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8 stars

Okja

Okja

Being tasty appears to be very bad for your health.
Smoking's cool, though.

dir: Bong Joon-ho

2017

Sublime. Silly. Surreal.

That’s my all encompassing take on Korean cinema in general and the films of Bong Joon-ho in particular. Like all generalisations, it ignores a lot of nuances and detail to say something so simplistic and reductive, but, hey, at least I just made a generalisation about generalisations.

I would not be exaggerating to say that Okja is the strange reason I started subscribing to Netflix. Having had the ‘flix for the last month or so, and this isn’t a thinly veiled ad for the service, I can honestly say, what the fuck was I waiting for? Not to blow too much smoke up their collective arses, but it is incredible how much stuff I’ve gotten to watch through subscribing to this service. How did I live before…?

And why was it Okja that broke the seal on my intransigence? I dunno, but for some reason I was enthralled by its existence, and I couldn’t think of any other way to watch it when I wanted to watch, which was the day of its release, soon after its premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it received… tepid to okay reviews. The main point of contention at the time, if I recall (it’s not like I was there, it’s just what I read), that many of the people at the screenings objected to something being promoted at Cannes that wasn’t really intended for cinemas, despite the much bigger budget that Bong had access to, which was probably bigger than all the other film budgets he’s ever had combined.

I don’t know how to feel about that. It’s seems a bit Luddite, a bit petty, and a bit wilfully ignorant of the changes in the media landscape to boo a film before it’s even screened with a nasally French accent to the booing, no less. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed in this life that denying something is happening doesn’t actually make that thing not happen. If it did, I can assure you, a lot of stuff that happened this year never would have troubled us, because they would have been willed out of existence.

Rating:

Paterson

Paterson

No, this is nothing like any season of Girls, don't be too disappointed

dir: Jim Jarmusch

2016

A movie from one of my favourite directors. Being a godless heathen, my Christmas happens every time a film from one of my favourite directors comes out. This is the reason; their films are gifts to the world, maybe, but mostly to me. Sometimes, I know how weird this sounds, they even seem specifically made for me.

Of course, sometimes, for Christmas, or Hanukah, or for your birthday, sometimes you get socks, a voucher to a naturopath clinic or a punch in the goolies (depends on the family, naturally).

Paterson is like almost every other Jarmusch film, with his own sense of time, with all his obsessions / interests up on the screen, and yet it also takes the time to (perhaps) advocate for the idea that anyone, including the viewer, can find an outlet for their own creativity, and that regardless of what they do for their daily bread, their efforts are just as worthy as those of any of the artists they might idolise.

Rating:

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

Maybe they'll hook up, get married, have a baby, call him Nate, if he's a boy

dir: Kenneth Lonergan

2016

Well, that was exhausting. Manchester by the Sea is a long arse movie, but even its length doesn’t matter as much as its content. And what miserable content it is.

Casey Affleck, the shorter Affleck, the younger Affleck, won an Academy Award for this role. I’m not going to argue that it is ill-deserved, or should have gone to anyone else, because that’s pointless. It doesn’t matter anyway. But to get this most “highest” of honours for this role seems…surprising.

I think it’s surprising because the character is so much like the walking dead from that show whose title escapes me at the moment, except he doesn’t want fresh brains or anything else to eat. He, being Lee, is dead inside. He goes through the motions of his work, which requires talking to people, but he hates talking to people. It seems to cause him physical discomfort.

This isn’t the latest in a long line of autism-spectrum dramas trying to illuminate aspects of the human experience through portraying the way some people are completely anti-social but good at math or shooting people or something like that. Lee’s not on the spectrum, he’s just dead inside from grief.

It takes a while to find out what happened, but the more pressing factor, at least from Lee’s perspective, is that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has just died, which forces Lee to drive to a place, the place of the title, that he can’t stand to be in.

Rating:

Moonlight

Moonlight

Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale... good gods what is that?

dir: Barry Jenkins

2016

What a way to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Long after people have forgotten what the flick was about they’ll remember, just like those jokes about Marisa Tomei winning for My Cousin Vinny way back in the day, people will be joking about how it was announced by Bonnie and Clyde, in their final act of defiance, that La La Land had won, when in fact Moonlight was the actual winner.

And it made for quite an awkward speech to cap the night off, from both the people who thought they’d won, and the ones who actually won.

Who cares anyway – the Oscars are meaningless, really, the actual awards don’t mean anything other than marketing.

And yet, it is fucking bizarre that this flick won Best Picture. I have to believe that however the votes from the Academy members were tabulated, I can’t believe that thousands of old white people watched this and thought it was the best flick of the year.

I say this as someone who watched it and liked it, and who thinks it’s absurd that a flick like this can even be compared with something like La La Land. It’s like comparing lasagne to clouds, or frogs to espadrilles.

Rating:

La La Land

La La Land

I prefer this poster because it makes it look like a completely different
flick from the one it actually is. This ain't no Goddard flick, though maybe
it's a remake of Breathless and no-one told me.

dir: Damien Chazelle

2016

It’s like… don’t they realise how out of place something like this is right now, in this day and age?

Don’t the makers and stars of La La Land realise that the place society seems to be leaning towards is more Fear the Walking Dead rather than Umbrellas of Cherbourg or Singing in the Rain?

They couldn’t have known, I guess, when they were making it that it would look like some anachronistic relic, like something completely at odds with the zeitgeist it would be released into. This flick says nothing about our anxieties, our fears, however concrete or abstract as they may be, but it does speak sweetly to our hopes and dreams.

Turns out, as long as we try our darnedest at whatever the hell it is we most want in the world and don’t give up, and we look like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, then eventually we’ll get exactly what we want, because this is a universe that rewards people’s most heartfelt desires and their specific attractiveness, instead of a realm that crushes everything in the vast uncaring coldness of oblivion.

This is exactly the kind of cynicism that a film like La La Land is trying to transcend, and why the hell not? These dark times we live in need some spark of light, some reminders that eventually, maybe, things will be a tad brighter? Or that maybe the staggering darkness isn’t as all pervasive as it seems?

Rating:

Moana

Moana

Ohhhhhhh, who lives in a pineapple under the sea, Dwayne The Rock Johnson!
Absorbent and yellow and porous is he? Dwayne The Rock Johnson!

dir: Ron Clements and John Musker

2016

Another year, another Disney princess movie, another attempt from Disney to wring another billion or two out of the world through ticket sales and cross-promotional opportunities.

And this year’s princess is dark skinned! Hooray for diversity and equality and the melting pot and all that.
The fact that it’s “just” another princess flick is mocked within the flick itself, when the only other character chastises Moana by pointing out that she’s a girl, with an amusing sidekick, on some kind of journey (unspoken: that this is occurring in a Disney flick), so she’s a princess.

So, with that out of the way, are we meant to get over the fact that it’s another goddamn princess flick from the mega-entertainment Leviathan that is the Disney dream factory, and just sing along with all the songs?
Yes, yes we are.

I am cynical enough to see the naked self-aggrandising in something made so shamelessly with input from teams of marketers and sensitivity-focused PR flacks. I am not so cynical as to be incapable of enjoying it anyway. I don’t care about the ethnicity of the people doing to voices, I just care if what those voices are saying, singing or muttering is funny / entertaining / diverting / awful or whatevs.

Rating:

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

The only thing strange about this guy is his facial hair. And his clothes.
And his name. And his accent. But other than that, Doctor Normal.

dir: Scott Derrickson

2016

Sometimes just letting me see trippy visuals is enough. More than enough. That’s all I’m asking for, sometimes.

Really, I’m that cheap a date.

I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy this as much as I did, but that’s because mostly I think my decision-making abilities have taken a hit in the last couple of weeks. When presented with the option of watching Arrival, that new, apparently thoughtful and uplifting science fiction film starring Amy Adams, or Doctor Strange, Marvel’s latest attempt to absorb the entirety of the world’s money, I chose the path of least intellectual requirement.

Yep, I had the choice of watching something emotionally engaging and intellectually satisfying, and something that looked cool and trippy, and I essentially opted, or at least argued in favour of the Happy Meal option.

Why? Well, I could wax rhapsodically about the actual darkness that has started spreading across the world, and how at the moment I just don’t have it in me to engage intellectually or hopefully with anything right now. I just can’t even, as the lazy phrase goes. It’ll come back, because it has to, but for now I just can’t goddamn stomach anything that requires me to think or feel too much about anything.

Rating:

Green Room

Green Room

I'm with the band, I swear. No, wait, nah, I'm not with the band,
never heard of them, let me out of here, please?

dir: Jeremy Saulnier

2016

As usual, instead of talking about the film I’m meant to be reviewing, I’m going to squander much of the start of the review and much of your patience talking about a completely different film. And I have to do that, or at least I feel like I have to do that, in order to point out what attracted me to the film under review in the first place.

Yes, this review is about Green Room, but the reason why I so desperately sought out Green Room is because I loved this director’s previous flick Blue Ruin ever so much. I loved it down to its gritty, grimy bones. It’s one of the best flicks of its kind that I’ve seen for decades, mostly because I haven’t seen anything like it in decades.

And Green Room, despite having a completely different story, has plenty of what I loved so much about Blue Ruin. There is craft involved here, real craft on the director’s part, and I really, really appreciate it.

And more!

Rating:

Zootopia

Zootopia

Wow, streets of New York are looking more like a zoo
every day

dir: Byron Howard and Rich Moore

2016

Though it seems unlikely, in the same week I get to review two movies with Zoo in the title, and one of them is utterly synapse-fryingly terrible, and the other one is truly great.

Guess which one is which: Zoolander 2 or Zootopia? Go on, take a minute.

Zootopia is wonderful, sweet and smart, even if it comes directly from Disney, and not one of its million acquisitions and appropriations. This is Pixar Quality! Well, maybe not as soul-renderingly touching as Inside Out, but it’s definitely up there.

Also, did you ever think you would get a Breaking Bad reference in a Disney animated flick in this, and not some other, universe?

It’s a strange world that gets conjured up here. Perhaps it’s as weird as one in which toys are alive when we’re not looking, or where the primary organisms in a world are all cars, but it’s novel all the same. In the world depicted here, all of what would be the ‘humans’ are all mammals, either herbivores or carnivores, but mammals all the same. It would be impossible to draw a one-to-one equivalent of a species standing in for a particular grouping or race of humans, but it’s undeniable (and unavoidable) that the film plays with notions of stereotyping and bigotry based on the perceived or actual qualities of classes of animals.

Rating:

The Jungle Book

Jungle Book

Look at these lazy good-for-nothing layabouts just laying about in the jungle

dir: Jon Favreau

2016

It may be a remake, but the current incarnation of the Jungle Book playing in cinemas is far more enjoyable and successful than I ever would have thought it deserved to be.

Jon Favreau isn’t really that respected as a director, and is more mocked for his existence as a shorter, fatter version of Vince Vaughn; an actor I have come to truly loathe. I don’t loathe Jon Favreau, in fact I’ve liked most of his flicks except for Chef, which was a terribly self-indulgent mess, I thought. Saying “I thought” at the end of that sentence seems awfully self-indulgent, but, you know what, I’m just trying to keep things conversational, okay?

I think he does okay as a director of comedic – actiony kind of flicks. I wouldn’t want him to direct adaptations of Wuthering Heights or Anna Karenina or nuthin’, but he seems to be, at least to me, a dab hand at light action fare. Most people probably remember him as a director of the first two Iron Man movies, and perhaps laugh a bit uncomfortably when the topic of Cowboys and Aliens is brought up.

Rating:

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War

When will these people learn that you can't run away from your problems?

dirs: The Russo Brothers

2016

Well.

That was a bit of a step up. After the dirge of a fiasco that was DC’s latest entry into the “We can do what Marvel does, too?”, we get Marvel stepping up and delivering something that’s a bit more focussed, a lot more solid than the last Avengers flick. And, for once, it makes it feel like there are some consequences, some further changes in the Marvel universe as a result of the actions of many of the main players in this flick.

Yes, there are too many superhero flicks. Yes, there are too many Marvel flicks, to the tune of two a year, all of them basically set ups for the next to follow.

Whatever. Even within the factory that’s pumping these out, we now have a Captain America film that could just have easily been called Iron Man V or Avengers Again! or anything else, but that is certainly not to the flick’s detriment. If anything, the fact that you could have called it anything including Marvel Wanty Much More of Your Money and it would still work fine.

Rating:

Spotlight

Spotlight

People. Doing people-type things. Trying to destroy the Catholic Church for
being the foul Human Centipede of religions that it is

dir: Tom McCarthy

2015

It might seem a bit unnecessary to review Spotlight at this late stage because, surely, this far into 2016, what does it really matter anyway?

Oh. Wait. Yeah, now I remember. This flick, which was probably only watched by members of the Academy and every journalist that still carries a torch for the nobility and doggedness of their profession (in other words, all of them) somehow managed to somehow win Best Picture.

Surely that counts for something, right?

I find it incredibly hard to believe that enough members of the Academy saw this in order to vote in numbers for it to achieve a plurality of votes over the other contenders. If anything the flick tries so hard to be downbeat that it’s almost an anti-movie. Sure, the actors wear makeup and act all over the place, but it’s really trying to show just how unglamorous the profession was way back in the dim, distant days of the year 2000.

It’s funny that this is essentially a period piece. What is less funny is that this film set at the beginning of the new millennium is about the systematic sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests with the Catholic Church’s knowledge stretching back through the decades. And, let’s face it, probably centuries.

Rating:

The Revenant

The Revenant

Even looking like this, well, you know, half the ladies in the audience
(as if there were that many ladies in the audience) wouldn't leave him
for dead in a shallow grave, if you know what I mean

dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu

2015

Again, I realise this flick has been out for oh so long, and various awards have been awarded and such, but I enjoyed the flick so much that I felt compelled to write about it.

Regardless of the absurd level of hype, and this was ridiculously overhyped, which is very strange considering what the flick was like and is actually about, this turned out to be a very enjoyable film for me that succeeds despite Leonardo DiCaprio, rather than because of him.

The movie around him, the amazing cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, the relentlessness of the very landscape around them, they all combine to deliver an awe-inspiring vision of frontier times. The story didn’t really resonate with me all that much, but I guess the performances, especially of Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleason and Will Poulter, were solid.

But the real main character? Nature, baby. C’mon, sparkle for me. Work it, sub-zero tundra!

This is set in the early 1800s, and it’s meant to be North Dakota in the States. The thing is, though, I don’t even have to look it up on imdb.com or Wikipedia to know that they must have filmed this in Canada. There is not a shred, a scintilla, a skerrick of a doubt in my mind that it was Canada. Whenever they want to film something that looks this amazing, and which tries to convince the viewer that humans who travel to these regions voluntarily are idiots, they film in these bits of Alberta.

Rating:

Deadpool

Deadpool

I wonder what they're implying about Americans and their guns with this poster?

dir: Tim Miller

2016

This was plenty enjoyable. Far more enjoyable than I would have predicted.

It’s funny, it moves at a brisk pace, it satirises itself and mockingly bites the hand that feeds, and it succeeds where it has absolutely no right to.

Yes, I enjoyed this movie.

Ryan Reynolds had no real right, imaginary or otherwise, to ever expect to succeed at his endeavour to get his own superhero franchise going. It’s just not appropriate.

First of all, he’s Canadian. Haven’t the Canadians taken enough from the rest of us? He married Scarlett Johhanson. Scarlett Johhanson. Then got bored of her and moved on. He already played Deadpool in the truly awful Wolverine: Origins or whatever the fuck it was called.

And he also played Hal Jordan / Green Lantern in the astoundingly bad movie of the same name. Did I mention that it was utterly terrible, too? Like, unwatchably, eye-gougingly terrible? Like being forced to eat a shit sandwich, while being punched in the face by someone clutching a shit sandwich?

Maybe that’s going too far. Maybe it’s not far enough.

Do you blame the man for all those failures? Seems awfully coincidental otherwise. Did he just happen to be passing by when these terrible, horrible no good movies were being made? “It wasn’t me, the movie was like that when I got here”

Rating:

The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens

To be a badass, one must first look the part of the badass.
And have a cool lightsaber.

dir: J.J. Abrams

2015

It’s with a sense of relief more than anything else that audiences have found themselves celebrating what’s happened. The relief comes from knowing that George Lucas isn’t involved anymore. It also comes from wondering what would happen once Disney got its grubby mitts on the biggest franchise in the cinematic / merchandising universe.

As a nerd of longstanding membership of the global dateless wonders club, yes, I did really enjoy this flick. Sure it’s got a stack of issues, but at no stage are you enduring the flick (like at many, many parts of the prequel movies) rather than enjoying it.

The most hackneyed and cliché remark that reviewers are going to make is the same one I’m going to make now: Lucas was and still maybe is a visionary capable of creating not just a ‘world’, or world-building, but of creating something on the scale of a galaxy. Galaxy-building is not a common thing, or an easy thing. And yes, by ‘creating’, I mean conceiving of and representing something on a truly grand scale. At no stage did anyone confuse this with him being a great storyteller or a great director of actors.

There Lucas sits in his great man-cave (the Skywalker Ranch), muttering to himself after being shown this: “If only they’d added more lightsabers. Something with fifteen lightsabers at the same time. More 50s diners and more drag racing. Also, awkward conversations about sand and feelings…”

Rating:

The Martian

The Martian

One man against an entire planet, and the planet loses

dir: Ridley Scott

2015

You’d have to really, really like Matt Damon to want to spend about 2 ½ hours with him, just watching him do chores and talking to himself.

I mean, I like him well enough, but even for me it requires a level of commitment I’m not sure I possessed.

And then there’s the Ridley Scott factor. The last occasion where I spent time with him as he ‘transported’ me to another planet , I’d shelled out a small fortune to watch Prometheus in an absurdly gilded theatre in 3D (the ones where they serve you food and or drinks during the film if you so desire, and the seats are individual recliners). Let’s just say that my determination to watch Prometheus at all costs in a cinema did not lead to an outcome where I thought the money it cost was well spent.

No, in fact had I spent the same amount of money on a bunch of crack and handed it to the first person I saw outside the theatre, it would have led to the same profound feeling of foolishness and disappointment.

Rating:

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

This is the part of the caption where I say something
pithy that mocks the poster or the actors on the poster

dir: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

2015

Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

If this never got the attention it required, if not that many people saw it who otherwise would have been the prime audience for it, then it’s a shame, but it all comes down to timing.

If the flick had been released before Fault in Our Stars, not a soul would have thought it was trying to cash in on some perceived teens-dying-of-cancer upsurge in audience interest. Released this year? Then it just looks like it’s jumping on a sickly bandwagon and riding some dubious coattails.

It’s a real shame, because the movies are nothing alike, and are both based on completely different books, and were being developed completely independently of each other.

I enjoyed Fault in Our Stars well enough, despite seeing how mawkishly sentimental it was, and how godawfully manipulative. It had good core performances (by Shaleen Woodley and the actors playing her parents at least), and a decent script especially as it related to the arsehole author Hazel worshipped and then loathed (played by Willem Dafoe). Nice soundtrack, too. It was always aimed at and intended for a non-discriminating mass audience, which it got in spades.

Although maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe putting “Dying Girl” in your film’s title isn’t going to have patrons kicking down the theatre’s doors to get in and see it

Rating:

Tangerine

Tangerine

It's nice that they used a beautiful image to promote it, because
honestly this image is prettier than anything that happens in this
scuzzy "masterpiece"

dir: Sean Baker

2015

In all honestly, this movie is like a Tom Waits song from a slightly alternate reality come to vivid, stinking, meth-smoking life.

It’s also one of the most bizarre Christmas related or Xmas-adjacent flicks I’ve ever seen.

Tangerine may seem to be too gimmicky to be taken seriously as a movie, as a ‘serious’ movie, but I think they made something pretty interesting.

If the first gimmick “major release arthouse flick with transgender leads” doesn’t put you off, then the second might: Tangerine was filmed on an iPhone and edited using the kinds of software anyone with a Mac has on their computer but rarely uses. Of course a bunch of stuff has been done to it in post, especially the soundtrack, but also the visuals have been cleared up / colour adjusted.

Technical details aside, Tangerine got a lot of press as it toured the film festival circuit, even playing at Melbourne’s International Film Festival before disappearing upon release. It was always going to be a hard sell outside of a very narrow niche.

Rating:

The Walk

The Walk

Sometimes you just really need to have a good lie down

dir: Robert Zemeckis

2015

The Walk. The Walk? What a supremely banal title!

How can you spend millions upon millions on a movie and give it such a simplistic title, eh?

Well, maybe, just maybe, Robert Zemeckis is more concerned with bringing a bizarre moment in New York history to life more so than whether there’s any actual interest in the potential audience for such an extravaganza based on a snazzy name.

This isn’t to be confused with another recent flick called The Walk which was about a completely different subject, that being the Camino pilgrimage across Spain that the faithful and the stupid take part in every year. That one was directed by Emilio Estevez and starred his father Martin Sheen. Charlie Sheen was… otherwise occupied.

This is about an altogether different kind of walk, and is unavoidably based on a true story. The reason I say “has to be” is not just because it is, but because there is absolutely no other way such a story could have been told had it not been true. It’s too bizarre otherwise.

The reason is, other than being about this allegedly famous “walk” between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, something which Americans are understandably a bit touchy about, the fact that those towers are no longer there means this flick is about more than just the walk itself.

Rating:

A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year

A Most Dangerous Couple, whereby she does not strike me as being a lady
you want to disappoint

dir: JC Chandor

2014

This will come as a surprise to you, but A Most Violent Year is not a particularly violent movie. There are a few instances of violence, but overall it isn’t even as violent as something with Adam Sandler in it. Yeah, I mean like Pixels.

The year in question is 1981. New York was a much different place then than it is now. Back then, well, your truck could be hijacked, and no-one would even notice. The police were deathly afraid to walk the streets. Only Charles Bronson and Dirty Harry kept the peace by shooting ethnic types in the face.

Times Square was still a bastion of sleaze and depravity, and the metropolis was a living hellhole because Rudy Giuliani hadn’t come along to clean the place up yet. This is, at least, the narrative people have been peddling about New York for the last few decades. You could work in a few references to Ronald Reagan, Milli Vanilli and the Cold War, maybe, but other than that it’s meant to be the bad old days of a city in decline.

The real danger, the real violence, we come to understand, is that being waged against one man’s ego, against his morals, against his very soul.

Honest businessman Abel Morales (the always impressive Oscar Isaacs) is that man.

Rating:

Trainwreck

Trainwreck

Oh, Amy, maybe you'll get so famous from this hit that you won't have to
yell "I'm Famous!" at the people at your gym in order to be let in

dir: Judd Apatow

2015

Amy Schumer plays a thinly veiled version of Amy Schumer in a romantic comedy about Amy’s difficulties with relationships and managing her copious consumption of booze and smoke.

Can she get away with this flagrant laziness?

It’d be like me playing a nervous Comic-Book Guy lookalike who drinks a lot and plays computer games late into the night.

It’s not a challenge. It wouldn’t even really register as fiction. It’d just be a sad documentary. I also can’t imagine there’s much of a market for it. Ryan Gosling is in talks about playing the lead as we speak, so, you know...

For Amy, though, there is a market for her not-so-unique brand of self-deprecating and caustic humour, resting, as it does, on pre-emptive admissions of what a drunken strumpet she is who doesn’t fit in comfortably with conventional standards of American / Hollywood 'beauty'.

The difference is (between my autobiographical existences and this movie), the massive difference is that Amy Schumer is incredibly funny and a great stand up performer who’s taken 11 or so years of hard work to get where she is. She’s hardly an overnight success, and she’s earned every dollar and every compliment, critical or otherwise.

Rating:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max Fury Road

That's just a terrifying vision to wake up to. It's enough to make you
want to go back to bed.

dir: Dr George Miller

2015

Well, that was completely and utterly BONKERS!

This flick was pretty much completely and utterly insane. Sorry, I’m just repeating myself, but, honestly, in terms of wall to wall action and oddness, and powerful one-armed women, this flick takes the cake.

It doesn’t just take the cake: it takes fistfuls of that cake and jams them into your eye and cakeholes until you almost can’t take it any more.

It’s usually an exaggeration to say that a film costing millions of dollars is crazy, because there are usually several million reasons why those crazy edges and moments of bizarreness are smoothed out long before the flick gets to the cinemas. So when I describe, as an example, elements of the thoroughly nutty Fast & the Furious films as being insane, I mean something completely different. In those flicks lazy hacks think of action scenes that would look cool and shape the films around them without bothering about where such things could or should happen. But, damn, wouldn’t they look pretty fucking cool if someone just says yes and lets them do it?

Rating:

Far from the Madding Crowd

Madding Crowd

Jeez, won't someone make a decision already? Base it on who
has the best facial hair, come on.

dir: Thomas Vinterberg

2015

In this current era of remaking the classics (which seems to have lasted since at least, oh, about 1915 up to the present), this is the most recent of the ‘classics’ of English Literature that I’ve been privileged enough to see, well, this week.

We haven’t exactly been deprived of ‘prestige’ period pieces in the last bunch of years. There were the recent versions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights that I got to see and enjoy. The world doesn’t need more Pride and Prejudice versions, but I don’t doubt they’re on the way. I have even less doubt that there are versions of Madame Bovary and a million Dickens redos about to come out too.

It’s all good, they’re classic stories, or should that be ‘classic’. Classic because people say they’re classic. Thomas Hardy is certainly someone from the high school homework section of the literary canon. There haven’t been umpteen versions of this story thus far; this is the second I can think of, so it’s not over-represented, for sure.

As such to many viewers the characters and story could be all shiny and new. To me, it is a book I remember fondly from, like, 25 years ago, and that I still have some affection for.

Rating:

While We're Young

While We're Young

Taking ayahuasca is not something people in their 40s should be doing.
You're meant to be arguing about tax returns and negative gearing and
prostate examinations! Also, private schools: good idea or great idea?

dir: Noah Baumbach

2015

I’ve barely recovered from the last time I watched a Noah Baumbach film. You could almost describe my symptoms as being “post-Baumbach stress disorder” after having endured Greenberg. I know that wasn’t his next to most recent flick (that being Frances Ha), but I’m still trying to reconcile the deeply visceral and hateful reaction I had to that earlier flick.

I was wary to enter into the lion’s den again. One shouldn’t return to one’s abusers. It’s not healthy. It reeks of co-dependence and unhealthy relationships. If a person abuses you, physically or mentally, there are no good reasons to spend time with them ever again. They don’t respect you, the way Baumbach seems to have no respect for his audiences, sometimes. That’s when you start the exceedingly complicated process of extracting yourself, which can take months, years even.

But hey, if you’re a masochist or a glutton for punishment, let the good times roll!

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The Skeleton Twins

Skeleton Twins

Woah, wait, it's not THAT kind of film about siblings. This ain't
no Flowers in the Attic type stuff

dir: Craig Johnson

2014

This is an odd film, but an enjoyable one, in that I enjoyed it, and it was odd. If the mantra has long been than comedians in dramatic roles is a surer bet than dramatic actors in comedic roles, then the makers here are doubling down by having both Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as the lead siblings in this drama.

The problem, if it is a problem, is that because of their pedigree as Saturday Night Live alums, everything they do we naturally assume is being done for comedic effect. That includes even in serious, dramatic moments. I recall reading an interview with Wiig where she spoke of being at a screening, and being frustrated that people were laughing at parts of the movie where she wasn’t going for laughs and the script wasn’t aiming for them either.

Well, boo bloody hoo. Rarely can we exactly control what other people get from what we do. Plus it’s her own fault for being so funny for so long.

The Skeleton Twins is a pretty serious film. Two siblings deal with the trauma of their troubled adolescence, in terrible ways, before reconnecting after ten years of estrangement.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron

Yeah Nah there isn't too much going on in this pic/movie,
why do you ask?

dir: Joss Whedon

2015

Well. That happened.

This will probably be the ‘biggest’ movie of the year, with the possible exception of the seventh Star Wars flick that comes out around Christmas. It has the most advertising, the most merchandise, the most cross-promotional opportunities and the biggest cast of superheroes we’re likely to see in a donkey’s age, let alone an Ultron’s age.

Wait, at least until the next comic book movie comes along. Which is… probably a week or two away?

Such a juggernaut, such a monolith of concentrated media saturation can’t help but put you off your popcorn, if you’re a cynical person who’s tired of just these kinds of ‘events’. You start seeing things less for what they are, and more for the sad things they say about us and the world we now live in.

If I can switch that voice in my head off for a while, though, I may just find elements of the experience a tad enjoyable? Maybe I’ll laugh a little, maybe I’ll cry a little?

By some set of freak circumstances yesterday (Sunday), I found myself sitting in a cinema I haven’t sat in for a long time (the Westgarth, ye olde Valhalla), watching this latest extravaganza for the eyes and the soul. And worried as I may have been over what would transpire, I was not overly disappointed.

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Love is Strange

Love is Strange

And it's mean and cruel, and fluffy and silly, and silky
and oh so manageable, too.

dir: Ira Sachs

2014

Love is indeed strange, and wonderful and terrible, and a bunch of other descriptive words and adjectives. And it’s stronger than death, lighter than helium and more painful than anything else we can experience or imagine.

And it can also be a comfortable, gentle thing, as invisible to the rest of the world as it is obvious to us.

What it’s not is the solution to all the mundane problems that beset us in our daily lives. Sonny and Cher, a married couple at the time, sang that some other churlish soulless wretches could say that love won’t pay the rent, but everything’s okay because "I Got You, Babe", and that makes everything fine and dandy.

Well, fuck that. They were rich bastards who got divorced anyway, but their rent being paid was never a problem for them.

For the rest of us in couples, the sheer magnitude or sun-bright brilliance of the love we feel for each other doesn’t get us anywhere near closer to paying the rent living in expensive cities, or taking care of mortgage payments. Sure, last time we were late on the rent and the mortgage simultaneously, I tried explaining to the landlord and the bank manager ‘hey, we ain’t got the money, but we have Love! Lots and lots of love! Surely that counts for something?’

They both screamed “Fuck your love, pay us!” and started pistol whipping me while The Rolling Stones played in the background.

Rating:

Pride

Pride

The union forever defending our rights!
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite!
With our brothers and out sisters from many far off lands!
There is power in a union!

dir: Matthew Warchus

2014

A few of the reviews I’ve read about this film, or at least ones I read before watching the flick myself contain the stock standard sorry phrase “you wouldn’t think there’d be much crossover between the 1980s British Gay Rights movement and the coal miners who went on strike, but Pride’s here to tell you, there was!”

Maybe that’s not entirely accurate; maybe I just imagined it. It’s just that the film itself plays off on the alleged jarring juxtaposition, and so the reviews mention the self-same seeming ‘paradox’: that the people you would imagine would least like ‘the gays’ end up accepting their existence.

Pride is no doubt heavily fictioned up, but is nonetheless based on the true story of what happened in the 1980s in Britain, in Maggie Thatcher’s Britain, more importantly. As the film tells us, activists for gay rights / equality under the law woke up one morning and found they weren’t being harassed by the cops anymore. Or at least, not as frequently. This didn’t come about because anything changed legally in the country: it came about because the cops were now too busy harassing and beating the crap out of the striking coal miners.

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Still Alice

Still Alice

To me the look on her face says "If I don't get the Oscar
for this, someone's going to get stabbed."

dir: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland

2014

Still Alice is quite a sad film. I’m sure that’s not going to be a surprise to anyone that’s heard even a little bit about what it’s about. But it is truly sad.

All the same, this is not the kind of manipulative drivel that one usually associates with these kinds of dramas. It’s also not about the nobility of suffering, or about a beautiful woman getting some disease and expiring in the most delightfully photogenic manner.

Julianne Moore has rightly been nominated for this performance, but I’m not sure that she’s necessarily going to win. Her achievement in this role is often what she chooses not to do more so than what she actually does. There is a minimum of hysterics or melodramatics in the flick, which keeps it inline with the story as it is being told.

But at least she's subtle about it.

Alice (Moore) is delivering a lecture on linguistics. She pauses, trying to recall a word that is eluding her, and then it comes to her, and she moves on.

This is only the first step down a very long road.

Define ‘irony’. Irony is a professor of linguistics, a person whose field of study is the human brain’s ability to soak up language and the structures of the brain devoted to communication, and the idea of how words form a person’s concept of their own identity, and then have her lose it all as we watch.

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Paper Planes

Paper Planes

If you do it right, you get to be the Aussie ambassador to Japan!
No-one else wants the job, so it's more of a punishment than a prize

dir: Robert Connolly

2015

Of course Australia needs more Australian films that Australians want to watch. Australia Australia Australia we love you. We won’t have a sustainable film industry (with such a small population, with so much cultural cringe, with so much downloading possible) until we can make the big hits that support the other ‘quality’ productions that no-one other than a few hipsters, a bunch of confused pensioners on Cheap Mondays, and Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton want to see.

Paper Planes has been very successful. A caveat on that is that it’s been very successful for an Australian film. A decent outcome box office-wise for an Australian film would be the very definition of a disaster for most American flicks, but that’s a different argument.

And it deserves to be a success. It’s the very definition of a crowd-pleasing, mass audience family flick. It has the exact contours, rhythms and beats of an underdog triumph / sports movie (which is not a bad thing at all), and though it is constructed from bunches of clichés, the performances manage to wrest the material away from its more mawkish tendencies.

It’s also horribly, horribly emotionally manipulative. There are scenes so potent in their ability to wrest tears from the tear ducts of adults (as opposed to kids) that you feel like a fool crying over such clichés. But they work.

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