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2006

Black Dahlia, The

dir: Brian De Palma
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There is a place for trash in this world, especially in the world of cinema. No-one has made more of a career making entertaining and trashy films than De Palma. He’s never been able to shake the Alfred Hitchcock-wannabe moniker long enough to establish himself as a decent, respectable director. The closest he’s come was with The Untouchables, and that was a long time ago.

No, De Palma is a trashy director whose movies work best when he lets his dirty side come to the fore. For all his attempts at respectability, it is films like Carrie, Scarface, Dressed to Kill, Body Double and the gargantuan bomb that was Bonfire of the Vanities that he will be remembered for. Not for this one.

Considering his love of sleaze and lurid subject matter, it is a double shame that The Black Dahlia fails as badly as it does. You would think the pairing of De Palma and the James Ellroy novel fictionalising the details of the real Black Dahlia case, overflowing with depravity, corruption, madness and death as it is would be a marriage made in heaven. But De Palma drops the ball so comprehensively in the second half of the film that you have to wonder whether this one was strictly for the money.

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Election 2

(Hak se wui yi wo wai kwai)
[img_assist|nid=1123|title=Election 2: Election Boogaloo|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=420]
dir: Johnny To

It’s been a good year for Johnny To. Exiled and Election 2 have been well received by critics, even if Election 2 was banned in China because of its implications of government collusion with triad gangs (a truly shocking and outlandish claim). Surely such a thing could never be true. To’s films don’t seem to connect with audiences in a big way, which is a shame.

Following on two years from the events of the first film, Lok (Simon Yam) has been a successful Chairman for the Wo Sing triad, but it is time for another election. Though he seemed almost reluctant to seize the reigns of power in the first film (at least initially), holding power has changed him. Where we would expect the film to focus on the new potential Chairmen (which it does), Lok decides to throw his own spanners into the Wo Sing’s processes.

Of the young turks itching to become leader, the brightest star is also the most reluctant. Lok’s godson Jimmy (Louis Koo), who is a big earner for the triad, only sees working for the Wo Sing as a means to an end: he yearns to go legit. A multi-million dollar development in China is his pie in the sky, his chance to get out of the underworld and to star in the business world.

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Tell No One (Ne le dis a personne)

dir: Guillaume Canet
[img_assist|nid=88|title=Go on, tell someone|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=333]
A French adaptation of an American mystery novel made with an eye towards an international audience? That sounds like the latest version of The Pink Panther, or Asterix and Obelix, doesn’t it? But no, Tell No One is loosely what I just described it to be, and it works out as a pretty decent thriller, with a compelling mystery behind it at that. The remakes of French flicks for American consumption usually suck, but the reverse of it has strangely worked to more than just my satisfaction.

A husband and wife, after hanging out with some other French people who all smoke through dinner, go for a midnight swim and for some naked, sweaty love by a lake. The woman disappears, the man is knocked out: it all seems like a very short film with a sad ending.

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Hoax, The

dir: Lasse Hallstrom
[img_assist|nid=147|title=Would you buy anything from these men?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=500|height=325]
I’m no fan of Lasse Hallstrom’s films (spits to the side) or of Richard Gere in any capacity (spits twice), but I was very interested to see this film. I find almost anything about crazy, dead American billionaire Howard Hughes fascinating, and the story of one of the most impressive literary hoaxes of recent vintage even more so.

Clifford Irving (Gere) is a hack, a plagiarist and a compulsive liar. He tries to palm off rip-offs of Philip Roth novels as his own in his desperate desire to be taken seriously as a writer and to make some of the sweet do-re-mi that he so craves. His Swiss wife Edith (Marcia Gay Harden) has forgiven much of his lying and infidelity in the past, but, as an artist herself (not of the bullshit variety), she has a high tolerance for even more of the same.

With the rejection of his rip-off of Portnoy’s Complaint (which he stupidly calls Rodrick’s Problem - subtle, that) by illustrious publishers McGraw Hill, Irving hits upon an idea fiendishly foolproof in its intricacies: a fabricated autobiography of reclusive billionaire eccentric Howard Hughes.

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Love & Honor (Bushi no ichibun)

dir: Yoji Yamada
[img_assist|nid=773|title=My pimp moustache is very cool|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=246]
Topping off his trilogy of films about samurai on the lowest rung of the feudal order, Yoji Yamada’s most recent flick again looks at a few months in the life of a down-and-out but noble swordsman.

They’re not linked in any other way apart from being about poor samurai at the mercy of their more powerful masters, but the three films, Twilight Samurai, Hidden Blade and this one all carry through the same themes of devotion to family above duty, and the reluctant carrying-out of duty in order to safeguard one’s loved ones.

As

Love and Honor opens, samurai Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) hates his job, and jokes with his wife about giving up his status and becoming a kendo instructor to the poor and wealthy alike.

Who doesn’t hate their fucking day job? I guess some people must like them, else the productive world would fall apart. Maybe guys working in a slaughterhouse love their jobs. Police? They love their jobs. Proctologists? Well, if they don’t love their job, you wonder what keeps them coming back.

Well, whatever it is that keeps Mimura coming back, it isn’t a love of being a food taster for the local lord. When he is accidentally poisoned, one of the side-effects is permanent blindness, which really puts a dent in his and everyone else’s day.

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After the Wedding (Efter Brylluppet)

dir: Susanne Bier
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It’s a testament to the abilities of the actors involved, and the skill of director Susanne Bier that this story, which sounds like the most contrived melodrama you could ever imagine, works, and works well. Bier is one of only a handful of Danish directors I can think of (the others being notorious overwrought hack Lars Von Trier and the guy who made the scuzzily vile Pusher trilogy), but she shows here why she’s such a respected director both at home and internationally.

The key is effective drama. In this entire film, there is but one scene that doesn’t work acting-wise or dramatically. That’s one scene out of dozens. That’s a pretty good hit to miss ratio.

Jacob (played by Mads Mikkelson, who most people would know as the villain from the most recent Bond film) is a strange, nervy kind of guy who works at an Indian orphanage. He speaks fluent English, and a bit of the local language, but clearly he’s not from around here, though he’s spent twenty years in the country.

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Once

dir: John Carney
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How many times are you likely to watch this flick, if at all? Once. How many times will you listen to the CD? Once. How many times will you hear the Oscar-winning song Falling Slowly that features in the film and is likely going to be used in every ad trying to sell everything from haemorrhoid creams to fighter jets and cheese-in-a-can? Probably dozens of times.

Once is a very simple, very unambitious flick that is nonetheless quite charming. It is billed as a romance, but really, it’s about two people who meet, sing and play some songs together, and that’s it. There’s really not much else to it.

The story, such as it is, looks at The Guy (Glen Hansard) who repairs vacuum cleaners in his dad’s shop. He also busks on the streets singing his own songs. In an amusing exchange to open proceedings, he spies a junkie who looks like he’s going to try to steal the change dropped on his guitar cover. When the junkie does what is expected of him, and The Guy has to chase him down, it seems like the junkie and the Guy know each other quite well.

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Factory Girl

dir: George Hickenlooper
[img_assist|nid=776|title=Inside, I am already dead|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=250]
With no intended slight against the girl herself, I can’t think of a figure less worthy of cinematic biographical treatment than Edie Sedgwick, solely based on this flick here.

The only reason I ever knew anything about her was because of a song by The Cult back in the late 80s that was presumably about her called Edie(Ciao Baby), which featured a video where long-haired hair bear lead singer Ian Astbury was smashing a pool cue on a table for no discernable reason. And then there’s all those Warhol films and Chelsea bloody Hotel references.

In other words, she was a person who was famous for being famous for knowing famous people. This flick goes no way towards disabusing viewers of such a notion, nor does it presume to give her even any basic semblance of humanity or interest.

Who’d have thought that being the alleged most notorious party girl of her day, and being a hanger-on to the likes of Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan could be so dull?

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Road to Guantanamo, The

dir: Michael Winterbottom & Matt Whitecross
[img_assist|nid=777|title=We want to be locked up. We're just gagging for it.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=295]
This is an odd film, on a number of levels and for a number of reasons. In essence it is a dramatic recreation of events occurring in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the US, specifically as they relate to three unfortunate British-Pakistani guys. It blends talking head documentary style footage with film footage in an attempt to display and explain what happened when they found themselves in the wrong place at the absolute worst time possible.

Called the Tipton Three, four young lads travel from their local hood over to Pakistan, allegedly so that one of them, Asif (Afran Usman) can get married to a local girl. I say allegedly for reasons that will become clear later in the review, or at least clearer. The timing of their visit to this part of the world couldn’t be more fortuitous, because it’s just after 9/11.

For even more unclear reasons, they end up in Afghanistan, just after the retaliation has begun for the destruction of the World Trade Centre towers and of America’s illusion of invulnerability. The lads, losing one of their number, end up in the hands of the Northern Alliance, who effectively sell them to US forces.

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Bug

dir: William Friedkin
[img_assist|nid=790|title=Bugfuckingly crazy|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
Friedkin has had a many and varied career, probably best known for the classic horror flick The Exorcist. However many and varied his abilities might be, we should, at the very least, expect him to know how to depict all kinds of crazy on the silver screen. Oh, and he does.

Bug is based on a play, and it pretty much looks like a play, since most of it transpires in a single hotel room, with a few outside and aerial shots to make you forget how much like a play it really seems. There are more than two actors, as well, but mostly it’s a two-hander between Ashley Judd, yet again playing a white trash down-and-out with substance abuse problems and poor taste in men, and Michael Shannon, who regularly plays lunatics in movies.

And what this kind of story needs is people that are comfortable with playing absolute lunatics for the majority of a movie’s length.

Agnes (Judd) lives in a hotel room and waits tables in a nearby bar. She is clearly an alcoholic, loves her ganja and doesn’t mind the old crack/crystal meth pipe. In the flick’s opening minutes, we see that she’s probably been on the downward spiral for a while, and the silent, harassing phone calls from, she suspects, her recently paroled ex Jerry (Harry Connick Jr), are tipping her further over the edge.

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