7 stars

Aristocrats, The

dir: Paul Provenza
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Many (bad) comedies and films in general are often accused of being one joke movies stretched out painfully for an hour and a half more than they should be. Many of Jim Carrey’s movies fall into this category (the one joke being on the audience for paying to watch him twitch, flail and fulminate). The Passion of the Christ fits the bill. The Ahnuld – De Vito flick Twins falls into this category (They’re so different!) Anything arising from a television sketch show is emblematic of this plague upon all our houses when it defecates itself onto our silver screens.

Well, in The Aristocrats, we have instead a movie about one joke, and the myriad permutations and combinations thereof. And even though the flick is about this one joke, it is nothing like the aforementioned craptacular extravaganzas referred to earlier.

I guess you could call it a documentary, but that makes it sound like a studied, plotted course taken to reveal the origins and mysteries surrounding a legendary joke dating back to the vaudeville era. Which it approximates, but mostly it’s a bunch of talking heads either talking about the joke or telling their version of the joke.

Rating: 

Hard Candy

dir: David Slade
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A 14-year-old girl and a 32-year-old man converse through the magic of the internet. Their flirtatious banter sounds harmless enough on one level and then completely disturbing on another. They then agree to meet in public for the first time. This does not bode well at all…

Aren’t there plenty of stories in the media, especially the American media, about children sneaking from their homes to meet significantly older perverts that they met online? The whole MySpace phenomena, which should die out within a few weeks and be replaced by some other new fad, like yo-yos, whittling or scrimshawing, has become notorious because of the occasions where oldies have gone there with
ill intentions to meet the young.

Also, these days, you can’t go into any chat room without soon discovering that whatever that alleged nubile jailbait is saying, it’s probably a fifty-year old, heavy-set FBI agent with a mortgage and an enlarged prostate pretending he’s a suggestible girl just waiting to bloom.

So it’s a pretty rich source of current material to be playing around with for this here flick by first-time director David Slade. Whatever it might sound like, the flick is not really about sex, aberrant or otherwise. But goddamn is it a rough ride, all the same.

Rating: 

Hidden

dir: Michael Haneke
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Austrian director Michael Haneke is a cruel man. His career has been devoted to torturing audiences with his diabolical flicks. I don’t mean in the same manner that Uwe Boll and Celine Dion torment audiences. As Haneke gets older, his techniques become more refined, his blunt instruments are replaced with scalpels, and the damage goes deeper.

Hidden focuses on a middle-class, middle-aged French couple who start receiving video tapes of themselves documenting their movements at their flat. As well, they receive harmless but unsettling child-like drawings depicting a person bleeding from the mouth, or a chicken getting its head cut off.

The feel of the film is quite unsettling. Haneke uses a static camera for all the shots, not just the surveillance videos, and generally only moves left or right, to make us unsure if we’re really watching the scene, or watching the surveillance depiction of the scene. The flick also has no musical score or soundtrack, which adds to the oppressive atmosphere.

It might sound like a clinical Dogma-like experiment, but it’s not. The performances from all involved, especially Daniel Auteil and Juliette Binoche, are good, as you would expect from two mainstays of modern French cinema.

Rating: 

Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The

dir: Tommy Lee Jones
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Films that don’t immediately jump themselves into a recognisable pigeonhole already have a point or two in their favour, for my money. When films follow formula, I tend to start evaluating the film along the lines of its adherence to or variance from the formula. Whatever happens on screen filters through to me with that lens in use.

When I don’t get what the formula is, or the obvious destination point, I’m already more interested than usual. Because such a scenario makes me wonder what is going to happen next, as opposed to generally being able to predict it.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is not a great film. It has some great scenery, gorgeous cinematography, and some interesting characters. Its greatest advantage is that it has a script by Guillermo Arriaga.

Arriaga usually collaborates with director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, so you may be familiar with his work in the form of Amores Perros and 21 Grams, both films I have a lot of time for.

Rating: 

Proposition, The

The Proposition

dir: John Hillcoat

I still have the soundtrack by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave ringing in my ears. For in truth that is probably the most successful part of the film.

This so-called Australian “Western” has little going for it except lovely postcard visuals, a melancholy tension, people with bad teeth giving good performances and a hell of a lot of brutality.

Let’s face it, the starting point of British colonialism in this country was anything but auspicious or pleasant for any of the people involved. The town of Banyon serves as the “hell” in the line uttered by one of the film’s many characters, “What fresh hell is this…”, though he is in fact talking about all of Australia.

Though the land has its empty natural beauty, it looks like what much of it is: hostile and inhospitable. Of course the film plays this up and makes it look like the first whities here must have been insane to stay. As well as being very dirty all of the time.

Many people star in this flick, many people were involved, and so it comes with many expectations. Maybe a stack of people are going to think it’s the bee’s knees. For me it was more like the flea’s disease.

Rating: 

Jarhead

dir: Sam Mendes
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This is a film about war without an actual war in it. It’s akin to make a porno without having sex in it.

There are movies like that. On cable, Showtime (channel 3), on Friday nights, plays these flicks which I am guessing are American pornos. I don’t actually know for sure, because the films have most of the nudity and all of the sex cut out of them. It begs the question as to why anyone would then want to watch them, considering the main attraction is now absent. It’s not for the scripts and the acting, which are teeth-grindingly bad. You wouldn’t watch a football game on the jumping box, the pictocube, I mean the telly, if they cut all the actual football out of it. And the sex as well.

Jarhead’s point is to give us a window into the experiences of a young marine trained and amped up for war, alongside his equally hyper macho brothers in arms, prior to the first Gulf War. It starts with scenes those of us who routinely watch war films would be familiar with (boot camp, having superior officers hurl abuse at newbies, small acts of rebellion against authority), but doesn’t have the general payoff that you get from the other flicks (trial by fire in wartime conflict, personal cowardice and courage, blowing people’s heads off).

Rating: 

Paradise Now

dir: Hany Abu-Assad
[img_assist|nid=918|title=Blue skies, happy days|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=270|height=400]
How excited are you about reading a review of a film about two Palestinian suicide bombers? Thrilled, I imagine. As the eyes gloss over, and you open another browser window in order to check out the latest news on some celebrity’s sex scandal shocker, you’ll admit to yourself that sometimes it’s all right, but generally, worthy cinema about the world’s problems bores you to tears.

And who can blame you? The world is filled with such terrible occurrences on a second-to-second basis that it’s hard not to say “Fuck it, I can’t care anymore, I’m having another shot of whisky and another toke on the dutchy” which, as anyone who remembers the 80s knows, should always be passed on the left-hand side.

So maybe a story told from the point of view of two potential suicide bombers isn’t going to be your cup of tea. And if you do see it, it’ll be to impress some earnest and hot international student at your uni who you want to leave with the significant impression that you’re switched on about big worldly issues and therefore eminently fuckable.

For my money, this low budget but well put-together film was an interesting way to spend my Wednesday morning. Shot in Nablus and Nazareth, for a work of fiction it looks horribly real.

Rating: 

Good Night and Good Luck

dir: George Clooney
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The most important aspect that a period piece has to get right is to evoke a sense of place and time. Depending on the time it is set in, an essential part of that is representing just how different that time and place were compared to the present day equivalent. It’s also handy when you can illustrate what hasn’t changed at all, no matter how much time has elapsed between drinks.

Good Night, and Good Luck goes a long way towards setting itself properly just through the use of black and white film. It not only convinces us straight away that we are looking at a slice of the past, but it also ‘colours’ the content, so to speak. Since the film deals with the medium of television as a newborn child, the era itself is defined by its limitations and the remnants we have left of their broadcasts in shades of stark light and dark.

Rating: 

Constant Gardener, The

dir: Fernando Meirelles
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A diplomat’s wife is raped and murdered. The diplomat is given an explanation, which seems entirely plausible, considering his wife and where it happens. He doesn’t believe it, though, and neither do we.

No, this isn’t a film about White People in Trouble in Dark Places. This isn’t a culture clash about the first world versus the developing world. It is a film about a quiet and harmless bureaucrat who wants to find out who his wife was, and wants to understand how and why she died.

Of course then it does become the Little Guy versus The Man, but any story of this nature needs someone we care about (our Hero) versus someone who doesn’t like them very much (the Baddies). This is a simplistic but believable take on what a spy / government thriller could be like in the real world we live in beyond the cinema screen. This world, this hallowed world with its constant conflicts of interest and its negation of the worth of human life, especially amongst those whose standard of living doesn’t match our own. Also, they look different from us and are therefore kinda funny.

There is always the risk of something like this being preachy, or looking like a begging charity ad headed by some well-fed and well-groomed actors, using their Compassion face, telling us ‘Every three seconds, a child dies in Africa. You can make a difference.’

Rating: 

Little Fish

Little Fish

These drugs turned out nowhere near as fun as the film claimed

dir: Rowan Woods

Each year they keep talking about the film that’s going to launch the renaissance of Australian cinema, and each year the call goes ignored and unlamented by Australian audiences.

It’s the unpopular kid at school who throws a big birthday on the Saturday afternoon, with the best party pies and those frankfurters on tooth picks, but no-one comes. The kid is left there crying, heart-broken, vowing to join the Liberal party at the soonest opportunity in order to exact revenge upon the world.

This is the latest flick to get touted as the be-all and end-all. And the call is still going to go unheeded. It’s a decent flick all the same.

It’s too downbeat. It’s too angular and deliberately unsatisfying, and incongruous. In fact, you’d wonder who thought this was really going to have any mass appeal. Sure, I saw it in a totally packed cinema, but that was on a Monday afternoon. Monday afternoons at the Nova mean you get to see any flick for 5 bucks. Every old person and their maiden aunt descends upon the Nova from every corner of the inner city, to the almost musical accompaniment of their creaking walking frames.

It will still get the lion’s share of the critical plaudits, at least, even if it doesn’t achieve box office magic. With the AFI awards becoming one-horse races, this will probably win everything next year from Best Film to Nicest Boots.

Rating: 

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