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9 stars

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.

Rating:

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.

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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.

Rating:

Dark Knight, The

dir: Christopher Nolan
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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.

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