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2002

Twilight Samurai, The (Tasogare Seibei)

dir: Yoji Yamada
[img_assist|nid=1064|title=Oh noble samurai, why must feudalism be so unfair for you and yours?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=672]
The Twilight Samurai is a deceptively simple, measured Japanese film about a low-ranked samurai with no ambitions in life apart from looking after his children and senile mother in peace and quiet. If every character aspiring to a life of peace and quiet ever got their wish from the start, these flicks would never get made.

Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyada Sanada) is the derisively-named Twilight Samurai, so named by his workmates because when dusk comes around and their daily labours end, instead of boozing and whoring it up with his colleagues, he scurries home in the increasing dark to see his daughters and mother. Seems like a strange thing to insult a guy over.

Seibei’s wife has recently died of consumption, which used to be the pretty way of saying tuberculosis. As such, he is flat out working and taking care of his remaining family, and doesn’t have the money or time to look after himself or fix up his clothes. In that light, he is unwashed and unkempt, and his kimonos are dirty and torn.

He is loyal to his clan, but plays no part in their interactions and machinations with / against the local Lord. He is of the lowest ranks of samurai, as measured by his miniscule stipend of 50 koku. I don’t know what a koku is. But it doesn’t sound like much.

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Dark Blue

dir: Ron Shelton
[img_assist|nid=1060|title=Dark Blue Kurt|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=346|height=520]
This film succeeds where Training Day dismally failed. Which is good, because it means that in peddling the same script twice David Ayer gets to double dip and earn twice the money that he deserves. But all the same, second time lucky, eh? This time they got it right. Or at least they got it more right than in the terribly overrated Denzel vehicle.

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Frida

dir: Julie Taymor
[img_assist|nid=1067|title=Handsome lady|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=363|height=454]
This will not be the definitive account of Frida Kahlo’s life, I am sure. She’s too interesting a person and an artist to remain bound only by what is presented in this biopic as an account of her life. This film will probably do for now as a somewhat superficial precise of the life of this mercurial Mexican artist. And whilst not a terrible film, it suffers from a lacklustre and cliched script and a major confusion as to where to go halfway through the film.

The real star of this film isn’t Salma Hayek, as Kahlo. It’s not Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera, even though at times it seems as if Frida is merely co-starring in a biopic of his life. Which reminds me, how many people would have gone to see a film about notorious Mexican communist revolutionary artist Diego Rivera, simply called Diego? :) Imagine it, huge billboards above buildings, with a coy picture of chubby Alfred Molina pouting seductively into the camera, with one word writ large against the sky: “DIEGO!” Every man and his dog would be beating down the doors of the cinema, surely.

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Barbershop

dir: Tim Story
[img_assist|nid=1059|title=Barbershops are so old-school. Just like bordellos|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=419|height=419]
With the recent release of its sequel I thought it was about time I caught up with a film I’d heard was pretty funny back in the dim distant reaches of the heady days of 2002. See, there aren’t many funny films out there, at least films I find funny. Sure there are stacks of comedies pumped out by the studios, but even the thought of most of them makes me want to tear my eyeballs out of their sockets using salad forks.

I was a fool to think Barbershop would be an outright comedy. It’s a treacly tv movie with something to say about tradition and community. I know this because every time any character started talking about the good ol’ days of Calvin’s barber shop and the importance of community, this drippy, cloying piano music would start up in the background. It’s very handy if you didn’t know how to feel about the scene. It’s a very convenient shortcut for those of us that couldn’t work out what our reaction was supposed to be. Thanks to the quality direction, we no longer have that worry.

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Whale Rider

dir: Niki Caro
[img_assist|nid=1066|title=Whales. Maoris. Hilarity ensues.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=515]
Whale Rider is certainly a touching, sweet film, but people shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s a children’s movie. It is a story of far greater complexity and depth than what one comes to expect from films that seem to be aimed at the kiddie market.

It’s clear, at least to me that there is much more going on here. As well, dismissing it as a glib post-feminist treatise about how wonderful girl power is would be doing the film a disservice, and would denigrate the work all the people involved put into crafting this little gem of a film. It is not a masterpiece by any estimation. It is however a sweet film about a little girl finding her destiny and teaching an old man that the links between the past, present and future can be strongest in the places we are least able to see.

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Narc

dir: Joe Carnahan
[img_assist|nid=1040|title=Narcoleptics need not apply|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=664]
Narc was one of two outstanding recent police-focussed dramas that came out recently, both of which were criminally ignored by audiences and deserved more respect: The other was Dark Blue, but that’s a different review. What they both had was a healthy distrust of the nobility of the boys in blue, and an eye to putting some otherwise decent, hard-working lads in a situation which shows just how much of the law they are willing to break in order to get the job done.

Jason Patric, well, he owns the film. Yeah, so it’s hard to stand up to Ray Liotta, seeing as Liotta always looks like he’s only a second away from biting your face off, but he more than holds his own over the duration of the running time. He is the film’s protagonist, Liotta is, well, we’re not sure what exactly he is, because he is clearly a chameleon whose purpose changes as the story progresses.

Gangs of New York

dir: Martin Scorsese
[img_assist|nid=1041|title=Fear the moustache, fear the glass eye or the huge hats I wear. For your sake, fear something|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=300]
History is replete with examples of grand folly. Times where people were inspired by big ideas that outstripped their ability, their budget or the laws of physics and failed spectacularly in ways so tragically overblown that they have become the stuff of legend, despite being remembered, perhaps incorrectly as time stumbles inexorably forward.

As an example, how about the plans of Arthur Paul Pedrick, who came up with a scheme to irrigate the Sahara by flinging giant snowballs from Antarctica using catapults? Or Howard Hughes’ ‘Spruce Goose’, the biggest, goofiest model aeroplane ever constructed, with its seventeen separate engines and its wingspan exceeding that of a football field by 20 metres, and possessing enough cabin space to carry two railroad carriages side by side? Perhaps someone should have told Hughes that railroad carriages already had a way of being moved around. It might have saved him some cash. And time. Lots and lots of time. And glue, probably.

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28 Days Later

dir: Danny Boyle
[img_assist|nid=1042|title=Dead London|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=242]
An amazing film, on a number of levels. The most amazing fact is undeniably the redemption of Danny Boyle and his crew. It’s a touching tale of intellectual rags to riches to rags and then hopefully back to riches. It’s also the kind of story all too common with young ‘cool’ film makers who compete with each other to find new ways of fucking up as their careers progress from the ènfant terrible stage to the illustrious ‘sellout’ stage. Starting off with the low key Shallow Grave, he and his people established themselves as being capable of producing a decent, nasty film with believable characters acting believably nasty towards each other as situations moved from bad to worse.

With Trainspotting these bastards upped the ante substantially, making a film as compelling and, dare I say it, fun as it was repellent. With a soundtrack that became a mainstay on the radio station I listened to and on the stereo at every party, bar and club that I frequented at the time, it was a fiendishly inventive urban nightmare, speaking to the uglier corners of our natures and the natures of people we don’t want to bump into on a Saturday night: it has been continually imitated but seldom matched by a multitude of pretenders in the years that have followed.

Road to Perdition

dir: Sam Mendes
[img_assist|nid=1054|title=You didn't know Tom Hanks was the Angel of Death. I knew, though, ever since that Gump film|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=284]
I have been waiting a long time to watch this film, and it has to be said that I was not disappointed, but it was not the film I expected it to be.

It's a beautiful film, to be sure to be, to be sure, but I can't help but feel that the film kind of collapses under the weight of its own self-importance. Every scene is immaculately constructed, scored and acted, and it all has this pervading gravitas which is supposed to be reminding us constantly of how serious it all is, but it did make me wonder: does a story this simple justify such an extravaganza?

For it is an utterly simple story: good man gets done wrong, good man vows revenge and takes on the mob, good man kills pretty much anyone that ever pissed him off. This has been a staple for so long that you know everything that will come to pass before the opening credits have finished rolling.

Rating:

Transporter, The

dir: Louis Leterrier
[img_assist|nid=1057|title=Is it my body odour knocking you guys out? I swear, my mom bought me deoderant|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=200]
Again, I got suckered in by a goddamn tv commercial. I don't know how the marketing people keep doing it to me, but when it comes to sub-standard martial arts / gun-fu orientated films, they know just what to put in to get me interested, and there on opening day. I'm ashamed of myself.

This is a dumb film. Dumb as a box full of hammers. Dumber than a locker room full of football players. But is it big dumb fun?

The other thing that burns me about being suckered in by the trailer was the fact that there are scenes in the trailer that have been edited out of the film. And that there are obvious overdubs and cuts presumably to lower the MPAA rating as well, which is funny, though they never stooped so low as to do the "melonfarmer" substitute that I adore so much.

When the film works (which is for 30 minutes of its overall length), it's on fire. The fight scenes and various action scenes are well choreographed and Jason Statham looks suitably professionally hard when he is belting three shades of fuck out of the various bad guys. I need me some of the chewable steroids they've been feeding this guy, because he looks like a lean, corded, vicious machine. He also seems pretty good in the action sequences in terms of looking believable as a fighter.

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