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2010

The Town

The Town

These clowns go down on this town

dir: Ben Affleck

2010

This flick is still limping its way out of Australian cinemas for at least another week, and so I’m glad not only that I got to see it on the big screen, but that I have something newish to review. Because gods know the world needs more of my movie reviews. You know you crave them, too. It’s like an addiction, I know.

It’s strange that the name ‘Ben Affleck’ as director inspires much more interest in me than when ‘Ben Affleck’ the actor is referred to. One piques my interest, the other inspires my whatevers impulse. When Ben Affleck is the director and the main character, then I’m the very definition of ambivalent.

It really can’t be overstated how good a flick Gone Baby Gone was, which indicated at least that Affleck, at the time, was better placed directing flicks than being in them. Consider it his long march towards redemption for the decade or so of flailing and Jennifer Lopez tabloid hysteria. With all the critical kudos he garnered for directing his brother Casey in probably the best flick they’ll ever be involved in, he somehow decided two seemingly contradictory things: that he should direct more films, and that people were clamouring to see him in front of the camera again.

Only one part of that equation is true, but, hey, it’s his flick, so if he wants to give himself the plum role, good luck to him.

The Town refers to Charlestown, a suburb of Boston even scummier than Dorchester. How do I even know anything about a suburb of Boston? Because of Ben Affleck movies set there and other flicks based on Dennis Lehane novels like that turgid Mystic River flick.

This suburb apparently has more bank robbers than Johannesburg, and it’s considered a family trade handed down from father to son. As such, our main character, Doug MacRay, played by Affleck, is a career crim and a most excellent hand at this armed robbery game. The first eight minutes of the flick involve a bank robbery carried out with ruthless efficiency by experts. A bank employee (Rebecca Hall) is taken hostage, sees something which could identify one of the crims, and is let free. Throughout her ordeal, Doug tries to not freak her out too much. He almost seems to care about her, to want to shield her from what he himself and his cohorts are doing.

The feds, in the form of the FBI, led by my man Jon Hamm, playing some guy, are closing in on these crims, but they’re still a fair distance away from them. These crims aren’t sloppy, and except for Jem (Jeremy Renner), are fairly cool under pressure. Though they worry as to what the hostage might do or say down the track.

Rating:

The Social Network

Social Network

You could try not being an absolute piece of shit for 5 minutes

dir: David Fincher

2010

It’s a fascinating story, and a terrific film, despite being about something so inherently banal. It’s not even really an origin story, along the lines of a biographical tale like the ones regarding the Manhattan Project, or the moon landing, or, you know, something important that was invented or achieved. It’s more concerned with (fictionally) illuminating the thinking of one of the main people involved in the creation of this online behemoth known as Facebook.

Written with an ear towards crackling dialogue, Aaron Sorkin, known for penning the scripts to such immediately familiar fare such as A Few Good Men and many an episode of The West Wing, has crafted a screenplay that tells us less about what was involved in programming up from scratch this most pervasive of online networks, and more about how someone with a genius level IQ, a resentment towards the privileged, no knowledge of how to treat people as people, and a complete inability to forgive perceived slights conjured up something adopted universally across the tubes of the internets that made him a billionaire, all before finishing college.

He didn’t just become rich. To borrow from a Chris Rock routine, there’s being rich, and then there’s wealth. Oprah is rich, Bill Gates is wealthy. Bill Gates would kill himself if he woke up with Oprah’s money.

Well, now Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) would kill himself if he woke up with Bill Gate’s money. And for what? Facebook? An online vanity site where you become inundated with vital info like what people had for breakfast, what their cats are up to, what tv cooking or renovation programs they like watching, or how much time they spent on Mafia Wars or Farmville or something equally life-affirming over the course of any given day? A place where you can reconnect with people you haven’t heard from or thought about in decades, and, once you find and friend them, lose interest in almost immediately?

It’s easy to be scathing, and fun too, but in the interests of disclosure, it would be remiss of me not to admit that I, too, am a Facebook user. By ‘user’ I mean I log in about once a week, perhaps update something to do with a movie I’ve seen (as when I wrote a quick review of The Social Network, on Facebook, no less, where the meta-irony didn’t escape me), perhaps update what book I’ve just finished and what I’m reading, and that’s about it. I’ll check out a few friends’ updates, and that’s the sum and total.

To my knowledge, I’ve never clicked on an ad whilst logged in, I’ve never used my credit card to purchase anything for any of the online games or little virtual knickknacks as gifts that are on offer, so my known contribution to the company’s coffers is nil. I would suspect, though I’ve got little apart from general human apathy to base this on, that many if not most of Facebook’s users are in the same boat.

So why are these people billionaires again?

Rating:

Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Twilight Eclipse

This stuff really is beyond parody, mostly because it's a
parody of the human capacity for junk tolerance already

dir: David Slade

2010

And the shit keeps on rolling out…

Wow, has it really only been a year since the last Twilight movie? Surely our years and entire lives are now structured around the release of new instalments in this rightly labelled saga? And it is a saga indeed. Epic, if you will, in proportions, length, width, girth, and in precious emotions.

Big emotions. Huge emotions. Bigger than anything you’ve ever snored through in your entire life!

See there’s a girl called Bella (Kristen Stewart) and every boy’s in love with her, because she’s so wonderful, despite not doing, saying or thinking a single interesting thing in her life. She does nothing, thinks nothing, imagines nothing, nothings nothing. She’s such a nothing that four books are devoted to her. Who ever said there was presence in absence was thinking squarely of Bella Swan and Kristen Stewart’s non-acting abilities.

Perversely, not only is she irresistible to every boy in school, but even the vampire and werewolf set think she’s all kinds of awesome. Yes, vampires and werewolves exist in this world, and their only reason for existing is to reassure Bella that she’s the best. The werewolves, however, are American Indian young dudes with shaved chests who run around half-naked until they transform, whenever they feel like it, or get angry, or get horny, into giant dogs.

Rating:

Expendables, The

The Expendables

Forget Gandhi, Bertrand Russell or Simone De Beauvoir:
you're all my heroes now

dir: Sylvester Stallone

2010

I guess if someone absorbed and retained all the juicy goodness of crappy 80s action flicks, it was the guy who starred in most of them. And if there’s one person who can profit from perpetuating what he used to be good at, rather than doing anything remotely new, it’s Sylvester Stallone.

His last three films including this one are virtual monuments to himself (the other two being Rocky Balboa and the fourth Rambo flick creatively titled Rambo) and the time when he was one of the biggest action stars on the goddamn planet. But this flick, far moreso than the others, is more of a monument to the era itself and the trashy 80s action flicks that were so beloved by all.

By ALL. Don’t dispute me on this: I bet back in the day even the Pope, the Queen of England and the King of Siam were sitting around in their sweatpants watching video tapes of Red Heat or Cobra or Commando and drinking a six pack in between punching the air and screaming “YEEEEEAHHH” in full throated passion. It didn’t matter if there was no reason for shit to be exploding, or for a man with a gun to be walking around mowing down an army of faceless Hispanic goons without so much as a scratch on him: it was fun, apparently, and everyone had to like it or be sent to re-education camps for indoctrination. Maybe I remember the 80s differently to the rest of you, but I’m positive that all happened.

That golden era couldn’t last forever, and these films where jeeps would explode mid-air, or when cops would be killed days before retirement, and the villain’s headquarters would always blow up even if there was no earthly reason for such to happen, were shunted aside so that the comic stylings of Pauly Shore and Jim Carrey could come to the fore, and chick flicks as far as the eye could see were Steel Magnolia-ing and Fried Green Tomatoes-ing their way into our hearts and colons.

Rating:

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Blood is much thinner than we like to admit

dir: David Michôd

2010

It’s not entirely clear why the film is called Animal Kingdom until past the middle of the flick, when Guy Pearce’s character has to explicitly spell it all out: everything in nature, like in the Australian bush, inherently knows its place. There are trees that live for thousands of years, and insects that die in the space of time it takes to think of them. There are predators and prey, the strong and the weak, and they all have to compensate accordingly.

It’s a moment of exposition that sounds superfluous, because it’s rarely a good idea to explain your title, but it’s used wisely. It’s used by a character who thinks he has the measure of the person he’s speaking to, who thinks this is the best way to convince him to go along with his program.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

Australian cinema has often gone to the crime well to come up with its quality television programs and movies, and this flick certainly doesn’t come up dry. It’s as good as a lot of reviewers are saying it is, but what I failed to glean from other people’s comments and analyses was how emotionally complicated it is, how tension-filled and how grim. And how little it compromises.

Yes, it deals with a family of crims, but this isn’t a mob style organised crime story, or the tits and violence concoction that is the Underbelly franchise. In fact it’s the complete antithesis of all that trashy splendour. It’s mostly a story about a kid called Josh, who calls himself J (James Frecheville), who, upon the death of his mother, moves in with his grandmother and uncles.

His uncles are hardcore crims, of the armed robbery variety, but in the main, they’re reasonable guys. The eldest brother, though, is operating on a different level than the rest, implied as being related to mental illness. Or the fact that he’s a truly ruthless bastard.

Though they call him Pope, Andrew Cody (Ben Mendelsohn) is introduced to us in an innocuous way, seeming, like the rest of the brothers, to be a remnant of an earlier age. He’s not exactly strapping on metal armour and taking on the cops at Glenrowan, but he seems lost during a conversation with his brother Barry (Joel Edgerton), as they wonder about alternatives to their current method of income earning. Barry recommends that Pope invest in stocks online, and Pope, confused, talks about not even having a computer.

The problem they face is not the desire of the police to arrest them for their many crimes: it’s a more uniquely Australian problem, at least in the way that history has been transmuted for the purposes of grounding this story.

Rating:

Unthinkable

Unthinkable

Lots of screaming for the whole family

dir: Gregor Jordan

2010

I know, I know: you’ve never heard of it, and neither had I until yesterday.

You have to wonder how flicks with A-list casts like this can disappear so completely in an era where the biggest flick in the world at the moment only has Tom Hank’s voice in a major role, and the next in line hosts the anti-charismatic properties of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner in lead roles: three people who if you added their personalities together, you’d still be coming up with a figure significantly less than 1.

I hear they share the one personality between them. Which is why, most of the time, you don’t see them all together in the same place. And the rest is computer generated imagery, just like their sparkly, bare-chested, sexless fame.

Perhaps it overstates it to claim that Unthinkable has an A-list cast. Michael Sheen did play Tony Blair, and a werewolf, and a vampire, David Frost and an even more horrific undead creature in the form of the coach of Leeds United. He’s got to be up there.

Samuel L. Jackson once tickled some Maori guy with a lightsabre in some Star Wars flick, and some snakes on a plane, and lost an overacting battle with John Travolta in a couple of movies. I guess he’s at least somewhere on some list of vaguely credible actors. Still, this flick disappeared into the aether without so much as a by your leave, and you have to wonder why.

Enough of the rhetorical bullshit: it’s no mystery why. It’s been effectively dumped because a) the director is Gregor Jordan, and b) it’s about torture, and the general non-goodness thereof.

America doesn’t want to hear that. Even in the post-George Dubya world, in the enlightened and instantly everything better world of Obama, still no-one wants to see films made by Gregor Jordan, especially ones critical of America’s love of torture.

You may ask yourself who Gregor Jordan is, and why Hollywood hates him so much. He is an Australian director, after all, and he did bring Heath Ledger to global or at least suburban prominence with his delightful film Two Hands. Then Jordan made Ned Kelly, again with Ledger, which was terrible, just fucking awful.

Somehow this meant that instead of being punished for all eternity, Gregor Jordan skipped the Pacific and starting working in Hollywood. So he makes Buffalo Soldiers, which suffers a strangled death in its release crib because, gee, they were about to release it when America the Beautiful unleashed hell upon the degenerate nations of Afghanistan and Iraq. The suits thought no-one was comfortable watching a flick that depicted US soldiers in Germany as the venal, criminal opportunists they might very well have been. It’s so unfair when real life screws up your release date, isn’t it?

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