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9 stars

Moon

dir: Duncan Jones
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Moon is an absolute throwback, to a kinder, gentler, colder era of cinematic science fiction, and it wasn’t until this flick came along that we knew we needed it so much. I won’t go so far as to say this is an utterly brilliant flick, because there aren’t really any elements of tremendous originality or mind-blowing complexity at play. But it is, all the same, a tremendously good flick. Really, really good flick.

Of course, it will bore the hell out of you if you’re expecting explosions, gunfights or aliens bursting out of people’s chests.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole occupant and operator of a mining facility some time in the future. This facility, surprisingly enough, happens to be on the moon. Earth’s moon. The world’s energy needs are being taken care of by this facility, which uses harvesters to extract helium-3 from the surface of the moon, which Sam sends them back at regular intervals. He does general maintenance, fix-it jobs the robots and automated parts of the facility can’t take care of, and drives out with a buggy to the harvesters to fix things that have gone wrong.

Rating:

Samson and Delilah

dir: Warwick Thornton
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Samson and Delilah is unlike any other film, Australian or otherwise, in its depiction of Aboriginal characters or an Australian story. It is unflinching, and brutal, and beautiful. It might take its name from the biblical story, but this tale is far more real, current, tragic and yet hopeful in its ultimate realisation.

It is not an enjoyable flick. There isn’t much dialogue. It’s as meticulously crafted as any work of art you’re likely to ever see, but its purpose isn’t to entertain. Though there is occasional humour to leaven the grim circumstances of these lives, it remains true to the characters and the reality of their situation. A situation not exclusive to the characters in this film.

It’s not easy going, not by any stretch. But then, why should it be?

In an isolated community in the Northern Territory, Samson (Rowan McNamara) wakes up, sniffs petrol for a while, rubs his head then gets up and wanders around. He has nothing to do all day. The isolated community is so small that it probably consists of about 5 shacks, a shack church and a shop. Heat vibrates off everything. A communal phone rings and rings, but no-one answers it.

Rating:

We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin

I really wish we didn't need to talk about Kevins, but we do, we so completely do

dir: Lynne Ramsay

We Need to Talk About Kevin is pretty brutal. Actually, it’s beyond brutal. It’s one of the most brutal depictions of the terror involved in becoming a parent that I’ve ever seen.

It’s terrifying enough becoming a parent, bringing a new person into the world, trying to shepherd them towards becoming a decent person (if you have the capability or inclination, that is, because I’m sure there’s plenty of terrible parents who don’t give a damn). Mix in with that those feelings of ambivalence, of momentary regret a parent might have, lamenting the loss of their freedom, of their self-determination sacrificed on the altar of being a ‘good’ parent, which can manifest in anger towards that child, and consider the range of emotions that conjures up.

And then wonder whether monsters are born or made, and whether that monster, which is your own, became so because of everything you did, some of the things you did, or nothing you did, and know that there can never be a definitive answer, and there you have the crux of this whole, harrowing story.

Such a complicated premise isn’t going to be told in a straight-forward fashion, so the story jumps around in time, creating parallels and juxtapositions through the different timelines that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Throughout all looms that titan of cinema known as Tilda.

Rating:

Social Network, The

dir: David Fincher
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It’s a fascinating story, and a terrific film, despite being about something so inherently banal. It’s not even really an origin story, along the lines of a biographical tale like the ones regarding the Manhattan Project, or the moon landing, or, you know, something important that was invented or achieved. It’s more concerned with (fictionally) illuminating the thinking of one of the main people involved in the creation of this online behemoth known as Facebook.

Written with an ear towards crackling dialogue, Aaron Sorkin, known for penning the scripts to such immediately familiar fare such as A Few Good Men and many an episode of The West Wing, has crafted a screenplay that tells us less about what was involved in programming up from scratch this most pervasive of online networks, and more about how someone with a genius level IQ, a resentment towards the privileged, no knowledge of how to treat people as people, and a complete inability to forgive perceived slights conjured up something adopted universally across the tubes of the internets that made him a billionaire, all before finishing college.

Rating:

High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku)

1963

dir: Akira Kurosawa
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It seems pointless to praise a fifty-year-old film, 57 actually, at the time of writing, and to praise a film made by a highly praised director, in the shape of Japanese titan Akira Kurosawa.

Pointless has never stopped me before. In fact, pointless defines certain aspects of my more faux-artistic pursuits, so, if anything, writing a review of this strong film is amongst the most important things I’ll ever do today.

High and Low is a very familiar story: rich bastard protagonist, kidnappers kidnap a child, police get involved, and we wonder if the child will be saved and the criminals will get their comeuppance. But it’s made so long ago, and in such a calm, unhurried way, that it reinvigorates the elements themselves, making them seem so fresh even to people (like myself) utterly burned out on crime, police procedurals and mystery crap of this nature.

It’s based on an Ed McBain novel, but obviously the action has been transposed to Tokyo from the States. This isn’t a problem, since everything Kurosawa ever did was based on almost exclusively on non-Japanese texts. He makes it his own like he did with everything he ever stole from Dashiell Hammet, Shakespeare, Maxim Gorky, and George Lucas.

Rating:

Hunger

Hunger

Fancy a bite to eat? Maybe some crackers or something?

dir: Steve McQueen

When I heard that there was this apparently really cool film that was going to come out, and that it was directed by Steve McQueen, my first question was: “Isn’t he dead?” My next question was “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck had nothing better to do with its fucking time?”

The answers to both questions, surprisingly enough, are “Yes” and “Not much.” Steve McQueen is some artist, not the classic actor from Great Escape, The Getaway and Bullit. The car did most of the acting in Bullit, I admit, but no, McQueen is some other guy which doesn’t mean that the original McQueen is doing a Tupac Shakur from beyond the grave, releasing stuff despite the minor inconvenience of being dead.

The one thing I’ve never heard or seen in any of the reviews of this flick, which have been uniformly positive, is that the film would actually make me sick. I’m not, as is my wont, exaggerating or embellishing like I usually do. In the last fifteen or so minutes of the flick, when Michael Fassbender, who plays Bobby Sands, really earns his keep, the image of his emaciated and lesion/sore covered body comes up on the screen.

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Dark Knight, The

dir: Christopher Nolan
[img_assist|nid=94|title=The Joker in all his posthumous glory|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=633|height=310]
We don't really have 'event' movies anymore. No movie, because of the sheer quantity of flicks that come out, and the quantity of other potential things a person can do (and might prefer to do) instead of going to the theatre, can come out and dominate the landscape like it could in the past.

The days of something completely massive in its level of public interest, a flick that gets everyone to watch it and everyone to talk about it, are pretty much gone. The last such flick, one that almost everyone worldwide went to see at the cinema, everyone talked about whether they saw it or not, and everyone just knew of its very existence was Titanic.

It’s why Titanic is the all time box office champion, and will continue to be until something magically compels people to go back to the theatres instead of watching flicks on their home theatre set-ups, computer screens or handheld devices.

Rating:

Rendition

dir: Gavin Hood
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Rendition is, yes, another one of those recent films tagged “political” by those reluctant to be drawn into the culture wars (which is, usually, most people) but eager to dismiss something with the least amount of effort required.

Just in case you thought movies don’t mean squat unless they’re based on something true, Rendition is based on the ordeal of Khaled el-Masri, a German national of Kuwaiti descent, who was taken from the Serbian-Macedonian border and held and beaten in prison in Afghanistan for five months in 2004.

And then released when they figured out that it was Khaled AL-Masri that they were looking for in the first place. Because if they’d beaten that guy for five months, it would have been all right.

Rating:

No Country For Old Men

dir: The Brothers Coen
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I never thought the Coen Brothers would ever make another movie that completely and utterly achieved greatness. That’s the only superlative I’m going to use in the review, because belabouring the point that this is a pretty strong film and one of their best for over a decade will only prompt people brought in by the hype to say “Eh, it’s not so great.”

More important that saying “It’s Great, Mate!” is being able to articulate as to why I think it’s so good, and why I enjoyed it so much. It’s actually quite odd, because the elements that really made it stand out for me might not even seem that important to anyone else.

By far the part of the flick that struck me most profoundly was not the Southern Gothic tone, the (admittedly) strong performances, the dialogue, plot or the production values. What struck me the most was the use of sound, and the fact that there was barely any music used in the flick at all.

Rating:

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

dir: Tom Tykwer
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A great book that never should have worked has, miracle of miracles, been made into a great film that could not, should not work.

Perfume: the Story of a Murderer (Das Parfum - Die Geschichte eines Mörders) by Patrick Suskind, is one of the most perfect books I have ever read. Even translated the German novel loses none of its most amazing qualities: an inspired and original story, an economical but expansive use of descriptive language to encapsulate one of the senses that you’d think would least be able to come across on paper, and a macabre, dark humour that delights as much as it horrifies. And THAT ending, oh my good god yes.

It’s the kind of book that potential writers read and then give up because of, convinced that they’ll never produce anything that good.

There’s even more going on in this amazing book that begs for it to be taught to school children from a young age. Well, maybe not from kindergarten onwards, but at least from when they’re young enough to appreciate greatness and stop picking their noses.

In calling it a perfect book, I mean that you can add nothing or subtract nothing from it to make it any better. Not a word, not a comma could be changed to improve it. It is perfect in what it has and what it doesn’t have, and what it has is an embarrassment of riches, both sensual and intellectual.

Rating:

Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del Fauno)

dir: Guillermo Del Toro
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So many film reviewers and other shmendricks called this film one of their favourites, if not their favourite film for 2006, that I started wondering if it was possible for me to enjoy it under the weight of so much expectation. The truth is, the film is even better than I expected.

It’s cliché time as people fall all over themselves to come up with superlatives to describe how good this flick is, but the one that I’ll happily use is that Del Toro’s career up until now has been solely in preparation for making Pan’s Labyrinth.

The thing is, directors have got to eat, too. And Mexican director Del Toro is a big guy. So some of the stuff he’s made which has been less than tolerable (Blade II, Mimic, Hellboy), kept him fed, built his profile and gave him the skills to pay the bills so that he could one day pursue a project like this.

It would be a falsehood to assert that, though. The first film of his that got noticed, Cronos, was pretty good right from the start, and The Devil’s Backbone, also set around the time of the Spanish Civil War in the 1940s, also showed promise. In fact, it was pretty damn good. And as much as I was nonplussed by Hellboy, it was one of his pet / dream projects.

Rating:

Prestige, The

dir: Christopher Nolan
[img_assist|nid=867|title=What's lighting the pretty lights?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=300]
Based on a novel by Christopher Priest, The Prestige is one of the most intriguing and entertaining films of the year. If you told me that a film about two rival magicians at the end of the 19th Century would be a winner, I'd have told you to pull something else apart from a rabbit out of a hat.

The first image of the film is a winter scene on a hill, with dozens of top hats reclining upon in it in various states of disarray: one of the magician's most cliché of tools and part of their uniform. A voice asks us "Are you watching closely?"

Of course we're watching, but the magician's skill and the filmmaker's desire is to trick us whilst we're watching ever so carefully.

A different voice-over soon also starts up, explaining the film's title to us. The magic trick, as performed on stage in that era, is comprised of three parts. The Pledge involves showing the audience the elements of the trick, to convince them of the normality of the stage and the lack of dodgy machines. Of course, the machinery and parts that make the trick work are in plain view, but they look normal.

Rating:

Notorious Betty Page, The

dir: Mary Harron
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It's a crime that it's taken this flick so long to get distribution in Australia, because this really contained probably the best performance by an actress in a film released in 2006. Sure, there's no way Gretchen Mol could have beat the murderous juggernaut that was Helen Mirren, but she deserved some recognition at least. It's only been released here yesterday (8/3/2007), and will probably have an ignominious two-week run before disappearing into DVD obscurity.

Which isn't the worst fate in the world. It's kind of appropriate, considering the subject matter. And what is the subject? Why, it's the notorious Bettie Page, of course!

Bettie Page, for her time, was probably the main lust object and idealised non-attainable masturbation aid for squillions of men, lonely and otherwise, across America. She has probably been responsible for more shameful, furtive, blind-making male orgasms than Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and the Virgin Mary combined.

But practically no-one could tell you anything about her apart from the fact that she was in millions of smutty, smutty pictures.

Rating:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

dir: Michel Gondry
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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a rarity in this day and age: a film that has elements of romance, drama and comedy without being hampered or paralysed by any of those aspects. In truth this film is beyond a rarity: it's a gem that stars, inexplicably, Jim ‘Ham on Rye' Carrey and Kate 'Let Me Get The Twins Out' Winslet playing two oddball characters that don't pander, don't beg us to love how cute they are and therefore circumvent the natural expectations that an audience member might have of a scriptwriter having to create a story we could possibly care about. One that doesn't ploddingly, predictably, stagger from point A to point B to point Zzzzz.

Let's face it romantic comedies are about as popular as syphilis to those of us that don't think Maid in Manhattan, the Wedding Singer and Pretty Woman are the pinnacle of the cinematic experience. Sure, I understand, we're ungrateful, but some of us aspire to something more out of film and of life. With that in mind when something comes along that's clever and sweet it seems fuckstruckingly out of place. What? It's funny AND romantic? Are the seas boiling? Is that sky falling? Isn't this one of the signs of the forthcoming Apocalypse?

Rating:

Capturing the Friedmans

dir: Andrew Jarecki
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And I thought I came from a fucked up family…

What is true in life is rarely shown with such clarity in films: sometimes in the pursuit of ‘truth’, the more information we are given, the more sides we try to understand regarding a conflict, the more elusive that ‘truth’ becomes. No example is as representative of that essential conundrum as this film by Andrew Jarecki, who has managed to make a compelling and disturbing documentary on his maiden voyage.
I know, using the words “compelling and disturbing” about documentaries is about as usually appropriate as saying “intelligent and life affirming” about a film with Adam Sandler or Melanie Griffith in it, but at least in this case it is appropriate, or at least accurate as far as I’m concerned.

Rating:

Donnie Darko

dir: Richard Kelly
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Hmm. An interesting film. I was simultaneously surprised and non-plussed by this crazy film, having had an inordinately high level of expectation due to a bunch of positive reviews and some decent word of mouth. Despite going in knowing plenty about the film, it was still a mystery from beginning to end, and still remains something of a mystery for me right now. Right now, writing this, there are still many elements that I can't work out, and will be pondering for some time to come.

Which is definitely a good thing. It is a film that despite its somewhat modest scale (which people who've seen it would dispute, I'm guessing), defies any real category and comparison, though by its end it achieves a conventionality which I never predicted. See, whilst watching it I initially couldn't foresee that there was an overarching logic, a method to the madness that was eventually going to make sense. I stupidly believed that it was going to be disconnected, schizophrenic vignettes connected by quirky bridging scenes with no sensible conclusion. I was profoundly wrong.

Rating:

Peeping Tom

dir: Michael Powell
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1960

Peeping Tom is a first of sorts. It’s not the first flick about a serial killer, nor about voyeurism, nor about the killing of prostitutes.

But it’s one of the first flicks I can think of that has a character study of a sociopath with something of an explanation of how and why he does the things he does. And, oddly enough, it’s a sympathetic portrayal.

It starts with a first person point of view, where we are to understand that the camera is a character itself. He or she, we don’t know yet, approaches an old boiler of a prostitute, who squawks that whatever it is that they’re referring to, it’ll be “two quid”. She leads him up some stairs to a slum-like room, and she looks as excited by the prospect of servicing another punter as she does about filling out her next tax return.

But then the scene starts to turn odd, as we realise that the first person perspective, isn’t the person themself, but someone holding a camera as he hired the woman and followed her to her room. When she starts freaking out, we realise that whoever is doing whatever to her is also filming it.

Rating:

Leopard, The (Il Gattopardo)

dir: Luchino Visconti
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1963

The Leopard, based on the novel of the same name by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, is a beautiful, languid film that slavishly follows the source material so as to not miss a single scintillating second of Sicilian magic. Only a Marxist director who was an aristocrat himself could so painstakingly reconstruct such a story about the decline of the aristocracy in Italy after the Risorgimento of the 1860s. So a classic story about the death of a way of life, of an entire people, becomes a classic film in the hands of the right director.

The acclaimed Italian director made plenty of other films, some as good and some worse (The Damned comes to mind), but few are as magnificent as The Leopard. The title itself comes from the coat of arms of the Prince Fabrizio di Salina’s prestigious and illustrious family. In the film he is played by Burt Lancaster, that most Italian of movie stars.

Oh, wait a second, he’s not Italian. How can he play a Sicilian aristocrat in that case? With great difficulty, perhaps?

Rating:

Graduate, The

dir: Mike Nichols
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1967

What a remarkably good film. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to see it. Seeing it for the first time just recently (29//8/2007), I was struck by just how good this ‘classic’ flick from the 1960s really is. For once the link between reputation and quality actually coincides.

Certain phrases have become pop culture stalwarts like “Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me,” “Do you want me to seduce you?” and “Plastics!” said in that conspiratorial voice. And the soundtrack by undead folk troubadours Simon and Garfunkle is as well known and much lamented part of greatest hits commercial radio package played out daily across the globe.

Then of course there was the Lemonheads cover of Mrs Robinson which propelled the song and the flick back into the public consciousness many years after the fact. And it gave Evan Dando enough money to develop a really serious drug habit.

All these artefacts, cultural signifiers and signposts don’t alter a really significant fact: The Graduate is a funny and touching flick about an aimless guy who’s unsure of his place in the world.

Rating:

Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai

dir: Jim Jarmusch
[img_assist|nid=1096|title=The Way of the Whittaker|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=298]
1999

Jarmusch has always been a very idiosyncratic, in some ways quite limited director, but he made his magnum opus here. His films were interesting before and after it, especially Down By Law, Dead Man and Mystery Train, but Ghost Dog represents the pinnacle of his art form, for my money. I don’t have a lot of money at the moment, so I realise that’s not saying much.

On the surface it seems like a simple film: strange guy who calls himself Ghost Dog and pretends to be a samurai kills a bunch of people. And I guess it is. Simple, that is. But there is this persistent vision that permeates the flick, creating the urban world as seen through the lens of an ancient warrior’s code and Ghost Dog’s eyes which elevates the flick above its seemingly generic plot.

Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a large, ominous looking brother who meticulously and methodically plans and carries out assassinations. Though he is silent in all he does, we hear his voice in voiceover narrations, imparting the ancient wisdom of the samurai to us ignorant peasants in the audience.

Rating:

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