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2006

Exiled (Fong Juk)

dir: Johnny To
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Exiled is the latest flick from one of Hong Kong’s most prolific and stylish directors. Although it has a similar dynamic to To’s earlier action classic The Mission, it is in no way a sequel. Even with many of the same actors, playing similar roles, it’s still not a sequel. But it does have a lot of similarities, and that’s not a bad thing.

What you can expect in a Johnny To film is men, usually professional criminals or triads, doing manly things. The overarching and underlying theme is always friendship, brotherhood and the bonds of loyalty between men.

And, as with his more action-based films, as you would expect, there are guns. Lots of guns.

About the only thing that sticks out as being significantly different is the location. Instead of unfolding in Hong Kong, Exiled takes place in Macau, just prior to the handover of political control from the Portuguese to China in 1998.

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Brick

dir: Rian Johnson
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Brick has a central conceit who presence balances the movie on a knife’s edge of being tolerable or intolerable: if you can stomach teenagers (or actors pretending to be teenagers) chewing over the hard-boiled dialogue of 40s noir in a contemporary setting, then you might enjoy Brick. If not, Brick will be one of the more pointless experiences you will endure this or any other year.

Brick has dialogue sometimes so hard to say and so hard to understand that you wonder if you’re watching a National Geographic documentary about some hitherto unknown American tribe discovered in the ruins of an ancient mall. But therein, for me at least, lies the fun. The director had been trying to get this project off the ground for nearly a decade, and has succeeded where so many others would have given up or caved in to soulless studio reps.

Take the thickened plot and chewy dialogue out, and you’re left with nothing of interest to anyone. Leave it in, and you get something that works most of the time, falters at others, but still remains interesting throughout. This first time director’s mistakes are sometimes as interesting as the times when he gets it right.

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Night at the Museum

dir: Shawn Levy
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I know, I know, no-one really expects me to be capable of sitting through a PG-rated flick without a straitjacket being involved, and those metal clasps keeping my eyes open. But I do, on occasion, watch flicks you would ordinarily require children to gain entry to if you’re not going to have parents looking at you like they were advertising for babysitters and you arrived dressed up like Michael Jackson.

Night at the Museum, something which looks utterly stupid, was playing at the IMAX theatre located just around the corner from where I live, and my significantly better half evinced an interest in seeing it on the super silver screen, so we trundled over to check it out.

I’m not remarkably surprised by the fact that I enjoyed the flick and got a few laughs out of it, but let’s just say it helps to have spent the last few weeks inundated with nieces and nephews making every moment a screaming, whining living hell. Of course, escaping to a packed theatre full of kids would seem like jumping out of the frying pan and into a nuclear reactor, but at least a couple of hours respite from the particular kids I’m talking about was still appreciated. When will the War on Christmas be finally won, anyway?

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Babel

dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu
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The biblical tale about the Tower of Babel concerns the myth explaining why so many different languages are spoken around the globe. Back when the story is supposedly set, everyone spoke the same language, which was presumably Aramaic spoken with a Brooklyn accent.

All these people communicated with each other perfectly, and considering how wonderful such perfect communication helped them in their endeavours, they decided to embark upon a great project.

The plan was to build a building tall enough to get to Heaven, in order to hang out with God. So they started building upwards with the intention of getting to the Promised Land without having to go through all the trouble of living right and dying well.

God saw the way in which the project was proceeding, and grew irritated both with their plans to invade his crib, and with the effectiveness with which they worked together in this pre-email, pre-weekly meeting age.

So he confounded them by giving them all different languages, and from thence did the Lord scatter them upon the face of the Earth.

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Charlotte's Web

dir: Gary Winick
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The prospect of watching a new, big-budget version of a children’s classic is quite daunting. The big budget means they have to cater to the widest of wide and low-brow audiences, and the ‘classics’ origins means they’re either going to offend the purists or bore the unwashed who are also unread.

And Charlotte’s Web hardly needed to be made. Sure, the cartoon from the 70s wasn’t exactly gold, but director George Miller pretty much remade Charlotte’s Web a bunch of year’s ago and called it Babe to much acclaim.

That being the case, the film Charlotte’s Web is most reminiscent of, of course, is Babe. It has the same use of CGI mouths for talking animals, and a bunch of humans in key roles as well. What it has on top of that is a lot of celebrity voices meant to make audiences “Awww” instead of going “eh”.

Could Charlotte’s Web not have been made without the voices of Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, John Cleese, Steve Buscemi et al? Was anyone staring at a poster for this film and thinking, “this is going to be crap, I’m not taking the squealing piglets along to this”, then saw the list of people supplying wise cracks and thought “Wow, how wrong was I, it has celebrity voices! I’m taking everyone I know and their dog to see this one now?”

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Click

dir: Frank Coraci
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Watching an Adam Sandler flick that isn’t as painful as his other movies is a joy to the world. It’s like being in a car crash where people are painfully hurt instead of permanently crippled or killed. If you can walk away from it, then it wasn’t that bad.

Click is, in the peak of what I could ever get to say about an Adam Sandler flick, the least painful or objectionable of Sandler’s flicks thus far, with the exception of Happy Gilmore and Punch-Drunk Love. In that sense, this means Sandler has hopefully reached the pinnacle of his endeavours, and will soon retire.

I don’t need to tell those of you living in downtown Kandahar, Beirut or Brunswick that this is an imperfect world. And, in such a world, what should happen (like Sandler, Jim Carrey and the Hilton mutants dying in a car crash) rarely does. So retirement seems even less likely. Life can be so unfair.

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Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

dir: Justin Lin
[img_assist|nid=862|title=Look! Cars going fast|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=300]
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, could actually be an enjoyable film. Honestly, it could be, stranger things have happened. However, I am uniquely incapable of being able to assess if that is actually the case.

I would need to consume some magical kind of potion that would strip me of over twenty years of my life and about fifty or so IQ points in order to be able to judge the film on its merits. To say the movie is aimed at fourteen-year-old boys, or people with the brains of fourteen-year-old boys is an insult to, you guessed it, fourteen-year-old boys. I’m sure there are teenagers that will watch this and think, “damn, that’s a condescending film.”

It panders to a mindlessly immature mentality in a way only a movie produced by older adults with contempt for teenagers can. It’s with this kind of marketing mentality that Tokyo Drift was prematurely ejaculated onto screens worldwide in another desperate to milk teenagers out of their crack money.

Kenny

dir: Clayton Jacobson
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A lot has been written about Kenny, both its success and the film itself. At least in Australia, since I can’t imagine the rest of the world giving a tinker’s dam about it. And its success at the AFI awards also points to Kenny’s acceptance and approval from a country notoriously averse to watching its own films.

Kenny has struck a chord with Australian audiences, and there are a good number of reasons why. As played by Shane Jacobson (whose brother wrote the screenplay and directs), Kenny Smythe is the kind of salt-of-the-earth character that you feel obligated to get behind or risk feeling like the most humourless and elitist of curmudgeons. It is that very calculation that goes to how the character is written and portrayed, which sounds cynical, because it is cynical. But it gets the job done.

This comedy has the format of a documentary, or a mockumentary, to use the latest nomenclature. It all focuses on Kenny’s daily grind as he waxes lyrical and philosophical constantly to camera. As such, you could say the movie is a character study of one working-class quiet achiever just trying to get by in this turvy topsy world.

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Silent Hill

dir: Christophe Gans
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There really isn’t any logic to the way producers think making a film out of a computer game will work at the box office. Sure, it’ll get them extra money, but rarely does it result in anything worth watching in any state apart from being drunk. From Super Mario Brothers onwards, the vast majority of computer games transferred to the silver screen have stunk like a crate full of decaying skunks.

Look at the illustrious list of movies that have undergone this transformation from nerd property to mass entertainment: Doom, Resident Evil, House of the Dead, Bloodrayne, Alone in the Dark, Wing Commander, Mortal Kombat, Streetfighter, Tomb Raider 1 & 2. Were any of these films watchable in any state apart from being drunk? And would humanity be any worse off if these films were never made and the actors and directors responsible for them were banished to a lower level of hell?

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Banquet, The (Ye yan)

[img_assist|nid=865|title=The Hamlet-y Banquet|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=421|height=600]
(also released as The Legend of the Black Scorpion, for no good reason)

dir: Xiaogang Feng

A wuxia version of Hamlet sounds like a crazy way to try to sell tickets. It comes as a major surprise that it actually works. The universal themes of treachery, loyalty, love and revenge are easily transferred from the court of the Danish monarchy to the throne room of the Tang Dynasty.

The writers retain the elements from Hamlet that work, discard the rest and make fundamental changes where it suits them, turning the tale into one of court intrigue and romantic deceptions rather than emphasising an indecisive son's desire to avenge his father's murder. Wu Luan (Daniel Wu) is the crown prince in this version, without the madness or the indecisiveness, but his desire for vengeance against his usurper uncle remains the same.

The new Emperor Li (Gou Le) tries to wear his brother's armour, but it is uncomfortable. The armour bleeds from an eye socket just to make sure we understand that something is wrong.

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