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8 stars

Doubt

Doubt

They're not Amish, oh no, they're just penguins

dir: John Patrick Shanley

I have doubts about this film. It’s well made, there’s no doubt about it. It’s an interesting story. My doubts stem from the fact that Meryl Streep, for all her sheer wonderfulness, doesn’t always hit it out of the park, as an American might say. Being an Australian, I guess I’m obligated to say that she should be hitting it for six, but the truth is I like cricket even less than baseball, if it’s even possible.

My problems with the whole wide world of sport shouldn’t bleed into the quality time you spend reading my reviews, so I should back down, I guess. The fact is, Meryl’s performance in this was so off-putting that I could barely appreciate the flick at some points. Every time she spoke or overdid some physical mannerism or affectation, it would kick me out of the film and remind me that I was watching some of the alleged prime thespians of their day battle it out in a no holds barred Battle Royale.

Again with the sport, though wrestling is hardly a sport in the real sense. She plays a nun, Sister Aloysius, with the fierceness and demeanour of some kind of treasure-hoarding troll. I appreciate that she’s meant to be this fearsome personage at the school where she rules/teaches, but c’mon Meryl, don’t you think you took it a bit too far? She looked and acted like she was auditioning for the part of Gollum in a Lord of the Rings remake.

And don’t think it’s too soon. Give it a few years.

Rating:

Drag Me to Hell

Drag Me to Hell

So, watcha been up to, Buffy? Slayed any vampires lately?

dir: Sam Raimi

Sam Raimi. Sam Raimi. Where have I heard that name before? Oh, wait, I know. He’s the lesser known brother of Ted Raimi, who dazzled the world with his performance as Joxer the Magnificent in that Xena: Warrior Princess series, and as J. Jonah Jameson’s assistant in the Spider-Man movies. Or maybe it’s that he’s the brother of Ivan Raimi, famous scribe of Spider-Man 3 and actor in the classic Nude Bowling Party?

No, I’m sure I’ve heard of Sam from somewhere else. Wherever it’s from, it seems like he’s decided to enter the family business by directing feature films. For what may be his debut feature for all I know, he’s decided to make a strange little horror-comedy called Drag Me to Hell, which, honestly, shows to me that this Sam Raimi guy might just have what it takes to make a career for himself with these movie shenanigans.

The kid definitely has a future ahead of him. Or maybe a past, I’m not sure. Like most rookies in the business, he’ll probably piss it all away on hookers and cocaine, but maybe he’ll survive and make some more tiny small budget horror films in the future. I think that’s all a guy can hope for, really.

Rating:

Star Trek XI

Star Trek

Organised by rank, and by how much they probably got paid

dir: JJ Abrams

Excitement might have been high in some quarters; dread might have been higher in others. The prospect of a new Star Trek film might have seemed inevitable to some, and downright puzzling to most. After all, the Trek flicks, either the ones with the ancient crew or with the still quite old Next Generation crew never really made that much money (certainly not blockbuster numbers), and the last hurrah critically and financially was back in the 90s.

And yet they kept putting out films as if there was a burning need in the public to see these same weak characters age poorly and deliver groan-worthy jokes that seemed outdated even back in the era where the only form of mass entertainment were cave paintings and hitting each other over the head with clubs.

As with a whole bunch of other franchises, properties, brands recently, they decided to bring it all back and to undertake a reboot / reinvention in order to rekindle interest in a largely apathetic public. And they handed the responsibility for directing this, the eleventh, or XIth, if you want to get all Roman numeral and classy, entry in the franchise to J.J. Abrams, the guy who, amongst other crimes, created the television shows Felicity, Alias and Lost, and directed the third Mission: Impossible flick.

Rating:

Valkyrie

dir: Bryan Singer
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A fair few nerds were angry and dispirited when youngish director Bryan Singer, famous for directing the criminal mindfuck that was The Usual Suspects, and powerful after directing the first two X-Men films, chose not to make the third X-Men flick, and instead wanted to make a pouty-faced serious flick about some Nazis who failed to kill Hitler. I certainly count myself amongst those pitchfork-toting nerds after watching that dire 3rd X-Men flick, which left me angry and unfulfilled, but it wasn’t because I felt Singer had some kind of personal obligation to entertain me.

It’s just that I hated that third movie so goddamn much. It seemed strange at the time that Singer, whose baby the X-Men movies were considered to be, would voluntarily choose to neglect his responsibilities and go off to make a flick with Tom Cruise playing a ‘good’ Nazi with an eyepatch. In fact, it seemed downright comical.

Rating:

Let the Right One In (Lat den Ratte Komma In)

Let the Right One In

Sometimes little girls aren't made of sugar and spice
and all things nice. And sometimes they're not little girls at all.

dir: Tomas Alfredson

You would think that the vampire genre has been pretty much tapped out by now. The well went dry right about the time someone decided vampires could be an excellent Mormon stand-in for preaching abstinence and that sunlight, instead of burning them, would make them go all shiny and mirror-ball. How pretty! All Twilight needed further was ponies, and it would have been complete!

The endless permutations, allegorical renderings, highbrow and low trash versions mean that almost each and every possibility has been explored and then some.

So if you’re one of the many who’s heard of this strange little Swedish film and you’re wondering why it made so many critics end-of-year lists last year, and why it’s gotten so much acclaim, you might think it’s because it takes the vampire genre and radically twists it around and makes it all new again, kinda like that surgery they claim can turn women back into virgins. Yeah, as if.

You would be, like I was, surprised to find that Let the Right One In, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist isn’t really that different. Even in Swedish, even set in the 80s, it’s a recognisable part of the vampire canon of tales and stories. This vampire needs blood, has to avoid sunlight, has to be invited in to a house in order to enter it, and its bite alone can turn its victims vampiric if the vampire neglects to kill those it feeds on.

Rating:

Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir)

dir: Ari Folman
[img_assist|nid=141|title=Doing the genocide dance|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=220|height=326]
Animated movies don’t usually tackle genocide, massacres and the delayed effects of traumatic memories on people as their main themes. They’re usually about the virtues of being yourself, or about believing in yourself, or about what it would be like if dogs, cats and robots were lucky enough to have the voices of celebrities.

Israeli director Ari Folman has made something quite unique here, in that it is a documentary about his lack of memory about something he was involved in, and it is an animated documentary, at that. How many animated documentaries can you think of, off the top of your heads?

None, because there aren’t any. It really is quite remarkable. The animation itself is straightforward and comparatively simplistic, in that this isn’t something you’re watching because it’s a technical marvel. But it serves the story perfectly, because it doesn’t distract from the telling of the story; it facilitates it. For a completely rendered version of what happened, it approaches a kind of truth many if not most documentaries lack.

Rating:

Wrestler, The

dir: Darren Aronofsky
[img_assist|nid=23|title=Fear the Ram!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=321]
It really doesn’t feel like you’re watching Mickey Rourke’s comeback to the big screen. It feels more like you’re watching his swan song. Rourke himself and the character he plays in The Wrestler are so intertwined that it becomes impossible to tell where Mickey Rourke ends and Randy “The Ram” Robinson begins, and vice versa.

Rourke himself has undergone a transformation, but I’m not sure all of it was for this film’s benefit. This isn’t his comeback, since it was only a few year’s ago that he was being lauded for his work in Sin City, but the strangest thing is that I realised watching this that much of what I thought was make-up and latex facework when he played the Frankenstein-like Marv in Sin City was anything but.

Rating:

Visitor, The

dir: Thomas McCarthy
[img_assist|nid=20|title=Economics Lecturers need love too|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=512|height=343]
Low-key. This film is so low-key that it almost shouldn’t exist. But exist it does, and I found it sweetly enjoyable, far more than most of the films I’ve watched lately and forgotten before the credits have rolled.

Which is odd, quite odd. Because little if anything happens for the whole film’s duration. And instead of using the term ‘low-key’ to describe it, it’s possible that inventing and applying a whole new term to describe such a film might be more appropriate: no-key.

This no-key film begins with an emotionally dead academic played ably by Richard Jenkins, taking piano lessons from a woman. He's not very good at it, and doesn't like the woman teaching him, informing her that though he intends to take more lessons, it won't be with her.

It's only with a bit of time, subtlety, that we figure out what's really going on. His wife, now dead, used to play the piano. Since her death, he tries to keep playing it in order to honour her / remember her, but it doesn't really work. When he speaks to people, he is completely shut down, completely uninterested in those around him, especially when it comes to his work. He teaches one class, and even that's under sufferance.

Rating:

Sparrow (Man jeuk)

dir: Johnnie To
[img_assist|nid=86|title=Sparrow|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=225|height=324]
Hong Kong director Johnnie To has made so many films that saying something like “and so I’m going to review the latest film by Johnnie To” is a pointless endeavour, because by the time you’ve finished writing the review, he’s put out another film.

At the very least I can say this is a recent film of his, and that I managed to catch it as part of a retrospective in honour of the great man that played recently at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Apparently he even came out to Australia for it, which is pretty sensational. He was probably pissed off that he couldn’t smoke in the theatre, if I can hazard a guess based on anecdote and on most of his films, in which every single goddamn character has to smoke constantly.

Of course even a fairly knowledgeable film watcher / movie goer would be saying to themselves, “yeah, and who the fuck is Johnnie To anyway, and why should I care?” And right you are.

It doesn’t matter. He is a good Hong Kong director who has made a string of decent movies. Sparrow is his latest, is a very good film, and I would even call it a significant departure for the director if his career wasn’t already littered with examples of genre-ignoring endeavours on his part.

Rating:

In Bruges

dir: Martin McDonough
[img_assist|nid=83|title=Seeing the sights in sunny Bruges|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=228]
It’s not often that I am completely ignorant of a film’s content or worth prior to checking it out, but I can honestly say that I knew nothing about In Bruges, Bruges or director Martin McDonough before watching this flick.

Sure, I’d heard that it was an okay film, but I had no practical knowledge of what would transpire when I watched it. And that’s a good thing.

Two criminals, Ray (Colin Farell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are forced by their boss Harry (Ralph Feinnes) to take a little trip to a medieval town in Belgium called Bruges. We don’t know why for the film’s first half hour at least.

Ken finds the town beautiful, and is excited about doing some sightseeing. Ray is jittery, and acts like a reluctant five-year-old boy being dragged to cultural sights and delights that he couldn’t possibly give a toss about. Ken and Ray seem to have that snippy, comfortable relationship of people who’ve known each other long enough to know how far to go before pulling back, what, with the constant insults and sharing of drugs.

Rating:

WALL-E

dir: Andrew Stanton
[img_assist|nid=122|title=WALL E ponders the existential stupidity of Rubiks cubes|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=469|height=305]
For some people, WALL-E represents a welcome return to form for Pixar, putting the now Disney owned company back at the top of the computer animated movie pile. For others, it’s just a continuation of their general excellentness, with WALL-E only representing the latest in an unbroken stream of quality products pumped out by the Dream Factory.

And for others, it’s just a movie. A very well animated one, but a movie all the same. I have to admit to being something of a Pixar devotee, so the arrival of their flicks tends to pique my interest greatly. WALL-E's good reviews raised expectations even higher.

But they weren’t too high. I didn’t really expect this flick to be a revelation, because long ago, around the time of Cars, I realised that Pixar’s movies would remain distinctive, and look cutting edge whenever they were released, but that being utterly blown away would be unlikely. Computer animated movies are a dime a dozen these days, the stunning visuals have become commonplace, and the quirky stories about being free to be yourself or stopping to smell the roses are becoming pretty clockwork regular as well.

Rating:

Tropic Thunder

dir: Ben Stiller
[img_assist|nid=14|title=Catch the Tropical Fever|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=286]
If you’d told me that Ben Stiller, yes, that annoying nervy guy with the big ears, was capable of ever making another funny film, I would have metaphorically spat in your face. Maybe not metaphorically, maybe literally! I contend that flicks like Zoolander and many of the other misfires Stiller has been in, just aren’t that funny. I know people who lose control of their bladders at the mere mention of Zoolander, but I’m certainly not one of them.

And I say that as someone who likes Ben Stiller and thinks he’s a funny guy. Funny in the sense that he’s odd, not that he consistently makes me chuckle with his antics or his silly characters in the painfully neurotic films he stars in.

So colour me surprised that I got many a laugh out of Tropic Thunder. Many, many laughs, far more than is usual for me in public. Some parts had me in tears, literal tears of disbelieving, paralysing laughter.

As a fan of war movies, I’ve pretty much seen them all, especially the ones from Nam onwards. Also, I’ve probably seen Saving Private Ryan more times than most mental health professionals would consider healthy. A film that righteously takes the piss out of these films is, perversely, right up my alley. They’re so ripe for parody that they’re practically begging for it.

Rating:

Iron Man

dir: Jon Favreau
[img_assist|nid=87|title=Tell it to the repulsor ray powered hand|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
The only real criteria I had initially for whether the flick would be great or disastrous shite was the demand that the guitar riff from Black Sabbath’s Iron Man had to be used at least once during the whole experience. So I watched it all, forgetting my initial charge, until the film ended on a deliriously funny high note, with the riff then booming out of the theatre’s speakers. I was pretty damn happy about that.

Still, it shows at the very least how profoundly low my expectations were.

The most surprising element of this whole Iron Man extravaganza is not that Robert Downey Jr is great in the title role (he’s a great actor, fully comfortable with a role that is a gift to him), or that the flick itself is very entertaining. The surprise is that Jon Favreau has now finally made a flick worth watching.

Rating:

Persepolis

dir: Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud
[img_assist|nid=16|title=Arguments with God|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=280]
Persepolis is an animated movie about the life of Marjane Satrapi, a French-speaking Iranian woman who grew up in the 70s / 80s in Iran and Europe. That might not sound like a particularly riveting choice of subject matter, but this is a fascinating life story told well with evocative handdrawn 2 dimensional artwork. Seriously.

As such, it’s probably the only animated movie about Iran many people will ever hear of during their short lives, and probably one of the only ones that tells the story of both the impact of the Shah on Iranian society, and the subsequent Islamic Revolution and war with Iraq in the 80s. As well, it tells it as a bitter-sweet work of art combined with a woman’s tale of coming of age in difficult circumstances.

No other film, animated or otherwise, in this century or any other, in French or any other language, is going to have a character deliver a rendition of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger with as much conviction and as much hilarity as what occurs in the middle of this movie.

Satrapi transformed the story of her life into a graphic novel previously, and this is essentially a bringing to life of that graphic novel. Named after the ancient Persian capital, it gives the lucky viewer a glimpse into Iranian life that would rarely be seen otherwise.

Rating:

Walk Hard

dir: Jake Kasdan
[img_assist|nid=7|title=Ain't we sweet together?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
Walk Hard is, truth be told, a more honest, funnier and more musically adept biopic about Johnny Cash’s life than that film that came out a few years ago with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon whose name doesn’t escape me for the moment. Truth be told, the one doesn’t exist without the other since Walk Hard is such a parody of both Walk the Line and Ray, not only in name but in structure and key moments as well. Substitute actual blindness with smell-blindness, and they’re virtually indistinguishable.

Oh, the structure. At the movie’s beginning, an aged Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) is about to go on stage, but seems to be waiting for something. A stagehand goes up and hassles him about the need to go onstage in short order. One of Dewey’s longstanding bandmates pipes up, “Can’t you see the man has to think about his entire life before he goes onstage?”

And, of course, from there the story moves back in time to where Dewey is but a boy, and playing with his much more talented and accomplished little brother Nate, who dreams of doing great things one day.

Rating:

I'm Not There

dir: Todd Haynes
[img_assist|nid=54|title=If I had a hammer|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
It’s amazing to me that anyone could ever have thought something like this could have worked. A bunch of people playing their own versions of Bob Dylan? What, one person imitating him wouldn’t have been enough, or tolerable? So getting twenty people to do it, clearly, is a better idea?

To me it’s apparent right from the start that some of the concept behind the way it ends up being done is that one person playing Dylan wouldn’t work. That it would be inaccurate or disrespectful to dare to do a Walk the Line or Ray on Bob Dylan, because he’s just soooo much more important and complicated, isn’t he?

On the other hand, by fracturing the narrative in such a way, and by having all the various actors play different Dylans, with different names as well, then it obviates the need to actually have a coherent narrative and the need to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

I could be far more scathing and mockworthy about it, but it’d be fruitless. The fact is, regardless of why they decided to do it this way, it actually works. Perhaps I say that only because a) I don’t really care about Bob Dylan and b) I don’t necessarily see him as a figure worthy of adulation and worship beyond the merits of his music.

Rating:

Kite Runner, The

dir: Marc Foster
[img_assist|nid=31|title=Go fly a kite, boys, while you still can|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=340]
The Kite Runner, based on the book by Khaled Hosseini, is a simple story about some Afghan people living through some interesting times.

I have a talent both for understatement, and for inaccuracy. More importantly, the story is about the life and character of a young man called Amir (Khalid Abdalla as an adult, Zekeriah Ebrahimi as a boy). He grows up in Kabul, in the 70s, under the watchful eye of his liberal, wealthy father (Homayoun Ershadi) and family friend Rahim (Shaun Toub).

He also has the constant companionship of servant boy Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) who worships the very ground he walks on. His devotion to Amir is nothing short of heart-breaking, but, to me at least, the devotion is not the sadomasochistic dog-like devotion of a weak, dependant neurotic. Hassan’s loyalty is fierce and strong.

And it would need to be, because Amir himself is something of a coward. When confronted by other child bullies and thugs, it is Hassan who steps up for the fight, protecting his ‘master’, even when the reason that the thugs are harassing them is that Hassan is of a different tribal ethnicity (he is often referred to as a Hazara). Amir’s own father senses that there is something missing in Amir, which is only one of the sources that fuels his resentment.

Rating:

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

dir: Tim Burton
[img_assist|nid=151|title=Your wives, girlfriends and mothers would still sleep with me, even looking like this|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=257]
I’ve had a fight recently with someone over the use of the term ‘gay’. Not in the obvious context, but in the one very familiar in a pop cultural sense, especially amongst teenagers. Dear friends who are teachers report that the children in their charge use the term in the pejorative manner ie. “That is so gay” so often that it drives their teachers nuts. Thus they spend a certain amount of time trying to convince The Kids that using it in such a manner is homophobic and inappropriate.

It’s a phrase with the least of bad intentions that is so easy to use and so easy to overuse. In the worst manner, it does, essentially, equate something with something else in a manner that does discredit both the comparison and the comparer. Okay, so describing something as, “ohmygod that’s so gay” doesn’t necessarily mean that you hate gay people, but you are using it in the pejorative sense, and by default saying that being gay is a negative.

Rating:

Paranoid Park

dir: Gus Van Sant
[img_assist|nid=43|title=I believe that children are the future. Unless we stop them|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=471|height=367]
Gus Van Sant really likes them teenaged boys. No, I’m not going for the obvious gag here, I mean that there really is something he seems to love in terms of capturing, trying to preserve this brief moment in their lives between the adolescent and adult worlds.

Paranoid Park has a really simple story fractured into pieces and told in a manner whose purpose seems to be less the telling of a story and more capturing how Alex, our main character, feels about stuff. That sounds like some deep shit, doesn’t it.

There is something enjoyable about watching a flick about a teenage kid that isn’t about popularity, that isn’t about getting laid, it’s not about the prom and it’s not about some stupid bet usually involving sleeping with one particular girl until the protagonist realises that the girl who truly loves him was the slightly tomboyish but still totally feminine best friend who was alongside all etc etc.

In terms of other flicks Van Sant has made, it’s also refreshing to watch him make a film about teenagers that isn’t about a Columbine-style massacre, about two morons wandering lost in the desert or the last days of a drug-addled rock star.

Rating:

Atonement

dir: Joe Wright
[img_assist|nid=26|title=Feed me, I'm hungrier than Christian Bale|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
Atonement is an exquisite rendering of an exquisite book, brought to life in a way that is surprising in the sense that good literary adaptations for the silver screen are rare.

Whilst I do find Keira Knightley’s anorexic and perpetually hungry features disturbing, she makes a decent Cecilia, in fact everyone seems perfect in terms of casting and what they bring to their roles. So full praise to the casting director.

Kudos to you, sir or madam, kudos.

What’s doubly surprising is that the book could be transformed so readily into so decent a film, sacrificing little that made the book so compelling. The three-part structure is intact, the key moments and situations as seen from crucial view points are well presented, and there’s even room for some directorial virtuosity in the form of an incredible long take on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Rating:

Mist, The

dir: Frank Darabont
[img_assist|nid=47|title=I See Dumb People|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
I watched this flick last night, and this morning, I made my way to work through a thick, chilling mist. I have to admit, for a second, I wondered what horrors the mist might hold for me.

The Mist is one of those rarest of rare movies: something based on the works of Stephen King that doesn’t suck completely and utterly. Yeah, sure, people point out The Shining, Misery, Shawshank, Green Mile, Christine and that’s about it, as a way of saying that one of the world’s most prolific horror writers has had flicks translate well from their book origins.

Bullshit, I say, to them. For every Shawshank, there’s almost ten flops that make you want to tear your eyeballs out based on some scrap of cocktail napkin that the legendary crank hack scrawled something onto.

To be fair, I started looking through all the gems he’s had a hand or toe in, and there were plenty of other flicks that don’t suck completely that he’s been involved in.

Then again, there’s still Dreamcatcher.

Rating:

Into the Wild

dir: Sean Penn
[img_assist|nid=51|title=I'm even dirtier than I look|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
There are films and books that purport to be about genuine individuals, about iconoclasts, rebels who are unlike everyone around them. Mostly it seems like it is praise for the latest sporting icon or actor/directors getting paid millions to indulge their affectations and the contempt they have for other people, in an easily marketable and digestible package. When the real thing comes along: a person in the modern age completely unwilling to live life like the vast majority of the people around him, we might not know what to make of him.

Into the Wild is based on a book by Jon Krakauer and looks at the life and times of one Christopher Johnson McCandless. The only really notable thing about this chap is that for seemingly no reason, but in reality a whole heap of reasons, he chooses to eschew the luxuries of modern life and travel the lonely road.

Rating:

Gone Baby Gone

dir: Ben Affleck
[img_assist|nid=42|title=I am not my brother's keeper|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=480|height=270]
To me, and I suspect a lot of other audience members, the concept of a film directed by Ben Affleck starring Casey Affleck seems like one of those perfect storm conditions for a Shit Storm of the Century-type of outcomes.

And setting it in Boston amongst working class, criminal and trashy Southies? That’s like a tornado inside a hurricane inside a campaign of sustained aerial bombardment hitting your trailer park.

The suburb of Dorchester, which is both the setting for the film and where the book’s author Dennis Lehane was birthed and growed, looks like the trashiest, grungiest shithole in America. Whatever initial claim it might have had to being the Irish heart of old Boston is long gone. It looks like the kind of place that not only houses the highest levels per capita of Jerry Springer viewers, but also the greatest amount of participants in the show.

Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) is just another one of these Southie scumbags, who manages to be repellent and compelling at the same time. She’s one of those alcoholic drug addicts who would probably start a lot of sentences with the phrase “Now I’m never going to win a ‘Mother of the Year’ award, but…” and then proves it with her behaviour on a continual basis.

Rating:

Rescue Dawn

dir: Werner Herzog
[img_assist|nid=24|title=Feed Me, I'm Ever So Hungry|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=299]
What is it about crazy men and jungles that Herzog can’t get enough of? Every flick he’s ever done seems like it’s been about one or the other, or both at the same time.

His greatest flick, and one of my absolute favourites, is the utterly demented Aguirre: Wrath of God, which transpires on a river that passes through a candy-coloured brothel. No, wait, I meant to say South American jungle. The demented Klaus Kinski stars as the main crazy person.

Fitzcarraldo focussed on the actions of another crazy man who decided he’d somehow transport a massive riverboat through a jungle and over a mountain to the other side. The demented Klaus Kinski stars as the main crazy person.

His documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, looked at the true story of US Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down over Laos in 1966 and taken prisoner in the jungle, going somewhat mad from starvation and torment. Rescue Dawn is a dramatic retelling of the same story. The ghost of Klaus Kinski stars as the inhospitable jungle itself.

So, again, it’s crazy men and the jungle. I think Herzog’s a bit obsessed. His other non-jungle films still focus mainly on crazy people, but there’s always a bit of jungle lurking around the corner or in their souls.

Rating:

Control

dir: Anton Corbijn
[img_assist|nid=118|title=Unknown pleasures from a distant star|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=640|height=480]
It’s… hard for me to review something like this. Perversely, I have adored Joy Division’s music since I was a child, but I never much bought into any of the mythologising of Ian Curtis as a tortured genius who died far too much before his time by his own hand. I say ‘perversely’ because despite having listened to both Closer and Unknown Pleasures more times than you’ve masturbated, I never really had a burning desire to find out more about the events leading up to Curtis’s suicide.

Also, fairly recently, the Michael Winterbottom film 24 Hour Party People seemed to deal with the Joy Division and Curtis story with the care and attention it deserved, devoting half (the good half) of the flick to their tale. Sure, it might have had the depth of a puddle of spilt beer, but I wasn’t really hungry for more.

Control has managed to make a fool out of me, making me doubt the flick’s and maker’s intentions at first, and the validity of the central performance, before it absolutely and utterly drew me in before blowing me away.

Rating:

Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The

Assassination of Jesse James

Good job making Brad Pitt look like a legend from a bygone era, photoshoppers

dir: Andrew Dominik

Assassination is one of the most beautiful and mournful films you’ll ever see. It is long, and sad, from its first immaculately composed and photographed scene to its last. None of which will make it any more enjoyable an experience for the general audience that will be bored out of its collective fucking mind.

Though anyone seeing the film should know exactly what it’s all about from beginning to end from the title alone, what they might not expect is that the flick is really about both the deconstruction of a myth and the deconstruction of a person’s soul. Not a lot happens in the 160 or so minutes of screen time apart from the falling apart of a curiously larger than life persona.

These are the twilight years of Jesse James and his gang. At the advanced age of his mid thirties, James is plagued with physical and mental ailments that render him something of a paranoid wreck, and unknowable to the people around him. As the persistent voiceover keeps telling us, he trusts not a soul, and moves his family at a whim at the slightest hint of trouble. He moves between Kansas, Kentucky and Missouri, always restless, always harried even if the law is not on his trail.

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A Mighty Heart

dir: Michael Winterbottom
[img_assist|nid=97|title=The man himself on his wedding day|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=240|height=360]
Daniel Pearl was a journalist working in Pakistan when he was kidnapped by terrorists in 2002. He was held for several days, as his six-month’s pregnant wife Mariane Pearl, their friends, colleagues, fellow journalists and the Pakistani police and ISI security forces, US Embassy staff, FBI, the then Secretary of State Colin Powell and probably Batman as well all tried to secure his release.

If you never heard the story in the media because you were too busy downloading pirated media of all sorts and purposes, or you were watching slack-jawed and mouth agape at the antics of the latest reality television contestants instead, then perhaps the events depicted in A Mighty Heart will be exciting and new. Perhaps then the flick’s structure as an investigative thriller might thrill you.
Of course, if that was the case you’re also probably not likely to give a damn over the fate of a journalist, loathsome creatures that they are.

If you know what Daniel’s fate was at the hands of these vile bastards, then the question this flick might satisfy for you won’t be ‘what happened?’ so much as the how and the why of it.

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Lust, Caution

dir: Ang Lee
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You could say that the subject matter of Lust, Caution was a strange choice for Ang Lee, if it really was possible to contend such a thing. But he’s never been consistent in his film choices or in their content, so it really isn’t that strange, is it?

I mean, look at this CV: The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hulk and Brokeback Mountain.

If there is one consistency to point to, it's that these aren't superficial films. Clearly, he makes films about whatever he wants, and he is not bound by any genre or convention. For this he has loyal fans but an unpredictable output.

Lust, Caution looks at the blossoming, in more ways than one, of a young patriotic lass called Wong Jiazhi (Wei Tang), whose fateful job it is to infiltrate the affections and bed of a very bad man, being Mr Yee (Tony Leung Chiu Wai). The film begins when she is already in place, and then flashes back to four years in the past, to show how she got to this precarious place in her life.

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Black Snake Moan

dir: Craig Brewer
[img_assist|nid=746|title=Moaning Christina Ricci|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=393]
The posters for this flick and the DVD are pure, purer, purest exploitation material. Big black man restraining a skinny white girl who is literally chained to him. The title reads “Black Snake Moan”, and your not unreasonable expectation is that this flick must be some kind of trashy crap. There’s an entire line of, uh, movies out there that focus on, um, interactions between African-American males and ‘white’ females. And the black snake they’re referring to is an entirely different animal.

You can debate the tastefulness of the promotion, and doubt the artistic merit of such an enterprise, but that would be doing this decent flick a grave disservice.

The Black Snake Moan of the title refers to the despair that can consume us whole in the face of a life spun out of control. Usually because of love gone wrong. Or stubbing your toe, whichever comes first.

The film opens and closes with ancient footage of genuine old school bluesman Son House pontificating about what the blues is about. Cut short, the blues is about the misery caused by interactions between men and women in love or lust. Same sex couples clearly are not part of this equation and need not apply. If a gay person with a broken heart listens to the blues and relates to it, then clearly they’re not gay enough.

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Ratatouille

dir: Brad Bird
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The Pixar name still means something to audiences. They’ve made so many great computer-animated flicks that discounting them because of missteps (Cars) or being purchased by Disney for something obscene like 7 billion dollars and the kidneys of several thousand Asian children, seems wrong.

I’m reassured by Ratatouille, in that even if it’s not breakout tremendous like The Incredibles, or consistently entertaining and engaging like Finding Nemo, the Toy Stories or even Monsters Inc, it’s still pretty damn good and still several million miles ahead of the drek like Shrek and the other crap pumped out by Pixar’s rivals.

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