7 stars

Hostel

dir: Eli Roth
[img_assist|nid=903|title=That doesn't seem like it would be very tasty or hygienic|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=511]
Hostel is about so much more than just the horror. It’s more like bumping into an unpleasant ex at a party who gives you a blow-by-blow explanation of just why every single little aspect of your relationship sucked. Without any blow-by-blow, but with plenty of bringing the pain.

Oodles of pain. There is viciousness here, but it’s really not as bad as you’ve heard. It veers off into cartoonish violence and gore which undercuts its overall effect, but it’s still pretty compelling in setting up its fucked-up premise. Director Eli Roth has done substantially better here than he did with his awful debut Cabin Fever, but he’s got far more money and obviously far more leeway as well to tell this diabolical tale.

The essential thing to remember is that this grindhouse, grindcore flick is not for any other audience other than an American one. Sure, they sent copies of the flick out here for our drooling masses to drool over, but it’s very much a product of a certain place and time, calculated to derive a certain feeling. And that feeling is the dread of what other people want to do to you because you’re American.

Rating: 

Mission Impossible III

dir: J.J. Abrams
[img_assist|nid=901|title=Xenu is the real villain in Mission:Impossible III|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=348|height=332]
The world was crying out for another Mission: Impossible sequel the way children call out for a second helping of brussels sprouts, or for another trip to that creepy uncle who ends up putting them in therapy for the next 40 years. But who can say no to a man as charming and engaging as Tom Cruise?...

It is very tempting to veer off on rants about how bizarre the news has become over the last few years regarding this guy. The high point wasn’t the birth of the first heir to his Scientological throne just last week, but in the insane and inane stories about how he was going to chow down on the infant’s placenta and umbilical cord. But I don’t get paid to dissect the idiocies of Hollywood stars or the tabloid media, or the sorts of morons who devote their empty lives to endlessly talking about and reading about the entirely made up lives of celebrities.

Rating: 

Devil and Daniel Johnston, The

dir: Jeff Feuerzeig
[img_assist|nid=1218|title=Oh, Daniel|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=271|height=400]
Documentaries are great for finding the true stories behind people known for something they did or something they were. Documentaries are also great at illuminating the stories of people for whom obscurity and anonymity would have been a blessing.

Firmly, firmly within the tradition of doco subjects such as Robert Crumb and his insane brothers in Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb, the eccentric mother and daughter of Albert Maysle’s Grey Gardens and the indulgent, excruciating self-laceration of Jonathan Caoutte’s Tarnation, The Devil and Daniel Johnston reveals the life and times of an absolute nutter.

Daniel Johnston enjoyed a certain kind of notoriety in the late 80s-early 90s when too-cool hipsters and try-hards like Sonic Youth and the shmucks from Nirvana raised him to public consciousness. Of course he was oh-so-famous in his home town and around his family, but this virtually unknown singer-songwriter became famous mostly because he is crazy.

He started off with promise, of some kind that I can’t really figure out, but degenerated into the darkest pit of manic-impressive madness. He was obsessed entirely with music and becoming a famous musician, but never really seemed to achieve the goal of learning how to actually write or play music properly.

Rating: 

Ax, The (Le Couperet)

dir: Costa Gavras
[img_assist|nid=1219|title=Professional downsizer extraordinaire|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=230]
Veteran Greek agitator/director Costa-Gavras directs a Spanish guy playing a French family guy who’s just trying to get by in the corporate world by killing people all over Europe. How European Union of him.

The downside of the whole EU thing is that with cross border barriers to work having faded, people now compete with a whole new bunch of equally qualified shmos across that once great continent. The other downside being that downsizing naturally follows the increased globalisation of the European labour market. And thus multiple killings ensue.

You may think I’m speaking metaphorically or ironically, but you’d be mistaken. You’d be even more mistaken than I was when I voluntarily chose to watch this flick. The murderous climb up the corporate ladder constructed entirely of corpses is literal in this case.

You see, when our main character, played by Jose Garcia, was made redundant from his job a while ago, he thought nothing of it. A generous severance package and being highly qualified let him think the world was his oyster just aching to be taken. But a year and a half of job hunting has humiliated him to such an extent that he cannot countenance any other course of action apart from murder.

Rating: 

Walk the Line

dir: James Mangold
[img_assist|nid=1224|title=May you be reunited in death so you can use drugs together again, June and Johnny|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=400]
Johnny Cash. The Man in Black. An icon and a music legend. Contemporary of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, and a stack of others, influenced by and influential to them all. Could a two and a half hour film do him and his life justice? Can Joaquin Phoenix and the toothsome Reese Witherspoon do the story of the Big Big Love between Cash and June Carter justice? Or even get close?

Someone as simultaneously recognisable and mysterious as Cash needs a twenty hour film about his life. With a squillion dollar budget, all the CGI in the world, and the best actors and production people alive or dead (resurrected) to work on it. It would need a director who combines the spirit and ability of Leni Reifenstahl, Sergei Eisenstein, Otto Preminger, Carl Dreyer, John Ford, John Huston, Akira Kurosawa and Jean Renoir to get it right. It would need the greatest actors culled from history, put into a blender until gooey, with their DNA spliced and respliced until the mixture was just right, re-coded up into the greatest actor possible, which would then be discarded anyway in favour of a resurrected, young, vital, dangerous Johnny Cash to play the lead.

Rating: 

Thumbsucker

dir: Mike Mills
[img_assist|nid=1223|title=Guess what he's doing. Go on, guess|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=230]
Another coming of age story. Another coming of age story about an oddball teenager in high school. Another coming of age story about an oddball teenager in high school who tries to find a way to fit in for most of the film, and only realises at the end that the important thing is to be yourself.

Yes, being your fucking self is the solution to all of life’s problems. Because there aren’t enough arseholes being themselves out there fucking shit up for the rest of us. There aren’t enough of us who are ourselves, which is where all our problems come from in the first place.

As if the world hasn’t had enough of these monstrosities lumbered onto it already. In the last few years I can think of a multitude of flicks with a similar premise (though substantially different execution). Enough already. Napoleon Darko Holden Caufield has left the building.

So. Thumbsucker is a minor, pleasant flick about a 17 year old called Justin (Lou Pucci) who still sucks his thumb. He doesn’t know why he does it, his parents are embarrassed by it, and for Justin it is the cherry on top of a seething mess of teenage neurotic confusions. Which is little different from the lives of most teenagers, minus the thumbsucking, I guess.

Rating: 

Squid and the Whale, The

dir: Noah Baumbach
[img_assist|nid=908|title=No, not the prequel to Megashark Versus Giant Octopus|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=338]
Ah, the agony and the ecstasy of being part of a New York literary, dysfunctional family falling apart in slow motion in the 80s. Well, there’s no ecstasy, and the agony is keen yet comedic. It’s the best way to get revenge on your family that I’ve ever heard of, apart from converting to Islam, possibly.

From what I gather, The Squid and the Whale is almost entirely autobiographical. As such, I don’t know if director and writer Noah Baumbach is welcome at either of his parents’ places for Thanksgiving dinner. His portrayal of his parents, his brother and himself is scathing. Even though the film persistently goes for humourous pathos rather than miserable domestics, it is nonetheless ruthless in its treatment of its characters.

For all that, the characters are pretty well-rounded and believable, and uniformly well acted. I guess Noah knew exactly how he wanted these characters to look and sound, since he grew up with their templates.

Rating: 

40 Year Old Virgin, The

dir: Judd Apatow
[img_assist|nid=897|title=Some people choose a life of celibacy. Others have celibacy thrust upon them|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=318|height=400]
It’s rare that I venture forth to the cinema in order to catch a comedy. They’re rarely funny and usually so disposable that I forget I’m watching them whilst I’m watching them. It’s always scary when you have to check your ticket to remind yourself what you’re watching. Ah, senility, my friend, you make everything old new again.

It’s far easier to catch them on DVD or cable, with little loss to my time, brain cells or threadbare wallet. In this instance there was clearly something different going on. I went out of my way to see this instead of the myriad other stuff on display at any of Melbourne’s fine theatres. There was a different thought process involved.

Judd Apatow is the name that made me think this might be worth watching. Apatow is one of those hellishly talented people who makes some great stuff for television but keeps getting shafted by the networks. His show Freaks and Geeks was a fresh and highly enjoyable entry into the high school kids tv genre. It wasn’t Degrassi High, but it also wasn’t Rich White Teenagers With Problems, part of the legacy Beverly Hills 90210 has left in its murderous wake.

Rating: 

Junebug

dir: Phil Morrison
[img_assist|nid=912|title=See how the other half live|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=679]
Junebug is a strange slice-of-life about a bunch of people that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see in a movie. Of course they’re actors acting in the roles they’re given, but the roles themselves are of simple people living simple lives.

Into their simple lives, which meander along in a town in North Carolina, comes the number one son of the family George (Alessandro Nivola) and his new wife Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz). Though they’ve been together for six months, Madeleine clearly has no idea about the kind of family that George comes from. She herself is an art dealer with practically no clues about the South. The real reason they’re so way below the Mason-Dixon line is that Madeleine, who deals in ‘outsider’ art, is trying to get the works of a true Southern lunatic called David Wark (Frank Hoyt Taylor).

George is clearly the golden boy of his family, but we never really figure out why. He gets a surprisingly small amount of dialogue in a film that you’d think either himself or Madeleine would be the main characters of. In truth it is enough of an ensemble piece that no one character seems to dominate proceedings.

Rating: 

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

dir: George Lucas
[img_assist|nid=907|title=The main reason I turned evil? Cataracts.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=430|height=292]
It's finally over. The waiting, that is. I don't believe for a second that this is going to be the last Star Wars film. It's just way too lucrative. Capitalism demands that more films get made. Nerds demand that more films get made. Normal people and unborn generations insist as well. I don't care what Lucas himself says, this isn't the end.

The wait has been worth it. Revenge of the Sith isn't only the best of the three prequels, it's a pretty good film in and of itself. Lucas, being Lucas, makes the kind of elementary errors a first year film school student would know to avoid. But he gets a lot of stuff right as well.

He still can't write dialogue, or direct humans, but he makes do with amazing special effects, lots of lightsaber battles and a cracking story. Although, you know, I think there could have been a few more. I don't think sixteen lightsaber fights were enough.

Rating: 

Pages