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8 stars

Planet Terror

dir: Robert Rodriguez
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Now this is more like it…

The essential argument I’m going to put forth here is that Planet Terror gets right what Death Proof got wrong. The great difficulty I’m going to have pushing this barrow is that I can’t really pinpoint as to why, exactly.

Not ‘why’ as in ‘why am I bothering to inflict my thoughts again on an entirely uninterested populace’ but why as in why it works. And it does.

Fully embracing the 70s trashy movie aesthetic that it aspires to, Planet Terror is a balls-out, at times hilarious celebration of the best that trash cinema used to offer. The footage is deliberately grained up, butchered and cut and with all sorts of flaws and imperfections, including fake film burns and ‘missing’ reel segments. It also has the kind of dialogue that is as ridiculous as it is entertaining.

And it has a hot stripper with a gun for a leg taking on legions of zombie enemies with head and chest bursting alacrity.

Cherry (Rose McGowan) is a go-go dancer who cries every time she dances, much to the consternation of the management. She decides to up and quit one night, which works out quite handily.

Rating:

Last Mistress, The (Une Vieille Maitress)

dir: Catherine Breillat
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I swore off ever sitting through and enduring one of Breillat’s films ever again several years ago, but a free preview ticket pulled me back in to her loathsome cinematic world. Also, reviews saying this was nothing like her earlier monstrosities sucked me in as well.

Her flicks Romance and Anatomie de l’enfer (Anatomy of Hell) convinced me not only that I shouldn’t watch any future films of hers, but that I never wanted to watch any films ever again. Unfortunately for you, like all my other promises and heartfelt vows, this one fell apart swiftly after. I relented, I gave in, because the prospect of watching one of her excruciating films proved too tantalising to me.

Une Vieille Maîtresse is Breillat’s first foray into period piece filmmaking, whereby she’s also working on a screenplay adapted from the novel by Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly. It is set just after, we are told several times, the era of Choderlos de Laclos and Dangerous Liaisons. The only characters old enough to remember the libertine excesses of those days are now themselves too old to be cavorting around themselves. But they remember enough of those licentious times to be able to counsel the next generations.

Rating:

Eastern Promises

dir: David Cronenberg
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Eastern Promises, being a David Cronenberg film, promises more than it should and delivers more than you’d expect. There’s no shortage of flicks out there about organised crime, but it takes a unique one to stand out from the morass.

A look at the Russian mafia isn’t exactly new either. But the screenplay by Stephen Knight and the whole bloody production, overseen by one of the masters of cinema (even if he is Canadian), creates a living, breathing, unnerving story about, amongst other things, how nasty old people can be.

A pregnant fourteen-year-old girl (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) staggers into a chemist, bleeding all over the place. She gives birth to a tiny girl later in hospital, and promptly dies. The midwife, Anna (Naomi Watts) searches the poor girl’s belongings to find out where she comes from so see can give the little baby (who she’s named Christina, in honour of rapidly approaching Christmas) to her family.

The problem is, all she has to go on is a diary in Russian. Anna has a Russian background, but needs the diary to be translated. Propelling the plot forward, she also finds a card which directs her to a Russian restaurant called the Trans-Siberian in the heart of London.

Rating:

Noise

dir: Matthew Seville
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Who doesn’t love a bit of aural every now and then?

Noise is a moody Australian character piece about a depressed Melbourne cop who’s not really that into his job. Despite the murder investigation going on around him, his story is tangential to the grand drama occurring outside his skull.

Some nutter goes crazy on a Melbourne suburban train, and shoots every person in a particular carriage. A girl, Livinia (Maia Thomas), who gets on the train just after her shift at Macca’s has ended and just after the massacre has occurred, sees the bodies and the killer as well, making her the only witness.

Concurrently, copper Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) at another train station gets a call on his CB radio, but doesn’t seem to be able to hear the dispatcher. His hearing problem gets worse until he collapses on an escalator.

His unimpressed senior sergeant, ignoring the medical diagnosis of persistent tinnitus (ringing in the ears), seconders the hapless cop to an information-gathering caravan in the suburb of Sunshine, at the site of another murder that might be connected to the train killings.

His job is to sit in the caravan during the night shift, in order to give members of the public the chance to come forward with information regarding the crimes.

Rating:

Bourne Ultimatum, The

dir: Paul Greengrass
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Jason Bourne gets the job done.

If you sent him to the supermarket, he would power through the aisles, hip-and-shouldering other customers out of the way, strategically rolling cans of kidney beans under the feet of pensioners and somersaulting over the shelves in his single-minded determination to get to the cat food before anyone can stop him. During his manic dash towards the checkout counter, he would be plotting intercept vectors and ambush choke points whilst mentally calculating the savings he’s making versus the current cost of 1400 other brands of cat food that he memorised prior to entering the store.

If anyone got in his way during his exit strategy towards the carpark, he’d kill them, probably with the cat food, even if it was in those soft foil sachets. The cat food would be unharmed and still tasty when he force-fed it to your cat using a funnel and some improvised explosives.

Rating:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

dir: David Yates
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Betterer and betterer…

Order of the Phoenix is probably the best of the Harry Potter films thus far, but that seems kind of redundant to point out. The story itself, of a young wizard, his friends and allies, and the evil arrayed against them, and the author herself have been improving over time. The story is getting more complicated, deeper and richer, and, as such, it is getting harder and harder for me to maintain my disdain for the books and the people who wank on about them all the time.

As with the more recent flicks, they just go straight into it, with no shilly-shallying about. There’s plenty of references to happenings and characters from the previous films/books, but not in the sense of summarising the whole premise for the clueless coming in. It’s assumed that if your bum’s on the theatre seat, you know everything that’s transpired over the course of the story, or at least have some idea.

Rating:

Breach

dir: Billy Ray
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Finally, a flick still playing in Melbourne cinemas, at least for the next day or two, that I can review for the hungry, hungry masses. Hungry for something that isn’t the third part in a series, perhaps. Pirates of Shrek’s Silver Spider Phoenix, Um, Three?

Do you know who Robert Hanssen is? Do you care about the single most hideous security breach in the history of the FBI that didn’t involve J. Edgar Hoover’s frilly underwear? Do you have the patience to watch a low-key, flat story about a deeply troubled individual whose surface hid terrible turmoil beneath told within the trappings of a bureaucratic thriller? No one gets shot with a silencer, no one gets stabbed with a poison tipped umbrella, no radioactive Polonium was used or harmed in the making of this movie. So you’ve been warned.

Rating:

Tell No One (Ne le dis a personne)

dir: Guillaume Canet
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A French adaptation of an American mystery novel made with an eye towards an international audience? That sounds like the latest version of The Pink Panther, or Asterix and Obelix, doesn’t it? But no, Tell No One is loosely what I just described it to be, and it works out as a pretty decent thriller, with a compelling mystery behind it at that. The remakes of French flicks for American consumption usually suck, but the reverse of it has strangely worked to more than just my satisfaction.

A husband and wife, after hanging out with some other French people who all smoke through dinner, go for a midnight swim and for some naked, sweaty love by a lake. The woman disappears, the man is knocked out: it all seems like a very short film with a sad ending.

Rating:

After the Wedding (Efter Brylluppet)

dir: Susanne Bier
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It’s a testament to the abilities of the actors involved, and the skill of director Susanne Bier that this story, which sounds like the most contrived melodrama you could ever imagine, works, and works well. Bier is one of only a handful of Danish directors I can think of (the others being notorious overwrought hack Lars Von Trier and the guy who made the scuzzily vile Pusher trilogy), but she shows here why she’s such a respected director both at home and internationally.

The key is effective drama. In this entire film, there is but one scene that doesn’t work acting-wise or dramatically. That’s one scene out of dozens. That’s a pretty good hit to miss ratio.

Jacob (played by Mads Mikkelson, who most people would know as the villain from the most recent Bond film) is a strange, nervy kind of guy who works at an Indian orphanage. He speaks fluent English, and a bit of the local language, but clearly he’s not from around here, though he’s spent twenty years in the country.

Rating:

Once

dir: John Carney
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How many times are you likely to watch this flick, if at all? Once. How many times will you listen to the CD? Once. How many times will you hear the Oscar-winning song Falling Slowly that features in the film and is likely going to be used in every ad trying to sell everything from haemorrhoid creams to fighter jets and cheese-in-a-can? Probably dozens of times.

Once is a very simple, very unambitious flick that is nonetheless quite charming. It is billed as a romance, but really, it’s about two people who meet, sing and play some songs together, and that’s it. There’s really not much else to it.

The story, such as it is, looks at The Guy (Glen Hansard) who repairs vacuum cleaners in his dad’s shop. He also busks on the streets singing his own songs. In an amusing exchange to open proceedings, he spies a junkie who looks like he’s going to try to steal the change dropped on his guitar cover. When the junkie does what is expected of him, and The Guy has to chase him down, it seems like the junkie and the Guy know each other quite well.

Rating:

Bridge, The

dir: Eric Steel
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I know it’s called The Bridge. But don’t go thinking this documentary is actually about the bridge or a bridge. Very deceptive advertising, I guess. There you are at your local Blockburster, hoping to hire a DVD about the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and instead you get this macabre slice of time and life about suicide.

A lot of people have committed suicide from leaping from the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s iconic for those seeking to end the miserableness of their existences. They’ll travel from across America to get to the bridge in order to fling themselves off of it with certainty of outcome, thenceforth leading them towards the oblivion they so desperately crave.

In the year that most of this footage derives from, which was 2004, 24 people killed themselves by leaping from this bridge. That’s an average of about one a fortnight. This documentary contains footage of some of these people offing themselves, and interviews with their friends and families.

Rating:

Dead Girl, The

dir: Karen Moncrieff
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There are plenty of flicks about murder. A character probably gets murdered in the vast majority of any of the flicks you can think of. It’s no surprise when you’re talking about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but it’s even in Bambi and Finding Nemo, for crying out loud.

Sure, more people in romantic comedies should get murdered to prevent the unholy hellspawn of Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock from coming to fruition even in a fictional setting, but my point is that it is commonplace. We’re so used to it. It seems weird when it doesn’t appear in a flick.

In crime stories the murder might be the initial occurrence that kicks off the rest of the plot, or it happens along the way as characters get closer to The Truth. Usually the point in such a case is the revelation of the killer’s identity or the eventual capture/killing/rewarding of the person responsible. In comedies it’s what allows the hilarity to ensue for the Bernie of Weekend at Bernie’s fame to get to live a life now dead of far more excitement than when he was alive.

Rating:

Volver

dir: Pedro Almodóvar
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I have to admit that I generally don’t much care for the films of Pedro Almodóvar. To be honest, I find most of them pretty goddamn pointless and irritating. I’m not saying he’s not a great director, it’s just that, like the double negative I used in the preceding part of this sentence, maybe his stuff just doesn’t work for me.

In the 90s the thing that stuck out about his flicks the most was the truly trashy nature of the action, with even trashier characters acting in ways which might seem perfectly natural to Spanish people, but looked utterly idiotic to me. When it was amusing it was okay, but generally the actions and dialogue spoken seemed beyond ridiculous.

And don’t get me started on the situations in his films where rape is practically used as a comedic plot device.

Maybe that soured me on him just a tad. At the very least, upon seeing Talk to Her (Hable con Ella) a bunch of years ago, I thought maybe he could make films that I could like. But then Bad Education (La Mala Educacion) came along, and I was reminded of all the reasons I can’t stand his goddamn trashy movies.

With all that preamble out of the way, I’d just like to say that I very much enjoyed Volver, finding it one of the most enjoyable flicks, Spanish or otherwise, that I’ve watched in a long while.

Rating:

Lives of Others, The (Das Leben der Anderen)

dir: Florian Henckel Von Donnensmarck
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If you’re looking for a fast-paced, thrill-packed, Cold War-era action fest, then do I have a film for you.

This flick will, if excitement was what you were after, put you to sleep quicker than dipping your head in a bucket of chloroform.

It is a meticulously crafted, exquisitely paced and rendered story about the banality of the institutions of totalitarianism, and the impersonal, mechanical manner in which they crush the life out of people.

The deliberate mistake many commentators made last year when the flick rose to prominence, and especially after its Oscar win for Best Foreigner Film, was to pretend the flick was only one thing: a condemnation of communism. It takes a great degree of wilful blindness to go only so far in seeing what the flick’s themes are and the extent to which they are elaborated upon.

Rating:

Little Children

dir: Todd Fields
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Quiet little stories about middle class people in the middle class burbs aren’t exactly rare, so it takes a bit of skill to make such mundane-sounding materials come alive. Little Children does come alive, which surprised even an old curmudgeon like me.

Throw in themes of infidelity, being bored by one’s children, the nastiness of mother’s groups, the hysteria over sex offenders and the joys of vigilantism, and you have a movie that’s about more than what it appears to be about.

Sarah (Kate Winslet) isn’t entirely comfortable with the whole being a mother thing. The daily all-consuming nature of being a mum doesn’t fill up all the empty spaces in her day, and the moment she looks forward to the most is when her husband gets home from work and gives her an hour or two to herself. As the films opens, she, like her daughter Lucy, doesn’t really fit in with the other kids and mothers at a local playground.

The other women, looking and acting like a Desperate Housewives version of Witches of Eastwick, are your average bunch of soccer moms who gear their whole identity around the fact that they are mothers and the self-evident fact (to them) that being a mother means they have the god-given right to be incredibly mean-spirited judgemental bitches.

Rating:

Last King of Scotland, The

dir: Kevin McDonald

You might be under the mistaken impression that this is a biopic about the tyrant Idi Amin, or about a real guy. Especially since Forest Whitaker won the Academy award for his portrayal of the murderous dictator. He’s such a big, cuddly, googly-eyed teddy bear, isn’t he?

But this flick is pretty much a fictionalisation of events that went on during that time, Uganda in the 70s. There was no young idealistic doctor who was seduced with the best of intentions by a charismatic leader who ended up turning a blind eye to his own complicity in the atrocities that ensued. So Dr Nicholas Garrigan is a complete fabrication. He’s tenuously based on a guy called Bob Astles, but that guy was no vestal virgin in the first place, so such a story doesn’t fly.

[img_assist|nid=811|title=Hmm, I feel like some lunch. Where's my treasurer at?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=247]No, Astles was an ex-British Army wheeler and dealer who held positions of power in the Ugandan government way before Amin came to power.

The film is based on the book by Giles Fadden that creates this Faustian dynamic between an idealistic young Scotsman (played ably by James McAvoy) and a larger than life leader who was too large for many other people’s lives as well. It shouldn’t be mistaken for a history lesson with any degree of accuracy.

Rating:

Wind that Shakes the Barley, The

dir: Ken Loach
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This is a beautifully made film about one of the most troublesome times in Irish history: the 1920s, being the start of the so-called Troubles. Made with a deft, sure hand by avowed socialist director Ken Loach, it personalises the conflict without ever degenerating into weak melodrama.

It reminds me most, especially in the bits where the IRA members are arguing, of Loach’s earlier film Land and Freedom about the Spanish Civil War. In this case the actors are professionals, and the story is more tightly scripted.

As the story begins, the Irish are chaffing under the yoke of the hated English. Their Black and Tan police bully the locals in shameful ways, not realising that there’s only so far you can push a downtrodden population before they eventually get jack of it and kill you where you sleep. The initial conflict is between the good ol’ Irish freedom fighters and the hated English. But the conflict eventually ends up being amongst themselves, to sad effect.

Rating:

Notes on a Scandal

dir: Richard Eyre
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What a nasty film. The biggest shame is that it’s taken me this long to get around to watching it, and reviewing it for you, the dear punters. You, who hang on my every word, who flat out refuse to watch a film or hire a DVD unless it has my seal of approval hoof print on it. It is for you that I labour, day in, day out.

And so onwards with the review. Notes on a Scandal was the other high profile British film last year. Notes, The Queen and The Last King of Scotland received a lion’s share of the nominations at the Oscars this year. Dame Judi Dench and Countess Cate Blanchett both received nominations for their work in this dark film, but both got dudded when it came to the Night of Nights. How perfectly feudal to have such royal paraphernalia cluttering up the one paragraph. One king, a queen and a Dame. If someone had given Blanchett a title, I would have had a royal flush.

Rating:

Letters from Iwo Jima

dir: Clint Eastwood
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Eastwood capped off his epic filmmaking adventure about the Battle of Iwo Jima with this here sensitive, thoughtful engaging and sad portrayal of the battle from the Japanese side of things that managed to be everything Flags of Our Fathers wasn’t.

Letters from Iwo Jima follows a group of Japanese soldiers stationed on the pestilential island led by General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), who know that their chance of winning is nil, and their only purpose is twofold: to delay the inevitable invasion of Japan by American forces, and to die honourably in battle (or die trying).

As such, considering the easy knowledge of the outcome, considering as well the fact that the earlier film focussed on the iconic shot of the flag raising by American forces, this isn’t a triumphant exercise in pro-war jingoism (then again, neither was Flags).

Rating:

Running Scared

dir: Wayne Kramer
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Running Scared is two hours long, and over the course of those two hours it tries to ensure that at least some element will offend everyone. It is loud, extremely violent, profane, visually aggressive and completely over the top. It is thus, for me, a very entertaining film.

It also has an entertaining performance by Paul Walker, which I never thought were words I would ever write down in a review. As an actor I’ve generally considered him to be the acting equivalent of elevator music, though now that I’ve used that phrase, I’m trying to recall the last time I heard elevator music. I don’t think it’s been in the last fifteen years, so there could be an entire confused generation of people who’ve never heard of elevator music (or muzak, as it used to be known), and are now despondent and heartbroken. For that I am truly sorry.

Rating:

Queen, The

dir: Stephen Frears
[img_assist|nid=841|title=Ah Betty, you always were a hottie|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=417|height=521]
Of the films from 2006 that I got to enjoy, the least likely ended up being one of the most enjoyable as well. I never would have thought a film about a reigning monarch, an ambitious prime minister and the death of a celebrity princess could have held my interest for more than scant seconds at a time whilst flicking through Women’s Weekly magazine. The Queen not only managed to hold my attention, but kept me riveted and even entertained. Grizzled, cynical old me.

Let me admit from the start that I am profoundly republican in my political sensibilities (note that there’s a little ‘r’ there) when it comes to preferring monarchies or elected heads of state. And my thoughts towards the current reigning Queen of England and her in-bred family are quite succinctly summed up by the Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen, except without the stunning level of insight and social commentary.

And as for the former and dearly departed Princess Diana, the people’s princess, the queen of hearts; I have about as much respect for her as I do for any of the Hilton sisters or any vacuous celebrity who sullies this planet with their sheer pointlessness. I, similar to some of the characters in this flick, cannot for the life of me understand why people around the world went insane with grief over this woman.

Rating:

Apocalypto

dir: Mad Mel Gibson
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Ah, Mad Mel is at it again. He had money before, to be sure, from his successful career as an actor, director and bus driver. He’s even received Oscars for his efforts. Actual Oscars, not just Logies or Golden Globes or Berlin Film Festival Golden Bears.

Then, led by his strong Catholic faith, he decided to make a film about a guy getting nailed to two planks of wood.

The Passion of the Christ made an absolute packet at the box office, ignited religious furore and debate across the world, and, more importantly, gave Mel an incredible war chest from which he would be able to fund and make whatever films he wants for the rest of his life. You can argue that such a circumstance doesn’t guarantee that anyone will distribute or see his films, but getting them made without having to kowtow to conga lines of producers or studio executives is more than half the battle.

Rating:

United 93

dir: Paul Greengrass
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Apparently when trailers for this flick were playing in front of films last year, audience members, at least in the States, would sometimes yell out “Too soon”. Five years after the fact, it’s hard to say when the appropriate amount of time could pass for films about that day not to hurt.

The 9/11 attacks transformed American society, impacted on the world in general and changed the way the rest of us look at movies. Even films as disparate as Spielberg’s War of the Worlds remake and the more recent Inside Man are suffused with imagery or the pathos of those dark days. For those of us who are not American, they can still represent a great source of sadness and anger, and a film dealing with what happened can be just as resonant even if the personal element is lacking.

United 93 looks at the attacks on America by Islamic fundamentalists from the grunt’s eye point of view. Although much of the footage is of the terrorists on one of the flights, and the passengers, much of the screen time is taken up with various people working as flight controllers and at Air Force facilities watching the events unfold on their radar screens or on the news.

Rating:

Fearless (Huo Yuanjia)

dir: Ronny Yu
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They’re selling this as Jet Li’s last action film. We can only hope and pray…

Jet Li, god love him, has had a very variable career. It started off all right, performing gymnastics in front of Richard Nixon as a child prodigy, but mostly it’s been downhill from there. Sure, he was in a bunch of cool martial arts flicks, but who really cares? As the philosopher Janet Jackson once rightly pointed out: What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Okay, so he was in Hero, which was good, and gets better with every viewing, but does that make up for all the awful American crap with his grimy fingerprints all over them? The One, Cradle 2 the Grave, Kiss of the Dragon, Romeo Must Die: the list drags ever on.

There’s just not that much to the guy. He’s too well known for his past exploits to be considered much of anything other than a fighter, and he’s considered too wooden to be considered much of an actor. Saying Fearless is his last action role is akin to announcing his retirement. I can’t exactly see him taking the lead in the next Robert Altman film or taking the stage to play Uncle Vanya or Richard the Third.

Rating:

Exiled (Fong Juk)

dir: Johnny To
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Exiled is the latest flick from one of Hong Kong’s most prolific and stylish directors. Although it has a similar dynamic to To’s earlier action classic The Mission, it is in no way a sequel. Even with many of the same actors, playing similar roles, it’s still not a sequel. But it does have a lot of similarities, and that’s not a bad thing.

What you can expect in a Johnny To film is men, usually professional criminals or triads, doing manly things. The overarching and underlying theme is always friendship, brotherhood and the bonds of loyalty between men.

And, as with his more action-based films, as you would expect, there are guns. Lots of guns.

About the only thing that sticks out as being significantly different is the location. Instead of unfolding in Hong Kong, Exiled takes place in Macau, just prior to the handover of political control from the Portuguese to China in 1998.

Rating:

Casino Royale

dir: Martin Campbell
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Around the time of the last Bond film Die Another Day, some horrified viewers were calling for the death of this tired, smelly franchise. The name had become so devalued by a long string of mediocre movies that it seemed kinder to just let it die. Or to put it out of its misery.

Of course there isn’t a studio on the planet that would rather go with a new idea over an old faithful cliche, so a new Bond film was an inevitability in the same way that night follows day, or when any celebrity videotapes themselves in a compromising position or two, the footage invariably ends up on the internet.

At the very least, if they’re going to make more of these Bond films, let them be as good as this.

Casino Royale is a rip-roaring old school adventure and a pleasure to watch from start to finish, even if it does drag a bit. That hasn’t been said honestly about a Bond film for decades. Daniel Craig plays the famous agent with the right mixture of cool professionalism and brutality. This Bond is less of a gentleman and more of a bastard than we’ve seen for a while, and the movie is the better for it.

Rating:

Brick

dir: Rian Johnson
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Brick has a central conceit who presence balances the movie on a knife’s edge of being tolerable or intolerable: if you can stomach teenagers (or actors pretending to be teenagers) chewing over the hard-boiled dialogue of 40s noir in a contemporary setting, then you might enjoy Brick. If not, Brick will be one of the more pointless experiences you will endure this or any other year.

Brick has dialogue sometimes so hard to say and so hard to understand that you wonder if you’re watching a National Geographic documentary about some hitherto unknown American tribe discovered in the ruins of an ancient mall. But therein, for me at least, lies the fun. The director had been trying to get this project off the ground for nearly a decade, and has succeeded where so many others would have given up or caved in to soulless studio reps.

Take the thickened plot and chewy dialogue out, and you’re left with nothing of interest to anyone. Leave it in, and you get something that works most of the time, falters at others, but still remains interesting throughout. This first time director’s mistakes are sometimes as interesting as the times when he gets it right.

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Kenny

dir: Clayton Jacobson
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A lot has been written about Kenny, both its success and the film itself. At least in Australia, since I can’t imagine the rest of the world giving a tinker’s dam about it. And its success at the AFI awards also points to Kenny’s acceptance and approval from a country notoriously averse to watching its own films.

Kenny has struck a chord with Australian audiences, and there are a good number of reasons why. As played by Shane Jacobson (whose brother wrote the screenplay and directs), Kenny Smythe is the kind of salt-of-the-earth character that you feel obligated to get behind or risk feeling like the most humourless and elitist of curmudgeons. It is that very calculation that goes to how the character is written and portrayed, which sounds cynical, because it is cynical. But it gets the job done.

This comedy has the format of a documentary, or a mockumentary, to use the latest nomenclature. It all focuses on Kenny’s daily grind as he waxes lyrical and philosophical constantly to camera. As such, you could say the movie is a character study of one working-class quiet achiever just trying to get by in this turvy topsy world.

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Banquet, The (Ye yan)

[img_assist|nid=865|title=The Hamlet-y Banquet|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=421|height=600]
(also released as The Legend of the Black Scorpion, for no good reason)

dir: Xiaogang Feng

A wuxia version of Hamlet sounds like a crazy way to try to sell tickets. It comes as a major surprise that it actually works. The universal themes of treachery, loyalty, love and revenge are easily transferred from the court of the Danish monarchy to the throne room of the Tang Dynasty.

The writers retain the elements from Hamlet that work, discard the rest and make fundamental changes where it suits them, turning the tale into one of court intrigue and romantic deceptions rather than emphasising an indecisive son's desire to avenge his father's murder. Wu Luan (Daniel Wu) is the crown prince in this version, without the madness or the indecisiveness, but his desire for vengeance against his usurper uncle remains the same.

The new Emperor Li (Gou Le) tries to wear his brother's armour, but it is uncomfortable. The armour bleeds from an eye socket just to make sure we understand that something is wrong.

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Departed, The

dir: Martin Scorsese
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The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s remake of the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs (Wu jian dao) manages something few remakes ever do: it improves on the original and contributes something more than just proving that there are no new ideas left in Hollywood.

People will argue endlessly over which is the better film, but it’s an irrelevant argument. Both films stand independently of each other, and do what they do best in their own ways. It’s not a competition, after all.

Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan take as much as they need from the original script, and add enough distinctive original material to make the film their own. They go to a lot of trouble to add substantial detail to make the story look like a product of its place and time, which makes many of the more central characters seem more believable.

The story is transplanted from Hong Kong to Boston, and the villains are transformed from triad gangsters to an Irish mob led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). With the location change, the premise remains the same: two men pretend to be something they are not.

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