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2009

Surrogates

dir: Jonathan Mostow
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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.

Rating:

Up In the Air

dir: Jason Reitman
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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.

Rating:

In the Loop

dir: Armando Iannucci
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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.

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Sherlock Holmes

dir: Guy Ritchie
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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.

Rating:

Hurt Locker, The

dir: Kathryn Bigelow
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There hasn’t really yet been an overwhelmingly great film set during and about the current Iraqi adventure. The ones I recall that at least have war footage of brave marines and army grunts fighting the cowardly Iraqi civilian menace, being Home of the Brave, Stop-Loss, um, the Transformers flicks, In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom (yes, I know it’s set in Saudi Arabia) um, and that’s about it. None of these really worked. If you’re a war booster, or chickenhawk, they failed because they weren’t gung-ho enough, and were all focussed on issues like post-traumatic-stress disorders and feeling bad about killing civilians, instead of being all rah-rah patriotic, manly and superheroically heroic. You know, like Rambo.

The documentaries have fared a bit better, but until now, Iraq War II has been poorly represented in the feature film category. The Hurt Locker, by one of America’s only well known mainstream female directors, corrects the imbalance, and is both a good film and a good war film. It’s not great, because it has a quarter of the flick that doesn’t really cohere (I would say being the third quarter of a two hour flick), and the very end is at odds with the beginning and the end, but it's still pretty damn good.

Rating:

Avatar

dir: James “It’s my world, but you can live on it” Cameron
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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.

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Zombieland

dir: Ruben Fleischer
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You might not have noticed, but there’s been this plague outbreak recently. It didn’t all happen at once. It’s been a gradual progression, until more recently where it seems like it’s overwhelming everything and everyone.

It’s a plague of zombie movies, visited upon the planet as a prelude presumably to the actual apocalypse. It’s a benevolent but capricious God’s way of getting us ready for when the dead finally do walk the earth.

Either that, or there’s just no original ideas under the sun anymore.

Still, if you’re going to do something unoriginal, at least do it well and make it entertaining. You don’t even have to put that much of a spin on it: just make us smile.

Someone came up with the bright idea (many times, in many different forms, from World War Z to Shaun of the Dead to Pride & Prejudice & Zombies) that if you don’t take it seriously, a zombie plague could be pretty funny. What if you make your main character a college age kid who’s a bit of a dick and a nebbish, and actually have your characters enjoy themselves along the way?

Rating:

Where The Wild Things Are

Wild Things

There is much wildness in all of us, no matter how we might wish otherwise

dir: Spike Jonze

Where the Wild Things Are is a beautiful film. It’s touching and sweet, scary but deeply felt, but I don’t really think it’s for children. I don’t even think most kids under the age of ten would really get that the Maurice Sendak book, of twenty or so pages, really connects with this film apart from the similarity in the merchandising. Sure, the imagery is the same, but the story has been greatly transformed by Spike Jonze, David Eggers and the forests and beaches of Victoria.

I have happily read the book to my daughter a stack of times, and so I know how profoundly expanded the story is in the movie. As to whether it’s true in spirit and intent to the book, you’d have to ask noted and thoroughly aged curmudgeon Maurice Sendak, who’s still alive, who wrote and drew the book nearly fifty years ago, and who I’m sure is happy to collect cheques for the film rights. I suspect deep down Sendak would hate this film if he ever sat through it, that’s just my gut instinct.

My instincts are often wrong, I have to admit. What I don’t think I’m wrong about is that this really couldn’t connect with kids for fairly serious and pervasive reasons, self-same reasons that would make it appeal perhaps to their elders.

Rating:

Up

dir: Peter Docter
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Yes, so Pixar have yet another film out. Hooray. And it’s the usual synthesis of state of the art computer animation and interesting story telling with decent characters.

You know what? They’re spoiling us, and we don’t appreciate their stuff anymore.

Like a kid you give new toys to every other day, at first they might be appreciative and surprised, independently of how great they are. Eventually this feel of being entitled and owed kicks in, and new baubles and trinkets are greeted mostly with a shrug.

It’s shameful to admit that I often feel that way with each new Pixar release. With only one exception that I can really think of, each of their flicks has given me great pleasure, especially with repeat viewings. And, as anyone with kids will tell you, a solid kid’s flick is one you can play for the millionth time without wanting to frisbee that copy of Finding Nemo into the stratosphere.

Pixar do have the touch, despite now being a fully fledged vassal state of the Disney empire. The quality of their flicks and their storytelling has not yet diminished.

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Public Enemies

dir: Michael Mann
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John Dillinger is not really one of those names that lights up the night sky or the imagination, at least anywhere apart from the US. I’m sure he’s Robin Hood and Ayn Rand all rolled into one in the States, but to the rest of the world, if we know anything about him, it’s that he was alive at some point in the past, and is now dead.

And in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “If he’s so smart, why is he dead?”

Well, Johnny Depp, the dapper gent himself, and Michael Mann, the cop and crim obsessed-director, thought it was time to resurrect the tale of the Depression era populist ‘hero’, and his subsequent demise. Mann puts his particularly Mannish spin on things by emphasising the cool professionalism with which Dillinger and his crew conducted themselves. And, of course, the professionalism of Dillinger’s main opponents, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), also have to act as a parallel counterbalance.

Of course, all of this occurs independent of, and, in most cases, in direct contradiction to the established history of these events.

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