Drama

Whale Rider

dir: Niki Caro
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Whale Rider is certainly a touching, sweet film, but people shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s a children’s movie. It is a story of far greater complexity and depth than what one comes to expect from films that seem to be aimed at the kiddie market.

It’s clear, at least to me that there is much more going on here. As well, dismissing it as a glib post-feminist treatise about how wonderful girl power is would be doing the film a disservice, and would denigrate the work all the people involved put into crafting this little gem of a film. It is not a masterpiece by any estimation. It is however a sweet film about a little girl finding her destiny and teaching an old man that the links between the past, present and future can be strongest in the places we are least able to see.

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21 Grams

dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
[img_assist|nid=1037|title=Let's overact together, shall we?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=406]
Poetically, romantically, the human soul is said to weigh 21 grams. This is based on experiments inaccurately carried out long ago which claimed that upon death a person would instantly lose 21 grams of weight, thus the departure of the soul must be responsible for the change. Of course it has no basis in reality. But the central question still remains: whether the body loses 21 grams or not upon death, how much do we lose when those we love die? How much do they lose when we die? When we take a life, save a life, how much is gained? How much is lost? This film seems to indicate that at the very least it's something more than 21 grams.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu is two for two. After his most excellent debut with Amores Perros, along with writing partner Guillermo Arriaga he again delivers a compelling, emotional and thoughtful film which packs an emotional punch without resorting to cheap tricks or manipulation. Whilst most will focus on the disjointed chronology with which the story is portrayed through the complicated editing, at its core the film deals with powerful moments in these character's lives which rarely if ever overstep the bounds of genuine drama into kitchen-sink melodrama. The film achieves pathos without bathos, which is a glib way of saying that it's a damn fine film.

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Adaptation

Adaptation

Some days it's hard not to feel exactly like that

dir: Spike Jonze

2002

This is one of the best films from last year that practically no-one is going to bother seeing, I can just feel it. It probably has one of the least marketable premises of any film I can think of in recent memory, and doesn't exactly scream 'rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills' for your $13.50

It is still in my anything but humble opinion one of the best films of 2002, and Nicolas Cage manages to surprise me heartily by delivering two sterling performances, when I expected nothing from the man. Nothing at all. His last bunch of films have been dogs, so I had begun mourning the talent that Cage used to possess. And what does the fucker do? He delivers his best performance in over a decade.

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Quiet American. The

dir: Philip Noyce
[img_assist|nid=1044|title=I wonder how that war ended up going...|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=319|height=475]
Wait, there was a war in Vietnam? Why didn't anyone tell me about it? Was it a big war? And why has Hollywood ignored this potential goldmine? They should get that room with the thousand monkeys chained to their typewriters cracking right away.

I am sick to death of films relating to the Vietnam war. Thoroughly sick to fucking death. Sure, there's been plenty of wonderful and touching films about America's obsession with that little communist country (Full Metal Jacket, Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Hamburger Hill) and the apparent deep scar it has left on the national psyche, but I think it's been done more than enough. Give it a rest, people. Hell, I love a good war film as much as the next sociopath, but there's this point where a dead horse has been whipped so much that you haven't even got enough horse left to make gravy with.

In that case am I glad that this film, though it deals again with that country, is focused upon the lead up to
the 'war' as opposed to the war itself? Well, kinda.

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Rules of Attraction, The

dir: Roger Avary

I don't have an agenda in reviewing it favourably, and I am not that egotistical as to believe that my reviews affect people's viewing decisions. I can resolutely state that I probably got more enjoyment out of it than most people would, and probably forgive its amateurish errors more readily than I should.

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One Hour Photo

dir: Mark Romanek
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Robin Williams was, to use the official psychiatric term, a complete loon. He was a complete loon for a long time. Anyone who's ever seen one of his coke fuelled stand-up performances from the 80s (such as Live at the Met from 1986), or seen anyone try to interview him on any type of show knows how much of a complete nutjob he was (and probably still is). The man used to have a chaotic level of energy when 'on' that it meant even he didn't know what was going to come out of his manic mouth next. You've never seen someone cram more free associations, impressions, parodies and downright crippling gags in such a short space of time. Of course by delivering twenty gags in the space of fifteen seconds even when ten leave you scratching your unmentionables the other five kept you giggling like a schoolgirl.

Those days of coke binges and having sex with Christy Canyon (I'm not making that up) are long gone, but the mania certainly remains. Even now you'd be hard pressed to find a better example of a person with extreme bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depression back in the old days.

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Secretary

dir: Steven Shainberg
[img_assist|nid=1034|title=There have to be better ways to get the mail. But I fail to hear any complaining.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=467]
What a fucking freaky film. It starts off being a film about one freak, who then finds an even bigger freak than herself. It just makes you hope they eventually get together and raise some freak babies.

There were certainly a bunch of people in the audience I saw this film with who didn't have a singular clue about this film. They were the ones that walked out not because of the sexual / sadomasochistic content, but because the psychosexual stuff wasn't sexy. They were actually expecting or hoping for some T & A and double entendres about taking dictation and doing a Lewinsky under the desk. Not a story about a demented self-mutilator and a sadistic obsessive-compulsive.

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Ghost World

dir: Terry Zwigoff
[img_assist|nid=1032|title=She broke a million nerd hearts with this role|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=300]
Movies tend to celebrate the triumph of the individual. The underdog beats the less-likeable and usually wealthy favourite to win the adulation of the crowd. Villains get their comeuppance at movie's end, with the hero finally getting the girl and the acknowledgment that they deserve, usually with a large television audience watching in masturbatory glee.

We as people want to associate ourselves with winners, with success, with victory. We can relate to the personal hardships that the film protagonists go through, as we all have mishaps, accidents and fuckups in our lives, just probably not on the same scale. And when they (usually) inevitably triumph over the odds to win the belt, the cup or kill the bad guy, we feel that associative rush as well, sharing in their triumph. We're winners as well. Our value systems, whilst certainly not uniform around the globe, tend to prize success, coolness, triumph in competition against others, the overcoming of obstacles, prejudices etc to achieve what we all ultimately want: acceptance and approval by society and those around us.

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The Rules of the Game (La Regle de jeu)

The Rules of the Game

The first rule of game club is, we don't talk about game club

dir: Jean Renoir

1939

When you’re told a film is one of the best of all time, you’re naturally going to be wary. The title is usually foisted upon Citizen Kane, but just as often it’s trotted out in terms of this film.

It’s easier to talk about popular films that have been seen by squillions of people, and judging their impact on the audience’s consciousness through the years rather than about some film from 70 years ago few people you know have ever heard of let alone seen. It one thing to debate whether Apocalypse Now is great, or Lawrence of Arabia, but arguing about something no-one under the age of 50 has seen is the ultimate in film wankery.

I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve watched the restored, Criterion Collection edition, with the commentaries by experts, the apologetic introduction by Renoir himself, scene by scene analyses by film experts, and a whole bunch of other documentaries on the film and the director. I just don’t see it.

See, I can watch Casablanca, and no-one needs to explain to me why it's a classic or a great film. If you need to explain it to me, then, well, draw your own conclusions.

It’s a pleasant enough film, don’t get me wrong. It has some interesting characters and seems to be saying lots of stuff about lots of topics. It’s even a pretty funny comedy in certain bits, if not downright farcical. Still, I’m not yet sure it’s the best thing since sliced cocaine.

Also, I grant that it is meticulously put together, is impeccably filmed and has a lot going on and beneath the surface. The problem is that viewed in such a way, it becomes an intellectual exercise in trying to define why something is a masterpiece, rather than watching it and being able to experience it for yourself.

If I tell you that the Australian no-budget vampire film Bloodlust is the greatest film of all time, you’re not going to care. If every film critic and film academic tells you Bloodlust is the greatest film ever, you’ll watch it, and from its opening frames you’ll be asking yourself “what’s so great about this?” Is it the copious use of fake blood, the appalling accents, the stupid actors, or the amount and quality of boobies?

It could be any one of those things, but the problem is both expectation and the attention you pay to the elements when you should be just watching the damned thing. If you just watch a movie without thinking about its outside reputation, you’ll respond according to whether you get into it or not. When you’re watching it from the point of view of history you are, to put it poetically, fucked.

Andre (Roland Toutain) lands his plane in Paris, after a heroic 23 hour flight from the States. Now it takes less than half of that, but back then, in the 1930s, I guess it was something of an achievement. When he doesn’t see the woman he loves waiting for his at the airport, he is heartbroken, and tells the world so through the magic of the radio.

Listening to the radio many miles away is the object of his affections, Christine (Nora Gregor) who seems unmoved by his remonstrations. She prepares for some enchanted evening by putting on her jewels and furry finery. She wanders into a room containing her semi-aristocrat husband Robert (Marcel Dalio) who’s also listening to the radio. He knows the aviator is talking about his wife Christine, but doesn’t seem too miffed about anything, and even seems quite forgiving. Moments after his wife asserts her complete trust in him Robert places a call to his mistress Genevieve (Mila Parely), who’s a hysterical strumpet if ever I saw one. And trust me, I've known a few.

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On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront

When he was a young god...

dir: Elia Kazan

1954

It’s a bloody shame that possessing too much knowledge makes it impossible to just talk about a great film and call it a great film. Either that, or you can put it down to arrogance, pretentiousness, or affected hipsterism. Whichever and whatever combination thereof that I’m afflicted with, I’m too aware of the history behind this picture to be able to blithely review it like it’s just any film.

Sure, it’s a film like any other. Although, it won a bunch of Academy awards, and it contains one of the greatest performances by Marlon Brando that you’ll ever see. And it casts a mournful eye over the waterfront upon which it is set, and the cowardice, greed and cruelty that conspires to render good men either dead or useless at the hands of a corrupt union.

And it’s directed by a man who made some great films, like this, Streetcar Named Desire, A Face in the Crowd, Splendor in the Grass, and Gentleman’s Agreement; films which I’m sure all the kids of today are big fans of and love to hear quoted in the latest emo and rap songs illegally downloaded onto their iPods.

But Elia Kazan also named names during the Communist witch hunt era, lending credibility and legitimacy to a process that should never have possessed a skerrick of either, and continued to work and live a happy, productive life after condemning others to blacklisting and misery.

For a man who received plenty of awards during his life, perhaps it might strike some as strange that he required honouring at the 2003 Oscars with a lifetime achievement award, where many of the crowd refused to applaud or even stand for him. Talented director, traitorous fiend, or both?

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