7 stars

House of Sand and Fog

dir: Vadim Perelman
[img_assist|nid=998|title=Bleak House|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=420|height=595]
Films with House in the title usually suck. Not only do they suck, but they generally suck very badly. I mentioned this recently in a review of House of 1000 Corpses, one of the dumbest movies to have the word in its title. If you think I’m lying, then allow me to retort: House Party, House on Haunted Hill (the remake), House, Houseguest, Life as a House, Cider House Rules, House of the Dead and who can forget (despite trying repeatedly) Big Momma’s House?

House of Sand and Fog is truly one of the better films with house in its title, but as I’ve shown that’s not saying much. This is an agonising emotional train-wreck of a movie that despite being in slow motion has none of its impact lessened, if anything it makes it even sadder. The characters feel like actual characters, and not caricatures, and are all flawed in their own ways. Perhaps it’s because of those flaws that they seem like real people. Far more attention is paid to issues of character than to plot, which makes for better drama but not necessarily ‘enjoyable’ viewing.

Rating:

Seabiscuit

dir: Gary Ross
[img_assist|nid=995|title=America's Phar Lap|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=404|height=408]
It’s a mediocre film masquerading as an Oscarbait ‘prestige’ contender. It’s flawed, obvious, cliché and hackneyed. The actors are mostly outacted by the horse. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t still find it sweet and enjoyable, damn my eyes.

Goddamn me it hurts to admit that. It makes me want to get liver-rupturingly drunk and binge on hard Class A drugs in order to regain my equilibrium after that admission. It wouldn’t change the fact that I genuinely enjoyed the film, despite its shallow nature and emotional manipulativeness. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a pic about horses, seeing as I have a weakness for the ponies. Not so much the gambling aspect, since the indentured servitude that passes for employment in my life doesn’t leave me a whole hell of a lot of money for wasting on beting. But there is just something that appeals to me about horse racing.

Rating:

In The Cut

dir: Jane Campion
[img_assist|nid=993|title=Amazing you made it this far|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=297|height=400]
In the Cut is a perfect example of a cinematic bait-and-switch. It pretends to be a conventional murder mystery / thriller, but is something somewhat more complex. It’s a pretty fucking bleak film, with oddles and oddles of subtext, overt text and enough tricks in the cinematography department for fifteen other films. It deliberately and with malice aforethought subverts the generally misogynist slasher genre, dulling it down, taking the scares and the suspense out of it, for the purpose of representing something darker and uglier than just shocking and gruesome death.

Rating:

Good Thief, The

dir: Neil Jordan
[img_assist|nid=1062|title=Let's be all French and cool|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=269]
Doing a remake of a classic by one of the renowned masters of the cinematic art form takes a lot of balls, or ovaries, as the case may be. Jean Pierre Melville is that master, and Bob le Flambeur is that classic. Of course from a commercial point of view few potential audience members are going to care, but the wizened ye olde film reviewers will stroke their beards and tut tut loudly if it doesn’t sufficiently honour or even surpass the original (which let’s face it never happens). I’m not one of those beard stroking pipe smoking crones, but it makes me sit up and take notice when someone has the gall to embark on this type of endeavour.

Audiences don’t care on the most part. Although if, as often gets bandied about like the Sword of Damocles, they decide to do an official remake of Casablanca starring some guy from a boy band as Rick and co-starring someone whose last name is Hilton as Elsa, you’re going to have ugly, angry mob riots on your hands. Theatres being burnt to the ground. Celebrities being hunted in the streets. Colourful language.

Rating:

Raising Victor Vargas

dir: Peter Sollett
[img_assist|nid=1061|title=On the make|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=371|height=419]
Raising Victor Vargas is an oddity and an anachronism in this day and age: it is a sweet, enjoyable film about teenagers which looks at the daily concerns of their urban lives as well as but not confined to looking at the complications that arise due to their burgeoning sexuality. But it does it without descending into idiocy, and remains honest and ‘truthful’ throughout.

Uh oh. Red flags go up immediately. No, this is neither the kind of film Larry Clark (of Kids, Bully and Ken Park fame) makes to masturbate over, nor is it the banal Porky’s wannabe that the American Pie trio of movies aspired to be (when they didn’t devolve into mawkish sentimentality). It’s a naturalistic (as ‘naturalistic’ as any film can be, without being a documentary) look at some people’s lives on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. The people the story focuses on are naturally welfare/working class Hispanic Americans, living in government housing.

Rating:

Dark Blue

dir: Ron Shelton
[img_assist|nid=1060|title=Dark Blue Kurt|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=346|height=520]
This film succeeds where Training Day dismally failed. Which is good, because it means that in peddling the same script twice David Ayer gets to double dip and earn twice the money that he deserves. But all the same, second time lucky, eh? This time they got it right. Or at least they got it more right than in the terribly overrated Denzel vehicle.

Rating:

Gangs of New York

dir: Martin Scorsese
[img_assist|nid=1041|title=Fear the moustache, fear the glass eye or the huge hats I wear. For your sake, fear something|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=300]
History is replete with examples of grand folly. Times where people were inspired by big ideas that outstripped their ability, their budget or the laws of physics and failed spectacularly in ways so tragically overblown that they have become the stuff of legend, despite being remembered, perhaps incorrectly as time stumbles inexorably forward.

As an example, how about the plans of Arthur Paul Pedrick, who came up with a scheme to irrigate the Sahara by flinging giant snowballs from Antarctica using catapults? Or Howard Hughes’ ‘Spruce Goose’, the biggest, goofiest model aeroplane ever constructed, with its seventeen separate engines and its wingspan exceeding that of a football field by 20 metres, and possessing enough cabin space to carry two railroad carriages side by side? Perhaps someone should have told Hughes that railroad carriages already had a way of being moved around. It might have saved him some cash. And time. Lots and lots of time. And glue, probably.

Rating:

Road to Perdition

dir: Sam Mendes
[img_assist|nid=1054|title=You didn't know Tom Hanks was the Angel of Death. I knew, though, ever since that Gump film|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=284]
I have been waiting a long time to watch this film, and it has to be said that I was not disappointed, but it was not the film I expected it to be.

It's a beautiful film, to be sure to be, to be sure, but I can't help but feel that the film kind of collapses under the weight of its own self-importance. Every scene is immaculately constructed, scored and acted, and it all has this pervading gravitas which is supposed to be reminding us constantly of how serious it all is, but it did make me wonder: does a story this simple justify such an extravaganza?

For it is an utterly simple story: good man gets done wrong, good man vows revenge and takes on the mob, good man kills pretty much anyone that ever pissed him off. This has been a staple for so long that you know everything that will come to pass before the opening credits have finished rolling.

Rating:

Two Towers, The

dir: Peter Jackson
[img_assist|nid=1055|title=The Two Towers. It's about two towers, apparently|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=315|height=450]
There's no disputing that this is a technically competent film. What is debatable is whether it stands as a decent film on its own, which is the litmus test for any and every film.

Why? Well, I just didn't enjoy the film that much. Admittedly I was wretchedly hungover at the time, but I've enjoyed plenty of other films in a similar if not worse state.

Maybe my expectations were too high. My expectations were high for the first one as well, but they were satisfied tenfold that time. This time, well, I wondered a bit why I should care, a feeling I certainly did not get from the book this is based on.

By any objective measure I can think of the film does not stand on its own. Viewers who haven't seen the first one and have never read the books wouldn't have a fucking clue what's going on. That's not necessarily a fatal flaw, in that we want filmmakers who ask their audiences to put a bit more work into their viewing experience and not have to spoonfeed the dullards. But in general I like to believe that even individual parts of a trilogy should be complete stories in and of themselves. This film goes on for three hours and then kind of just ends, leaving me in the audience thinking "And? So?"

Rating:

Rules of Attraction, The

dir: Roger Avary

I don't have an agenda in reviewing it favourably, and I am not that egotistical as to believe that my reviews affect people's viewing decisions. I can resolutely state that I probably got more enjoyment out of it than most people would, and probably forgive its amateurish errors more readily than I should.

Rating:

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