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2000 and older

High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku)

1963

dir: Akira Kurosawa
[img_assist|nid=1317|title=It's not a fetish; it's a career|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=313]
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:

Stalker

dir: Andrei Tarkovsky
[img_assist|nid=1225|title=That bloody dog|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=288]
1979

As a self-appointed film wanker, one who’s studied some elements of film history and criticism of the art form, but who hasn’t earned any formal qualifications or work experience in the field or any real credible basis for one’s pretentions, it’s often hard for me to justify my own status. Sure, I think I’ve got something relevant/amusing to say about films, mostly only because I love ‘em, and when you love something, whether it’s individual films or films in general, you might, like I do, feel like that gives you licence to inflict your opinions upon the rest of the world.

The hardest thing for me to justify is not my lack of knowledge of the kinds of things that send professional film critic and theory types into paroxysmic orgasms, but the fact that quite often I just can’t muster any appreciation of them.

In other words, yeah, so I’ve seen Citizen Kane a few times, but, honestly, put that Rosebud shit to bed, it’s had its day already.

Long intro: short point. I’ll acknowledge that I know who the Russian directorial ‘master’ Andrei Tarkovsky is, and what his films are, and that he was a master of crafting what he and many other film wankers consider some of the finest films known to man. But for the fucking life of me it doesn’t translate into my being able to enjoy watching most of his flicks.

Rating:

Way of the Gun, The

dir: Christopher McQuarrie
[img_assist|nid=1103|title=The Way of All Things|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=317|height=450]
2000

The Hollywood variation on the American Dream, which is the regular American Dream anyway, is that a screenwriter, actor or director previously subsisting on tips from being waiters and valets to the bourgeoisie can get the big break and become another star in the firmament. Glowing bright, suspended above the masses; all they need is that one big break.

The problem is, there are no guarantees in this or any other life. The big break can just as easily catapult you back into obscurity after you crash and burn.

Christopher McQuarrie’s claim to fame was that he scripted The Usual Suspects, which propelled director Bryan Singer into the stratosphere, got Kevin Spacey an Oscar for his role as Verbal Kint, and gave audiences one of their favourite overly convoluted crime movies of 1995. It also garnered an Oscar for McQuarrie as well. But then again, who really gives a good goddamn about Oscars in general and Oscars for Best Original Screenplay anyway. I bet you don’t, don’t pretend otherwise, I won’t believe you.

Someone must have thought McQuarrie deserved to get paid as well, so despite having no experience as a director, he was given the money and the freedom to try to repeat the magic of Suspects. Did it work?

Rating:

Unbreakable

dir: M. Night Shyamalan

2000
[img_assist|nid=1106|title=Unbreakable|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=428|height=600]
You don't need a ouija board, an on-line fortune teller or one of Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends at five dollars a minute on the phone to tell you that this film has ""stinker"" written all over it in twelve-foot dayglo letters. It's put out by Disney, the director is following up the commercial ""Working girl at a Liberal Party conference"" financial success of his first film, The Sixth Sense, and it has Bruce Willis in it yet again. And,
not that it matters, but one acquainted with the net could not ignore the sheer abundance of middling to mediocre reviews this film has garnered. And the last factor not in its favour is the implication that the film had something to do with comic books. Nothing gives off that sphincter loosening aroma of failure like
the words: "Based on the comic book/graphic novel", or "In The Tradition Of", or "I'm sorry, I must have had too much to drink."

Rating:

Tokyo Drifter (Tokyo nagaremono)

dir: Seijun Suzuki
[img_assist|nid=1101|title=Huh?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=330|height=475]
1966

What the fuck was all that about?

Tokyo Drifter is cool. It’s cool in the sense that the hero is the hero because he’s cool. He looks cool, he dresses cool, and he has his own theme song, which is played a bunch of times and which he even sings through the course of the film. So what if the flick makes no sense? It’s cool, you squaresville-daddy-o.

The film looks pretty. There’s a very interesting use of colour and sets. The clothing is nice. Other than that, this flick is fucking insane. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone I hated.

Maybe it’s too quintessentially Japanese, but I doubt it. The movie, at the very least, is somewhat more comprehensible than the last one of Suzuki’s that I saw, but that’s not saying much. Made in an obviously cheap and nasty fashion, the flick eschews continuity and logic to construct a story that does not make sense on our planet.

Rating:

Tin Drum, The (Die Blechtrommel)

dir: Volker Schlöndorff
[img_assist|nid=1105|title=Creepy, deeply creepy kid|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=448|height=252]
1979

The Tin Drum has to be one of the weirdest conventional-seeming flicks about World War II that I’ve ever seen. You start off thinking it’s a depiction of life under the rise and subsequent defeat of the Nazis, but, really, it’s a catalogue of bizarreness from the mind of acclaimed author Günther Grass.

He’s the same acclaimed author who it was recently revealed had been a member of the SS-Waffen. In his youth, apparently. I don’t think they mean a few weeks ago. At least I hope not.

Regardless, that being the case, I guess the guy was uniquely qualified to write a story set during the heyday of the Reich. But what a strange story…

Birth scenes in flicks are often difficult to handle, but this flick has to have one of the oddest I’ve ever had the displeasure to see. The child who plays the main character for the entirety of the film, who was 11 at the time, plays a newborn infant as well. With vernix and blood plastering his hair down as he is pulled through the womb, he reveals that the reason he decides not to go back in is because his mother promises to buy him a tin drum when he is three.

Rating:

Solaris (1972)

dir: Andrei Tarkovsky
[img_assist|nid=1079|title=Solaris, the cryogenically frozen Russian version|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=348|height=490]
Solaris is supposedly a towering achievement in Soviet filmmaking, right up there as the Russian answer to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, from the Russian director most considered an auteur and visionary, er, just like Kubrick. Fans of Solaris say it’s an insult to compare the two. Detractors say it’s being too kind.

And by all the gods did they get that right. Both films, judiciously used, are a viable substitute for anaesthetic narcotics in modern surgery, and have, hopefully less side-effects when they knock viewers the fuck out. There are stretches of 2001 that knock me out every time, every single goddamn time I see them. Solaris is like that except it has this effect for most of its interminable length.

The stories are very different. People who saw Stephen Soderbergh’s recent remake with George Clooney in the lead role will know generally what it’s about, but others will be stunned, stunned I tell you with how out there the premise is.

Rating:

Ryan's Daughter

dir: David Lean
[img_assist|nid=1104|title=Strumpets, the sweaty pair of them|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=292]
1970

Hoochie. Ryan’s daughter is a hoochie. In case you’re not up with the latest in derogatory nomenclature, Rosy Ryan is an Irish strumpet, and this long-arse movie is entirely devoted to elucidating upon the topic of just how much of a hussy she is.

It’s a strange film in some ways, and a very simple film in a few others. It is filmed in an awe-inspiring way that makes the west coast of Ireland look like a mythical land of giants, but the story it tells is so small that you wonder why they went to all the trouble and expense. The same story is played out on daytime television every single day. Usually with lots of bleeped out swearing and people throwing chairs.

But enough about my last intervention.

Rosy (Sarah Miles) is young and headstrong in more ways than one, and she is the daughter of the guy who owns the local pub. She has decided she is in love with the local widower schoolteacher, Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum), and she wants to marry.

She doesn’t really want to be married or to have kids: she wants sex. In her mind, enhanced by reading trashy novels, she imagines sex to be a transformative experience that will lift her off of her feet and lift her up to the heavens for ever more.

Thing is, as wonderful as Shaughnessy is, he just doesn’t ring her bell.

Rating:

Rustlers' Rhapsody

dir: Hugh Wilson

Charming movie with Tom Berenger. An affectionate spoof on those black and white singing cowboy movies, seen through today’s eyes. Starts in black and white. Very well done; top movie and excellent cast including Fernando Ray who was in all of Bunuel’s movies, and Andy Griffiths as the Colonel. A young Sela Ward (Wife/doctor in The Day After Tomorrow) plays the Colonel’s daughter.

Rating:

Rules of the Game, The (La Regle de jeu)

dir: Jean Renoir
[img_assist|nid=1102|title=The first rule is, don't mention the fact you studied film at university|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=400]
1939

When you’re told a film is one of the best of all time, you’re naturally going to be wary. The title is usually foisted upon Citizen Kane, but just as often it’s trotted out in terms of this film.

It’s easier to talk about popular films that have been seen by squillions of people, and judging their impact on the audience’s consciousness through the years rather than about some film from 70 years ago few people you know have ever heard of let alone seen. It one thing to debate whether Apocalypse Now is great, or Lawrence of Arabia, but arguing about something no-one under the age of 50 has seen is the ultimate in film wankery.

I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve watched the restored, Criterion Collection edition, with the commentaries by experts, the apologetic introduction by Renoir himself, scene by scene analyses by film experts, and a whole bunch of other documentaries on the film and the director. I just don’t see it.

See, I can watch Casablanca, and no-one needs to explain to me why it's a classic or a great film. If you need to explain it to me, then, well, draw your own conclusions.

Rating:

Red Dawn

dir: John Milius
[img_assist|nid=1078|title=War is good for everything|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=328|height=475]
What a strange film. It looks like a weird, right wing treatise on the dangers of ignoring the threat of Communism prior to the actual fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union, but even accepting that, its kitsch value is through the roof.

Avowed right wing paragon John Milius, who wrote the script on such legendary endeavours as Conan the Barbarian and Apocalypse Now, decided that only he could do his paranoid “epic” justice by directing it himself.

And he’s probably right. Anyone else would have been uncomfortable with making a film with such terrible acting performances from the main characters. But, I guess, thinking as a screenwriter, all Milius wanted was for them to say the precious words that he’d written.

Let’s not overstate this or glide over it: much of the acting by the main players is comically bad. Uproariously bad. Showgirls bad. But, for reasons I can only put down to the seriousness of the subject matter and a nostalgic glow courtesy of the early 80s, it doesn’t sink the film. Far from it.

Rating:

Rashomon

dir: Akira Kurosawa
[img_assist|nid=1107|title=Doesn't this shit look classy?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=399|height=314]
1950

The Kurosawa fest continues. One of the most famous but least seen films of the last fifty years deserves a review, don’t you think. And since I saw it for the first time a few days ago, now seems like the prime time to launch into another pointless diatribe about a film few people will be inspired to run out and see.

Rashomon has been quoted as an influence in cinema for the last million years, or at least every time a story presents different versions of the ‘truth’. That’s the ‘truth’, as opposed to the truth. The simplest way of explaining this concept is the assertion that there really isn’t any objective truth because people see and experience events subjectively, as well as the fact that they lie to serve their own agendas.

So, now, every time a film shows a sequence, then shows the same event from another point of view, they bloody well are contractually obligated to mention Rashomon. The Usual Suspects? Rashomon. Wonderland? Rashomon. Hero? Rashomon. Dora the Explorer? Rashomon.

Rating:

Pusher

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
[img_assist|nid=1086|title=You total scumbags|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=432|height=285]
1996

There was an explosion of drug films after, I dunno, some indeterminate point. Probably after Trainspotting, I’d say. Whatever and wherever the origin point of the renaissance in this nasty genre was, the one thing we do know is that even the Danish needed to get in on the act.

Now, I have to admit a certain amount of ignorance about Denmark. I know vaguely where it is, I imagine it’s very cold there, but I had this ridiculous idea that it was some kind of idyllic winter wonderland that would delight Hans Christian Anderson himself, what with his tales of naked emperors and little mermaids, even today.

Imagine my horror when Copenhagen is revealed to be as grimy and sleazy a place as everywhere else.

Pusher, part of a series of films that screened as a retrospective at the 2006 Melbourne Film Festival, is an ugly, grim, vicious film about drug dealing in Denmark’s capital. There’s isn’t a single sympathetic character in the whole film with a single redemptive quality.

None of that prevents the film from being somewhat entertaining.

Rating:

Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime)

dir: Hayao Miyazaki
[img_assist|nid=1085|title=Lets fight this out, girl on girl|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=338]
1997

In an ideal world, people would be watching the animated films produced by Studio Ghibli, especially ones produced by Hayao Miyazaki, every day of their lives. Most of the channels on TV would play the films one after the other. Other channels not playing films like Spirited Away, this one, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbour Totoro, Porco Rosso, or Laputa: Castle in the Sky would be running documentaries about the films, or about Miyazaki, or just a parade of interviews with people, Nihonjin or otherwise, saying how great he is.

Sure, most of the interviews would amount to giggly people saying “Um, oh gosh, he’s like, so great, he’s like the total best, um, like, I totally love him,” except it’d be in their chosen language. Swahilis chanting his name, Laplanders and the headhunting tribes of the Papua New Guinea highlands: all united in their adoration of the master of animation.

I know how ridiculous it is to speak about how great Miyazaki’s flicks are. To people who can’t stand animated flicks (like a good friend of mine: the Courageous Canuck Big C), all this blathering is meaningless. If you can’t get into animation, then you’re not going to get why he’s so good at what he does.

Rating:

Predator

dir: John McTiernan
[img_assist|nid=1113|title=Natty dread|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=559]
1987

Maybe I’m misremembering the reality here, but was Predator an action classic back in the day when it came out? I was still a teenager in the heady last days of the 80s when this would have shown up on tv, heavily censored, of course. I seem to remember that it was big amongst teenager boys, big like acne and premature ejaculation. I mean, we didn’t have broadband internet access or iPods to keep ourselves occupied with back then, and the closest we came to god was watching Arnie chew his way through scenery and co-workers in his wonderful moofies.

This was back when the 11th Commandment was still “Thou Shalt Watch Every Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie”, and it held for at least a little while longer. Sure, he’s the goddamn Governor of California now, but back then he could be relied on to keep teenage boys in thrall.

Rating:

Pollock

dir: Ed Harris
[img_assist|nid=1116|title=My kid could have painted this, but then it wouldn't be worth tens of millions of dollars, would it?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=198]
2000

Only recently did I have the honour of catching Ed Harris’ Pollock on DVD, at a time where it seems I’ve been watching a lot of biopic ‘prestige’ movies. You know the ones: labour of love projects produced, directed by and/or starring relatively Big Name Hollywood personages where they wish to be permanently associated with some famous artist from the recent or distant past and hopefully net themselves critical and Oscar worthy acclaim. I mean films like The Hours (at least the part with Nicole Kidman in it as Virginia Woolf), Frida (where Salma Hayek showed she had at least a little bit more to offer than just her splendid figure, but not that much), and this here pearl cast before us swine.

Rating:

Peeping Tom

dir: Michael Powell
[img_assist|nid=1110|title=No, I don't think you have a funny accent|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=259]
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:

On the Waterfront

dir: Elia Kazan
[img_assist|nid=1084|title=When you were a young god|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=382]
1954

It’s a bloody shame that possessing too much knowledge makes it impossible to just talk about a great film and call it a great film. Either that, or you can put it down to arrogance, pretentiousness, or affected hipsterism. Whichever and whatever combination thereof that I’m afflicted with, I’m too aware of the history behind this picture to be able to blithely review it like it’s just any film.

Sure, it’s a film like any other. Although, it won a bunch of Academy awards, and it contains one of the greatest performances by Marlon Brando that you’ll ever see. And it casts a mournful eye over the waterfront upon which it is set, and the cowardice, greed and cruelty that conspires to render good men either dead or useless at the hands of a corrupt union.

And it’s directed by a man who made some great films, like this, Streetcar Named Desire, A Face in the Crowd, Splendor in the Grass, and Gentleman’s Agreement; films which I’m sure all the kids of today are big fans of and love to hear quoted in the latest emo and rap songs illegally downloaded onto their iPods.

Rating:

Nine Queens

(Nueve Reinas)
dir: Fabian Bielinsky
[img_assist|nid=1091|title=Con artists beware: theres always another level|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=261]
Of all the films about grifters, con artists, and other tricksters trying to separate honest and dishonest folk from their hard-earned cash, Nine Queens ranks as one of my favourites, my absolute favourites.

Films about scams are amongst the most enjoyable and disposable of films. They’re enjoyable because the wool being pulled over the eyes of characters onscreen is often also being pulled over our eyes as well. And it can be enjoyable or aggravating, but I usually find it interesting.

But once you know the score, what the scam is and its end result, watching them again is often fruitless. And since they tend to be about energy and momentum, there isn’t the level of characterisation or narrative depth that might bring you back a second time. Nine Queens is a bit better than that.

Rating:

My Father's Glory & My Mother's Castle (La Gloire de mon pere, Le Chateau de ma mere)

dir: Yves Robert
[img_assist|nid=1087|title=Knickerbockers and pinafores akimbo|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=351|height=510]In
1990

These two films are really one big film, in the same way that Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources are really one long film. In common with those other flicks, these are also set in the same area of France, being Provence. More intimately, they also share the same author, being Marcel Pagnol.

In this instance, these movies are based on Pagnol’s own life in the early part of the 20th century, in Marseilles and the hills nearby. As such, since real life rarely has the dramatic consistency and neatness of well-written drama, these flicks have a very different dynamic to the masterpieces that start with Jean de Florette. They share the same lush visuals, having been filmed in the same region, but completely different stories, themes, ideas and resolutions.

In some ways, enjoyable ways, My Father’s Glory is one of the truly most bourgeois films ever committed to celluloid. It focuses on the low-key meanderings of a family from 1900 onwards, seen through the eyes of the eldest son Marcel (Julien Ciamaca). That shouldn’t be seen as a criticism, just a description of the time, the place and the family involved.

Rating:

Mirror (Zerkalo)

dir: Andrei Tarkovsky
[img_assist|nid=1081|title=I have no idea what's going on either.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=438]
1975

On the back of my last Tarkovsky review, which was ye oldie Russkie version of Solaris, which I didn’t like, I watched the next film in his catalogue, which was the semi-auto-partly biographical Mirror.

And I was pretty impressed. The funniest thing is that I could just as easily say the same kinds of things I said in the Solaris review, but here those points are positives and enhance the film, such as it is.

As to what exactly the film is about, I’ve got close to fuck-all idea. Honestly, it’s about everything and nothing at the same time. It’s a tribute to his father and mother and a dreamlike, nostalgic re-rendering of Tarkovsky’s childhood and adulthood and there’s some Spanish people in there and the conflict between a husband who abandons his family after the war who is then young and being trained incompetently in the war and then the mother is someone’s girlfriend instead and and and…

Rating:

Mad Max

dir: George Miller
[img_assist|nid=1093|title=He looks a bit Jewish himself, dont you think?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=424|height=647]
1979

Some works of art are classics because they have a universal, timeless quality that transcends era, class, eyesight, and anything else you can think of, in order to be beloved by many throughout the ages. Others are classics only because people have been saying they’re classics for long enough to fool the world itself.

Mad Max is a classic because people have been calling it such for so long that no-one remembers just how amateurish and cheap it truly was. In the mouths and fingertips of many, Mad Max put Australian flicks on the international map and launched several careers in the movies, not least of which being Mel “the Jews are out to get me” Gibson. Sure, it did kickstart Gibson’s career, and the production juggernaut that was Byron Kennedy / George Miller.
But the flick is pretty crap. An enjoyable crappy flick on some levels, but a crappy flick nonetheless.

Rating:

Lower Depths, The (Donzoko)

dir: Akira Kurosawa
[img_assist|nid=1090|title=The Lower Depths are not in Fitzroy|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=448|height=252]
1957

Based on the play written by celebrated Russian miserablist Maxim Gorky, The Lower Depths concerns itself with the doings transpiring in a rundown hovel during the Edo period. For those of you not lucky enough to know what the word ‘Edo’ refers to, all you need to know is that it’s the time when samurai bestrode the earth with peasants grovelling at their feet, and before Godzilla and Hello Kitty conquered the island nation of Japan.

The hovel is chock full of poor, dirty people eking out meagre existences with no more intentions and dreams than getting drunk, fucking each other, or dying so their misery can end.

Despite being oh so poverty-stricken, and oh so filthy, whenever they come across any cash, they cannot hold onto it, wanting to be parted from it as quick as possible. And they enjoy themselves as much as is possible in the mean time.

Poor people, eh? They just bring it on themselves, don’t they?

Rating:

Leopard, The (Il Gattopardo)

dir: Luchino Visconti
[img_assist|nid=1092|title=Like a painting from one of the masters|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=337|height=446]
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:

Lenny

dir: Bob Fosse
[img_assist|nid=1118|title=The man, unbroken yet|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=340|height=434]
1974

The film is not about Lenny Kravitz; it’s not about Lenny from The Simpsons. It is about the Lenny who lords over all other Lennys; the Lenny who took on the Establishment and lost. Lenny Bruce was doing his part for free speech and revealing American society’s hypocrisy back when the majority of American comics were still doing mother in law jokes and that gag about “I just flew in from Chicago, and boy are my arms tired”.

Lenny was swearing on stage at a time when saying the word ‘cocksucker’ in public was a jailable offence. He was tearing strips off the government for its involvement in Vietnam, and the double standards of a Puritanical nation that celebrated violence but went berserk over nudity and sex before it was cool or safe. He was working without a net, and paid the price for it.

Rating:

Last Tango in Paris (Ultimo Tango in Parigi)

dir: Bernardo Bertolucci
[img_assist|nid=1083|title=What happened to you? You used to be beautiful, man.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=358|height=375]
1972

Oh, my good gods do I loathe this film.

I find myself truly amazed that this film has such a vaunted reputation. Famous film critic Pauline Kael wrote a 6,000 word review practically calling it the death and rebirth of cinema. Other critics fell over themselves to praise Brando’s performance beyond the high heavens and to heap the shiniest and gaudiest superlatives that they could upon this film and its lead actor.

What the fuck were they snorting?

Brando may have been the greatest actor of his generation, but I find his entire performance, most of which is improvised, excruciating to listen to and behold. This is not acting, it's actoring: this is an actor doing whatever the hell he wants because he thinks he’s beyond being directed. Whether he’s saying whatever pops into his head, or smacking Maria Schneider in the head with a hair brush, he’s less of an actor than Jim Carrey is.

I mean that seriously. There’s only one genuine scene in the whole film. The most famous scene, from an acting point of view, is the one whether Brando’s alleged character Paul rails against his dead wife as she lies in state. He begins by cursing her out for the whore that she was, railing against her before he breaks down. It’s a powerful scene. I guess.

Rating:

Ikiru

dir: Akira Kurosawa
[img_assist|nid=1094|title=Old man, it's way too late for you, but you can still go out with some style|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=325]
1952

An aged bureaucrat, entrenched in the job for thirty years, finds out he is dying. The pointless busy work he has juggled for the length of his career, the professional objective to help no-one and do nothing unless it falls within the narrow parameters of the job description, now no longer seems as wonderful a task as it used to.

He wonders what to do now that he no longer has uncertainty regarding his fate. He takes out some of the money he’s been squirreling away, to see what he’s been depriving himself of for so long. He doesn’t tell his annoying, selfish son what’s going on, since he’s a greedy and overbearing prat, and the son’s wife is a bit of a bitch as well.

He tries the whole ‘drinking and bitches’ routine, but finds he ultimately has no taste for either. He laments his wasted life, and the manner in which he has been more dead than alive since his wife’s death many decades ago. It hurts him that his son doesn’t love him as much as he loves his son, choosing not to remarry upon his wife’s death (when the son is still tiny) for the son’s benefit. Now all the son and his wife can do is berate the old man and pray for his death so they can get a hold of his money.

Rating:

Hard Boiled (Lat Sau San Taam)

dir: John Woo
[img_assist|nid=1088|title=Men and their toys, eh?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=300]
For my money, by my reckoning, there has never been a finer gun action film than Hard Boiled. Chow Yun Fat has never been cooler, and John Woo, after making the move to Hollywood, never came close to replicating the majesty, the carnage/artistry, the sheer awesomeness that is this film.

I know, my praise is over the top, completely over the top. Many might watch it and see nothing but a routine actioner, with some pretty dire dialogue. But the great thing about not having to justify any of my worthless opinions to anyone on this planet is that I don’t have to justify any of my worthless opinions to anyone on this or any other planet.

Although, if that was strictly the case, then the very act itself of writing a review of a film would be, by my definition, pointless. All I would arrogantly need to do is bellow “I hated it, and I don’t have to tell you why, Good Night and Good Luck, and in the immortal words of Edward R. Murrow, Go Fuck Yourselves!”

And no-one wants to read that. Except maybe masochists who like being abused by the written word. Kinda like those people who voluntarily read those Dan Brown books that are still pretty big at the moment.

Rating:

Grave of the Fireflies

dir: Isao Takahata - 1988
[img_assist|nid=1082|title=Just looking at this image makes me tear up|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=324]
For all the pop culture popularity of Japanese animation, it still has a pervasively negative reputation. The main reason for this being, of course, the relatively small percentage-wise amount of anime that seems to be exclusively created for the purpose of creating violent stroke material. Anyone confused as to what I mean by ‘stroke material’ should know that I’m not referring to people having aneurysms or lapsing into comas.

Rating:

Graduate, The

dir: Mike Nichols
[img_assist|nid=1095|title=Probably the most famous image of an outstretched leg in cinema history|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=430|height=396]
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:

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