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2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

dir: Sidney Lumet
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The title might be a bit confusing to people who haven’t heard the whole phrase before. It refers to having the temporary good fortune to get to heaven a half hour before the devil, who’s keen to get His due, knows you’re dead. In other words, getting a few minutes grace before the hammer, or, in this case, the pitchfork, comes down on you.

As you wandered into the cinema, wondering what the title was referring to, you’d sit there, munching on your highly unhealthy popcorn, chipping into your choc-top, which drips shards of chocolate onto your already dirty clothing that take a while to melt into the fabric real good. After enduring the trailers and idiotic commercials for mobile phones, 4WD trips to South Australia and switching your mobile phone off before the film starts, you’d be greeted with a sight that will push the question regarding the title out of your empty little head.

The first entire minute of this film concerns itself solely with Philip Seymour Hoffman drilling Marisa Tomei in the doggie style position and watching himself in a mirror as he does it. You can like or admire Hoffman’s acting abilities and performances, but I’ll bet your firstborn that you never really ever wanted to see him pretending to fuck anyone, let alone watch that chubby arse wobbling back and forth.

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Mist, The

dir: Frank Darabont
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I watched this flick last night, and this morning, I made my way to work through a thick, chilling mist. I have to admit, for a second, I wondered what horrors the mist might hold for me.

The Mist is one of those rarest of rare movies: something based on the works of Stephen King that doesn’t suck completely and utterly. Yeah, sure, people point out The Shining, Misery, Shawshank, Green Mile, Christine and that’s about it, as a way of saying that one of the world’s most prolific horror writers has had flicks translate well from their book origins.

Bullshit, I say, to them. For every Shawshank, there’s almost ten flops that make you want to tear your eyeballs out based on some scrap of cocktail napkin that the legendary crank hack scrawled something onto.

To be fair, I started looking through all the gems he’s had a hand or toe in, and there were plenty of other flicks that don’t suck completely that he’s been involved in.

Then again, there’s still Dreamcatcher.

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Beowulf

dir: Robert Zemeckis
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This doesn’t happen very often, but between my two viewings of Beowulf, my opinion of the flick has undergone a complete 180 degree shift. I hated, hated, hated, hated this flick the first time I saw it. Now, I think it’s pretty good.

Surprisingly good. It’s like I watched two completely different flicks, and, in truth, they weren’t the same flick. One I watched in 3D on the big screen at an IMAX cinema. The other, many months later, was viewed sober sitting on a comfy couch in my lounge room, and was the better for it, I’ll admit.

They seemed like completely different films, or maybe I was two completely different people. I found 3D Beowulf ludicrous, painful, aggressively shallow and an irritating waste of 110 minutes of my life. I remember being disgusted with myself for having thought it would be remotely watchable, let alone worthwhile.

Plus I was horribly hungover when I watched it, which is a very rare occurrence for me.

It felt like I was watching one of the Shrek movies, only with less intelligence and meaning at play. The characters annoyed me, the voices of the actors playing these mannequins annoyed me, the stupid plot and crap jokes annoyed me, and the ending bugged me no end.

Rating:

Gabriel

dir: Shane Abbess
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It’s one thing to admire the scrappy, underdog determination it takes for someone with no track record as a filmmaker to pull together the financing for a flick and then film it, their way, making up for the paucity of their resources with innovation, creative thinking and inspired finagling and wangling.

That’s admirable. But it’s another thing entirely to actually enjoy the end product of such a scenario.

So I admire the best efforts of the people involved with this, but that didn’t make it any less painful to sit through.

Gabriel is an excruciatingly bad fantasy film within the subgenre of fantasy which has angels and demons as protagonists. There was a trilogy of low budget movies a while ago called The Prophecy with ascending numerals, no less, and they essentially told the same story.

One of the big differences is that those flicks had Christopher Walken in all three of them. Sure, they were crap films, but you can never underestimate the appeal of that lunatic in any film.

He played, coincidentally enough, the archangel Gabriel, angry (at least in the first two flicks) that his pre-eminent place in the celestial order has been usurped by God’s love of humanity, thus he endeavoured to bring the monkeys, as he called them, low.

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Into the Wild

dir: Sean Penn
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There are films and books that purport to be about genuine individuals, about iconoclasts, rebels who are unlike everyone around them. Mostly it seems like it is praise for the latest sporting icon or actor/directors getting paid millions to indulge their affectations and the contempt they have for other people, in an easily marketable and digestible package. When the real thing comes along: a person in the modern age completely unwilling to live life like the vast majority of the people around him, we might not know what to make of him.

Into the Wild is based on a book by Jon Krakauer and looks at the life and times of one Christopher Johnson McCandless. The only really notable thing about this chap is that for seemingly no reason, but in reality a whole heap of reasons, he chooses to eschew the luxuries of modern life and travel the lonely road.

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Saw IV

dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
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This movie is fucking awful. I can’t sugarcoat it, I don’t have some other witty or vaguely amusing way to intro this review or to prepare the prospective viewer. This flick is terrible from beginning to end. But don’t think for a second that it’s consistently terrible, or that it maintains a steady tone of terribleness throughout. It starts off bad and keeps getting increasingly shittier and more nonsensical as it wears you down and just makes you want to die.

If you were ever a fan of these movies, you’re going to doubt your own judgement after watching this piece of abject shite. You are, or at least should be, wondering just how dumb you might be for ever having defended them to anyone.

Oh my good gods does it stink. It is horribly directed, the editing is irritating and confusing, the acting is shitty, the dialogue and script are atrocious and it just looks and plays out like something cobbled together from the collected deleted scenes from the other three movies in the Saw franchise.

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We Own the Night

dir: James Gray
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That’s pretty arrogant isn’t it, saying that you own an event of such all encompassing magnitude? That’s like saying you own the words “yesterday”, “blowjob” or “craptacular”. Who did the NYPD think they were kidding when they took the phrase as their motto in the 1980s?

Yes, We Own the Night is what it looks like: a moody cop drama. And though it smells generic, looks generic and tastes generic, it’s not entirely generic. It doesn’t feel like a mass-produced slab of a movie product. It’s thoughtful and serious, where most flicks of its ilk concentrate more on squeezing through the formula like toothpaste out of a tube.

The drama focuses more here on the characters than the plot, which, less face it, is the plot of 30,000 other films: There’s cops, and there’s bad guys, cops chase bad guys, bad guys kill or hurt cops, cops kill bad guys. Et cetera, etc.

It’s a plot as old as cinema. But the story about the dynamics of the cop family in turmoil is the focus here.

Rating:

Gone Baby Gone

dir: Ben Affleck
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To me, and I suspect a lot of other audience members, the concept of a film directed by Ben Affleck starring Casey Affleck seems like one of those perfect storm conditions for a Shit Storm of the Century-type of outcomes.

And setting it in Boston amongst working class, criminal and trashy Southies? That’s like a tornado inside a hurricane inside a campaign of sustained aerial bombardment hitting your trailer park.

The suburb of Dorchester, which is both the setting for the film and where the book’s author Dennis Lehane was birthed and growed, looks like the trashiest, grungiest shithole in America. Whatever initial claim it might have had to being the Irish heart of old Boston is long gone. It looks like the kind of place that not only houses the highest levels per capita of Jerry Springer viewers, but also the greatest amount of participants in the show.

Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) is just another one of these Southie scumbags, who manages to be repellent and compelling at the same time. She’s one of those alcoholic drug addicts who would probably start a lot of sentences with the phrase “Now I’m never going to win a ‘Mother of the Year’ award, but…” and then proves it with her behaviour on a continual basis.

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Michael Clayton

dir: Tony Gilroy
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No, it’s not the flick starring Liam Neeson about the Troubles in Ireland. And it’s not a light-hearted romp about the ethnic tensions between Greeks, Yugoslavs, Islanders and Vietnamese people living in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton.

It is, simultaneously, a film about the paths people take in order to do the unthinkable for money, and George Clooney’s shameless pandering need for another Oscar.

You already have one, pretty boy. Enough’s enough.

The title character, played by Clooney, is a fixer for a prestigious law firm. Though a lawyer himself, he never gets to step inside a courtroom anymore. All he does is try to fix situations that could damage the firm’s clients, or, for most of this film, the firm.

The film starts where it starts, with Clayton driving out to Westchester in order to calm and help out a wealthy sonofabitch who wants to avoid legal troubles for running someone over and leaving the scene of the accident. On the drive out there, the GPS display in his luxury car starts screwing up. In other words, Clayton has lost his moral roadmap. Subtle as a crowbar to the kidney. Then there’s an explosion, and the plot goes back four days in time in order to show all the events leading up to the explosion.

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Lions for Lambs

dir: Robert Redford
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Is it edutainment, or entercation? Is its primary purpose to sell tickets, or as a delivery device for a payload of sweet, sweet knowledge? What if that unasked-for education is little more than the talking points of the two opposing sides of the American ideological spectrum ladled out to you, the bored audience member, with nary a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, in the most delightful way?

Films about weighty subjects, such as political apathy, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or whether men should wear boxers or briefs, are supposed to make you think about the issues. You’re supposed to come away with more questions than answers, inspired to find out for yourself what the real state of play is. A documentary uses footage, facts and interviews to investigate and explore a situation, an issue or a set of issues. If it’s done right, then it answers some questions itself, and raises others of a more ambiguous nature if it’s balanced or about something too complex to be handled simplistically.

In a feature, dramatic film with a political agenda, you expect that an issue is raised and explored in a fictional but credible context, designed to explore ideas in a way that the currents affairs or doco formats cannot, or at least in not as compelling a fashion.

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