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2008

In Bruges

dir: Martin McDonough
[img_assist|nid=83|title=Seeing the sights in sunny Bruges|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=228]
It’s not often that I am completely ignorant of a film’s content or worth prior to checking it out, but I can honestly say that I knew nothing about In Bruges, Bruges or director Martin McDonough before watching this flick.

Sure, I’d heard that it was an okay film, but I had no practical knowledge of what would transpire when I watched it. And that’s a good thing.

Two criminals, Ray (Colin Farell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are forced by their boss Harry (Ralph Feinnes) to take a little trip to a medieval town in Belgium called Bruges. We don’t know why for the film’s first half hour at least.

Ken finds the town beautiful, and is excited about doing some sightseeing. Ray is jittery, and acts like a reluctant five-year-old boy being dragged to cultural sights and delights that he couldn’t possibly give a toss about. Ken and Ray seem to have that snippy, comfortable relationship of people who’ve known each other long enough to know how far to go before pulling back, what, with the constant insults and sharing of drugs.

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Speed Racer

dir: Wachowskis
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I guess we can’t call them the Wachowski Brothers anymore, since technically they’re not both brothers anymore. Allow me to illuminate your confusion with an explanation, one of the few times where one of my more obscure references can actually be explained in a sane way that might make sense to another human being.

When they made Bound and the Matrix trilogy, two chaps sharing the name Wachowski were responsible as the directors. Now, as in as of a year or two ago, one of them is still a Brother Wachowski, and the other, thanks to the type of surgery that in Australia is still colloquially referred to as the “cruellest cut of all”, one of them has undergone gender reassignment surgery to become a Sister Wachowski.

Strange, I know, but don’t for a moment feel that I’m impugning the lifestyle choices of people who I believe have every right to do whatever the hell they want as long as they’re not hurting other people. He / She can do whatever the heck they want with their pink bits, surgery-wise or otherwise as long as it doesn’t involve my pink bits.

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Sparrow (Man jeuk)

dir: Johnnie To
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Hong Kong director Johnnie To has made so many films that saying something like “and so I’m going to review the latest film by Johnnie To” is a pointless endeavour, because by the time you’ve finished writing the review, he’s put out another film.

At the very least I can say this is a recent film of his, and that I managed to catch it as part of a retrospective in honour of the great man that played recently at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Apparently he even came out to Australia for it, which is pretty sensational. He was probably pissed off that he couldn’t smoke in the theatre, if I can hazard a guess based on anecdote and on most of his films, in which every single goddamn character has to smoke constantly.

Of course even a fairly knowledgeable film watcher / movie goer would be saying to themselves, “yeah, and who the fuck is Johnnie To anyway, and why should I care?” And right you are.

It doesn’t matter. He is a good Hong Kong director who has made a string of decent movies. Sparrow is his latest, is a very good film, and I would even call it a significant departure for the director if his career wasn’t already littered with examples of genre-ignoring endeavours on his part.

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Happening, The

dir: M. Night Shyamalan
[img_assist|nid=11|title=Are we scared? Yes we are!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=188]
The Happening, the happening… What happened again?

What happened was, M. Night Shyamalan made another film that was universally panned, and was actively laughed at by audiences, despite not being a comedy. I think it’s fairly obvious that Shyamalan is never going to be able to make another successful film. He should go back to working the drive through at some burger place.

Honestly, at least then people will buy what he’s selling. At the moment, no one gives him the benefit of the doubt when his unfortunate films debut in the cinemas. They’re pre-loaded for failure. People, whether critics or not, expect them to be bad with almost more certainty than the films of Uwe Boll or movies whose titles end in Movie.

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Doomsday

dir: Neil Marshall
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Doom, doom, doom…. Oh yes, someone is doomed. It’s you, dear watcher. It’s you if you sit through this.

Watching this movie gave me some hideous sexually transmitted disease. Not syphilis, but something not altogether nice all the same. Time for the blue lotion again, except this time I have to make sure I keep it away from open flames.

Doomsday as a title for this flick doesn’t even really make sense, but I guess they had to shorten it from its original title: Escape from 28 Days of Resident Mad Mars Aliens Later. Because this flick is little more than an attempt to do what the two prime dickheads in the recent Michel Gondry flick Be Kind Rewind do, which is to make cheesy versions of classic action flicks.

And poorly, I might add. It is so brazen in what it does, though, and I am qualifying this as much as inhumanly possible, that there are almost moments where I forgave it for how shitty and derivative it was.

It’s almost like walking through a crowd, sensing the hand of a pickpocket and grabbing it, and then feeling almost forgiving as you glimpse the little urchin’s cheeky smile beaming up at you. Before, of course, you bring the hammer down and crack his wrist.

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WALL-E

dir: Andrew Stanton
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For some people, WALL-E represents a welcome return to form for Pixar, putting the now Disney owned company back at the top of the computer animated movie pile. For others, it’s just a continuation of their general excellentness, with WALL-E only representing the latest in an unbroken stream of quality products pumped out by the Dream Factory.

And for others, it’s just a movie. A very well animated one, but a movie all the same. I have to admit to being something of a Pixar devotee, so the arrival of their flicks tends to pique my interest greatly. WALL-E's good reviews raised expectations even higher.

But they weren’t too high. I didn’t really expect this flick to be a revelation, because long ago, around the time of Cars, I realised that Pixar’s movies would remain distinctive, and look cutting edge whenever they were released, but that being utterly blown away would be unlikely. Computer animated movies are a dime a dozen these days, the stunning visuals have become commonplace, and the quirky stories about being free to be yourself or stopping to smell the roses are becoming pretty clockwork regular as well.

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Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

dirs: Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
[img_assist|nid=98|title=Harold and Kumar in Search of Humour|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=354]
Wow, even with two directors this flick is still pretty dumb and unfunny. Maybe it needed some more directors. Maybe five directors would have been the magic number.

It couldn’t have hurt. Such a sequel sounds, from its title, like it’s going to be a ribald, politically pointed satire on the contemporary American milieu and its terror at the prospect of terrorism. What this sequel actually does is limply deliver another film where two alleged stoner friends get into scrapes and shenanigans of a generally crude or sexual variety for 90 or so dull, punishing minutes.

Crude’s fine. I can handle crude. Dumb fun I can handle to, in the right mood. The thing is, even dumb and crude humour needs a bit of wit. Without wit, it’s all just shit.

There is precious little wit and plenty of shit on offer here. It doesn’t make it a supremely painful experience to sit through, kind of like a proctological exam, but it doesn’t make for much fun either.

Rating:

Wanted

dir: Timur Bekmambetov
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Trash. Not mindless trash, but trash all the same. And it’s trash you’ve already seen, as long as you’ve seen The Matrix. Even with a completely different setting and premise, it is so reminiscent of The Matrix that you keep expecting Agents to turn up and Kanooie to appear mouthing “Whoa!” in that supremely affectless way of his.

It’s not just the fact that the supposed hero of the piece, Wesley (James McAvoy), starts off as a depressed office drone who finds out that he’s actually a gifted superhero type, and thus goes from zero to hero in record time. The entire special effects package seems to be solely aimed at insulting the laws of gravity and making entities such as Sir Isaac Newton spin in their graves in a fashion wholly contrary to the physical universe as we know it.

Taking a gratuitous leaf out of The Matrix’s script, the intro begins the film’s descent into cinematic cliché and carnage by having a normal seeming guy do some completely impossible shit involving killing a bunch of guys at a great distance and jumping from one skyscraper to a distant other. Before he is almost mystically killed with a bullet that curves through space and possibly time.

Rating:

21

dir: Robert Luketic
[img_assist|nid=50|title=I'm ever so bland|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
Love films about gambling. Can’t get enough of Vegas films about high stakes gambling. Having an addictive personality myself, and having the tenuous self-control to be able to completely stay away from any forms of gambling simply because I know how all consuming they would be for me, I get to live vicariously through these kinds of flicks.

But 21 isn’t like Rounders, Lucky Me, The Hustler, Let it Ride, Owning Mahoney or the recent biopic High Roller about Stu “The Kid” Unger. It’s not about a person or people good at gambling risking everything to win a hefty pot o’ gold at the end of a compulsive / obsessive rainbow. 21, based on a book about these MIT math nerds who made good, is about some students who figured out a way to beat the house at its own game with both counting cards and a system to exploit it.

The risk, or the danger, here, is not losing everything through the vagaries of chance or being outplayed or through losing the battle with one’s own demons. It’s being crushed by the people Vegas casinos hire to ensure card counters, who aren’t doing anything illegal, don’t beat the house at its own game.

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Tropic Thunder

dir: Ben Stiller
[img_assist|nid=14|title=Catch the Tropical Fever|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=286]
If you’d told me that Ben Stiller, yes, that annoying nervy guy with the big ears, was capable of ever making another funny film, I would have metaphorically spat in your face. Maybe not metaphorically, maybe literally! I contend that flicks like Zoolander and many of the other misfires Stiller has been in, just aren’t that funny. I know people who lose control of their bladders at the mere mention of Zoolander, but I’m certainly not one of them.

And I say that as someone who likes Ben Stiller and thinks he’s a funny guy. Funny in the sense that he’s odd, not that he consistently makes me chuckle with his antics or his silly characters in the painfully neurotic films he stars in.

So colour me surprised that I got many a laugh out of Tropic Thunder. Many, many laughs, far more than is usual for me in public. Some parts had me in tears, literal tears of disbelieving, paralysing laughter.

As a fan of war movies, I’ve pretty much seen them all, especially the ones from Nam onwards. Also, I’ve probably seen Saving Private Ryan more times than most mental health professionals would consider healthy. A film that righteously takes the piss out of these films is, perversely, right up my alley. They’re so ripe for parody that they’re practically begging for it.

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