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2002

Solaris (2002)

dir: Steven Soderbergh
[img_assist|nid=1039|title=She's no Natalya Bonderchuk, but hey, you can't have everything|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=365|height=500]
It takes a fair-sized pair of brass balls to remake a sci-fi film “classic” considered a classic by people with beards who smoke pipes. Either that, or just plain hubris wrapped up in a blanket of arrogance with a side helping of laziness.

Sometimes it works out well, usually it’s just disastrous. The list of remakes gone wrong in ratio with the ones that succeed is tremendously large. It’s something akin to 100,000 to 7. Those remakes that worked out well were War of the Worlds, The Fly, The Thing and maybe Scarface with Pacino. And maybe one of the Deep Throat remakes. Almost every other remake has, to use the official cinema studies term, sucked dog’s balls.

It’s true. The Pope agrees. Remakes work out bad even when they’re okay, because the viewer still tells themselves “eh, even if it’s passable, why should I watch this instead of the original ever again?”

Often the remake is so wretched that it causes audiences to bay for the director’s blood. Gus Van Sant was roundly ridiculed for remaking Psycho, allegedly shot-for-shot (it’s nothing of the sort), and that recent Wicker Man has made the director, Neil LaButte, and not its invincible star Nicolas Cage, something of a laughingstock.

Rating:

City of God (Cidade de Deus)

dir: Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund
[img_assist|nid=1058|title=The kids are most certainly not all right|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=532]
What a fantastic, fiery, raucous flick. Brazilian cinema has come into its own and is now its own exportable genre because of City of God. I’m sure they were making films for decades before this, but this flick blew a lot of people away and made them start noticing a great kind of cinema from a previously unheard region.

Since then, the Brazilian flicks that have been appearing at my local arthouse cinema and on the shelves of my local vid store are all united by common threads: they’re based on true stories, they centre around crime and poverty, and they’re about larger than life characters living in cities so extreme as to almost seem like science fiction. But they exist. They’re real. The slum called City of God, or Cidade de Deus in their native Portuguese tongue, is a real place. They didn’t have to build sets, hire extras and dress them in costumes, or make anything up.

Of course this isn’t a documentary, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a pretty real film about a real life lived by millions in the most prosperous country in Latin America.

Rating:

Infernal Affairs

(Mou gaan dou)
[img_assist|nid=1038|title=Can I point my gun at your head for a while? Thanks.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=430|height=261]
dir: Andrew Lau

Infernal Affairs is a slightly better than average movie interesting only in the novelty of its bare-bones premise. As directed by Andrew Lau, it is also a very loud, aggressively overdone movie. Compared with other Hong Kong cop dramas, it’s par for the course, maybe even better than most, yet I do have to admit to a certain amount of perplexity as to why cult audiences went bugfuckingly crazy over it and why they’re going to remake it in Hollywood starring people with remodelled teeth and $500 haircuts.

Why? It’s really not that clever. Or maybe it is and I just can’t see it. I’ve seen so many Hong Kong flicks over the years that it takes something extraordinary to jiggle my brain meats into ecstatic praise. I definitely can’t muster any excitement for this hack job of a movie, though it was mildly entertaining, I’ll give it that.

Most HK flicks are trashy, let’s be honest. As a fan of the cinema, I say that without any animus towards the region or the people that make or star in these films. If anything I have a bias in their favour, ignoring their shortcomings and excusing aspects that would make me scream bloody blue murder in a different context.

Rating:

Hero

dir: Zhang Yimou
[img_assist|nid=1043|title=You could believe, if but for a moment, that grown men can fly|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=306]
Yes, yes, a beautiful film. You know that, I know that, but does that mean it’s a decent film as well? Surely a film needs more than stunning visuals to make it worthwhile? I mean there are a tonne of pornos that have stunning visuals and amazing views of that which one rarely sees in their own lifetime, but that doesn’t make them Oscar quality films to show the whole family over Christmas dinner, does it?

Rating:

Russian Ark

(Russkiy kovcheg)
[img_assist|nid=1053|title=Have you enjoyed the balls this season? Whose balls have you enjoyed the most?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=304]
dir: Aleksandr Sokurov

Usually when people are ambivalent about something they say "I'm in two minds about this". In the case of this film I am in fifteen minds about it.

Reading reviews of this film from the serious chin-stroking film reviewers over the last few months, I was lead to believe that this film is one of the single greatest contributions to cinema in the last 100 years. It only recently received cinematic release here in Australia, and I was eager to see it on the big screen instead of
waiting another month or so to see it on DVD.

Much has been made of both the achievement in cinema this film represents and the artistic conceptual realisation that the film maker strives for. Essentially the achievement is an entire film made without edits. It is one continuous shot, unedited and incredibly well choreographed behind the scenes, with hundreds of extras having to be doing the right thing at the right time. Apparently it took them three attempts to get it right, which must have been quite frustrating for all concerned.

Rating:

Truth About Charlie, The

dir: Jonathan Demme
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Whilst cinemas around the world have been awash in the stench of remakes for as long as I can remember, it appears that recent years have been even more prone to the epidemic than ever. Almost as bad as the pernicious outbreak of sequelitis that afflicts contemporary moviemaking, not just Hollywood, is the self-pleasuring / self-consuming process of remaking decent films into crap contemporary movies. I’m not sure that’s the actual business model used, but it seems eerily accurate in terms of results.

The producers of the DVD for this here waste of polycarbonate and chrome make a fatal error in the packaging of the release, at least the Region 4 version that I got to see. The two disk set contains, as well, in the spirit of giving you more bang for your buck, the original film that The Truth About Charlie is based on; Charade. In doing so they make the film they’re actually trying to sell look even worse. The Truth About Charlie is a bad film in its own right. In comparison to Charade, which they helpfully provide as the ideal comparison point, it is downright dire. In truth the film stinks in comparison to just about anything.

Rating:

Minority Report

dir: Steven Spielberg
[img_assist|nid=1065|title=The eyes have it|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=304|height=450]
Even with access to my hefty imagination I didn't think this would work. See, Spielbergo gypped me last year with AI, and it left me thinking that the man had traveled so far up his own anus that getting an intelligent and enjoyable film out of him was an exercise in wishful thinking.

Sometimes I am happy to be proved wrong. This film more than makes up for the lacklustre, uninspired kiddies' film AI. Even though he appears to be working in the same genre, this film, based on a Philip K Dick short story of the same name, towers over pretty much all of the recent sci-fi films that you've bothered to shell out your hard earned money for. Attack of the Clones looks like the work of a very technically minded retard in comparison.

Rating:

Good Thief, The

dir: Neil Jordan
[img_assist|nid=1062|title=Let's be all French and cool|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=269]
Doing a remake of a classic by one of the renowned masters of the cinematic art form takes a lot of balls, or ovaries, as the case may be. Jean Pierre Melville is that master, and Bob le Flambeur is that classic. Of course from a commercial point of view few potential audience members are going to care, but the wizened ye olde film reviewers will stroke their beards and tut tut loudly if it doesn’t sufficiently honour or even surpass the original (which let’s face it never happens). I’m not one of those beard stroking pipe smoking crones, but it makes me sit up and take notice when someone has the gall to embark on this type of endeavour.

Audiences don’t care on the most part. Although if, as often gets bandied about like the Sword of Damocles, they decide to do an official remake of Casablanca starring some guy from a boy band as Rick and co-starring someone whose last name is Hilton as Elsa, you’re going to have ugly, angry mob riots on your hands. Theatres being burnt to the ground. Celebrities being hunted in the streets. Colourful language.

Rating:

Pianist, The

dir: Roman Polanski
[img_assist|nid=1068|title=Not The Penis, The Pianist|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=450]
"Breathtaking!" "Stunning!" "A Masterpiece!" "Grunties!"

These words are used to describe everything from the most recent Jerry Bruckheimer film to the latest hemorrhoid creams on the market. Superlatives are such an integral part of the marketing hyperbole industry that the words have lost all meaning. Certainly their use, by anyone, especially film critics should be taken not with a grain of salt, but with a quantity of salt not exceeding that available in your average ocean.

That being said, when people you respect (for whatever reason, whether it be their professional credibility or the way they keep handing you lollies until you get into the car with them) start using words like that about a film, you prick up your ears. In this context, some of those words have been applied to The Pianist, and perhaps not without merit. The film has even been honoured at this year's Academy circlejerk, which, whilst not usually an indicator of anything more important than the fact that Hollywood is more insular and inbred than a hillbilly family from the Appalachian mountains (you know, Deliverance country), has for once potentially gotten it right.

Rating:

Raising Victor Vargas

dir: Peter Sollett
[img_assist|nid=1061|title=On the make|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=371|height=419]
Raising Victor Vargas is an oddity and an anachronism in this day and age: it is a sweet, enjoyable film about teenagers which looks at the daily concerns of their urban lives as well as but not confined to looking at the complications that arise due to their burgeoning sexuality. But it does it without descending into idiocy, and remains honest and ‘truthful’ throughout.

Uh oh. Red flags go up immediately. No, this is neither the kind of film Larry Clark (of Kids, Bully and Ken Park fame) makes to masturbate over, nor is it the banal Porky’s wannabe that the American Pie trio of movies aspired to be (when they didn’t devolve into mawkish sentimentality). It’s a naturalistic (as ‘naturalistic’ as any film can be, without being a documentary) look at some people’s lives on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. The people the story focuses on are naturally welfare/working class Hispanic Americans, living in government housing.

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