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2006

Kokoda

dir: Alister Grierson
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For most countries, the most powerful and enduring myths they possess have to do with war. Australia is no different. I’m not using the term ‘myth’ in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that mythologising aspects of history is part of the formation of a nation’s identity.

Rating:

Slither

dir: James Gunn
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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.

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Nacho Libre

dir: Jared Hess
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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!’

If you’re not looking for it, it could strike you as strange that Napoleon Dynamite, his first flick, contains no swearing, violence, sex or nudity, despite being set in a milieu that would seem to demand each and every one of those elements (the contemporary American high school genre).

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Thank You for Smoking

dir: Jason Reitman
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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.

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Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

dir: Chan-wook Park
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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.

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Jindabyne

dir: Ray Lawrence
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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.

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Descent, The

dir: Neil Marshall
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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.

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A Scanner Darkly

dir: Richard Linklater
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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.

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Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

dir: Gore Verbinski
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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.

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Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story

dir: Michael Winterbottom
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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.

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Superman Returns

dir: Bryan Singer
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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.

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Cars

dir: John Lasseter
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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.

In short, these are cars that aren’t really imagined to be that different from the people sitting in the audience: smug, comfortable, middle-class consumers.

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Renaissance

dir: Christian Volckman
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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.

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Hills Have Eyes, The

dir: Alexandre Aja
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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.

Rating:

Inside Man

dir: Spike Lee
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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.

Rating:

Hostel

dir: Eli Roth
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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.

Rating:

Underworld Evolution

dir: Len Wiseman
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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.

But so fucking what? It’s a stupid story anyway.

Rating:

V for Vendetta

Dir: James McTeigue
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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.

Because people don’t want to lose their jobs, see their interest rates go up, or their petrol prices sky rocket. They want their television shows uninterrupted by news, they want to listen to the latest hollow songs produced by pale simulacra of humans whenever the tap of the radio is turned on, they want no disruptions to their broadband access, and they want their trains to run on time.

Rating:

Mission Impossible III

dir: J.J. Abrams
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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.

Rating:

Da Vinci Code, The

dir: Ron Howard
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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.

As such, we get a two hour and 40 minute lumbering, ludicrous monstrosity of a flick that brings new depths to the use of the term ‘highly dubious’.

Rating:

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