7 stars

Hoax, The

dir: Lasse Hallstrom
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I’m no fan of Lasse Hallstrom’s films (spits to the side) or of Richard Gere in any capacity (spits twice), but I was very interested to see this film. I find almost anything about crazy, dead American billionaire Howard Hughes fascinating, and the story of one of the most impressive literary hoaxes of recent vintage even more so.

Clifford Irving (Gere) is a hack, a plagiarist and a compulsive liar. He tries to palm off rip-offs of Philip Roth novels as his own in his desperate desire to be taken seriously as a writer and to make some of the sweet do-re-mi that he so craves. His Swiss wife Edith (Marcia Gay Harden) has forgiven much of his lying and infidelity in the past, but, as an artist herself (not of the bullshit variety), she has a high tolerance for even more of the same.

With the rejection of his rip-off of Portnoy’s Complaint (which he stupidly calls Rodrick’s Problem - subtle, that) by illustrious publishers McGraw Hill, Irving hits upon an idea fiendishly foolproof in its intricacies: a fabricated autobiography of reclusive billionaire eccentric Howard Hughes.

Rating: 

Love & Honor (Bushi no ichibun)

dir: Yoji Yamada
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Topping off his trilogy of films about samurai on the lowest rung of the feudal order, Yoji Yamada’s most recent flick again looks at a few months in the life of a down-and-out but noble swordsman.

They’re not linked in any other way apart from being about poor samurai at the mercy of their more powerful masters, but the three films, Twilight Samurai, Hidden Blade and this one all carry through the same themes of devotion to family above duty, and the reluctant carrying-out of duty in order to safeguard one’s loved ones.

As

Love and Honor opens, samurai Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) hates his job, and jokes with his wife about giving up his status and becoming a kendo instructor to the poor and wealthy alike.

Who doesn’t hate their fucking day job? I guess some people must like them, else the productive world would fall apart. Maybe guys working in a slaughterhouse love their jobs. Police? They love their jobs. Proctologists? Well, if they don’t love their job, you wonder what keeps them coming back.

Well, whatever it is that keeps Mimura coming back, it isn’t a love of being a food taster for the local lord. When he is accidentally poisoned, one of the side-effects is permanent blindness, which really puts a dent in his and everyone else’s day.

Rating: 

Road to Guantanamo, The

dir: Michael Winterbottom & Matt Whitecross
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This is an odd film, on a number of levels and for a number of reasons. In essence it is a dramatic recreation of events occurring in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the US, specifically as they relate to three unfortunate British-Pakistani guys. It blends talking head documentary style footage with film footage in an attempt to display and explain what happened when they found themselves in the wrong place at the absolute worst time possible.

Called the Tipton Three, four young lads travel from their local hood over to Pakistan, allegedly so that one of them, Asif (Afran Usman) can get married to a local girl. I say allegedly for reasons that will become clear later in the review, or at least clearer. The timing of their visit to this part of the world couldn’t be more fortuitous, because it’s just after 9/11.

For even more unclear reasons, they end up in Afghanistan, just after the retaliation has begun for the destruction of the World Trade Centre towers and of America’s illusion of invulnerability. The lads, losing one of their number, end up in the hands of the Northern Alliance, who effectively sell them to US forces.

Rating: 

Bug

dir: William Friedkin
[img_assist|nid=790|title=Bugfuckingly crazy|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
Friedkin has had a many and varied career, probably best known for the classic horror flick The Exorcist. However many and varied his abilities might be, we should, at the very least, expect him to know how to depict all kinds of crazy on the silver screen. Oh, and he does.

Bug is based on a play, and it pretty much looks like a play, since most of it transpires in a single hotel room, with a few outside and aerial shots to make you forget how much like a play it really seems. There are more than two actors, as well, but mostly it’s a two-hander between Ashley Judd, yet again playing a white trash down-and-out with substance abuse problems and poor taste in men, and Michael Shannon, who regularly plays lunatics in movies.

And what this kind of story needs is people that are comfortable with playing absolute lunatics for the majority of a movie’s length.

Agnes (Judd) lives in a hotel room and waits tables in a nearby bar. She is clearly an alcoholic, loves her ganja and doesn’t mind the old crack/crystal meth pipe. In the flick’s opening minutes, we see that she’s probably been on the downward spiral for a while, and the silent, harassing phone calls from, she suspects, her recently paroled ex Jerry (Harry Connick Jr), are tipping her further over the edge.

Rating: 

Infamous

dir: Douglas McGrath
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The makers of this flick must have been sooooo pissed off when Capote came out, with Philip Seymour Hoffman being lauded to the high heavens and beyond. It guaranteed that no matter how splendiferous Infamous turned out to be, it was always going to be seen as an also-ran, as a bandwagon-jumper, as opportunistic.

I’m talking about amongst critics. The general public wouldn’t care, because the general public never went and watched Capote in the first place. The general public couldn’t care less about Truman Capote, and probably think that if he isn’t the president who dropped the bomb on Japan, he’s the guy The Truman Show was based on.

Even if In Cold Blood is still a book that appears on the syllabus for many a high school student, an investigation into the life and times of its author hardly seems like a timely endeavour. The fact that two such films came out in such close proximity shouldn’t point to a resurgence in Capote-mania. It’s probably more a case of one studio hearing about another studio going for the prestige market, and deciding they’d get theirs out there too. Kind of like an Armageddon/Deep Impact, Dante’s Peak/Volcano, Triumph of the Will/It’s a Wonderful Life type situation.

Rating: 

Black Book (Zwartboek)

dir: Paul Verhoeven
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Sure, Paul Verhoeven has directed a few decent flicks in his long career, but Starship Troopers, Total Recall and Robocop were a long time ago. And they were sci-fi films.

When you think of what directors you’d hire to direct a flick about the exploits of a Dutch Jewish woman fighting with the Resistance against the Nazis just before the end of World War II, you don’t think of Verhoeven.

This is, after all, the guy who gave us the gift of Sharon Stone’s vagina in Basic Instinct, the invisible rapist fantasy of Hollow Man, and the crime against acting and humanity that is Showgirls. Showgirls is, in terms of how it treats its female characters, and the English language, the stripper version of Battlefield: Earth. That great British director Michael Powell’s career virtually ended after he made the reviled but masterful Peeping Tom in the early 60s, and yet Verhoeven continued to be allowed to make films after Showgirls, is proof positive that there is no higher power or justice in the universe. Because no metaphysical system could allow for such evil to go unpunished.

Rating: 

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

dir: Scott Glosserman
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You might have thought that Scream and its pale shadow sequels were going to be the last word on self-aware horror flicks deconstructing the horror genre even as they celebrate their dearest clichés. But no.

There’s more of that filthy, filthy lucre to mine by taking more trips to the well. In truth, these kinds of self-aware flicks will always be viable, and always be relevant as long as horror flicks keep being made.

The reason is that, as an audience member, you often sit there wondering why the characters in a horror film who are seemingly trapped in a building they can’t get out of and being stalked by an implacable killer don’t realise they are in a horror film. The willing suspension of disbelief necessarily has to extend to allowing for the protagonists, police chiefs, their neighbours and work colleagues to have never seen a horror flick in order to not know what the conventions are governing their survival or death, and therefore what is going to happen to them next.

Rating: 

Venus

dir: Roger Michell
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It may be based on something written by Hanif Kureishi, but you have to wonder whether Peter O’Toole played a role in writing his own eventual eulogy before the fact (he’s still alive as of Sept 2007).

Much to most people’s surprise, especially considering his notorious womanising and boozing escapades many decades ago, O’Toole is still alive and acting. Despite looking like a Madame Tussaud’s wax sculpture of himself, despite looking like the Grim Reaper accidentally forgot to mark him off the reaping list, and will get around to him quite soon, he’s still kicking and screaming. And, if this flick is to be believed, aching for some pussy.

How crude, eh? It’s not the kind of language my loyal readers have come to expect and demand from me, eh? Sure, a bit of swearing is par for the course, but not gutter-talk like that. Right?

Well, if you’ve seen Venus, you’ll actually think what I wrote was accurate and appropriate. And positively tame in comparison.

Rating: 

Half Nelson

dir: Ryan Fleck
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Cracksmoking high school teacher. It’s a four word movie premise that sells itself. No wonder Ryan Gosling, who is definitely becoming an actor to watch out for, garnered a Best Actor nomination for this flick last year. It’s not on the strength of the performance, which is tremendous and irritating at the same time. It’s because the crack addict teacher angle is the purest of Oscar baits.

There’s not really a lot to the story past that. There’s a white teacher in a classroom with predominately African-American and Hispanic students. He tries to teach them history, but in a way that avoids the text books and engages them to look at history through its conflicts in the form of dialectic reasoning: arguments and counter-arguments.

When first we see him we sense that he has something of a rapport with the kids, and engages them in a way that is beyond the perfunctory. At first, we don’t sense that there’s anything particularly wrong with him or with anything else for that matter. We sense that teaching at the school must be difficult, and that he looks a bit rundown, but other than that, it wouldn’t be anything that a good night’s sleep and a shave wouldn’t fix.

Rating: 

Stranger Than Fiction

dir: Marc Foster
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There were few films stranger yet more accessible last year, and it’s been a while since Charlie Kaufman has had one of his bizarro-world scripts made into a movie. Stranger than Fiction is a case of truth in advertising. It really is stranger than most fictional films have any right to be, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

For the purposes of clarity, I’m not saying this flick has a Kaufman script attached: the writer of idiot/savant treasures like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had nothing to do with Stranger than Fiction. It does however possess a script that these days we’d call Kaufmanesque. The actual screenplay is thanks to Zach Helm, who seems to be sniffing from the same batch of glue as Kaufman at the very merry least.

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an emotionally stunted dweeb who goes about his life and job as a tax auditor with mathematical, mechanical precision. He has no life outside of the calculation of how many toothbrush strokes he’s performed, steps walked to work or amount of strokes he takes to achieve orgasm. He has no family, no friends, no pets, and no real reason to keep breathing, as far as I can tell.

Rating: 

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