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8 stars

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Chillin' on the high seas, with your new best friend

dir: Ang Lee

A lot of what I’m going to say about this beautiful movie is going to sound churlish, ungrateful and unfair. So be it. Someone has to do it. So much of the rest of the world is tripping over itself saying what a wondrous movie this is, that I can’t help but be a little contrary.

But until that time when I let rip with both barrels, let me lull you into a false sense of security by praising this film’s many virtues.

No, Life of Pi is not about pies, or about the mathematical constant of π. The diameter or circumference of no circles was calculated during the making of this movie. It’s about a guy whose nickname is Pi (Irrfhan Khan) who survived a harrowing experience and lived to tell the story to a writer (Rafe Spall). Lucky for the writer, eh, because he would have been stuffed otherwise, and we would have been none the wiser or entertained.

No, don’t go thinking this flick has anything to do with a true story of any description. Almost every implausible movie that gets made, from Zero Dark Thirty to Titanic to Transformers, practically has an opening title assuring us that what we are about to watch is based on true events. That’s not what Life of Pi is aiming for. It aims to tell an amazing, unbelievable story in the most visually stunning manner possible.

Rating:

Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck It Ralph

You just Wreck everything, don't you Ralph? That's just what
you do

dir: Rich Moore

Yes, it’s school holidays time. It’s Christmas time. It’s that time of the year where I’m not going to the cinema at all odd hours of the day or night in order to squeeze a film or two in a week as well as keeping all the juggling balls of life and work up in the air.

No, this is the time where I can stride into a cinema in the middle of the day with my head held high, with a huge tub of popcorn (which I otherwise never buy), holding hands with my daughter. The problem, of course, is that I can’t exactly take her to screenings of The Master, Lincoln, Holy Motors or Hitchcock without it rightly being considered a form of abuse.

Especially The Master. Forgetting some of the content for a moment, inflicting that level of tedium on a kid should be a criminal offence.

So bring on the highly animated kids movies, so we can all be happy. Well, so we can be somewhat happy, I guess. There’s always the trade-off between what entertains a kid and what a parent can sit through without wanting to chew their own arm off in order to escape from the theatre.

Rating:

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

The Heights, they be a-wuthering. The moors, too.

dir: Andrea Arnold

There are probably a million versions of this story, and yet this is the first I’ve watched the whole way through. I know there’s versions with chronic overactors like Laurence Olivier and Ralph Fiennes playing the smouldering Heathcliff, but none of them have ever been compelling enough to compel me to watch them.

I don’t have a good reason as to why. As a pseudo-intellectual pretentious wanker (First Class) who also happens to make millions on the side from writing film reviews read by scores of people, it’s almost a negligent crime to not have read and seen at least fifteen versions of Wuthering Heights by now. I should really turn in my union card before the Goth Union comes after me.

Still, I’ve heard the Kate Bush song hundreds of times, and the even funnier Mr Floppy parody version of Kate Bush’s song, so I thought I’d totally be up on all the details upon finally watching a Wuthering Heights film.

Jeez Louise! I never knew Emily Bronte had such a dirty mouth! They should dig her up and wash her fingertips out with soap for all the shocking, shocking language on aural display here.

Rating:

End of Watch

End of Watch

Porkers on patrol, pigs on parade, bacon in black and
bullies in the pulpit

dir: David Ayer

It sounds like something you’ve seen a million times before, but it actually ends up being much stronger than that. A movie about two cops? Get out of here, it’ll never work…

The director, David Ayer, has been responsible for a lot of cop-related flicks, most notoriously Training Day (as the screenwriter), a film I still loathe to this day, but he clearly has an affinity for two things: cops and South Central LA. As he grew up there, it’s impossible to see it as anything other than a deep affection for the place. In some ways he’s demystifying some of the mystique surrounding the place, but in a lot of other ways, he’s probably perpetuating most of the clichés about the place that give it such a negative rep.

That doesn’t concern me, I’m not here to judge, just to condemn or transcend. In truth, you probably shouldn’t see his many films about cops and South Central as a form of document, covering as they do the transitions occurring over time in that one area, and in policing, as well, but I’m happy to, because how else am I going to know? The only other source of information I have about South Central comes from rappers, and they’re not known for their meticulous adherence to accuracy.

Rating:

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

Don't they look like they're having fun? It's not going to last.

dir: Kieran Darcy-Smith

Wow, did I get this one wrong.

This flick was completely not what I thought it would be, either in style or content. For some reason I had this idea it was a light-hearted romantic drama about two Australian couples travelling overseas and finding out stuff about each other and coming to terms with stuff etc.

Spectacularly wrong, incandescently wrong. I could not have been more wrong if I’d thought I was about to watch a film clip for Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here, sung by Christina Aguilera as Lady Gaga spanks her with a rhesus monkey.

It turns out it’s a sly reference to the postcard one used to be able to send, saying the title, as in, Really, I’m Glad That You’re Not Here, But I Just Wanted to Rub Your Nose In the Fact That I’m Here and You’re Not. That’s what it’s always meant in reality, but this flick, which has a black streak through it a mile wide.

Rating:

Argo

Argo

Whoever has the better beard should be the Supreme
Leader, I reckon

dir: Ben Affleck

3 for 3. How does Ben Affleck, Ben Affleck get to be such a good director after a lifetime of blockheaded roles and lacklustre performances? Ben Affleck from Armageddon? Ben Affleck from Gigli? Ben Affleck from Pearl Harbor? That Ben Affleck?

And yet Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now Argo are all superbly made films. How does that work?

Well, there’s a scene where Affleck’s character Tony Mendez is asking an old Hollywood special effects hack about whether it’s possible to teach someone how to fake being a director in one day. The weary hack states quite unambiguously that he could teach a rhesus monkey how to be a director in one day.

Affleck must have put this in as an in-joke, he must have, aimed at both the people who admire what he’s done as a director and those who can’t believe such a hammy actor has the temerity to direct films, and good ones at that.

The fact is he can direct, and he’s doing really well thus far. I’m sure my appreciation of him, which will be reported back to him by some perky squirrel of an unpaid intern, who trawls the tubes of the internets for nasty or nice comments about him, will warm the cockles of his heart and tickle the follicles of his under-beard.

Rating:

Ruby Sparks

Ruby Sparks

Bloody caveman writers, stealing all the fictional women

dir: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris

Being a deeply neurotic person, I regularly fall prey to a panoply of fears. One of the most fundamental for me is either not being seen as a person, or failing to see other people as real people.

I'm sure that probably sounds a bit weird. I mean, there are a bunch of far more reasonable and likely things to be terrified of. Spiders, for one, insanity, earthquakes, tsunamis, radiation, cancer, germs; there's a lot out there, and they're just the simplistic ones. People with elaborate and expansive imaginations can think of plenty more crap on a second-by-second basis to be horrified at the prospect of.

My fear about forgetting to see the inherent humanness of people and just seeing them as objects is a powerful one, because I think it's so easy.

You forget, sometimes, don't you, when you're dealing with someone who seems more like a collection of annoyances rather than a living, breathing person, to see them as they deserve to be seen, as a whole person? Or when you fixate on some other aspects of their being, and completely forget about their personhood, and instead bliss out at whatever aspect / fetish takes your fancy?

And what if you do this overwhelmingly to the people you're meant to be closest to in your life, like your own partner or family?

Rating:

On the Road

On The Road

Just can't wait to not get on the road again

dir: Walter Salles

Unfilmable books make for interesting films.

On the Road has been on that list of “Great” American Novels like Tropic of Cancer, Catcher in the Rye, Pale Fire, The Sound and the Fury, a bunch of others, that people never thought could be adapted to the big screen.

But then you think of the flicks made from Naked Lunch and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or further afield to the flicks made from other "unadaptable" books like Perfume or Cloud Atlas, and it makes it more the question of not “whether” but “how well”, as in, anything can be adapted, but not everything is adapted well, just like with any book.

Kerouac’s classic novel would always have made a good film, if the people involved knew what they were doing, and what they should avoid doing. The biggest problem it would have had is that even in a quality realisation, the flick would always (now) look just like every other road movie that’s ever come out in the last fifty years.

The majority of the flick isn’t, perhaps, on the actual road as the travellers travel down that road, but it certainly feels like it, and where it almost glows with purpose. Far more, comparatively, is spent watching these people smoke, drink and fuck in scummy apartments and dishevelled domiciles across the Americas as these people, these people, live their lives in the pursuit of life itself.

Rating:

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

I don't think they have turntables where you're going

dir: Lorene Scafaria

If the world was going to literally end, and we knew about it in advance, and we knew exactly when it was going to happen, what would we all do with the time we had left? It’s a compelling what if? of a thought experiment, and usually, in art at least, it’s reserved to “if you were going to die, what stuff would you do finally that you never had the courage to do before?”

This time, though, everyone’s going to die. Every living thing extinguished in a cataclysm that won’t be averted with a couple of seconds to go, apparently, since this is what the film tells us from the opening minutes. A man (Steve Carrell) and his wife (Nancy Carrell) listen blankly as the radio in their car outlines the failure of some last-ditch attempt to avert the disaster. A meteor called Matilda, which is as good a name as any for something fixing to permanently end your present world, continues on its course towards Earth, where it will obliterate all life, perhaps.

Rating:

Premium Rush

Premium Rush

Well, don't you look oh so serious?

dir: David Koepp

There's a point in this flick where a character, let's be honest, the baddie, yells at the main character, "New York hates you" with a great deal of venom and probably a touch of insanity, but some truth.

Why is he screaming this, and at whom? A terrorist? An Occupy Wall Street protester? A Wall Street banker? Obama? Someone who works at Planned Parenthood?

No, he's yelling this at someone who's a New York bike courier. New Yorkers - and by default, all drivers and pedestrians - hate cyclists, is the message.

Is it true? I mean, I guess that there has always been a tension between people on bikes and people in cars, mostly due to envy, I guess, but I didn't think it had reached the level of being a globalised rage against those who enjoy two good unmotorised wheels on a daily basis.

People on bikes hate people in cars because people in cars can and often do end the lives of people on bikes, and drive as if they're oblivious that this could be so. This happens, very obviously, because of basic physics. The formula for calculating Force, as far as I can remember from high school science classes, is Force = Mass times Acceleration. Cars have lots of mass, and go very fast, so they do a lot of damage to weedy types on deadly treadlies.

Rating:

Burning Man

Burning Man

You should really let a doctor have a look at that. There's
got to be a cream for it, or at least an injection

dir: Jonathan Teplitzky

This Australian film from last year has nothing to do with the week-long Burning Man festival in the States which happens every year (which coincidentally starts today, Aug 27th) and is capped off with a massive effigy of a burning man. It is, however, about a man who is burning.

He is burning with desire, with the clap and probably a few other factors are making him blaze, but as the film opens, what he’s burning with is actual fire.

Tom (Matthew Goode) is a chef, and like all chefs depicted in film, is a hard-charging hyper-caffeinated arsehole. Well, maybe it’s not fair to say all of them on film are Type A personality arrogant arseholes. I think there was one who wasn’t. It might have been Remy the rat from Ratatouille. But all of the rest of them tend to be shown as alcoholics and drug abusers who shag anyone at any time.

Anyone who has spent time with people like this in real life knows how false a picture of the food services industry this truly is. I mean, I’ve known stacks of people working like this in high pressure kitchens, and they NEVER drank on the job or smoked dope during a break or shagged co-workers in the alley behind the restaurant. Also, they never get trashed after work every other night, nor is Monday the night when they tend to go completely crazy, since they’ve usually worked all weekend.

Rating:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Stinkers, blackmailers, bludgers, bad guys

dir: Tomas Alfredson

I generally reject the idea, outright, that a really good film could also be really boring, the way a lot of people said about Tree of Life. Not necessarily at the same time, or to the same person, but if a flick is strong, then how can it be boring?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not a boring flick at all. It’s a great adaptation, and a great looking film, meticulously filmed and acted. Alfredson has filmed this (or at least his cinematographer) as exquisitely as Let The Right One In, with a very different plot but a strong, sombre tone.

I can see, however, that this is probably not a flick that should be watched by people under forty. The visual look of the sixties and seventies depicted here, and the cool, stately scenes, edits and transitions, and the considered, intricate nature of the plot is going to anesthetise audiences hoping for the kind of movie they think of when they hear the words ‘spy thriller’.

This is certainly a thriller about spies, but this has to be at the absolute other end of the spectrum from action flicks like Ghost Protocol or The Bourne Legacy. In fact, a flick like this seems to be mocking them outright.

Rating:

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I'm wondering whether the title is just a sleazy euphemism
for some nasty sex act. From the joy on their faces, I think it is

dir: Lasse Hallstrom

This title is a blatant rip-off of the band Trout Fishing in Quebec, but I’ll forgive it that. I won’t forgive it much else along the way. Lasse Hallstrom is responsible for some truly terribly treacly flicks in the past, but somehow he was able to pull out before making a horrible mess this time.

I have not and will never read the book this flick is based on, but I’m virtually certain at least one thing about the book doesn’t carry over to the film. The character that McGregor plays has to have been older than the one he plays here, otherwise it makes no sense. Well, I guess it makes some sense if he has Asperger’s, or is just emotionally retarded, but then again, he’s a guy, so it’s hard to tell the difference.

Dr Alfred Jones (McGregor) is an expert on fish, and lives and breathes their fishy world as if it were his own. It’s humans he can’t stand. Even though he’s so curmudgeonly that it hurts the eyeballs, he has somehow managed to marry a woman who, for most of the film, is as emotionless and proper as he is, so they’re an ideal match.

Rating:

Hysteria

Hysteria

She's Hysterical! Get that Bedlamite an alienist

dir: Tanya Wexler

Look, I know it’s a period piece set in England in the 1880s, but don’t be disheartened. It doesn’t have Keira Knightley in it, I swear! It has Maggie Gyllenhaal instead!

For some that’s a plus, for others it’s even worse, but for me it’s preferable. Infinitely preferable. I still have nightmares about what Knightley did with her jaw in A Dangerous Method.

Brrrr. No, this is about something far less outlandish. This movie purports to be about the strange time in human history where men didn't believe women were capable of having orgasms or enjoying sex, and where everything women said or felt or experienced was labelled as 'hysteria'. If they were perfectly docile and never complained about their status as third-class citizens, then everything was fine. If they arked up and said, "Wow, this system is fucked and we are totally disenfranchised", then clearly they were hysterical and needed to have their uteruses ripped out.

Rating:

The Avengers

The Avengers

So many egos in so little space

dir: Joss Whedon

You know what this needed? More superheroes.

Not enough superheroes. Also, more scenes of Scarlett Johansson’s character Black Widow elaborating upon her back story. Because the masses needed to know.

Also, it needed more shots of Samuel L. Jackson flipping the tails of his long leather coat outwards in an ever so attractive manner.

Other than that, it’s about as good as we could have hoped for.

Despite the idea that this is a discrete ‘let’s get the band together’ supergroup combination, it’s really the sixth instalment in a series that started with Iron Man. All of the flicks I’m talking about had different directors, but the link between them all is that comic book titans Marvel set up Marvel Studios specifically to make the movies for their own properties. No longer would they have to rely on other studios to bring their stable of heroes to the big screen.

Rating:

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Buckle my Swash and Shiver me Timbers!

dir: Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt

Ah, finally, a film with Pirates that doesn’t have Johnny Depp in it.

No-one told the lovely people at Aardman Animation that the rest of us in this non-Claymation world are sick to fucking death of pirates, pirate-related stories and even the word ‘pirate’. They just went ahead and ploughed through, adapting a book in order to generate some hilarity and some box office. I can’t imagine this flick is going to do this well, what with the school holidays being over and all by now, but it was quite entertaining for a ‘kids’ movie.

Yes, I took my daughter along, and yes, she and I both thought it was a wonderful way to spend an hour and twenty minutes in a cinema strewn with beanbags. But don’t go in expecting it to be comparable to Pixar, or for any deep environmental messages or heartfelt heartstring-pulling mawkish sentiment-fests. It’s just meant to be clever but goofy fun, and it entirely succeeds.

Although, when I tell you that two of the villains in the piece are Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria, you’ll think that I’ve been sucked in and duped by a flick produced by creationists and anti-monarchist nutbags, which would be a strange alliance indeed.

Rating:

Young Adult

Young Adult

Evil lurks in many forms, especially those wearing lipstick. Repent! Repent!

dir: Jason Reitman

Charlize Theron was terrifying in Monster, where she played serial killer Aileen Wuornos all those years ago, snagging an Oscar for her performance.

There are scenes in Young Adult where she’s even more horrifying.

She does this thing with her eyes where she leeches them of all human sentiment or human feeling. They transform into the eyes of some infinitely old and infinitely cold alien who observes our species with nothing but contempt.

And then she just acts like a self-centred brat who’s never grown up from being the high school mean/popular girl, who is doomed to be nothing but this for the rest of her life.

When Mavis (Charlize Theron) receives a group e-mail announcing the birth of her married, high-school boyfriend’s daughter, who has been out of her life for decades, she somehow twists this to mean that now is the time for her to return to her shitty home town to rescue him from a life of domesticity and human feeling.

She is a piece of work, a true piece of work. Her alcoholism is only one of her many estimable qualities. When she piles in to her car in order to drive back home to Mercury, Minnesota, with miniature dog in tow, she puts in a tape that dates back to her glory days, to the halcyon, to the peak of existence.

Rating:

Take Shelter

Take Shelter

What's most terrifying is the possibility that the craziest people have
been right all along.

dir: Jeff Nichols

Michael Shannon is the new Christopher Walken, only even more unsettling. And now they’re giving him lead roles in movies, which is going to scare even more children down the track.

Scooch closer, children, don’t make me tell you again about the scooching.

Take Shelter is a meditative, unsettling, measured story about a man overwhelmed by dread. Curtis (Michael Shannon) has dreams and visions of something awful that’s about to happen, and yet, because of his family history of mental illness, he allows for the possibility that it all might just be in his head.

This is a man who sees his dreams as omens, and takes actions in the ‘real’ world, which, obviously, look like the actions of an insane man, after a while. He knows they’re dreams, but, for him, it would be a crime not to prepare for what is coming. He loves his family too much to ignore the signs, and sees as absolute his obligation to do right by all of them.

His wife (Jessica Chastain, who I think was in every movie released in 2011), apart from being a redhead, is a rock, is a cornerstone, is a heroically supportive woman, but even she has her limits. Anyone would. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, though, she’s the embodiment of the concept of standing by your man to the bitter end.

Rating:

Chronicle

Chronicle

Seattle never looked so sunny. A morally and visually murky place

dir: Josh Trank

With great power comes great responsibility, as well as a great opportunity to get back at everyone who ever did us wrong, right?

Chronicle is a pretty keen take on the superhero genre, told through the non-narrative construct of handheld camera / found footage telling us the story. For that to work, it means that the person filming, at least initially, has to have some reason other than what’s about to happen for filming themselves. At least in theory.

That person is Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a pale and isolated jerk in high school, as are all Andrews, really. Has he got a decent reason for being a loner jerk who films himself with a camera? Well, maybe. The first instance we see worthy of immortalisation, which opens the flick, is him filming himself and his bedroom door, because his violent drunken jerk of a father (Michael Kelly) is threatening him through that door.

We also find out that Andrew’s mother is dying, very slowly, so things aren’t going that well for any of them. And at school, naturally, the other teenage scum sense his vulnerability, and bully the heck out of him. He does have, at least, a cousin who’s on friendly terms with him, which makes him seem like the only person in the world who gives a damn. Matt (Alex Russell) seems like a kid too tall and popular to give a damn about a scrawny skeleton like Andrew, but care he does, all the same. Inexplicably.

Rating:

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

From their expressions, you'd think this was a very serious film.
Why so serious, huh?

dir: David Fincher

Isn’t everyone sick of these goddamn books and movies by now? Haven’t we been dealing with them long enough? Can’t we just let them go, and move on?

Apparently not, since they’re making American versions now, complete with American and British actors speaking with what they hope are Swedish accents. Why are they speaking with Swedish accents? Who the hell knows. We know they’re ‘speaking’ Swedish to themselves, it just ‘sounds’ English to us within the context of the flick, but why some of them would use Swedish Chef accents and some of them wouldn’t makes it all slightly perplexing.

I guess that’s appropriate, since these are meant to be mysteries. Of course, since I’ve read the books and seen the Swedish versions, which had those pesky subtitles and Swedish actors, there’s really no mystery there anymore. Making Hollywood versions presumably opens up a whole new audience of people who hate subtitles, which is a fair number of people. And since they enlisted David Fincher to direct, we know they’re going for the prestige angle, and not the trashy cash-in angle.

Rating:

The Descendants

The Descendants

I wonder how high up on People magazine's Hottest 100 Bachelors list I am this year..

dir: Alexander Payne

I was so surprised when this didn’t turn out to be a biopic-documentary about the great punk band The Descendents, from whose ashes rose other punk superstars Black Flag and All, blessing the world with their fast, brutal pop-punk noise, inspiring a legion of teenage boys in Akron, Ohio and Ringwood, Melbourne, to pick up guitars in their bedrooms and then put them down again once they finished their chemistry and engineering degrees.

No. That would have been too real, too awesome. Instead, here’s George Clooney Clooning things up for the rest of us, based on the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Cummings.

We see, for the briefest instant, a woman riding on a jet ski, who seems very happy. That’s the happiest we’re going to see her, because Clooney’s sonorous voiceover ensures that we will know quick smart that these people aren’t or can’t be happy for very long.

It turns out that the woman we beheld in all her glory is now in a coma, and her husband, Matt King (Cloons) is looking after her, and dealing more so with the fact that he now has to reengage with his family, being two daughters, which he thinks he’s not ready to do. The youngest, Scottie (Amara Miller) is getting in trouble for acting out (by saying ever so rude and hurtful things to other girls), and his elder daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) has her own problems unsuccessfully hidden away at her elite boarding school.

Rating:

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Ghost Protocol

Look at poor Simon Pegg, way way back in the distance. He looks lonely

dir: Brad Bird

Sweet Zombie Jesus, if you’re going to make more of these monstrous Mission Impossible flicks, then continue getting Brad Bird to direct, because this one’s pretty amazing. From a pure action point of view, this is probably the best action flick I’ve seen in a long while, and I watch a lot of violent action flicks. Sure, a lot of them involve Chipmunks or are on the Nickelodeon channel, but my point still stands.

These lapdog American retreads of the James Bond espionage action genre have peaked right here, and it would probably be best if they just put it aside and backed away from the franchise. But they won’t, like we all know. Success breeds laziness, so Tom Cruise will probably be making these when he’s in his 80s and still puttering around looking like a 40-year-old thanks to foetal grindings and other secret Scientological super serums. I still find Cruise somewhat scary at the best and worst of times, but I can’t fault him for his work here. This flick exemplifies its own formula, excelling with the stuff that it’s known for, which is a bunch of incredibly orchestrated heists / break-ins, high-tech trickery, complicated impersonations, and saving the world at the very last second after travelling around it first.

Rating:

50/50

50/50

Now boys, getting cancer is no reason to become neo-nazi skinheads, okay?

dir: Jonathan Levine

Cancer is a hard sell. It’s okay for those four-hanky weepies they make for the abundance of chick channels on cable, but for a comedy drama with nice, liked actors in it, you have to think a lot of people apart from the creative ones involved would have been a bit leery or at least anxious.

“Who’s going to see this?” muttered one studio executive, tugging on his soul patch and massaging his shoulder where Consuela, his usual deep-tissue masseuse had failed to work out the knot that had been bugging him all week.

“I mean, it’s a bit of a bring-down, isn’t it? Can’t he have, like, a cold or something less depressing?”

“What about lupus?” said his female counterpart, fighting the urge to think about food denied to herself at least until daylight hours were over. “Lupus would play well to 27 to 39-year-old one legged lesbians who like blue blankets, at least that’s what our data shows. What about an earache? No, we don’t want to alienate the people with sore eyelids. How about AIDS? Everyone loves AIDS. That’ll get the, you knows, into the theatres.”

Rating:

Warrior

Warrior

Brothers beating themselves and each other up all to get back at their fathers
- a story as old as the Bible

dir: Gavin O’Connor

Men. Manly Men. Beating the crap out of each other.

This is easily the most masculine film I’ve seen this year, in a lot of ways. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact it’s a very good thing.

This is also one of the best flicks I’ve seen this year. At the very least it’s one of the flicks I’ve enjoyed the most this year. There are only a few aspects that squandered the tremendous amount of goodwill and positive feelings I had about the film, and none of them have anything to do with the phenomenal performances put in by nearly all the actors involved.

And yet, it’s still a flick about a bunch of guys beating the absolute shit out of each other.

Soldiers fight for king, queen or country because they have to. Mercenaries fight for coin. Warriors fight because they live to fight. Warrior doesn’t really sit well as a good title for this flick, because the people fighting don’t necessarily want to fight.

But they have to.

There’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to fight flicks. It’s a genre of sports film so well-trodden that it’s virtually impossible to say anything new. It can be said in a more contemporary way, but the themes are ancient, as are the beats and rhythms of the screenplays.

Rating:

Contagion

Contagion

Lotsa people gonna die because of something Gwyneth Paltrow did

dir: Steven Soderbergh

As if germophobes and compulsive obsessives didn’t have it hard enough already.

Speaking as someone who has long been pathologically afraid of germs and contamination (the psych term used to be mysophobia, or, having too much time on one’s filthy, filthy hands), I don’t need flicks like this. I’m already freaked out enough by the prospect of infection that I am the person the scientists lament creating superbugs by using hand sanitiser and giving other neurotics a bad name.

I’m not at the mask or tinfoil hat stage just yet, but, you know, it’s only a matter of time.

Contagion does me no favours, does me no help. It’s almost as if it’s aimed specifically at people like me for whom the horrifying prospect of an epidemic like this, of evil germs finishing off many, many people, is almost too close to home to appreciate. It’s easy enough to handle zombie flicks, where the virus is transferred through biting. Hand washing and ethanol can’t do anything about that. But a bunker mentality and obsessive hygiene could, actually COULD help if this scenario came to pass. And that’s why it hits closer to home. It’s practically goading us with the propensities into indulging them further and falling even further down the rabbit hole.

Rating:

Snowtown

Snowtown

Not a place you should visit for more than 2 hours

dir: Justin Kurzel

Snowtown is a horrifying, crippling, debilitating trawl through a true blue Ozzie True Crime story, being the murders of 11 poor bastards in South Australia way back in the 1990s. Only one of the poor victims were killed in Snowtown, or had anything to do with Snowtown, but the name stuck so powerfully that even the people who live there wanted to change the town’s name at the peak of the public’s interest in this depressing story.

Unlike Animal Kingdom, which a flick like this will be inevitably compared to, this isn’t a stylised, fictionalised version of events. I mean, it’s still fiction, it’s not a documentary. What I mean is, it’s something almost along the lines of a feature length re-enactment, in all its banal, ugly detail, and with certainly no glory.

The eye for detail, though, isn’t focussed on replicating everything to give us all the factual minutiae. It’s more focussed on giving us an inkling as to what happened, how it may have felt to be involved, and just how awful it was.

In which case, it functions less as a True Crime kind of film. Its purpose isn’t delivering information on the empirical level. It’s about getting us to feel an overwhelming dread pervading everything.

Rating:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise up, or end up as one of their pets, why don't you

dir: Rupert Wyatt

Never has humanity’s downfall been so enjoyable or well-deserved.

Really, could it be a spoiler? Does anyone whose interest perks up at the elaboration on the title not know that, at some point, there’s this Planet, and it’s going to be Of The Apes? That there was a book about it, and a film about it with Charlton “My Hands Are Cold and Dead Now” Heston, and a bunch of other films to lesser success, and then Mark Wahlberg appeared on the scene to fuck things up?

And he wasn’t even playing an ape? How inexplicable is that?

Otherwise, the title wouldn’t resonate, and presumably, the multitudes wouldn’t care. Nah, what we craved, without knowing it, is an explanation; a grounded, believable explanation as to how the Apes came to ‘own’ our Planet, and what ‘we’, being arrogant, hubristic humans, did to allow them to take over.

Rating:

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

I think there needs to be at least a thousand more versions of
this book before we can stop

dir: Cary Fukunaga

Jane Eyre, eh? Prestige costume drama Oscar bait, eh?

Just imagine all the doilies and lace trimmings and bustles akimbo all over the place.

This just screams of potential audiences climbing over each other’s corpses, desperately trying to get to the box office in order to get tickets to the latest Brontean Blockbuster.

Despite the fact that the book presumably is still all over those high school reading lists for English or English Lit or whatever classes haven’t been cancelled and replaced with Glee-like activities (proudly sponsored by some repellent lip gloss), I’ve never read it, and never seen the dozens and dozens of versions of it that have been expelled onto an unwilling public.

I’d always lumped it in with all that Regency-era frippery like all of Jane Austen’s pap, and always assumed it to be on a par. You know, attractive and spirited but somewhat impoverished young ladies desperate to get married to someone who seems to treat them mean initially, but turns out to be more rad than cad, and who welcomes their spiritedness instead of having them incarcerated in a sanatorium for being hysterical.

Rating:

Hanna

Awfully big gun for such a little girl

dir: Joe Wright

This is an odd film, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. Far from it. It’s actually much better than it has any right to be.

The oddest thing about it is that I was sure it must have been directed by Tom Tykwer, the German director responsible for the decent flick Run Lola Run, and the tremendous flick Perfume. But, no. It’s Joe Wright, responsible for the ordinary version of Pride and Prejudice with that bony hag Keira Knightley, and that great version of Atonement with all those other good actors including that bony hag Keira Knightley.

Hanna has him venturing into unknown, yet ultimately familiar territory. The real point of the flick doesn’t become obvious until the Brothers Grimm fairy tale allusions start piling up like a sink full of stinky dishes until you can’t ignore them anymore.

The Hanna of the title, Saoirse Ronan, is a very young, alien looking creature. She either looks like an Aryan superchild, or one of the more grown up children from the Village of the Damned. She hunts and survives in the icy wilds of some place. Out of goddamn nowhere, some bearded lunatic (Eric Bana) starts trying to kill her dead. She’s pretty well trained in lethal hand-to-hand combat, though, and she holds her own.

Rating:

Paul

dir: Greg Mottola

[img_assist|nid=1414|title=Aliens walk among us. And they're very rude|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=666]
This flick is a perfect storm of nerd signposts and signifiers so nerdish in their nerdishness that it’s akin to watching a table full of Comic-Book Guys playing with their Magic the Gathering cards, drinking Pepsi Max straight from the bottle for an hour and a half.

However, before you suspect that I’m going to go for cheap and easy laughs mocking the indefensible, and an easy pop cultural target at that, let me just say that I am a fairly nerdy person myself (as are all people who obsessively watch movies and complain about them on the tubes of the internets, let’s be honest about it), so the question for me is whether Paul is a tolerable movie because of its nerdiness or in spite of it.

Well, the two are inseparable, really. Since its two lead characters are nerds playing nerds (quite deftly, I might add), and it’s a homage to the science fiction flicks of the 1980s (mostly, though Close Encounters was earlier), and one of its main characters is a CGI alien, you can’t really grade it on its Shakespearean qualities or its Byronic pathos.

Rating:

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