim Robbins) and the theme seemed to be how torture by the nasty state compels otherwise docile serfs into becoming terrorists.

In other words, it looked like a crapfest drowning in commercial clichés. Like Hotel Rwanda from a few years ago, I had to wonder how it was possible to make films about places in Africa where you don’t actually want Africans or Afrikaans playing any of the lead roles.

But then again, this is directed by Phillip Noyce, who has made a remarkable career for himself as both a hack of extraordinary hackiness (The Saint, Sliver, Clear and Present Danger) and a socially conscious director of extraordinary deftness (Newsfront, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American). It’s hard to understand how he balances the two aspects out, but I’m sure it’s probably to do with juggling his practical need for securing funding and his higher need to tell a meaningful story every now and then.

Rating:

Candy

dir: Neil Armfield
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Based on the novel by Luke Davies, Candy is the story of two junkies in love. And that’s about it. As movies about drug addiction go, Candy is a decent enough offering, although it really doesn’t say much that we haven’t heard many times before.

It hits all the right and predictable notes these stories always cover, because many elements of addiction are universal. Movies like this tend to follow the same path: the good times, the bad times, and then hopefully beating the addiction.

It completely lacks the stylistic excess and overwhelming viciousness of a filthy masterpiece like Trainspotting, and gains the greater credibility for it.

So the characters start off crazy in love, with the drugs being the cherry on top. The drugs inevitably take over their lives and relationship, and destroy everything in their path. The third stage, if the characters are lucky, is their chance at redemption.

Dan (Heath Ledger) and Candy (Abbie Cornish) are young Sydney artistic types who dabble with heroin in the beginning, because they don’t have much else in their lives. They don’t seem to have much else to do apart from have sex, use heroin, write poetry and paint pretty paintings. As their supply of money dwindles, and their addiction grows, they face harder and harder choices.

Rating:

Borat

dir: Larry Charles
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The full title of the movie is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Perhaps the title should more clearly represent what the film is: an affront to human dignity. So, had I the power to change the title, it would be something more like: Borat: People are Pigs.

I know why Sacha Baron Cohen puts himself in these horrific situations: because it has lead to fame and fortune, whether as Borat or Ali G or in the other roles he is starting to get in Hollywood. But that doesn’t make watching him put himself into increasingly dangerous situations to provoke laughs down the track any easier to handle.

If this is a comedy, and mind you, I said ‘if’, it is generally the comedy of discomfort, where watching people do or say awful things makes us cringe and hopefully laugh uncontrollably. But in many ways this movie is little different from the MTV Jackass series and movies where Johnnie Knoxville and his crew of mental defectives cause themselves and each other extreme amounts of pain for our amusement. The difference is that in the Jackass films, the participants are volunteering to drink horse semen or jump head first into sewerage.

Rating:

Kokoda

dir: Alister Grierson
[img_assist|nid=876|title=Don't have a heart attack, boys|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=298]
For most countries, the most powerful and enduring myths they possess have to do with war. Australia is no different. I’m not using the term ‘myth’ in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that mythologising aspects of history is part of the formation of a nation’s identity.

Rating:

Thank You for Smoking

dir: Jason Reitman
[img_assist|nid=881|title=And thank you for the cocaine|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=463]
Maybe it says more about me than the film, but it took me a while to realise this flick was meant to be a satirical comedy, and that it wasn’t a documentary.

Okay, so I’m bullshitting, but most of the material here is less of an outright parody than it is a fairly accurate (in spirit) depiction of the manner in which most of modern society is dependent upon people selling out at every level. Taken further, moral compromise and capitulation is a necessary part of getting by in the modern era.

Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is a master of the dark arts of spin. He lives and breathes arguments and loves nothing more than verbally demolishing adversaries with his well-chosen words and rapid-fire delivery. He talks, talks and talks for most of the movie’s 92 minute running time.

And what does he say? He’s a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, the conglomeration of tobacco companies desperately trying to retain their place in a country where they’re under attack in the media, in the courts, and by the government, all for the sensitive, innocuous crime of selling a product which causes hundreds of thousands of deaths per year.

Rating:

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

dir: Chan-wook Park
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Considering the sheer quantity of crap that comes out at the cinemas and on DVD, it’s refreshing to occasionally get excited about a specific director’s work. It’s a grand affair to ‘discover’ a director whose work you’ve known nothing about before, whose work opens up a whole new world for you. You search out their earlier films, and you eagerly anticipate their new flicks.

The Chan-wook Park film I saw was Oldboy, just before the Lumiere cinema shut down, a year or two ago. The film, to put it mildly, and Americanly, rocked my world. It was a revelation, and not only did I set out to find out if his other films were as masterful, but I also became even more interested in checking out Korean films in general.

If you’re lucky, when this happens, you discover that the director and his people are even better film makers than you expected from the first effort you got to see. If you’re unlucky, you find out they’re a lucky bunch of hacks and their one good film was a fluke. You know, like Star Wars.

Rating:

Jindabyne

dir: Ray Lawrence
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My biggest fear regarding this flick was that it would scale the heights of cinematic tedium first Sir Edmund Hillary-ied by Ray Lawrence’s previous film Lantana. It’s a serious concern. You have no idea how dull I found Lantana, and how much I dread his fucking films.

But Jindabyne came along, with a suitcase and a song, and I put aside my prejudices, impressed by the moody trailers and good press, and the fact it had Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney in it.

I’d also heard that it was based on a Raymond Carver short story, about the only Carver short story I’m familiar with: So Much Water, So Close to Home. Anyone who’s seen (and remembers) the Robert Altman film Short Cuts might recall it too. One of the parts of that interlocking sequence of stories concerned a bunch of morons who go on a fishing trip, find a dead girl’s body, and choose not to report it for a while so that they don’t have to spoil their fishing trip.

Rating:

Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

dir: Gore Verbinski
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If some films are like non-stop rollercoaster rides, this one here is the rollercoaster ride as viewed by someone on the ground. It’s an endless series of continuous action set pieces which don’t really amount to much but sure are fun to the people on board.

In this case, the go switch is stuck on the ride, the operator is too busy reading a nudie magazine to notice, and the thrills on board have evaporated as the passengers check their watches and just want to get off.

You could never accuse these flicks of lacking characters or plot. Dead Man’s Chest has enough plot for a dozen action-adventure-fantasy-pirate flicks, and enough characters for a Broadway production of Les Miserables.

At the end of the first flick, it seemed Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) were going to live happily ever after, with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) having regained control of his beloved ship the Black Pearl, off to commit more dastardly piratical acts.

The beginning of the sequel finds our heroic couple stymied in their attempts to enter into the devilish contract known as marriage by evil aristocrat Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), who works on behalf of the East India Trading Company.

Rating:

Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story

dir: Michael Winterbottom
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Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story, is not really an adaptation of the novel by Laurence Sterne. Like Adaptation, which is not an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, but a film about not being able to adapt The Orchid Thief, Tristam Shandy is more about people pretending to put on an adaptation of the novel rather than actually doing so. Whether budget constraints or the experimental desires of the director have resulted in this outcome, anyone wanting or expecting a faithful version will be sorely disappointed.

But it is a faithful adaptation of the spirit of the anarchic novel, which features the same kinds of digressions, blurrings of protagonist, author and story, and overall absurdly mundane madness.

Most of all, the flick is about Steven Coogan. And not about the ‘real’ Steve Coogan, but the character of Steve Coogan that he tends to play for shits and giggles, as the phrase goes. It’s a persona, it has to be. Coogan has gotten so much goddamn mileage from playing his smarmy character that if it’s really how he is, someone surely would have killed him by now.

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Superman Returns

dir: Bryan Singer
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Superman Returns is a re-jigging of an ancient franchise with the express intention of making more money from something old in lieu of inventing anything exciting and new. And, just like an episode of the Love Boat, there is the need to preserve the familiar (Superman’s powers, origins, and squareness, Lois Lane, Metropolis, Lex Luthor, kryptonite) whilst including enough new stuff to not make the producers look like the lazy, intellectually bankrupt cretins that they are.

Perhaps I speak too harshly of people I’ve never met. Perhaps you believe I should give one of the producers, Jon Peters, the benefit of the doubt. He was, after all, Barbra Streisand’s hairdresser before he became a producer. Not only that, he is rumoured to be an illiterate and violent man too stupid to know how dumb his ideas are. As such, he was uniquely qualified to produce such masterpieces as the first re-jigged Batman, that awful infected haemorrhoid of a movie Wild Wild West, and Bonfire of the Vanities.

At least they had Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men films and The Usual Suspects at the helm of this flick, to try to redeem a project over a decade in the making and destined for mediocrity.

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Cars

dir: John Lasseter
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The title doesn’t lie. It really is about cars. Imagine a world where the only organic matter is plant life, and everything else is cars. Even the flies are tiny cars.

But for all intents and purposes, the cars are people. Not Soylent Green. People. The windshield is their eyes, the radiator grill at the front is their mouth, and they talk, drive around and even fall in love.

They can also be arrogant, ignorant, dopey, loving and nostalgic about the past. Especially a past where people took the time to just slowly drive around, instead of racing everywhere at top speed. They also had small town values, and loved, I dunno, a shiny chassis, a good paint job every once in a while, and a nice tune by James Taylor or Randy Newman.

In short, these are cars that aren’t really imagined to be that different from the people sitting in the audience: smug, comfortable, middle-class consumers.

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Inside Man

dir: Spike Lee
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This would have to be the most conventional film Lee has made in his career, and of his recent films, one of his most successful.

Lacking the elegiac tone of The 25th Hour, it’s still another love letter to New York in the shape of a crime thriller with more stars than it has work for. Really, it’s too many. I’m sure Jodie Foster doesn’t really need the extra money.

Lee’s not as prolific as Woody Allen, but fellow New York spruiker Spike Lee does pump the flicks out. He has a bigger cast than usual, and a script written by someone else for once, alongside a bigger budget probably than many of his other films combined.

It’s unlikely that the racial and class themes permeating his earlier work have been abandoned. Here, they’re mostly put on hold in order to deliver a mainstream heist flick with a high wattage cast that doesn’t outstay its welcome, and, though profoundly unlikely in its conclusion, doesn’t make me want to punch random strangers in the crotch.

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