dir: Martin Scorsese
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.
dir: Joe Carnahan
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.
At movie’s start we’re introduced to a high energy cop chase which goes absurdly, viciously wrong. It occurs on foot, and has some of the most headache inducing shaky camera work that I’ve ever been privy to. It’s also sped up, and violently jagged and surreal. We see the chase through the fucked up eyes of the man being chased and the man doing the chasing. The manner in which it turns even uglier just amazed me. It’s a hardcore start to a story that seems positively gentle from then on.
This isn’t new ground for either of our two stars. Patric played an undercover narcotics officer in Rush over a decade ago, which had the wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh in the lead, and Liotta has played both psychopathic criminals and cops his entire career. What Patric has is a great deal of skill as an actor, which he brings to this role, really getting into the head of his character, matching the physicality of the role appropriately, and despite what I guess is a relatively tiny budget helping to craft an interesting police procedural with a surprise ending, which these films rarely manage. Don’t get me wrong, the ending isn’t the reason why this is a good film. This isn’t The Sixth Sense, with a sting in the tale so complete that it changes the entire film for you. The lead up to the end is where the tension is, where the worth is. The end is just an ironic full stop.
dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Poetically, romantically, the human soul is said to weigh 21 grams. This is based on experiments inaccurately carried out long ago which claimed that upon death a person would instantly lose 21 grams of weight, thus the departure of the soul must be responsible for the change. Of course it has no basis in reality. But the central question still remains: whether the body loses 21 grams or not upon death, how much do we lose when those we love die? How much do they lose when we die? When we take a life, save a life, how much is gained? How much is lost? This film seems to indicate that at the very least it's something more than 21 grams.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu is two for two. After his most excellent debut with Amores Perros, along with writing partner Guillermo Arriaga he again delivers a compelling, emotional and thoughtful film which packs an emotional punch without resorting to cheap tricks or manipulation. Whilst most will focus on the disjointed chronology with which the story is portrayed through the complicated editing, at its core the film deals with powerful moments in these character's lives which rarely if ever overstep the bounds of genuine drama into kitchen-sink melodrama. The film achieves pathos without bathos, which is a glib way of saying that it's a damn fine film.
Every one of the actors delivers the goods. Sean Penn and Naomi Watts have garnered the lion's share of the praise in the acting stakes, but all the actors involved are truly at the top of their game. Benicio Del Toro portrays a difficult character undergoing dramatic upheavals in his life and the way in which he views himself. He brings as much if not more to the table than anyone else. And though she's barely mentioned in the reams of laudatory praise that the film has been receiving, the actor that plays his character's wife Marianne (Melissa Leo) is particularly good too. She has a bunch of scenes that provide the perfect counterbalance to what he's going through.
dir: Stuart Baird
There is a law in economics referred to as the law of diminishing returns, or alternately known as the law of variable proportions. Essentially it states that if one factor of production is increased while the others remain constant, the overall returns will relatively decrease passed a certain point.
Accept for a moment that the number of Trek fans and other obese obsessives is relatively constant, if not decreasing over time. Establish that the amount of merchandising and truly quality television shows pumped out continues over time, with more and more money being poured into this formerly profitable venture. The law of diminishing returns states that past a certain point you cannot get back what you put in.
With 5 television series, ten films of variable quality and millions of dollars worth of merchandise, the Trek franchise has long been the big brother to the prodigy that is the Star Wars empire. Being an elder sibling, it claimed some intellectual superiority and acting credibility which some may have been grateful for in times passed, but now seems to be a dull vintage of sour grapes. The franchise, under the current benevolent leadership of Rick Berman has been run into the ground, well and truly, to the point where Trek is less of a pop culture phenomenon and more of a relentlessly embarrassing joke.
With the bland recycling and laughable pandering of the current television flagship Enterprise, which consistently ranks in the hundreds (as in each week it is about the hundredth most watched show in the States), and the viciously painful last outing at the cinemas, being Insurrection (which still makes me want to perform random acts of senseless violence on innocent bystanders every time I think about it), you'd think that it's time to retire this old veteran. Not so, the geniuses at Franchise Central believe. People do want to keep watching the same shit again and again. We don't need to come up with anything significantly interesting or even compelling. All we need to do is do everything we've ever done before, and have the same people in the room when we're doing it. Surely no-one can be unhappy with that.
dir: Brett Ratner
I would never have believed that Brett Ratner, director of such classy fair as some of Mariah Carey's film clips and Rush Hour 2 would be capable of making a decent film. I guess films like this go against the auteur theory of film making, either that or he deserves more credit than I am capable of giving him.
It's weird. The film works, amazingly enough. It's not Battleship Potemkin, don't get me wrong, but it is not the mess that I expected. What can be said with a comfortable level of certainty is that Ratner achieved something that Ridley Scott, for all his pretensions of being a first rank director, could not: he manages to make the whole serial killer thing work again, and somehow compelled Anthony Hopkins to actually act. Like he gets paid to.
My hatred of that farce masquerading as a film known as Hannibal is well known, If it isn't, it should be. I proudly aligned myself with the masses last year in declaring it one of the most truly stupid and mishandled films ever made. I can count at least fifteen levels upon which Hannibal failed, and with a somewhat slightly less passionate zeal I can comfortably assert that in my anything but humble opinion, Red Dragon gets it right.
Yeah, I've seen ManhunterM, which people are in a rush stumbling over each other and themselves in order to praise as the definitive version of Thomas Harris' book. Honestly, I saw it back in the late 80s, and it didn't really get my juices flowing. There were some interesting ideas, but the most frightening ideas in the book (as in exactly how much Will Graham ends up identifying with his prey) are left out entirely. As they are here, as well. But most importantly, having watched it (Manhunter) recently again as well, I don't actually feel that it stands the test of time. If anything it looks uncomfortably dated, and the only real aspect of it with any lingering significance is William Petersen's performance, which was tetchy, nervous and desperate.
I kind of wish they could have used the magic of modern technology not to make Hannibal Lecter look younger (which they entirely fail to do, not that I cared), but to be able to interpose William Petersen's performance from Manhunter into Red Dragon. That would have made this film sterling, truly champagne stuff. As it is we have to accept in the role that lucky bastard that gets to have sex with Salma Hayek on a nightly basis, Ed Norton. Sure she can't act, but like any sensible person would care. You think Norton walks down the memory lane of Salma's laughable 'acting' performances every time they have sex? Hell no.
dir: Steven Shainberg
What a fucking freaky film. It starts off being a film about one freak, who then finds an even bigger freak than herself. It just makes you hope they eventually get together and raise some freak babies.
There were certainly a bunch of people in the audience I saw this film with who didn't have a singular clue about this film. They were the ones that walked out not because of the sexual / sadomasochistic content, but because the psychosexual stuff wasn't sexy. They were actually expecting or hoping for some T & A and double entendres about taking dictation and doing a Lewinsky under the desk. Not a story about a demented self-mutilator and a sadistic obsessive-compulsive.
Let's be honest, at least in the realm of colloquial jokes and in porn the job of being a secretary has been sexualised entirely, which is quite ridiculous when you think about it. Anyone who works in pretty much any work environment knows that secretaries come in all shapes, genders, ages and flavours. Generally none of them are wearing tight skirts that barely cover their arse with tight jackets from within which you can see lacy bras peeking out from their barely contained cleavage. Then there's the whole peaking over those glasses thing and the hair done up in a bun which comes loose with a shake as she licks her full, red lips and says in a husky voice "No sir, I haven't heard about the changes in sexual harassment legislation" before earning herself a promotion by doing what she does best...
dir: Richard Kelly
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.
dir: Terry Zwigoff
Movies tend to celebrate the triumph of the individual. The underdog beats the less-likeable and usually wealthy favourite to win the adulation of the crowd. Villains get their comeuppance at movie's end, with the hero finally getting the girl and the acknowledgment that they deserve, usually with a large television audience watching in masturbatory glee.
We as people want to associate ourselves with winners, with success, with victory. We can relate to the personal hardships that the film protagonists go through, as we all have mishaps, accidents and fuckups in our lives, just probably not on the same scale. And when they (usually) inevitably triumph over the odds to win the belt, the cup or kill the bad guy, we feel that associative rush as well, sharing in their triumph. We're winners as well. Our value systems, whilst certainly not uniform around the globe, tend to prize success, coolness, triumph in competition against others, the overcoming of obstacles, prejudices etc to achieve what we all ultimately want: acceptance and approval by society and those around us.
It's ingrained into us, inculcated from a young age. From school onwards we are in competition with each other. The entire spectrum of sports and cinema reflects this and projects this onto us as well. Of course, let's not forget the main economic system on the planet of capitalism which is theoretically at least centred around the ideas of self-interest and competition being balancing forces.
dir: Mark Romanek
Robin Williams was, to use the official psychiatric term, a complete loon. He was a complete loon for a long time. Anyone who's ever seen one of his coke fuelled stand-up performances from the 80s (such as Live at the Met from 1986), or seen anyone try to interview him on any type of show knows how much of a complete nutjob he was (and probably still is). The man used to have a chaotic level of energy when 'on' that it meant even he didn't know what was going to come out of his manic mouth next. You've never seen someone cram more free associations, impressions, parodies and downright crippling gags in such a short space of time. Of course by delivering twenty gags in the space of fifteen seconds even when ten leave you scratching your unmentionables the other five kept you giggling like a schoolgirl.
Those days of coke binges and having sex with Christy Canyon (I'm not making that up) are long gone, but the mania certainly remains. Even now you'd be hard pressed to find a better example of a person with extreme bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depression back in the old days.
Conversely, the most curious fact relating to his dubious 'talents' is that he has been far more compelling in dramatic roles than he ever has been in comedies. Don't believe me? Well, who remembers Jack fondly, or Father's Day, Flubber, Jumanji, Nine Months, Toys? Who pops Mrs Doubtfire in the DVD player any more? Without recourse to strong anti-psychotic medication?
dir: Rob Bowman
Dragons. Post apocalyptic scenarios. People dressed like Mad Max. People being burned or eaten by big lizards. Gay pirates. What's not to like?
Yes, the film has been out for a donkey's age, but I only got to see the film a few days ago. And I must say that I was pleasantly surprised, in that I wasn't violently disgusted by the film that transpired.
dir: Christopher Nolan
Well, who wasn't going to be disappointed by Nolan's follow up to Memento? Nolan had the profoundly unenviable task of moving on from one of the most critically celebrated films of the last bunch of years, and delivered a film that many would find unsatisfactory simply due to its conventionality, solely in comparison. Despite this, he has managed to deliver a decent film, again, showing that he is a quality director, and that he's not just a one-trick pony.
Many refer to the central conceit of Memento, being the non-linear format, as a gimmick, almost as if it was a flaw. They mean it as a pejorative term. That's fine and dandy, but without it, instead of being a brilliant film with a sad, occasionally affecting story, it would have been an unworkable yet mundane revenge 'thriller' with a joyously happy ending. Perhaps he should have also taken out the main character's progressive amnesia / Korsakov's syndrome out as well just to make it extra simple for the test audience demographics that he never screened it to.
dir: M. Night Shyamalan
It's an interesting film, I'll give it that much. And it's a credit to M. Night Shyamalan that he manages to get the best performance out of Mel Gibson that I've seen in nearly a decade. As for how successful the film is overall, well, that's hardly a question for the ages.
Box office-wise, Signs has managed to dispel the fear that arose of "one hit wonderness" after the lackluster receipts that the far more ambitious Unbreakable was responsible for. He's managing to incorporate the quite difficult aspects of credible film making and ticket sale success, and then some. He is undoubtedly a populist director, making stories that are on the surface fairly straight-forward that manage to tap in to either the collective unconscious or issues of pop cultural currency without being either pretentious or lowest common denominator shit-stupid.
His level of subtlety is not what I would call delicate, but this film at the very least stands as a testament to his willingness to tackle commonplace ideas with his own individual take, willing to not always give audiences what they want initially with the view of giving them something completely different at film's end. It's a conceited bait-and-switch, I know, but as someone who's seen literally thousands of films over the years, it's something I can appreciate.
I had long ago given up on Mel Gibson. In my mind he has become such a ham of an actor that expecting a decent performance from him would be classified by myself as an exercise in futility and by the psychiatric diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals throughout the Western world, the DSM-IV, as a "profoundly delusional state". Picture if you will without getting nauseous the alleged "characters" he's been portraying for the last decade and a half. Whether it be the repugnant all encompassing "father" figure in Ransom, who to me was even more loathsome than the villains in the film, or the even worse character he assayed in The Patriot, the wretched, ham-vomiting Benjamin Martin, in a film that paid the same level of honour to the heroes of the American Revolution that Jerry Bruckheimer did to the fallen in Pearl Harbor: you're not talking quality acting here. I get the feeling that he gave up on the concept of portraying a character in films so much as just giving us the viewers another "facet" of the wonderfulness that is Mel.
dir: David Fincher
There's no disputing that this is a technically adept film. There is also no denying the irony that whilst being one of David Fincher's most successful movies at the box office, it is also one of his most uninvolving pictures to date. I have pretty high expectations when it comes to the guy.
In a recent interview in Sunday's Age, Fincher draws a distinction between the 'films' and the 'movies' he makes. His 'films' so far have been Se7en and Fight Club, his movies, in his own words, would therefore be Alien 3, The Game and now Panic Room. He loosely defined (or I am sporadically paraphrasing him in such a way as to further my own flimsy argument) movies as being made solely for an audience, whereas 'films' are where a director has greater leeway, and creates the picture for himself/herself as much as for an audience.