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.
Now, I’m not talking about those kinds of grotty places where people furtively seek out stroke material whilst glancing nervously about (do they even exist any more, what with cornucopia of plenty that is the magic of the tubes of the internets?). I mean the mainstream movie Blu-ray / DVD places where you can pick up your latest box set of Midsommer Murders, or, if you have no soul, season 4 of Two and a Half Men.
Films like Brokeback, Philadelphia, or ones where the gay character is in a supporting role, and is just there to be bitchy, fabulous and sexless, don’t really represent a new awakening or ‘acceptance’ as far as I’m concerned. They represent, at best, a kind of minstrel show of broad stereotyping and disco music to keep them as the Other whilst crafting comfortable narratives that won’t offend the old biddies AND which make them feel so, so tolerant for not throwing up in outrage.
How noble. The reason no-one wanted to touch this flick with a ten-foot bargepole is because, even though Jim Carrey is a painful ham to behold whether he’s playing a hetero lunatic or a gay lunatic, it’s pretty explicit in its approach to the fact that the main characters are gay. I mean, they’re not actually gay, are they, but they’re constantly simulating man-on-man action.
dir: Alejandro Amenabar
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.
Sure, Rachel Weisz’s performance as Hypatia is not good, in fact it was downright painful, but she doesn’t even feel like the main character of her own story.
The real story being told is the early years of the Christian Church. After centuries of persecution, Christians in this part of the world were of sufficient number and inclination to start threatening the status quo. The story is set in Alexandria, Egypt, when it was one of the last bastions of the post-Hellenic world. They still had the Lighthouse and the Library and all! Sure, the Romans are still in charge, but Alexandria is depicted as being a mishmash of Greek and Egyptian enlightenment, with the dirty Christian hordes howling at the gates.
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 Sonno 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 marvelled 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.
dir: Vincenzo Natali
Ah, Canadians. They make different films from the rest of the world, don’t they? Even though almost every single Hollywood flick that gets made seems to get made in Canada, there is a world of difference in style and sensibility between the two rival North American empires.
Vincenzo Natali came to prominence when he made a flick called Cube oh so long ago now. Whatever its merits, a lot of people talked about the flick for long enough that it established a career for what I’m sure is a sweet, sweet man (for all I know he stabs puppies in his spare time).
He has a reputation for make relatively low-budget high concept science fiction flicks that are ultimately, in my humble opinion, thoroughly ridiculous. The ridiculousness doesn’t completely detract from the interesting elements of his flicks, because he knows how to put them together in a competent fashion. Yet something always happens to make you doubt your commitment to his singular lunacy at some stage of his flicks. Like night following day, like hangover following binge, his flicks always, always go wrong at some point. It’s a lovely kind of wrongness, however.
Cube seemed to be going okay until a last minute decision was made to have a character go bugfuckingly insane for no reason and start killing people for no reason. Cypher seemed to be going okay until Lucy Liu’s character started talking. Nothing, well, his film called Nothing was nuts from the start, but at least it was enjoyable for what it was: a completely nuts story about two loser guys who accidentally destroy the entire universe. Don’t think that I didn’t notice one of the main characters here wearing a Nothing t-shirt for most of the film, Vincenzo, you self-promoting shill.
The moment where Splice goes wrong is arguable. What isn’t arguable is that it does go wrong, and irredeemably so, but there’s going wrong and then there’s going wrong in such a spectacular fashion that it becomes more memorable than if you’d done it right. It’s like the difference between crashing your car into a wall at 15 kilometres an hour, versus drunk driving an aircraft carrier carrying a thousand sports stars and celebrities on fire into a thousand orphanages.
There’s jumping the shark, there’s screwing the pooch, and, thanks to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Please Gods Make It Stop Crystal Skull, there’s nuking the fridge. I hesitate to try to attain a future consensus that the phrase “fucked the mutant” should be added to that illustrious line-up of immortal phrases for fucking up royally, but I do humbly submit it for your consideration.
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.
No, this is the audience-friendly version. As such, it shames me to say this, considering how much I love the man, the performance is coasting of the highest order. Anyone, any man at least or sufficiently butch woman, could have played this clichéd role, in a film so cliché I could predict (much to my partner’s irritation) everything that was going to happen, how and when.
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.
George (Firth) is a meticulous, and incredibly fussy, college professor who lives in the fussiest goddamn house in California, in the early sixties. His life partner has recently died, and George no longer seems to be able to care enough about maintaining the façade that life is worth living. We watch as he fussily goes about preparing all the kinds of things overly considerate and compulsive obsessive individuals would (we presume) when they plan to end their own lives.
Suicide is a very horrifying and serious topic to me, having lost a few people to its siren call, so it’s something I take seriously even when watching films and such. There’s a wrenching quality to it for me, usually, but the way this film treats it is probably right, with a very light touch. It even goes so far as to try to extract laughs out of the premise, perhaps ill-advisedly.
Even though we spend the day with George as he takes care of his preparations, we get to see reasons why he feels he has to (the flashbacks to his domestic bliss), we see why he feels compelled to (much of the world as he sees it, or when we view him, is drained of its colour, as if his depression is bleeding his world of life), and why he shouldn’t (practically everyone he knows or meets adores him). And when he starts meeting particularly hot boys the world itself seems to bloom.
dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
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.
dir: Drew Barrymore
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.
Whip It is a coming-of-age story, shoe-horned into the safe dimensions of the sports drama, complete with unsupportive parents whose approval has to be earned by the final reel, a vicious rival (Juliette Lewis, who looks like she’s been hanging out with Courtney Love a bit too much), and montage after montage of training. Even better, from the sports movie perspective, it features a sport virtually incomprehensible in its arcane, though probably basic, rules. I have less of an understanding, after having watched this flick, of how the sport works than I do about the rules of Quidditch, that curiously made up and nonsensical game from the Harry Potter world of junior wizards.
Unlike quidditch, however, this is about real girls skating hard and beating the crap out of each other. An average teenager called Bliss (Ellen Page) finds solace and meaning in the company of some very rough and very gorgeous roller girls competing in the most made up of made up sports. Despite being tiny, and looking like my three-year-old daughter could knock her over, Bliss feels an affinity for the sport, where her speed is apparently an advantage against women three times her weight and double her height and age.
dir: Roland Emmerich
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.
Of course that’s not going to stop me from ranting for around two thousand words as to why exactly our species deserves to die because of films like this.
dir: Pou Soi Cheang
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 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.
Everyone knows their job, and more so they know how to look at a particular environment meticulously in order to figure out a sometimes incredibly complicated way to take someone out with what’s available to them, or the innocuous stuff they can inject into the environment to have the cumulative affect of snuffing out some poor triad boss’s lights.
They are led by Kwok-Fai, or Brain, as his team call him (Louis Koo), who is a very uptight but effective leader. He clinically observes every location until he can feel comfortable that he’s taken every variable into account. And then, after exhaustive reconnaissance and theorising, and only then, do they put their complicated plan into action.
Being meticulous, and with their objective being not only the ending of the target’s life, but the overarching requirement to make the deaths look like accidents, it’s not anywhere near as easy as just finding the right place to pull a trigger. These deaths are intricate works of art.
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.
Also, this quite average flick swept the awards this year at the Hong Kong Film Awards, which are, I guess, the equivalent not of their Oscars, but of both the Logies / Golden Globes and a critical reward for directors, actors and producers who, at all times, never piss off the ancient old monsters of the Party back on the Mainland.
Bodyguards and Assassins bears nearly no relation to anything that ever happened. Not only that, it’s a ludicrously overblown, and, it has to be said, quite stupid work-up of what might have happened over the course of three days in Hong Kong back in 1906. It bears little relation to anything remotely close to truthiness.
dirs: Alan Mak and Felix Chong
For most of this flick’s running length, I thought I was watching a pretty good movie. It had a certain momentum, and tension, and even if the characters were somewhat unbelievable, I didn’t mind that too much because I found their actions, and the repercussions arising from those actions, to be both believable and interesting.
Of course, then they had to fuck the ending up.
Oh, man, do they fuck the ending up. It’s an ending so bad it undoes almost all the good work of the preceding 90 minutes. It’s so trite, preposterous and contrived that it made me feel actively angry.
But I shouldn’t let that completely obscure the goodwill I’d previously been experiencing while watching the flick. Sure, shitty endings can leave a poisonous aftertaste, but they don’t always justify ripping the absolute guts out of a flick.
Overheard is a taut, mostly fascinating crime story about a group of surveillance expert cops who are trying to figure out what white collar crimes are being committed at, by or to a Hang Seng stock exchange-listed company.
Most of the time, the vast majority of the time, it’s a crime movie about white collar crime. White collar crime generally sounds like a fucking boring time at the movies, but done properly, it’s as interesting as any other kind of espionage / heist flick.
Though that’s not really applicable in this instance. The real problems, excluding the way the flick ends, arise within the team of cops tasked with the surveillance night shift.
Surveillance cops Johnny (Ching Wan Lau), Gene (Louis Koo) and Max (Daniel Wu) work very well together, so well that they consider each other blood brothers. Right there, what we already know, if you’ve watched enough Chinese / Hong Kong flicks, is that when these kinds of guys say things like “I’ll die before I betray my brothers” their word is almost always going to be put to the test.
So even a seemingly innocuous and non-violent plot regarding insider trading and industrial espionage is going to necessarily devolve into bloody carnage. This is Hong Kong, after all.
dirs: Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson
I’d heard a lot of bad things about this flick, not just from the average tubes of the internets level of discourse being “it’s the shittest thing ever shat out of a studio or an orifice”, but also from trusted friends, allies and confidantes, who all said, with their superior level of expression and articulation “it’s fucking shithouse, don’t see it.”
With that in mind I had one of those experiences where lowered expectations took the sting out of something I otherwise might not have liked as much, and I even ended up enjoying it. And I even laughed, which is virtually unheard of with comedies, that most serious of genres.
Ricky Gervais is who he is, and he’s very good at being Ricky Gervais. He’s also managed to very successfully parlay this version of Ricky Gervais to the world (well, to America, at least). He’s done so well at it that they (they being Hollywood) have been dazzled enough by his British wit and blinding smile into letting him direct his own films. Where he gets to play Ricky Gervais all over again.
Sure, he’s better at it than anyone else, but then that’s like being the best compulsive masturbator in a porno theatre: a dubious honour at the best or worst of times, and even then the other wankers around you aren’t looking to crown their natural king. They’re too busy, as it is.
Don’t misconstrue my words for condemnation of Gervais: I find him quite hilarious in all his thinly veiled incarnations, whether it’s as David Brent on The Office or Andy in Extras, or the chap he plays here, being Mark Bellison, all of whom are indistinguishable from each other. I even really enjoy his stand-up work, because he’s a funny guy and a solid performer despite his flop-sweaty nervous shtick, or perhaps because of it.
dir: Werner Herzog
Herzog has long been acclaimed as one of the nuttiest directors of all time, so it makes a kind of deranged sense that he would be the one that picked up the mantle no-one else wanted. The Abel Ferrara directed Bad Lieutenant, at least the one starring Harvey Keitel and his penis, is one of my all time favourite films, of that have no doubt. When I watch it even today I marvel at just how demented and heart-rending it all is. How harrowing and still funny.
This is in no way a remake, but I guess there is some kind of thematic connection. That’s being too kind – there’s no goddamn connection. The only connection is that the main cop character is at the rank of lieutenant, and he uses a lot of drugs and probably commits / ignores as many crimes as he solves or pursues.
Keitel’s character was trapped in a hideous (and sometimes darkly comic) downward spiral because of, considering the heavy dose of Catholicism permeating the flick, either his abandonment of God, or his abandonment by God. The bleeding saviour himself appears in front of Keitel, who lets loose with the most disturbing keening / primal howling you’ll ever hear or laugh at in that or any other film.
Here, I think the sometimes great, more often terrible actor Nicolas Cage, is doing whatever nutbag nuttiness pops into his or Herzog’s head, and most of the time it doesn’t make any sense, but then this isn’t supposed to make complete sense. There are long sequences where the camera focuses on alligators and iguanas that make no sense in this or any other movie, including documentaries on how the lizards of New Orleans were worst affected by Hurricane Katrina. It’s just fucking nutty.
Katrina plays its obligatory part in such a story by being the cause of Terrence McDonagh’s (Cage) promotion to the rank of lieutenant after he saves a prisoner from the rising waters, but also the source of his drug problems. He screwed his back up in some way during the rescue which means his original addiction was to prescription painkillers. Now he does coke, crack cocaine and heroin by the handful as well, and barely anyone notices.
dir: Rachel Ward
It’s a good thing Rachel Ward directed this film. Not only because she brings a deft and empathetic eye to a ‘difficult’ story, and renders it both meaningful and Australian despite its American origins. It’s also because if a guy had directed this, you’d accuse them of being a dirty, dirty old man, instead of being a sensitive and accomplished filmmaker.
She also, in a clear instance of welfare handouts, gives a plum role to her husband Bryan Brown, who plays a dying patriarch. Do you reckon he had to earn his spot in the film on the casting couch, by sucking and fucking his way to fame and stardom? I wouldn’t put it past her.
This is a good film, but the subject matter is rough, more than a bit rough. It’s downright discomfiting. Any story with elements of incest in it by default is going to be hard watching. And the elephant in this room is so large and so grey that it practically squishes every single other element. Almost.
There’s death, there’s very wrong sex, there’s suicide, and there’s the rage you can only feel towards parents, all here up on the screen for our delectation. Enjoy!
Based on a novel by Newton Thornburg, Beautiful Kate’s setting is transformed from being set just outside of Chicago, Illinois, to the exactly identical setting of the South Australian Flinders Ranges. Ned (Ben Mendelsohn) is a writer summoned back to the family property (called Wallimbi or Gumby or Mallulabimbi) where his saintly father Bruce (Bryan Brown) is loudly dying. Wait a second, maybe Bruce isn’t that much of a saint. In fact, like all of the male characters in this, maybe he’s a bit of a prick.
dir: James McTeigue
Wow. I haven’t seen a flick with as many meaty chunks flying around since the last time I took a trip to a slaughterhouse, or perhaps Easter Sunday lunch at my parent’s place. There’s substantially less mooing going on here, but all the same, the majority of the people who appear onscreen are here only to end up as chunks of meat on the floor for our entertainment.
That is what we are, after all. Maybe there’s something depressing about seeing visual (and entirely computer generated) representations of the essential meatiness of our bodies. Rendered down into our component parts, everything we were and ever will be, annihilated like that, well, it’s pretty confronting.
At least for a while. This decidedly substandard action movie opens with a bunch of yakuza thugs exploding into discrete piles o’chunks, at the hands, blades and shurikens of unseen, shadowy assassins. In other words, there must be murderous ninjas afoot!
The heyday of the ninja flick was definitely the 80s. At no other time has there been as much of a market for the endless permutations of the magically murderous character, which is why we had, for an all too brief, halcyon period, a stream of ninja related action flicks. For reasons I haven’t expended and won’t expend brain power on, the ninja sub-genre appealed to American audiences, leading to this procession of flicks starring obviously non-Japanese people as experts in ninjitsu, and the art of assassination and deception. Not for nothing did men like Franco Nero and Michael Dudikoff become household names.
What do you mean, they didn’t? Surely almost everyone in Christendom and Buddhisdom, for that matter, watched everything from Enter the Ninja to Silent Assassin to American Ninja 5: The Re-ninja-ing? They didn’t? Well, what were they busy doing, building treehouses, setting off bottle rockets or building crystal meth labs instead?
The Brothers Coen have made lots of films, many of them superb. They’ve been at it for a while. They’re critical darlings to this day, and everything they make is taken seriously, no matter how ludicrous it might be. And with No Country for Old Men, they received the highest possible honours Hollywood can bestow upon itself, guaranteeing them first dibs on any projects they could ever want, as long as they don’t cost too much.
Despite long careers working together, A Serious Man, of all their flicks, is the most overtly Jewish thus far (in terms of content and themes). I know that sounds odd, or vaguely anti-Semitic, but it’s not intended as such. They’re not working from an adapted screenplay, so it’s a story they themselves have written, which contains a lot of detail (I think) from their early lives. It also explicitly uses elements of the Jewish faith and the Jewish experience in America in the story it has to tell, which seems to be based on the Book of Job, amongst other things. And you can’t really get more Jewish than the Torah, can you?
And what a kick-ass blockbuster story it is! Our main character Larry (Michael Stuhlbarg), is a mathematics associate professor desperate for that most academic of Holy Grails: tenure. Right from the start, after a very strange intro involving some Yiddish peasants fighting over whether their guest on a cold, stormy night is alive or dead, Larry’s life starts falling apart for no discernible reason.
His tenure becomes tenuous, a disgruntled student alternately threatens and bribes him for a failing grade resulting from Schrodinger’s Cat (whether it’s alive or dead is irrelevant right now), his wife wants to leave him for a guy called Sy Ableman, his kids are alternately a chronic dope smoker about to have his bar mitzvah who’s obsessed with F Troop, and a junior version of Barbara Streisand.
Almost every other character in the flick says Sy Ableman’s name in this really curious way, most often with hushed tones of respect, or with incredulity, as in “Sy Ableman? Sy Ableman?!?!”
dir: Johnnie To
I have to admit, I find this flick pretty… strange. Much as I love Johnnie To’s flicks, and as much as I consider him one of the last Hong Kong directors making movies of any worth, style or significance, that doesn’t always mean I get where he’s coming from.
See, it’s a Hong Kong flick that mostly transpires in Macau, with an aged French actor as the lead, who doesn’t speak Cantonese, who wants revenge. Revenge! Or vengeance, as the case may be, on those who brutally attacked his daughter and murdered his grand children.
Why Costello (Johnny Halliday) wants revenge is almost irrelevant, because the sad fact is as well that, mixing in an element from Memento, Costello has short term memory problems, making his stated intention to seek Vengeance that much harder.
He accidentally stumbles across a team of hitmen, who he enlists in his righteous cause. They haltingly speak English, and he haltingly understands it, but they bond with each other, for reasons not obvious to me.
To’s films always, always, almost always centre around the idea of the brotherhood of man, and the bonds between men that can spring up through mutual criminality or happenstance, and yet prove stronger than love or death. To’s comfort with using the same stable of actors, or the union/triad gangster requirement to use the same actors in every single Hong Kong flick mean there’s a certain degree of shorthand involved.
dir: The Pang Brothers
This either is or isn’t a sequel to a Hong Kong flick called The Storm Riders that I remember from the late 90s. I remember it well, and fondly. It was probably one of the last flicks I ever bought on VHS video tape.
Ah, video tape, how quaint and retro you seem now, which juxtaposes nicely with the fact that what made The Storm Riders stand out way back then was that it was the first of the martial arts flicks to use the new CGI effects well in the scope of telling one of their usual, incomprehensible sword based melodramas.
Whether Storm Warriors is actually the sequel, or whether its title is supposed to be Storm Riders II, or whether it’s Storm Warriors II, I can’t figure out. In fact, there’s very little I can figure about after watching this flick twice. Admittedly, Storm Riders was hard to follow as well, because of a multiplicity of characters and bad subtitles. But it was fun, and I still basically understood what was going on, and I very much enjoyed it, regardless of whether a Mud Buddha was chasing a fire monkey or when someone steals the power to freeze a body in order to ensure that his dead beloved’s body doesn’t ever decompose.
I can relate to you ever single thing that happens in Storm Warriors, but I can't explain how or why any of it happens or what any of it could possibly mean. It’s not just because of a virtually indecipherable script. It has some of the worst editing of any expensive movie I’ve ever seen since the last time Guy Ritchie or Tony Scott made movies.
On top of that there are lousy performances and an incredible abundance of effects and techniques meant to ape such blockbusters as 300, Lord of the Rings and Spider-Man, with none of the attendant ability required to put any of it together in a coherent way.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t pretend to be an authority on any of the things that seem to occur in terms of the plot, because the plot is borderline insane and it’s been poorly filtered through into subtitles that read like they were written by an acid-tripping fortune cookie writer, but when you can’t ever figure out what the fuck is supposed to be happening when there’s no dialogue involved, then it’s simply the most incompetent storytelling you’ll see all year that Michael Bay has had nothing to do with.
dir: Marc Webb
There aren’t that many good romantic flicks. I don’t think it’s the boring case of “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to, and get off my lawn, you deadbeats” beyond the heyday of the Golden blah blah of Hollywood. Romantic flicks invariably suck because they’re invariably crappy, inhuman and lazy.
And yet romance infects its way into almost any other flick and genre you can think of. Romance on its own, though, without the ‘comedy’ support of being at least a romantic comedy? Oh, it’s fucking awful, almost 99 per cent of the time.
That figure is empirical fact, based on years of meticulous research, forensic testing and cross-matching with the FBI’s crime database.
I don’t think this flick is anywhere near up the top of the genre with the few decent romantic flicks of the last couple of decades or so, but it doesn’t completely and utterly suck.
We are told right from the start that though this is a story about love, that it is not a love story, and that it is more about the misery a failed relationship can bring rather than the sheer scope and magnitude of wonderfulness that can occur when everything goes right.
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who was just sooooo great in that last GI Joe movie, wears a lot of sweater vests and ties in this flick. That alone almost made me gouge my eyes out. He is a fairly happy-go-lucky chappie who meets a girl at work and tentatively ends up having sex with her.
Summer (Zooey Deschanel), is the kooky and wide-eyed bundle of affectations that Tom inevitably falls in love with. But right from the start she makes it clear to Tom that she has no ability for or interest in pursuing a relationship, because she’s either unwilling or incapable of falling in love.
Right there, that’s part of your whole problem right there, as anyone who’s ever had a relationship or two knows: Difference of expectations.
You want love, they just want sex; you want sex, they want money; they want bondage, you want puppies; they want head, you just want to sleep; they want to move in, you want to move to Antarctica; you want them, they want anyone but you.
dir: Jonathan Mostow
Huh? Is Bruce Willis so desperate for beer money that he’ll take practically any role in any piece de resistance of shit? He can’t possibly still owe Demi Moore alimony, can he?
The thing that’s weirdest about this flick is that I’m not entirely sure why it’s so weird. It’s weird in that it’s so brief, harmless and plastic. The plasticity of it all is part of the point, but it really does feel like half the film is missing somewhere, perhaps on either the editing suite’s floor or Bruce Willis’s bathroom, whichever.
It’s disturbing as well to see this strangely hilarious fantasy version of Bruce Willis, though I guess there’s some real reason for it.
This flick is a pointless and thinly-veiled allegory for the abdication of reality by pale, sweaty people who’ve ceased living real lives and who now live almost exclusively through the tubes of the internets. It’s utterly simplistic and, dare I say it, stupid, but even worse than that, there’s no real validity to the premise. It’s nonsense.
Set at some arbitrary time in the future, a new application of technology has resulted in the good people of America receding to the darkness of their own bedrooms, in order to send their consciousnesses forth into the world through robotic surrogates. All these surrogates are, of course, mostly young and hot looking. Except for the fact that there are no children, old people or ugly people around except for Bruce Willis, life mostly goes along like it always did.
dir: Jason Reitman
This flick has garnered an incredible amount of positive reviews, awards, nominations, probably women kissing posters of George Clooney in public, dreamily smearing their cheap lipstick all over the glass failing to protect his poster within.
And for what? A guy flies around the States firing people. The end.
That’s it? That’s everything wrapped up in a neat little fucking package?
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
Ryan Bingham (oh, you’re soooo dreamy, George Clooney) is a charming and empty man who spends almost all of his time in the air, flying from downsizing opportunity to downsizing opportunity, and he loves it that way. He hates having to go back to the company headquarters, because it means he’s not in perpetual motion. Like some form of even more soulless shark, he needs to keep moving or he gets frantic.
He has reduced the elements of travelling, like dealing with the customs people, the torments of rental car hire, hotel reservations and those little bottles of booze all to both a fine art and also the stuff of his own life.
Bingham even has the temerity to try to peddle his fancifully ‘happy’ life into the stuff of get-rich-quick / self-help seminars, asking prospective sheep “What’s In Your Backpack?” as if it’s a question of any worth. He starts off, in his presentations to ever-increasing groups of morons, representing to them how all the stuff they care about in their lives, including their families, are pretty much worthless.
I’m all for praising the individual, but honestly, that level of isolation is priceless.
dir: Armando Iannucci
So many swears! This movie has more swearing in it than Scarface! Think of any sweary film you can think of, and this movie has five times the amount of swearing. And that’s a lot.
It’s almost too much. It’s almost embarrassing to admit such a thing, but I was exhausted at the end of this. Partly from having laughed so much, but also from having to concentrate for so long to separate the sometimes quite inventive swearing from the actual dialogue, and then trying to remember how it all fits together, despite or because of the swearing.
Ultimately, this is a comedy. A quite funny comedy. It’s shot in that mockumentary style that has become ubiquitous since the original The Office series, and now is replicated in every corner of the medium. If you don’t know what I mean, I can simplify it quite easily: shakily filmed video mostly of people in office spaces.
dir: Guy Ritchie
I should probably be ashamed of myself for having enjoyed this flick so much, but there it is. I’ve put it out there. I heartily enjoyed a Guy Ritchie movie, and, even worse, one based on the much beloved works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
When I heard Ritchie was making a version of Sherlock Holmes, and that it would be an action fest, I felt like I’d been punched in the nuts so hard that I was bleeding out of my mouth. Ritchie hasn’t made an enjoyable flick with a coherent plot or even vaguely coherent editing since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Since then there’s been this dire swirling of the same characters, the same over-stuffed plots based on Cockney slang, criminal doings and painful coincidence down a drain of creative bankruptcy, whereby the only decent moments for the viewer seem to occur almost by accident.
Well, someone must have forced Ritchie to calm the fuck down and produce something half-watchable, and I don’t think it was the vengeful ghost of Arthur Conan Doyle threatening to rip his nuts off. Even as tenuous and complicated as this story manages to be, with many a confusing scene that has to be explained in detail later on, it still manages to be far more coherent and easy to follow than anything else he’s ever had his name attached to.
Now, the world has recently rediscovered its extreme love of Robert Downey Jnr, and that’s a great thing. The man is wonderful, a delight, and often the only good thing in most of the flicks that he’s been in for the last thirty years. Iron Man raised him to iconic A-list status again, and in fact most of his roles in the 2000s seemed to be focussed on undoing the evil he’d perpetrated back in the 1990s, both in terms of cinema and his numerous criminal convictions.
I don’t know if he’s genuinely in any better a place that he was back when judge after judge kept sending him to jail and rehab, but at the very least, he’s getting decent roles and is at least getting better quality drugs so that he’s not wandering the streets all fucked up and breaking into stranger’s houses in order to pass out in their children’s beds.
dir: James “It’s my world, but you can live on it” Cameron
For a flick that cost over 300 million Earth dollars to make, I’m not sure that the investment is always visible on the big screen, be it 3D, IMAX or otherwise. Sure, this flick is already the second most successful (in unadjusted dollars) flick of all time just behind some other obscure flick James Cameron made fifteen years ago. But I can’t really see whether it was worth all the fuss.
For three hundred million dollars, or closer to five, if you believe the sceptics who were hoping Cameron’s hubris would be repaid with failure (who now console themselves by screaming “it’s shit!” instead of “it’s going to bomb!”), you’d think there’d be scenes of Scarlett Johannson, Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz passionately getting it on in the altogether on the top of a diamond encrusted, plutonium powered aircraft carrier from which Cristal-sipping live killer whales covered in mink coats and platinum bling are catapulted into the sun.
You’d, or perhaps I’d, expect scenes where Johnny Depp dressed up like Imelda Marcos gets to punch Tony Blair in the face hard enough to knock teeth out, and shotgun-armed blows off the heads of the recently reanimated corpses of Charles De Gaulle, Ronald Reagan and Baroness Margaret Thatcher. I know that Maggie, as of this date (12/1/10), ain’t dead yet, but it’s hard to tell sometimes. At the very least, she hopefully doesn’t have long to go.
Sure, so none of that really could be expected to occur for real in a film costing nearly half a billion dollars to make and market. The thing is, though, for all that money, this flick provides scant justification for its decadent budgetary excesses.
All that money went to feed the Mexican prostitutes, maids and nannies of the CGI programmers who animate probably the least live action – live action flick to have that designation thus far. The humans are pretty much the only real stuff on display, with CGI being used in virtually every single one of this 2 and a half hours plus flick. And, sure, it’s in stereoscopic ultra dynamic Technicolor 3D at selected cinemas near you.
And yes, most of the time it looks impressive. Thing is, though, these kinds of flicks look impressive until the next all-CGI extravaganza comes out. Then they look clunky, no matter how many billions were spent. Within a few years they seem as forced and as stiff as a 90-year-old guy with a Viagra-induced erection.