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2004

Steamboy (Suchimoboi)

dir: Katsuhiro Otomo
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This is a highly anticipated animated film for many people, and not just for dope smokers either. See, it’s been so long since Akira first came out that the stoners that predominantly constitute its fanbase have worn out their VHS copies and are in desperate need of something else to tickle the fancy of their THC-addled cells.

Taking over a decade to create another full length feature which is thus far the most expensive in anime history, you’d be entitled to think that Otomo would have had the requisite time and money to craft a story entirely to his liking, something else with the potential to infect pop culture consciousness and monopolise the television at parties like Akira did.

To the credit of the people involved, they’ve started with an insane bunch of ideas and produced an impressively incredible-looking animated feature. Unfortunately, the whole production is deeply flawed by having an absolutely terrible story.

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Troy

dir: Wolfgang Petersen
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I could lie and say that I went into the cinema expecting this film to be a biography of Troy. Not the city, but the animated actor from The Simpsons. Troy McClure. You might remember him from such educational films as ‘Lead Paint: Delicious But Deadly’, ‘Firecrackers: the Silent Killer’ and ‘Man versus Nature: The Road to Victory’. Alas, I was to be disappointed…

I’m positive the day Gladiator made a tonne of money, someone greenlit this flick. Hack screenwriters who’d been pushing crappy sword and sandal scripts for years to the talentless hacks that control the purse strings in Hollywood finally thought ‘Our time has come.’ I’m surprised there haven’t been more of them already. Who doesn’t want to see big beefy men whacking each other with swords and the like? It’s legitimised wrestling without the chairs or the midgets. People don’t have to feel embarrassed about liking it. Well, most people, at least.

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Fahrenheit 9/11

dir: Michael Moore
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It's a testament to the era that we live in that the more complicated issues of human rights, international diplomacy and the role of the media becomes, the narrower the range and scope of response is becoming. We are either for the terrorists, or against them. We are either fascists who hate everything that is anything than a darker shade of albino, or we are decent folk who hug puppies and love cherub-cheeked children. You either want to destroy every last stinking bit of Mother Nature, or you love the earth and everything in it or on it.

Was the world always so polarised? Do we really believe that there are really only two points of view on pretty much every single topic in existence? That the universe or at least everything on this planet exists in some kind of binary state, so that every molecule of matter and every thought or idea exists in only one of two possible states? It seems like with the increasing number and complexity of the ideas and concepts that permeate civilisation it might be a natural consequence that our vision somehow narrows simultaneously. Confronted with a multitude of competing voices we focus on those sounds that most conform with what we've heard and liked before. Out of the cacophony we hear only the tune we want to whistle ourselves.

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Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

dir: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
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There’s something simultaneously engaging and repellent about a documentary where three of the titans of metal, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett act like bitchy teenage girls. They might be squillionaires, their band could be the biggest metal band of all time, but they’re still incapable of speaking to each other like adults.

I guess they have no need to be adults anyway. When you’re that rich, who needs maturity or reasonableness to get along with other people? You can hire assistants to do everything you need, PR people to handle your fuckups and indiscretions, and psychiatrist super coaches to hand-hold you through every emotionally difficult moment.

Well, it becomes a problem when your band and your management are desperate for another trip to the money well for another hefty load of the cold, hard green. That desire to get paid ensures every step needs to be taken in order to guarantee the product is finally pumped out, even when that product should probably have never seen the light of day in the first place.

Rating:

Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The

dir: Wes Anderson
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Whilst watching one of Anderson’s films, you really have to wonder who he thinks the audience is for the magic that he serves up. Tis clearly not a guy aiming to pack out the multiplexes and get Armageddon or Passion of the Christ’s Comeback Special-kind of ticket sales. I wonder if he even really cares about the audiences that watch his films, because thus far the only audience I can figure out that he aims his movies at is himself.

Which is a good thing, at least theoretically. So many movies are pumped out that are purely a product, a unit almost identical to the previous unit with slight variations to give the illusion of choice. It’s rare in the course of a given year to see a genuinely individual film: one that is recognisable as the work of a person with a singular vision. Of the six hundred or so films that are released each year, in the end it’s these ones that you remember the most, whether they’re good or bad.

This hardly means that people should sell their firstborns and their puppies to get the required fundage in order to be able to buy multiple tickets to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I find it hard to believe that there could really be a lot of people out there that would find a film like this that enjoyable.

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Hidden Blade, The

(Kakushi ken oni no tsume)
dir: Yoji Yamada
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Just like in The Twilight Samurai, this film follows the adventures of a samurai on the absolute lowest rank samurai can be on without falling off the feudal ladder. Just like in The Twilight Samurai, the noble and impoverished main character is vulnerable to the machinations of those more powerful than him within his clan, who compel him to do something he doesn’t want to do. And just like in The Twilight Samurai he is loved by and loves a woman he cannot be with because of some tenuous, noble, self-sacrificing reason.

But don’t let that give you the impression that it’s a rip-off of Twilight Samurai. Oh, heaven forfend such a perception on your part.

Truth is, though they have many similar elements, right down to the main character being too busy and noble to clean and repair their own kimonos, they are significantly different stories. Regardless of the sheer multitude of similarities.

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Pusher II - With Blood on My Hands

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
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The second part of the Danish Pusher trilogy continues the slide down the human evolutionary scale by showing the mundane lives of Danish petty criminals as the shit-soaked nightmares that they might truly be.

Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) returns as the main character in this one, previously in a supporting role in the first flick. He’s fresh out of jail and dumb as always. A skinhead by preference, he has the word ‘respect’ tattooed across the back of his head, yet, amazingly enough, this inspires little respect in the people who see the tattoo.

You see, Tonny is pretty dumb. He’s dumb even for a petty thug. But he is not as unrepentantly evil as some of the people around him, and nowhere near as vile as his former friend Frankie who the first Pusher flick focussed on. In fact, many of Tonny’s problems may date back to a horrific beating he survived at Frankie’s hands which has left his memory scattered.

He could just be simple. He doesn’t have the mental wattage to think through any of the stuff he does, and he lacks the viciousness and ambition of his criminal compadres. Also, he’s grown in up the shadow of his crime boss father, the Duke (Leif Sylvester), who loathes him and wants nothing to do with him.

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Sideways

dir: Alexander Payne
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When you’re being really pretentious and annoying about wine, you’re supposed to hold the glass at a tilted angle (sideways) to examine its colour, consistency, panoply of aromas and possibly the amount of anti-freeze in it. Also when wine is cellared it’s kept lying on its side to best protect the precious contents within. That’s where the title comes from, if you were gnawing off your leg in frustration over it. In other words sometimes to be able to look at life clearly you have to kind of tilt your reality to get a good look at it. Or maybe someone trying to get some kind of trite ‘quote of the day’ type of banality out of the title is just one of the many kinds of moron Payne loves to ridicule in his films.

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Night Watch

dir: Timur Bekmambetov
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If this is Russia’s answer to The Matrix and the other fantasy / vampire type films Hollywood has pumped out in recent years, perhaps it would’ve been best had the question never been asked.

I am unfortunately in that position where something receiving a lot of buzz and praise has left me muttering “eh” under my breath and in the length, width and girth of my review. I just don’t think that it’s really that good. I am perplexed as to the good press it has received. In a way it feels like people are praising the Russians for producing such a film in the way people praise a retarded child when he starts reading See Spot Run ten years after the other kids, because he’s really trying so hard, and doesn’t he make you want to hug a puppy? Awww…

For me, this film is only different from the recent Constantine film by not having Keanu Reeves in it. They both have fantasy plots based on a war between the forces of Good and Evil, they both had nil characterisation and pointless plots, and they both had resolutions more insulting than revelatory. Still, Constantine was dumb. I’m not sure what Night Watch’s problem is, but it’s not just dumbness.

Rating:

I, Robot

dir: Alex Proyas
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Well before I get immersed in the arthouse stink of the Melbourne Film Festival, I thought I'd immunise myself with a hearty dose of mainstream blockbustery cheese.

Saying that this film has anything to do with the collection of Asimov short stories collected in a book of the same title is like saying
Michael Jackson is based on the template for a human being: in both cases the end product has little if anything to do with the source
material. The title, and the use of the concept of Asimov's Laws of Robotics are all that come from the writing of Asimov as far as the
plot is concerned. It doesn't really matter to me that much, because it's not like Asimov's going to care (he died several years ago), and
it's not as if anyone actually ever turns in their graves. Or at least I certainly hope not.

Rating:

Passion of the Christ, The

dir: Mel Gibson
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Oh. My. Gods. I’m, I’m stunned. I cannot believe what I just saw. A movie about a nice enough chap who says a few nice things to people, ends up getting beaten up severely, is then flayed and tenderised like a cheap cut of meat, has thorns wedged though his eyelids, and is then nailed to pieces of wood. They even stab him with a spear in the end just to make sure that he’s dead.

And that’s the film. The vast majority of it centres on and is entirely concerned with his torments. It’s pretty rough, and it kind of makes me feel sorry for anyone who’s undergoing torture right now. Anywhere in the world. You know, at anyone's hands. It's nasty stuff.

Gibson is famous for a lot of things. You would wish it would be for playing Mad Max / Road Warrior films, or for those steely blue eyes, or for making a few good films in a completely idiosyncratic way.

Alas, most recently, his infamy has been based on the now clear evidence that he really does hate the Jews, and that at least in part, his version of the Easter classic was intended to malign the Jews who killed Christ. In vino veritas, and all that.

Rating:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

dir: Michel Gondry
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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a rarity in this day and age: a film that has elements of romance, drama and comedy without being hampered or paralysed by any of those aspects. In truth this film is beyond a rarity: it's a gem that stars, inexplicably, Jim ‘Ham on Rye' Carrey and Kate 'Let Me Get The Twins Out' Winslet playing two oddball characters that don't pander, don't beg us to love how cute they are and therefore circumvent the natural expectations that an audience member might have of a scriptwriter having to create a story we could possibly care about. One that doesn't ploddingly, predictably, stagger from point A to point B to point Zzzzz.

Let's face it romantic comedies are about as popular as syphilis to those of us that don't think Maid in Manhattan, the Wedding Singer and Pretty Woman are the pinnacle of the cinematic experience. Sure, I understand, we're ungrateful, but some of us aspire to something more out of film and of life. With that in mind when something comes along that's clever and sweet it seems fuckstruckingly out of place. What? It's funny AND romantic? Are the seas boiling? Is that sky falling? Isn't this one of the signs of the forthcoming Apocalypse?

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District B-13 (Banlieue 13)

dir: Pierre Morel
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This flick has many names: Banlieue 13, Barrio 13, B-13, 13th District, Pocahontas 2: Electric Boogaloo. Whether French or English, all they stand for is this: Gallic arse-kicking of the highest order!

No, well, maybe not. This is a film of around 80 minutes length, 79 minutes of which are action scenes. The acting is mediocre, the script is leaden or generic, and there are no attractive people in the film. Also, they’re speaking French the whole time.

But the action is top notch! They used to call it parkour, and for all I know they still call it parkour, but it is also known as free running. It is considered to be a form of urban martial art, though it’s not really about kicking the crap out of people. Free running is about getting through, over, under or around elements of built up environments and streets in the fastest and most elegant manner possible. Much of this stuff was on display in the opening segment of Casino Royale, the most recent Bond film, dazzling audiences from Moe to Madagascar.

There’s substantially less money and star power on offer here, but it is no less impressive to watch primary exponents of the discipline like David Belle, perform some very impressive stunts for our benefit.

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