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2006

Wind that Shakes the Barley, The

dir: Ken Loach
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This is a beautifully made film about one of the most troublesome times in Irish history: the 1920s, being the start of the so-called Troubles. Made with a deft, sure hand by avowed socialist director Ken Loach, it personalises the conflict without ever degenerating into weak melodrama.

It reminds me most, especially in the bits where the IRA members are arguing, of Loach’s earlier film Land and Freedom about the Spanish Civil War. In this case the actors are professionals, and the story is more tightly scripted.

As the story begins, the Irish are chaffing under the yoke of the hated English. Their Black and Tan police bully the locals in shameful ways, not realising that there’s only so far you can push a downtrodden population before they eventually get jack of it and kill you where you sleep. The initial conflict is between the good ol’ Irish freedom fighters and the hated English. But the conflict eventually ends up being amongst themselves, to sad effect.

Rating:

Day Watch (Dvevnoy Dozor)

dir: Timur Bekmambetov
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It’s rare than the sequel to an almost intolerable film can be watchable. I’m not talking about times where the sequel is better or still pretty good (Alien/Aliens, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, Rocky/8 Mile) than the original.

I hated, hated, hated the first flick in this series, being Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor), based on the popular novel by Sergei Lukyanenko. I thought it gave the world a barely coherent fantasy flick the likes of which the world didn’t really need. And a set of ridiculous characters with no believability even in a fantasy context and no recognisable motivations for any of the inane things they would do. It had a plot so lame in its qualities and so crappy in its realisation that the ghost of Sergei Eisentein can be seen at some points in the background shaking his head in disgust.

And the lead ‘star’! Anton (Konstantin Khobanksy) would either be or seem drunk throughout the entire goddamn flick without any explanation as to what the hell he was doing. He made less sense and seemed more sozzled than recently departed ‘statesman’ and former Premier Boris Yeltsin. Long may he remain fermented in Hell.

Rating:

Art School Confidential

dir: Terry Zwigoff
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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.

The battlefield of the egos this time plays out at an art school, with every character held therein exhibiting different magnitudes of egomaniacal pretentiousness. Even our protagonist, Jerome (Max Minghella), is a bit of a preening egotist. But we are meant to see this place, the people and their awfulness through his eyes, until we realise he has become just as bad as them.

At first, at least, he is a headstrong but thoughtful young guy who wants to become a famous artist. Sure, it takes balls or ovaries to say that you’re going to change the world with your art, but great accomplishment sometimes requires monstrous arrogance. Jerome is only a little bit arrogant when the story begins.

Good Shepherd, The

dir: Robert De Niro
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A man finds one facial expression in the 1930s, and sticks with it for the next thirty turbulent years. He plays some role in the formation of that caring, sharing organisation known as the CIA. And he’s a crap husband and father. They should make fifty films about this guy.

The plot centres around the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, but only uses that as an anchor from which it jumps spastically around in time in order to tell the important story of how one of the crucial players in the formation of the US’s intelligence infrastructure was a pretty soulless chap. Did he have a soul before the CIA, did he lose it after one too many black ops? Are some of the greatest bungles in American history his fault? And where, apart from in the reader’s underpants, are those WMDs after all?

I don’t know. The relevant people are probably dead by now, so it’s a mute moot point. And the story, as written by Eric Roth, is a fictionalised account of the life and exciting times of James Angleton; it’s not a biopic. All the G man, flat top, pasted down haircuts, horn-rimmed glasses and fedoras in the world, or at least in this flick can’t change that fact.

Fountain, The

dir: Darren Aronofsky
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It’s easy for me to respect directors and filmmakers who don’t want to just make the same crap as 99 per cent of the guys and gals around them. I can respect them even when their films don’t work.

In Aronofsky’s case, his films definitely work: but they’re not easy films to like. Pi was a low-budget headfuck likely to have repulsed as many people as it attracted with its strange mathematical wizardry story of sexual frustration gone awry. His next film, a notorious adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr’s Requiem for a Dream, made addiction, in all its forms, look like the worst living hell we can imagine. Not a single character gets out of that flick unscathed. Nor audience member.

Depressing, so depressing. I remember coming out of the theatre shaking, which continued for hours afterwards and even after several drinks. I felt like the only thing that could make things better was a little bit of heroin…

At the very least, Aronofsky and his production crew (and especially his cinematographer Matthew Libatique) announced themselves as major talents unwilling or unable to make crass product for its own sake, and that they were people who wanted to and could make original, distinctive films.

Rating:

Last Train to Freo

dir: Jeremy Sims
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Well, this week’s a real bogan fest here at movie-reviews.com.au, because we have another Australian flick that is utterly dependant on criminal bogans as two of its main characters. Hooray!

Last Train to Freo, surprisingly enough, is about some people travelling on the last train (for that night) to Fremantle, the West Australian port city south of Perth. Two of the people on the train are clearly dangerous criminal thugs. And, as often happens on public transport, thugs can often be overcome with the delusion that they are charismatic and special, and that everyone on the train wants to hear from them.

It’s a delightful circumstance to be trapped in. It’s happened to me a few dozen times, so I assume it’s happened to you, gentle reader. These characters are at the mercy not of the private companies that now run most of the trains in Australia, but of the tyranny of distance and these two thugs.

The thugs (Steve Le Marquand and Tom Budge) clearly have no problem with jail time, with personal space or human dignity. One is tall, hideous and grandiose (Marquand), the other is a nervy and crazy junkie (Budge), but in a seemingly less dangerous way. They discuss various moronic topics on their journey before they are joined by the other passengers.

Rating:

Book of Revelation, The

dir: Ana Kokkinos
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The Book of Revelation is a complex and deeply unpleasant movie, which nonetheless deserves to be watched at least once. Based on a novel of the same name, and having nothing to do with the actual Book of Revelation at the tail end of the Bible, it is an intellectually interesting but flatly unenjoyable experience. I imagine it is like having sex with a kitchen appliance.

I haven’t tried it, so maybe I shouldn’t comment. Our protagonist, Daniel (Tom Long), is an incredibly toned dancer who is kidnapped by three women and sexually abused over the course of 12 days.

The gender difference means the film is approached by the makers and the audience in a very different way. If it had been a flick about three men raping a woman, it is about one thing. Reverse the gender, and you (in the filmmaker's opinion) open an intellectual can full of worms the size of pythons.

Rating:

Suburban Mayhem

dir: Paul Goldman
[img_assist|nid=817|title=This chick is deadly|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=400]
This flick could have been called “When Bogans Attack”, but I guess it wouldn’t be as credible a title. It would also have conjured images of some Steve Irwin nature doco type tracking down and wrestling with bogans in their Western suburbs habitats.

Katrina Skinner (Emily Barclay) is a lethal bogan proving, if nothing else, the old adage that the female of the species can be much deadlier than the male. She is a rampaging sociopath who cares not one whit for any of the people around her, including her baby Bailey. She is an absolutely narcissistic bitch who draws the line at no extremes and cannot be stopped by man or machine, like a classic monster movie fiend.

No one goes the silver bullets / cross and wooden stake route, but maybe they should have thought about it. Or even the cleansing fire, and lots of it.

The film begins with a funeral, that of Katrina’s father John (Robert Morgan), whose death seems untimely. Even at the start, Katrina’s lamentations seem forced and overdone, and the rest of the film catches us up on what really happened to send Daddy to his maker.

Rating:

Notes on a Scandal

dir: Richard Eyre
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What a nasty film. The biggest shame is that it’s taken me this long to get around to watching it, and reviewing it for you, the dear punters. You, who hang on my every word, who flat out refuse to watch a film or hire a DVD unless it has my seal of approval hoof print on it. It is for you that I labour, day in, day out.

And so onwards with the review. Notes on a Scandal was the other high profile British film last year. Notes, The Queen and The Last King of Scotland received a lion’s share of the nominations at the Oscars this year. Dame Judi Dench and Countess Cate Blanchett both received nominations for their work in this dark film, but both got dudded when it came to the Night of Nights. How perfectly feudal to have such royal paraphernalia cluttering up the one paragraph. One king, a queen and a Dame. If someone had given Blanchett a title, I would have had a royal flush.

Rating:

Grudge 2, The

dir: Takashi Shimizu
[img_assist|nid=818|title=Someone needs help getting down the stairs. Would you mind?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=300]
This Japanese director has gotten to make this same film six times. It’s not like he hasn’t been given adequate opportunity to get his groove on, and to work out whatever the hell he wants to get out of his system.

I’m sick of it. Stop now. Kudasai, domo arigato gozaimashita.

He made the first Ju-on (Grudge), remade it another three times in Japanese, then was hired to remake it in English (twice thus far) and to wedge Sarah Michelle Gellar into it. Big bucks apparently in remaking Japanese Horror for the American market.

Problem is, even as exponents of J-horror these flicks are excruciating.

I don’t mean that in a good way, since they’re all supposed to be horror films. They’re excruciating because they’re so abstract and untethered, and repeat boo moments until you’re so sick of them.

This surge in J-horror for the American market is really about being able to make horror flicks that pander to the horror-liking audiences but also getting the flicks in under a PG-13 rating. All of the remakes (Ringu, Dark Water, these ones) retain most of the plot aspects and visual elements and repeat them, with some success (and a lot of failure) ad infinitum.

Rating:

Snakes on a Plane

dir: David R. Ellis
[img_assist|nid=820|title=There's the plane. There's the snake. And there's Samuel L. Jackson. Happy now?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=390|height=293]
Of all the flicks that came out in 2006, this was by far the most pointless. That’s not the same as saying it was the worst. There were far worse films in that and every other year. It’s just that few of them managed to be this superfluous.

Do you ever think about how some films get made, or why, which is probably more relevant? In the main it’s easy to assume that the reason why any film gets made is for the money. Movie-making is a money-making enterprise; that goes without saying, which seems redundant since I just said it. But why the producers and studios decided to try to make money out of Snakes On a Plane is a mystery that only P.T. Barnum could explain to me.

I can’t figure out anything on that score past someone trying to profit from underestimating the stupidity of the movie-going public.

I mean, look at the title. Snakes on a Plane. What do you think the flick is about? Strawberry harvesters in the hilly regions of Provence just before WWII? A geisha’s coming of age during the Tokugawa Shogunate? Crop circles in Nebraska; the impact of divorce on a middle class Midwestern family; someone finding redemption by singing duets with benevolent green aliens found hiding in one’s underwear?

Rating:

Macbeth

dir: Geoffrey Wright
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With the last 20 or so murders that occurred in during the so-called Melbourne Underworld war, I guess it seemed like a good idea to combine the Shakespeare play about ruthless ambition and the crime pages of the daily newspapers. A natural alliance, like whisky and baby formula, or dope and speed.

They decide to play it fairly straight, despite the contemporary and Melbournian setting, and keep the language as the Bard would have liked it. So the dialogue hasn’t been made modern with people saying ‘like’ or ‘whatever’ all the time.

Macbeth (Sam Worthington) loyal to mobster king Duncan (Gary Sweet), oversees something like a drug deal gone wrong that results in lots of dead Asians. Victorious, Macbeth is commended by the king and seems like he’s on top of the world.

Whilst taking drugs, he sees three jailbait redhead witches, who tell him he will be king.

Rating:

Crank

dir: Mark Neveldine and Mark Taylor
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Crank is an aggressively adrenalin-fuelled odyssey in the day of one lunatic in LA. This bad day for professional killer Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is courtesy of being murdered by criminal rival Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo).

He’s pretty loud and violent for a dead guy. Verona has given him a Chinese poison called the Beijing Cocktail which attacks the heart of its victim. If Chelios’s body doesn’t produce enough adrenalin to keep his heart rate up, he dies. He’s like the bus in Speed that can’t slow down or it will blow up.

The next 80 or so minutes are essentially Chelios doing two things: staying alive via keeping his adrenalin as high as possible, and tracking down Verona to get revenge before dying.

Yes, it’s as incoherent and stupid as it sounds. Actually, I made it sound linear and sensible, thus I’ve failed to encompass the true stupidity of what is on offer.

To keep his adrenals pumping, he commits robberies, gets into fights with large groups of black guys, uses cocaine, drinks heaps of caffeine drinks, takes on the cops, performs some idiotic stunts on a motorcycle, and fucks his deeply stupid girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) in full view of a large crowd in Chinatown in broad daylight.

Rating:

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

dir: Jonathan Liebesman
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Oh, what a woeful, woeful film. Hopefully it’s an Ending instead of a Beginning. It’s bad enough that they did a remake of the original in the first place, but now, compounding their crime by following the redundant with the plain unnecessary, they’ve gone and prequelled a horror classic. In doing so they’ve so how managed to make it anything but horrific, and substantially less than a classic.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is not so much an origin story about the origins of the murderous Hewitt clan so much as it is the endpoint of intellectual bankruptcy that serves the interests of greed without an ounce of creativity. The TCM remake made some money, so another flick scraping through the bottom of the barrel just had to be made, even though from watching this crap I can see clearly now that they had no idea what they were doing from start to finish.

In ripping the shit out of a review for a prequel / sequel / another trip to the well to whip the dead horse dismembered by a chainsaw, it requires an apologia or defence of the original. For perspective’s sake, at least.

Rating:

Letters from Iwo Jima

dir: Clint Eastwood
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Eastwood capped off his epic filmmaking adventure about the Battle of Iwo Jima with this here sensitive, thoughtful engaging and sad portrayal of the battle from the Japanese side of things that managed to be everything Flags of Our Fathers wasn’t.

Letters from Iwo Jima follows a group of Japanese soldiers stationed on the pestilential island led by General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), who know that their chance of winning is nil, and their only purpose is twofold: to delay the inevitable invasion of Japan by American forces, and to die honourably in battle (or die trying).

As such, considering the easy knowledge of the outcome, considering as well the fact that the earlier film focussed on the iconic shot of the flag raising by American forces, this isn’t a triumphant exercise in pro-war jingoism (then again, neither was Flags).

Rating:

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

dir: Dito Montiel
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This is a film by Dito Montiel, about the life of Dito Montiel, based on the book written by Dito Montiel. Wow, this Dito Montiel is some kind of wonderful guy to want to bring Dito Montiel to the attention of millions, isn’t he?

After all, Dito Montiel won the Nobel Peace prize for solving the Sonny and Cher crisis back in the 70s, and also won the Nobel Physics prize for inventing the tubes that power the internet. He cured all cancer, discovered the clitoris and came up with a tasty breakfast cereal high in fibre but low in sugar to boot.

If it wasn’t for those obviously fabricated highlights of Dito Montiel’s life that I just made up, we wouldn’t have any clue why we’re watching a film about Dito Montiel’s life. Having watched the film, I still have to ask myself why anyone is supposed to give a good goddamn about the fucker.

Dito, played by Shia LaBeouf in the 80s, and Robert Downey Jr in the 2000s, hasn’t really done anything worthy of note that I can figure out apart from write a book about himself and having directed a film about himself. These are achievements, don’t get me wrong, I just can’t for the life of me see what in his life justified such endeavours or why we should be interested.

Rating:

Harsh Times

dir: David Ayer
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This was touted as a kind of follow-up to Training Day, since it had the same writer involved, now graduating to the big leagues by taking on directorial duties as well. Hoo-fucking-ray. And since we were told it would be a sequel to that horribly scripted film with incredible performances, we could look forward to more of the same.

Denzel got the Oscar for Training Day, but I don’t think Harsh Times is going to win any awards, despite having exactly the same quantity of overacting in it. Substitute Christian Bale in place of Denzel, and make him a returned Ranger veteran with post traumatic stress disorder instead of being a nasty, corrupt cop, and you have Harsh Times, set on the mean streets of San Andreas. I mean, Los Angeles.

Rating:

2:37

dir: Murali K. Thalluri
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2:37 was the super-secret opening film at the 2006 Melbourne International Film Festival, launched to a super eager sold out crowd (in more ways than one), who would go on to create unwarranted buzz for a mediocre flick that gives after school specials a bad name. Controversy, which is always supposed to be able to sell tickets, and hysterical press releases from NGOs like the depression experts Beyond Blue, also made this flick seem more important than it really was. And now, what are we left with in the wash up, the aftermath, the hangover on the day after?

As a young director, a very young director at that, Thalluri manages not only to cobble together a Frankenstein-style script from other marginally better movies, but also manages to get crap performances from most of the actors playing ciphers instead of characters throughout the movie. Practically none of the characters, who are given a selection of clichés to work down to, seem to exist as anything apart from mannequins.

Rating:

Running Scared

dir: Wayne Kramer
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Running Scared is two hours long, and over the course of those two hours it tries to ensure that at least some element will offend everyone. It is loud, extremely violent, profane, visually aggressive and completely over the top. It is thus, for me, a very entertaining film.

It also has an entertaining performance by Paul Walker, which I never thought were words I would ever write down in a review. As an actor I’ve generally considered him to be the acting equivalent of elevator music, though now that I’ve used that phrase, I’m trying to recall the last time I heard elevator music. I don’t think it’s been in the last fifteen years, so there could be an entire confused generation of people who’ve never heard of elevator music (or muzak, as it used to be known), and are now despondent and heartbroken. For that I am truly sorry.

Rating:

Hollywoodland

dir: Allen Coulter
[img_assist|nid=830|title=Hollywoodland. Bad things happened there, apparently|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=269|height=400]
There must be, somewhere, someone who was desperate to find out about the fate of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman on tv before most of us were born. Hasn’t it been keeping you up at night? “George, George, what happened to you, you bright, shining star?”: isn’t that how you cry yourself to sleep each night?

Maybe he was mentioned around the time when Christopher Reeves, who played the cinematic incarnation of the Man of Steel, snapped his unsteely spine or when he died. The Superman Curse, people intoned in hushed voices. The hubris of playing a guy who is invulnerable calls down the anger of the gods to punish the idolater, in the same way that playing Jesus tends to crap out most actors careers. Just ask Jim Caviezel.

Who? It doesn’t matter. This is, after all, about a different fantasy character that we’re talking about.

I have a dim recollection of the show being played on telly when I was a kid. Black and white, initially, but then again, the telly was a black and white one anyway. The Richard Donner Superman movie had already come out as well, so watching the tv serial was anachronistic even then. It was like watching something from vaudeville, from the visual Stone Age. That’s where it derived its charm from, at least for me.

Rating:

Freedomland

dir: Joe Roth
[img_assist|nid=833|title=Terrible, just terrible goddamn film|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
As the old phrase goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s also drenched in an oil slick of egotism, smug righteousness and self-delusion.

Freedomland is a terrible mess of a film made by a director who hasn’t made a semi-decent movie in his entire career, unless you count Revenge of the Nerds II.

The plot isn’t the worst thing about this film, nor are (all) the acting performances, or its pacing or length, width or girth. The biggest problem is Julianne Moore’s performance as one of the main characters. For someone who’s considered to be so good, goddamn does she stink up the joint with her surreal attempts to act ‘down’. She is completely and fundamentally unbelievable in the role.

She plays Brenda, a recovering junkie whose son has gone missing. She works at a community outreach centre near some New Jersey projects, and tells police that she was carjacked with her son in the back seat on the way home.

Because her brother is a policeman in an adjoining borough, and because she’s white, the police go berserk on the projects, locking them down in order to find the kid.

Rating:

Host, The (Gweomul)

dir: Bong Joon-ho
[img_assist|nid=834|title=The Host|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=444]
It’s been a while since there’s been a decent creature feature. When was the last semi-decent flick where a monster takes on a city and the city loses, at least for a while? Godzilla’s the granddaddy, Jaws was the red-headed stepson, but most monster flicks are just crappy clones and we all know it.

I guess King Kong qualifies, but that bloated morass wore out its welcome with me a long time ago. Three bloody hours of monkey love is barely enough. That he released an extended director’s cut is the final insult. Was anyone craving another 45 minutes of that film? Do you remember anyone saying to you, “yeah, Kong was okay, but it really needed another hour or so to be really great”?

If they did, feel free to punch them in the throat for me. It’s okay. I’ll take the blame. I have ever so broad shoulders.

The Host is a decent enough monster flick, but people are really going berserker over it, I think, because it’s Korean. If this flick came out in the States, which it will, since it’s been snapped up for a remake already, it would go straight to video. Of course when Universal remakes it’ll be for 50 times the budget and will star Tom Cruise. Tom Bloody Cruise, you bastards.

Rating:

Ten Canoes

dir: Rolf de Heer & David Djigirr
[img_assist|nid=836|title=Ten Canoes|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=330]
For the first Australian film made entirely in an indigenous language, Ten Canoes has quite modest ambitions. There’s nothing political or activist going on, it’s not representing anything that deep or significant about indigenous culture, contemporary problems or earnest, well-meaning social commentary. So you can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Ah, that’s better.

It’s just a story within a story about a bunch of people living at the top end of Australia before colonisation. Pretty simple. They make fart jokes, they believe superstitious nonsense about sorcerers and people doing bad stuff to them by putting spells on their shit, and they sometimes covet each other’s wives. Simple people living simple lives.

We are introduced to the storyteller, voiced by David Gulpilil, who pretends he’s going to start the story with ‘a long time ago, in a land far, far away’, then takes that back after laughing. He then tells us gradually of the Dreamtime process of birth for his ancestors, and the way of all births, being the soul waiting at their individual waterholes until it becomes time for them to be put in their mother’s womb before being born.

Rating:

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

dir: Tom Tykwer
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A great book that never should have worked has, miracle of miracles, been made into a great film that could not, should not work.

Perfume: the Story of a Murderer (Das Parfum - Die Geschichte eines Mörders) by Patrick Suskind, is one of the most perfect books I have ever read. Even translated the German novel loses none of its most amazing qualities: an inspired and original story, an economical but expansive use of descriptive language to encapsulate one of the senses that you’d think would least be able to come across on paper, and a macabre, dark humour that delights as much as it horrifies. And THAT ending, oh my good god yes.

It’s the kind of book that potential writers read and then give up because of, convinced that they’ll never produce anything that good.

There’s even more going on in this amazing book that begs for it to be taught to school children from a young age. Well, maybe not from kindergarten onwards, but at least from when they’re young enough to appreciate greatness and stop picking their noses.

In calling it a perfect book, I mean that you can add nothing or subtract nothing from it to make it any better. Not a word, not a comma could be changed to improve it. It is perfect in what it has and what it doesn’t have, and what it has is an embarrassment of riches, both sensual and intellectual.

Rating:

Illusionist, The

dir: Neil Burger
[img_assist|nid=838|title=Watch me make your career disappear|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=360|height=270]
For some reason, two different companies decided to release two period pieces about magicians at around the same time. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe someone sniffs a rival production and decides to jump on the bandwagon, or get in first.

Whatever the reason, in the States at least, The Prestige and The Illusionist came out at about the same time. Similar setting, similar career for the protagonists, but they couldn’t have been more different in terms of plots, themes, atmosphere, intent and realisation.

Which is not a bad thing. For me at least, liking as I do the topic of magicians and prestigitators (it’s a real word), it should have been an embarrassment of riches to have such similarly themed films come out in such close proximity. Alas, the same way that parents have a favourite child no matter what they tell you, I’ve ended up liking one more than the other.

Of course, the difference here is going to be that I’m going to actually admit which one I thought was the better flick. I have to, because I can keep it in no longer.

Rating:

Beerfest

dir: Jay Chandrasekhar
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Beerfest is one of the dumbest films I’ve seen in recent memory. Ordinarily, such an opening statement would guarantee a litany of abuse to follow for thousands upon thousands of pointless words. But it’s actually a complement in this case.

There are a lot of dumb films that are highly enjoyable and very entertaining. Classic dumb films include Porky’s, Bloodlust, Strange Brew, Half Baked, Con Air, Road House, Double Impact and Battleship Potemkin. Of course, most of the films that have ever been made are dumb, just not intentionally dumb.

The people who make those movies whose titles end in “Movie”, like Epic Movie, Date Movie, Scary Movie, try to make dumb films that are entertaining, and by and large they are failing miserably, so miserably. It makes me sad to think of them, sad like a lawn mower running over your cute puppy.

But here the formula for dumbness has worked. There’s crudity, bodily fluids, old people swearing, heroic consumption of alcohol, gratuitous nudity, bestiality and clear references to the great WWII submarine movie Das Boot.

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Blood Diamond

dir: Edward Zwick
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Ah, Africa. The current red-headed stepchild of Hollywood’s favour and heartfelt concern. The unsolvable mess, the venue of all the Western world’s exploitation, the vista of eternal desert, savannah, elephants and children carrying AK-47s.

Of the last few years I can think of: Hotel Rwanda, The Interpreter, Constant Gardener, Tsotsi, The White Masai, Stander, Sahara, Lord of War, Wah Wah, and plenty more, all set on this magical, blood-soaked continent. Okay, maybe including Tsotsi is cheating, since it’s actually a South African film, but at the very least there seems to be a clear pattern of favouritism going on here.

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Marie Antoinette

dir: Sofia Coppola
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It’s not often that a film gets more press and probably more viewers because it was booed at the most recent Cannes film festival. People who were eagerly awaiting the next Sofia Coppola film after the success of Lost in Translation were momentarily taken aback by the news of the audience reaction to a film that became notorious overnight as one of the biggest and most redolent cinematic turds of recent memory.

Having just watched Marie Antoinette, I have to wonder what flavour and quality of crack the audience members who acted like boorish slobs were smoking. The film isn’t brilliant, but it is hardly a cinematic atrocity that deserves people booing the flick when the director is sitting in the audience. That’s just rude, even if that same director was also one of the main reasons why people hate Godfather III to this day.

I saw a film with a novel premise: that Marie Antoinette was the Paris Hilton / celebutante of her days and age who lived a decadent life oblivious to the societal circumstances outside until it was way too late. And whilst watching it was a profoundly banal experience, akin to eating a kilo of fairy floss at a carnival, it doesn’t make me want to burn down theatres or effigies of the director.

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Queen, The

dir: Stephen Frears
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Of the films from 2006 that I got to enjoy, the least likely ended up being one of the most enjoyable as well. I never would have thought a film about a reigning monarch, an ambitious prime minister and the death of a celebrity princess could have held my interest for more than scant seconds at a time whilst flicking through Women’s Weekly magazine. The Queen not only managed to hold my attention, but kept me riveted and even entertained. Grizzled, cynical old me.

Let me admit from the start that I am profoundly republican in my political sensibilities (note that there’s a little ‘r’ there) when it comes to preferring monarchies or elected heads of state. And my thoughts towards the current reigning Queen of England and her in-bred family are quite succinctly summed up by the Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen, except without the stunning level of insight and social commentary.

And as for the former and dearly departed Princess Diana, the people’s princess, the queen of hearts; I have about as much respect for her as I do for any of the Hilton sisters or any vacuous celebrity who sullies this planet with their sheer pointlessness. I, similar to some of the characters in this flick, cannot for the life of me understand why people around the world went insane with grief over this woman.

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Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del Fauno)

dir: Guillermo Del Toro
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So many film reviewers and other shmendricks called this film one of their favourites, if not their favourite film for 2006, that I started wondering if it was possible for me to enjoy it under the weight of so much expectation. The truth is, the film is even better than I expected.

It’s cliché time as people fall all over themselves to come up with superlatives to describe how good this flick is, but the one that I’ll happily use is that Del Toro’s career up until now has been solely in preparation for making Pan’s Labyrinth.

The thing is, directors have got to eat, too. And Mexican director Del Toro is a big guy. So some of the stuff he’s made which has been less than tolerable (Blade II, Mimic, Hellboy), kept him fed, built his profile and gave him the skills to pay the bills so that he could one day pursue a project like this.

It would be a falsehood to assert that, though. The first film of his that got noticed, Cronos, was pretty good right from the start, and The Devil’s Backbone, also set around the time of the Spanish Civil War in the 1940s, also showed promise. In fact, it was pretty damn good. And as much as I was nonplussed by Hellboy, it was one of his pet / dream projects.

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