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8 stars

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

Paul

Aliens walk among us. And they're very rude

dir: Greg Mottola

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.

Clive and Graeme (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg) are two British nerds who’ve achieved the dream of a lifetime by travelling to the States and going to the Comic-Con event in San Diego. Some people aim high in their dreams, others aim low, but the important thing is to have a dream, I guess, no matter how achievable.

Rating:

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau

I think the buildings are after them. And the hats.

dir: George Nolfi

Great, another film convincing paranoid schizophrenics that someone really IS out to get them…

This fairly good flick, which I liked a lot, is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the mentally ill science fiction writer who’s been dead a long while. Almost every science fiction movie, if not every movie is either based on or should be based on something Philip K. Dick came up with. And why not. His most famous adaptation is of course Blade Runner, but there are probably nearly a hundred other monstrosities based on his stuff out there as well.

The important element you need to grasp about Dick’s writing, if you know or care nothing about him or his writing, is that paranoia underlaid virtually everything he ever wrote. Almost every novel or short story of his that I can remember has a protagonist, who may or may not be crazy, who senses or gleans that someone is either after him or tinkering at the edges of his reality. And always always always, if someone thinks ‘they’ are out to get him, ‘they’ always are. None of his protagonists ever realise in the end that they were just being irrational and paranoid. Never ever ever. Now that’s some good support for the delusions of the mentally ill right there.

Rating:

Confessions (Kokuhaku)

dir: Tetsuya Nakashima
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From revenge… to more revenge. This time, we’re doing it Japanese style.

Now, just to get all simplistic, reductive and borderline racist, if the old saying regarding revenge goes that it is a dish best served cold, like sushi, then what this particular director and cast do is take that revenge, like a platter full of sushi, dip it into a tank of liquid nitrogen, and shatter the freeze-burned remains with a HIV-covered sledgehammer.

Man, do they serve this revenge up cold. And, man, do the Japanese hate school kids.

Confessions is a flick where a whole bunch of people confess to each other or to us in the audience in order to tell the story. There are bits where people talk to each other, but mostly people are talking in monologues.

Our first speaker is a junior high school teacher who explains to her class that she’s quitting her job, and why. For the next half hour, mostly she stands in front of the class and talks earnestly but quietly to a bunch of savages who are barely in their teens. They carry on like they’re on the island from either Lord of the Flies or Battle Royale, just with lots of texting involved, but they listen and react whenever she says any crucial element of her story.

Rating:

Let Me In

dir: Matt Reeves
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Remakes. The making thereof. Proof of creative bankruptcy, or just outright mercenary greed?

Let the Right One In was only made a few years ago, but it suffered from being made in the native language of its author, being Swedish. When certain Hollywoody types saw that film, they thought, “The film is so awesome that the only way we can improve upon it is by making it in American. That’ll earn us a packet, and show the Swedes how it’s really done.”

Of course, they remade it, it was little seen, and the point of the exercise, or the merits, remain solely on the artistic level.

I liked Let the Right One In plenty when I saw it at the cinema, and I read the book as well. In Swedish, initially, which was quite frustrating, since I can’t read Swedish. Then I tried in Swahili, then Farsi, and finally in an English translation. The book is solid, too. I have no particular axe to grind against an American remake in theory, so I went into this with my closest approximation of an open mind.

Rating:

127 Hours

dir: Danny Boyle
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Whatever problems I might have had with Danny Boyle’s films in the past, whatever misgivings I might have had dwindled to nothing fifteen minutes into this film. In the first few minutes I was worried that I was going to be watching something closer to The Beach or Life Less Ordinary end of Boyle’s oeuvre, rather than the actually watchable, decent end of the Boylian spectrum (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire).

But then something happened at exactly 15 minutes in, and the title flashed up on the screen, and I realised that Aron Ralston’s (played by James Franco) real story had just started.

And oh holy fuck what a story it is.

That it’s a true story, and a very narrowly defined story, based entirely on the relevant 127 Hours in question of Ralston’s life, would almost make you think that telling this story in movie form would be impossible. Telling it well, at least. Telling it poorly would seem to be piss-easy. Telling it so that it’s heroically bad would take real hack skills, some of which Boyle has hinted at in the past.

Rating:

The Fighter

dir: David O. Russell
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David O. Russell is a director not known for sports flicks. He’s known, if he’s known at all, for three things: directing Three Kings, which remains one of the only decent flicks set during the first Iraqi adventure; making a thoroughly stupid flick called I Heart Huckabees; and for a screaming match that occurred and was recorded between himself and Lily Tomlin on the set of that flick.

Mark Wahlberg is best known for having a brother who was in New Kids on the Block, who had a short career as rapper-performer-Renaissance man Marky Mark, and playing John Holmes stand-in Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. He is not well known for his acting ability.

Christian Bale is best known for screaming abuse at people on the set of some films he’s been on. And a wicked eating disorder. He’s also an actor, or so I’ve been told.

The three of them, oh, and a bunch of other people as well, collaborate here in order to make a fairly amazingly good film, one which, noting the participants, the location, and what they’re famous for, I couldn’t really have predicted.

Rating:

The King's Speech

dir: Tom Hooper
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This is what you get when Ham (Geoffrey Robertson) meets Wry (Colin Firth): a tasty, award-winning sandwich.

Could there have been a confection more Oscarbaity than this? Was the public so desperately crying out for more cinematic proof that royal personages are so much better than the rest of us? Eventually we’ll be able to put all these films together into a neat collage that exists to convince us only that as commoners, we really do suck compared to all those kings and queens.

And I get enough of that already, thanks for nothing.

The King’s Speech is an almost clever double-meaning title referring both to a specific speech which apparently saved Europe from Hitler, and the speech impediment endured and surmounted by the reluctant eventual heir to the throne, George VI, ably played by Colin Firth. Colin Firth will so win an Oscar for this performance. It’s not because it’s the performance of the year (something so subjective and unmeasurable in any meaningful way so as to be meaningless), or last year, or because this characterisation is so wonderful and crucial to our understanding of the time involved or humanity general.

Rating:

Restrepo

dir: Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington
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Back, way back in the dim, distant reaches of last century, there was a war in a little-known and already forgotten place called Korea. The battle was between the noble South supported by the United States (and other allied nations of course), and the evil and horrible Northern Communists supported by the terrible Chinese. There were many battles, much slaughter, even towards the end of the war. The Battle of Pork Chop Hill in April of 1953, not only resulted in the slaughter of many noble soldiers, but resulted in a war film that made the careers of a lot of shiny Hollywood dickheads. It showed how random death on the battlefield can be, and how countless soldiers can die horribly because someone far from the front lines commands some men to hold a seemingly strategically important hill.

The supreme irony comes when soldiers who have given almost everything to defend a position, who’ve seen all their buddies die for it, can be told to retreat from the position because of some other strategic need or because it’s decided that, in retrospect, it wasn’t really that important, or that some other hill was the really crucial one that’ll win the war.

Cue scream of forlorn and impotent rage in the face of the universe’s cold disinterest.

Rating:

Enter the Void

dir: Gaspar Noè
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What a crazy, fucked-up film.

Preparing yourself for a Gaspar Noè film is not something that is genuinely possible. Having seen others of his flicks, none of which I will ever see again, I was determined to not see this flick ever as well. Since I’m reviewing it, well, that means something changed in my thinking, and I’m glad, to an extent, that it happened. Not too proud to admit when I’m wrong.

A friend of a friend who works in the film industry told me she saw the flick at a festival, and that it was quite an amazing experience. Though I knew nothing about her before that day, her thoughts, conveyed to me over a long and boozy conversation on a Saturday afternoon at a local pub, regarding flicks in general (that she’d worked on in New Zealand, being those flicks involving children wandering into a Witch-filled wardrobe and a Jesus-substitute lion called Aslan) and this flick itself intrigued me. They intrigued me to the point where my absolute determination to never again be violated by a Gaspar Noè flick wavered, and over time led to a confident ‘maybe?’

Rating:

I Am Love (Io Sono L'Amore)

I Am Love

Of course you are, there's no doubting that

dir: Luca Guadagnino

You wouldn’t think a title like I Am Love would pack them into the multiplexes. I guess in Italian, if you’re not an Italian speaker, Io Sono L’Amore sounds that much more exotic and alluring. Despite these obvious obstacles, these wonderful people still thought they’d get together and create an exquisite flick about how passion makes idiots of otherwise rational people, as if the books Madam Bovary and Anna Karenina were never written, and no-one ever read them.

Honestly, I can’t recall the last time it was implied in a flick that women could have sex with someone outside of their marriage and that it didn’t result in death, murder, suicide or the end of the fucking world. Is it really that catastrophic? Male characters cheat constantly, and the world seems to keep turning, and yet whenever a female character, and a mother, no less, finds passion or solace in the arms of another, someone always ends up dead.

Of course it would be unfair of me to assert that this flick is going for anything close to a moralistic or judgemental tone in the slightest. It’s anything but what it sounds like I’ve described, because it’s an amazing construction. I rarely see flicks, and I’ve seen a bundle, so exquisitely and meticulously put together. It’s so intricately put together, from a cinematography, set design, sound, score and editing point of view, that there’s almost little room for the acting performances.

Almost, but not quite. This flick is an engine, or a machine at least. Not a single shot is taken simply when it can be done in a far more fussy and seemingly meaningful way. Even as I marveled at it from a distance, and realised I was more impressed with the construction that the content, I had to remind myself that it’s still about people. Rich people. Rich People With Problems.

Rating:

Boy

dir: Taika Waititi
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Do you remember a time when Michael Jackson was neither an obituary notice nor a punchline to an increasingly sad set of jokes? Do you remember when everybody had names that came from popular alcoholic beverages and American soap operas? And do you remember when ET was the closest we could come to a cinematic hero who was like Jesus, Buddha and Chuck Norris all rolled up into one?

If you can’t, then you’re either under twenty, you’re Amish, or you’re just not from an era that has much in common with the world Taika Waititi tries to conjure up for our delectation and amusement in this here flick Boy.

Set and filmed in Waihau Bay, which is on the East Cape, south-east of Auckland on the North Island, Boy is also set in the heady days of the 1980s, 1984 to be exact. Boy himself (James Rolleston) greets us with a show-and-tell summary of his existence in this impoverished town, and his complicated family life, and all the things he loves or doesn’t love about his life.

The tone of the flick, like Boy himself, is light and funny. He’s a chatty and sweet boy, even if his introduction to us involves a fight with a vulgar schoolmate who taunts him over his mother’s death.

Rating:

Exit Through the Gift Shop

dir: I’m not sure, though Banksy is credited.
[img_assist|nid=1265|title=About time, too.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=583]
They call it a documentary, but I don’t think you can take anything that transpires in it at face value. It seems like it’s the story it claims to be, but that could all be bullshit.

After all, Banksy is involved.

The parts that are undeniably ‘real’ focus on street art, which is the contemporary term describing graffiti, or whatever you call it when people paint, spray-paint, creatively deface or otherwise do anything in public which inflicts their eyesores on the general public for a brief period of time.

The thing is, if you’ve seen any of the stencil stuff that’s sprung up in the last ten years, the stuff that looks like it was painted but is really stuck on, it’s Banksy.

Banksy didn’t necessarily do it himself, and in fact it’s very unlikely that he did it in your city, unless you live in London, whereby it’s a possibility. But his stuff, his concepts, his radical juxtapositions and provocations, spread across the world like a virus.

His stuff, and I know how pointless it is saying this, is brilliant. I’ve known of his stuff, living and working as I do in the inner city, where his stuff is pasted over everything, for much of the last decade, but I knew next to nothing about the man. Now, after watching this flick, I know even less.

Rating:

Shutter Island

dir: Martin Scorsese
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Marty and Leo, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. He puts him in every one of his goddamn flicks these days. If there were a way Scorsese could have figured out to get Leo onstage for that last Strike a Light Rolling Stones concert flick, probably playing Keef Richards or a better version of Ron Wood, he would have done so. Unlucky for us that they didn’t.

It’s a remarkable line of high quality flicks that they’ve been pumping out together, which brings us to their latest collaboration. Shutter Island is a departure for both of them, since I can’t think of the last time either of them, apart or as a couple, made a psychological thriller / horror flick. But they’ve done it now, so let’s see what the fuss, if any, is all about.

Shutter Island is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, a writer whose other books, always situated in Boston in different eras, generally follow, like Scorsese usually does, a more down-to-earth, true crime feel to the proceedings. This is a departure for all concerned, except some of the characters get to use that awesome Southie – Dorchester - Masshole accent. Lucky for them, unlucky for us.

Rating:

Iron Man 2

dir: Jon Favreau
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Finally, a sequel to a superhero flick! The world is crying out for Part 2s. Part 2s are generally speaking, always better than Part 1s. Part 1s have all the horrible heavy lifting to do in terms of establishing an iconic character’s origins and motivations, which generally makes anything else that happens superfluous.

Part Deuxes only have to refer to those origins in the opening credits, and then it’s all away-we-go. And is thus better because, after all, who wants all that baggage?

Baggage-handlers, that’s who. They live for baggage. Also, customs people, drug smugglers and the thieves that work in airports, they all love baggage.

The rest of us, though, just want to skip the entre and get to the main course.

Iron Man 2 is the rare Marvel Part 2 that extends but doesn’t exceed its initial instalment: of that I mean the current crop of superhero flicks that have been coming out recently which have generally done pretty well with the follow-up instalment. Most people, I think, would agree that Spider-Man 2 was significantly better than either 1 or 3, and X-Men 2 is still the best of four admittedly mediocre movies.

Rating:

Beautiful Kate

dir: Rachel Ward
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It’s a good thing Rachel Ward directed this film. Not only because she brings a deft and empathetic eye to a ‘difficult’ story, and renders it both meaningful and Australian despite its American origins. It’s also because if a guy had directed this, you’d accuse them of being a dirty, dirty old man, instead of being a sensitive and accomplished filmmaker.

She also, in a clear instance of welfare handouts, gives a plum role to her husband Bryan Brown, who plays a dying patriarch. Do you reckon he had to earn his spot in the film on the casting couch, by sucking and fucking his way to fame and stardom? I wouldn’t put it past her.

This is a good film, but the subject matter is rough, more than a bit rough. It’s downright discomfiting. Any story with elements of incest in it by default is going to be hard watching. And the elephant in this room is so large and so grey that it practically squishes every single other element. Almost.

There’s death, there’s very wrong sex, there’s suicide, and there’s the rage you can only feel towards parents, all here up on the screen for our delectation. Enjoy!

Rating:

A Serious Man

dir: Coens
[img_assist|nid=1196|title=Master of the universe|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=294]
The Brothers Coen have made lots of films, many of them superb. They’ve been at it for a while. They’re critical darlings to this day, and everything they make is taken seriously, no matter how ludicrous it might be. And with No Country for Old Men, they received the highest possible honours Hollywood can bestow upon itself, guaranteeing them first dibs on any projects they could ever want, as long as they don’t cost too much.

Despite long careers working together, A Serious Man, of all their flicks, is the most overtly Jewish thus far (in terms of content and themes). I know that sounds odd, or vaguely anti-Semitic, but it’s not intended as such. They’re not working from an adapted screenplay, so it’s a story they themselves have written, which contains a lot of detail (I think) from their early lives. It also explicitly uses elements of the Jewish faith and the Jewish experience in America in the story it has to tell, which seems to be based on the Book of Job, amongst other things. And you can’t really get more Jewish than the Torah, can you?

Rating:

Hurt Locker, The

dir: Kathryn Bigelow
[img_assist|nid=1162|title=Wheeeeeeeeeee!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=276]
There hasn’t really yet been an overwhelmingly great film set during and about the current Iraqi adventure. The ones I recall that at least have war footage of brave marines and army grunts fighting the cowardly Iraqi civilian menace, being Home of the Brave, Stop-Loss, um, the Transformers flicks, In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom (yes, I know it’s set in Saudi Arabia) um, and that’s about it. None of these really worked. If you’re a war booster, or chickenhawk, they failed because they weren’t gung-ho enough, and were all focussed on issues like post-traumatic-stress disorders and feeling bad about killing civilians, instead of being all rah-rah patriotic, manly and superheroically heroic. You know, like Rambo.

The documentaries have fared a bit better, but until now, Iraq War II has been poorly represented in the feature film category. The Hurt Locker, by one of America’s only well known mainstream female directors, corrects the imbalance, and is both a good film and a good war film. It’s not great, because it has a quarter of the flick that doesn’t really cohere (I would say being the third quarter of a two hour flick), and the very end is at odds with the beginning and the end, but it's still pretty damn good.

Rating:

Up

dir: Peter Docter
[img_assist|nid=1146|title=You beautifully hideous old man|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=655]
Yes, so Pixar have yet another film out. Hooray. And it’s the usual synthesis of state of the art computer animation and interesting story telling with decent characters.

You know what? They’re spoiling us, and we don’t appreciate their stuff anymore.

Like a kid you give new toys to every other day, at first they might be appreciative and surprised, independently of how great they are. Eventually this feel of being entitled and owed kicks in, and new baubles and trinkets are greeted mostly with a shrug.

It’s shameful to admit that I often feel that way with each new Pixar release. With only one exception that I can really think of, each of their flicks has given me great pleasure, especially with repeat viewings. And, as anyone with kids will tell you, a solid kid’s flick is one you can play for the millionth time without wanting to frisbee that copy of Finding Nemo into the stratosphere.

Pixar do have the touch, despite now being a fully fledged vassal state of the Disney empire. The quality of their flicks and their storytelling has not yet diminished.

Rating:

Inglourious Basterds

dir: Quentin Tarantino
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Look, it’s a Tarantino film. If you don’t know by now what that means, then you should probably skip this review, and this film.

Otherwise, be prepared to wallow in the geek hipsterism and pedantic cinephilia of a man-child who made the jump from obsessive fan to filmmaker to our collective eternal delight / regret. Tarantino has only ever made films about films, and this is no different.

Inglourious Basterds is not a remake of the shoddy Italian flick of similar name, nor is it the Dirty Dozen rip-off I’d heard so much about. In fact, you’d think from the trailers and promos that this was a rip-roaring action flick about a team of Jewish American soldiers striking fear into the hearts and scalps of the Nazis during World War II.

It’s nothing like that. The Basterds and their exploits take up a miniscule amount of screen time in a film that is certainly not a war film. This flick is far more about the thrill of revenge and the power of cinema.

Rating:

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

dir: Peter Weir
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It is no wonder that the film hasn't set the box office alight. It's not a conventional film, with a conventional story and a 5 part structure. There's no love interest, revenge motivation, excessive one-liners, hyperkinetic coke binges in the editing sweet and no saccharine Hollywood ending. There is also little for people who are not anal retentive history buffs or at least fans of movies set in the Age of Sail (being the Napoleonic Wars between France and England et al) to be kept entertained by ultimately in this film.

It is satisfying for me, but then I'm one of the few reviewers that has actually read every one of the 20 Aubrey - Maturin novels written by Patrick O' Brian. And even then the film is satisfying more on an intellectual level than on the visceral / emotional level. Which is a damn shame.

Rating:

Fog of War, The

dir: Errol Morris
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When you look upon the face of a man in his 80s, you tell yourself
that you can almost read his life in the lines and contours thereon.
At least that's the illusion I had watching this award-winning
documentary by Errol Morris about Robert McNamara. He's hardly a
household name around the world, but more than a few people should
remember the man who was the Secretary of Defense in the States during
one of the most turbulent times in the country's history. Although one
could argue the times were no less turbulent then than they are now.

One could almost say from watching this film that McNamara suffers
from a tremendous amount of guilt for his actions as the Secretary of
Defense. Surely he doesn't have deep regrets from his time as the head
of Ford, or his time as one of the highest paid executives in the
world. This fascinating glimpse into history almost seems to be an
extension of McNamara's search for redemption. In fact the method in
which he is filmed deliberately gives proceedings the appearance and
feel of a confessional.

Rating:

Solaris (2002)

dir: Steven Soderbergh
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It takes a fair-sized pair of brass balls to remake a sci-fi film “classic” considered a classic by people with beards who smoke pipes. Either that, or just plain hubris wrapped up in a blanket of arrogance with a side helping of laziness.

Sometimes it works out well, usually it’s just disastrous. The list of remakes gone wrong in ratio with the ones that succeed is tremendously large. It’s something akin to 100,000 to 7. Those remakes that worked out well were War of the Worlds, The Fly, The Thing and maybe Scarface with Pacino. And maybe one of the Deep Throat remakes. Almost every other remake has, to use the official cinema studies term, sucked dog’s balls.

It’s true. The Pope agrees. Remakes work out bad even when they’re okay, because the viewer still tells themselves “eh, even if it’s passable, why should I watch this instead of the original ever again?”

Often the remake is so wretched that it causes audiences to bay for the director’s blood. Gus Van Sant was roundly ridiculed for remaking Psycho, allegedly shot-for-shot (it’s nothing of the sort), and that recent Wicker Man has made the director, Neil LaButte, and not its invincible star Nicolas Cage, something of a laughingstock.

Rating:

Never Let Me Go

dir: Mark Romanek
[img_assist|nid=1377|title=Letting go is never easy|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=406|height=600]
What a strange, sad film. Watching Never Let Me Go was a profoundly melancholy experience for me, despite the fact that not much overtly happens, and none of my tears flowed in programmed Pavlovian response to deftly deployed violins or postcard photography.

After all, I’m not some flouncy squats-to-piss girl’s blouse. Even if the ending of Toy Story 3 made me weep like a little girl with a skinned knee. No, no sooky la-la, I.

At its heart it’s a simple love story involving three people, but its setup is anything but simple. The flick, based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro, posits an alternate history timeline where certain medical breakthroughs in our history changed the course of humanity.

And not for the better, as far as the protagonists are concerned. The flick’s timeline covers three distinct time periods, being the 1970s, the 80s and the 90s. Though the setting and the environs don’t really change with the passage of time, our protagonists grow up, and change, and realise just how awful their predicament is.

Rating:

Town, The

dir: Ben Affleck
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This flick is still limping its way out of Australian cinemas for at least another week, and so I’m glad not only that I got to see it on the big screen, but that I have something newish to review. Because gods know the world needs more of my movie reviews. You know you crave them, too. It’s like an addiction, I know.

It’s strange that the name ‘Ben Affleck’ as director inspires much more interest in me than when ‘Ben Affleck’ the actor is referred to. One piques my interest, the other inspires my whatevers impulse. When Ben Affleck is the director and the main character, then I’m the very definition of ambivalent.

It really can’t be overstated how good a flick Gone Baby Gone was, which indicated at least that Affleck, at the time, was better placed directing flicks than being in them. Consider it his long march towards redemption for the decade or so of flailing and Jennifer Lopez tabloid hysteria. With all the critical kudos he garnered for directing his brother Casey in probably the best flick they’ll ever be involved in, he somehow decided two seemingly contradictory things: that he should direct more films, and that people were clamouring to see him in front of the camera again.

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Animal Kingdom

dir: David Michôd
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It’s not entirely clear why the film is called Animal Kingdom until past the middle of the flick, when Guy Pearce’s character has to explicitly spell it all out: everything in nature, like in the Australian bush, inherently knows its place. There are trees that live for thousands of years, and insects that die in the space of time it takes to think of them. There are predators and prey, the strong and the weak, and they all have to compensate accordingly.

It’s a moment of exposition that sounds superfluous, because it’s rarely a good idea to explain your title, but it’s used wisely. It’s used by a character who thinks he has the measure of the person he’s speaking to, who thinks this is the best way to convince him to go along with his program.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

Australian cinema has often gone to the crime well to come up with its quality television programs and movies, and this flick certainly doesn’t come up dry. It’s as good as a lot of reviewers are saying it is, but what I failed to glean from other people’s comments and analyses was how emotionally complicated it is, how tension-filled and how grim. And how little it compromises.

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Unthinkable

dir: Gregor Jordan
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I know, I know: you’ve never heard of it, and neither had I until yesterday.

You have to wonder how flicks with A-list casts like this can disappear so completely in an era where the biggest flick in the world at the moment only has Tom Hank’s voice in a major role, and the next in line hosts the anti-charismatic properties of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner in lead roles: three people who if you added their personalities together, you’d still be coming up with a figure significantly less than 1.

I hear they share the one personality between them. Which is why, most of the time, you don’t see them all together in the same place. And the rest is computer generated imagery, just like their sparkly, bare-chested, sexless fame.

Perhaps it overstates it to claim that Unthinkable has an A-list cast. Michael Sheen did play Tony Blair, and a werewolf, and a vampire, David Frost and an even more horrific undead creature in the form of the coach of Leeds United. He’s got to be up there.

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The Road

The Road

It was grim I tell you, grim as being awake at 5am.

dir: John Hillcoat

Oh gods is this film depressing. It’s not as completely hideous and bleak as the Cormac McCarthy novel from which it takes its name, since it leaves out some of the most horrifying bits. Even without some of that stuff, good goddamn is it depressing.

John Hillcoat has made some grim flicks, like Ghosts… Of the Civil Dead and The Proposition, but this out-grims them all. And as with The Proposition, adding to the bleak landscape and sombre atmosphere is a score created by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Of the soundtracks they’ve done together, well, this is of a piece, and whilst it’s not as powerful as the one they managed for that Jesse James flick whose title was almost longer than its running time, it’s still pretty devastating.

This film mostly has three characters. Sure there are others, but three characters are the majority that we look at and care about. There’s The Man (Viggo Mortensen), there’s The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and then there’s the dead world they walk upon.

This is a post-apocalyptic story with a difference. The difference is that there’s nothing cool or romantic about this devastated place where we spend two hours of our lives and the last days of humanity. Plenty of flicks have been set in some nebulous future setting where nuclear war, robots, a virus, melting icecaps, zombies, evolved monkeys or Michael Bay have been responsible for wiping out human civilisation as we knew it. In almost all of those stories, though, the world left behind might be seriously fucked up and rubble strewn, but there’s still life, of a sort, and as they say, where there’s life, there’s fucking. I mean, where there’s life there’s hope.

The Road posits a world where there will be no redemption, no Hand of God coming down from the heavens to save / kill us, no rebuilding, no preservation of a copy of A Canticle for Leibowitz for future generations, no hope. The world is cold and getting colder, ashen, dead, really dead, and it’s just waiting for its last species to violently expire in order for the whole planet to become as quiet as a global grave can be.

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Milk

dir: Gus Van Sant
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You would have thought that the acclaimed documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk would have pretty much covered the story of this incandescently flamboyant political icon of the 1970s. But, let’s be honest: unless someone wins an Academy award and fictionalises the fuck out of a story, we don’t really care.

And why have footage of Harvey Milk playing Harvey Milk in a documentary about himself when you can have Sean Penn overacting all over the place instead?

So much better. To be fair, Penn mostly controls himself and delivers what is a stand-out performance in a career defined by stand-out performances, overacting, having been married to Madonna and beating up paparazzi.

I knew plenty of the details surrounding Milk’s death moreso than his life, because of the hilarious manner in which the person who murdered him used one of the most incredible defences in order to beat the rap and reduce his clearly cold-blooded and premeditated crime to an act of junk food-fuelled manslaughter due to diminished capacity. Of course the truth of what was actually argued by his defence team and what has become the pop culture meme of the “twinkie defence” are two completely different things.

Rating:

Coraline

Coraline

Be careful what you wish for, because it might just
KILL EVERYBODY!!!

dir: Henry Selick

You don’t know how wary I was going into this. Genuinely scared. Not scared in the sense that I was scared about what would happen in the story, or about some of the imagery. Sensitive little tulip that I am.

What I was most scared of was the prospect of disappointment. I love the works of Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick so much that the potential for failure seemed very high. Gaiman has written so much incredible stuff, including Coraline itself, and then there’s all the Sandman stuff, and American Gods, and and and…I need to curb the fanboy enthusiasm. Selick made James and the Giant Peach, and Nightmare Before Christmas, both of which I love, and is probably one of the (last) greats in the field of this old school style of animation.

It was a sweet relief to have all my fears allayed. Coraline isn’t a perfect flick, either in its story or its rendering, which is a mixture of stop-motion ‘solid’ animation and computer generated imagery, but it’s so goddamn close that the distinction becomes purely academic. Neil Gaiman, as with any of the greats when it comes to working in the areas of fantasy or what are often derisively dismissed as children’s fairy tales, understands the deep psychological underpinnings of what he’s working with, in the way that the Brothers Grimm and the creators of mythology throughout the ages have always understood. It’s not just childhood fears that these people have to approach and understand: they have to know the different motivations and intensities of feeling that children possess and most of us adults have forgotten. When people like Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman get it right, they forcefully remind us again.

Of course there are similarities with other tales, from Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli stuff to Alice in Wonderland to more ancient stuff, but I should really learn to stay on message and deal with the subject at hand without feeling the need to start enumerating everything else I’ve ever thought of in excruciating detail.

What I absolutely loved about Coraline the most was the fact, which seems really obvious on the surface, that Coraline makes choices and has to act in order to achieve anything in this story. She’s not just a character that stuff happens to until a cliché ending where every bit of a status quo is restored. She’s a bit of a brat who almost gets everything she could ever have wished for, only to realise that if she doesn’t work really hard, everything will become terrible forever for a lot of people, especially herself.

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