dir: Alphonso Cuaron
Imagine a world where a baby hasn’t been born in 18 years. Imagine a world where the entire human race is infertile. Imagine how people would act towards each other with humanity’s extinction being just around the corner.
Based on the novel by PD James, Children of Men is really a thriller. It sounds like a science fiction film with a weighty premise, and it is, but it is still essentially a film where the hero, played well by Clive Owen, spends a lot of time running away from all the dangers that exist in the world around him.
The film is masterfully put together. Even if there are a few elements I thought were wretched (especially in an idiotic scene where two characters play around with a CGI ping pong ball, or a wasted scene at the Ministry of Art), the film consistently sticks to its vision and does it in a remarkable fashion.
Apart from the immediacy and feeling of being there in the action, the use of handheld camera really works in the film’s favour (instead of causing headaches in the audience, as it sometimes can). There are also numerous long, unedited takes which would have required an amazing amount of coordination. This is virtuoso film making, but it doesn’t call attention to itself. Sequences towards the end of the film are particularly amazing in the way they show our heroes trying to survive a military and paramilitary attack on a refugee camp.
It is a fast paced, harrowing descent into a hell on earth, one which crystallises so many contemporary elements from the daily international news that you feel like you’re looking at something happening right now.
dir: Ivan Reitman
It is indicative of how much of an optimist (read: lunatic) I really am that I thought this flick could be any good. What the hell was I thinking?
My Super Ex-Girlfriend is crap even compared to other mindless romantic comedies, ignoring the fact that it’s supposed to be a rom-com with the added spice of a superhero storyline. Absolutely woeful. Terrible script, awful performances and an idiotic plot that made me crave one day being deaf and blind so that I never have to see anything like this again.
Just terrible. And goddamn is it tremendously dumb. It could have been marginally entertaining had it just been less aggressively crap, or had any of the lines worked, or had it actually been funny. Some of these actors have done reasonable work in the past, but lumped in together here they bring out the mediocrity in each other so that the film sinks into a fetid swamp of crapulousness.
Matt (Luke Wilson, also known as the dull Wilson brother) is a sad-sack who is unlucky in love. He’s been a dateless wonder for a long time. Not only that, but he has a retarded best friend, Vaughn (Rainn Wilson) who continually showers him with idiotic advice about women as if they were an alien species he’d had no actual contact with thus far. He is also friends with the office bimbo Hannah (the eyebrowless, mannequin-like Anna Farris), and wishes it could be more, but she has a male model boyfriend.
Matt takes a chance and asks out an attractive but demure looking woman on the subway, only to be rebuffed. When someone tries to steal her purse, he clumsily tries to save the day. This warms the cockles of the girl’s heart, and she agrees to date him.
dir: Scott Glosserman
You might have thought that Scream and its pale shadow sequels were going to be the last word on self-aware horror flicks deconstructing the horror genre even as they celebrate their dearest clichés. But no.
There’s more of that filthy, filthy lucre to mine by taking more trips to the well. In truth, these kinds of self-aware flicks will always be viable, and always be relevant as long as horror flicks keep being made.
The reason is that, as an audience member, you often sit there wondering why the characters in a horror film who are seemingly trapped in a building they can’t get out of and being stalked by an implacable killer don’t realise they are in a horror film. The willing suspension of disbelief necessarily has to extend to allowing for the protagonists, police chiefs, their neighbours and work colleagues to have never seen a horror flick in order to not know what the conventions are governing their survival or death, and therefore what is going to happen to them next.
dir: Terry Zwigoff
Misanthropy permeates Art School Confidential as it does with everything Zwigoff is involved with. His characters swim in it, bathe in it, drown in it. You expect it going in, you wear a snorkel in anticipation of it.
You can debate whether it is adolescent misanthropy, or the refined, mature misanthropy that comes with a lifetime of personal and professional disappointments. Whatever the level, if you like the work of Terry Zwigoff and the rogue’s gallery he associates with, then it’s likely you’ll find it entertaining.
dir: Michael Winterbottom
Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story, is not really an adaptation of the novel by Laurence Sterne. Like Adaptation, which is not an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, but a film about not being able to adapt The Orchid Thief, Tristam Shandy is more about people pretending to put on an adaptation of the novel rather than actually doing so. Whether budget constraints or the experimental desires of the director have resulted in this outcome, anyone wanting or expecting a faithful version will be sorely disappointed.
But it is a faithful adaptation of the spirit of the anarchic novel, which features the same kinds of digressions, blurrings of protagonist, author and story, and overall absurdly mundane madness.
Most of all, the flick is about Steven Coogan. And not about the ‘real’ Steve Coogan, but the character of Steve Coogan that he tends to play for shits and giggles, as the phrase goes. It’s a persona, it has to be. Coogan has gotten so much goddamn mileage from playing his smarmy character that if it’s really how he is, someone surely would have killed him by now.
Arrogant, pretentious, petty, insecure, vain: these are just a few words that have been used, in pairs or individually, to describe me over the years. Used all together, and you have the essence of the Coogan character. It’s the same character he played in 24 Hour Party People, except he was supposed to be playing Tony Wilson. It’s virtually the same character he played as Alan Partridge in Knowing Me, Knowing You. You either find it hilarious or tiring. If you could stand him in any of the other stuff, or actually like him, then you’ll be prepared to ‘enjoy’ him here as the sort-of main guy.
Another point taken from the novel and wedged without lubricant into the movie is that life is chaotic and cannot be pinned down, that life doesn’t fit neatly into boxes or perfect narratives, and as such a novel or film shouldn’t be bound in such ways.
dir: Eli Roth
Hostel is about so much more than just the horror. It’s more like bumping into an unpleasant ex at a party who gives you a blow-by-blow explanation of just why every single little aspect of your relationship sucked. Without any blow-by-blow, but with plenty of bringing the pain.
Oodles of pain. There is viciousness here, but it’s really not as bad as you’ve heard. It veers off into cartoonish violence and gore which undercuts its overall effect, but it’s still pretty compelling in setting up its fucked-up premise. Director Eli Roth has done substantially better here than he did with his awful debut Cabin Fever, but he’s got far more money and obviously far more leeway as well to tell this diabolical tale.
The essential thing to remember is that this grindhouse, grindcore flick is not for any other audience other than an American one. Sure, they sent copies of the flick out here for our drooling masses to drool over, but it’s very much a product of a certain place and time, calculated to derive a certain feeling. And that feeling is the dread of what other people want to do to you because you’re American.
The Americani, bless each and every one of them, have been going through tough times for the last bunch of years. Since September the 11th 2001 Americans, in general, have started getting the impression that other people throughout the world, wallowing in the misery of their own pathetic nations, have little love lost and in fact open loathing for all them. Some might feel it’s because of the US government’s actions overseas, or solely because of envy.
dir: Brian De Palma
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.
It doesn’t help the film to be compared to LA Confidential, which covers similar ground in a far more entertaining fashion. The stories are very similar, as are most of Ellroy’s novels sharing their similar dynamics: two violent cops of varying degrees of corruptness try to solve two concurrent crimes whilst in the grip of some obsession having to do with women. There are depraved rich people, there are the shenanigans of the early powerbrokers of Hollywood, and scenes of great viciousness and goriness. The difference is that only one of these films is worth the celluloid it is printed on.
To be fair, the first part of the film works and is interesting. The most substantial problems are that Josh Harnett, playing one of the main characters, has the emotional range of a turnip, and that the film is wrapped up in the crappiest way possible with scenes of exposition following scenes of more leaden exposition capping it all off.
(Hak se wui yi wo wai kwai)
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.
But nothing in this life is easy, especially when the Uncles of the Wo Sing want him to keep earning for them, when Lok seems determined to hold onto power, when other contenders for the throne are likely to threaten everything Jimmy values, and Jimmy himself is conflicted.
dir: Len Wiseman
Evolution, if we are to believe in Darwin’s satanically inspired theory, occurs incrementally over a great amount of time, resulting in minute changes on the micro level, and new species on the macro level. But over a great expanse of time.
The only connection the term ‘evolution’ has with this vampire / werewolf action flick, Underworld: Evolution, is that as if by a miracle, this sequel is better than the original film. The improvement, however, is tiny, almost invisible to the naked eye, and, like changes in species, will require millions of years before it really matters.
No ‘evolution’ of any sort occurs in this film, as far as I can tell. Wiseman and screenwriter Danny McBride go to extraordinary lengths to embellish the backstory they created in the first one, with painstaking attempts at linking everything and avoiding obvious plotholes and continuity mistakes. Really, they spent a great deal of time on the script.
dir: J.J. Abrams
The world was crying out for another Mission: Impossible sequel the way children call out for a second helping of brussels sprouts, or for another trip to that creepy uncle who ends up putting them in therapy for the next 40 years. But who can say no to a man as charming and engaging as Tom Cruise?...
It is very tempting to veer off on rants about how bizarre the news has become over the last few years regarding this guy. The high point wasn’t the birth of the first heir to his Scientological throne just last week, but in the insane and inane stories about how he was going to chow down on the infant’s placenta and umbilical cord. But I don’t get paid to dissect the idiocies of Hollywood stars or the tabloid media, or the sorts of morons who devote their empty lives to endlessly talking about and reading about the entirely made up lives of celebrities.
Much as I would love to: there’s an entire PhD begging to be written about the kinds of people who read these mags in the checkout line at the supermarket and care about ‘articles’ that use sources like ‘the star’s personal trainer’s pilates instructor’s gynaecologist’s florist says the couple’s on the rocks and heading for splitsville!’ and actually care about it. That people read and believe this crap and repeat it to others is the surest evidence that dark forces spewed forth by volcanoes are at work against the collective intelligence of the human race.
Who can fathom the internal emptiness required in order to devote yourself to the study of people who actually believe the world gives a fat rat’s ass what they have to say about anything simply because they’re famous? Celebrities? What the fuck do they celebrate anyway, apart from themselves and the fact that they’re so rich?
Dir: James McTeigue
You don’t get many films these days trumpeting the joys of anarchy. Especially not multi-million dollar movies produced by the Wachowski Brothers and based on an Alan Moore graphic novel.
And there’s a reason for that. Even in this day and age where the diversity of opinion and opportunities to voice one’s worthless opinions seem countless, it’s still essentially an illusion. Every side of politics, regardless of one’s upbringing or experiences at university, preaches change, justice or better ways, but all want their version of the status quo upheld.
dir: Ron Howard
I’m not of the inclination or the right mood to criticise the at least forty million people that bought copies of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Riding on public transport requires reading material, so whether it’s the latest Harry Potter trotter, geisha memoirs or some highbrow crap by Martin Amis or Camille Paglia is irrelevant to me. It’s up to the individual to decide what’s going to distract them adequately from the knowledge that soon they’ll be at the unsatisfying job that daily brings them so much closer to suicide.
Anything else is just sneering snobbery. Which is, nonetheless, quite enjoyable as a hobby.
Brown’s books have sold like cocaine, so by default movie versions become mandatory. And, for such a popular novel, it dictates (according to some commentary I’ve read) that the film plot adhere strictly to the novel, because variation or divergence would be seen (ironically enough) as heresy.
dir: Spike Lee
This would have to be the most conventional film Lee has made in his career, and of his recent films, one of his most successful.
Lacking the elegiac tone of The 25th Hour, it’s still another love letter to New York in the shape of a crime thriller with more stars than it has work for. Really, it’s too many. I’m sure Jodie Foster doesn’t really need the extra money.
Lee’s not as prolific as Woody Allen, but fellow New York spruiker Spike Lee does pump the flicks out. He has a bigger cast than usual, and a script written by someone else for once, alongside a bigger budget probably than many of his other films combined.
It’s unlikely that the racial and class themes permeating his earlier work have been abandoned. Here, they’re mostly put on hold in order to deliver a mainstream heist flick with a high wattage cast that doesn’t outstay its welcome, and, though profoundly unlikely in its conclusion, doesn’t make me want to punch random strangers in the crotch.
But they’re still there. His work post September the 11th has always included the profound impact that terrible day had on the metropolis, and its reflection in themes of race and perception. So the way people relate and the presumptions they make are all given time to shine. But the impetus behind the film is still to deliver a highly-strung crime thriller, just that it’s situated in the melting pot that is New Amsterdam.
dir: Alexandre Aja
Ah, the art of the pointless remake. Why not endlessly repeat the actions of others? Maybe I should invent the light bulb again, or write, direct and star in a film called Citizen Kane. Tell me you don’t get a tingle in a bad place over the idea.
Since everything else is being remade and redone, why not remake Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes from the 70s? Craven also produced this remake, meaning he couldn’t be bothered directing it himself (how many directors remake their own films anyway?), but is more than happy to collect the fat pay-check from this renovated cinema nasty.
They hired French horror director Alexandre Aja to helm this little slice of viciousness, whose previous work Haute Tension proved, if nothing else, that he can construct a very nasty death scene. Sure, so High Tension, as us non-Francophones would know it, had the laziest plot twist imaginable, and little going for it except extreme gore, but it certainly delivered as a macabre horror film should. It also looked a treat as well.
Here, I’m sure, he had about 15 times the budget, but also a bunch of other constraints placed upon him by a studio system that demands results in the form of big box office numbers. So, whilst he clearly had free reign on gore, mutilations and the number of people that die, something is still profoundly lacking in terms of raising this creation above the ranks of crap like the Texas Chainsaw remake, House of Wax and Rob Zombie’s dumb virtual remakes of 70s horror flicks.
dir: John Lasseter
The title doesn’t lie. It really is about cars. Imagine a world where the only organic matter is plant life, and everything else is cars. Even the flies are tiny cars.
But for all intents and purposes, the cars are people. Not Soylent Green. People. The windshield is their eyes, the radiator grill at the front is their mouth, and they talk, drive around and even fall in love.
They can also be arrogant, ignorant, dopey, loving and nostalgic about the past. Especially a past where people took the time to just slowly drive around, instead of racing everywhere at top speed. They also had small town values, and loved, I dunno, a shiny chassis, a good paint job every once in a while, and a nice tune by James Taylor or Randy Newman.
dir: Christian Volckman
Whilst the French aren’t world renowned for their animation, at the very least they’re not seen as slouches in the cinematic department. France is one of the few countries whose homegrown films compete well with American product in French cinemas, and whose films export fairly well for the arthouse market across the world.
When The Triplets of Belleville came out in 2003, it reminded people not only that France could produce movies that weren’t solely dependent on lecherous older guys lusting after beautiful and super-slutty, irrational, younger women, but that animation wasn’t totally dependent on computer-wielding nerds, a la Pixar, Blue Sky or WETA Digital.
I’d heard a little about a new French animated flick that was about to come out, and for reasons that seem perplexing to me now, I was excited about it. What little I’d heard referred to the animated movie being a sci-fi detective story with Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell influences, rolled up in a high-tech black and white anime style.
So, when free tickets to a preview screening were offered, I snapped them up. After sitting through it, I wanted to demand my money back.
dir: Bryan Singer
Superman Returns is a re-jigging of an ancient franchise with the express intention of making more money from something old in lieu of inventing anything exciting and new. And, just like an episode of the Love Boat, there is the need to preserve the familiar (Superman’s powers, origins, and squareness, Lois Lane, Metropolis, Lex Luthor, kryptonite) whilst including enough new stuff to not make the producers look like the lazy, intellectually bankrupt cretins that they are.
Perhaps I speak too harshly of people I’ve never met. Perhaps you believe I should give one of the producers, Jon Peters, the benefit of the doubt. He was, after all, Barbra Streisand’s hairdresser before he became a producer. Not only that, he is rumoured to be an illiterate and violent man too stupid to know how dumb his ideas are. As such, he was uniquely qualified to produce such masterpieces as the first re-jigged Batman, that awful infected haemorrhoid of a movie Wild Wild West, and Bonfire of the Vanities.
At least they had Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men films and The Usual Suspects at the helm of this flick, to try to redeem a project over a decade in the making and destined for mediocrity.
Superman Returns pretends Superman III and IV were never made, as do the rest of us, and also pretends only five years have elapsed since the 70s. In those five years, Superman (Brandon Routh, playing Christopher Reeve more than the Caped Crusader) has been searching the cosmos for the remnants of his home planet, to no avail. Upon his return to Earth, he finds Metropolis has not remained frozen in time, breathlessly awaiting his return.
The love of his life, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has squeezed out a child, and become engaged to her editor’s nephew, Richard White (James Marsden). Not only that, but in a fit of pique, angered by Superman’s abandonment, she has won the prestigious (only to journalists) Pulitzer for writing an article about how the world doesn’t need Superman. Talk about your passive-aggressive revenge. It reminds me of a character in Neal Stephenson’s novel Cryptonomicon, who, unhappy with her partner’s beard, writes a PhD thesis about how pathetic men with beards are.
Superman has returned at the same time as super genius super criminal Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is let out of jail. In some of the film’s first moments, we see an ancient old crone on her death bed, telling someone how wonderful he is as she is signing her last will and testament giving him her vast fortune. She specifically thanks the unseen man for giving her pleasure she could previously only dream of. Luthor really earned that money, I can tell you.
dir: Gore Verbinski
If some films are like non-stop rollercoaster rides, this one here is the rollercoaster ride as viewed by someone on the ground. It’s an endless series of continuous action set pieces which don’t really amount to much but sure are fun to the people on board.
In this case, the go switch is stuck on the ride, the operator is too busy reading a nudie magazine to notice, and the thrills on board have evaporated as the passengers check their watches and just want to get off.
You could never accuse these flicks of lacking characters or plot. Dead Man’s Chest has enough plot for a dozen action-adventure-fantasy-pirate flicks, and enough characters for a Broadway production of Les Miserables.
At the end of the first flick, it seemed Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) were going to live happily ever after, with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) having regained control of his beloved ship the Black Pearl, off to commit more dastardly piratical acts.
The beginning of the sequel finds our heroic couple stymied in their attempts to enter into the devilish contract known as marriage by evil aristocrat Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), who works on behalf of the East India Trading Company.
Beckett threatens to execute them both unless they help him get something off of Captain Jack. It’s not fashion tips, hair-extensions or those darling pimp-like gold teeth that he wants. Oh no.
dir: Neil Marshall
Decent horror flicks are few and far between. The Descent is a decent descent into both the earth and the murky depths of the human soul, descending as it does from done-to-death horror staples, but remade in such a way as to make it more than an exercise in repetition.
When you hear a premise like ‘Six women go on a cave expedition that goes horribly wrong”, the first thing you expect, when you’ve seen as many trashy flicks as I have, is that it’ll mostly be about scantily clad women getting their tops wet and/or off, writhing around with each other in between pillow fights, pedicures and giving each other massages and drunken fistings.
Or, it’d be about women banding together to fight off predatory men, strengthen the bonds of sisterhood and to affirm that the Thelmas and Louises are doing it for themselves, or to themselves, or each other, in between teary arguments and lots of chocolate eating.
Neither, fortunately or unfortunately, apply here. This is played as a straight horror flick, with no knowing nods to the audience, and a grim and claustrophobic aesthetic that permeates throughout. It also doesn’t stint on the gore, for those that like their horror gruesome and bloody.
dir: Richard Linklater
It’s hard to make the case for why I enjoyed this flick so much, but I did. It wasn’t because of the quality of the animation, I can tell you that much. It wasn’t necessarily that I’m a fan of the source material, which I am, being a big fan of Philip K. Dick and all his Dickian works.
I think Linklater and the actors, and the animators managed to get the tone right. It even has Keanu Reeves in it, for Jeebus’s sake, and it still manages to work.
Not only Neo-Dude-Kanooie, but also former drug addict and occasional actor Robert Downey Jnr, occasional drug addict and occasional actor Woody Harrelson and rare addict and even rarer actress these days Winona Ryder.
From such humble materials comes a modest yet successfully shambolic story about a group of paranoid drug addicts and an undercover operative whose job is to monitor them, who becomes a drug addict himself.
Even thought the original novel was set in a somewhat futuristic time, the book mostly comprised an elaboration on PKD’s own experiences in the drug scene in the early 70s, and his subsequent mental illness. The story also elaborates on his ideas on the War on Drugs in its earlier form.
In A Scanner Darkly, the drug of choice is called Substance D. One use is enough to render someone an addict, and its continued use results in severe psychiatric damage, irreversible and unclaimable on private health care rebates. Despite its known properties, the drug is very popular with the attractive and cool set, as well as the down and outs.
Bob Arctor (Reeves) works undercover for the LA Sheriff’s Department in an attempt to track down the source of Substance D in his area. Not even his handlers know who he is, since he wears a scramble suit to shield his identity whenever he reports to his superiors. The scramble suit randomly displays pieces of images from thousands of people, thus rendering the wearer incognito.
dir: Jason Reitman
Maybe it says more about me than the film, but it took me a while to realise this flick was meant to be a satirical comedy, and that it wasn’t a documentary.
Okay, so I’m bullshitting, but most of the material here is less of an outright parody than it is a fairly accurate (in spirit) depiction of the manner in which most of modern society is dependent upon people selling out at every level. Taken further, moral compromise and capitulation is a necessary part of getting by in the modern era.
Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is a master of the dark arts of spin. He lives and breathes arguments and loves nothing more than verbally demolishing adversaries with his well-chosen words and rapid-fire delivery. He talks, talks and talks for most of the movie’s 92 minute running time.
And what does he say? He’s a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, the conglomeration of tobacco companies desperately trying to retain their place in a country where they’re under attack in the media, in the courts, and by the government, all for the sensitive, innocuous crime of selling a product which causes hundreds of thousands of deaths per year.
The thing is, Naylor doesn’t deny any of this. Being a spin doctor usually means dressing up indiscretions and outright fuck-ups in newspeak babble and outright lies. But Nick is so good at his job, so good at never being wrong, that he can still make the case in support of smoking whilst never technically lying.
He tells his son early on that the skill to doing what he does resides in the ability to argue correctly: “That's the beauty of argument, if you argue correctly, you're never wrong.” And he technically is never wrong.
dir: Chan-wook Park
Considering the sheer quantity of crap that comes out at the cinemas and on DVD, it’s refreshing to occasionally get excited about a specific director’s work. It’s a grand affair to ‘discover’ a director whose work you’ve known nothing about before, whose work opens up a whole new world for you. You search out their earlier films, and you eagerly anticipate their new flicks.
The Chan-wook Park film I saw was Oldboy, just before the Lumiere cinema shut down, a year or two ago. The film, to put it mildly, and Americanly, rocked my world. It was a revelation, and not only did I set out to find out if his other films were as masterful, but I also became even more interested in checking out Korean films in general.
If you’re lucky, when this happens, you discover that the director and his people are even better film makers than you expected from the first effort you got to see. If you’re unlucky, you find out they’re a lucky bunch of hacks and their one good film was a fluke. You know, like Star Wars.
Park didn’t disappoint me, and he’s no one-hit wonder. His earlier flicks, like Joint Security Area (JSA), and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance showed me that this guy has a command of three of the most vital aspects of decent film: story, characterisation and scene composition. JSA, despite being book-ended with scenes hard to sit through (not because of violence, but because of excruciating acting by one of the main actors), showed that Park was more than capable of comfortably teasing out a story about a friendship between South Korean and North Korean soldiers that ends in tragedy. It also showed me that Park’s not just interested in extreme or transgressive cinema, which I might have assumed from the hammer-dentistry nastiness of Oldboy.
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, the first part of Park’s so-called Vengeance trilogy, was a remarkable film, at times inventive and experimental, and at others downright gutting. The film looked amazing, the actors completely sold what they needed to do, and the killer story emphasises how easily the best laid criminal plans of mice, men and mutes can go astray, as the self-defeating nature of revenge explodes around them.
dir: Ray Lawrence
My biggest fear regarding this flick was that it would scale the heights of cinematic tedium first Sir Edmund Hillary-ied by Ray Lawrence’s previous film Lantana. It’s a serious concern. You have no idea how dull I found Lantana, and how much I dread his fucking films.
But Jindabyne came along, with a suitcase and a song, and I put aside my prejudices, impressed by the moody trailers and good press, and the fact it had Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney in it.
I’d also heard that it was based on a Raymond Carver short story, about the only Carver short story I’m familiar with: So Much Water, So Close to Home. Anyone who’s seen (and remembers) the Robert Altman film Short Cuts might recall it too. One of the parts of that interlocking sequence of stories concerned a bunch of morons who go on a fishing trip, find a dead girl’s body, and choose not to report it for a while so that they don’t have to spoil their fishing trip.
That decision has implications down the track for the people involved, and especially for the wife of one of the men. But it only constitutes a minor part in the film’s grand scheme of things. The point of Altman’s film was that all these different residents of Los Angeles were all connected in different ways by different events. The point of Lawrence’s film is significantly different.
I guess. I mean I could be completely wrong. It could have been about how terrible the affliction of haemorrhoids is on a person and those around them. Or about what a wonderful Prime Minister John Howard has been for this wide, brown land of ours for over a decade.
In Jindabyne, the essence of the story is transposed to a town in the NSW Snowy Mountains. But, curiouser and curiouser, despite the transplantation of setting, the lead characters are played by an American and an Irishman, surrounded by a sea of Australians.
I’m not complaining though, because both Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne are wonderful actors and do most excellent work here.
They play a married couple, Stewart and Claire, who’ve been living in the town for a fair while. Stewart is an ex-rally car driver who runs the local garage. Claire, brittle and angular, works at the chemist. They have a tiny little son, who seems too fragile for this world.
Stewart and a few of his mates go on a fishing trip over the mountains to a fairly isolated area in order to fly fish for trout. Whilst there, Stewart finds a dead girl’s body. We know how the body got there, but they don’t.
dir: Jared Hess
No-one probably found the bizarre success of Napoleon Dynamite more surprising than the guy who made it. Jared Hess made a strange little film clearly set in the 80s, but updated with a bundle of modernisms to make it contemporary, and watched it become a cultish hit.
Seeing as Hess and his wife / writing partner are Mormons, if you ever wondered what a flick made by observant Mormons would look like, look no further than Napoleon Dynamite and this here current monstrosity stinking up our cinemas.
Now that I’ve used the word ‘Mormon’, I can’t get a scene from The Simpsons out of my head, where a lawyer at a Senate hearing yells at Homer ‘You, sir, are a moron,’ to which Homer, of course replies, ‘Mormon? But I’m from Earth!’
dir: James Gunn
Sure, some horror flicks are dumb. And some are derivative. Sometimes they’re dumb and derivative at the same time. But they can be entertaining.
There’s not a single original idea in this flick, not for a second of it. And the story is the laziest amalgam of generic genre horror television and movies ideas and clichés from X-Files episodes, The Blob, Tremors, Cronenberg’s Shivers, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and probably dozens of other crapfests. There is also a cheap feel to the proceedings, the CGI work is lame, and the flick is so predictable I felt like I’d watched the flick before I’d actually watched it.
But, and this is a big but, I still found it sporadically entertaining. I got a few laughs out of it, and there are only two real reasons why the movie works, if in fact it does at all.
One is that the script has obviously been compiled by horror film geeks with an ear for the genre. So some of the quips and lines are amusing. They won’t result in legions of viewers being admitted to hospital in need of stiches for their ruptured sides, but they don’t do too badly.
The other factor in its favour is that Nathan Fillion is uniquely suited to playing the lead guy in these kinds of endeavours. He can carry both the aw shucks apple pie heroic lead kind of stuff, as well as the action man duties. And his delivery of a choice bit of swearing or a particularly good line is excellent, too, which doesn’t hurt.