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2006

Home of the Brave

dir: Irwin Winkler
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It’s hard to know why exactly they made this particular film. I don’t mean films about soldiers coming home from wars, or films about the current Adventure in the Middle East. I mean, I can’t fathom why they made this particularly crappy film.

If they wanted to honour the nobility and sacrifice of US service men and women, then they should have crafted a story where the characters weren’t just the embodiments of singular clichés. If they wanted to portray the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, maybe they should have spent some time actually finding out what it was. If they wanted to make a statement about the war, as in whether it should be ongoing or not, and whether the ungrateful Iraqis should be more worshipful of their masters’ gentle attempts at nation building, then perhaps they could spent some time with them.

And could they have chosen someone else apart from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson to be in it? Perhaps an actor, if it wasn’t too much trouble?

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Volver

dir: Pedro Almodóvar
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I have to admit that I generally don’t much care for the films of Pedro Almodóvar. To be honest, I find most of them pretty goddamn pointless and irritating. I’m not saying he’s not a great director, it’s just that, like the double negative I used in the preceding part of this sentence, maybe his stuff just doesn’t work for me.

In the 90s the thing that stuck out about his flicks the most was the truly trashy nature of the action, with even trashier characters acting in ways which might seem perfectly natural to Spanish people, but looked utterly idiotic to me. When it was amusing it was okay, but generally the actions and dialogue spoken seemed beyond ridiculous.

And don’t get me started on the situations in his films where rape is practically used as a comedic plot device.

Maybe that soured me on him just a tad. At the very least, upon seeing Talk to Her (Hable con Ella) a bunch of years ago, I thought maybe he could make films that I could like. But then Bad Education (La Mala Educacion) came along, and I was reminded of all the reasons I can’t stand his goddamn trashy movies.

With all that preamble out of the way, I’d just like to say that I very much enjoyed Volver, finding it one of the most enjoyable flicks, Spanish or otherwise, that I’ve watched in a long while.

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Lives of Others, The (Das Leben der Anderen)

dir: Florian Henckel Von Donnensmarck
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If you’re looking for a fast-paced, thrill-packed, Cold War-era action fest, then do I have a film for you.

This flick will, if excitement was what you were after, put you to sleep quicker than dipping your head in a bucket of chloroform.

It is a meticulously crafted, exquisitely paced and rendered story about the banality of the institutions of totalitarianism, and the impersonal, mechanical manner in which they crush the life out of people.

The deliberate mistake many commentators made last year when the flick rose to prominence, and especially after its Oscar win for Best Foreigner Film, was to pretend the flick was only one thing: a condemnation of communism. It takes a great degree of wilful blindness to go only so far in seeing what the flick’s themes are and the extent to which they are elaborated upon.

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Rocky Balboa

dir: Sylvester Stallone
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Why did this film have to be made? Was it because of you?

Did anyone want a sixth Rocky film? A film where a guy in his sixties steps into the ring once more at an age where what he should be fighting against is the onset of diabetes and osteoporosis? Whose greatest opponent should be his fragile hips?

I’ll tell you who demanded that this flick get made, who needed to see it through: Stallone himself. It is impossible to separate the motivations of the character from the actor/director. Rocky feels the need to once more step into the ring at a time and place so far passed its use-by date that the very idea is met with incredulity by all around him. Stallone resurrected and made this flick when no-one around him apart from accountants thought it should be made.

“Rocky/Sylvester, you’re too old, no-one thinks you can do it, you’ll embarrass yourself, get over your glory days and live in the present. Just let it go, old man, please, we’re begging you.”

But, like Don Quixote, like King Knut railing against the tide, like Rocky Balboa himself, Stallone refuses to admit his age and to admit his own irrelevancy in this modern day and age.

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Good German, The

dir: Steven Soderbergh
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Experiments are cool, aren’t they? I used to look forward to The Curiousity Show on the telly when I was a wee tacker, as the weird guy with the moustache and the other weird guy with the beard performed all those experiments you get to see as a kid: adding this to that to make it gush out all over the place, toothpicks in potatoes, constructing working nuclear devices out of papier mache, paper clips and mum’s pantyhose.

The interest lies, apart from the desire to watch shit blow up in beakers or on bunsen burners, and apart from the general intention to learn more about the physical world through observation, in the real sense what we want to accomplish is the viewed outcome of what happens in a controlled environment. In other words, if you put this and this in this kind of set-up, then this shit happens.

Well, if you put Steven Soderbergh, black & white cinematography, A-list actors and a script set just after World War II in Germany, it’s an experiment in film noir, and certainly a lot of shit happens.

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Stranger Than Fiction

dir: Marc Foster
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There were few films stranger yet more accessible last year, and it’s been a while since Charlie Kaufman has had one of his bizarro-world scripts made into a movie. Stranger than Fiction is a case of truth in advertising. It really is stranger than most fictional films have any right to be, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

For the purposes of clarity, I’m not saying this flick has a Kaufman script attached: the writer of idiot/savant treasures like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had nothing to do with Stranger than Fiction. It does however possess a script that these days we’d call Kaufmanesque. The actual screenplay is thanks to Zach Helm, who seems to be sniffing from the same batch of glue as Kaufman at the very merry least.

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an emotionally stunted dweeb who goes about his life and job as a tax auditor with mathematical, mechanical precision. He has no life outside of the calculation of how many toothbrush strokes he’s performed, steps walked to work or amount of strokes he takes to achieve orgasm. He has no family, no friends, no pets, and no real reason to keep breathing, as far as I can tell.

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Little Children

dir: Todd Fields
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Quiet little stories about middle class people in the middle class burbs aren’t exactly rare, so it takes a bit of skill to make such mundane-sounding materials come alive. Little Children does come alive, which surprised even an old curmudgeon like me.

Throw in themes of infidelity, being bored by one’s children, the nastiness of mother’s groups, the hysteria over sex offenders and the joys of vigilantism, and you have a movie that’s about more than what it appears to be about.

Sarah (Kate Winslet) isn’t entirely comfortable with the whole being a mother thing. The daily all-consuming nature of being a mum doesn’t fill up all the empty spaces in her day, and the moment she looks forward to the most is when her husband gets home from work and gives her an hour or two to herself. As the films opens, she, like her daughter Lucy, doesn’t really fit in with the other kids and mothers at a local playground.

The other women, looking and acting like a Desperate Housewives version of Witches of Eastwick, are your average bunch of soccer moms who gear their whole identity around the fact that they are mothers and the self-evident fact (to them) that being a mother means they have the god-given right to be incredibly mean-spirited judgemental bitches.

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Idiocracy

dir: Mike Judge
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You may think stupid people are making this a harder place to live on a daily basis, but can you imagine a planet of morons where intelligence has been bred out of our species entirely? Can you imagine using that as a premise for a comedy / sci fi flick?

Well, Mike Judge, creator of King of the Hill, Beavis and Butthead and director of Office Space, uses it as his main contention here. In Idiocracy, we have a look at an American future where IQs are around 60 and people are so fucking stupid that the most popular television show in world history is Ow, My Balls!, a show where a guy gets whacked in the balls repeatedly, and the number one film at the box office is Ass, a 90 minute film of an arse farting.

Wait a second, that doesn’t sound too much different from the America of today, does it?

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Flyboys

dir: Tony Bill
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I guess it seemed like prime time for a World War I war movie right about now. War flicks about WWII are a bit played out, no-one wants to watch contemporary ones to be reminded of the hell the world is presently for many people. Why not go back in time to an era where American involvement in a war was considered a good thing? Who are YOU to say no?

So it’s The Great War. 1916. The fields of Verdun, France. The Germans are warming up for the real fight in a few decades time by sending a young Hitler, amongst millions of others, to die and rot in the trenches of Europe. The English and French are fighting the good fight as the US, in the form of Woodrow Wilson, the second coolest named President the US has had so far, dithers and looks on in growing horror. Mechanical flight, having been recently invented, is applied to the battlefield because of the obvious advantages of being able to survey and travel greater distances and to be able to rain death from above. And to look like Errol Flynn whilst doing it.

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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.

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