7 stars

Forbidden Kingdom, The

dir: Rob Minkoff
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a young clueless kind of guy (Michael Angarano) who’s a big fan of 70s Hong Kong martial arts films gets mysteriously yanked through time in a bid to save China from the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) by returning the staff of the Monkey King (Jet Li) to its rightful owner.

From zero to hero in record time. Yes it is the same plot as every ill-advised attempt to bridge the cultural and box office gap between America and China through the distorted lens of Hong Kong cinema that has ever been committed to celluloid, cellulite and cellulose as well.

Homaging, pastiching, or downright ripping off Hong Kong flicks is nothing remotely new, in fact some hacks have made a career out of it. This flick takes a slightly different tack in that it uses CGI and current editing/post production tricks not to reference those flicks, but to at least replicate them on the whole, whilst remaining American-friendly throughout.

In other words, except for the pasty, awkward American teenager, this looks like a pretty good approximation of one of the many Shaw Brothers flicks that they talk about, except it’s in English.

Rating: 

Other Boleyn Girl, The

dir: Justin Chadwick
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First up: I haven’t read the book this is based on, and I’m never likely to. So this isn’t going to be either a bitchfest about how it doesn’t conform to the book, or a point by point comparison betwixt the two. Seeing the book (and, to a lesser extent, the film) advertised gives me a strong sense that it’s chick lit/flick material.

Of course, it’s not: it’s history! With Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman! And Eric Bana (who cops third billing, which must be somewhat humiliating) playing Henry the VIII! Sorry, Henry Tudor, King of England.

It’s pretty hard to take a set-up like that seriously. With due respect to Bana, who can play everything from a loathsome criminal (Chopper), to a Hulk, to a noble Trojan prince (Troy) to a Mossad hitman (Munich), such a cast list invites derision even before parking one’s arse in the theatre. It’s simply ridiculous. Hollywood goes middlebrow: that’s always a recipe for disaster.

It’s preposterous on paper, and comes at a difficult time for historical ‘epics’ to be taken seriously, especially after that recent Elizabeth: The Golden Age abomination, which was an act of cinematic atrocity inflicted upon an all-too-forgiving audience.

Rating: 

Rambo

dir: Sylvester Stallone
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Some things are just unbelievable, even when you see them with your own eyes. I had heard the level of violence in this film described to me by a friend, but even then I had no idea just how incredibly violent it would be.

This is one of the first times I’ve watched a flick with war footage where I seriously think actual war footage wouldn’t be as graphic and violent. Just think of that irony: an actual war would be less violent than hopefully the last flick in this holy franchise.

Oh sure, all the Rambo films have been violent, but that violence, viewed now, of a mannequin of a camp commandant being blown apart by an exploding arrow, or the torture of numerous poor shmucks at the hands of America’s enemies, seems positively quaint in comparison. Ah, the wonders of modern technology.

I’m not sure how this works, but we went from First Blood, to Rambo II: Electric Boogaloo, to Rambo III to this latest flick, titled Rambo. No, we haven’t gone back in time. No, you don’t have to go through the misery of high school and your first humiliating sexual encounters again.

Rating: 

2007 Film Year in Review

dir: Me

2008

Another great year of movies. Another couple of hundred reviews read by a few bored people online and by harvesting bots trying to find email addresses to send crucial details regarding penis breasting and Nigerian viagra accounts to.

From a film-watching point of view, I was forced by dint of circumstance, in other words, by the entry of my daughter Dawn Matilda into this harsh and occasionally beautiful world, to watch a lot of flicks on DVD (legitimately) and a few via the illegal largesse of the download fairies. I’m not justifying it, I’m not excusing it, I just think that when I can barely make it to the cinema a dozen times due to looking after a baby girl, I am morally justified in watching stuff that I didn’t and you didn’t pay for.

There’s a logic there that I hope I won’t be explaining to any prosecutors any time soon. Hey, if they can find a babysitter for me, then I’ll be happy to watch Scary Movie 5 or the next Lindsay Lohan flick in the salubrious confines of a theatre the way the Gods of Cinema intended.

Still, I got to see a fair few films I liked this year, and less that made me want to unleash an apocalypse of jihad and tickle torture on the world.

Rating: 

Cloverfield

dir: Matt Reeves
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Disaster movies seem kinda superfluous in this day and age. Even major cities suffering horrendous destruction hasn’t been a rare occurrence (obviously) in, let’s say, the last decade or so. And with war, arbitrary death and ‘splosions being common in the less white parts of the world, getting to enjoy a film where a nebulous horror visits destruction upon hapless urban sophisticates seems like a pointless indulgence.

Of course, by that logic, practically no films have any moral justification for their existence at any time. And then where would I be? Writing reviews of plays and the goddamn opera? I’d have even less people reading my reviews. How do you get less than zero again? Okay, negative numbers. I’d have negative numbers of readers reading my reviews, which, if I’ve got the temporal mechanics right, would mean that the reviews would be being unread by increasing numbers of non-existent anti-matter readers.

Then there’d be some kind of tear in the fabric of space-time, and I’d be responsible for damning the universe to non-existence as it turned itself catastrophically inside out.

Who are you to say that it isn’t feasible? Hey, according to string theory, any point of time and/or matter could be existing simultaneously in 26 different dimensions. So there. Anything’s possible.

Rating: 

Darjeeling Limited, The

dir: Wes Anderson
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Quirkfest abounds. So much goddamn quirk that it’s fair dripping from the screen. But what would you expect from a Wes Anderson flick?

Every goddamn flick the guy’s made has been so quirky and idiosyncratic that, by now, you know if you can tolerate any of his new flicks based on whether you’ve tolerated any of his other flicks.

Of course, then there’s the fact that some of his flicks are less tolerable than others, even when you like them.

I have liked some of his flicks, and hated some of them, so: flip a coin, guess how I went with this one.

I was not a fan of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, despite the fact that every Anderson film is the same, and some, like The Life Aquatic, are more the same than others. So I approached The Darjeeling Limited with ample trepidation.

This flick, thankfully, is less bad and more enjoyable than Life Aquatic. The reason is that it’s not as aggressively annoying as the former film, and it doesn’t have a character as rampantly annoying as Bill Murray was in that film.

Rating: 

Savages, The

dir: Tamara Jenkins
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Oh, parents. They are either the bane or the boon of our existence (or both), as children and even more so as adults, in their prime or their decline.

The Savages has Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in the lead roles of this quirk-free, fairly downbeat story as siblings looking after a demented elder parent who never really liked them and who rendered them fuck-ups as adults. At least that’s the premise as it seems to me.

The film starts in a surreal fashion with shots of a mystical place called Sun City in Arizona, presumably where old people who aren’t Jewish go to live out their remaining years. The sight of a chorus line of old girls appearing as if from nowhere and starting a dance routine is a strange one that will stay with me for a while.

And not in a pleasant way. We are introduced to an irritable old arsehole called Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) who lives in this Arizonan elder community, just before he becomes single again for the last time. And after a spot of finger painting prior to hospitalisation.

Rating: 

American Gangster

dir: Ridley Scott
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There was a time when Ridley Scott’s name commanded respect. People took him seriously. No matter the film or the subject matter, people would say “Well, this is the guy who made Blade Runner and Alien, so let’s all gather round and listen to what he has to say.” Film wankers and aesthetes (such as myself) would reach even further back and say “Well, this is the guy who made The Duellists, so he’s capable of greatness, so let’s eagerly anticipate his next movie with, um, eager anticipation.”

Then he made Hannibal.

After that, Scott’s feet of clay kept growing to swallow up the rest of his body and brain, to the extent where he just seemed like every other British-born Hollywood hack, as capable of an okay film or a terrible shitfest as any other director.

With American Gangster, he’s gone all out to craft an American Prestige Epic worthy of Oscar nomination, critical column inches and applause from the sweatpants-wearing masses. Note the cast, the topic, and the length of the flick. No-one makes a flick this long (nearly three hours in the ‘unrated’ version) with this many A-listers with this subject matter unless they’re expecting, nay, demanding recognition in February / March.

Rating: 

Orphanage, The (El Orfanato)

dir: Juan Antonio Bayona
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Orphanages. Orphanages, psych hospitals, prisons; places of suffering. Places where we can imagine people’s suffering has an almost physical manifestation, that it can impregnate the very walls of a building, rendering it supernatural in and of itself.

There’s a reason why such buildings keep cropping up in horror flicks and computer games. It could just be that people have limited imaginations, and are intellectually lazy when they’re pumping out their formula hackwork. But there’s also a very believable sense that such places can take on some kind of frightful energy from human torment, infecting them long after they have been abandoned.

By the living.

Why anyone would want to return to the orphanage that they grew up in is a mystery to me, but the protagonist of this here ghostly flick, which keeps being sold as a film made by Guillermo Del Toro despite only having him involved in an exec producer capacity, does so. Laura (Belen Rueda) left the place when she was seven, and has lived a long and fulfilling life up until the moment where she and her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) decide they want to open up a special school in the grounds of the orphanarium where she grew up for at least the first part of her childhood.

Rating: 

Lars and the Real Girl

dir: Craig Gillespie
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Part of me knows I should hate this film, hate it with a passion. Hate it with an unholy passion usually reserved for reality television, politicians and those times when you jump out of bed in the middle of the night and stub your toe whilst desperately trying to get to the crack pipe.

But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, I didn’t hate it. Come with me as I try to unravel through the writing of this review what highly improbable series of unfortunate events has led us to this sorry conclusion.

The Lars of the title is played by Ryan Gosling, who is a fairly young guy getting a lot of press and attention despite the fact that he acts pretty much the same way in everything that he’s in. He’s been giving these identical, artificial, affected performances in flicks like Half Nelson, United States of Leland, Stay and Fracture, but people are still screaming and wetting themselves over him like they’re teenage girls and the Beatles are playing The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time.

Wow, how old did I just make myself sound? I swear, Ed Sullivan and his show were long gone way before I came along, with a suitcase and a song.

Rating: 

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