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2007

Ratatouille

dir: Brad Bird
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The Pixar name still means something to audiences. They’ve made so many great computer-animated flicks that discounting them because of missteps (Cars) or being purchased by Disney for something obscene like 7 billion dollars and the kidneys of several thousand Asian children, seems wrong.

I’m reassured by Ratatouille, in that even if it’s not breakout tremendous like The Incredibles, or consistently entertaining and engaging like Finding Nemo, the Toy Stories or even Monsters Inc, it’s still pretty damn good and still several million miles ahead of the drek like Shrek and the other crap pumped out by Pixar’s rivals.

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Namesake, The

dir: Mira Nair
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The Namesake focuses on the detail of a person’s life that must seem ridiculous from the point of view of people whose first and last names sound like two first names: the Paul Christophers, Robert Stanleys and Jane Allisons of this world. The unique pressures that arise from possessing a name that sounds strange to the ear and eye dependant upon the culture you reside within is only the most obvious issue that arises as part of the immigrant experience familiar to so many squllions of, uh, immigrants.

On top of that, though, the issue of name and identity gets even stickier for one of our protagonists here, because the name his parents bestowed upon him at birth is one that, transcending his background, he can never come to grips with.

Gogol (Kal Penn) is born to Bengali parents recently transplanted to the States. He grows up somewhat distanced from his family though not violently so. Mostly he seems to resent the fact that his dad called him Gogol.

Such a sweet sounding name. Although Gogol has inklings as to why his father chose the name, of course the flick has to take its time to tell him (and us) exactly how profoundly important the name is to his father.

He, however, resents it for most of his life.

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Planet Terror

dir: Robert Rodriguez
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Now this is more like it…

The essential argument I’m going to put forth here is that Planet Terror gets right what Death Proof got wrong. The great difficulty I’m going to have pushing this barrow is that I can’t really pinpoint as to why, exactly.

Not ‘why’ as in ‘why am I bothering to inflict my thoughts again on an entirely uninterested populace’ but why as in why it works. And it does.

Fully embracing the 70s trashy movie aesthetic that it aspires to, Planet Terror is a balls-out, at times hilarious celebration of the best that trash cinema used to offer. The footage is deliberately grained up, butchered and cut and with all sorts of flaws and imperfections, including fake film burns and ‘missing’ reel segments. It also has the kind of dialogue that is as ridiculous as it is entertaining.

And it has a hot stripper with a gun for a leg taking on legions of zombie enemies with head and chest bursting alacrity.

Cherry (Rose McGowan) is a go-go dancer who cries every time she dances, much to the consternation of the management. She decides to up and quit one night, which works out quite handily.

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Death Proof

dir: Quentin Tarantino
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I don’t think there are insults left to fling at Quentin Tarantino. The cries of plagiarism, unoriginality, lack of individual inspiration, immature fixation on the films of his youth, awful personal hygiene; all these barbs have been passed around and thrown at him for over a decade since he came to our collective notice.

And they’ve all stuck, because they’re all true. Yet he keeps going on and on, continuing to do his thing without giving a damn…

Death Proof is the Tarantino half of what was one movie when it was initially released in the States: Grindhouse. Grindhouse itself, whilst a wonderful idea that delighted all those shlubs old enough to remember drive-ins and the sleazy c-grade double bills that used to play at them and at grungy old cinemas that were literally called grindhouses, it didn’t set the box office alight.

As such, the Weinstein Brothers, in their infinite wisdom, decided to split the two halves, the other half being the Robert Rodriguez flick Planet Terror, and released them individually outside of America. Thus, we have Death Proof now, and Planet Terror coming out in a month or so.

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Last Mistress, The (Une Vieille Maitress)

dir: Catherine Breillat
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I swore off ever sitting through and enduring one of Breillat’s films ever again several years ago, but a free preview ticket pulled me back in to her loathsome cinematic world. Also, reviews saying this was nothing like her earlier monstrosities sucked me in as well.

Her flicks Romance and Anatomie de l’enfer (Anatomy of Hell) convinced me not only that I shouldn’t watch any future films of hers, but that I never wanted to watch any films ever again. Unfortunately for you, like all my other promises and heartfelt vows, this one fell apart swiftly after. I relented, I gave in, because the prospect of watching one of her excruciating films proved too tantalising to me.

Une Vieille Maîtresse is Breillat’s first foray into period piece filmmaking, whereby she’s also working on a screenplay adapted from the novel by Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly. It is set just after, we are told several times, the era of Choderlos de Laclos and Dangerous Liaisons. The only characters old enough to remember the libertine excesses of those days are now themselves too old to be cavorting around themselves. But they remember enough of those licentious times to be able to counsel the next generations.

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Eastern Promises

dir: David Cronenberg
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Eastern Promises, being a David Cronenberg film, promises more than it should and delivers more than you’d expect. There’s no shortage of flicks out there about organised crime, but it takes a unique one to stand out from the morass.

A look at the Russian mafia isn’t exactly new either. But the screenplay by Stephen Knight and the whole bloody production, overseen by one of the masters of cinema (even if he is Canadian), creates a living, breathing, unnerving story about, amongst other things, how nasty old people can be.

A pregnant fourteen-year-old girl (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) staggers into a chemist, bleeding all over the place. She gives birth to a tiny girl later in hospital, and promptly dies. The midwife, Anna (Naomi Watts) searches the poor girl’s belongings to find out where she comes from so see can give the little baby (who she’s named Christina, in honour of rapidly approaching Christmas) to her family.

The problem is, all she has to go on is a diary in Russian. Anna has a Russian background, but needs the diary to be translated. Propelling the plot forward, she also finds a card which directs her to a Russian restaurant called the Trans-Siberian in the heart of London.

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Hills Have Eyes 2, The

dir: Martin Weisz
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Wow. The sequel no-one except for mutants was crying out for has become a reality.

Did you have a hankering to watch ‘normal’ people be hunted down, raped and eaten by mutants in the New Mexico desert? Quiver in thy flesh no longer, depraved meatbags, the sequel is here to satisfy your cravings.

I like horror movies, lest anyone think I watch flicks like this against my will, with gun pointed headward or whilst stretched across a waterboard. But I don’t enjoy most of them: the main reason being that they’re crap and insulting to the intelligence. Most horror flick makers have unutterable, venomous contempt not for their actors and stunt people, but for their audiences. Also, just like most flicks ever made, formula and familiarity trump originality and thought almost every time.

So whilst The Hills Have Eyes 2, being a brilliant name for such a thing, isn’t the crappiest horror flick to come out this year (that honour probably resides with The Hitcher or Georgia Rules probably), it’s pretty unnecessary.

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Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

dir: Tim Story
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Are you fucking kidding me?

What mental incompetent approved such a script? Was the screenplay put together in any fashion other than having kindergarten kids stick cut-out bits of other scripts together in an amateurish collage fashion, which was then stuck in a blender and pureed until it achieved a truly shitty consistency?

Good goddamn, this makes other crappy comic book adaptations look positively Shakespearean by comparison. It makes Transformers look like something scripted by George Bernard Shaw.

A Barbie doll (Jessica Alba) who looks less convincing as a scientist than Denise Richards did in that terrible Bond film a few years ago, employs constant hissy fits to provoke her potential mate into entering into the holy contractual agreement of marriage. Her paramour, being Horatio Hornblower with the ability to become the consistency of pudding (Ioan Gruffud), is a work obsessed nerd who talks of love but could care less about the shrill blowup doll bitching about his workaholic ways.

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Transformers

dir: Michael Bay
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It is easy to hate Michael Bay, and especially to hate his movies. They are the apotheosis of mindless action raised to the status of pure content-free escapist claptrap that steals souls whilst it damages minds with its spastic imagery and brutal soundtracks. And Michael Bay himself is the grinning face of Death, seducing us with worm-filled decaying excrement dressed up in shiny chrome and flash. He is the painted whore of Hollywood, he is the handmaiden of horrible men like Jerry Bruckheimer; he is Bruckheimer in director’s form, and the world becomes a substantially worse place every time he disgorges or defecates a movie out onto our planet.

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by Transformers. It’s still an incoherent, character-less mess, but it’s a vaguely entertaining incoherent, character-less mess.

I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the film did not make me want to gouge my own eyes out and perforate my own eardrums in self-defence or in protest.

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Flash Point (Dao huo xian)

dir: Yip Wai Sun
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This is superficial and pointless even for a Hong Kong action flick, but damn are the fights good.

They’re too few and far between, but at the very least you can rely on Donnie Yen to deliver the goods fight-wise.

Donnie Yen is the current superstar of Hong Kong fight!-fight!-fight! fighting. He’s in the position for two reasons that I can think of that have nothing to do with acting: every other half-able fighter has moved over to Hollywood, and no-one really wants the mantle.

It’s not because of his thespian abilities, that’s for sure. And if you were wondering if Donnie is the best, have no doubt, he’ll tell you himself. The special features on DVDs of his flicks, a term devalued purely by many of the features film producers consider to be special, will often have interviews with Donnie Yen wearing sunglasses indoors and telling the camera that he is the greatest movie fighter around. Humility doth flow from this man’s every pore, yea verily.

Yes, so he’s a monumental wanker. Thing is, though, whenever I watch him fight, I forget for those few minutes all about the sheer magnitude of his wankerishness, and I marvel at just how amazing the guy is when he’s kicking the absolute shit out of some poor shmuck.

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