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6 stars

Memoirs of a Geisha

dir: Rob Marshall
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I guess this was a highly anticipated adaptation of a bestselling book. To my eye, for the last five years, upon riding and enjoying the many virtues of public transport, if a fellow passenger wasn’t reading a Harry Potter book, or one of Dan Brown’s magnum opuses, they usually held a white book with a vivid set of red lips on the cover.

As something of a fan of Japanese history and culture (read: a pretentious dilettante), curiousity killed and skinned my cat about the whole production. So I endeavoured to read the book before seeing the film. Because it’s nice, occasionally, to have an informed opinion on something.

The book, to my surprise, was not, actually, the memoirs of a geisha. It was a purely fictional story written by an American guy, Arthur Golden, who researched a heap about the life and times of the geisha, and who probably doesn’t look that good in a kimono. So that was my first let down.

Then, as I read, I realised the story was essentially a Japanese version of Pretty Woman, that cinematic classic of the Golden Age of Hollywood. That was my second.

Rating:

Match Point

dir: Woody Allen
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He tried to stealth this one under our radars, he did. Outwardly, there’s practically no signifiers to indicate that this is a Woody Allen film. It’s a drama, and he hasn’t done a ‘serious’ drama since the days where he was directly ripping off Ingmar Bergman.

In the last few years he’s been content to peddle mostly bland, ineffectual comedies about the same topics he’s always been focussed on. They include the loving of Barely Legal women by men old enough to be their grandfathers, repeated infidelity, being chronically misunderstood, the full spectrum of neurotic behaviours, the unattainability of ‘true’ love that works for any period of time, or the lack of any real lasting happiness.

All hilarious stuff. He puts out a film a year on the cheap, with name actors who work for him practically for free, so it doesn’t really matter that they’re crap. He’s iconic, even if no-one watches his movies any more, and he’s as prolific as Bollywood, with about as much restraint and as little subtlety. Usually.

Rating:

Last Days

dir: Gus Van Sant
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Rating:

Land of the Dead

dir: George A. Romero
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The “master” is back, as if he ever really went away.

Romero is revered as a god of horror films, and many see the zombie genre especially to be his baby. If anyone has the right to screw with the conventions of a genre, you’d think it’d be the guy who built it all up in his own image.

Before Romero’s movies, zombies didn’t crave flesh and brains: they craved strangling people like the Mummy in ancient horror flicks. Post Romero they became the primal, ugly aspect of humanity let loose upon an effete, consumerism-obsessed society.

In 2005, zombies are the excuse for Romero making a film Marx and adherents of the dialectical materialist view of human history would be proud of. Damn proud. It’s enough to make you pull out your old Soviet flag, your copy of Das Kapital, and sing the Internationale, you goddamn pinko commie bastards!

Where the original Dawn was satire (of mindless consumerism, apparently), and last year’s remake was more straightforward action / horror, Land of the Dead is more of a straight allegory. There’s no great subtlety to this, or obscure subtext symbolism: it’s obvious and overt. It doesn’t detract from it, but it certainly is a departure from the other zombie flicks Romero has inflicted upon willing audiences.

Rating:

King Kong

dir: Peter Jackson
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Some of you who’ve been reading my reviews over the centuries know that I have a bit of a problem. First time readers will know what the problem is by the end of this gargantuan review of a gargantuan film.

I’m bad at editing my own stuff. It’s hard for me to cut out the constant and endless stream of mirthful pithiness that doth roll forth from my fingers. In writing classes, one of the key phrases they first teach you is “murder your babies”. This is not a recommendation to go out and kill your children because a) they’re annoying, or b) they stop you from writing.

The phrase refers to a good writer’s need to be able cut out whole sections of their own stuff even if they think it’s the brilliantest and wittiest crap written since Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw traded catty insults in a rent boy-filled opium den. Even if it’s a great idea, even if it’s the single greatest idea you’ve ever had, if it doesn’t enhance what you were working on, or fit into the overall scheme of things, you need to be able to drown it without mercy.

Clearly, as you can well see, if the requirement is to ‘murder one’s babies’ in order to write something cohesive and coherent (and entertaining), I am the equivalent of a bloated single mother with an endless brood of hellspawn stinking up the trailer park.

Rating:

Capote

dir: Bennett Miller
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This flick wins my Academy Award, my giant, golden, suggestively-designed Oscar, for the most overrated flick and performance of 2005. There, I said it. And I’m not taking it back.

Reports from the film festivals were saying Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a lock on the Best Actor award months before the film was ever released, and who am I to argue. But, come on. Be serious.

In anticipation of seeing the film, I did a fair bit of homework. I read Capote’s book In Cold Blood, so I’d know what all the fuss was about. I also watched the excellent B&W film of the same name from 1967, directed by Richard Brooks, where, irony of ironies, Robert Blake played one of the killers.

So I was ready. Prepared. Primed. To be bored out of my fucking skull, it turns out.

Rating:

Closer

dir: Mike Nichols
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It’s not about the masterpiece Joy Division album that Courtney Love and probably some of you, your uncles or your mums lost their virginities to. It’s not about the Nine Inch Nails song that made the phrase ‘I want to fuck you like an animal’ part of popular parlance. But it is about fucking. Specifically, it’s about the way that the need for sex brings people together and destroys them. It’s about the way in which honesty causes more heartbreak than the cruellest lies. And it’s about what sad creatures we humans truly are.

As a four-hander, with four fairly well-known actors, the film continually betrays its stage origins as a play. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t exactly kill my mother over the prospect of getting enough cash to buy tickets to get to the theatre on a Friday night, but I don’t necessarily dislike movies that come across as stagey. I love decent acting and good dialogue, so a movie which is all dialogue isn’t a problem for me. Those that hate talky gabfests now know they can avoid this film like the plague. And the rest of this review, presumably.

Rating:

Kung Fu Hustle

Gong Fu

dir: Stephen Chow
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Who? What? What the fuck? Huh?

Easy. Calm down. Breathe. Relax.

So you may not have heard about the so-called follow up to Shaolin Soccer by Stephen Chow. Unless you’re in Melbourne I don’t know if you can even see it yet unless you wander down to the Chinatown cinemas in the middle of the city’s Golden Triangle (Russell, Bourke and Swanston Streets). And since according to my sources it’s the last Chinatown cinema still operating in Australia, until it starts playing in the arthouse cinemas in a few month’s time (since Sony snatched it up), it may seem a bit pointless reviewing it when those few people who might be interested in seeing it don’t really have the option. Unless they get a pirate copy from someone who looks dodgier than the guy behind the counter at a sex shop.

It’s one of the reasons why when I see films at film festivals I mostly don’t review and post about them. It seems both pointless and self-aggrandising, as if to brag about films others can’t see yet just to show how wonderful and nerdy I am. Which I’m not. I swear I’m not, you’ve got to believe me.

Rating:

Village, The

dir: M. Night Shyamalan
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Be careful what you wish for, because someone might just strap you to
a chair one day and jam it down your throat using a splintered chunk
of wood. In my last cinematic masterpiece of a review I made a big
issue about poorly directed hyper-efficient Hollywood movies where a
lack of vision results in editors constructing their projects as if
they're animation on a sequence of post-it notes that you have to
flick with your finger for it to make sense. Two second cuts and
jittery camera work abounding. At the complete opposite end of the
spectrum exist the films of M. Night Shyamalan, whose measured pacing,
and long, well-constructed shots you would presume exist as an
antidote to the current madness of strobe light cinema. But does that
necessarily mean they are better films? Or do you keep getting woken
up by your own snoring?

Rating:

Dawn of the Dead

dir: Zack Snyder
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The sheer abundance of zombie related material put out in the last few
years points to either a large group of movie industry types thinking
that zombie stuff is a goldmine, or a large audience out there that is
hungry, hungry for brains. In the last two years alone I can think of
a whole bunch of films that had zombies as the scourge staggering
open-mouthed towards Our Heroes, in a fashion incompetent enough to
generally have their heads blown off only at the most crucial or
comical moments.

Though many will point to 28 Days Later as the resurgence point, they
would be wrong. At least one zombie film has been coming out a year
since time immemorial; it's just that most of them were going straight
to video. It really restarted with the release, I'm not kidding, of
Resident Evil, where as anyone with the DVD can attest, not only did
Milla Jovovich show far more than she and God probably intended, but
it also began the inexorable march of the zombie legions back into our
multiplexes as well.

Rating:

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