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3 stars

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

dir: Dito Montiel
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This is a film by Dito Montiel, about the life of Dito Montiel, based on the book written by Dito Montiel. Wow, this Dito Montiel is some kind of wonderful guy to want to bring Dito Montiel to the attention of millions, isn’t he?

After all, Dito Montiel won the Nobel Peace prize for solving the Sonny and Cher crisis back in the 70s, and also won the Nobel Physics prize for inventing the tubes that power the internet. He cured all cancer, discovered the clitoris and came up with a tasty breakfast cereal high in fibre but low in sugar to boot.

If it wasn’t for those obviously fabricated highlights of Dito Montiel’s life that I just made up, we wouldn’t have any clue why we’re watching a film about Dito Montiel’s life. Having watched the film, I still have to ask myself why anyone is supposed to give a good goddamn about the fucker.

Dito, played by Shia LaBeouf in the 80s, and Robert Downey Jr in the 2000s, hasn’t really done anything worthy of note that I can figure out apart from write a book about himself and having directed a film about himself. These are achievements, don’t get me wrong, I just can’t for the life of me see what in his life justified such endeavours or why we should be interested.

Rating:

Freedomland

dir: Joe Roth
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As the old phrase goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s also drenched in an oil slick of egotism, smug righteousness and self-delusion.

Freedomland is a terrible mess of a film made by a director who hasn’t made a semi-decent movie in his entire career, unless you count Revenge of the Nerds II.

The plot isn’t the worst thing about this film, nor are (all) the acting performances, or its pacing or length, width or girth. The biggest problem is Julianne Moore’s performance as one of the main characters. For someone who’s considered to be so good, goddamn does she stink up the joint with her surreal attempts to act ‘down’. She is completely and fundamentally unbelievable in the role.

She plays Brenda, a recovering junkie whose son has gone missing. She works at a community outreach centre near some New Jersey projects, and tells police that she was carjacked with her son in the back seat on the way home.

Because her brother is a policeman in an adjoining borough, and because she’s white, the police go berserk on the projects, locking them down in order to find the kid.

Rating:

Happy Feet

dir: George Miller
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Enough, already. The success of Pixar’s movies and the Shrek monstrosities has led to an incredible and totally fathomable explosion in the amount of computer animated movies stinking up the cinemas. A bunch of years ago there’d be one or two over the course of the year. In 2006, there were about twenty of them.

It was inevitable that computer animation would replace traditional hand drawn animation and that it would start garnering a greater share of studio and audience attention. And that’s not because it’s any cheaper or quicker to produce, because these flicks cost multi-millions to make and take many years to complete. But being able to point to the advances in animation techniques is the selling point itself. The stories certainly aren’t improving along with the programming. So much money is being invested in these things, so much money is at stake, so the stories are getting more and more bland and safe as their producers become even more risk-averse than previous.

Rating:

Da Vinci Code, The

dir: Ron Howard
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I’m not of the inclination or the right mood to criticise the at least forty million people that bought copies of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Riding on public transport requires reading material, so whether it’s the latest Harry Potter trotter, geisha memoirs or some highbrow crap by Martin Amis or Camille Paglia is irrelevant to me. It’s up to the individual to decide what’s going to distract them adequately from the knowledge that soon they’ll be at the unsatisfying job that daily brings them so much closer to suicide.

Anything else is just sneering snobbery. Which is, nonetheless, quite enjoyable as a hobby.

Brown’s books have sold like cocaine, so by default movie versions become mandatory. And, for such a popular novel, it dictates (according to some commentary I’ve read) that the film plot adhere strictly to the novel, because variation or divergence would be seen (ironically enough) as heresy.

As such, we get a two hour and 40 minute lumbering, ludicrous monstrosity of a flick that brings new depths to the use of the term ‘highly dubious’.

Rating:

Van Helsing

dir: Stephen Sommers
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Not that anyone asked, or that anyone wants to know, but I can honestly say that I’ve never paid to have sex with a prostitute, a working girl, a ‘lady of the night’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a comment on the ladies, I know they do a hard job and they earn their money bringing to fruition the old business success mantra about the customer always coming first. I joke about hookers and cocaine all the time, but it’s just that: a joke. Who can afford that kind of crap when a bottle of decent single malt whisky costs between $60 and $80?

The reason I hold this particular credo, which has nothing to do with morality or personal ethics or anything of the sort, is that I can imagine after money changed hands and business was taken care of, the deed being done, I’d be filled with a profound emptiness inside. It would come from the fact that I had to pay money to get someone to have sex with me, a person who couldn’t possibly even remotely have any tender feelings towards me. Sure, live long enough and you end up having sex with a bunch of people that can’t stand you and whom you can’t stand, for a multitude of different reasons. But at the very least you shouldn’t have to pay cash for it.

Rating:

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

dir: Alexander Witt
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For a director with the surname Witt, there's a fundamental lack of it
in this movie, even by the meagre standards one might apply to the
zombie / horror / computer game adaptation genre. The presence of a
few vaguely entertaining action set pieces can't really elevate this
material from the cesspool from which most of this kind of crap oozes
out from. Of the recent plethora of zombie films this is both the most
recent and the least of them. Absolutely the least.

Bizarrely enough it even makes the original look good in comparison.
Those familiar with the work of the first one's director, Paul W.S.
Anderson, know what a criminal indictment such a claim must be. Anyone
who makes Anderson look good (apart from Milla Jovovich) must be in
league with powers darker than the ones at the beck and call of the
Republican Party.

Rating:

Moulin Rouge

dir: Barry Luhrmann
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Moulin Rouge, the fourth in the Three Colours series, is the first to depart from the tried and true formula of having silly French people overact at the drop of a croissant. Instead, in another of his long list of genre bursting endeavours, Barry Luhrmann decided to shift the focus of his vision to the future. In this science fiction / horror crossover, Luhrmann paints a bleak yet colourful canvas of his chilling view of a post apocalyptic alternate future where the fabric of society has been discarded like a drunken bridesmaid's undies and people speak in a post literate language called "ham", obscuring all meaningful communication and leading to sorrow, loneliness and death.

The film begins at a time referred to as "1899", but astute viewers will note that this has nothing to do with actual earth history. On some newly colonised planet, a city called "Paris" cradles both our protagonists and the venue that the film takes its name from, the Moulin Rouge, or "Red Snapper", cunningly referring to the legendary Led Zeppelin groupie anecdote of the same name.

Rating:

Last Tango in Paris (Ultimo Tango in Parigi)

Last Tango

What happened to you, man? You used to be beautiful

dir: Bernardo Bertolucci

1972

Oh, my good gods do I loathe this film.

I find myself truly amazed that this film has such a vaunted reputation. Famous film critic Pauline Kael wrote a 6,000 word review practically calling it the death and rebirth of cinema. Other critics fell over themselves to praise Brando’s performance beyond the high heavens and to heap the shiniest and gaudiest superlatives that they could upon this film and its lead actor.

What the fuck were they snorting?

Brando may have been the greatest actor of his generation, but I find his entire performance, most of which is improvised, excruciating to listen to and behold. This is not acting, it's actoring: this is an actor doing whatever the hell he wants because he thinks he’s beyond being directed. Whether he’s saying whatever pops into his head, or smacking Maria Schneider in the head with a hair brush, he’s less of an actor than Jim Carrey is.

I mean that seriously. There’s only one genuine scene in the whole film. The most famous scene, from an acting point of view, is the one whether Brando’s alleged character Paul rails against his dead wife as she lies in state. He begins by cursing her out for the whore that she was, railing against her before he breaks down. It’s a powerful scene. I guess.

Everything else reeks of artificiality. It’s as artificial and false, unfeeling and unengaging as if the two main characters were computer generated or if they were acting in different rooms. These two characters are not in the same film, and I bought not a second of the two hour plus running time. I’ve heard that there was a four hour version when it was first released. I hear the US has been using it at Guantanamo Bay to get suspected terrorists to confess that they sniff girl’s bike seats or wear suspenders and stockings under their robes.

If you strapped me down and forced me to watch such a version, I’d be confessing each and every bad or nasty thing I’ve ever done in order to be set free. The credits would barely have started before I’d be spilling my PIN number, network passwords and the amount of times and quantity of money I stole from the church collection plate throughout the last financial year. Don't blame me, I have a yacht to pay off.

Paul (Brando) is an overacting guy in his mid forties whose French wife appears to have committed suicide. They lived together in a sleazy hotel she owned, being the same place she chose to pop her clogs in a spectacularly bloody fashion.

Rating:

Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000

Battlefield Earth A Saga of the Year 3000

There might be worse movies, but there are few worse posters

dir: Roger Christian

2000

Amazing. Brilliant. Incandescent. Visionary.

But enough about me. This film is considered to be one of the worst films ever made, setting a new standard of shiteness for others to emulate or run screaming from. It’s the benchmark and the reference point for every film that has come out since this wretched new millennium began. Too often I’ve read the phrase “Almost as bad as Battlefield Earth”, or “Battlefield Earth - quality” used as the most scathing of insults aimed at nearly every mediocrity with the temerity to be foisted upon the silver or television screen.

I am here not to praise Battlefield Earth, but to bury it, but as well to bury it in its rightful place in the cemetery, the shallow grave, the unvisited plot or more appropriately, the potter’s field that it belongs in. Long after DVDs and stray videotapes of BE, as I shall refer to it henceforth, have biodegraded into lethal toxins in landfills the world over, its legacy will still be trotted out every time someone makes a crappy sci fi movie, and so it warrants scrutiny, analysis and final judgement even now, nearly a decade on.

The truth is, from my point of view, it’s really not one of the worst movies ever made, not even close. I’ve seen at least ten movies made this year (2008) worse than it, and hundreds since it was first birthed into an unfriendly world. The truth, as well, is that had John Travolta not been in it, and had not Scientologist and L. Ron Hubbard fan – apologists for the book not embarrassed themselves in such numbers and so completely trying to defend it, it never would have mattered. The flick would have gone straight to DVD, would have been watched on late night television by bored and half drunk guys hoping to see some skin, and it would have been mostly forgotten by now along the lines of Event Horizon, Supernova and Leprechaun 4: In Space.

As it stands, the extreme notoriety it has garnered ensures that it will eventually be considered a camp classic along the lines of Showgirls, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Animal House and The Passion of the Christ: each being a movie at the absolute top/nadir of their respective fields.

It’s bad, don’t for a second get me wrong, it’s just not the absolute fabric-of-reality tearing monstrosity it’s been painted as. It’s a D-grade movie with a C-grade script and B-movie acting, led by a supposedly A-list cast. Forrest Whittaker is a fucking Oscar winner, for crying out loud. Travolta, long famous for being one of the hammiest hams that are out there, has had the odd moment of credibility as an actor, and as such is one of the most successful crap actors out there.

These guys aren’t total chumps, they’re players. Heavy hitters. Important people.

Rating:

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