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."
It's not an original dynamic, but in a flick like this, considering that in all sorts of stories like this, one of them has to die. They have to die after harsh words like that because then one of them can be left behind lamenting the fact that their last words to their loved one was something like "Get the shit out of your ears, dickhead, and get a job ya bum."
That's when you can really feel guilty. The son was off somewhere, but the dad didn't care. The son's constant travel and carefree ways brings nothing but misery to the father, but he's not going to have to worry about that anymore.
For reasons never explained, nor did they need to be, Daniel was off on a fairly well known pilgrimage that starts in France and ends in Spain that takes months to complete on foot. Well known to other people, I guess. I mean, I know I've done the pilgrimage at least a dozen times for sure, but perhaps the 'famous' Camino de Santiago de Compostela isn't that well known to others. It's also known as The Way of St James, hence the title. But maybe, just maybe, The Way also refers to "what is the best way to live?" or, "what is the best way to grieve for someone you loved but didn't like that much?"
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.
And yet, on the other hand, it almost seems like a film like this, or Spirited Away, or Howl’s Moving Castle, are so patiently constructed to be the antidote to Those Other movies, that it’s a surprise that any kids like them at all, and that includes Japanese kids.
Especially Japanese kids. They must be different from the other ones. Hey, wait a second, I’m not getting all revenge-for-Nanking-and-Pearl-Harbour or racist or anything, if anything, they’re better than everyone else’s kids.
All that rigmarole and foofaraw being said, after we walked out of the cinema, my daughter declared, “Arrietty is the best movie I’ve ever seen.”
So, make of that declaration from a five-year-old girl what you will. It’s the best movie she’s ever seen.
Of course, I should have pointed out that she says that after watching every new movie at the cinema. It’s part of the joy of watching stuff with her.
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.
The Debt is about three characters in two timelines. In the 1960s, Stefan, David and Rachel are played by Marton Csokas, Australia’s Own Sam Worthington, and delectable redhead of the minute Jessica Chastain, respectively. Worthington is trying to make up for being in Avatar, and he assays the role nobly. Chastain doesn’t have to make up for anything, because she was great in Tree of Life, though possibly less so in The Help as the white trash Marilyn Monroe-lookalike. Csokas is always commanding and awesome no matter how terrible the flick he might be in, so he’s got nothing to apologise for either. Go on, breath a sigh of relief.
In the ‘present’, which is the 1990s, Stefan, David and Rachel are played by heavy-hitters David Wilkinson, Ciarin Hinds and Helen Mirren, sporting a wicked scar on her cheek that Lucky Luciano would have envied. As people age, I guess a lot of them lose, because of all the bad shit that happens, their capacity for happiness. Maybe that’s why the three of them are so glum all the time. They’re so glum, in fact, that the old version of David kills himself within minutes of the film beginning. And Rachel looks even more miserable than David does, if that’s possible.
(Jusannin no Shikaku)
dir: Takashi Miike
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.
I say ‘surprisingly’, because it surprises me how straight Miike plays it. It’s the kind of straight-ahead samurai flick that I’d expect more from directors like Yoji Yamada and Hiroshi Inagaki instead.
Yes, household names, I’m sure, but at the very least they’re old-school guys who made old-school (though, in Yamada’s case, certainly revisionist) samurai flicks.
If you have any familiarity with Japan, and with samurai flicks, and with Japanese samurai flicks, you know one thing clearly above all others: it’s all about Death. Death permeates and suffuses every single goddamn word of dialogue, moment and scene of almost every single goddamn samurai flick. Yes, I know that someone dies in almost every flick, especially action flick, you care to think of.
But death is inextricably linked to these flicks even more than the usual war flick. The entire social order depended up shame and death, for which the overwhelming two rules of this particular cultural Fight Club being “die at the soonest opportunity for your clan” and “die at the slightest provocation for your clan”.
And yes, as I’ve said in the past, it’s almost absurdly comical to see the lengths samurai go to in order to hold up their or someone else’s honour by killing themselves at the slightest faux pas or stubbed toe or sneeze out of order.
The difference in this story is, well, sure a bunch of samurai want to die, and they want to take a bunch of people out with them, but they want to do it for a good goddamn reason. And if they don’t die, well, that’d be sweet too.
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.
Our main character is Frank (Rainn Wilson), who has both the air of the sadsack and the schizophrenic about him. Through circumstances too fantastical to contemplate, he got married to a woman that looks like and is played by Liv Tyler. To partially explain how such a circumstance could arise, her character, called Sarah, is an addict in recovery, who latches on to Frank because her judgement is severely impaired, and because Frank is the first guy in a while who treats her kindly.
Such a fairy tale can’t last forever, and there comes a time when Sarah leaves him for the local crime boss, inexplicably played by Kevin Bacon, who looks inexplicably sleazy as well. Sarah ends up back on the needle and presumably on the pole as well, and this fills Frank with an inchoate rage.
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.
The town is a strange one, in that it has an old population of Mennonites, who often speak in a German dialect. The film opens with a scene where a car drives past a horse and buggy. So, yeah, it’s kind of like the Amish, except they don’t do barn raising, don’t wear those cool clothes, and they use electricity.
We don’t get much of an insight into the Mennonites at all. For all that it matters to the film, the townsfolk could have been Hindus, Rosicrucians or Scientologists. It does matter in the sense that these are people completely unsuited to the modern kill-crazy world the rest of us live in, and they’re very much opposed to violence, goddamn them.
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!
You’d think a flick focussed on the somewhat unethical practice of trying to bribe doctors into prescribing your company’s drugs even if their patients don’t really need them or want them, would be scathing in its ripping the shit out of them for doing so. But this flick isn’t trying to piss off drug giants like Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline or any of the other billion-dollar behemoths. It’s just, like, bringing it up, for, like, shits and giggles.
dir: Charles Ferguson
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.
Lots of talking heads ensue, and these people fall into two distinct groups: people champing at the bit to say “Told you so” because they said it was going to happen before it happened, and a couple of people in the other camp denying that anything was wrong even as the sky was falling while they and their compatriots profited from the catastrophe. A long list of a third phantom group exists in the abstract, serious players on the financial sector and government sides, who declined to be interviewed for very good reasons. The brief snippets of these other people talking and lying through their fucking teeth in other interviews or before Congress is enough, is more than enough to engender outrage.
Yes, a driving force of documentaries is to get people to feel outraged. But I don’t want outrage. I crave understanding. I want to grasp how something complicated happened, especially if it’s something that has impacted adversely on millions of lives.
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.
The ‘young’, vital bits are in black and white, since as we all know, the world, back in 1955 was monochromatic, awaiting the dawning of colour. He reads a bit, the lousy beatnik crowd nod their heads (they yell out ‘yeah’ instead of clapping or clicking their fingers), then he talks to the interviewer a bit, then they show an animated rendering of imagery from Howl, which verily bursts from the screen in its vividness.
There’s a plethora of animated cocks, for those who like that sort of thing, and who doesn’t?
dir: Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost
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.
The introductory graphics and opening titles are all meant to reinforce and remind us of something we already know: that a lot of our lives, at least our work and social lives, seem to be transpiring online in this new digital golden age. Not only has Facebook transformed the way people keep in touch and bore each other with the minutiae of their lives, and that Google Earth and GPS technology has transformed how readily we can visualise the places we want to get to or the people we want to stalk, but, really, they’re not saying much more than: Wow, these tubes of the internets have changed everything, haven’t they?
dir: Joseph Kosinski
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.
The main character in this is truly terrible. I’ve never seen Garret Hedlund in anything before, and I’ll probably avoid him in future, but I really don’t have enough experience of him as a person or as an actor to know whether he’s genuinely terrible, or as bad as the material forced him to be. Because, truth be told, no actor, including The Dude, comes out of this with anything other than what should be profound embarrassment.
The Dude, being Jeff Bridges, has two roles in this flick. Seriously, he plays two characters. It makes some sense that Jeff Bridges is here, since he was in the original Tron, and he reprises the role of Kevin Flynn, the earlier movie’s human hero. The other role he plays is as the evil Clu, who, despite looking like he has a face full of putty and botox (digitally created), is more believable, better acted and has more believable motivations than the human character Jeff Bridges plays.
dir: Tetsuya Nakashima
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.
For what is mostly a monologue, the editing carries on in a determined but spastic manner, with hundreds of postcard shots, shots of kid’s mobiles as they comment on what they’re hearing, with a constantly moving camera that doesn’t want to allow for the possibility that maybe what’s being told to us is mostly boring.
It’s not, I guess, because what the teacher, Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) is telling them, and us, is the story of why she’s just infected two of the kids in the class with HIV.
dir: Lisa Cholodenko
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.
Look, I say this as someone who either directly or passively accepts that on the Red State / Blue State, conservative / progressive, Monsanto is evil / McDonalds is Great divide, I completely associate and adhere with one side over the other. It’s just that the rudiments of it, the signifiers, the chai lattes, the smug self-righteousness, the precious preciousness of shopping at organic farmer’s markets, locavore, anti-sweatshop, sustainable / ethical clothing made of vintage hessian sacks stuff drives me up the fucking wall. I infinitely prefer it to the other side, which raises getting outraged, selfishness and a lack of giving a damn about the impact of one’s own actions and choices on other people to a high art form, but I still find us insufferable some times.
Thankfully, one of the characters here agrees with me, and goes on a drunken tirade yelling about how sick she is of composting and organic this and biodynamic that.
The only problem was, after that, I felt bad about having thought ‘my’ side insufferable in the first place, because the character going on about it is pretty obnoxious specifically at that moment, and in general, too.
dir: Sylvain Chomet
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.
As it is, had I not known about Jacques Tati and his winning ways, I’m not sure L’Illusionniste would have meant anything to me apart from being a pretty little animated flick. And if I didn’t know anything about the story, based apparently on an unproduced script of Tati’s, or about Tati’s life, then the flick would have even less resonance. It still would have been amusing, though, and quite beautiful.
As it is, the chap who previously made The Triplets of Belleville, an animated flick I saw at the cinemas back in the day, has made another anachronistically quaint and clever little flick honouring this titan of the cinematic and miming arts.
Tatischeff is a stage magician in the 1950s, and apparently, the cartoon incarnation of Jacques Tati himself, or at least Monsieur Hulot. He plies his trade in gay Paris, but the kids no longer want to see old-school entertainers pulling angry rabbits out of their hats, or making stuff disappear: they want androgynous crooners and pop stars to wow them with their caterwauling.
dir: Matt Reeves
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.
Let Me In is quite a nice film. It’s a horror film, with the pacing and scares of a horror film, but at its heart it’s a romance between an ancient predator called Abby, who masquerades as a little girl (Chloe Moritz), and a twelve-year-old boy called Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Both have their problems. Owen’s parents are divorcing, he’s stuck with his alcoholic, god-bothering mother (whose face we deliberately never see), and he is tormented at school by bullies who mock his lack of masculinity. Abby has just moved in to the same drab apartment complex as Owen with a man who we assume is her father (Richard Jenkins), and, oh yeah, she constantly craves human blood.
Their biggest problem is that they’re living in the 80s, with everything that goes along with it: the bad hair, the terrible clothing, the often horrifying music, all of it.
dir: Danny Boyle
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.
Instead, they (all the people involved, like Boyle’s longtime writing collaborator Simon Beaufoy, but especially Danny Boyle, but especially James Franco, but Especially Boyle!) make a lot of good, strange decisions in order to make a story about a guy trapped under a rock interesting.
When I say interesting, that’s not to say that there aren’t moments where I felt frustrated and trapped. But imagine how this poor bastard felt! Isn’t it fair that we, too, experience some of that feeling?
dir: Derek Cianfrance
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.
It seems so simple, and obvious. But then think of how many films are actually about this anymore? Romantic flicks are all about longing, and suffering and ever so artful misunderstandings, all justified in the end by the idea that we are made complete and whole by the right person.
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.
dir: Tom Hooper
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.
No, he’ll win because he’s owed. Once these titans of the theatre rack up a sufficient number of nominations, they automatically receive the award, just to keep them happy. Add to that the fact that he’s playing someone overcoming something, and it’s virtually a foregone conclusion.
In the 1930s, Hitler was gearing up a party that would blanket the entirety of Europe with fun times. And what was our main character doing? Stuttering like a motherfucker at every public speaking event, embarrassing the entire nation with his speech impediment. How is this communicated to us, the audience? It’s shown by the manner in which the eyes of the public eventually look away in a mixture of pity and disgust.
And this is the man who’s supposed to compete with Hitler? In quite an amusing scene, Bertie, as we come to know him, watches footage of the Nuremberg rallies, and when asked by his daughter Elizabeth as to what Hitler is saying, Bertie ruefully notes that he’s not sure, but whatever he’s saying, he’s saying it very well.
dir: David O. Russell
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.
Based on the actual lives of actual people, The Fighter chronicles the rise, the fall, the stumbling, then the falling again, and eventual rise of a pair of brother boxers. Which one will triumph is not entirely clear until the end, unless you already know about the people involved and the golden era in which they fought.
The narrative device the flick uses, very successfully in my opinion, to tell the story initially is through a HBO documentary film crew following around someone who was initially a town hero, the Pride of Lowell, Massachusetts. Yes, unfortunately, it means we have to listen to those fucking accents for two hours, but you can’t have everything, after all. We don’t want our movies to be too perfect, do we? Otherwise we’d lose ourselves inside them permanently, never wanting to venture out of the cinema.
dir: Darren Aronofsky
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?
Yes, yes, women’s issues with body image, yes, yes, negative media images contributing to pressures on actresses specifically and women in general.
Whatever. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that it’s pointless to single that out when a) she’s playing a ballerina, a group of waifs who take body modification to an extreme as a rule, what with the footbinding and the vomiting and such, and b) it’s not like it’s represented as a positive career choice.
I mean, these ballerinas are bitches, aren’t they? Backbiting, backstabbing, vain and hysterical trollops; who would want to spend any time with them or near them? They live and die in hope of prancing about in front of a bunch of people so wealthy they can throw their money away to watch people mince and carry-on in the most enervating manner possible. It’s Death that comes a few steps closer to you whenever you watch this pretentious twaddle, tempting you ever closer with the promise of oblivion and the promise of never having to watch this foofy frippery ever again.
dir: Anton Corbijn
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.
The reality is that this is of a piece with something like the Jason Bourne flicks. There’s no actual connection, and stylistically and thematically they couldn’t be more different. But there is an intersection in the overall scenario that means something to me.
The flick opens with a bearded Clooney and a bare-arsed Swedish babe lolling about probably post-coitally. When out walking in the snow, Clooney’s character seems to freak out when he sees some other footprints in the snow. A not-very-competent sniper takes some shots at him. He kills the sniper, and then, just to be sure, kills his confused and surprised girlfriend. He then hunts down and kills some other guy that was also clearly sent out to kill him.
What to make of this? Of course we understand why he kills hit guys sent to kill him, but why the hell would he kill that scrumptious Swedish fuck-bunny?
Because he’s The American, motherfucker, and don’t you forget it.
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.
Greenberg, as in the sort-of main character in this flick, is like the worst person I’ve ever seen in a movie. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter comes across as more pleasant and avuncular. The various versions of Hitler on film come across as less repellent and self-absorbed. Richard Milhous Nixon in the Oliver Stone flick screaming obscenities about Kennedy, blacks and Jews is nicer and cuddlier than this monster Greenberg.
dir: Stuart Beattie
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.
I don’t personally know John Marsden, but I feel like he’s one of Australia’s living treasures, and that his efforts in the fields of writing aimed at ‘young adults’ and in education make him someone worthy of awards, showers of wealth and the attentions of hot people with skills to pay bills. I remember that I read some of his books back in the day, including this one, but I’d be lying if I said I actually remembered this book from when I was twelve. I vaguely remember it, and remember how shocking the idea was, and how confronting the idea of Australian teenagers killing to survive was, but little more than that.
There are two contradictory ideas that the flick has to balance in order to work, and it does fairly well with both of them. The first is one that’s contradictory all on its own, which is that these are ‘kids’ thrust unwillingly into the role of soldiers or insurgents, depending on how you look at it, who have to stand up and put away childish things to become freedom fighters.
The second idea is that these clueless but resourceful kids could ever be a threat to an army, and that’s far less convincing, unless you depict the action in a cartoonish and overamped manner, which the flick delivers in spades. So even if we can’t believe it, we’re supposed to be able to relate to it in our own local context.
It’s a somewhat precious idea when you consider that there are kid soldiers in other countries, especially certain African countries, that are hopped up on goofballs and running around raping and killing under orders before they’ve even hit puberty. Also, actual soldiers in actual Western armies are often eighteen anyway. They’re the ones who expect and demand to die on the front lines, being the tattooed cannon fodder by definition that they are.
dir: Bobcat Goldthwait
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.