Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

dir: Mike Newell
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For me there’s an element of watching your kid performing onstage during the Christmas pageant or something similar, in terms of watching this flick. I mean it in the sense that I’m going to be more forgiving in my expectations, and that I’m actively going to like something that others will grind their teeth through.

My fandom for the whole Prince of Persia enterprise goes far back enough that I was but knee-high to a grasshopper; an ancient Persian grasshopper on some grass stalks in the ye old deserts of another time and age.

Yes, I’m talking about the computer games, the many games that have come out with a highly limber and acrobatic protagonist who leaps about defying gravity and fighting bad guys with his scimitar. I’ve played all of them, from the Apple IIe version, through to the Commodore 64 version, and the three million or so versions on PC. I even played the last one, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, which proved, to me at least, that I’ll practically buy anything with those fated words scrawled across the cover in fancy script. If they bring out a desert topping and floor cleaner called Prince of Persia, I’ll probably end up buying that too.

Rating:

Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising

Stop flirting with me, you handsome devil, you

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Repo Men

dir: Miguel Sapochnik
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And here I thought this was a sequel to the classic flick Repo Man. Repo Man: a classic for the ages, from a kinder, gentler, punkier time when Emilio Estevez was briefly cool, and when Harry Dean Stanton, well, he’s always been cool and always will be.

Now that I think about it, a sequel or remake of Repo Man would be terrible, terrible in ways that would make you hate puppies, babies and baby puppy Jesuses. So perhaps it’s not too bad a thing that Repo Men has nothing to do with Alex Cox’s 80s alleged masterpiece.

Repo Men conjectures a hopefully unlikely future where synthetic organs are the most valuable commodity on the planet. In a parallel with the health care debate in the States, and the concept of whether people should actually be able to live even if they can’t afford what the medical profession would like to charge for its services, this flick envisages a time when companies can kill people with impunity.

They’re not killing them for a laugh on a Friday night: they’re just reclaiming their property, so it’s all legal. People enter into contracts to repay the cost of surgery and the new organs, and, if they can’t keep up their payments, become dead men and women walking after 90 days of being in default.

Rating:

Runaways, The

dir: Floria Sigismondi
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The mark of a film succeeding in its job, in this case when it’s based on real events, is usually that after watching it, you know more about the subject matter than before.

Right now, at this moment in time, I know just as much about The Runaways as I did before watching this flick, except for two minor facts: that their manager was a total creep, and that the band members used to lez out at the drop of a hat.

Other than that, it’s not very educational. But then again, it doesn’t really need to be. You could argue that if a flick about the Spice Girls of their era captures the essence of the time (mid seventies, as punk was exploding across the world), and the essence of what made the band noteworthy (that they were a briefly successful all-girl rock band), then it’s achieved its mission.

That’s not what I’m arguing. I said you could argue that. I couldn’t.

Based on this flick, the two major achievements The Runaways are responsible for are a) that it launched the eventual career of Joan Jett, whose most famous single is still a mainstay on golden oldie radio, and b) it gave Kristen Stewart, the notorious non-actor from those godawful Twilight flicks, something to do in between the production of those godawful Twilight flicks.

Rating:

Whip It

Whip It

You go, grrrrrrll

dir: Drew Barrymore

2009

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Tokyo Gore Police (Tokyo zankoku keisatsu)

dir: Yoshihiro Nishimura
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This flick is like watching a squirrel twitch balls-deep in a bag of acorns for two hours.

Why?

Because it’s fucking nuts.

I guess I haven’t watched a lot of Japanese flicks for a while, because even I was surprised by the level of violence in this film. It’s beyond anything I’ve seen in a long time, probably ever. It’s probably the bloodiest thing I’ve ever seen, to date.

But it’s also probably the least affecting thing as well. I thought this was a horror flick, and, considering the level of gore, and what with penises and limbs being horrifically ripped off, or the chainsaws going into people’s mouths and staying there, with sprays of blood showering everything for hours at a time, it’d be a safe bet.

Rating:

Inception

dir: Christopher Nolan
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I don’t know what to tell you, people. On the one hand, there are parts or elements of Inception that are brilliant. On the other hand, there are whole parts and sections that seem arbitrary and cliché. And on the third hand, pretending for the moment that you’re some kind of three-handed mutant, it has an ending that I’m not sure whether it justifies the two-and-a-half hours spent watching it.

From a spectacle perspective, it’s pretty extraordinary. The sight of a Parisian arrondisement being folded over; the impact of waking someone with water from their induced dreams; weightlessness; dream perspective cityscapes; all of that stuff looks mighty purty. It’s a big budget movie where every element, every frame has been fussed over extraordinarily. Christopher Nolan, who probably can do whatever he wants as far as the studio is concerned after the tremendous success of The Dark Knight, made exactly the flick that he wanted to make. And in terms of coherence and meaning, this is a stronger film than Dark Knight, mostly because it’s not as painfully over-edited.

But then why didn’t I like the film that much?

Rating:

Exit Through the Gift Shop

dir: I’m not sure, though Banksy is credited.
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They call it a documentary, but I don’t think you can take anything that transpires in it at face value. It seems like it’s the story it claims to be, but that could all be bullshit.

After all, Banksy is involved.

The parts that are undeniably ‘real’ focus on street art, which is the contemporary term describing graffiti, or whatever you call it when people paint, spray-paint, creatively deface or otherwise do anything in public which inflicts their eyesores on the general public for a brief period of time.

The thing is, if you’ve seen any of the stencil stuff that’s sprung up in the last ten years, the stuff that looks like it was painted but is really stuck on, it’s Banksy.

Banksy didn’t necessarily do it himself, and in fact it’s very unlikely that he did it in your city, unless you live in London, whereby it’s a possibility. But his stuff, his concepts, his radical juxtapositions and provocations, spread across the world like a virus.

His stuff, and I know how pointless it is saying this, is brilliant. I’ve known of his stuff, living and working as I do in the inner city, where his stuff is pasted over everything, for much of the last decade, but I knew next to nothing about the man. Now, after watching this flick, I know even less.

Rating:

Ghost Writer, The

dir: Roman Polanski
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Okay, okay, I’ll get this out of the way right from the start: yes, Roman Polanski is a scumbag, and, no, I’m not condoning anything he’s ever done or said, nor am I exonerating him by watching and reviewing one of his films. No, it’s not the moral equivalence argument. No, I’m not saying that his art justifies anything he’s ever done.

And yes, Hitler’s watercolour paintings were okay, not great, but not awful either.

So if I acknowledge that Roman Polanski is worse than a million Hitlers, will you let me just review the fucking film?

The Ghost Writer is so old school that it really does feel like a throwback. If it wasn’t for some of the technology involved, like mobile phones, GPS and memory sticks, the flick could have been indistinguishable from something set or made in the 70s. It’s a very 70s flick, regardless of some of the subject matter.

It’s 70s because it’s languid, paranoid and, despite some of the wintery open spaces, claustrophobic. I guess it makes sense that someone like Polanski could capture that feeling because a) the 70s were his heyday and b) he can probably relate to a main character feeling under siege from the media and the courts. Just a guess, there.

Rating:

Legion

dir: Scott Stewart
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Legion is, and this probably is not going to surprise any of you, a deeply stupid goddamn flick. There’s never been a flick with angels in it that has ever worked worth a damn except for two profound exceptions: It’s a Wonderful Life, and Wings of Desire.

But those are dramas, albeit romantic ones, with a bit of darkness in them.

This angel-filled fiasco belongs to the sub-genre of fantasy films whereby angels, either enacting or contradicting the will of God, decide to either eliminate humanity or at least battle it out on our planet’s surface.

If you’re of a certain age, and inclination, like me you might remember such 90s movies as The Prophecy trilogy, which had Christopher Walken trying to kill us all while playing the Archangel Gabriel (I don’t think he knew the cameras were on). If you’re even older, you might be boring enough, like me, to have read Milton’s Paradise Lost, and have heard it badly quoted a million times by pretentious shmucks in movies for the last 100 years.

Rating:

Predators

dir: Nimrod Antal
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You may ask yourself whether the world needs more Predator movies. It’s a legitimate question. Reasonable and fair.

That’s like asking if trees needs more sunshine, or if a man needs more blowjobs.

The world didn’t necessarily become a better place upon the release of the first flick way back in 1987, but it certainly improved the lives of millions of teenage boys who now had something to tape off television onto VHS in order to watch endlessly. Well, something that wasn’t taped because of the prospect of boobs, BOOBS…

It was the truest, bluest action flick of its time, and it unashamedly traded on the steroidic charms of Arnold as well as a cast of lunkheads like Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura and Carl Weathers, all of whom peaked with this flick where their only purpose is to kill time before they’re killed, so that Arnie could take care of business at the end, unencumbered by girly men or girly girls.

I’ve watched every inch of that flick so many times that watching it again is almost superfluous: If I was deranged enough, or poor enough, I could practically sit in a darkened room, close my eyes and play through the flick in my head, frame by frame, for its entire duration.

Rating:

Green Zone

dir: Paul Greengrass
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Mocking things is easy. Real easy.

Fun, too.

It’s also lazy. The easiest and laziest goddamn thing any reviewer had to say about this flick was that, given the participation of the director, shaky-cam cinematographer and lead actor, it’s essentially a Bourne flick without the Jason Bourne character.

These reviews just write themselves, don’t they?

It’s not an insult that carried a lot of weight, because this was in truth more of a fictionalised rendering of actual events, being the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the lies, damned lies and statistics used as the casus belli, or justification for the war itself.

The problem is that a) what they’re referring to, with such seriousness, no-one really gives a fuck about any more, and b) it’s attached to a plot so implausible and uninteresting that I’m not sure if it really justifies its existence independent of the premise.

Rating:

Kick Ass

dir: Matthew Vaughn
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Can a movie about comic book-like heroes satirise comic book heroes and movies about comic book heroes at the same time?

No. It cannot. Because all it becomes is another movie about a comic book hero, with the satirical elements flying over the heads not only of the audience but also of the people making the damned thing.

Kick-Ass is based on a comic of the same name by Mark Millar, and, in the creator’s own words, it was really meant to be a scathing attack on a younger version of himself who dreamed of being a costumed crime fighter way back when he was reading Batman: Year One for the first time.

The problem with this premise is that the story doesn’t so much satirise the zero-to-hero wish fulfilment fantasy comic writers and illustrators have pandered to since the dawn of time, so much as fulfil it. A director making a porno satirising the bad acting, cheap production values and orifice-stretching of other pornos is still ultimately making a porno.

Kick-Ass is a different kind of porno, but it’s porn all the same. It’s unlikely to result in as much smelly wadded tissues, but it is the same as what it pretends to ridicule.

Rating:

2012

Two Thousand Twelve

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

dir: Roland Emmerich

2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Shutter Island

dir: Martin Scorsese
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Marty and Leo, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. He puts him in every one of his goddamn flicks these days. If there were a way Scorsese could have figured out to get Leo onstage for that last Strike a Light Rolling Stones concert flick, probably playing Keef Richards or a better version of Ron Wood, he would have done so. Unlucky for us that they didn’t.

It’s a remarkable line of high quality flicks that they’ve been pumping out together, which brings us to their latest collaboration. Shutter Island is a departure for both of them, since I can’t think of the last time either of them, apart or as a couple, made a psychological thriller / horror flick. But they’ve done it now, so let’s see what the fuss, if any, is all about.

Shutter Island is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, a writer whose other books, always situated in Boston in different eras, generally follow, like Scorsese usually does, a more down-to-earth, true crime feel to the proceedings. This is a departure for all concerned, except some of the characters get to use that awesome Southie – Dorchester - Masshole accent. Lucky for them, unlucky for us.

Rating:

Book of Eli, The

dir: The Hughes Brothers
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Another week, another post-apocalyptic flick gets released, meant to chastise humanity for their brutish, selfish ways and profit from our desire for self-destruction. There are so many of these post-apoc flicks coming out that you’d think humanity is obsessed with its own end or something.

Or, alternately, that screenwriters have very limited imaginations.

Hot on the heels of that other mega-blockbuster The Road, which no-one saw, and those that did promptly committed suicide (or at least thought about it a whole hell of a horrible lot), comes another flick where a barren earth plays host to the last scrambling remnants of humanity.

The great difference here, though, is that this is meant to be more fun.

Sure, life on the desiccated plains is desolate, short, brutish and Hobbsian, and cannibalism and general viciousness abounds, but, unlike the dead Earth of The Road, there is some hope here for the species' survival. And that hope travels in the form of a man called Eli (Denzel Washington), who walks West, carrying a book.

Not just any book, but The Book.

Rating:

Iron Man 2

dir: Jon Favreau
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Finally, a sequel to a superhero flick! The world is crying out for Part 2s. Part 2s are generally speaking, always better than Part 1s. Part 1s have all the horrible heavy lifting to do in terms of establishing an iconic character’s origins and motivations, which generally makes anything else that happens superfluous.

Part Deuxes only have to refer to those origins in the opening credits, and then it’s all away-we-go. And is thus better because, after all, who wants all that baggage?

Baggage-handlers, that’s who. They live for baggage. Also, customs people, drug smugglers and the thieves that work in airports, they all love baggage.

The rest of us, though, just want to skip the entre and get to the main course.

Iron Man 2 is the rare Marvel Part 2 that extends but doesn’t exceed its initial instalment: of that I mean the current crop of superhero flicks that have been coming out recently which have generally done pretty well with the follow-up instalment. Most people, I think, would agree that Spider-Man 2 was significantly better than either 1 or 3, and X-Men 2 is still the best of four admittedly mediocre movies.

Rating:

Bodyguards and Assassins (Shi yue wei cheng)

Shi yue wei cheng

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

dir: Teddy Chen

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Accident (Yi ngoi)

Yi ngoi

Look both ways but kiss your arse goodbye anyway

dir: Pou Soi Cheang

2009

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Overheard (Qie ting feng yun)

Overheard

I heard a rumour, they you have a broken heart, and
that the ending to your movie was shitty

dirs: Alan Mak and Felix Chong

2009

For most of this flick’s running length, I thought I was watching a pretty good movie. It had a certain momentum, and tension, and even if the characters were somewhat unbelievable, I didn’t mind that too much because I found their actions, and the repercussions arising from those actions, to be both believable and interesting.

Of course, then they had to fuck the ending up.

Oh, man, do they fuck the ending up. It’s an ending so bad it undoes almost all the good work of the preceding 90 minutes. It’s so trite, preposterous and contrived that it made me feel actively angry.

But I shouldn’t let that completely obscure the goodwill I’d previously been experiencing while watching the flick. Sure, shitty endings can leave a poisonous aftertaste, but they don’t always justify ripping the absolute guts out of a flick.

Overheard is a taut, mostly fascinating crime story about a group of surveillance expert cops who are trying to figure out what white collar crimes are being committed at, by or to a Hang Seng stock exchange-listed company.

Most of the time, the vast majority of the time, it’s a crime movie about white collar crime. White collar crime generally sounds like a fucking boring time at the movies, but done properly, it’s as interesting as any other kind of espionage / heist flick.

Rating:

The Invention of Lying

The Invention of Lying

Cancelled, cancelled, cancelled, they should all be cancelled

dirs: Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson

2009

I’d heard a lot of bad things about this flick, not just from the average tubes of the internets level of discourse being “it’s the shittest thing ever shat out of a studio or an orifice”, but also from trusted friends, allies and confidantes, who all said, with their superior level of expression and articulation “it’s fucking shithouse, don’t see it.”

With that in mind I had one of those experiences where lowered expectations took the sting out of something I otherwise might not have liked as much, and I even ended up enjoying it. And I even laughed, which is virtually unheard of with comedies, that most serious of genres.

Ricky Gervais is who he is, and he’s very good at being Ricky Gervais. He’s also managed to very successfully parlay this version of Ricky Gervais to the world (well, to America, at least). He’s done so well at it that they (they being Hollywood) have been dazzled enough by his British wit and blinding smile into letting him direct his own films. Where he gets to play Ricky Gervais all over again.

Sure, he’s better at it than anyone else, but then that’s like being the best compulsive masturbator in a porno theatre: a dubious honour at the best or worst of times, and even then the other wankers around you aren’t looking to crown their natural king. They’re too busy, as it is.

Rating:

Clash of the Titans

dir: Louis Leterrier
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Did Clash of the Titans need to be remade? In 3D no less?

Of course it did, you anti-capitalistic naysayers. Everything should be remade in 3D. Weekend at Bernie’s 3D. Driving Miss Daisy 3D. Deep Throat 3D.

That last one could have your eye out if you’re not careful.

It’s profitable, isn’t it? And, as the drug, prostitution and pornography industries have always taught us: If something’s profitable, of course you should be doing it.

Most reviewers keep referring to the original flick as being not very good in the first place, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything. The story’s based on Greek mythology from three millennia ago, so blaming Harry Hamlin or Ray Harryhausen seems a bit much. For all the blather regarding Joseph Campbell, the heroic journey and the fundamentals of epic story telling, the tale of Perseus slaying the Gorgon Medusa and saving Andromeda from a monster while riding a winged horse is pretty cheesy crap regardless of how big the budget or whether you’ve got Sir Ian McKellen or Fabio in a lead role.

Rating:

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant

Give me all your drugs, for I am ever so hungry

dir: Werner Herzog

Herzog has long been acclaimed as one of the nuttiest directors of all time, so it makes a kind of deranged sense that he would be the one that picked up the mantle no-one else wanted. The Abel Ferrara directed Bad Lieutenant, at least the one starring Harvey Keitel and his penis, is one of my all time favourite films, of that have no doubt. When I watch it even today I marvel at just how demented and heart-rending it all is. How harrowing and still funny.

This is in no way a remake, but I guess there is some kind of thematic connection. That’s being too kind – there’s no goddamn connection. The only connection is that the main cop character is at the rank of lieutenant, and he uses a lot of drugs and probably commits / ignores as many crimes as he solves or pursues.

Keitel’s character was trapped in a hideous (and sometimes darkly comic) downward spiral because of, considering the heavy dose of Catholicism permeating the flick, either his abandonment of God, or his abandonment by God. The bleeding saviour himself appears in front of Keitel, who lets loose with the most disturbing keening / primal howling you’ll ever hear or laugh at in that or any other film.

Here, I think the sometimes great, more often terrible actor Nicolas Cage, is doing whatever nutbag nuttiness pops into his or Herzog’s head, and most of the time it doesn’t make any sense, but then this isn’t supposed to make complete sense. There are long sequences where the camera focuses on alligators and iguanas that make no sense in this or any other movie, including documentaries on how the lizards of New Orleans were worst affected by Hurricane Katrina. It’s just fucking nutty.

Katrina plays its obligatory part in such a story by being the cause of Terrence McDonagh’s (Cage) promotion to the rank of lieutenant after he saves a prisoner from the rising waters, but also the source of his drug problems. He screwed his back up in some way during the rescue which means his original addiction was to prescription painkillers. Now he does coke, crack cocaine and heroin by the handful as well, and barely anyone notices.

His girlfriend Frankie is a very understanding prostitute who’s also an addict (the always easy on the eyes but not the ears Eva Mendes), and he never really seems to have that much trouble keeping her happy as long as the drugs are free and free-flowing. Being a cop, and a clearly corrupt cop at that, he has no difficulty scoring wherever he goes, whether it’s from drug dealers, crime scenes, the evidence locker or his girlfriend’s clients.

And wherever it is that he goes, he goes with a lopsided gait and one shoulder significantly higher than the other. His gun, since he (I guess) can’t use a holster, always sits in the front of his waistband, always ready to be pulled out and waved at people whether he’s shaking people down for whatever drugs they have on them, or screaming for attention at the local chemist.

Rating:

Beautiful Kate

Beautiful Kate

She deserved better, they all did. Except the dad.

dir: Rachel Ward

2009

It’s a good thing Rachel Ward directed this film. Not only because she brings a deft and empathetic eye to a ‘difficult’ story, and renders it both meaningful and Australian despite its American origins. It’s also because if a guy had directed this, you’d accuse them of being a dirty, dirty old man, instead of being a sensitive and accomplished filmmaker.

She also, in a clear instance of welfare handouts, gives a plum role to her husband Bryan Brown, who plays a dying patriarch. Do you reckon he had to earn his spot in the film on the casting couch, by sucking and fucking his way to fame and stardom? I wouldn’t put it past her.

This is a good film, but the subject matter is rough, more than a bit rough. It’s downright discomfiting. Any story with elements of incest in it by default is going to be hard watching. And the elephant in this room is so large and so grey that it practically squishes every single other element. Almost.

There’s death, there’s very wrong sex, there’s suicide, and there’s the rage you can only feel towards parents, all here up on the screen for our delectation. Enjoy!

Based on a novel by Newton Thornburg, Beautiful Kate’s setting is transformed from being set just outside of Chicago, Illinois, to the exactly identical setting of the South Australian Flinders Ranges. Ned (Ben Mendelsohn) is a writer summoned back to the family property (called Wallimbi or Gumby or Mallulabimbi) where his saintly father Bruce (Bryan Brown) is loudly dying. Wait a second, maybe Bruce isn’t that much of a saint. In fact, like all of the male characters in this, maybe he’s a bit of a prick.

Our main character, who’s also dragged his much younger bimbo girlfriend Toni along (Maeve Dermody), doesn’t seem to be that perturbed about his father dying. In fact, he seems only mildly put out by it all. He and Bruce clearly loathe each other, and they’re both running down the clock. Brought together by genuinely saintly sister Sally (Rachel Griffiths), they are forced to spend time together by dint of Bruce’s infirmity, and Ned’s need to get some last digs in before Bruce fades away into oblivion. But of course it is every parent’s entitlement to be disappointed in their living kids, and to eternally idealise the ones cut down in the prime of their youth, and none died younger or more youthful than Kate.

Rating:

Ninja Assassin

Ninja Assassin

This Assassin will Ninja you! No, wait, the ninja will assassin you?
Could be it's a tad tautological

dir: James McTeigue

Wow. I haven’t seen a flick with as many meaty chunks flying around since the last time I took a trip to a slaughterhouse, or perhaps Easter Sunday lunch at my parent’s place. There’s substantially less mooing going on here, but all the same, the majority of the people who appear onscreen are here only to end up as chunks of meat on the floor for our entertainment.

That is what we are, after all. Maybe there’s something depressing about seeing visual (and entirely computer generated) representations of the essential meatiness of our bodies. Rendered down into our component parts, everything we were and ever will be, annihilated like that, well, it’s pretty confronting.

At least for a while. This decidedly substandard action movie opens with a bunch of yakuza thugs exploding into discrete piles o’chunks, at the hands, blades and shurikens of unseen, shadowy assassins. In other words, there must be murderous ninjas afoot!

The heyday of the ninja flick was definitely the 80s. At no other time has there been as much of a market for the endless permutations of the magically murderous character, which is why we had, for an all too brief, halcyon period, a stream of ninja related action flicks. For reasons I haven’t expended and won’t expend brain power on, the ninja sub-genre appealed to American audiences, leading to this procession of flicks starring obviously non-Japanese people as experts in ninjitsu, and the art of assassination and deception. Not for nothing did men like Franco Nero and Michael Dudikoff become household names.

What do you mean, they didn’t? Surely almost everyone in Christendom and Buddhisdom, for that matter, watched everything from Enter the Ninja to Silent Assassin to American Ninja 5: The Re-ninja-ing? They didn’t? Well, what were they busy doing, building treehouses, setting off bottle rockets or building crystal meth labs instead?

I don’t know if I’m at all glad that they’re bringing this genre back again. Like Michael Jackson, it had its time and place, and probably doesn’t merit resurrection. It feels uncomfortably like coming home and finding your significant other in flagrante delicto which Chuck Norris. Tell me seeing him on his hands and knees with someone else in deep up to their elbow wouldn’t be the most retro yet disturbing thing you ever saw in your life.

Rating:

A Serious Man

A Serious Man

The Master of all he surveys

dir: Coens

The Brothers Coen have made lots of films, many of them superb. They’ve been at it for a while. They’re critical darlings to this day, and everything they make is taken seriously, no matter how ludicrous it might be. And with No Country for Old Men, they received the highest possible honours Hollywood can bestow upon itself, guaranteeing them first dibs on any projects they could ever want, as long as they don’t cost too much.

Despite long careers working together, A Serious Man, of all their flicks, is the most overtly Jewish thus far (in terms of content and themes). I know that sounds odd, or vaguely anti-Semitic, but it’s not intended as such. They’re not working from an adapted screenplay, so it’s a story they themselves have written, which contains a lot of detail (I think) from their early lives. It also explicitly uses elements of the Jewish faith and the Jewish experience in America in the story it has to tell, which seems to be based on the Book of Job, amongst other things. And you can’t really get more Jewish than the Torah, can you?

And what a kick-ass blockbuster story it is! Our main character Larry (Michael Stuhlbarg), is a mathematics associate professor desperate for that most academic of Holy Grails: tenure. Right from the start, after a very strange intro involving some Yiddish peasants fighting over whether their guest on a cold, stormy night is alive or dead, Larry’s life starts falling apart for no discernible reason.

His tenure becomes tenuous, a disgruntled student alternately threatens and bribes him for a failing grade resulting from Schrodinger’s Cat (whether it’s alive or dead is irrelevant right now), his wife wants to leave him for a guy called Sy Ableman, his kids are alternately a chronic dope smoker about to have his bar mitzvah who’s obsessed with F Troop, and a junior version of Barbara Streisand.

Almost every other character in the flick says Sy Ableman’s name in this really curious way, most often with hushed tones of respect, or with incredulity, as in “Sy Ableman? Sy Ableman?!?!”

Plenty more shit starts to go wrong, in ways that almost seem like either bad luck or like Larry himself is being cursed by God for something he did or didn’t do. Larry’s a mathematician, though, and a rational (though not the “serious” man of the title) man, so he has no truck with concepts as nebulous as luck or destiny, because it’s all about randomness, probabilities and uncertainty principles and other such foofaraw.

Rating:

Vengeance (Fuk sau)

Fuk sau

AVENGE ME, BOYS, AVENGE ME!!!!

dir: Johnnie To

I have to admit, I find this flick pretty… strange. Much as I love Johnnie To’s flicks, and as much as I consider him one of the last Hong Kong directors making movies of any worth, style or significance, that doesn’t always mean I get where he’s coming from.

See, it’s a Hong Kong flick that mostly transpires in Macau, with an aged French actor as the lead, who doesn’t speak Cantonese, who wants revenge. Revenge! Or vengeance, as the case may be, on those who brutally attacked his daughter and murdered his grand children.

Why Costello (Johnny Halliday) wants revenge is almost irrelevant, because the sad fact is as well that, mixing in an element from Memento, Costello has short term memory problems, making his stated intention to seek Vengeance that much harder.

He accidentally stumbles across a team of hitmen, who he enlists in his righteous cause. They haltingly speak English, and he haltingly understands it, but they bond with each other, for reasons not obvious to me.

To’s films always, always, almost always centre around the idea of the brotherhood of man, and the bonds between men that can spring up through mutual criminality or happenstance, and yet prove stronger than love or death. To’s comfort with using the same stable of actors, or the union/triad gangster requirement to use the same actors in every single Hong Kong flick mean there’s a certain degree of shorthand involved.

Rating:

Storm Warriors (Fung Wan II)

Fung Wan II

Big hair, big swords and nothing else

dir: The Pang Brothers

This either is or isn’t a sequel to a Hong Kong flick called The Storm Riders that I remember from the late 90s. I remember it well, and fondly. It was probably one of the last flicks I ever bought on VHS video tape.

Ah, video tape, how quaint and retro you seem now, which juxtaposes nicely with the fact that what made The Storm Riders stand out way back then was that it was the first of the martial arts flicks to use the new CGI effects well in the scope of telling one of their usual, incomprehensible sword based melodramas.

Whether Storm Warriors is actually the sequel, or whether its title is supposed to be Storm Riders II, or whether it’s Storm Warriors II, I can’t figure out. In fact, there’s very little I can figure about after watching this flick twice. Admittedly, Storm Riders was hard to follow as well, because of a multiplicity of characters and bad subtitles. But it was fun, and I still basically understood what was going on, and I very much enjoyed it, regardless of whether a Mud Buddha was chasing a fire monkey or when someone steals the power to freeze a body in order to ensure that his dead beloved’s body doesn’t ever decompose.

I can relate to you ever single thing that happens in Storm Warriors, but I can't explain how or why any of it happens or what any of it could possibly mean. It’s not just because of a virtually indecipherable script. It has some of the worst editing of any expensive movie I’ve ever seen since the last time Guy Ritchie or Tony Scott made movies.

On top of that there are lousy performances and an incredible abundance of effects and techniques meant to ape such blockbusters as 300, Lord of the Rings and Spider-Man, with none of the attendant ability required to put any of it together in a coherent way.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t pretend to be an authority on any of the things that seem to occur in terms of the plot, because the plot is borderline insane and it’s been poorly filtered through into subtitles that read like they were written by an acid-tripping fortune cookie writer, but when you can’t ever figure out what the fuck is supposed to be happening when there’s no dialogue involved, then it’s simply the most incompetent storytelling you’ll see all year that Michael Bay has had nothing to do with.

Rating:

(500) Days of Summer

Five Hundred Days of Summer

Loved the Regina Spektor music they used in the flick,
more than the flick itself

dir: Marc Webb

There aren’t that many good romantic flicks. I don’t think it’s the boring case of “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to, and get off my lawn, you deadbeats” beyond the heyday of the Golden blah blah of Hollywood. Romantic flicks invariably suck because they’re invariably crappy, inhuman and lazy.

And yet romance infects its way into almost any other flick and genre you can think of. Romance on its own, though, without the ‘comedy’ support of being at least a romantic comedy? Oh, it’s fucking awful, almost 99 per cent of the time.

That figure is empirical fact, based on years of meticulous research, forensic testing and cross-matching with the FBI’s crime database.

I don’t think this flick is anywhere near up the top of the genre with the few decent romantic flicks of the last couple of decades or so, but it doesn’t completely and utterly suck.

We are told right from the start that though this is a story about love, that it is not a love story, and that it is more about the misery a failed relationship can bring rather than the sheer scope and magnitude of wonderfulness that can occur when everything goes right.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who was just sooooo great in that last GI Joe movie, wears a lot of sweater vests and ties in this flick. That alone almost made me gouge my eyes out. He is a fairly happy-go-lucky chappie who meets a girl at work and tentatively ends up having sex with her.

Rating:

Surrogates

Surrogates

Please, just let me sleep

dir: Jonathan Mostow

Huh? Is Bruce Willis so desperate for beer money that he’ll take practically any role in any piece de resistance of shit? He can’t possibly still owe Demi Moore alimony, can he?

The thing that’s weirdest about this flick is that I’m not entirely sure why it’s so weird. It’s weird in that it’s so brief, harmless and plastic. The plasticity of it all is part of the point, but it really does feel like half the film is missing somewhere, perhaps on either the editing suite’s floor or Bruce Willis’s bathroom, whichever.

It’s disturbing as well to see this strangely hilarious fantasy version of Bruce Willis, though I guess there’s some real reason for it.

This flick is a pointless and thinly-veiled allegory for the abdication of reality by pale, sweaty people who’ve ceased living real lives and who now live almost exclusively through the tubes of the internets. It’s utterly simplistic and, dare I say it, stupid, but even worse than that, there’s no real validity to the premise. It’s nonsense.

Set at some arbitrary time in the future, a new application of technology has resulted in the good people of America receding to the darkness of their own bedrooms, in order to send their consciousnesses forth into the world through robotic surrogates. All these surrogates are, of course, mostly young and hot looking. Except for the fact that there are no children, old people or ugly people around except for Bruce Willis, life mostly goes along like it always did.

The fact that people now almost exclusively run around in these mannequin bodies means there’s no murder or violent crime like there used to be, because they’re all robots. The only people who don’t partake of these bodies are, apparently, all white trash luddites called Dreads who live on surrogate-free zones called reservations, and are led by The Prophet (Ving Rhames), who’s really anti these surrogates, boy howdy.

Rating:

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