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2004

Closer

dir: Mike Nichols
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It’s not about the masterpiece Joy Division album that Courtney Love and probably some of you, your uncles or your mums lost their virginities to. It’s not about the Nine Inch Nails song that made the phrase ‘I want to fuck you like an animal’ part of popular parlance. But it is about fucking. Specifically, it’s about the way that the need for sex brings people together and destroys them. It’s about the way in which honesty causes more heartbreak than the cruellest lies. And it’s about what sad creatures we humans truly are.

As a four-hander, with four fairly well-known actors, the film continually betrays its stage origins as a play. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t exactly kill my mother over the prospect of getting enough cash to buy tickets to get to the theatre on a Friday night, but I don’t necessarily dislike movies that come across as stagey. I love decent acting and good dialogue, so a movie which is all dialogue isn’t a problem for me. Those that hate talky gabfests now know they can avoid this film like the plague. And the rest of this review, presumably.

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House of Flying Daggers

dir: Zhang Yimou
[img_assist|nid=988|title=Dance, rummy|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=298]
What a truly beautiful film, in all the senses that the word can encompass. And if you think about just how important beauty is to those of us with eyes and ears and hearts, you might know how it is that I can forgive the shortcomings of a film solely for its sheer visual splendour.

Film, being the most complex of the visual mediums (well duh), needs beauty like homeless drunks need booze: fiercely, deeply, utterly. For those of us that try to watch much of the new stuff that comes out at the cinema, it’s the knowledge or the conceit that seeing a film on the big screen is somehow ‘right’ or inherently ‘better’ than waiting to see it on your television screen that is a driving force. In truth most of the time it’s a complete delusion. My life and my experience of film is none the better for having watched Blade III, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing or Cabin Fever on the big screen, in fact I can say that in some ways it’s probably worse off. I’m sure that watching bad films on the silver screen causes brain cancer or genital warts or something.

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Downfall

dir: Oliver Hirshbiegel
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To a lot of people it might seem redundant making another film about World War II, because for those of us not born in the 80s, other than JFK's assassination, the Vietnam War and Abigail's breasts on Number 96, no event had as profound an impact upon the last century as WWII did, and there is no shortage of movies or tv stuff devoted to the occasion.

Even if people don't know the details regarding Uncle Adolf, his life and death or the frightening power he once held, they know at least that he is one of history's nastiest villains.

So who needs another movie about the downfall of the Third Reich? Maybe Holocaust deniers, anti-semites and warmongers need to have versions of these films made and have ye olde worlde VHS copies fisted into their various orifices. But the rest of us think we know all there is to know about it.

Even if Downfall isn't necessary, it's still damn compelling. A film that successfully captures and gets across the surreal atmosphere of Berlin towards the end of the war has to be vital viewing for those with the time, patience and inclination.

Rating:

Howl's Moving Castle - (Hauru no ugoku shiro)

dir: Hayao Miyazaki
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Miyazaki is a hallowed name to those of us who’ve seen and loved his animated movies. He is often referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney, but I think that short changes his talent and what he’s accomplished over the span of his career.

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Maria Full of Grace

dir: Joshua Marston
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Ah, drugs. Drugs are great, drugs are good. They’re fun, they let you sometimes have a great time, and they make inanimate objects, surfaces and other people seem more interesting than they actually are.

I’ve heard that they have a downside as well, but frankly I can’t see it. Drugs are simply wonderful. In case you think I’m talking about the wonders of modern pharmaceutical drugs and medicines, think again! I’m talking exclusively about illegal Class A drugs. The ones that cost a fortune and make awful people very wealthy. They also garner you a dirty cell and a cellmate who calls himself “The Stallion” if you get caught selling or smuggling them, but that’s a small price to pay, surely compared to the bountiful and constant fun they can bring.

Maria Full of Grace is a movie about two main topics: a teenage girl called Maria (played well by Catalina Sandino Moreno), and the way that drugs sometimes gets smuggled inside human receptacles into the United States from Colombia. You wouldn’t have thought it, but it’s a harsh and dangerous process, and the people who control the trade are thoroughly vile individuals who are as likely to kill you as say “Good Morning Captain” to you if the mood takes them.

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Moolaade

dir: Ousmane Sembene
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Of all the films I’ve ever seen on the topic of female genital mutilation in Africa, this is the best of them. By a country mile of clichés.

Of course it’s the only film about genital mutilation in Africa I’ve ever seen, or am ever going to see. It’s the best by default.

And what kind of a person could find fault with such a film? Considering the subject material, you’d have to be heartless and genitaless not to sympathise with the women of the village of Djerisso in Burkina Faso, and the squillions of women this has been done to in the name of tradition.

Let’s be a bit more honest here: the words “genital mutilation” are too vague, and the phrase “female circumcision” is offensive in its dishonesty. What they’re talking about, when they refer to the action of “purifying” a girl, is the excision of her clitoris and labia, and the sewing up of the vagina to allow only for the urethra to do what it’s supposed to.

There are different “classes” of it practiced around the world, but they all amount to the same thing: stupidity on a grand scale, and the taking away of the basic human right of sexual pleasure.

What kind of a useless world allows crap like this to still happen in this day and age? What kind of a world produces people who believe something like this could in anyway be a good thing?

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Million Dollar Baby

dir: Clint Eastwood
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Old Man Clint. It’s hard not to love him, especially when he makes films as good as this. Many will see this purely as an exercise in Oscarbait, but I disagree. I think Clint’s made plenty of films (I think about 25), has received a shitload of praise and awards over the years, and doesn’t need the added hassle of having to tailor everything to that end. I think he just likes making movies, especially since he’s 75 and isn’t really on the celebrity carousel for the column inches in the supermarket mags.

Lucky for us, he’s pretty good at it. He’s made a stack of duds as well, don’t get me wrong, but his great films more than make up for it. You can tote up Pink Cadillac, Absolute Power, Firefox, Heartbreak Ridge and those orang-utan movies as evidence of his crapness, but then my rejoinder has to be Unforgiven, White Hunter Black Heart, this here film and maybe Mystic River from the year before. If you take into consideration the great films where he just acted as well, it looks like an incredibly accomplished body of work for one man.

Add to that the fact that he’s a crusty old coot that’s reminiscent of the father or grandfather you never visit but wouldn’t mind seeing every once in a while to bask in the glow of his geriatric wisdom, and it makes him even more lovable.

Rating:

Before Sunset

dir: Richard Linklater
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I'm not a fan, even remotely, of romantic movies. Romantic movies generally have the same effect on me intellectually as Draino would have on a human's gastrointestinal system upon consumption. I doubt anyone's going to be surprised by that. Hey, I'm not some stoic, repressed, unemotional automaton. I don't work in an abattoir nailgunning creatures in the head day in day out for a living or for fun; I haven't 'shut down' emotionally because of my second tour of duty in 'Nam where I put my hand in a pile of goo that used to be my best friend's face. I am, in short, a product of the current age, not overly apathetic about stuff, but not too interested in getting sweaty over anything either.

All in all, I am clearly not the demographic intended for anything explicitly shelved under the Romance section of the local franchise video rental chain. You know where I mean, be it your local Burstblocker or LeproZYDVD, where they have over fifty copies of the latest Adam Sandler / Drew Barrymore flick, and no copies of any films by Federico Fellini. Yeah, I know, I'm a snob when it comes to movies, so sue me.

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Primer

dir: Shane Carruth
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For a contemporary sci-fi film, this is going to strike some people as downright false advertising.

There are no explosions, car chases, gigantic metropolises, shiny robots, Will Smiths or Spielbergs to be seen for miles around. So most regular muggles aren’t going to think it’s “real” sci-fi anyway.

For “real” sci-fi fans, that should be enough to pique their curiousity. Of course, when I mention time travel playing the central role in the story, they’re going to switch off and go back to masturbating over Japanese cartoon porn. God knows you’re not a real nerd ‘til you’ve done that.

Time travel has been used and abused by so many and for so long that it makes most of us role our eyes heavenward in disgust. Even nerds.

When it’s used well, as with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the details of the how and the why of the time travel are insignificant compared to what it adds to the story. Seeing Abraham Lincoln, Socrates, Sigmund Freud and Genghis Khan striding around the San Dimas mall and interacting with late 80s Californians is worth all the silliness and Keanu Reeveses involved.

Rating:

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

dir: Kerry Conran
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Kerry Conran had a vision, God love him. This is a man who had a genuine ambition. Ambition is not unknown in Hollywood, to be sure. But this isn’t a case of a guy whose ambition is only to make a film, or to get wealthy, or to fuck high class prostitutes. He had a bunch of ideas for making a very particular film, and he’s been striving for over ten years to get it done. Finally, in the form of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, he’s achieved his goal. There may have been pitfalls and compromises along the way, but in the end he brought his unique vision to the screen, goddamnit. And for that he deserves to be commended.

It’s not a particularly unique or original vision; in a way he’s doing little more than what George Lucas did decades ago when he used his memories of Saturday matinee serials and Amazing Stories-type books and comics to come up with the Indiana Jones and the Star Wars stuff, to the ecstasy of nerds the world over. And sure, more recently many of the same visual and thematic influences turned up, incredibly enough in the recent Pixar treasure The Incredibles.

It is, on the other hand, resolutely his own take on all those elements, which he uses to come up with something he can call his own, even if the origins aren’t that obscure or even remotely forgotten.

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