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2008

Machine Girl (Kataude Mashin Garu)

(Kataude mashin garu)
[img_assist|nid=1280|title=Fear girls with prosthetics|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=496]
dir: Noboru Iguchi

I’m starting to get the knack of this current crop of Japanese violence-fests. It’s not a complicated equation: Ham acting, cheap effects, both physical and computer-generated, and thousands and thousands of litres of fake blood.

I’ve watched a bunch of these flicks lately, and they really look like what they are: cheap movies made by special effects guys who know more about how to put together a prosthetic body they’re planning on cutting into multiple pieces with blood spraying out of it every which way, rather than coming up with a script that makes any sense.

Not that it matters.

I’m getting to the stage where I’m starting to be able to enjoy them. I’m not sure if I’ve figured out whether they’re action flicks, comedies or horror flicks, or a curiously Japanese blend of the three. Whatever the actual genre is, is irrelevant, I guess. All that matters is whether I’m entertained or not.

And I was entertained by this flick, significantly so, compared to the last Fever Dream production that I saw, being Tokyo Gore Police. Or maybe what’s happening is that I’m becoming desensitised to the level of gore, the sheer crazy magnitude of gore on display.

Rating:

Tokyo Gore Police (Tokyo zankoku keisatsu)

dir: Yoshihiro Nishimura
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This flick is like watching a squirrel twitch balls-deep in a bag of acorns for two hours.

Why?

Because it’s fucking nuts.

I guess I haven’t watched a lot of Japanese flicks for a while, because even I was surprised by the level of violence in this film. It’s beyond anything I’ve seen in a long time, probably ever. It’s probably the bloodiest thing I’ve ever seen, to date.

But it’s also probably the least affecting thing as well. I thought this was a horror flick, and, considering the level of gore, and what with penises and limbs being horrifically ripped off, or the chainsaws going into people’s mouths and staying there, with sprays of blood showering everything for hours at a time, it’d be a safe bet.

Rating:

Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The

dir: David Fincher
[img_assist|nid=711|title=CGI, CGI will tear us apart, again|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=314]
David Fincher almost gets a lifetime pass from me for Fight Club. It’s a film so goddamn good that it elevates him into the lofty heights of directors whom I’ll defend even if they make twenty shitty films compared to their one or two masterpieces. Brad Pitt has no such pass from me, lifetime or otherwise. I have such a deep antipathy for his brand of actoring that he is usually the weakest link (for me) even in the strongest of films.

This flick, right off the bat, I enjoyed, very much so, despite the fact that there is less going on here than meets the eye. The premise sounds like it’s high concept enough, but it’s used more for its ironic sense than anything else. A F. Scott Fitzgerald short story is the origin of the film’s screenplay, but it has been fleshed out and elaborated upon in order to make it a serious, prestige Oscarbait contender, instead of the Twilight Zone half-hour that it probably warranted instead.

In the early part of the 20th Century, a clockmaker grieves over the death of his son in the Great War. He constructs a clock for a train station that runs backwards instead of forwards, with the (poetic, not literal) hope that such a clock going backwards would reverse time and resurrect the many sons who died needlessly, bringing them home to their devastated families.

Rating:

Red Cliffs (Chi Bi Xia)

dir: John Woo
[img_assist|nid=717|title=Fear me for I wear a stupid helmet|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=340]
I’m a bit confused. There’s a film called Red Cliffs that’s playing in the cinemas at the moment, which is meant to be an amalgam of two movies John Woo finished last year. But I don’t know if what I watched is what cinemagoers got to see, since I saw something around five hours long.

Now, there are films that are epic in length, others epic in scope, and still others are epic in terms of the boredom they inspire in audiences. ‘Epic’, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily synonymous with ‘good’. Some things are great the bigger they are, and I’ll leave it up to your personal preferences to imagine which ones, but tumours, debts, jail sentences and divorce settlements don’t necessarily improve with increased length, width or girth.

Yet it was viewed at my leisure, at least I can say that. What I saw is what Asian audiences saw staggered over two releases last year when this/these films made more money than Titanic. Only in Asia though. The rest of the world could care less, and rightly so.

John Woo hasn’t made a decent flick in twenty years, so just contemplate for a moment that it has taken him twenty fucking years to make a decent film again despite so many opportunities. To call it a return to form is an understatement.

Rating:

Brideshead Revisited

dir: Julian Jarrold
[img_assist|nid=1256|title=Brideshead's going to get Revisited tonight!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=267]
Plenty of people, pretty much only the people who’ve read the book and watched the BBC series, would think that a film version of Brideshead Revisited is either redundant or pointless or both. I have watched the series and read the book, and have now watched this latest adaptation. Hurray for me.

So maybe I am one of those who think a new version is pointless. Thing is, though, I still enjoyed the flick.

Of course a two-hour version seems pointless after the majesty and scope and patience of the series, but then when you’re making a film for contemporary audiences, you’re not catering to people with relaxed attention spans and time. You’re catering to hyper-caffeinated people with the patience, attention span and morals of feral ferrets.

So, boiling a complex novel down to its essentials is the order of the day, here. I don’t have a problem with that, mostly because I’m so familiar with the source material. Sure, it is period piece stuff arising from the success of Atonement (which is a very different kettle of gay fish compared to Brideshead) with a similar kind of look, but it’s not an especially complex story.

Rating:

Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road

Some things are stronger than love. Like hate,
for example

dir: Sam Mendes

Oh what a miserable fucking film. It starts off with one of those miserable and uncomfortable couple fights that makes you want to slink away without making eye contact, and progresses onwards with a gruesome autopsy of a relationship that should never have been between two people who should never have been together.

Based on an apparently classic 1950s novel of the same name by Richard Yates, it’s a film undoubtedly influenced at least in its stylistic elements by the rise of that Mad Men era-philia. In truth, though, this is an earlier era depicted, even if visually they’re indistinguishable. Sure the guys all wear smart suits and those hats, and smoke everywhere, and drink constantly and such.

But this is a time meant to be closer to the end of World War II rather than the cool cat airport lounge hipsterism of the early 1960s depicted in the aforementioned (and admittedly highly loveable) television series. Men and women were still working out what their post-war roles were meant to be, and for some people the answers were never going to be pretty.

The name of the flick makes it sound like it’s going to be a film explaining to kids why they should or shouldn’t have pictures of Che Guevara on their t-shirts, but all it refers to is the suburban road in Connecticut where the unhappily married Wheelers live.

Rating:

Appaloosa

Appaloosa

Of course this is going to be a good movie. Just look at the moustache on Viggo

dir: Ed Harris

Ah, westerns. Not nearly enough of them are still being made. And, in some senses, as with musicals, X-Men films and anything made by Baz Luhrman, you could argue that there is no goddamn need to ever, ever make any more of them ever again.

The western, however, unlike the other examples cited, deserves to have a continued existence. It deserves to survive, and prosper as a genre filled with awe-inspiring scenery, people killing each other with guns, and the rugged individualism Americans like to think they’re all heirs to.

It’s the most quintessential of American genres. You can make the argument that virtually all cinema and all genres originate in America, considering the birthplace of the cinematic art form, but then you’d be being awfully pedantic, and no-one likes sleeping with awfully pedantic people. So let that be a warning to you.

Whatever the argument’s merits, the irony is that despite the ‘you’ve come a long way, baby’ that America has achieved as a country and in terms of civilisation, they still hunger to make and see films set in an era before everything was decided: before there were limits on anything, be it ambition, be it violence, or be it a complete lack of fences.

Rating:

Body of Lies

dir: Ridley Scott
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Ridley is, apparently, the decent Scott brother who directs sometimes quite decent films. Yes, he made Hannibal, and part of me will hate him forever for that one, but generally he makes okay flicks, or at least he did thirty years ago.

Tony Scott is the awful hack who makes painful films that sully the Scott name, generally. He makes occasionally less than horrific flicks, and then makes horrific flicks which are an insult to the eyes and the intellect, damning our entire species whenever a single person pays good money to watch any of his movies.

In case you miss my meaning: I’d rather watch a Michael Bay movie than a Tony Scott movie.

In genre and content Body of Lies would seem to almost be more of a Tony Scott flick than a Ridley one, since he has previously made spy – high tech thrillers, with varying degrees of success (or annoyance, as the case may be), but for whatever reason the Brothers Scott flipped a coin and it came up Ridley. Which is good, because that means the film is at least watchable, as in a human pair of eyes can be trained upon it for minutes without bursting in dual showers of vitreous humour.

Rating:

Milk

dir: Gus Van Sant
[img_assist|nid=1164|title=There is a tremendous irony in this|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=533]
You would have thought that the acclaimed documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk would have pretty much covered the story of this incandescently flamboyant political icon of the 1970s. But, let’s be honest: unless someone wins an Academy award and fictionalises the fuck out of a story, we don’t really care.

And why have footage of Harvey Milk playing Harvey Milk in a documentary about himself when you can have Sean Penn overacting all over the place instead?

So much better. To be fair, Penn mostly controls himself and delivers what is a stand-out performance in a career defined by stand-out performances, overacting, having been married to Madonna and beating up paparazzi.

I knew plenty of the details surrounding Milk’s death moreso than his life, because of the hilarious manner in which the person who murdered him used one of the most incredible defences in order to beat the rap and reduce his clearly cold-blooded and premeditated crime to an act of junk food-fuelled manslaughter due to diminished capacity. Of course the truth of what was actually argued by his defence team and what has become the pop culture meme of the “twinkie defence” are two completely different things.

Rating:

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

dir: Panna Rittikrai, Tony Jaa
[img_assist|nid=1140|title=This poster only barely captures the insanity of the fighting involved|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=600]
You could be forgiven for thinking that this movie was a sequel or even a prequel to Tony Jaa’s debut Ong Bak. I mean, that’s what 2 usually stands for in these circumstances. Having watched both flicks, I can’t really see any point of intersection except in the fact that Tony Jaa kicks several shades of fuck out of a hell of a lot of people.

As far as I’m concerned, as long as the fights are as jawdropping as this, I don’t care if he calls every movie he makes Ong Bak with some numerical designation following, with no more connective a story-based tissue than: ‘Some guy, for some reason, beating a lot of people up in incredibly elaborate ways.”

For all I know, that’s what Ong Bak actually means in Thai. For all I care though, I eagerly look forward whenever I hear that Tony Jaa’s stepping up and putting out another movie.

Sure, he’s not much of an actor, and spends most of this flick glaring and not saying any dialogue. That’s good, though. We don’t want him talking. Talking’s not his forte. I hear he’s not good at math or doing the dishes, either. And he’s not very considerate in bed.

Rating:

Role Models

Role Models

Jerks jerks jerks jerks jerks jerks there's not a person
in this flick who isn't a jerk. They're not Role Models,
they're... they're Jerk Muddles!

dir: David Wain

I really do wonder how some flicks get made. This isn’t a bad flick, but when I think about the performances, the plot and its success, I wonder who thought it was a good idea in the first place.

For a flick without a single likable character in it, it does manage to generate several laughs, at least several more laughs than another recent comedy that inflicted itself upon our eyeballs called Observe and Report. The difference is that this flick is nowhere near as vile, and does have some pretty funny moments. Not many, but enough.

This one, unfortunately, has Seann William Scott in a lead role, and that never helps anybody. As I’ve said in other reviews, I think it’s great that retarded people not be excluded from working in Hollywood, and that Scott continuing to get work gives hope to all the other Downs Syndrome sufferers out there. But good God is he dumb. Even knowing that he’s supposed to be dumb doesn’t change the fact that he consistently gives the impression that he’s only a few seconds away from crapping his own pants.

Paul Rudd is a bit better, but he’s really only playing a minor variation on most of the characters he ever plays. Actually, scratch that, he remains unchanged from movie to movie. The difference is that I actually find him likable even if his characters are obnoxious.

Rating:

Hunger

Hunger

Fancy a bite to eat? Maybe some crackers or something?

dir: Steve McQueen

When I heard that there was this apparently really cool film that was going to come out, and that it was directed by Steve McQueen, my first question was: “Isn’t he dead?” My next question was “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck had nothing better to do with its fucking time?”

The answers to both questions, surprisingly enough, are “Yes” and “Not much.” Steve McQueen is some artist, not the classic actor from Great Escape, The Getaway and Bullit. The car did most of the acting in Bullit, I admit, but no, McQueen is some other guy which doesn’t mean that the original McQueen is doing a Tupac Shakur from beyond the grave, releasing stuff despite the minor inconvenience of being dead.

The one thing I’ve never heard or seen in any of the reviews of this flick, which have been uniformly positive, is that the film would actually make me sick. I’m not, as is my wont, exaggerating or embellishing like I usually do. In the last fifteen or so minutes of the flick, when Michael Fassbender, who plays Bobby Sands, really earns his keep, the image of his emaciated and lesion/sore covered body comes up on the screen.

Rating:

Doubt

Doubt

They're not Amish, oh no, they're just penguins

dir: John Patrick Shanley

I have doubts about this film. It’s well made, there’s no doubt about it. It’s an interesting story. My doubts stem from the fact that Meryl Streep, for all her sheer wonderfulness, doesn’t always hit it out of the park, as an American might say. Being an Australian, I guess I’m obligated to say that she should be hitting it for six, but the truth is I like cricket even less than baseball, if it’s even possible.

My problems with the whole wide world of sport shouldn’t bleed into the quality time you spend reading my reviews, so I should back down, I guess. The fact is, Meryl’s performance in this was so off-putting that I could barely appreciate the flick at some points. Every time she spoke or overdid some physical mannerism or affectation, it would kick me out of the film and remind me that I was watching some of the alleged prime thespians of their day battle it out in a no holds barred Battle Royale.

Again with the sport, though wrestling is hardly a sport in the real sense. She plays a nun, Sister Aloysius, with the fierceness and demeanour of some kind of treasure-hoarding troll. I appreciate that she’s meant to be this fearsome personage at the school where she rules/teaches, but c’mon Meryl, don’t you think you took it a bit too far? She looked and acted like she was auditioning for the part of Gollum in a Lord of the Rings remake.

And don’t think it’s too soon. Give it a few years.

Rating:

Sky Crawlers (Sukai kurora)

The Sky Crawlers

Huh? Wuh? Buh? Zuh? Kuh? Muh?

dir: Mamuro Oshii

Now, I’ve watched some weird and slow things in my time, but this, this here Japanese animated movie is by far the most recent.

I can’t pretend that I am in any way even remotely an expert on the Japanese art form known as anime. I’ve watched some of it, I know there’s plenty more of it out there, but I can’t even pretend that I’m an authority. Very far from it. And though I’ve also watched a lot (and by a lot I mean hundreds at least) of Japanese films, again, I can’t pretend to be some sort of smartypants pontificating scholar on the Japanese visual arts.

The main reason isn’t because of any special, new-found caution on my part, or a reluctance to sound like an arrogant jerk. If you’ve read any of my reviews thus far then you know I have no qualms and zero problems with that. The truth is I simply don’t get, most of the time, the Japanese.

This is not going to be some anti-Japanese tirade, so those of you who might have come here through some ill-advised linkages on some Blood & Honour or Stormfront White Power pages will most likely be deeply disappointed, you dumb fucking racist crackers. Remember, White Power is pronounced “Waaah-eeet Paaaarrr”. And stop fucking your sisters as well. It does no good for your gene pool.

Rating:

RocknRolla

dir: Guy Ritchie
[img_assist|nid=158|title=Guy Ritchie: bad director, rejected even by Madonna|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=469|height=344]
I wish I could say that RocknRolla is a return to form, finally, for the guy who hasn’t made a decent flick since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. And, in fact, I can say it. It is a return to form. The problem is, the movie is still a total fucking mess. The difference is that compared to his other recent movies, it’s an entertaining mess.

Lock, Stock’s supreme virtue is that it was Ritchie’s first flick, so it was the first time we saw him do his shtick, and, on the most part, we liked it. Everything he’s done since then has either been a dull retread or a painful revelation of how little he brings to the directorial table. Don’t ever watch his stupid flick called Revolver. You’ll kill someone afterwards if you do. Possibly even a puppy.

Rating:

Choke

dir: Clark Gregg
[img_assist|nid=155|title=Would you have sex with this douchebag?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
I have respect, much respect, big respect for Chuck Palahniuk, but I’m starting to think that maybe he is the American literary equivalent of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Sure, Come on Eileen was a wonderful little pop ditty that still stinks up greatest hits radio decades after its use-by date, and it probably resulted in a lot of laundry for a lot of women called Eileen, but what else have the musical impresarios and master storytellers of Dexy’s Midnight Runners done for us lately? I’m not going to go so far as to say that Chuck is a one-hit wonder for Fight Club, which I still think is a great book and a great film (a great, great film in the hands of David Fincher). The problem is that I just don’t know what else he has to offer either the book or the film worlds anymore.

Choke is a premise without much of a meaningful plot and without a character worth following for 90 minutes. I’m not sure if it’s Sam Rockwell’s fault as the lacklustre main character, because he seems okay for the first half of the film. What I can’t tell is whether the problem is that the flick doesn’t know where to go, or whether Rockwell decided he no longer wanted to be in the flick.

Rating:

Australia

dir: Baz Luhrmann
[img_assist|nid=159|title=You know we hate each other and ourselves|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=270]
Pundits, wags and wits were saying that this here flick Australia was going to be Baz Luhrmann’s, and Australia’s, blockbuster answer to Titanic.

In a way they were right, in that Australia is a disaster, a tragedy and a testament to man’s arrogance and eternal hubris.

To say that this film is awful doesn’t really capture what is achieved in the opening half hour or so of this flick. I’m not sure if the film embarrasses me more simply by dint of my being Australian, or because I feel deep shame that people overseas watched this flick thinking it had something to do with Australia the country, as opposed to Australia, the Baz Luhrmann opium-suffused candy-coloured, brain dead fantasy.

That every living Australian actor is in this flick would seem to be a good thing, and doubtless it was for their bank balances. I do so enjoy it when the locals get paid work. It keeps them off the streets and lets them pay back the people they owe money to, if only for a while. But to say that they actually get to earn their tax-payer funded salaries would be stretching the truth even more than this travesty stretches the truth regarding our fair country’s history over the last century or so.

Rating:

Valkyrie

dir: Bryan Singer
[img_assist|nid=164|title=I know he's evil, but the film's still watchable. Honest|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=435]
A fair few nerds were angry and dispirited when youngish director Bryan Singer, famous for directing the criminal mindfuck that was The Usual Suspects, and powerful after directing the first two X-Men films, chose not to make the third X-Men flick, and instead wanted to make a pouty-faced serious flick about some Nazis who failed to kill Hitler. I certainly count myself amongst those pitchfork-toting nerds after watching that dire 3rd X-Men flick, which left me angry and unfulfilled, but it wasn’t because I felt Singer had some kind of personal obligation to entertain me.

It’s just that I hated that third movie so goddamn much. It seemed strange at the time that Singer, whose baby the X-Men movies were considered to be, would voluntarily choose to neglect his responsibilities and go off to make a flick with Tom Cruise playing a ‘good’ Nazi with an eyepatch. In fact, it seemed downright comical.

Rating:

Frozen River

dir: Courtney Hunt
[img_assist|nid=157|title=Oh, the woe and suffering of the noble underclass!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
It’s funny when I tell you that this flick deals with illegal immigrants, white trash, Mohawks, people smuggling and desperation, and you immediately think it must be set somewhere on the US-Mexican border and star Tommy Lee Jones.

Funny in the sense that it’s odd, not funny as in hilarious.

It’s funny in the sense that of course this flick is instead set on the border with Canada, and instead of the main character being a noble immigrant sorrowfully leaving behind their dirt farming existence in order to come to the States to enjoy its bounty in the form of hamburgers and novelty toilet seats, it’s about one of the people smugglers.

In no sense does the story bother with the refugees as characters. Its focus is entirely on a white trash woman living in a trailer home with her two kids, who kind of falls into people smuggling as the only way to look after her kids after being abandoned again by her worthless Mohawk husband.

Rating:

Twilight

dir: Catherine Hardwick
[img_assist|nid=165|title=Love is stronger than Death, stronger even than mental retardation|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=469|height=339]
Oh good gods is it terrible! Make it stop!

Stop the night terrors, the images of atrocious acting that march through my nightmares each night since subjecting myself to this awful, awful movie. I know I’m prone to exaggeration, but this truly is a flick so atrocious that it almost seems like a parody of itself, a parody of teen vampire romances, and a parody of filmmaking in general. This film uniquely captures, the way dogcatchers uniquely capture stray and rabid dogs, a collection of actors giving performances so terrible that if they were racehorses, you would surround the cast and crew with screens, load up the shotguns, and put them all out of our misery.

Rating:

Death Race

dir: Paul W.S. Anderson
[img_assist|nid=156|title=Statham: He looks like he's carved from granite, and acts like it too|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
There are two Paul Andersons who work as directors in contemporary cinema. There’s probably more but there’s two main ones I’m concerned with. Paul Thomas Anderson is the guy who made Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. The other Paul Anderson, with the W.S. initials betwixt the Paul and the Anderson, is the British chap who made films such as Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil, and Alien Versus Predator.

Guess which Paul Anderson made this flick.

Death Race is a remake of a flick that was called Death Race 2000, made in the seventies. I guess calling this version Death Race 2000 would have given people the impression it was a period piece, a Merchant Ivory bittersweet coming of age story with Model T Fords and horse drawn carriages fighting it out for the love of a good woman / boy / pony.

Death Race 3000 would have hurt people’s brains by being so clearly set in a far too distant future. Like Futurama.

Rating:

Day The Earth Stood Still, The

dir: Scott Derrickson
[img_assist|nid=160|title=I've come to destroy your world because of all the bad actors upon it|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=318]
The Earth Didn’t So Much Stand Still on This or Any Other Day, it More Kind of Farted, Rolled Over and Went Back to Sleep.

Perhaps a bit long for a title, but it’s certainly more accurate. Of course if they didn’t use the original title reminding people this is a remake of the Cold War era classic, then no-one would be any the wiser, and no-one would have bothered to go and see it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being pointless, and 10 being pointed, this remake of a beloved alleged sci fi classic sits somewhere between pointless and pointlessly enjoyable. Ascribing a numerical value to that itself is pointless, but that’s probably not going to stop me from assigning a numerical rating at the end of the review. The Day The Earth Stood Still is not as entertaining or scolding as its predecessor, but it certainly looks prettier.

Rating:

Let the Right One In (Lat den Ratte Komma In)

Let the Right One In

Sometimes little girls aren't made of sugar and spice
and all things nice. And sometimes they're not little girls at all.

dir: Tomas Alfredson

You would think that the vampire genre has been pretty much tapped out by now. The well went dry right about the time someone decided vampires could be an excellent Mormon stand-in for preaching abstinence and that sunlight, instead of burning them, would make them go all shiny and mirror-ball. How pretty! All Twilight needed further was ponies, and it would have been complete!

The endless permutations, allegorical renderings, highbrow and low trash versions mean that almost each and every possibility has been explored and then some.

So if you’re one of the many who’s heard of this strange little Swedish film and you’re wondering why it made so many critics end-of-year lists last year, and why it’s gotten so much acclaim, you might think it’s because it takes the vampire genre and radically twists it around and makes it all new again, kinda like that surgery they claim can turn women back into virgins. Yeah, as if.

You would be, like I was, surprised to find that Let the Right One In, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist isn’t really that different. Even in Swedish, even set in the 80s, it’s a recognisable part of the vampire canon of tales and stories. This vampire needs blood, has to avoid sunlight, has to be invited in to a house in order to enter it, and its bite alone can turn its victims vampiric if the vampire neglects to kill those it feeds on.

Rating:

Taken

dir: Pierre Morel
[img_assist|nid=154|title=I don't think French food is that good, honestly|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=263]
Taken is a glorious throwback to the 70s and 80s where revenge wasn’t a dirty word. Sure, revenge flicks are a dime a dozen, and one is released every week (to the cinemas, with about five per week going straight to DVD), and they travel very well overseas. I guess it’s because everyone can relate to revenge.

That being said, revenge is a fundamental cinematic genre in and of itself, but that doesn’t mean that most of these flicks are good. They’re not. They’re easy to fuck up.

I guess it’s the fact that they should be so easy that lulls people into a false sense of security, or a real sense of insecurity. They don’t take the time to craft them well, or to make the main protagonist worth following in their journey to blissful, blood-spattered Old Testament style vengeance.

Taken probably isn’t at all believable, plausible or remotely likely. Neither are the Bond films or the Bourne films or the Sisterhood of the Travelling Underpants films, masterpieces though they are. None of it matters, because Liam Neeson does so well in a role few men do credibly.

Rating:

W.

dir: Oliver Stone
[img_assist|nid=726|title=Mission Accomplished, cocksuckers!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]

On some level I have to suspect Oliver Stone wants to think of himself as one of the premiere chroniclers of the American nation . Kind of like a Ken Burns or Sir David Attenborough of presidents, wars and otherwise momentous times. True, he did the dirty with Alexander the Great, which is an abomination wrapped in a travesty wrapped in a fiasco, but his focus has generally been on the American soul and body politic in all its glory.

After JFK, after Nixon, he’s taken the curious step of eulogising or biographising a president still in office at the time of the film’s release, which seems odd. There hasn’t been time for history to either elevate or diminish a statesman’s legacy to any appreciable degree yet, to warrant such a going over, you could say. There hasn’t been the time for the dirt to come out, for the squealers to squeal, for the many damning versions of the truth to accrete, accumulate and overflow. You question the purpose, the intent, the objective. The point.

Oliver Stone is not a subtle man, nor a humble one. Making a film about a sitting president is as much about trumpeting the director’s view of that president to the world as it is about the president himself. You’d think the intention, thus, is critical or at least condemnatory.

Rating:

Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir)

dir: Ari Folman
[img_assist|nid=141|title=Doing the genocide dance|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=220|height=326]
Animated movies don’t usually tackle genocide, massacres and the delayed effects of traumatic memories on people as their main themes. They’re usually about the virtues of being yourself, or about believing in yourself, or about what it would be like if dogs, cats and robots were lucky enough to have the voices of celebrities.

Israeli director Ari Folman has made something quite unique here, in that it is a documentary about his lack of memory about something he was involved in, and it is an animated documentary, at that. How many animated documentaries can you think of, off the top of your heads?

None, because there aren’t any. It really is quite remarkable. The animation itself is straightforward and comparatively simplistic, in that this isn’t something you’re watching because it’s a technical marvel. But it serves the story perfectly, because it doesn’t distract from the telling of the story; it facilitates it. For a completely rendered version of what happened, it approaches a kind of truth many if not most documentaries lack.

Rating:

Slumdog Millionaire

dir: Danny Boyle & Loveleen Tandan
[img_assist|nid=727|title=Millionaires in spirit only|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=360]
The question shouldn’t be whether Slumdog Millionaire really was the best or one of the best movies of 2008, or whether it was worthy of the top honours at the Academy Awards most recently. Such a pointless question can’t be answered objectively, because everyone knows, deep down in their heart of hearts, that the Oscars are no measure of worth, artistic or otherwise.

They are a measure of Hollywood’s self-regard, on the other hand, where it likes to reward itself for being so goddamn wonderful and deeply humanist, despite being an industry based on its brutal treatment of people. Every now and then (as in, pretty much every year), films that no-one could actually like are rewarded because of how wonderfully the voters make themselves feel for being so incredibly open-minded and cosmopolitan.

The real question is how the Academy can live with itself for giving an Oscar to the same man who directed A Life Less Ordinary, which is one of the most downright fucking awful movies ever made.

Sure, Danny Boyle and his highly talented crew have made a bunch of tremendous films that I have loved to bits, but Life Less Ordinary is one of those mistakes so total and so absolute that no redemptions are possible, no forgivenesses should ever be forthcoming.

Gran Torino

dir: Clint Eastwood
[img_assist|nid=33|title=Grrrr|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=316|height=474]
What a sweet, crusty, curmudgeonly old man Clint is. And boy, is he old. He has officially reached Methuselah age, but it’s not slowing him down, not a bit. Gran Torino was one of two films Clint put out in 2008, following closely on the heels of his other massive two-film endeavour, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. So age has clearly not wearied him. He’s making more films than ever, and his films are more loved than ever. The man’s certainly not in decline.

All the same, as a director Clint happily works far harder than as an actor, since he’s earned the right to just coast along by now. And coast he does, playing the same Clint he’s been playing for forty years, just older and crustier.

And we love him for it, and are more than happy to let it slide. Even when the melodrama is as cheesy as it is here, even when the acting (admittedly by non-professional actors) is atrocious, and when the script is so appalling. We don’t care because it’s Clint.

Rating:

Changeling

dir: Clint Eastwood
[img_assist|nid=41|title=I am honoured to be working with me|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=337]
Before Gran Torino, the highest grossing and 437th film directed by Eastwood, stunk up the multiplexes and delighted American crowds with its rascally racist protagonist bellowing at Hmong immigrants to get off his lawn whilst aiming a shotgun at them, Clint unleashed this curious little true crime / period piece movie to less fanfare but more critical acclaim.

At least initially. Before it premiered at Cannes, and was still known as The Exchange, the buzz was that it was one of Clint’s best films. Of course, after actual humans and not PR cyborgs saw the film, a resounding ‘meh’ was heard to echo around the cinemas of the world. Angelina Jolie receiving a nomination for playing the main character here is very strange, unless, there’s a new Biggest Lips – Anglo Category I haven’t heard of to be honoured at the next Academy Awards, but otherwise most of the world tried to pretend the film never existed.

So it was a bit of a surprise when I found the film quite enjoyable and interesting despite Jolie’s presence, since she has the thankless role of playing a mother whose most compelling dialogue is “I want my son back” and “this boy is not my son, I want my son back.”

Rating:

Frost/Nixon

dir: Ron Howard
[img_assist|nid=53|title=I'm trying to meet you half-way, ya damned hippies|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=457|height=303]
I’m not old enough to have really cared about the horrors of life under Nixon, or about Nam, Agent Orange or the Bee Gees when they were all at their peak evilness. So I’m not old enough to have watched or known about the ‘famous’ interviews that served as the basis of the ‘famous’ play that this ‘famous’ film is based on. I am old enough, on the other hand, to know who Nixon was, and to marvel at the way the old rascal still permeates the Western pop cultural consciousness, even in death, even to this day.

In fact you could argue that he’s even more prominent now than prior to his death. You have to wonder why. No president of the last hundred years has been as endlessly quoted, maligned, parodied, written about or portrayed in films and tv shows as Richard Milhous Nixon. Well, Kennedy, maybe, but he’s the other side of the coin.

And next to no-one should know who David Frost is/was. If this film is to be believed, ably directed by the guy who played Richie Cunningham on Happy Days, then their interview together wasn’t solely the single most important interview in the history of interviews, it was the only trial and conviction Nixon was ever going to receive for his crimes against the world in general and the American people specifically.

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