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2006

Apocalypto

dir: Mad Mel Gibson
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Ah, Mad Mel is at it again. He had money before, to be sure, from his successful career as an actor, director and bus driver. He’s even received Oscars for his efforts. Actual Oscars, not just Logies or Golden Globes or Berlin Film Festival Golden Bears.

Then, led by his strong Catholic faith, he decided to make a film about a guy getting nailed to two planks of wood.

The Passion of the Christ made an absolute packet at the box office, ignited religious furore and debate across the world, and, more importantly, gave Mel an incredible war chest from which he would be able to fund and make whatever films he wants for the rest of his life. You can argue that such a circumstance doesn’t guarantee that anyone will distribute or see his films, but getting them made without having to kowtow to conga lines of producers or studio executives is more than half the battle.

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2006 Film Year in Review

dir: Andrew Moshos

It was the best of years, it was the blurst of years, to quote Mr Burns from The Simpsons reading something written by one of thousands of monkeys typing away at thousands of typewriters. There were a few really good films this year, a lot of crappy films, but there were a lot of mediocre films too. Mediocre movies are worse than outright shite movies.

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Happy Feet

dir: George Miller
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Enough, already. The success of Pixar’s movies and the Shrek monstrosities has led to an incredible and totally fathomable explosion in the amount of computer animated movies stinking up the cinemas. A bunch of years ago there’d be one or two over the course of the year. In 2006, there were about twenty of them.

It was inevitable that computer animation would replace traditional hand drawn animation and that it would start garnering a greater share of studio and audience attention. And that’s not because it’s any cheaper or quicker to produce, because these flicks cost multi-millions to make and take many years to complete. But being able to point to the advances in animation techniques is the selling point itself. The stories certainly aren’t improving along with the programming. So much money is being invested in these things, so much money is at stake, so the stories are getting more and more bland and safe as their producers become even more risk-averse than previous.

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United 93

dir: Paul Greengrass
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Apparently when trailers for this flick were playing in front of films last year, audience members, at least in the States, would sometimes yell out “Too soon”. Five years after the fact, it’s hard to say when the appropriate amount of time could pass for films about that day not to hurt.

The 9/11 attacks transformed American society, impacted on the world in general and changed the way the rest of us look at movies. Even films as disparate as Spielberg’s War of the Worlds remake and the more recent Inside Man are suffused with imagery or the pathos of those dark days. For those of us who are not American, they can still represent a great source of sadness and anger, and a film dealing with what happened can be just as resonant even if the personal element is lacking.

United 93 looks at the attacks on America by Islamic fundamentalists from the grunt’s eye point of view. Although much of the footage is of the terrorists on one of the flights, and the passengers, much of the screen time is taken up with various people working as flight controllers and at Air Force facilities watching the events unfold on their radar screens or on the news.

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X-Men 3 - The Last Stand

dir: Brett Ratner
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I didn’t want to believe that the stepping down of Bryan Singer as director for this flick, the wunderkind director of the first two X-Men instalments and the post modern crime masterpiece The Usual Suspects, was a bad sign. I didn’t want to believe that the stepping up of Brett Ratner, the director of Rush Hour 1 and 2, and a whole heap of Mariah Carey videos, was a bad sign.

There were, in truth, a multitude of signs I chose to ignore.

It’s like owing a shitload of money on your credit card, and trying to put the massive debt out of your mind by throwing away the constant stream of nagging bills unread. That works until the credit provider sends hired goons to your place, but at least you can bask in the illusion up until that fateful day where your patellas cease to be your property.

I did enjoy the first two other films, I really did.

Bubbles by their very nature are obligated to burst. It comes down to physics more than anything else, including the so-called law of diminishing returns, but in this instance, I have a lot of questions as to how and why they (the makers) went the way they did with this flick, and I suspect I’m never going to get the answers I want.

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Shortbus

dir: John Cameron Mitchell
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I really wanted to like this movie. I went in with an open mind, and when I use that phrase, I don’t just mean it as a cliché palliative. Generally, I walk into a cinema with a mind so open wide that bits of brain matter fall out every time I open my mouth to shovel in popcorn.

It’s not a bad way to approach film watching. The more crap we see, the more preconceived ideas we have of what something is going to be like unwatched and how it is likely to turn out. It helps to preserve your sanity if you can try to switch off at least some of the voices in your head when you walk across the threshold, if you ever hope to get anything out of 90 per cent of flicks you end up enduring.

John Cameron Mitchell’s first film Hedwig and the Angry Inch was a complete surprise to me, in that I didn’t expect to like it and came out loving it. The thought of watching a post-pre op transsexual onscreen for an hour and a half didn’t appeal to me until I got to enjoy Hedwig’s sweet blend of humour, music and surprising poignancy.

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My Super Ex-Girlfriend

dir: Ivan Reitman
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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.

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Miami Vice

dir: Michael Mann
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The world was crying out for a film version of Miami Vice the way that the world was crying out for a remake of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Mind Your Language or Filthy, Rich and Catflap. Yet, here it is, and here we are again, staring down the barrel of yet another review for a film that really shouldn’t exist.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Michael Mann is a wonderful director, and the film is competently and professionally well made. But it just doesn’t matter. I’ve had more heated experiences chatting to tombstones at the Carlton cemetery in a drunken stupor. Me, not the tombstones, though they were probably stoned (insert canned laughter here).

Some reviewers have had the temerity to say the film has nothing to do with the original series. I can only guess that these reviewers never watched that pastel and neon suffused series, and don’t really know what they’re talking about.

Apart from the grainy cinematography, this could virtually be a two hour version of a Miami Vice episode. The script for the film is lifted from an early first season episode. The only major difference is that there is plenty more swearing, violence and fucking than they ever could have shown on the telly.

Sweet, tender fucking. Not actual fucking of course. But, you know, it’s something different.

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Fearless (Huo Yuanjia)

dir: Ronny Yu
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They’re selling this as Jet Li’s last action film. We can only hope and pray…

Jet Li, god love him, has had a very variable career. It started off all right, performing gymnastics in front of Richard Nixon as a child prodigy, but mostly it’s been downhill from there. Sure, he was in a bunch of cool martial arts flicks, but who really cares? As the philosopher Janet Jackson once rightly pointed out: What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Okay, so he was in Hero, which was good, and gets better with every viewing, but does that make up for all the awful American crap with his grimy fingerprints all over them? The One, Cradle 2 the Grave, Kiss of the Dragon, Romeo Must Die: the list drags ever on.

There’s just not that much to the guy. He’s too well known for his past exploits to be considered much of anything other than a fighter, and he’s considered too wooden to be considered much of an actor. Saying Fearless is his last action role is akin to announcing his retirement. I can’t exactly see him taking the lead in the next Robert Altman film or taking the stage to play Uncle Vanya or Richard the Third.

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Casino Royale

dir: Martin Campbell
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Around the time of the last Bond film Die Another Day, some horrified viewers were calling for the death of this tired, smelly franchise. The name had become so devalued by a long string of mediocre movies that it seemed kinder to just let it die. Or to put it out of its misery.

Of course there isn’t a studio on the planet that would rather go with a new idea over an old faithful cliche, so a new Bond film was an inevitability in the same way that night follows day, or when any celebrity videotapes themselves in a compromising position or two, the footage invariably ends up on the internet.

At the very least, if they’re going to make more of these Bond films, let them be as good as this.

Casino Royale is a rip-roaring old school adventure and a pleasure to watch from start to finish, even if it does drag a bit. That hasn’t been said honestly about a Bond film for decades. Daniel Craig plays the famous agent with the right mixture of cool professionalism and brutality. This Bond is less of a gentleman and more of a bastard than we’ve seen for a while, and the movie is the better for it.

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