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2007

Warlords (Tau ming chong)

dir: Peter Chan and Wai Man Yip
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I never thought that Jet Li, at this advanced stage of his career, could surprise me in a positive way. No-one in this world, regardless or sometimes because of their age, stops finding ways to surprise me negatively. But I was surprised here by Jet Li’s dramatic chops, which hasn’t occurred once in the twenty years I’ve been watching his flicks.

He’s always been a tremendous fighter onscreen, and good enough playing his usual, stoic, heroic roles in the wuxia (martial arts) flicks. But he’s often been quite terrible whenever he tries to do anything dramatic or comedic or tragic or acting in general.

This lack of acting ability has never stood in the way of his career, because his arse-kicking ability is so incredibly amazing. Amongst his peers he’s par for the course, but with age comes, if not wisdom, at least an appreciation for looking like you have the emotions and stuff the director is telling you to have.

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Burn After Reading

dir: Coens
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People give the Coen Brothers way too much credit. Sure they make good films on the odd occasion, but, after dazzling everyone with the exhausting and nihilistic No Country for Old Men, they belched out this Washington DC-based trifle, and still people acted like it was the second coming of Allah, Buddha and Abbott and Costello.

There are Coen Brothers comedies that I have enjoyed, especially Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski, but this is certainly not one of them. In fact, I find it pretty much devoid of humour for something being marketed as a comedy.

I had similar issues with Fargo back in the day, which was lauded to the high heavens by all and sundry, but left me cold, colder than a Minnesotan winter. The humour was invisible to me, the purpose as well, though I have gotten to a better place emotionally where I don’t actively hate the film anymore.

Still don’t like it, though. And I definitely didn’t like Burn After Reading either, which has practically nothing to recommend it. Honestly, this is one of those times where I am oblivious as to what worth others see in something. Had the Coens not made it, had the cast not be the usual A-List shmucks like Clooney and Pitt, this flick would not have even gone straight to DVD.

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Persepolis

dir: Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud
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Persepolis is an animated movie about the life of Marjane Satrapi, a French-speaking Iranian woman who grew up in the 70s / 80s in Iran and Europe. That might not sound like a particularly riveting choice of subject matter, but this is a fascinating life story told well with evocative handdrawn 2 dimensional artwork. Seriously.

As such, it’s probably the only animated movie about Iran many people will ever hear of during their short lives, and probably one of the only ones that tells the story of both the impact of the Shah on Iranian society, and the subsequent Islamic Revolution and war with Iraq in the 80s. As well, it tells it as a bitter-sweet work of art combined with a woman’s tale of coming of age in difficult circumstances.

No other film, animated or otherwise, in this century or any other, in French or any other language, is going to have a character deliver a rendition of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger with as much conviction and as much hilarity as what occurs in the middle of this movie.

Satrapi transformed the story of her life into a graphic novel previously, and this is essentially a bringing to life of that graphic novel. Named after the ancient Persian capital, it gives the lucky viewer a glimpse into Iranian life that would rarely be seen otherwise.

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Walk Hard

dir: Jake Kasdan
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Walk Hard is, truth be told, a more honest, funnier and more musically adept biopic about Johnny Cash’s life than that film that came out a few years ago with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon whose name doesn’t escape me for the moment. Truth be told, the one doesn’t exist without the other since Walk Hard is such a parody of both Walk the Line and Ray, not only in name but in structure and key moments as well. Substitute actual blindness with smell-blindness, and they’re virtually indistinguishable.

Oh, the structure. At the movie’s beginning, an aged Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) is about to go on stage, but seems to be waiting for something. A stagehand goes up and hassles him about the need to go onstage in short order. One of Dewey’s longstanding bandmates pipes up, “Can’t you see the man has to think about his entire life before he goes onstage?”

And, of course, from there the story moves back in time to where Dewey is but a boy, and playing with his much more talented and accomplished little brother Nate, who dreams of doing great things one day.

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Across The Universe

dir: Julie Taymor
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Julie Taymor, being Julie Taymor, delivers high concept drama-free colour-soaked movies rich in immaculate artistic design and acting little higher up on the relative scale compared to dinner theatre.

In Across the Universe, she delivers a musical using much of the Beatles better known back catalogue, which is more of a homage to the gullibility of audiences seeking a romantic fix mixed with 60s Americana clichés rather than honouring the Liverpudlian larrikins and their music.

Is it entertaining? Eh, if you like polished, sickly sweet musicals and karaoke versions of classic pop songs, then maybe it is. Maybe it is.

But otherwise the clearest thought that came into my mind was that this flick seriously reminded me, as most things remind me, of an episode of The Simpsons where trusty news anchor Kent Brockman starts a news story about the 1960s saying something like “And here’s a 60s montage.” Random cliché scenes of hippies, the National Guard popping skulls at Kent State, civil rights marches and Vietnam protests flick past to the accompaniment of All Along the Watchtower by Hendrix. At the end of the montage, Brockman intones in disgust “What a shrill and pointless decade.”

Well, Kent, feel free to describe this film in a similar fashion.

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Rogue

dir: Greg Mclean
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It wasn’t guaranteed that Mclean’s follow-up to Wolf Creek would be a disappointment, but it was inevitable that people would pick it as such. Mclean is more of a victim of unfortunate timing that anything else, which rendered his monster movie little less than a blip on the radar.

Of course it doesn’t help that the film isn’t that good.

The two strikes that screwed up any chance of Rogue succeeding box-office-wise were that it was going to initially come out around the same time as another flick about a giant crocodile (Primeval), and that another flick with the same title was about to come out (Rogue, which became Rogue Assassin in some countries, and War in the States).

But the real problem is money. Money money money. You can’t always see it, but sometimes where the money for a flick comes from dictates just so much of the content of the flick that you really feel a bit ashamed of yourself.

Money, specifically from Dimension Films, being the genre-trashy arm of the Weinstein Brothers film empire, dictated a strange, strange set-up for what is essentially supposed to be an Aussie horror flick set in the hallowed reaches of the Northern Territory.

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National Treasure: Book of Secrets

dir: Jon Turteltaub
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National Treasure: Book of Secrets is, like the film it is the sequel to, and like everything by this purest of Disney directors, hackwork of the highest order.

Hackwork works, for lack of a better term. Hackwork is what gets bums in seats, sells tickets and gets people to buy merchandise. By which I mean regular members of the public, and not the Asperger’s sufferers who will collect merchandise on the most obscure shit. Oh, look, a 12-inch Angela Lansbury doll wearing that tweed outfit from the third season of Murder, She Wrote! I’ve got to get me some of that.

Hackwork is when you make a dumbed down version (try not to choke on the irony) of the Da Vinci Code for audiences who found that tedious bore too involved and complicated. With too many big words and references to an actual earth history unknown to them all the same, to the point where its fictionalisation could sit just as well as a form of documentary for their tastes.

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I'm Not There

dir: Todd Haynes
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It’s amazing to me that anyone could ever have thought something like this could have worked. A bunch of people playing their own versions of Bob Dylan? What, one person imitating him wouldn’t have been enough, or tolerable? So getting twenty people to do it, clearly, is a better idea?

To me it’s apparent right from the start that some of the concept behind the way it ends up being done is that one person playing Dylan wouldn’t work. That it would be inaccurate or disrespectful to dare to do a Walk the Line or Ray on Bob Dylan, because he’s just soooo much more important and complicated, isn’t he?

On the other hand, by fracturing the narrative in such a way, and by having all the various actors play different Dylans, with different names as well, then it obviates the need to actually have a coherent narrative and the need to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

I could be far more scathing and mockworthy about it, but it’d be fruitless. The fact is, regardless of why they decided to do it this way, it actually works. Perhaps I say that only because a) I don’t really care about Bob Dylan and b) I don’t necessarily see him as a figure worthy of adulation and worship beyond the merits of his music.

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Darjeeling Limited, The

dir: Wes Anderson
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Quirkfest abounds. So much goddamn quirk that it’s fair dripping from the screen. But what would you expect from a Wes Anderson flick?

Every goddamn flick the guy’s made has been so quirky and idiosyncratic that, by now, you know if you can tolerate any of his new flicks based on whether you’ve tolerated any of his other flicks.

Of course, then there’s the fact that some of his flicks are less tolerable than others, even when you like them.

I have liked some of his flicks, and hated some of them, so: flip a coin, guess how I went with this one.

I was not a fan of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, despite the fact that every Anderson film is the same, and some, like The Life Aquatic, are more the same than others. So I approached The Darjeeling Limited with ample trepidation.

This flick, thankfully, is less bad and more enjoyable than Life Aquatic. The reason is that it’s not as aggressively annoying as the former film, and it doesn’t have a character as rampantly annoying as Bill Murray was in that film.

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Kite Runner, The

dir: Marc Foster
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The Kite Runner, based on the book by Khaled Hosseini, is a simple story about some Afghan people living through some interesting times.

I have a talent both for understatement, and for inaccuracy. More importantly, the story is about the life and character of a young man called Amir (Khalid Abdalla as an adult, Zekeriah Ebrahimi as a boy). He grows up in Kabul, in the 70s, under the watchful eye of his liberal, wealthy father (Homayoun Ershadi) and family friend Rahim (Shaun Toub).

He also has the constant companionship of servant boy Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) who worships the very ground he walks on. His devotion to Amir is nothing short of heart-breaking, but, to me at least, the devotion is not the sadomasochistic dog-like devotion of a weak, dependant neurotic. Hassan’s loyalty is fierce and strong.

And it would need to be, because Amir himself is something of a coward. When confronted by other child bullies and thugs, it is Hassan who steps up for the fight, protecting his ‘master’, even when the reason that the thugs are harassing them is that Hassan is of a different tribal ethnicity (he is often referred to as a Hazara). Amir’s own father senses that there is something missing in Amir, which is only one of the sources that fuels his resentment.

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