7 stars

Stardust

dir: Matthew Vaughn
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It’s been a while since a fairy tale has dared to aim itself at anything apart from the audience of infants and drooling dateless wonders. Neil Gaiman wrote the book this modern fable is based on, and that’s almost enough to pique my interest.

Not that adaptations of his works have translated that well to the big screen. Mirrormask missed the mark somewhat, and Neverwhere should have stayed there. But he is still a remarkable writer whose spin on old ideas often yields surprising and amazing results. Adaptations of great stuff like American Gods and Sandman have long been threatened, and will eventually reveal his genius to wider audiences.

Until then…

Still, Stardust feels awfully generic and little of it is new. There’s a skill in that, insofar as people want the familiar sometimes, just so they can see how the familiar can be played out in a different fashion. That explains the popularity of sports, as far as I can work out, since it’s the same shit all over again, week in week out, season after pointless season.

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Superbad

dir: Greg Mottola
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I can’t really explain the 70s retro chic aesthetic that permeates this flick, from the music to the titles. It’s set contemporarily, the main characters Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) are only supposed to be around 17-18. But, you know, whatever floats Judd Apatow’s boat.

Apatow, who previously struggled as a comedian, writer and creator of TV series that were good but were canned (a la Freaks and Geeks), who then became huge with the success of his comedies 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, has become this media juggernaut producing comedies that have his imprimatur upon them without having to bother directing them. He’s like Spielberg now, except without the cheese or the virgin blood drinking.

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I Think I Love My Wife

dir: Chris Rock
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Who does Chris Rock think he’s kidding?

Watching I Think I Love My Wife reminded me, more than anything else, of two things. One is the subject of marriage as it appears in much of Chris Rock’s stand-up material. The other is the extent to which Rock must be treading dangerous waters in order to desperately convince his wife that he’s not sleeping around. Really.

Back in the sixties, notorious womaniser and acclaimed director Federico Fellini, having been caught out one too many times by his long-suffering wife Giulietta Masina, decided to make a curious little film called Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta degli spiriti, 1965). In this curious flick, he cast Giulietta as the main character Juliet, the long-suffering wife of a notorious womaniser and director, who tires of her husband’s infidelities and their pretentious lifestyle. She initially flirts with the idea of adultery-as-revenge, but ultimately finds more fulfilment in simply achieving freedom away from her bastard husband.

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Namesake, The

dir: Mira Nair
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The Namesake focuses on the detail of a person’s life that must seem ridiculous from the point of view of people whose first and last names sound like two first names: the Paul Christophers, Robert Stanleys and Jane Allisons of this world. The unique pressures that arise from possessing a name that sounds strange to the ear and eye dependant upon the culture you reside within is only the most obvious issue that arises as part of the immigrant experience familiar to so many squllions of, uh, immigrants.

On top of that, though, the issue of name and identity gets even stickier for one of our protagonists here, because the name his parents bestowed upon him at birth is one that, transcending his background, he can never come to grips with.

Gogol (Kal Penn) is born to Bengali parents recently transplanted to the States. He grows up somewhat distanced from his family though not violently so. Mostly he seems to resent the fact that his dad called him Gogol.

Such a sweet sounding name. Although Gogol has inklings as to why his father chose the name, of course the flick has to take its time to tell him (and us) exactly how profoundly important the name is to his father.

He, however, resents it for most of his life.

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Blades of Glory

dir: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
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Will Ferrell as an ice figure skater? That’s the comedy cinematic equivalent of crack cocaine, isn’t it?

The people who made the film probably sold it to the company with a text message to an executive saying exactly that: “w/about Ferrell on ice?” with probably a few smiley faces and LOLs thrown in for good measure.

The entire movie is predicated on the impression that ice skating is both gay in the sense that ‘gay’ is sometimes used as a synonym for lame, and gay in the sense that it is a sport best enjoyed by and participated in by gay people. So of course Ferrell plays his character of Chazz Michael Michaels as a rampantly hetero alcoholic sex addict lothario who never actually gets laid. And of course there are lots of scenes where men have to uncomfortably hold another man’s genitals either in their hands or close to their faces in order to win something important. What’s funnier than another man’s gonads being waved in your face?

His opponent Jimmy McElroy (Jon Heder, he of Napoleon Dynamite fame), and eventual partner on the ice, is the literal golden-haired child who is taking the role that Owen Wilson surely must have turned down due to his current bout of drug abuse and suicidal tendencies.

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Hostel Part 2

dir: Eli Roth
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What Borat has done for Kazakhstan, Eli Roth and his Hostel horror movies have done for Slovakia.

You thought that Slovakia was just a former part of the Soviet Union that was recovering from no longer having the word Czech in front of its name. In Roth’s hands, Slovakia is a place as bleak and foreboding as Chechnya, as Srebrenica, as Caroline Springs where, in the post-Communist aftermath, life is simultaneously cheap and auctionable to the highest bidder.

In the first Hostel flick, two American backpackers and an Icelandic traveller find themselves on the pointy end of the Eastern European tourist industry when they are selected, hunted down, tortured and murdered by the clients of a company who pay to maim and kill people in the slaughterrooms of an old industrial complex.

It’s a horribly macabre idea, and Eli Roth and his many producers could not see any reason as to why they shouldn’t repeat the idea again, only with American girls this time.

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Sunshine

dir: Danny Boyle
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Decent, actual science fiction movies are few and far between, so when word started spreading that Danny Boyle, he of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later fame (and Life Less Ordinary and The Beach infamy) had made a serious sci fi flick, I was curious.

Most flicks use sci fi elements purely to propel a flick that’s mostly just an action/comedy/horror movie. It’s all fine and dandy to imagine what a society full of robots would be like in the future, but let’s not pretend the driving concept behind a flick where someone is fighting hundreds of robots makes it an existential exploration of the idea of artificial intelligence. Why would you bother with that when it’s far more fun to watch Will Smith get slapped around by a robot/alien/grandmother?

Sunshine has as its premise the inexplicable cooling of our solar system’s sun in about half a century’s time. In a desperate attempt to jump start the sun, and thus save all life on earth, an international team of scientists and astronauts sets off on a mission to the sun.

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Mr Brooks

dir: Bruce A. Adams
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How smart are you? I mean, obviously you’re reasonably smart, since you’re reading one of my reviews. But how smart are you, you super genius Poindexter?

Sure, you’re smart, but are you serial killer smart? Are you as brilliant as the serial killers Hollywood routinely serves up to us, the duped masses, on a regular basis? It’s unlikely, I would say, that any of us is that smart. It’s even more possible that no-one is that smart in reality that isn’t strapped into a chair, using a computer voice synthesiser to communicate with the rest of the world.

Stephen Hawking would be the ultimate serial killer, you’d have to think, based on flicks like the Hannibal Lecter franchise, and this here nasty, clever flick Mr Brooks. Hawking grasps the structure and infinite complexity of the universe like few others can, and, if he’d had better luck in the physical genetic stakes, would probably be stalking the globe with a bloody knife in his hand and a trail of bodies behind him.

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Knocked Up

dir: Judd Apatow
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The advertising for this was brilliant. There were variations, of course, but their main theme was along the lines of just what a loser Seth Rogen looks like, and how unlucky any woman would be to fall pregnant because of his drunken thrustings.

The ads literally had pictures of Rogen’s goofy, almost apologetic face, with the phrase “what if this guy got you pregnant?’ or variations thereof plastered across them worldwide. Marketing genius; pure marketing genius.

Considering the fact that Rogen wrote most of the screenplay (or whatever you call the process that eventuated in this film), it’s something of an odd but extremely successful sell. In the real world, attractive women have sex with slobs all the time. And we thank you for it. But in the Hollywood film world, it’s seen as something of a gross anomaly, or at least enough of one to justify such a premise. Like some major disruption in the space time continuum, or a tear in the fabric of reality.

See, they don’t have this problem in French films. The uglier and older the French male protagonist, the hotter the French babe who adores him and has freaky French sex with him all over the place. Before she kills herself and probably him too by flick’s end.

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Simpsons Movie, The

dir: David Silverman
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Well it’s about bloody time. The series has only been running for 18 years. So grateful should we be that they took the time to put together a cinematic version of the popular television animated series. Because, you know, there aren’t enough movies to watch as it is.

The Simpsons Movie arrives in a form that is unsurprising, with a running time of what three episodes would be like run back to back, with no profoundly earthshaking or universe-altering message. It has plenty of chuckles in it, doesn’t vary from the known Simpsons universe that much, and delivers exactly what long term fans would expect.

Long term fans aren’t the ones who have been saying since the fourth season of the series that it has jumped the shark or sold out a long time ago. I’m not necessarily talking about the Comic Book Guy-type fans who know everything about every episode and feel personally offended when an episode fails to live up to their expectations.

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