7 stars

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Bad people doing bad things to okay people

dir: Sidney Lumet

2009

The title might be a bit confusing to people who haven’t heard the whole phrase before. It refers to having the temporary good fortune to get to heaven a half hour before the devil, who’s keen to get His due, knows you’re dead. In other words, getting a few minutes grace before the hammer, or, in this case, the pitchfork, comes down on you.

As you wandered into the cinema, wondering what the title was referring to, you’d sit there, munching on your highly unhealthy popcorn, chipping into your choc-top, which drips shards of chocolate onto your already dirty clothing that take a while to melt into the fabric real good. After enduring the trailers and idiotic commercials for mobile phones, 4WD trips to South Australia and switching your mobile phone off before the film starts, you’d be greeted with a sight that will push the question regarding the title out of your empty little head.

The first entire minute of this film concerns itself solely with Philip Seymour Hoffman drilling Marisa Tomei in the doggie style position and watching himself in a mirror as he does it. You can like or admire Hoffman’s acting abilities and performances, but I’ll bet your firstborn that you never really ever wanted to see him pretending to fuck anyone, let alone watch that chubby arse wobbling back and forth.

Actually, now that I think about it, the film should have been called Philip Seymour Hoffman Drilling Marisa Tomei Doggie Style Whilst Watching Himself in the Mirror.

Look, I’m not denying that the scene is important. It’s very important. It establishes very early and very clearly that Hoffman’s character in this flick is something of a narcissistic prick. And Marisa Tomei looks sensational in that and probably lots of other positions. Good luck to her. It’s just that, now, Hoffman’s arse haunts my nightmares.

Yeah, okay, I’ll get on with it. Two doofus brothers, Andy (Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) need money. They’re not crims by trade, but end up planning and carrying out a robbery on a jewellery store owned by their own parents. It’s the perfect crime in the planning stage, where no-one’s meant to get hurt and everyone walks away happy.

In the implementation phase, of course, it turns into what is generally known in the business as a clusterfuck.

Rating: 

Beowulf

dir: Robert Zemeckis
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This doesn’t happen very often, but between my two viewings of Beowulf, my opinion of the flick has undergone a complete 180 degree shift. I hated, hated, hated, hated this flick the first time I saw it. Now, I think it’s pretty good.

Surprisingly good. It’s like I watched two completely different flicks, and, in truth, they weren’t the same flick. One I watched in 3D on the big screen at an IMAX cinema. The other, many months later, was viewed sober sitting on a comfy couch in my lounge room, and was the better for it, I’ll admit.

They seemed like completely different films, or maybe I was two completely different people. I found 3D Beowulf ludicrous, painful, aggressively shallow and an irritating waste of 110 minutes of my life. I remember being disgusted with myself for having thought it would be remotely watchable, let alone worthwhile.

Plus I was horribly hungover when I watched it, which is a very rare occurrence for me.

It felt like I was watching one of the Shrek movies, only with less intelligence and meaning at play. The characters annoyed me, the voices of the actors playing these mannequins annoyed me, the stupid plot and crap jokes annoyed me, and the ending bugged me no end.

Rating: 

We Own the Night

dir: James Gray
[img_assist|nid=62|title=Maybe we should kiss to, you know, break the tension|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=290|height=238]
That’s pretty arrogant isn’t it, saying that you own an event of such all encompassing magnitude? That’s like saying you own the words “yesterday”, “blowjob” or “craptacular”. Who did the NYPD think they were kidding when they took the phrase as their motto in the 1980s?

Yes, We Own the Night is what it looks like: a moody cop drama. And though it smells generic, looks generic and tastes generic, it’s not entirely generic. It doesn’t feel like a mass-produced slab of a movie product. It’s thoughtful and serious, where most flicks of its ilk concentrate more on squeezing through the formula like toothpaste out of a tube.

The drama focuses more here on the characters than the plot, which, less face it, is the plot of 30,000 other films: There’s cops, and there’s bad guys, cops chase bad guys, bad guys kill or hurt cops, cops kill bad guys. Et cetera, etc.

It’s a plot as old as cinema. But the story about the dynamics of the cop family in turmoil is the focus here.

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Michael Clayton

dir: Tony Gilroy
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No, it’s not the flick starring Liam Neeson about the Troubles in Ireland. And it’s not a light-hearted romp about the ethnic tensions between Greeks, Yugoslavs, Islanders and Vietnamese people living in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton.

It is, simultaneously, a film about the paths people take in order to do the unthinkable for money, and George Clooney’s shameless pandering need for another Oscar.

You already have one, pretty boy. Enough’s enough.

The title character, played by Clooney, is a fixer for a prestigious law firm. Though a lawyer himself, he never gets to step inside a courtroom anymore. All he does is try to fix situations that could damage the firm’s clients, or, for most of this film, the firm.

The film starts where it starts, with Clayton driving out to Westchester in order to calm and help out a wealthy sonofabitch who wants to avoid legal troubles for running someone over and leaving the scene of the accident. On the drive out there, the GPS display in his luxury car starts screwing up. In other words, Clayton has lost his moral roadmap. Subtle as a crowbar to the kidney. Then there’s an explosion, and the plot goes back four days in time in order to show all the events leading up to the explosion.

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Charlie Wilson's War

dir: Mike Nichols
[img_assist|nid=102|title=The War Against Aging Gracefully|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=500|height=333]
Who?
Charlie Wilson, you know, the guy who single-handedly defeated the Russians in Afghanistan. That Charlie Wilson?

Okay, so he’s not a household name. But if you’re not of the opinion that St Ronald Reagan, dressed as Rambo, beat the Soviet Empire to death with his bare fists, then you might be curious about this flick which purports to tell the ‘true’ story behind the Afghanistan War.

‘Good Time Charlie’ (Tom Hanks) is a drunken, womanising coke-fiend Democratic Congressman from Texas. In 1980, while drinking with strippers and hookers in a hot tub, he watches Dan Rather on 60 Minutes tell a sorry tale about the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet forces. Now, Charlie’s only real achievement to date has been getting re-elected five times, and all he really cares about is drinking and hot women. So he’s already a hero in my book.

The transition for his character is going from a hedonistic deal-making backslapper of a politician with no ambition to a hedonistic deal-making backslapper who wants to defeat Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Why? Well, I’m not too sure.

Rating: 

3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma

Men go bang bang with gun guns, everybody wins

dir: James Mangold

2007

Do you have a hankerin’ for some good ol’ western fun? Gunslingers shooting each other, shooting injuns and making way for the railroads by shooting the landscape? Do you want to watch two titans of contemporary cinema use hokey Southern accents and shoot at each other and their enemies for two hours? Do you know the quantity of wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Then this remake of a western from the 50s could appeal to you. It’s a very simple premise: honest rancher is forced by circumstance to escort an outlaw to a train in a town called Contention, being the 3:10pm train to the prison in Yuma, Arizona. Along the way he has to fight off the crim’s gang, the Apache, and the criminal’s charismatic manipulations and seductions. All this he does to earn respect in the eyes of his teenage son, who sees him as a pretty pathetic paternal figure, and to make some money in order for his family to keep their ranch.

Christian Bale plays the heroic Dan Evans rancher role, and Russell Crowe plays the charismatic outlaw Ben Wade. As in the original, the two earn each other’s respect with various actions and arguments about right and wrong. Unlike the original, we wish the criminal would just kill all the nice people and ride off into the sunset with an attractive senorita draped over his saddle.

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Shoot 'Em Up

dir: Michael Davis
[img_assist|nid=12|title=Babysitting with a gun makes sense to me|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=328|height=450]
Imagine a film where the hero shoots hundreds if not thousands of people. Imagine that same film actually has an anti-gun agenda as its plot.

Collect the pieces of your head after it’s exploded all over the place, and then try not to think about it again. Or about how truly loopy this movie is.

If you’re a fan of utterly mad gunfest actions films, especially the kind of stuff John Woo used to be able to produce back before whatever talent he possessed was drained out of him by Hollywood, then this insane flick is for you.

As my Canadian friend said of the film, he stopped watching it when, in the film’s first few minutes, the hero kills a bad guy with a carrot.

A few minutes later, he’s cutting a newborn baby’s umbilical by shooting it. That’s the insane level this flick is operating on. And it either gets better or worse, dependent upon your sensibilities.

Smith (Clive Owen), who looks like little more than a carrot-chewing homeless person, steps in to a situation not of his making. A heavily pregnant woman is being chased by goons intent on killing her, and he reluctantly steps in to save her. This sets him on a path of conflict with some progressively nastier men.

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There Will Be Blood

dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
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Oh, there most definitely will be blood. But the blood will be pouring from the eyes and ears of the audience members at the horror perpetrated by the ending of this movie.

For the majority of the flick’s length, I was pretty sure it was a masterpiece, even if the persistently annoying score was getting on my nerves with how busy it was. But about fifteen minutes from the end it completely, gut-wrenchingly falls apart. It’s one of those endings that’s so awful that it makes you feel like having watched the preceding two and a half hours of film was a total waste of your goddamn time.

But still, I should give it credit for what it does achieve up until then.Very loosely adapted from the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, There Will Be Blood starts off at the beginning of the 20th century and concerns itself with the origins of the oil industry in America. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a very determined, very driven man. We watch him prospecting for gold and doing it the hard way, the hardest way it can be. Even a broken leg can’t stop him from getting his few lumps of gold to the surveyor’s office.

Rating: 

Lucky You

dir: Curtis Hanson
[img_assist|nid=734|title=I bet you $500 that I'm going to sleep with you eventually|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
I have, as a film geek obsessive, certain film obsessions that trump even all the others I posses (beyond samurai flicks, heist flicks, flicks with zombies, boobs or explosions, of course). For reasons not immediately apparent to me, flicks about gambling and gamblers appeal to me immensely.

I’ve never been a gambler myself, but only because I know I have an addictive personality (hence the film geekdom), and because I’ve barely got enough money to waste on food, booze, rent and childcare, let alone to lose at the poker tables. It is perhaps the high-stakes tension that appeals, or the self-destructive characters these stories inevitably conjure with. Whatever the elements, I dig them big time, and am a keen watcher of films about these chronic fuckups.

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La Vie en rose (La Mome)

dir: Olivier Dahan
[img_assist|nid=738|title=Go on, earn that Oscar|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
Outside of France this biopic about Edith Piaf was called La Vie en rose, one of her most famous songs. In France itself the flick was called La Môme, being her nickname, “the sparrow”. In Australia it should really have been called The Miserable Fucking Life of a Street Urchin who becomes Edith Piaf and Dies a Wreck in her Forties.

It has a certain ring to it, a certain je ne sais quoi, wouldn’t you say? It certainly would be both accurate and illuminating.

Despite knowing absolutely nothing about Edith Piaf and any other French singer of her era or magnitude, I have to say that the story as presented in La Vie en rose is ridiculously familiar. It’s not just because the story of the rise, fall and comeback of artists tends to have the same trajectory, it’s because the filmmakers, whether American, Hollywoodian or French, tend to create the same narrative and use the same plot devices to tell their story.

The personal, actual details of their lives are comfortably wedged into the pre-ordained format, so the whole story, whether it’s about the rags-to-riches tale of a Mongolian throat singer, or the rags-to-riches story of a member of New Kids on the Block, it’s all going to be pleasantly familiar.

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