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2010

The Way

The Way

Move along, sir, there's no redemption for you here

dir: Emilio Estevez

Of all the people in the world available to direct films, you would think or hope that one of them wouldn't have to be Emilio Estevez, mega superstar of St Elmo's Fire and Young Guns fame. Estevez, one guesses, is somewhat forced to direct movies now because he's not inexplicably sought after like his drug addled brother Charlie Sheen, or as talented as his father Martin Sheen.

What better combination could there be than Estevez directing and Martin starring? Well, I guess they could have had Charlie playing a role too, maybe in the role as the lead female.

The Way is a movie about a father (Sheen) making a long pilgrimage to honour his son, who dies while on that same pilgrimage. It's not as complicated as it sounds. The father is a stodgy opthamologist who lives alone and plays golf solely to cover the fact that he has nothing else going on in his life. The only remaining family he has since his wife's death is his son Daniel (Estevez), the last contact with whom occurred when father was dropping son off at the airport. Son was all like "Dad, you should be totally out there living life and travelling and such" and the father is like "Buckle down, grow up, get a job you hate, work it for forty years, because that's what people do."

Rating:

The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arrietty)

The Secret World of Arrietty

It's not easy being miniscule, doncha know

dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

The wait in between new Studio Ghibli releases is too long, way too long. Being a man with a level of patience a saint would envy, I still find this particular wait too painful, but then, only a few new animated films are truly worth waiting for.

One of the most awesome things about being a movie-obsessed lunatic who also, by the grace of God, Allah and Satan, has been blessed enough to become a father, is having a new person to inflict my obsession upon.

Scratch that, reverse it, play it again. What I meant to say is that it’s tremendous, a tremendous thing to have a daughter to watch flicks with. And, with Studio Ghibli, it’s a tremendous thing having animated movies to watch with my kid in a cinema that are this nice, and don’t make me want to gouge out my own eyes and eardrums.

Sure, Pixar this and that, but surely we all know that the vast majority of stuff made with an eye towards the kid market are visual abominations and a stain upon our collective soul as a species. Most of these visual and auditory atrocities are the artistic equivalent of red cordial, whose only purpose is to overstimulate the kids until they become so het up and ADHDed that, upon leaving the cinema, a parent or guardian has no choice but to buy some merchandise to shut them up, calm them down and cork their cry hole.

Rating:

The Debt

The Debt

How bloody deceptive is this poster? You'd think this was an exciting movie or something

dir: John Madden

Who would have thought a flick about three Mossad agents trying to hunt down a sadistic Nazi war criminal could be a depressing and unfulfilling trawl through the sewers of human weakness and failure?

Not me, proving how truly not bright I am, which is why I’m reviewing films instead of making them. But there’s nothing I can do about that now *sob*. So let’s just talk about the film then, shall we?

John Madden is, I’m sure he’ll be mortified to hear, not a director I’ve ever had much time for. The most famous thing he’s done is probably Shakespeare in Love, which has about as much to do with the actual Shakespeare as that recent hilarious flick Anonymous did, which argued that Shakespeare himself was too much of a bloody peasant to have ever written all those plays and sonnets, and so it had to have been the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere. But even if he had something to do with Gwyneth Paltrow shooting forth like the poisonous, leprous star that she is, and she may have even won a goddamn Academy award, if I’m not mistaken, for her weepy performance, he obviously wishes that he was directing stuff that was taken a bit more seriously.

So, instead of following Gwyneth’s lead and popping out strangely-named children, he persists in making movies, much to our collective disinterest.

Rating:

13 Assassins

13 Assassins

Is it blasphemous to say this this might even be greater
than the film that inspired it? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

(Jusannin no Shikaku)
dir: Takashi Miike

2010

Whenever I hear that Takashi Miike has a new film out, I wonder out loud to myself, especially when I’m on public transport, “Well, what new piece of fucked-upedness has he come up with now?” I mean, after all, this is the demented Japanese director responsible for, in a criminal sense, films like Audition, Ichi the Killer, the yakuza Dead or Alive trilogy, Visitor Q and a whole host of other flicks so vicious I don’t even want to quote scenes from them, because it’s too traumatic to remember.

Suffice to say, there’s never, apparently, been a moment where he’s thought of depicting something on screen that is vile, horrifying, obscene or demented and thought, “Nah, that’s too fucked up, even for me.”

Whatever depravity he’s previously been responsible for, he still remains a completely flexible director with the ability to make any kind of Japanese flick in any kind of Japanese genre, which, to use an overused phrase, ranges from the sublime to the truly, hideously ridiculous.

Instead of spending time talking about the truly horrifying and nightmare-inducing stuff I’ve seen in all his other films, which is tempting in the extreme, I’ll just talk about this film, which is surprisingly solid.

Rating:

Super

Super

Look out, Crime, he has access to a colour printer

dir: James Gunn

It’s almost time enough to get sick of all these goddamn superhero flicks. One’s coming out every week or so. I’m also starting to tire of the slightly sarcastic flicks that comment on those flicks by having some doofus with no powers, skills or abilities, decide to mimic the best and worst of Marvel and DC et al, by donning a costume and fighting crime on their own terms.

I didn’t like Kick-Ass that much. I also don’t think much of Super is that brilliant, which similarly has some mentally ill subhuman dress up and ‘fight’ crime. It’s probably a better flick than Kick-Ass, mostly because it wasn’t such a shallow wish-fulfilment pandering piece of shit. Of course Super’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t have an unhinged Nic Cage performance in it.

In his place is Ellen Page, bringing the crazy in an entirely different way. She’s not the main character, though. She’s just the demented sidekick.

Rating:

Small Town Murder Songs

Small Town Murder Songs

That's some serious policeman's mo you've got going there, Pete

dir: Ed Gass-Donnelly

No, it’s got nothing to do with Nick Cave, and it’s not an album. But it is a Canadian film, about a murder, in a small town, and there are some songs.

The songs are great. They’re Great. Genuinely bracing songs, mixing elements of church spirituals, violent percussion, very dark bluegrass (I guess?), and probably a bunch of other influences as well. Imagine the bastard love child of Steve Earle and Nick Cave, sitting in some muddy weeds, crying while toking on a meth pipe.

So the soundtrack, I think we’ve painfully established, is pretty amazing. The Canadian film itself? Perhaps not so much.

The setting is rural Ontario, and the small town is so very, very small. They never mention the population specifically, but it’s probably in the hundreds. It’s such a small town that the last murder was before the time of the current town police chief, being Walter (Peter Stormare).

It sounds, from my description, and that pesky title, that this is a crime movie, a police procedural about a murder, that someone has to solve. It would be a mistake to believe that. It’s a mistake I made. Sure, there are elements of that, but the flick is aiming for something very different.

Rating:

Love and Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs

Yes, you should have kept your pie holes shut

dir: Edward Zwick

It tries, oh it tries. Yes, I know it’s an old flick. I feel the obligation to review it all the same.

Why? Well, it’s not very clear to me either, but maybe I’ll stumble over a few reasons as we go along.

Love and Other Drugs sets itself firmly in the 1990s by opening to a montage set to the rocking tones of Two Princes, that fucking wretched song by no-hit-wonders The Spin Doctors. That song alone already put me in a bad mood as the flick began.

This is, somewhat perversely, based on someone’s actual life and experiences. Jaime Reidy, an actual human, apparently, worked in the pharmaceutical industry and experienced many of the experiences such an individual has to have in order to need a yuppie redemption story to be made about them.

Human history, for those either working in the drug industry, who suffer from erectile dysfunction or who are trying to have sex with someone with erectile dysfunction, is divided sharply into BV and AV: Before Viagra and After Viagra. This flick follows suit, because clearly nothing in human history has ever been as important as that single invention.

Yeah, Fuck You, Galileo, Edison, Einstein, Tesla, Newton, Curie, Franklin, Wilkins, Watson, Crick and Hawking! What have any of you achieved compared to the magnificence of a four-hour erection? Your collective discoveries amount to Nothing. Less than Nothing!

Rating:

Inside Job

dir: Charles Ferguson
[img_assist|nid=1396|title=Liars, fibbers and whoremongers, oh my|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=408|height=605]
With documentaries, sometime it’s the content, far more so than the quality of how it’s put together, that’s the defining element deciding whether it works or not. Sure, I am the first person in human history to point out that documentaries tend to veer between polemical and propagandistic, so it’s the most obvious thing to point out ever, but it’s far more true of this ‘genre’ than any of the others. There’s usually far less revelation, and far more letters-to-the-editor aggravation.

Inside Job seeks to illustrate for us what went on and wrong in the lead up to that recent minor economic kerfuffle you might have heard about or lost your job over, charmingly referred to as the Global Financial Crisis. The most important word in that phrase is not the first one, anti-globalisation crusaders, or the last one, catastrophists and doomsayers. It’s the middle one, because, as Matt Damon’s soothing and scolding voiceover articulates for our benefit, it was the goblins of high finance, abetted by cowardly governments that were the ones that did the dirty.

Rating:

Howl

Howl

Nerds with powerful words

dir: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman

Wow – can you imagine, even for a second, anything as totally fucking thrilling as a movie about a poem? You can’t, your petty little mind can’t encompass anything as utterly mind-blowing as that without having an aneurysm, for sure.

So be warned, those of jaded palates and timid dispositions – here comes Howl to blow away your petty lives and sclerotic brains.

Yeah, well, maybe the fuck not.

A poem is just a poem, after all, and Howl, the movie, doesn’t even conform to the basic parameters of ‘movieness’ enough to imply that this is a movie about the life and times of Allen Ginsberg, Poet Laureate of the Beat Generation, and his writing of the epic poem Howl. What it is, is something more, and far less at the same time.

It’s far less, because James Franco plays Ginsberg in the 1950s as a fairly young man, basically giving a monologue about ‘his’ life and times before, during and slightly after the writing and performance of Howl. In between footage of himself reading the poem aloud to some lousy beatniks at some hovel of a beatnik club, he sits there talking about himself, mostly in black and white, but sometimes in colour. The colour bits where he sits there in his flannel shirt with a fake beard pasted on have the unfortunate effect of making it look like he’s playing George Lucas, instead of Ginsberg. You could hardly think of a worse fate for a man.

Rating:

Catfish

dir: Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost
[img_assist|nid=1389|title=Catfish are not tasty. Do not click on the fish.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=338]
The lifeblood, the cornerstone, the fundamental currency of documentary filmmaking is credibility. The subjects, as in, the people being interviewed don’t have to necessarily be credible, since there are a lot of quality documentaries about dishonest or deeply delusional, misguided people (the Aileen Wuornos: Selling of a Serial Killer doco, Fog of War, Tyson, Mr Death: the Rise and Fall of Fred Leuchter Jr), so I have zero problems with unreliable interviewees.

The people who we have to trust as being credible are the ones making the documentary. Michael Moore squandered a lot of the goodwill his earlier documentaries engendered in the public once revelations as to the level of ‘creativity’ involved in putting together his various screeds, manipulating facts and the depiction of events to buttress his arguments, came out. Also, he's a bit of a hypocrite, but his documentaries have forcibly improved in the interim.

The people involved in this documentary don’t strike me as being very credible, honest or forthright in their depiction of events. It doesn’t completely torpedo the doco, because, after all, it’s about dishonesty. I just would prefer it if the makers could be a tad more honest than the fabulist at the core of this story.

Rating:

Tron Legacy

dir: Joseph Kosinski
[img_assist|nid=1383|title=Wow, it's like looking into the recent past|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=643]
Great looking film, seriously. It looks amazing. I loved every visual second of this phantasmagorical virtual shiny neon action science fiction apotheosis of computer programming.

It’s true. I play a lot of video games, I’ve watched a lot of movies, and this is a pinnacle of visual entertainment.

Oh, wait a second, I have to qualify something a bit further. I loved every single centimetre of visual real estate that didn’t involve humans or people talking.

Really, visually and aurally, thanks to an amazing soundtrack / score by Daft Punk, who have a curious cameo in full costume, so it could have been two Banksies instead for all I know, it’s amazing. But when the humans intruded, what with their annoying heads and flapping gums. The problem is when they start talking. And continue talking.

Even worse, when people say deeply stupid shit like “now that’s what I’m talking about” in a flick that probably cost a billion dollars to put together, it makes me wonder whether the studio is taking a diarrhoeic dump, wrapping it up in nanotechnological silk scarves and then singing “Happy Birthday” to me as it hands it over, expecting me to not only pay for it, but to be grateful about it as well.

Rating:

Confessions (Kokuhaku)

dir: Tetsuya Nakashima
[img_assist|nid=1381|title=Remember the days of the old school yard? We used to bleed a lot|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=300]
From revenge… to more revenge. This time, we’re doing it Japanese style.

Now, just to get all simplistic, reductive and borderline racist, if the old saying regarding revenge goes that it is a dish best served cold, like sushi, then what this particular director and cast do is take that revenge, like a platter full of sushi, dip it into a tank of liquid nitrogen, and shatter the freeze-burned remains with a HIV-covered sledgehammer.

Man, do they serve this revenge up cold. And, man, do the Japanese hate school kids.

Confessions is a flick where a whole bunch of people confess to each other or to us in the audience in order to tell the story. There are bits where people talk to each other, but mostly people are talking in monologues.

Our first speaker is a junior high school teacher who explains to her class that she’s quitting her job, and why. For the next half hour, mostly she stands in front of the class and talks earnestly but quietly to a bunch of savages who are barely in their teens. They carry on like they’re on the island from either Lord of the Flies or Battle Royale, just with lots of texting involved, but they listen and react whenever she says any crucial element of her story.

Rating:

The Kids Are All Right

dir: Lisa Cholodenko
[img_assist|nid=1375|title=Insufferable. Utterly insufferable.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=284]
And here is the last of my reviews of the ten flicks of 2010, nine destined to lose the award for Best Picture, and the one that will doubtless win at the upcoming Academy Awards. I've seen and reviewed all the rest (Toy Story 3, True Grit, Social Network, King’s Speech, Winter’s Bone, Inception, Black Swan, 127 Hours, The Fighter), and felt, for some inexplicable reason, that I had to review the one remaining flick if I was ever going to pretend to have an informed and important opinion about the annual filmic circle jerk scheduled to occur on Monday.

Whoopee for me.

So here’s my review of The Kids Are All Right. Enjoy.

If you permit me to enter the American Culture Wars for a moment, and if you’ll grant me the license to pontificate about the aforementioned despite the clear fact that I have absolutely no stake in that polarising political / ideological bullshit by dint of nationality or geographical location, please just let me say the following: This flick reminds me of how utterly insufferable we are.

Rating:

The Illusionist (L'Illusionniste)

dir: Sylvain Chomet
[img_assist|nid=1372|title=And stay out of my goddamn hat, you puffed up rodent!|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=252]
The Illusionist, not to be confused with the flick of the same name that came out a few year’s ago with Ed Norton as a weirdo with a beardo, is the fourth film we can believe that Jacques Tati wanted to make but never got the chance to.

Who’s Jacques Tati, I hear you ask, already overwhelmed with irritated yawns before finishing your own thought process? Well, he was a French guy who made some films that pretty much tried to outdo everything Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton did, except he did it about thirty years after they did it, when colour and sound existed in cinema as well.

Jour de Fete, Mon Oncle, Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, Traffic – these are famous flicks to film wankers, turtleneck wearers and chin strokers the world over, but they might not be common currency amongst most people. Sure, I’ve seen them, but I am a film wanker who strokes his chin ever so definitively, though turtlenecks are a bridge too far.

Rating:

Let Me In

dir: Matt Reeves
[img_assist|nid=1370|title=For god's sake, let her in before she kills us all|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=566]
Remakes. The making thereof. Proof of creative bankruptcy, or just outright mercenary greed?

Let the Right One In was only made a few years ago, but it suffered from being made in the native language of its author, being Swedish. When certain Hollywoody types saw that film, they thought, “The film is so awesome that the only way we can improve upon it is by making it in American. That’ll earn us a packet, and show the Swedes how it’s really done.”

Of course, they remade it, it was little seen, and the point of the exercise, or the merits, remain solely on the artistic level.

I liked Let the Right One In plenty when I saw it at the cinema, and I read the book as well. In Swedish, initially, which was quite frustrating, since I can’t read Swedish. Then I tried in Swahili, then Farsi, and finally in an English translation. The book is solid, too. I have no particular axe to grind against an American remake in theory, so I went into this with my closest approximation of an open mind.

Rating:

127 Hours

dir: Danny Boyle
[img_assist|nid=1368|title=Rock and Roll|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=406|height=600]
Whatever problems I might have had with Danny Boyle’s films in the past, whatever misgivings I might have had dwindled to nothing fifteen minutes into this film. In the first few minutes I was worried that I was going to be watching something closer to The Beach or Life Less Ordinary end of Boyle’s oeuvre, rather than the actually watchable, decent end of the Boylian spectrum (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire).

But then something happened at exactly 15 minutes in, and the title flashed up on the screen, and I realised that Aron Ralston’s (played by James Franco) real story had just started.

And oh holy fuck what a story it is.

That it’s a true story, and a very narrowly defined story, based entirely on the relevant 127 Hours in question of Ralston’s life, would almost make you think that telling this story in movie form would be impossible. Telling it well, at least. Telling it poorly would seem to be piss-easy. Telling it so that it’s heroically bad would take real hack skills, some of which Boyle has hinted at in the past.

Rating:

Blue Valentine

dir: Derek Cianfrance
[img_assist|nid=1366|title=It'll all end in tears, like everything else|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=580]
Jesus, what a fucking depressing film.

Maybe it’s not entirely depressing, just mostly depressing. At the very least, it’s wrenching, gutting and very uncomfortable. And sad.

And what’s it about? Well, it’s about two people not in love anymore.

I don’t think I could ever bring myself to watch this flick again. That’s not entirely true: it’s really well made, I guess. And the music is really nice and appropriate, and heartbreaking at certain points. And it’s well filmed and well acted.

But, jeez, does it hurt to think about it.

Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are a married couple who are clearly not happy. Their marriage is clearly headed towards dissolution. Dean is surly, drunk and hectoring, passive aggressive as well as just outright aggressive, fuelled by his sensing that Cindy is shutting him out.

Cindy clearly cannot stand Dean anymore, and their every remark to each other is brittle, jagged and fraught with peril. Don’t mistake this for some highfalutin Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf retread where sophisticates are tossing martini-enhanced barbs and cutting witticisms at each other. They, being the two leads, play it like real people unwilling to face the reality that they shouldn’t be together anymore.

Rating:

True Grit

True Grit

That's some mighty fine squint-acting y'all doing there

dir: Coens

2010

Remakes are usually pointless. They’re often just emblematic of the risk averse nature of Hollywood, which wants only to shiny up the tried and true for profit and plaudits. This isn’t even the first time the brothers Coen have remade something: they did it before with The Ladykillers, receiving global yawns for their troubles.

But they’ve also made a career out of making films about other films, or at least films that don’t usually exist as separate, independent entities, but which exist on that ironic meta level as if to comment on the genre they’re indulging in at that given time.

True Grit is fairly straight ahead, down the line, and doesn’t indulge as much in their genre commentary; as in, it’s not like it either deconstructs the earlier flick starring John Wayne, or the Western genre itself. The story comes from a book, and they’ve stayed true both to the book and the earlier film, without indulging Jeff Bridges the way John Wayne was indulged by the makers of the earlier flick.

The real main character of the film isn’t Rooster Cogburn, played as a fat, drunken, vicious idiot by Jeff Bridges, it’s Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a fourteen-year-old girl looking for justice. Or vengeance, whichever.

Rating:

The Fighter

dir: David O. Russell
[img_assist|nid=1362|title=Idiots on parade|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=284]
David O. Russell is a director not known for sports flicks. He’s known, if he’s known at all, for three things: directing Three Kings, which remains one of the only decent flicks set during the first Iraqi adventure; making a thoroughly stupid flick called I Heart Huckabees; and for a screaming match that occurred and was recorded between himself and Lily Tomlin on the set of that flick.

Mark Wahlberg is best known for having a brother who was in New Kids on the Block, who had a short career as rapper-performer-Renaissance man Marky Mark, and playing John Holmes stand-in Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. He is not well known for his acting ability.

Christian Bale is best known for screaming abuse at people on the set of some films he’s been on. And a wicked eating disorder. He’s also an actor, or so I’ve been told.

The three of them, oh, and a bunch of other people as well, collaborate here in order to make a fairly amazingly good film, one which, noting the participants, the location, and what they’re famous for, I couldn’t really have predicted.

Rating:

The King's Speech

dir: Tom Hooper
[img_assist|nid=1360|title=Get out of the road, Ma and Pa Crown Jewels, or we'll run you lisping hemophilliacs down|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=373]
This is what you get when Ham (Geoffrey Robertson) meets Wry (Colin Firth): a tasty, award-winning sandwich.

Could there have been a confection more Oscarbaity than this? Was the public so desperately crying out for more cinematic proof that royal personages are so much better than the rest of us? Eventually we’ll be able to put all these films together into a neat collage that exists to convince us only that as commoners, we really do suck compared to all those kings and queens.

And I get enough of that already, thanks for nothing.

The King’s Speech is an almost clever double-meaning title referring both to a specific speech which apparently saved Europe from Hitler, and the speech impediment endured and surmounted by the reluctant eventual heir to the throne, George VI, ably played by Colin Firth. Colin Firth will so win an Oscar for this performance. It’s not because it’s the performance of the year (something so subjective and unmeasurable in any meaningful way so as to be meaningless), or last year, or because this characterisation is so wonderful and crucial to our understanding of the time involved or humanity general.

Rating:

Tomorrow, When the War Began

dir: Stuart Beattie
[img_assist|nid=1358|title=Yesterday When We Weren't Stereotypes, but people, with thoughts and feelings|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=668]
An Aussie version of Red Dawn? Sign me up right now! I'd watch the shit out of such a movie. And I did, I guess...

Red Dawn, that brilliantly stupid 80s flick about American teenagers leading a guerrilla war against their Communist oppressors, deserves to be a template worth replicating. Of course, I’ve heard that they’re making a new Red Dawn, which I think is completely redundant now, with this flick having been made.

Of course, though cheesier than a three-cheese pizza, this flick doesn’t have a scene where Harry Dean Stanton yells with a demented gleam in his eye: “AVENGE ME, BOYS, AVENGE ME!”

And for that alone there need to be multiple competing versions of this meme out there.

Rating:

World's Greatest Dad

dir: Bobcat Goldthwait
[img_assist|nid=1356|title=Being a good father is hard work. It's double the work of a half-arsed dad, and four times the work of a deadbeat dad|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=451]
The name Bobcat Goldthwait is not one that resonates in the hall of fame of respected comedy directors. The main reason is that there isn’t a hall, alcove or basement of fame of respected directors of comedies, since there are so few of them, so few in fact that they could all fit in a broom closet, bathroom or crawlspace with room to spare.

It’s a name that probably doesn’t come up in common public discourse, or in personal conversations between lovers in bed post-coitally “You really Bobcatted my Goldthwait good tonight, baby”, or a name used by the Pope in his annual chastising pronouncements, or by the Queen in her Christmas address.

In fact, anyone under thirty has probably never heard of him, and those over thirty wish they could forget him and his eardrum shredding voice.

Which is a shame, because his long career as a standup comedian, his brief career as a successful actor in Police Academy films, and the intervening years where he struggled for meaning and money meant that he made the shift over to directing films, with some success. And so here he directs Robin Williams in a flick that looks for all the world like a comedy, again, with some success.

Rating:

Restrepo

dir: Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington
[img_assist|nid=1354|title=War is... something or other|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=299]
Back, way back in the dim, distant reaches of last century, there was a war in a little-known and already forgotten place called Korea. The battle was between the noble South supported by the United States (and other allied nations of course), and the evil and horrible Northern Communists supported by the terrible Chinese. There were many battles, much slaughter, even towards the end of the war. The Battle of Pork Chop Hill in April of 1953, not only resulted in the slaughter of many noble soldiers, but resulted in a war film that made the careers of a lot of shiny Hollywood dickheads. It showed how random death on the battlefield can be, and how countless soldiers can die horribly because someone far from the front lines commands some men to hold a seemingly strategically important hill.

The supreme irony comes when soldiers who have given almost everything to defend a position, who’ve seen all their buddies die for it, can be told to retreat from the position because of some other strategic need or because it’s decided that, in retrospect, it wasn’t really that important, or that some other hill was the really crucial one that’ll win the war.

Cue scream of forlorn and impotent rage in the face of the universe’s cold disinterest.

Rating:

Black Swan

dir: Darren Aronofsky
[img_assist|nid=1352|title=I wonder if that crack represents her state of mind. Ya think?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=666]
Hmmmm.

Darren Aronofsky returns to the well that prompted him to make Pi way back in the day, with a different gender in the lead but the same ultimate problem: madness brought on by sexual frustration. In Pi a maths genius can’t get any, and goes mad (or madder) listening to his hot Indian neighbour have sex. In Black Swan, a sexually- repressed prima ballerina called Nina (Natalie Portman) has to go mad in order to access her dark side to become the most perfect ballerina in the history of Swan Lake performances.

With mixed results. In a way, though she’s won’t and shouldn’t get credit for it, Portman did a Christian Bale and starved herself down in order to play this character. She’s already tiny, but here she’s depleted enough here to have that horrible strained look on her sternum where flesh is supposed to be, and now there’s only bone and tendon.

It’s not for me to judge what actors do in the pursuit of money, critical respect and the adulation of the masses. If it’s okay for Bale to do it in every second flick he does, then why not a chick that probably already weighs about 40 kilos anyway?

Rating:

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

dir: Tsui Hark
[img_assist|nid=1350|title=Dig our funky facial hair: my eyebrows, your moustache|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=431|height=600]
Some directors win their way back into our good graces by making a transformative leap in their filmmaking in order to deliver a great film after decades of slumming. Other directors delight or depress us by consistently putting out the same kind of film, year after year, Woody, decade after decade.

Other directors win us over again by going way back in style and intent, and delivering the kind of flick they delivered way back when they were still making good flicks.

Tsui Hark’s great claim to fame is, in my opinion, being part of that new wave of Hong Kong film in the late 80s – early 90s which reminded the rest of the world that Hong Kong was still making some awesome action flicks. Along with the John Woo flicks The Killer and Hard Boiled, Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China flicks were part of that vanguard reinvading the West with hyperactive action and a complete disregard for the safety of stuntpeople that blew the tender sensibilities of audiences away all over again.

Of course, with success comes money, hookers and moving to Hollywood to make horrible flicks with Jean Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman, which will kill your career if there’s any justice in the universe.

Rating:

Greenberg

Greenberg

oh, this looks so much like a quirky indie comedy. It's not. It's so not.

dir: Noah Baumbach

Officially the most depressing flick of the year. Worse than a twenty-hour Holocaust documentary. Worse than a dramatic indie flick chronicling the breakdown of a marriage in excruciating detail. Worse than a live action film where the main character is a computer animated dog.

It always gets me when the people designing the posters for films do this, whereupon they put the name of the ‘star’ at the top linking it directly to the main character of the flick they’re obviously in. When they were making those Bourne Identity et al flicks, the posters, which featured a big muscly pic of Matt Damon, often came standard with the phrase “Matt Damon IS Jason Bourne!” as if there were any lingering doubts in the confused populace.

Of course the confusion arises because Matt Damon isn’t Jason Bourne, a fictional character, he’s the actor and soft drink salesman Matt Damon, surprisingly enough.

So when the posters for this dirge of a flick has the same type of phrase, as in “Ben Stiller IS Greenberg”, I don’t have the same pedantic reaction. What I actually think in this instance is that if Ben Stiller actually was this Greenberg person, someone should murder him in his sleep.

Rating:

The American

dir: Anton Corbijn
[img_assist|nid=1346|title=You can't run away from you mid-life crisis, Georgy Porgy|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=693]
It must be quite a burden, not just being an American, but playing THE American. How do you summarise millions of lives and hundreds of years of complicated history in one movie?

You have The American of the title played by George Clooney.

That distinguished salt-and-pepper hair, those smoky eyes, that smug grin; who else can represent everything from exterminating the natives and calling it manifest destiny to dresses made out of meat and massive planet-sized cars that run on endangered species thrown straight into the fuel tank?

George Clooney, that’s who.

I had heard two main comments regarding this flick: 1) that it was a good flick, and 2) or that it was an extremely slow, extremely boring flick. Well, I was totally sold on those ends of the spectrum meeting somewhere in the middle. Who wouldn’t want to watch a decent flick that’s also tortuously dull?

Is it in truth a dull flick? I didn’t think so. The pace is perfect for the story it’s trying to tell, and I guess the lack of over-editing and jump-cutting shaky cam probably put off those hoping for the hyperkinetics of another Jason Bourne-type flick.

Rating:

Reign of Assassins (Jianyu)

dir: Chao-Bin Su, John Woo
[img_assist|nid=1344|title=Yes, lovely swords, but are you going to do anything interesting with them?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=320|height=480]
It’s strange, and a little bit embarrassing that I am still as gullible as I am at the age that I am. I saw a clip for this flick during Potato-Head Pomeranz and Old Farmer Stratton’s Movie Show a few weeks ago, mentioned as getting a lot of people excited at some festival, possibly this year’s Venice festival.

A few seconds of people fighting, and a few excitable words from Margaret, and I was somehow convinced that this was the flick of the year, a continuation of the good work John Woo was currently doing (after the success of Red Cliff), and all around another in the exciting high-end line of wuxia (martial arts) flicks that started with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and resulted in other dazzling entries like Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

And so I bought into all this meaningless hype, as if I was some teenage girl buying Twilight merchandise, or some object Justin Beiber or Lady Gaga might have touched with some part of their anatomy as some point in time.

And what did I get for this emotional and financial investment, in getting excited about this flick and going out of my way to see it? What’s my recompense, my due, my pay back?

Rating:

Red

dir: Robert Schwentke
[img_assist|nid=1342|title=RED - Really Extreme Dubiousness|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=668]
Old people. What to do with them. This movie’s entire purpose seems to be just to remind the rest of us not to turn our backs on these wrinkly potential badasses.

Because, you know, just ‘cause they’re old, doesn’t mean they can’t kill you three ways from Wednesday.

I’m not entirely sure how Bruce Willis gets to swan around with decent older actors and pretend they’re contemporaries, but then, if that’s the least plausible part of this flick, it would be a doddle to accept. As it is, this is a total fucking cartoon that makes James Bond flicks look like documentaries.

This flick is such a cartoon that it makes computer generated owl and toy films look like actual reality instead of animation. In this flick called Red, or RED, or R.E.D, a bunch of people mostly in their late 50s and beyond, all the way up to Morgan Freeman’s tender 70s, show the young ‘uns that they can still kick arse like it’s 1989.

Rating:

Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

dir: Giorgos Lanthimos
[img_assist|nid=1340|title=The family that's depraved together stays together mostly because of the high wall around the property|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=298]
Oh, what a fucked up family, and, oh, what a fucked up film.

I haven’t had much cause or recourse to review Greek films thus far, in fact it’s never come up. In a decade or so of reviewing (and twenty years of chin-stroking viewing), there’s never been an instance where I’ve watched a Greek flick in a local arthouse cinema, because I can’t recall the last time one got to play. Sure, you can occasionally watch flicks about Mongolian yak herders, or Massai tribesmen, or Inuit fishermen fishing for fish through tiny ice holes, and every single French flick no matter how vacuous or silly, gets arthouse play, but practically nothing from Greece.

I have no idea if the European Union’s poor orphan cousin has that much of a film industry, to be honest. Can’t imagine there’s that much spare cash lying around. Still, arguably the most famous (internationally) director from Greece, called Costa Gavras, who’s a pretentious pill but an accomplished director if I’ve heard or seen one, doesn’t even direct flicks in Greek, preferring the international language of arrogance, being French.

Rating:

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