2003

Elephant

dir: Gus Van Sant
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Some people walk around. The camera follows them as they slowly amble about. They meet people, or they walk past other people who are doing stuff or doing nothing. If they get to a destination, they do something inherently banal there, and the camera captures every scintillating second of it. Every now and then, there is a time lapse shot of a sky slowly darkening, or an approaching storm.

More shots of people walking around. Banal conversations. All of this action is centered around a school. We are given people's names as the camera follows them about. Each person seems to be given a 'story',
but nothing they say or do expands our knowledge of either what's going on or what's going to happen. They're not characters, or caricatures. They're just people. Doing not much of anything. After a while, you get to see the same situations repeated from other people's point of view.

In such a context, you could say that Gus Van Sant has made a meditative film, in the sense that we are given a lot of time to think about what's going on. Nothing is really rushed, and except for the crucial element of what the central 'event' is, you eventually give up waiting for something to happen, and just wonder how much more the film can ramble.

Rating: 

Bulletproof Monk

dir: Paul Hunter
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People have different definitions of what a B movie is. People have different definitions of what a decent Friday night is as well, but that's another story. I've always known what a B movie is, but I had difficulty articulating it clearly. The IMDB defines the B Movie thusly:

"a low-budget, second tier movie, frequently the 2nd movie in a double-feature billing. B-films were cheaper for studios because they did not involve the most highly paid actors or costly sets, and were popular with theatre owners because they were less expensive to bring into their theatres while still able to draw revenue"

But the phrase 'B movie' has altogether different connotations for me as well. B movies can be cool, there's the odd B movie cult classic out there, but generally I like to think of generic B movies as being, as we used to say at the orphanage in between coughing up blood from consumption and fighting over rat meat, "shitehouse". As most films are mediocre at best, and downright awful at worst, you have to wonder how it's possible to have an entire other stratum of film which is worse than the vast majority of product that's out there simply by budget and definition.

Rating: 

X-Men 2: X-Men United

dir: Bryan Singer
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Nerds. Does God love them? Or hate them? Are they the saviours of this world, or are they a plague upon the rest of humanity? Are they the result of unpopular childhoods, or a genetic mutation unto themselves, blessed with incredible memories for the most trivial of data and a pathological ability to hyperfocus on the most worrying of details?

At the very least, nerds and geeks in their pupal stage (where they are invisible and mostly benign) or adult stage (where they can be lethal: look at Micro$oft Overlord Darth Bill Gates, David Letterman and Henry Rollins) are friends to capitalism. Their pool of disposable income is vast and desirable, vast because we are talking about people that will spend their last hundred bucks on a DVD boxset of The Prisoner or a Boba Fett lunch box signed by Jeremy Bulloch instead of paying the rent. They have what is known in cognitive psychology circles as "low impulse control" and a yen for collecting. They want this geeky thing, they must have this geeky thing; no amount of arguing or sex can dissuade them.

Rating: 

Capturing the Friedmans

dir: Andrew Jarecki
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And I thought I came from a fucked up family…

What is true in life is rarely shown with such clarity in films: sometimes in the pursuit of ‘truth’, the more information we are given, the more sides we try to understand regarding a conflict, the more elusive that ‘truth’ becomes. No example is as representative of that essential conundrum as this film by Andrew Jarecki, who has managed to make a compelling and disturbing documentary on his maiden voyage.
I know, using the words “compelling and disturbing” about documentaries is about as usually appropriate as saying “intelligent and life affirming” about a film with Adam Sandler or Melanie Griffith in it, but at least in this case it is appropriate, or at least accurate as far as I’m concerned.

Rating: 

Love Actually

dir: Richard Curtis
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This is a singular work of staggering banality. Now, that’s an achievement and a half. From the makers of such romantic classics as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill to make a film that eclipses those in terms of superficiality and mawkish sentimentality takes a phenomenal amount of skill, money and enough ham to cover the Tower of London three times over in order to achieve their goals. And goddamn them, they get there in the end.

I hate to say it, but this 2 hour commercial for whatever the hell it is that director Richard Curtis is ineptly selling made me want to destroy Christmas forever. If anything, despite the clear intention set out in the movie’s title to be a concentrated explosion of goodwill and love towards all men and women, this film, I believe, has decreased the amount of love that was previously available in the world. If you are a person for whom there is no more love, for whatever you thought was the reason you could get no love in your life, this crappy flick is responsible.

Rating: 

American Splendor

dir: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
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A film about unremarkable people living lives of quietly desperate quiet desperation. It seems almost pointless by definition, doesn’t it? Films are about heroes, winners, the triumphant, usually. They’re not supposed to be about us mediocre types, are they? If these stories were going to genuinely be about people like us then they wouldn’t need to hire people with bleached teeth to play characters in every film and have wealthy screenwriters tell us how much better our simple lives are compared to the lives lived by the people that make these films.

American Splendor is not really based on the comic book of the same name, in that it’s not like Harvey Pekar is a superhero like Batman or She Hulk or Man Thing. But then again, since the comics were all based on Pekar’s life anyway, it kind of is. And maybe Pekar is a superhero in his own way.

The concept of so-called “outsider art” worries me. In an episode of The Simpsons where Homer accidentally becomes an artist when constructing a barbecue that goes horribly wrong, an art scene hag voiced by Isabella Rossellini explains that his work is outsider art. It is art that could have been created by hillbillies, mental patients or chimpanzees.

Rating: 

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

dir: Robert Rodriguez
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I am unsure as to whether Robert Rodriguez’s films are getting worse, or whether I just don’t like what he does as much as I used to. After watching this movie on DVD I spent an additional ten minutes watching a behind the scenes featurette called Fast, Cheap and In Control. I found this DVD extra more enjoyable than the movie itself. It showed various tricks and techniques used to perform and record the special effects and stunts during the film. It shows just how much an inventive and cost-effective crew can manage in a short period of time.

Ideally, such a circumstance would allow for more time to concentrate on pesky little details like a script or actual dialogue for its multitude of characters. There is precious little of that here. In fact, the movie seems to be a collection of disconnected money shots with little purpose beyond allowing Rodriguez to close off his El Mariachi trilogy, as if nations themselves were clamouring for it. Gagging for it, they were.

Rating: 

S.W.A.T

dir: Clark Johnson
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S.W.A.T. is a pointless film rendered more pointless by being a big screen version of a television series no-one needed to see again. If they’re going to remake this crap, then they need to do a remake of The A Team (which they are doing, I believe), Who’s the Boss and Touched By an Angel as well. Why the hell not? Where’s that Cheers movie everyone’s been dying for? What about Shatner making a comeback in T.J. Hooker? How about another version of Dragnet? Or Hart to Hart, with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers? The Love Boat; now that’s begging to be remade on the big screen. The list is endless. As is the amount of talentless people willing to hitch their wagon onto an unoriginal idea since they lack the ability to think up anything for themselves.

Rating: 

Intolerable Cruelty

dir: Joel Coen
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From a creative team as potent and as previously successful as it generally has been over the last fifteen or so years, it has to be said that this film ends up being something of a disappointment. Especially for fans of the Brothers Coen, who have been gifted with so many good to great films thus far that the opening of their every film is greeted with an almost sexual level of anticipation.

Trying to replicate the kinds of screwball comedies from the 30s and 40s that we never knew we missed that much, the Brothers again make a film about, amongst other things, Hollywood films. They’ve covered most of the cinematic genres, from Capraesque lunacy in The Hudsucker Proxy, Prohibition era gangster morality in Millers Crossing, Busby Berkeley musicals in The Big Lebowski (amongst plenty of other nutty ingredients), so now it’s time to lift some style and elements from the films of Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story). These comedies, some of which are classics, are pretty cheesy to modern eyes, not helped by the regular presence of Eddie Bracken, who was a poor man’s Mickey Rooney if I ever saw one, and Joel McCrae, who was a destitute man’s Gary Cooper. And lucky us, we now have the rich man’s Cary Grant headlining here.

Rating: 

Girl With the Pearl Earring

dir: Peter Webber
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The camera loves Scarlett Johansson’s face, there is no doubt of that. So much attention, so many shots amount to little more than the camera going into close-up to let her acting play out on the canvass of her face. Her lips and eyes get to do most of the acting. Having little opportunity to speak, true to her role as a poor 17th Century maid working for rich folks in the city of Delft, in the Netherlands, most of her work has to be purely from body language and the little dialogue she’s entitled to. Most of the time she is trying to speak, but because of who she is, where she is, that access to her own ‘voice’ is devastatingly rare. Her struggle to speak rarely countermands her ingrained idea of her ‘place’. More overtly she is specifically told by the lady of the house to only speak when spoken to.

Rating: 

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