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2009

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Love, exciting and new. Come aboard, they're expecting you

dir: Glenn Ficara and John Requa

Gee, I wonder why this flick, which has somehow only now reached Australian cinemas (Cinema Nova in Melbourne), nearly three years after its production, never really got a decent release at the cinemas in the States.

Could it be because of the subject matter: a con artist in love who perpetrates stacks of scams in order to keep himself and the object of his affections in the comfort they have become accustomed to? Is it because it’s based on a true story? Hollywood hates that. Is it because of where much of the flick is set, being prison? Is it because Jim Carrey is the lead actor, and no-one’s heard of this young up-and-comer, or Ewan McGregor in a supporting role, and studios are reluctant to release flicks with such unknowns in the lead?

Or is it because it’s the gayest flick this side of one of those Sex In the City movies?

Brokeback Mountain didn’t really break down that many barriers or walls of prejudice in terms of changing the dynamic that dictates what flicks get out there into the intellectual marketplace or the cinematic marketplace. Sure, a casual stroll through one of those dinosaur DVD stores might grace you with the vision of a section devoted to movies considered to be representatives of the Gay and Lesbian genre (a ghetto that resides next to the world movies and ‘special’ interest documentaries and such.

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Agora

Agora

I was brilliant once, and they destroyed me for it

dir: Alejandro Amenabar

2009

It’s about time there was a biopic about the life, loves and times of Hypatia. You know, the famous 4th century mathematician and philosopher? One of the most renowned and virtually unknown women of antiquity?

Okay, unless you were a desperate and insecure teenage boy who struck upon the brilliant strategy of reading up on feminist icons believing that it would somehow result in some girl with low standards throwing you a pity grope every now and then, you might not have heard of her. But I had, and so when I heard that the director of Open Your Eyes, The Others and the superb The Sea Inside was making a biopic about this Hottie from History, I thought, “meh…”

Still, it’s turned up in our cinemas this week, and in a choice between watching something enjoyable, and watching something edifying, I chose Agora over, let’s say Monsters, or The Town.

More fool me.

Agora is the rare case of a biopic that works despite being about a person who’s not that interesting, and with not one but two ‘wrong’ performances from two of the main characters, but which still gets enough of the feel right and the depiction of the setting looks impressive enough to make you feel like it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

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I Am Love (Io Sono L'Amore)

I Am Love

Of course you are, there's no doubting that

dir: Luca Guadagnino

You wouldn’t think a title like I Am Love would pack them into the multiplexes. I guess in Italian, if you’re not an Italian speaker, Io Sono L’Amore sounds that much more exotic and alluring. Despite these obvious obstacles, these wonderful people still thought they’d get together and create an exquisite flick about how passion makes idiots of otherwise rational people, as if the books Madam Bovary and Anna Karenina were never written, and no-one ever read them.

Honestly, I can’t recall the last time it was implied in a flick that women could have sex with someone outside of their marriage and that it didn’t result in death, murder, suicide or the end of the fucking world. Is it really that catastrophic? Male characters cheat constantly, and the world seems to keep turning, and yet whenever a female character, and a mother, no less, finds passion or solace in the arms of another, someone always ends up dead.

Of course it would be unfair of me to assert that this flick is going for anything close to a moralistic or judgemental tone in the slightest. It’s anything but what it sounds like I’ve described, because it’s an amazing construction. I rarely see flicks, and I’ve seen a bundle, so exquisitely and meticulously put together. It’s so intricately put together, from a cinematography, set design, sound, score and editing point of view, that there’s almost little room for the acting performances.

Almost, but not quite. This flick is an engine, or a machine at least. Not a single shot is taken simply when it can be done in a far more fussy and seemingly meaningful way. Even as I marveled at it from a distance, and realised I was more impressed with the construction that the content, I had to remind myself that it’s still about people. Rich people. Rich People With Problems.

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Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart

Alcohol makes you interesting, and smoking makes you cool

dir: Scott Cooper

I didn’t like this film. I don’t like Green Eggs and Ham, either, but the fact still remains that I really didn’t think Crazy Heart was a good flick at all. At all.

Even as I acknowledge that Jeff Bridges is a wonderful, wonderful man, and I’m happy to see him get an Academy Award for his services to the acting profession, it’s painfully obvious to me that he got it not for this performance, but because of his body of work.

You know, star turns in stuff like Star Man, Blown Away and How to Lose Friends and Alienate people.

Yes, he’s done great stuff in the past, but it’s hard seeing the character he plays here as being the pinnacle of his performances.

Bad Blake (Bridges) is a country singer / songwriter, who’s never hit the big time. He ekes out an existence playing shitty venues (most ironically, at film’s beginning, a bowling alley, considering The Big Lebowski) for booze money. We are given to understand that Bad could have been somebody, a contender even, if his alcoholism, boozing, drinking and pride hadn’t gotten in the way.

Because his songs, you know, are just awesome!

His version of a hardcore, 56-year-old drunk is someone who gets wicked hangovers and who throws up occasionally. None of the grim actual reality of people losing fights with lampposts, shitting and pissing themselves or ruined bodies and faces for this Oscar winner.

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A Single Man

A Single Man

Be a dear and help me with my tax return

dir: Tom Ford

You may not know who Christopher Isherwood was, or care, or know who Tom Ford is, or care. If you’re a woman, then odds are you know who Colin Firth is, and, depending on your age, you’ve thought he was dreamy ever since he played Darcy in thirteen or fourteen different variations on the role from Pride and Prejudice.

After watching this flick I’d wonder if you care any more about anything anywhere, since it plays out like the longest, tamest, gayest cologne commercial you’ve ever seen. Every scene is set designed and framed to within an inch of its life, and the performances, especially by Colin Firth, and Matthew Goode, as the central couple, are note-perfect.

But I’m sorry to say I walked away from this with barely anything having registered.

The love that dare not speak its name, but these days proclaims itself from the rooftops would seem to be the central premise, since the flick is set in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but really, it’s just about love. It’s about loving someone, and losing them after 16 blissful years together, and not being sure how to or whether to carry on.

The love that not only heals and elevates us, but that also hollows us out with its loss.

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Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising

Stop flirting with me, you handsome devil, you

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

2009

The dastardly Danish director of the Pusher trilogy and Bronson hits back at your tame and bourgeois sensibilities with the longest heavy metal film clip to a non-existent song that you’re never going to sit through. Ever.

Good goddamn is this a pointless, but nicely shot and atmospheric, film. And like a pointless and nicely shot film clip, when it only goes for three or four minutes, and has decent music, it can capture and maintain your interest. When it goes for 90 minutes, its impossible to feel like it wasn’t a colossal waste of your time.

One Eye (Mad Mikkelsen) is a one-eyed chap who kills anyone who gets close enough to him. Some bearded, dirty Viking types keep him captive, and occasionally let him out of a cage in order to have him fight and kill other guys in pointless contests out of which he always emerges bloody and victorious.

He eventually escapes by killing everyone except a boy who wasn’t too horrible to him. He hooks up with some Christians who want to go to the Holy Land.

They end up in the Americas. Almost everyone dies. The film ends.

That’s it, that’s everything. It takes 90 excruciating minutes to tell a tale that probably could have been told in a text message. One Eye doesn’t speak once, and in every scene in which he’s not killing people, he stands there mute.

Occasionally, as in a bad film clip, the screen goes all red, and One Eye gets some presentiment of the future, of something that’s going to happen. It’s usually accompanied by a screeching sound so off-putting that it’s meant to compound the fact that the flick is deliberately trying to be annoying. It works, too well.

Everything, every fucking thing transpires in a gloomy, doomy, portentous manner, so laden with apparent importance, and so heavy that the fact that practically nothing happens is not meant to discourage us on our path to enlightenment. Does it fuck…

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Whip It

Whip It

You go, grrrrrrll

dir: Drew Barrymore

2009

I never really thought I’d be writing a review of a film that has Drew Barrymore listed up top as the director. It’s not because she often acts, depending on the circumstance, so bubbly that you’d think she’d never be able to get it together long enough to call action, sitting not in a director’s chair, but in a bubble bath.

No, it’s because there’s a disconnect between her public persona (super girly and bubbly), her film personae (super girly and bubbly), and what she’s apparently like behind the scenes in the turbulent world of film production (a don’t-fuck-with-me-or-I’ll-destroy-you player).

More power to you, sister. She’s got money and sway, so surely nothing can stop Drew if that’s what she wants to do?

I guess making a flick about women’s roller derby manages to satisfy two of her main criteria for what she wants to project to the world about herself: being girly and tough at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact I find it very endearing, the way people find virtually everything this woman does endearing, and have done so ever since she was an adorable little moppet who started abusing cocaine at age 12.

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2012

Two Thousand Twelve

It was great when all life on Earth ended all those years ago

dir: Roland Emmerich

2009

Oh my good gods, I think I’d rather have the world destroyed than ever watch another movie directed by Roland Emmerich.

Honestly, this has to be coming from a completely and utterly egomaniacal place, doesn’t it Roland? A director so focussed on destroying the world has to be taking himself very fucking seriously. What greater feeling of god-like power could he derive from that ruining the world twice in flicks so long, so implausible and so boring that they could themselves lead to the mass extinctions he creates stupid stories about?

Look, I’m not saying that the FBI and local police should be investigating this guy to see if he’s a serial killer or not, but someone with this kind of taste for death doesn’t restrict himself to the editing room. That desire for power over life and death over other people often results in a lot of dead hookers and hitchhikers. That’s all I’m saying.

That’s all I’m saying about that libellous topic, not about this monstrosity of a film.

I tried, lords almighty, I tried. I tried to approach this flick in the spirit of fun, of open-mindedness, of curiousity.

The fact is there is absolutely nothing redeemable about this bloated, boring monstrosity of a flick. There are possibly a few minutes where I maintained some mild non-absolute-apathy, but their ratio to the two and a half fucking dull hours is so negligible that it barely warrants calculating.

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Bodyguards and Assassins (Shi yue wei cheng)

Shi yue wei cheng

The Party is Good the Party is Great, I surrender my will
as of this date

dir: Teddy Chen

Sometimes, movies, and indeed film reviews, ask a lot of you. They demand that you know a little bit about something in order for you to either give a fuck about what you’re watching / reading, or that you have some idea of what’s going on in order for it to make some sense.

What I’m talking about, in this instance, is not a knowledge of relevant history, contemporary or ancient. Nor is it a demand for understanding of the incredible history of one of the longest continuous civilisations on the planet, being the Chinese.

No, what is demanded in this context is a deep/superficial knowledge of just how much the Chinese, and Hong Kong, film industries, desperately need to pacify and placate their Communist / Totalitarian / Capitalist masters by popping out propagandistic swill occasionally.

You yourself might have heard about the real life person called Dr Sun Yat-Sen, who sought to unify China and cast off the shackles of their Manchu masters, but it’s even more relevant to know why a flick such as this depends on knowing that: Sun Yat-Sen was one of those initially ‘unpersonned’ persons, to use the Orwellian phrase, that the Communists initially reviled as a tool of foreign backsliding imperialism, but then reclaimed. It’s even more illuminating to realise that the fucker has fuck all to do with this flick, except for some crucial lines delivered by an eerily waxwork replica of the man.

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Accident (Yi ngoi)

Yi ngoi

Look both ways but kiss your arse goodbye anyway

dir: Pou Soi Cheang

2009

There’s this thing about Hong Kong films: most of them aren’t good, and most of them are the same. The rare good ones, to people who don’t watch a lot of Hong Kong flicks, could be indistinguishable from the bad ones.

Actually, that’s probably not entirely true. The really bad ones usually have lots of annoying screaming, people eating snot and Stephen Chow pretending to laugh until food falls out of his mouth.

But good goddamn do they get it right when they get it right. The last of the contemporary HK directors that I considered worthy of following each and every project that came down the chute was Johnnie To, with his atmospheric and contemplative crime dramas. Now I have to look out for this chap, Soi Cheang, as well, because I haven’t seen something this good in a long while.

The problem is that it won’t be easy to translate the ineffable ways in which this very slight, very moody, and virtually silent flick gets everything so right into a worthwhile film review. Of course, it’s never stopped me before, so it’s not going to stop me now, is it?

There’s this crew of people, four of them, and their job is to carry out contracts on selected targets. Yes, they’re assassins, but their job is not only to kill people, but to make it all look entirely like an accident, happenstance, a random and unfortunate occurrence.

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