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2007

Freedom Writers

dir: Richard LaGravenese
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If you ever desperately prayed for a way in which to figure out just how cynical and jaded you’ve become in your stinky old age, you need to watch a flick like Freedom Writers as the true test. It’s a perfect gauge of where on the miserable old bastard scale you currently reside.

The thing is, though, it’s such a finely tuned, sensitive Geiger counter of a test that I’m not sure how many will come out smelling of roses. I think even Mother Theresa would come out of it looking bad.

The premise, which is prefaced with those dreaded words “Based on a true story”, is that in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots, a young idealistic teacher (Hillary Swank) tries to teach some underprivileged kids at an urban school whose life expectancies are akin to that of grams of drugs around AFL footballers: they’re not going to last very long at all.

Erin Gruwell starts off all sunshine and light, and remains all sunshine and light throughout. She cares about the kids right from the start, but her character arc is that she has to learn to speak to them about life in a way that doesn’t condescend and that appreciates the war-torn realm in which they live their lives. How will she achieve the seemingly impossible? By getting them to read The Diary of Ann Frank.

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Blades of Glory

dir: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
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Will Ferrell as an ice figure skater? That’s the comedy cinematic equivalent of crack cocaine, isn’t it?

The people who made the film probably sold it to the company with a text message to an executive saying exactly that: “w/about Ferrell on ice?” with probably a few smiley faces and LOLs thrown in for good measure.

The entire movie is predicated on the impression that ice skating is both gay in the sense that ‘gay’ is sometimes used as a synonym for lame, and gay in the sense that it is a sport best enjoyed by and participated in by gay people. So of course Ferrell plays his character of Chazz Michael Michaels as a rampantly hetero alcoholic sex addict lothario who never actually gets laid. And of course there are lots of scenes where men have to uncomfortably hold another man’s genitals either in their hands or close to their faces in order to win something important. What’s funnier than another man’s gonads being waved in your face?

His opponent Jimmy McElroy (Jon Heder, he of Napoleon Dynamite fame), and eventual partner on the ice, is the literal golden-haired child who is taking the role that Owen Wilson surely must have turned down due to his current bout of drug abuse and suicidal tendencies.

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Reign Over Me

dir: Mike Binder
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Hmmm, Adam Sandler in a serious role again. Smells like Oscarbait to me.

Reign Over Me is a somewhat manipulative attempt by the filmmakers to both make Sandler look like an Oscar contender and to use the September 11th attacks to tug at the heartstrings of gooey audiences everywhere.

When I think of that terrible day, I don’t say to myself: “what I really need is a way to make the tragedy personal, to understand it in the scope of the impact it had on one person. And I want that person to be Adam Sandler looking like a very dishevelled Bob Dylan”.

I mean, after all, no tragedy is more hard-hitting or better explained except when it’s done by a comedian.

In a lot of ways, though Sandler isn’t as excruciating as you would expect, he plays the role the same way he plays every role, whether it’s a comedy or not. It’s still the same character - an aging poster child for arrested adolescence deals with, uh, stuff – that he plays in absolutely everything he’s ever played.

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Hitcher, The (2007)

dir: Dave Myers
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Is the message that you shouldn’t pick up hitchhikers? Or that you should pick up hitchhikers, lest they become murderous lunatics? Or is it that you shouldn’t pick up The Hitcher 2007, because it’s a dull remake of a superior horror flick from the 80s?

I like Sean Bean, I really do. He was good as Boromir in the Lord’s Ringpiece movies, good as the villain in the only tolerable Brosnan Bond flick Goldeneye, and good in a half dozen other flicks. He’s no Rutger Hauer though.

Rutger Hauer was, in some ways, the 80s. I have a deep love for the man, who could play shlocky heroes and shlockier villains in any flick they attached his meaty presence to. It doesn’t matter that most of them were utter shite. That’s the thing about 80s flicks as opposed to any bad flicks from any other era that I can think of: they’re watchable (now) despite being terrible simply because they’re 80s flicks. There’s so much to enjoy about them in spite of and often because of their relative terribleness.

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Hostel Part 2

dir: Eli Roth
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What Borat has done for Kazakhstan, Eli Roth and his Hostel horror movies have done for Slovakia.

You thought that Slovakia was just a former part of the Soviet Union that was recovering from no longer having the word Czech in front of its name. In Roth’s hands, Slovakia is a place as bleak and foreboding as Chechnya, as Srebrenica, as Caroline Springs where, in the post-Communist aftermath, life is simultaneously cheap and auctionable to the highest bidder.

In the first Hostel flick, two American backpackers and an Icelandic traveller find themselves on the pointy end of the Eastern European tourist industry when they are selected, hunted down, tortured and murdered by the clients of a company who pay to maim and kill people in the slaughterrooms of an old industrial complex.

It’s a horribly macabre idea, and Eli Roth and his many producers could not see any reason as to why they shouldn’t repeat the idea again, only with American girls this time.

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Noise

dir: Matthew Seville
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Who doesn’t love a bit of aural every now and then?

Noise is a moody Australian character piece about a depressed Melbourne cop who’s not really that into his job. Despite the murder investigation going on around him, his story is tangential to the grand drama occurring outside his skull.

Some nutter goes crazy on a Melbourne suburban train, and shoots every person in a particular carriage. A girl, Livinia (Maia Thomas), who gets on the train just after her shift at Macca’s has ended and just after the massacre has occurred, sees the bodies and the killer as well, making her the only witness.

Concurrently, copper Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) at another train station gets a call on his CB radio, but doesn’t seem to be able to hear the dispatcher. His hearing problem gets worse until he collapses on an escalator.

His unimpressed senior sergeant, ignoring the medical diagnosis of persistent tinnitus (ringing in the ears), seconders the hapless cop to an information-gathering caravan in the suburb of Sunshine, at the site of another murder that might be connected to the train killings.

His job is to sit in the caravan during the night shift, in order to give members of the public the chance to come forward with information regarding the crimes.

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Reaping, The

dir: Steven Hopkins
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Despite continuously implying the opposite, this crapulent movie is proof positive that there is no God, benevolent or otherwise. No God would subject his believers or even his deniers to a movie as poor as The Reaping with any intention past convincing people that He / She / Shmoopie doesn’t exist.

A town deep in the Southern swamps called Haven is having some strange events occur that seem like they’re out of the Old Testament. A patented disbeliever, who used to be a servant of the Christian God, spends all her time disproving phenomena that look like miracles. Katherine Winters (Hillary Swank) is the Doubting Thomasina required by such a setup, and the highly serious flick’s lead. She lost her faith when her husband and young daughter were killed by, I dunno, a machete-totting wildebeest, when they were performing God’s missionary position work in some nasty section of Africa.

When someone pretending to be all nice and wholesome and Southern (David Morrissey) comes to her for help in explaining the town’s strange occurrences, of course she feels compelled to go to the Louisiana boondocks in order to debunk the superstitions of the surprisingly clean and well-adjusted townfolk.

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Disturbia

dir: D.J. Caruso
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Rear Window was crap anyway, right?

I mean, Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly: What are these names compared to DJ Caruso, Shia LaBeouf and David Morse? Nothing, I tells ya, nothing and nobodies.

So if someone tells you there’s a remake of Rear Window, what, are you going to check your eyesight or your glasses prescription before looking into the gift horse’s mouth?

No, you’re not. You’re going to watch it, marvel at the charming Shia LaBeouf, his retarded Asian sidekick and the nubile jailbait from next door, and forget all about that bloody Rear Window movie.

Well, actually, you’re not. If you’ve seen Rear Window, you’re going to sit there whilst watching Disturbia, and you’re going to be shaking your head from side to side, marvelling at what passes for a ‘remake’ these days.

Rear Window gets practically everything right as a thriller and as a compelling film. Disturbia muddles through as a deliberately pale imitation in comparison.

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28 Weeks Later

dir: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
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Gee, I wonder what flick this is a follow-up to?

Danny Boyle doesn’t return to helm this sequel, but I’m sure he made some money out of it as an executive producer. As such I’m sure he’s not too disappointed with how it turned out, but I’m sure he would have done it quite differently.

Instead of Boyle and his usual crew, it gets a bunch of other writers, and the Spanish director of a superb flick from a bunch of years ago called Intacto. I loved Intacto (a strange flick about luck as a power, as a curse) so much that I expected 28 Weeks Later to be some kind of masterpiece as well.

As it stands, this flick is passable entertainment, I’d say. They keep the location, and the story (a rage virus spreads throughout Britain making most of the population go berserk and kill each other), but saddle it with a pretty simple (some might say almost stupid) plot in order to gain some kind of currency with world events.

World events like the present Iraq Adventure, I guess.

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Zodiac

dir: David Fincher
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The director with one of the most variable records in Hollywood has returned to us mere plebs with a police procedural flick about the hunt for the Zodiac killer.

Fincher’s flicks have an almost odd-even quality, in that he has a good film follow a mediocre one with grim predictability. I don’t have to nuts and bolts it for you: suffice to say I really like half of his movies, and am indifferent to the other half, and they follow each other like night follows day, like hangover follows drinking binge.

I can’t really say if Zodiac breaks the cycle, because the formula would require that a good film follow his last mediocre one, being Panic Room. But I can’t say that it blew my socks off.

It’s just over two and a half hours long, which in itself is no crime. As long as it does something magical with that time, who would complain. It’s just that, for my money, it is two and a half hours of tedium with no pay off.

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