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9 stars

Arrival

Arrival

With hope and patience and open hearts, no matter the colour of blood they
might pump, perhaps we can figure this puzzle of our existence out.

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2016

There aren’t many science fiction films that leave me crying or thoughtful as I sit blubbing through the credits. The reason is this – most science fiction flicks aren’t really science fiction flicks. They’re action flicks with science fiction set dressing and costuming.

Arrival is definitely not an action flick masquerading as a science fiction flick. It is certainly about a first contact scenario with what we would call actual alien aliens, who appear on Earth without even the courtesy of an advance email or nothin’.

They just appear, and they don’t even seem to want anything. They don’t want our resources, or our women, or anything. They just sit there, in their ships, waiting.

This is enough to make the leaders of several countries think “We should be blowing the ever-living fuck out of them, because their very presence makes us uncomfortable”.

It’s frustrating to see, but when I look at the world we currently live in, it doesn’t seem that far fetched. When some ‘just listening to right-wing extremists on the internet’ Marines think, for no sensible reason “well, let’s just blow them up!”, it seems discordant, and arbitrary, but again, I look at Trump’s America, and I don’t think the naughty soldiers would have even been able to wait as long as they did.

Rating:

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

So quirky there should be laws against it, forcing them to go on the run

dir: Taika Waititi

2016

Sometimes you watch a trailer and say to yourself “I must watch that movie.” Sometimes you watch the movie, and think “That movie was nothing like the trailer, and now I am sad.” Other times you watch the movie and say “that was exactly like the trailer, but eh.”

But this time? This time? I was really excited about seeing Hunt for the Wilderpeople, we saw it (as a family), and I loved it thoroughly and utterly.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have seen it as a family? I thought it would skirt the edges of its PG rating, but it kinda went a tad further than I would have expected. Having your nine-year-old daughter ask you out loud at the Westgarth Cinema on a Friday night “What’s a molesterer?” is perhaps a conversation for another time.

I was, at least in some respects, pre-programmed to enjoy this. I loved Waititi’s film Boy, liked What We Do In the Shadows, and occasionally enjoyed Flight of the Conchords (the tv show he occasionally directed, whereas the band will always rank in my heart as the greatest musicians to ever come out of New Zealand except for all the other ones).

Taika makes some very quirky movies, filled to the brim with quirky characters and 80s aesthetics. Sometimes it’s oppressive. Sometimes it gibes just right with the material. In this case, it’s a pretty good fit (in terms of the actors, the quirks, and the story).

Rating:

Inside Out

Inside Out

Some things are more powerful than Joy, and last way, way longer.
Ah, hello Sadness my old friend. It's time to drink with you again.

dir: Peter Docter

2015

Finally.

We’ve missed you, Pixar. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed the days when you made beautiful, touching, insanely fun animated movies that we could watch again and again and feel joyful about each time.

It’s been a while.

The supreme virtue Pixar used to hold, prior to its purchase by Disney, wasn’t just that it was producing the best looking computer animated movies of their day. It was that it was making the kinds of movies with the kinds of stories that other shittier companies wouldn’t or couldn’t make. Anyone can make an animated movie, seemingly. Only Pixar was making Pixar-like movies, if you’ll allow the obvious tautology.

Its run was almost unprecedented. The only other company I can think of that had such a sustained consistent run in terms of originality and quality is probably Studio Ghibli. That came to an end seemingly after Up, I think. I mean, some of the other Pixar flicks haven’t been completely terrible (Brave was an okay attempt at doing something ‘different’ for Pixar but the same as everyone else, but there just isn’t any compelling reason to ever pop that Blu-Ray in the machine, ever, no pressure from the kids, either).

Rating:

Interstellar

Interstellar

I often look up at the night sky and wonder if Matthew
McConaugey is looking down upon me

dir: Christopher Nolan

2014

Last year’s big entry in the ‘serious’ science fiction genre was a lot more ambitious than Gravity. Don’t get me wrong, Gravity was plenty ambitious, but its ambitions were reserved towards putting the main character through an increasingly more technically complicated wringer with the desperate hope of getting back home always dangling just out of reach.

Interstellar is bigger. It’s not aiming for the atmosphere (or lack thereof) just above our planet. It’s aiming to become the next generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If that was truly the case, it should have aimed to be a hell of a lot more tedious.

I know 2001 is a classic. I know this because everyone keeps saying it’s a classic. The same consensus tells me that Forrest Gump and Titanic are classics. So if everyone says something is a classic, ipso facto it’s a classic.

With that established, as I repeat every time the topic of 2001 comes up, I cannot for the life of me stay awake during that goddamn film. The only time it didn’t put me to sleep it was showing at the Astor cinema, and I was a child seeing it for the first time, confused out of my mind, but wide-eyed.

Rating:

The Babadook

The Babadook

This is what happens when you don't give your screaming brats the
lavish birthday parties they demand: Do so at your own deadly risk

dir: Jennifer Kent

2014

So much horror is linked to motherhood, or being a parent. It’s a visceral, fundamental connection. The Babadook is by no means a completely original horror flick, but it is a good one that bathes in, wallows in this terror of the monstrously maternal.

Maybe the roots of the idea are a fear of motherhood, but they could also be a terror of what the possibilities are when you are bringing a life into this horrible, beautiful world. That fear could be as universal as any of the fears represented in flicks as diverse as Rosemary’s Baby, Alien, The Ring, Dark Water through to We Need to Talk About Kevin.

In this harrowing flick – make no mistake, this is an exhausting and harrowing, uncomfortably intimate flick - the monster keeps changing places. As the film begins, we could quite rightly think that the monster is the one the main character has given birth to.

The opening scene has a woman (Essie Davis) being driven to a hospital as she seems to be in the initial stages of childbirth. As if going into labour isn’t painful enough, the unknown voice promising her that they’re only 10 minutes away from the hospital also manages to get them into a horrific car accident.

Rating:

Whiplash

Whiplash

It ain't worth it, people, this jazz stuff will just mess you up

dir: Damien Chazelle

2014

Well, whatever the template is in a flick like St Vincent, Whiplash would seem to be the absolute opposite.

This is not, in any way, a flick where an older curmudgeon is brought out of his shell by a younger person who teaches him to reconnect with his humanity and people and Russian prostitutes.

Oh good gods, no.

Whiplash is a superb film. I know, I’m a bit late getting to the table on this one, since it’s been nominated for stuff, and it made many reviewers’ 2014 Best of listicles. It’s up for Best Picture in a couple of weeks. J.K. Simmons has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Praising it now seems like throwing confetti after the limo has left the church.

It being superb doesn’t always make it easy to watch. It is tense, and energised, and frightening, in a lot of scenes. It is harrowing to watch what the main character Andrew (Miles Teller) endures for his art. It is disturbing to consider the points the film makes about sacrifice, about needing to suffer to become “great”, and about how, sometimes, it feels like the flick is endorsing the abuse we witness.

Rating:

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

While you were sleeping, Jake Gyllenhaal was out
there being creepy

dir: Dan Gilroy

2014

For me at least, after watching this film, it’s been confirmed, as if these things really matter anyway, that the Academy has yet again dropped the ball when it comes to nominations for Best Actor. Nothing I’ve seen thus far from last year was as great as what Jake Gyllenhaal achieves in this film. For my money, Nightcrawler has the performance of the year.

It’s also an incredibly strong film in its own right, but, man, that performance is breathtaking.

Gyllenhaal, who’s generally never been a slouch in the acting department, really pulls out all the stops and gives this creepy, monstrous character his all. That should not imply that there is overacting all over the place. Nothing of the sort. Au contraire, to be accurate.

Well, mostly.

This is a performance up there with Lord Anthony Hopkins for Hannibal or Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, or Anyone as Richard Nixon, only this character is probably even more of a monster than those three jerks, and yet he is far more polite and courteous. His manner, however, barely hides the cold alien nature that lurks below his feverish eyes and gaunt cheeks.

Rating:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I look forward to the next film in the series:
The Day After the Night Before the Prequel
to the Sequel of the Time of the Afternoon of
the Takeover of the Planet by the Apes! Part 8

dir: Matt Reeves

2014

I probably said a lot of similarly effusive stuff around the time that Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out, but I find it disturbing and a little sad to say that some of the best performances that I have seen in this year, or any year for that matter, were delivered by CGI apes.

The alchemy that allows performers and computer programmers to put together something so… incredible, these incredibly expressive eyes and faces, these performances that say as much if not more than words can, are kind of worrying. We are starting to look like something substandard compared to what can be created by these people with arcane skills.

Pretty soon we’re not going to look as real as the cinematic reality they’re coming up with.

There is, hands down, no greater character or performance this year than Andy Serkis / the programmers as Caesar in this film. Caesar looks and acts like such a powerfully believable character, with a face and manner so expressive, so ‘real’, that you can’t help but wonder why the humans don’t look as believable or as vital. All of the leading ape characters look so real that for not one moment did I feel like I was watching a CGI character despite knowing full well that I was.

Rating:

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin

This is what happens when you stop buying Will Oldham's
records, he starts going on kill-crazy rampages

dir: Jeremy Saulnier

2013

Beards. Who isn’t sick of them? I have one, and even I hate them. Everyone’s got one, from the guy who poorly serves you a beer at the Grace Darling hotel, to the homeless guy trying to wheedle some cash out of you so he can get some beers at the Grace Darling hotel.

Beards. They’re not good for much. I don’t know how the ladies abide them.

The homeless bum protagonist of Blue Ruin has a beard. There’s nothing hipster about his beard, I can assure you. He has the beard of the kind of man that eats out of the trash, and doesn’t grumble about it, in fact he’s grateful for whatever he gets, which is a great contrast from the last flick I saw.

When the film starts, it’s a slow horizontal pan across, through a house, as we eventually come to a man enjoying a nice bath. When other people arrive and start entering the house, the previously mentioned bearded man beats a hasty retreat.

Ah, he broke into their house for a bath and probably some food. He’s a hero already as far as I’m concerned.

Regardless of the brief shelter, he continues to eke out a grim existence sleeping in what looks like the shell of a car, scavenging where he can, collecting bottles and cans and such for change. It’s not as pleasant a life as some right wing conservatives tend to tell us it is.

Rating:

How to Train Your Dragon 2

By now surely they've learned all they're going to learn

By now surely everyone's learned what they're going to learn

dir: Dean DeBlois

It seems perhaps a tad inappropriate to keep calling these sequels How to Train Your Dragon etc, since, presumably, the dragons should be fully trained by now, yeah?

And if they’re not trained by now, they’re never going to be trained, face it. Some animals, and some people, just can’t be domesticated. Perhaps The Continuing Education of Flying Mythical Reptiles didn’t sit as well with the marketing executives at DreamWorks as a potential title.

But it has my vote for best alternative title. Well, maybe that or “Looky here! What’s that thing over there, proof that Creationists are right?” gets my vote.

I’m going to try to avoid hyperbolic language and such when talking about this flick or the original one, because it's tempting, and it's really easy. Thus I shouldn't give in. I will say that the first one was pretty amazing. This sequel is, for me, almost at least as good, if not an advancement in the story that belies its supposed sequel-dependent nature.

Rating:

Her

Her

Him. It's all about him, really, more so than Her.
Isn't that always the way?

dir: Spike Jonze

That poster, with Joaquin Phoenix and his moustache, staring out at us, we who are looking at his poster. The ‘us’ I’m guessing is predominately expected to be women, as we gaze into his plaintive, soulful eyes, and we’re expected to ignore the fact that his moustache is terrible and it’s no longer Movember, thus there’s no excuses any more.

But there’s even more going on in that poster. His eyes aren’t just plaintive, suggesting longing and the capacity for deep emotion; he’s imploring us, he’s pleading with us not just to watch the film, but to accept what it is that the pervert’s moustache is hiding.

That he is about to, or get into, a pretty weird relationship. Don’t judge me, just love me, he seems to be pleading. Because it could have happened to you too.

Her is, perversely, one of the most sweetly romantic and beautiful films that I’ve watched all year, or at least from last year. It’s the sweetest film I’ve seen this year, but this year is only a handful of days old, so that’s not saying much. Like all of Spike Jonze's films, all of which I've loved beyond rationality, there's some fundamental oddness at play, but there's enough focus placed on the crafting of the themes and the various scenes, and the performances especially that combine to render the parts a workable "whole".

Rating:

Before Midnight

Before Midnight

Run away before midnight, because you'll both turn into nagging pumpkins

dir: Richard Linklater

For many of us, at least those of us who have seen and loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the prospect of a third instalment is both thrilling and terrifying.

To see what has become of Jesse and Celine is both too intriguing and almost too daunting, because there’s a good reason why romantic stories, romantic movies at least, end where they end. They end after the grand gesture at the end of the movie, the great declarations of love, and just at the beginning of the presumed Happily Ever After begins. Which will last forever, don’t you know.

They don’t show us what happens afterwards, as the two people brought together by lust and amazement start getting bogged down by the mundanity of the every day, as they argue about money, about who caused the scratch on the car and who pissed on the toilet seat.

That would kind of kill the fantasy for us, since all romance is a fantasy. And the two lovebirds would cease, immediately, being these embodiments of love, youth, beauty, and would become earthbound clay and muck just like the rest of us.

Before Midnight gives us Jesse and Celine in their forties, eighteen years after they first met in Prague, nine years after they reunited in Paris, nine years after their lives together began in earnest.

Rating:

Mud

Mud

He ain't no Mudhoney, that's for sure

dir: Jeff Nichols

Mud continues a fairly stellar run for an actor people wrote off as a vacant himbo jock a long time ago. 'People' being me. And yet somehow, inexplicably, the Renaissance of Mathew McConaughey continues.

But it's not even his film. Mud firmly belongs to one of the two boys who are the film's leads, not to the character of the title. It's a coming-of-age story for a boy called Ellis, a boy living a hard scrabble life on the banks of the Mississippi River, amongst and amidst a whole bunch of riverbillies or swampbillies, whatever the right term is. And they all earn our sympathies, every one of them. Every single goddamn one of them.

Ellis is the one going through the grinding agony of finding out that life is one crushing, disillusioning disappointment and letdown after another. And there's some joy, beauty and hope along the way.

It has nothing to do with Winter's Bone, another stellar flick about a young kid trying to get by in an impoverished and shitty world, but it reminded me of it a bit. It has another strong performance by a teenager in a complicated role.

Rating:

Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra

This is the least gay moment of the whole film

dir: Steven Soderbergh

I never thought a biopic about Liberace would turn out to be one of the best flicks of the year. I can't imagine that anyone thought a flick about Liberace could be one of the best flicks of any year.

I don't think even Liberace would have predicted it, but, based on the character here, he probably would have felt entitled to it all the same.

I mean, how many people even remember him?

People of a certain age, I guess. If you were old enough to see him on the telly, and his twinkly smile, and the countless references / mentions of him in a pop cultural sense that seemed to pop up all over the place in the late 1970 / early 80s, then he would still come as something of a revelation to you, as played by Michael Douglas.

Did you know, for example, that Liberace was gay?

I know, I know, it shocked me too. Apparently, a lot of people, including perhaps some of the guys Liberace was having sex with, didn't realise he was gay.

This virtuoso pianist who wore extravagant mink coats and costumes dripping with jewels, from what this film says, turns out not to be the paragon of heterosexual conformity that he portrayed himself as being.

Rating:

The Queen of Versailles

The Queen of Versailles

These people are you superiors in every possible way.
Don't doubt it for a second

dir: Lauren Greenfield

It takes a certain kind of character to handle being wealthy and powerful. Few people have the stones for it. It’s not for common mortals like us to be rich and famous, no. We would buckle under the tremendous weight of such awful responsibility. The rest of us peasants should be grateful that we don’t live under the dread of such burdens.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a downside for these brave people. They have to develop heroic defence mechanisms to protect themselves from the harshness of reality and the envy of the lower orders. As an example, you might have noticed that whenever a celebrity or wealthy person does something obviously, demonstrably wrong, then any criticism levelled at them is dismissed as hate from the “haters”. Haters, you see, are the envious, poisonous masses who dream up all sorts of untrue perfidy in order to bring down their betters. It’s the only explanation.

It’s the only way to make sense of a reality that previously seemed to bend to your every whim. If things always seemed to go your way because you were powerful and top of your game, and that your self-directed wilful free ride somehow ends, it’s because of the haters. It can’t be because you did something wrong, ever. It can’t be that you were complicit in a corrupt system, never that.

Rating:

Amour

Amour

Maybe if I loved you just a little bit more,
then everything would be okay

dir: Michael Haneke

That guy, what do they call him? Oh yeah, the Grim Reaper.

As if life itself isn’t enough of a reminder of it, this movie reminds us why the Reaper is always preceded by the adjective ‘Grim’.

We live our lives knowing that they will end, but, to function every day, to find meaning in the little things, we have to push that thought and its attendant fear out of our minds. I’m not pretending I came up with the Denial of Death concept, or that I’m Ernest Becker. I wish. Things I’d do with all those royalties.

But we know, we know. Everyone one of us, everyone we know, who we love or hate, all of us go into that great oblivion, and thinking about it too much crushes us.

So we watch a film about two seniors, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), people who’ve lived fulfilling and meaningful lives together, who’ve aged the way we all do, who still, somehow, thought the ‘end’, whatever form that would take, would somehow skip over them, at least for a while longer.

But ‘this’ is ‘it’. To be betrayed by one’s body despite not having done anything ‘wrong’. It is to be helpless in the face of mortality, like we all are, but still feel the inherent unfairness of it, because it’s always going to feel unfair.

Rating:

Les Misèrables

Les Miserables

Don't suffer the little children: save them
from the Sacha Baron Cohens and Helena
Bonham Carters of this world

dir: Tom Hooper

This might shock you, or anyone else, but I thought Les Misèrables was glorious.

What, I’m not allowed to like a musical? You, of all people, are going to cast aspersions on my sexuality?

Fah, well, obviously I’m not totally comfortable with going out on a limb and praising a hellishly successful film based on a hellishly successful West End/Broadway musical based on a book no-one finishes reading, but I’m a rebel like that. It’s just my way.

I’ve never seen nor heard anything from the musical my entire adult life. If I did (which is probably the case; it’s been impossible to ignore at certain times), then it slid off my brain like lube off a duck’s back, being a topic I never had interest in. 1980s musicals all come down to a horrible agglomeration of Cats / Evita / Starlight Express / Phantom of the Opera, none of which ever sparked any aspect of my curiousity, and I probably know more about rugby than I know about those kinds of icky musicals.

Rating:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Perks of Being a Wallflower

If only for one night, at least for
one moment,
we
are
infinite

dir: Steven Chbosky

I’m a romantic, but I’m also fairly cynical. I watch a lot of movies, a hell of a lot, as you can probably see from just scrolling down a bit. Most movies don’t move me. Most movies provoke little more than mild interest while their playing, and I sometimes get that curious sensation of walking out of a cinema or pressing stop on the Blu-Ray player or switching cable channels, and being unable to remember, for the life of me, what I just watched.

Few movies move me. The Perks of Being a Wallflower moved me, a lot.

Why do they keep making films and television shows about high school, about coming of age? Because those of us who survive it remember it our whole lives, and we’re always hoping for some way to go back and get it right.

My heart was breaking for Charlie (Logan Lerman) within minutes of the film starting, and then, for the rest of its duration, it kept rebuilding that heart meticulously before smashing it again and again. I felt so much for this character that I started finding it absurd that I was so moved by it.

I’m not so easily moved to tears, but some elements of the human condition appeal to me endlessly, and always will, I hope. Charlie is about to start high school in Pittsburgh, I think, in the early 90s, and he’s dreading it. He has a number of reasons, the main one being that he’s a wallflower, someone who feels they are perpetually on the outside, looking in.

Rating:

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Where the Southern Wild Things Are

dir: Benh Zeitlin

It’ll come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I don’t always understand the films I watch. I watch a lot of films, but that doesn’t mean I’m any better at deciphering them than anyone else, including and especially you.

Often that lack of understanding infuriates me, and makes me think less of the flick and the people involved, because I blame them for it. Other times it’s just a reason to be bored, which negates any effort to expend any brain power nutting it out because it doesn’t seem worthy of such labours.

Other times that confusion, if that’s what it is, doesn’t matter, and is of a piece with what I’m watching, and instead of causing me to pull away because of it, it allows me to let go, at least a little bit, of the nagging, querulous critic in my head, and just be embraced by the film. Some of my favourite films defy logical, precise, plodding explanation as to everything that happens in it, what it all means, how it happened or why.

I’m not saying that Beasts of the Southern Wild is now one of my favourite films of all time (it’s a pretty long and potentially embarrassing list), but it manages to capture some of the elements that provoke deep feeling in me, or at least it provoked in me some of the feelings that I mentioned previously.

Rating:

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Andolu'da)

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a whole bunch of people
didn't live happily ever after

dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

This is a remarkable film, a very long film, in which very little happens. It's about something fairly important, in that three car loads of gentlemen for most of the film's length are driving around the bleak landscape of Central Anatolia for an important reason, but that reason seems to be out of proportion with the journey they endure.

In essence it becomes less about a murder investigation and more about the men involved, even though we get the barest amount of information about them. And then they drive on and on.

As the film opens, there are three men we observe behind a window, chatting about stuff and laughing, and then one of them gets up and looks out the window. This takes a fair amount of time.

The next we see, after the titles, is a barren landscape in fading light, as a bunch of cars drive across, looking for something. It will be a long time for us and them before they find anything. More so for us.

What follows is a very naturalistic, very mundane police procedural, but don't for a second confuse it with a CSI: Turkey. It's not a forensic investigation or even an investigation. These chaps know who committed the crime, and the guilty are there with them as they drive around in their cars. In fact, there's not a scintilla of mystery to the proceedings. There's just cold hard reality.

Rating:

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

I don't think this will end well for anybody

dir: Christopher Nolan

The Dark Knight Rises is a very good film, let’s just get that out of the way right from the start. It was like nothing I expected, and exceeded what were insanely high expectations right from the beginning and especially at the end. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s the best Batman flick we’re ever going to have access to in this universe.

In that other parallel universe, they’ll keep making great Batman flicks, Heath Ledger’s still alive, and the law of diminishing returns doesn’t apply. We, on the other hand, are stuck here in this sucky one for the duration.

Eh, it’s not too bad. After all, we have two great Batman films, at least.

I didn’t like Batman Begins that much, and I had a couple of issues with the second one too (over-edited, visually incoherent at times), but this third one not only gets everything right, but it is entrenched within the story told by the first two movies. It doesn’t stand entirely alone, and is the better for it.

It’s interwoven with the other two, with actions and decisions made in the first two films coming back to haunt all the main characters. Within that is a lot of stuff, to put it mildly. It doesn’t feel overstuffed, but it does feel like they’re trying to encompass every single level of seriousness and complexity anyone ever aspired to have in a superhero movie but was too afraid to ask for.

Rating:

A Separation

A Separation

You've got to keep them separated

dir: Asghar Farhadi

Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) are seeking a separation, a divorce, in other words. They plead their respective cases to the judge. The judge, in this case, is the camera. For five minutes they argue at each other through the ‘judge’, who keeps admonishing them for whatever they are trying or not trying to do.

They make their plaintive statements, in Nader’s case fairly passive-aggressive statements, to us, pleading for us to understand which one is in the right. The thing is, though, they are trying to use the law to get what they want: Simin doesn’t really want a divorce, she wants the whole family to leave Iran, so she wants custody of their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), to make Nader come with them to places unknown, but far away from here.

The judge’s voice says, with hidden menace, “What’s wrong with living here?” The question is left unanswered, because this is the place where answering honestly can fuck up far more than just your day. Especially for Iranian women.

This is Iran, and I can’t imagine the scenario in which a court grants a woman anything there, including an uncontested divorce. Nader won’t let go of Termeh, because he knows his wife will never leave Iran as long as Termeh stays with him. And Simin might as well be talking to statues, regardless of her determination, regardless of how right or wrong she may be.

Rating:

The Grey

The Grey

Gaze into those eyes and try to avoid the unavoidable truth:
that we are all worthless compared to Liam Neeson

dir: Joe Carnahan

Bleak, brutal, beautiful.

But enough about my previous relationship…

The Grey is one of the bleakest things I’ve seen since The Road, which was that horrifying post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy adaptation, which was the bleakest thing I’d read since Blood Meridian, which was the bleakest thing since my previous relationship. Plus, it’s got wolves, just like my previously relationship.

Yes, enough about ruthless predators that won't be satisfied until your bones are scattered, torn limb from limb, strewn across a desolate landscape…

But how could there ever be enough? The Grey is not really the film that it seems to be, at least, the film that they are marketing it as.

Yes, it seems similar to films like Alive (where a Uruguayan rugby team survive a plane crash in the Andes Mountains, get over their squeamishness and learn to love cannibalism), or Flight of the Phoenix (bunch of guys survive a plane crash in the desert, only to face death from the sun and guys on horses with guns). No, this is totally different.

In The Grey, a bunch of guys crash in Alaska, and face harsh conditions and wolves, and struggle to survive in a place where survival is unlikely.

Completely different.

Rating:

Hugo

Hugo

Here's Time Itself, making fools of us all, especially Hugo

dir: Martin Scorsese

With delight, I watched this, with great delight in my heart.

If you’re reading this review, you know that I watch a lot of films, and a lot of them I even review. Those reviews, you would know, are to my benefit and to your detriment as a reader. I’m sorry about that. Really, I am. I wish I were a better reviewer; someone who could encapsulate succinctly and with wit what is great and what is less great about certain movies in this artistic medium I prize the most, after literature, puppetry and the accordion, of course. And I wish I could say it all without having to resort to the boring bullshit a billion other (paid) bunglers routinely trot out to justify their verbosity.

No, honestly, I wish I were a better reviewer, so that I could credibly explain why I loved Hugo so much, so that you, too, could feel the joy that I felt, and get a glimpse of how it felt to watch it. Yes, even cynical old me feels joy whilst watching a film, very rarely, but it happens. Aiming that high dooms any enterprise to failure, no doubt, but it should be perfectly obvious that failing at something doesn’t stop me from doing it. Au contraire, to get into the vernacular of it, au contraire, mes amis.

Rating:

13 Assassins

13 Assassins

Is it blasphemous to say this this might even be greater than the film that inspired it?
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

(Jusannin no Shikaku)
dir: Takashi Miike

2010

Whenever I hear that Takashi Miike has a new film out, I wonder out loud to myself, especially when I’m on public transport, “Well, what new piece of fucked-upedness has he come up with now?” I mean, after all, this is the demented Japanese director responsible for, in a criminal sense, films like Audition, Ichi the Killer, the yakuza Dead or Alive trilogy, Visitor Q and a whole host of other flicks so vicious I don’t even want to quote scenes from them, because it’s too traumatic to remember.

Suffice to say, there’s never, apparently, been a moment where he’s thought of depicting something on screen that is vile, horrifying, obscene or demented and thought, “Nah, that’s too fucked up, even for me.”

Whatever depravity he’s previously been responsible for, he still remains a completely flexible director with the ability to make any kind of Japanese flick in any kind of Japanese genre, which, to use an overused phrase, ranges from the sublime to the truly, hideously ridiculous.

Instead of spending time talking about the truly horrifying and nightmare-inducing stuff I’ve seen in all his other films, which is tempting in the extreme, I’ll just talk about this film, which is surprisingly solid.

Rating:

The Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Everything... Everything... Everything... Everything... Everything

dir: Terrence Malick

It’s a beautiful film, trying to encompass in its scope, the entire world, the entire human experience, the entire universe. With such mighty ambitions, how can Malick not fall short? How could any of us not fall short?

The fact that the scope of his reach and the magnitude of his grasp are so close to each other means that when one exceeds the other, it doesn’t represent the failure that it would for other filmmakers. There are very few filmmakers (with money) like Malick, and his films are their own genre. As such they’re only really comparable to each other, not as much with other films.

You can only really know if you can enjoy a Malick film by having watched a few, and having immersed yourself in them, know what to expect. They are not conventional, they don’t follow a pattern, they don’t unfold in a conventional manner, and, mostly, they’re overflowing with beautiful cinematography, and the vast majority of the thoughts and intentions of the characters are delivered through internal monologues (voiceover).

Rating:

Toy Story 3

dir: Lee Unkrich
[img_assist|nid=1326|title=He's an Intensive Care Bear|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=252]
Yeah, I know, it’s hardly brand new fodder worthy of reflection and critique. But Pixar flicks are the pinnacle of the animated heap: every release is an event, they make more money than Jesus, and nobody does it better.

And I love their flicks with a passion, the kind of passion most other people reserve for quaint garden gnome collections or pointless sports results. Thus, reviewing their latest gift to us, the luddite, barely computer-literate, unwashed masses, is less of a necessity than an obligation.

Toy Story 3 is as great as any of the other flicks in the series. Ranking them is pointless. You could point out that yet again the technical expertise envelope has been pushed even further out, with computer-generated animation second to none, but that misses the point. These movies are beloved not because of the quality of the graphics, but because of the quality of the story-telling, and the deep nostalgia they inspire in adults.

Rating:

Winter's Bone

dir: Debra Granik
[img_assist|nid=1324|title=Let's hunt us some squirrel|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=435|height=290]
It’s criminal that it’s taken this long for Winter’s Bone to be released into the cinemas of Australia. It’s a damn shame. Usually the length of time it takes certain films to appear here doesn’t bug me, because 600 flicks get released each year, and for every flick I’m not getting to see, there are dozens of others I could be seeing instead.

But there’s something about this flick that, on some level, makes me angry that I had to wait eight or so months before I could see it in the salubrious confines of the Cinema Nova multi-arty-plex.

The film itself, and the main performances, are better than fine, they’re great. There’s some problems arising with the ending, but I can forgive them since for around 100 minutes, Winter’s Bone, which is essentially a detective story, had me riveted to my seat. There’s not a fire, disaster or siren’s call of promised orgasmic pleasures that could have coaxed me out of that seat before the end.

On the other hand, I know these kinds of films that seem to focus on, shall we say, the salt of the earth, reek of condescension and insult to those who think they’re being exploited or mocked. It doesn’t strike me as relevant, but then, I’m not from the Ozarks or the Appalachian Mountains, and I wouldn’t know moonshine from shoe shine.

Rating:

Accident (Yi ngoi)

dir: Pou Soi Cheang
[img_assist|nid=1231|title=Look both ways when crossing the street, and then kiss your ass goodbye|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=289|height=320]
There’s this thing about Hong Kong films: most of them aren’t good, and most of them are the same. The rare good ones, to people who don’t watch a lot of Hong Kong flicks, could be indistinguishable from the bad ones.

Actually, that’s probably not entirely true. The really bad ones usually have lots of annoying screaming, people eating snot and Stephen Chow pretending to laugh until food falls out of his mouth.

But good goddamn do they get it right when they get it right. The last of the contemporary HK directors that I considered worthy of following each and every project that came down the chute was Johnnie To, with his atmospheric and contemplative crime dramas. Now I have to look out for this chap, Soi Cheang, as well, because I haven’t seen something this good in a while.

The problem is that it won’t be easy to translate the ineffable ways in which this very slight, very moody, and virtually silent flick gets everything so right into a worthwhile film review. Of course, it’s never stopped me before, so it’s not going to stop me now, is it?

Rating:

Where The Wild Things Are

Wild Things

There is much wildness in all of us, no matter how we might wish otherwise

dir: Spike Jonze

Where the Wild Things Are is a beautiful film. It’s touching and sweet, scary but deeply felt, but I don’t really think it’s for children. I don’t even think most kids under the age of ten would really get that the Maurice Sendak book, of twenty or so pages, really connects with this film apart from the similarity in the merchandising. Sure, the imagery is the same, but the story has been greatly transformed by Spike Jonze, David Eggers and the forests and beaches of Victoria.

I have happily read the book to my daughter a stack of times, and so I know how profoundly expanded the story is in the movie. As to whether it’s true in spirit and intent to the book, you’d have to ask noted and thoroughly aged curmudgeon Maurice Sendak, who’s still alive, who wrote and drew the book nearly fifty years ago, and who I’m sure is happy to collect cheques for the film rights. I suspect deep down Sendak would hate this film if he ever sat through it, that’s just my gut instinct.

My instincts are often wrong, I have to admit. What I don’t think I’m wrong about is that this really couldn’t connect with kids for fairly serious and pervasive reasons, self-same reasons that would make it appeal perhaps to their elders.

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