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2005

Aristocrats, The

dir: Paul Provenza
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Many (bad) comedies and films in general are often accused of being one joke movies stretched out painfully for an hour and a half more than they should be. Many of Jim Carrey’s movies fall into this category (the one joke being on the audience for paying to watch him twitch, flail and fulminate). The Passion of the Christ fits the bill. The Ahnuld – De Vito flick Twins falls into this category (They’re so different!) Anything arising from a television sketch show is emblematic of this plague upon all our houses when it defecates itself onto our silver screens.

Well, in The Aristocrats, we have instead a movie about one joke, and the myriad permutations and combinations thereof. And even though the flick is about this one joke, it is nothing like the aforementioned craptacular extravaganzas referred to earlier.

I guess you could call it a documentary, but that makes it sound like a studied, plotted course taken to reveal the origins and mysteries surrounding a legendary joke dating back to the vaudeville era. Which it approximates, but mostly it’s a bunch of talking heads either talking about the joke or telling their version of the joke.

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Election (Hak Se Wui)

dir: Johnny To
[img_assist|nid=915|title=Only slightly less corrupt than our own elections|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=588]
First off, this isn’t a review of the Alexander Payne flick of the same name from 1999. Reese Witherspoon does not star in this as an annoying overachiever who gets involved in a titanic struggle with Matthew Broderick.

This is not exactly a rare entry in Hong Kong cinema. More than half of the films made in Hong Kong since at least the 70s have been about the triads and their wicked ways. Election wants to go a little further than the usual, and tries to depict a story where the political machinations of the behind the scenes power struggles are more important than the machete fights and the slapping around of prostitutes. It also delves into the history and customs of the triads, making them seem as wholesome and long-standing as your local Rotary club or Masonic Hall.

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Hard Candy

dir: David Slade
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A 14-year-old girl and a 32-year-old man converse through the magic of the internet. Their flirtatious banter sounds harmless enough on one level and then completely disturbing on another. They then agree to meet in public for the first time. This does not bode well at all…

Aren’t there plenty of stories in the media, especially the American media, about children sneaking from their homes to meet significantly older perverts that they met online? The whole MySpace phenomena, which should die out within a few weeks and be replaced by some other new fad, like yo-yos, whittling or scrimshawing, has become notorious because of the occasions where oldies have gone there with
ill intentions to meet the young.

Also, these days, you can’t go into any chat room without soon discovering that whatever that alleged nubile jailbait is saying, it’s probably a fifty-year old, heavy-set FBI agent with a mortgage and an enlarged prostate pretending he’s a suggestible girl just waiting to bloom.

So it’s a pretty rich source of current material to be playing around with for this here flick by first-time director David Slade. Whatever it might sound like, the flick is not really about sex, aberrant or otherwise. But goddamn is it a rough ride, all the same.

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Hidden

dir: Michael Haneke
[img_assist|nid=909|title=Cache sounds so much more continental|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=283|height=400]
Austrian director Michael Haneke is a cruel man. His career has been devoted to torturing audiences with his diabolical flicks. I don’t mean in the same manner that Uwe Boll and Celine Dion torment audiences. As Haneke gets older, his techniques become more refined, his blunt instruments are replaced with scalpels, and the damage goes deeper.

Hidden focuses on a middle-class, middle-aged French couple who start receiving video tapes of themselves documenting their movements at their flat. As well, they receive harmless but unsettling child-like drawings depicting a person bleeding from the mouth, or a chicken getting its head cut off.

The feel of the film is quite unsettling. Haneke uses a static camera for all the shots, not just the surveillance videos, and generally only moves left or right, to make us unsure if we’re really watching the scene, or watching the surveillance depiction of the scene. The flick also has no musical score or soundtrack, which adds to the oppressive atmosphere.

It might sound like a clinical Dogma-like experiment, but it’s not. The performances from all involved, especially Daniel Auteil and Juliette Binoche, are good, as you would expect from two mainstays of modern French cinema.

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Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The

dir: Tommy Lee Jones
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Films that don’t immediately jump themselves into a recognisable pigeonhole already have a point or two in their favour, for my money. When films follow formula, I tend to start evaluating the film along the lines of its adherence to or variance from the formula. Whatever happens on screen filters through to me with that lens in use.

When I don’t get what the formula is, or the obvious destination point, I’m already more interested than usual. Because such a scenario makes me wonder what is going to happen next, as opposed to generally being able to predict it.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is not a great film. It has some great scenery, gorgeous cinematography, and some interesting characters. Its greatest advantage is that it has a script by Guillermo Arriaga.

Arriaga usually collaborates with director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, so you may be familiar with his work in the form of Amores Perros and 21 Grams, both films I have a lot of time for.

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Proposition, The

The Proposition

dir: John Hillcoat

I still have the soundtrack by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave ringing in my ears. For in truth that is probably the most successful part of the film.

This so-called Australian “Western” has little going for it except lovely postcard visuals, a melancholy tension, people with bad teeth giving good performances and a hell of a lot of brutality.

Let’s face it, the starting point of British colonialism in this country was anything but auspicious or pleasant for any of the people involved. The town of Banyon serves as the “hell” in the line uttered by one of the film’s many characters, “What fresh hell is this…”, though he is in fact talking about all of Australia.

Though the land has its empty natural beauty, it looks like what much of it is: hostile and inhospitable. Of course the film plays this up and makes it look like the first whities here must have been insane to stay. As well as being very dirty all of the time.

Many people star in this flick, many people were involved, and so it comes with many expectations. Maybe a stack of people are going to think it’s the bee’s knees. For me it was more like the flea’s disease.

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Exorcism of Emily Rose, The

dir: Scott Derrickson
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The makers claim from the outset that the film is based on a true story. The “true” story involves a German woman called Annaleise Michel who died in the 70s, whom her family and a bunch of priests believe was possessed by a bunch of demons.

Not just any demons, but the demons that possessed Hitler, Nero, and also Lucifer, who might have just been along for the ride.

The medical types, being the killjoys that they are, believed her to be an epileptic with schizophrenia. When she died, after nearly a year of malnutrition and weekly exorcisms, the authorities stepped in and charged two priests and the girl’s parents with negligent homicide.

The story is transplanted to the US, her name is changed to Emily Rose, the charge is applied to just the priest, Father Moore (dependable Tom Wilkinson), and the “truth” of the girl’s story is laid out for us, the questioning audience, to work out for ourselves.

That is, at least, what they would have you believe. The story from the outset leaves you in no doubt as to what they want you to believe is the “truth” of the matter. And in case you don’t get it, the signposts put up at the end put it beyond rational doubt.

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Syriana

dir: Stephen Gaghan
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What do you look for in films? Is it diversion, or distraction; to forget for 90 to 120 minutes about the mundane obligations and constant petty outrages that modern life deals out to you on a daily basis? Is it to laugh, to cry, to get a tingle in your ‘naughty’ places from the on-screen antics of these surrogate selves cavorting on the silvery screen?

Is it to learn about the world, as seen through the eyes of the filmmakers, to be challenged and provoked, or to have your worldview confirmed and reinforced?

Regardless, whatever your reasons for darkening the cinema’s already darkened doorstep, I kind of doubt Syriana is going to provide any of that sweet, sweet satisfaction previously alluded to.

Syriana is one of those serious, serious films, like Traffic before it, which Gaghan also scripted, that believes it’s telling you something you don’t already know. It’s like the friend that points out stuff that’s already fairly self-evident to anyone in possession of at least four senses, saying stuff like “Gee, isn’t it hot today?” on a painfully scorching day. Or “Damn, having that limb amputated must have really sucked.”

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Jarhead

dir: Sam Mendes
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This is a film about war without an actual war in it. It’s akin to make a porno without having sex in it.

There are movies like that. On cable, Showtime (channel 3), on Friday nights, plays these flicks which I am guessing are American pornos. I don’t actually know for sure, because the films have most of the nudity and all of the sex cut out of them. It begs the question as to why anyone would then want to watch them, considering the main attraction is now absent. It’s not for the scripts and the acting, which are teeth-grindingly bad. You wouldn’t watch a football game on the jumping box, the pictocube, I mean the telly, if they cut all the actual football out of it. And the sex as well.

Jarhead’s point is to give us a window into the experiences of a young marine trained and amped up for war, alongside his equally hyper macho brothers in arms, prior to the first Gulf War. It starts with scenes those of us who routinely watch war films would be familiar with (boot camp, having superior officers hurl abuse at newbies, small acts of rebellion against authority), but doesn’t have the general payoff that you get from the other flicks (trial by fire in wartime conflict, personal cowardice and courage, blowing people’s heads off).

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Paradise Now

dir: Hany Abu-Assad
[img_assist|nid=918|title=Blue skies, happy days|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=270|height=400]
How excited are you about reading a review of a film about two Palestinian suicide bombers? Thrilled, I imagine. As the eyes gloss over, and you open another browser window in order to check out the latest news on some celebrity’s sex scandal shocker, you’ll admit to yourself that sometimes it’s all right, but generally, worthy cinema about the world’s problems bores you to tears.

And who can blame you? The world is filled with such terrible occurrences on a second-to-second basis that it’s hard not to say “Fuck it, I can’t care anymore, I’m having another shot of whisky and another toke on the dutchy” which, as anyone who remembers the 80s knows, should always be passed on the left-hand side.

So maybe a story told from the point of view of two potential suicide bombers isn’t going to be your cup of tea. And if you do see it, it’ll be to impress some earnest and hot international student at your uni who you want to leave with the significant impression that you’re switched on about big worldly issues and therefore eminently fuckable.

For my money, this low budget but well put-together film was an interesting way to spend my Wednesday morning. Shot in Nablus and Nazareth, for a work of fiction it looks horribly real.

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