Clash of the Titans

dir: Louis Leterrier
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Did Clash of the Titans need to be remade? In 3D no less?

Of course it did, you anti-capitalistic naysayers. Everything should be remade in 3D. Weekend at Bernie’s 3D. Driving Miss Daisy 3D. Deep Throat 3D.

That last one could have your eye out if you’re not careful.

It’s profitable, isn’t it? And, as the drug, prostitution and pornography industries have always taught us: If something’s profitable, of course you should be doing it.

Most reviewers keep referring to the original flick as being not very good in the first place, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything. The story’s based on Greek mythology from three millennia ago, so blaming Harry Hamlin or Ray Harryhausen seems a bit much. For all the blather regarding Joseph Campbell, the heroic journey and the fundamentals of epic story telling, the tale of Perseus slaying the Gorgon Medusa and saving Andromeda from a monster while riding a winged horse is pretty cheesy crap regardless of how big the budget or whether you’ve got Sir Ian McKellen or Fabio in a lead role.

Rating:

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant

Give me all your drugs, for I am ever so hungry

dir: Werner Herzog

Herzog has long been acclaimed as one of the nuttiest directors of all time, so it makes a kind of deranged sense that he would be the one that picked up the mantle no-one else wanted. The Abel Ferrara directed Bad Lieutenant, at least the one starring Harvey Keitel and his penis, is one of my all time favourite films, of that have no doubt. When I watch it even today I marvel at just how demented and heart-rending it all is. How harrowing and still funny.

This is in no way a remake, but I guess there is some kind of thematic connection. That’s being too kind – there’s no goddamn connection. The only connection is that the main cop character is at the rank of lieutenant, and he uses a lot of drugs and probably commits / ignores as many crimes as he solves or pursues.

Keitel’s character was trapped in a hideous (and sometimes darkly comic) downward spiral because of, considering the heavy dose of Catholicism permeating the flick, either his abandonment of God, or his abandonment by God. The bleeding saviour himself appears in front of Keitel, who lets loose with the most disturbing keening / primal howling you’ll ever hear or laugh at in that or any other film.

Here, I think the sometimes great, more often terrible actor Nicolas Cage, is doing whatever nutbag nuttiness pops into his or Herzog’s head, and most of the time it doesn’t make any sense, but then this isn’t supposed to make complete sense. There are long sequences where the camera focuses on alligators and iguanas that make no sense in this or any other movie, including documentaries on how the lizards of New Orleans were worst affected by Hurricane Katrina. It’s just fucking nutty.

Katrina plays its obligatory part in such a story by being the cause of Terrence McDonagh’s (Cage) promotion to the rank of lieutenant after he saves a prisoner from the rising waters, but also the source of his drug problems. He screwed his back up in some way during the rescue which means his original addiction was to prescription painkillers. Now he does coke, crack cocaine and heroin by the handful as well, and barely anyone notices.

His girlfriend Frankie is a very understanding prostitute who’s also an addict (the always easy on the eyes but not the ears Eva Mendes), and he never really seems to have that much trouble keeping her happy as long as the drugs are free and free-flowing. Being a cop, and a clearly corrupt cop at that, he has no difficulty scoring wherever he goes, whether it’s from drug dealers, crime scenes, the evidence locker or his girlfriend’s clients.

And wherever it is that he goes, he goes with a lopsided gait and one shoulder significantly higher than the other. His gun, since he (I guess) can’t use a holster, always sits in the front of his waistband, always ready to be pulled out and waved at people whether he’s shaking people down for whatever drugs they have on them, or screaming for attention at the local chemist.

Rating:

Beautiful Kate

Beautiful Kate

She deserved better, they all did. Except the dad.

dir: Rachel Ward

2009

It’s a good thing Rachel Ward directed this film. Not only because she brings a deft and empathetic eye to a ‘difficult’ story, and renders it both meaningful and Australian despite its American origins. It’s also because if a guy had directed this, you’d accuse them of being a dirty, dirty old man, instead of being a sensitive and accomplished filmmaker.

She also, in a clear instance of welfare handouts, gives a plum role to her husband Bryan Brown, who plays a dying patriarch. Do you reckon he had to earn his spot in the film on the casting couch, by sucking and fucking his way to fame and stardom? I wouldn’t put it past her.

This is a good film, but the subject matter is rough, more than a bit rough. It’s downright discomfiting. Any story with elements of incest in it by default is going to be hard watching. And the elephant in this room is so large and so grey that it practically squishes every single other element. Almost.

There’s death, there’s very wrong sex, there’s suicide, and there’s the rage you can only feel towards parents, all here up on the screen for our delectation. Enjoy!

Based on a novel by Newton Thornburg, Beautiful Kate’s setting is transformed from being set just outside of Chicago, Illinois, to the exactly identical setting of the South Australian Flinders Ranges. Ned (Ben Mendelsohn) is a writer summoned back to the family property (called Wallimbi or Gumby or Mallulabimbi) where his saintly father Bruce (Bryan Brown) is loudly dying. Wait a second, maybe Bruce isn’t that much of a saint. In fact, like all of the male characters in this, maybe he’s a bit of a prick.

Our main character, who’s also dragged his much younger bimbo girlfriend Toni along (Maeve Dermody), doesn’t seem to be that perturbed about his father dying. In fact, he seems only mildly put out by it all. He and Bruce clearly loathe each other, and they’re both running down the clock. Brought together by genuinely saintly sister Sally (Rachel Griffiths), they are forced to spend time together by dint of Bruce’s infirmity, and Ned’s need to get some last digs in before Bruce fades away into oblivion. But of course it is every parent’s entitlement to be disappointed in their living kids, and to eternally idealise the ones cut down in the prime of their youth, and none died younger or more youthful than Kate.

Rating:

Ninja Assassin

Ninja Assassin

This Assassin will Ninja you! No, wait, the ninja will assassin you?
Could be it's a tad tautological

dir: James McTeigue

Wow. I haven’t seen a flick with as many meaty chunks flying around since the last time I took a trip to a slaughterhouse, or perhaps Easter Sunday lunch at my parent’s place. There’s substantially less mooing going on here, but all the same, the majority of the people who appear onscreen are here only to end up as chunks of meat on the floor for our entertainment.

That is what we are, after all. Maybe there’s something depressing about seeing visual (and entirely computer generated) representations of the essential meatiness of our bodies. Rendered down into our component parts, everything we were and ever will be, annihilated like that, well, it’s pretty confronting.

At least for a while. This decidedly substandard action movie opens with a bunch of yakuza thugs exploding into discrete piles o’chunks, at the hands, blades and shurikens of unseen, shadowy assassins. In other words, there must be murderous ninjas afoot!

The heyday of the ninja flick was definitely the 80s. At no other time has there been as much of a market for the endless permutations of the magically murderous character, which is why we had, for an all too brief, halcyon period, a stream of ninja related action flicks. For reasons I haven’t expended and won’t expend brain power on, the ninja sub-genre appealed to American audiences, leading to this procession of flicks starring obviously non-Japanese people as experts in ninjitsu, and the art of assassination and deception. Not for nothing did men like Franco Nero and Michael Dudikoff become household names.

What do you mean, they didn’t? Surely almost everyone in Christendom and Buddhisdom, for that matter, watched everything from Enter the Ninja to Silent Assassin to American Ninja 5: The Re-ninja-ing? They didn’t? Well, what were they busy doing, building treehouses, setting off bottle rockets or building crystal meth labs instead?

I don’t know if I’m at all glad that they’re bringing this genre back again. Like Michael Jackson, it had its time and place, and probably doesn’t merit resurrection. It feels uncomfortably like coming home and finding your significant other in flagrante delicto which Chuck Norris. Tell me seeing him on his hands and knees with someone else in deep up to their elbow wouldn’t be the most retro yet disturbing thing you ever saw in your life.

Rating:

A Serious Man

A Serious Man

The Master of all he surveys

dir: Coens

The Brothers Coen have made lots of films, many of them superb. They’ve been at it for a while. They’re critical darlings to this day, and everything they make is taken seriously, no matter how ludicrous it might be. And with No Country for Old Men, they received the highest possible honours Hollywood can bestow upon itself, guaranteeing them first dibs on any projects they could ever want, as long as they don’t cost too much.

Despite long careers working together, A Serious Man, of all their flicks, is the most overtly Jewish thus far (in terms of content and themes). I know that sounds odd, or vaguely anti-Semitic, but it’s not intended as such. They’re not working from an adapted screenplay, so it’s a story they themselves have written, which contains a lot of detail (I think) from their early lives. It also explicitly uses elements of the Jewish faith and the Jewish experience in America in the story it has to tell, which seems to be based on the Book of Job, amongst other things. And you can’t really get more Jewish than the Torah, can you?

And what a kick-ass blockbuster story it is! Our main character Larry (Michael Stuhlbarg), is a mathematics associate professor desperate for that most academic of Holy Grails: tenure. Right from the start, after a very strange intro involving some Yiddish peasants fighting over whether their guest on a cold, stormy night is alive or dead, Larry’s life starts falling apart for no discernible reason.

His tenure becomes tenuous, a disgruntled student alternately threatens and bribes him for a failing grade resulting from Schrodinger’s Cat (whether it’s alive or dead is irrelevant right now), his wife wants to leave him for a guy called Sy Ableman, his kids are alternately a chronic dope smoker about to have his bar mitzvah who’s obsessed with F Troop, and a junior version of Barbara Streisand.

Almost every other character in the flick says Sy Ableman’s name in this really curious way, most often with hushed tones of respect, or with incredulity, as in “Sy Ableman? Sy Ableman?!?!”

Plenty more shit starts to go wrong, in ways that almost seem like either bad luck or like Larry himself is being cursed by God for something he did or didn’t do. Larry’s a mathematician, though, and a rational (though not the “serious” man of the title) man, so he has no truck with concepts as nebulous as luck or destiny, because it’s all about randomness, probabilities and uncertainty principles and other such foofaraw.

Rating:

Vengeance (Fuk sau)

Fuk sau

AVENGE ME, BOYS, AVENGE ME!!!!

dir: Johnnie To

I have to admit, I find this flick pretty… strange. Much as I love Johnnie To’s flicks, and as much as I consider him one of the last Hong Kong directors making movies of any worth, style or significance, that doesn’t always mean I get where he’s coming from.

See, it’s a Hong Kong flick that mostly transpires in Macau, with an aged French actor as the lead, who doesn’t speak Cantonese, who wants revenge. Revenge! Or vengeance, as the case may be, on those who brutally attacked his daughter and murdered his grand children.

Why Costello (Johnny Halliday) wants revenge is almost irrelevant, because the sad fact is as well that, mixing in an element from Memento, Costello has short term memory problems, making his stated intention to seek Vengeance that much harder.

He accidentally stumbles across a team of hitmen, who he enlists in his righteous cause. They haltingly speak English, and he haltingly understands it, but they bond with each other, for reasons not obvious to me.

To’s films always, always, almost always centre around the idea of the brotherhood of man, and the bonds between men that can spring up through mutual criminality or happenstance, and yet prove stronger than love or death. To’s comfort with using the same stable of actors, or the union/triad gangster requirement to use the same actors in every single Hong Kong flick mean there’s a certain degree of shorthand involved.

Rating:

Storm Warriors (Fung Wan II)

Fung Wan II

Big hair, big swords and nothing else

dir: The Pang Brothers

This either is or isn’t a sequel to a Hong Kong flick called The Storm Riders that I remember from the late 90s. I remember it well, and fondly. It was probably one of the last flicks I ever bought on VHS video tape.

Ah, video tape, how quaint and retro you seem now, which juxtaposes nicely with the fact that what made The Storm Riders stand out way back then was that it was the first of the martial arts flicks to use the new CGI effects well in the scope of telling one of their usual, incomprehensible sword based melodramas.

Whether Storm Warriors is actually the sequel, or whether its title is supposed to be Storm Riders II, or whether it’s Storm Warriors II, I can’t figure out. In fact, there’s very little I can figure about after watching this flick twice. Admittedly, Storm Riders was hard to follow as well, because of a multiplicity of characters and bad subtitles. But it was fun, and I still basically understood what was going on, and I very much enjoyed it, regardless of whether a Mud Buddha was chasing a fire monkey or when someone steals the power to freeze a body in order to ensure that his dead beloved’s body doesn’t ever decompose.

I can relate to you ever single thing that happens in Storm Warriors, but I can't explain how or why any of it happens or what any of it could possibly mean. It’s not just because of a virtually indecipherable script. It has some of the worst editing of any expensive movie I’ve ever seen since the last time Guy Ritchie or Tony Scott made movies.

On top of that there are lousy performances and an incredible abundance of effects and techniques meant to ape such blockbusters as 300, Lord of the Rings and Spider-Man, with none of the attendant ability required to put any of it together in a coherent way.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t pretend to be an authority on any of the things that seem to occur in terms of the plot, because the plot is borderline insane and it’s been poorly filtered through into subtitles that read like they were written by an acid-tripping fortune cookie writer, but when you can’t ever figure out what the fuck is supposed to be happening when there’s no dialogue involved, then it’s simply the most incompetent storytelling you’ll see all year that Michael Bay has had nothing to do with.

Rating:

(500) Days of Summer

Five Hundred Days of Summer

Loved the Regina Spektor music they used in the flick,
more than the flick itself

dir: Marc Webb

There aren’t that many good romantic flicks. I don’t think it’s the boring case of “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to, and get off my lawn, you deadbeats” beyond the heyday of the Golden blah blah of Hollywood. Romantic flicks invariably suck because they’re invariably crappy, inhuman and lazy.

And yet romance infects its way into almost any other flick and genre you can think of. Romance on its own, though, without the ‘comedy’ support of being at least a romantic comedy? Oh, it’s fucking awful, almost 99 per cent of the time.

That figure is empirical fact, based on years of meticulous research, forensic testing and cross-matching with the FBI’s crime database.

I don’t think this flick is anywhere near up the top of the genre with the few decent romantic flicks of the last couple of decades or so, but it doesn’t completely and utterly suck.

We are told right from the start that though this is a story about love, that it is not a love story, and that it is more about the misery a failed relationship can bring rather than the sheer scope and magnitude of wonderfulness that can occur when everything goes right.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who was just sooooo great in that last GI Joe movie, wears a lot of sweater vests and ties in this flick. That alone almost made me gouge my eyes out. He is a fairly happy-go-lucky chappie who meets a girl at work and tentatively ends up having sex with her.

Rating:

Surrogates

Surrogates

Please, just let me sleep

dir: Jonathan Mostow

Huh? Is Bruce Willis so desperate for beer money that he’ll take practically any role in any piece de resistance of shit? He can’t possibly still owe Demi Moore alimony, can he?

The thing that’s weirdest about this flick is that I’m not entirely sure why it’s so weird. It’s weird in that it’s so brief, harmless and plastic. The plasticity of it all is part of the point, but it really does feel like half the film is missing somewhere, perhaps on either the editing suite’s floor or Bruce Willis’s bathroom, whichever.

It’s disturbing as well to see this strangely hilarious fantasy version of Bruce Willis, though I guess there’s some real reason for it.

This flick is a pointless and thinly-veiled allegory for the abdication of reality by pale, sweaty people who’ve ceased living real lives and who now live almost exclusively through the tubes of the internets. It’s utterly simplistic and, dare I say it, stupid, but even worse than that, there’s no real validity to the premise. It’s nonsense.

Set at some arbitrary time in the future, a new application of technology has resulted in the good people of America receding to the darkness of their own bedrooms, in order to send their consciousnesses forth into the world through robotic surrogates. All these surrogates are, of course, mostly young and hot looking. Except for the fact that there are no children, old people or ugly people around except for Bruce Willis, life mostly goes along like it always did.

The fact that people now almost exclusively run around in these mannequin bodies means there’s no murder or violent crime like there used to be, because they’re all robots. The only people who don’t partake of these bodies are, apparently, all white trash luddites called Dreads who live on surrogate-free zones called reservations, and are led by The Prophet (Ving Rhames), who’s really anti these surrogates, boy howdy.

Rating:

Up In the Air

dir: Jason Reitman
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This flick has garnered an incredible amount of positive reviews, awards, nominations, probably women kissing posters of George Clooney in public, dreamily smearing their cheap lipstick all over the glass failing to protect his poster within.

And for what? A guy flies around the States firing people. The end.

That’s it? That’s everything wrapped up in a neat little fucking package?

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Ryan Bingham (oh, you’re soooo dreamy, George Clooney) is a charming and empty man who spends almost all of his time in the air, flying from downsizing opportunity to downsizing opportunity, and he loves it that way. He hates having to go back to the company headquarters, because it means he’s not in perpetual motion. Like some form of even more soulless shark, he needs to keep moving or he gets frantic.

He has reduced the elements of travelling, like dealing with the customs people, the torments of rental car hire, hotel reservations and those little bottles of booze all to both a fine art and also the stuff of his own life.

Rating:

In the Loop

dir: Armando Iannucci
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So many swears! This movie has more swearing in it than Scarface! Think of any sweary film you can think of, and this movie has five times the amount of swearing. And that’s a lot.

It’s almost too much. It’s almost embarrassing to admit such a thing, but I was exhausted at the end of this. Partly from having laughed so much, but also from having to concentrate for so long to separate the sometimes quite inventive swearing from the actual dialogue, and then trying to remember how it all fits together, despite or because of the swearing.

Ultimately, this is a comedy. A quite funny comedy. It’s shot in that mockumentary style that has become ubiquitous since the original The Office series, and now is replicated in every corner of the medium. If you don’t know what I mean, I can simplify it quite easily: shakily filmed video mostly of people in office spaces.

Rating:

Sherlock Holmes

dir: Guy Ritchie
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I should probably be ashamed of myself for having enjoyed this flick so much, but there it is. I’ve put it out there. I heartily enjoyed a Guy Ritchie movie, and, even worse, one based on the much beloved works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

When I heard Ritchie was making a version of Sherlock Holmes, and that it would be an action fest, I felt like I’d been punched in the nuts so hard that I was bleeding out of my mouth. Ritchie hasn’t made an enjoyable flick with a coherent plot or even vaguely coherent editing since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Since then there’s been this dire swirling of the same characters, the same over-stuffed plots based on Cockney slang, criminal doings and painful coincidence down a drain of creative bankruptcy, whereby the only decent moments for the viewer seem to occur almost by accident.

Well, someone must have forced Ritchie to calm the fuck down and produce something half-watchable, and I don’t think it was the vengeful ghost of Arthur Conan Doyle threatening to rip his nuts off. Even as tenuous and complicated as this story manages to be, with many a confusing scene that has to be explained in detail later on, it still manages to be far more coherent and easy to follow than anything else he’s ever had his name attached to.

Rating:

Hurt Locker, The

dir: Kathryn Bigelow
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There hasn’t really yet been an overwhelmingly great film set during and about the current Iraqi adventure. The ones I recall that at least have war footage of brave marines and army grunts fighting the cowardly Iraqi civilian menace, being Home of the Brave, Stop-Loss, um, the Transformers flicks, In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom (yes, I know it’s set in Saudi Arabia) um, and that’s about it. None of these really worked. If you’re a war booster, or chickenhawk, they failed because they weren’t gung-ho enough, and were all focussed on issues like post-traumatic-stress disorders and feeling bad about killing civilians, instead of being all rah-rah patriotic, manly and superheroically heroic. You know, like Rambo.

The documentaries have fared a bit better, but until now, Iraq War II has been poorly represented in the feature film category. The Hurt Locker, by one of America’s only well known mainstream female directors, corrects the imbalance, and is both a good film and a good war film. It’s not great, because it has a quarter of the flick that doesn’t really cohere (I would say being the third quarter of a two hour flick), and the very end is at odds with the beginning and the end, but it's still pretty damn good.

Rating:

Avatar

dir: James “It’s my world, but you can live on it” Cameron
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For a flick that cost over 300 million Earth dollars to make, I’m not sure that the investment is always visible on the big screen, be it 3D, IMAX or otherwise. Sure, this flick is already the second most successful (in unadjusted dollars) flick of all time just behind some other obscure flick James Cameron made fifteen years ago. But I can’t really see whether it was worth all the fuss.

For three hundred million dollars, or closer to five, if you believe the sceptics who were hoping Cameron’s hubris would be repaid with failure (who now console themselves by screaming “it’s shit!” instead of “it’s going to bomb!”), you’d think there’d be scenes of Scarlett Johannson, Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz passionately getting it on in the altogether on the top of a diamond encrusted, plutonium powered aircraft carrier from which Cristal-sipping live killer whales covered in mink coats and platinum bling are catapulted into the sun.

Rating:

Zombieland

Zombieland

How dare they murder Bill Murray? You've gone too far,
Zuckerberg

dir: Ruben Fleischer

2009

You might not have noticed, but there’s been this plague outbreak recently. It didn’t all happen at once. It’s been a gradual progression, until more recently where it seems like it’s overwhelming everything and everyone.

It’s a plague of zombie movies, visited upon the planet as a prelude presumably to the actual apocalypse. It’s a benevolent but capricious God’s way of getting us ready for when the dead finally do walk the earth.

Either that, or there’s just no original ideas under the sun anymore.

Still, if you’re going to do something unoriginal, at least do it well and make it entertaining. You don’t even have to put that much of a spin on it: just make us smile.

Someone came up with the bright idea (many times, in many different forms, from World War Z to Shaun of the Dead to Pride & Prejudice & Zombies) that if you don’t take it seriously, a zombie plague could be pretty funny. What if you make your main character a college age kid who’s a bit of a dick and a nebbish, and actually have your characters enjoy themselves along the way?

Jesse Eisenberg has carved out a little niche for himself as this kind of compulsive/obsessive nerdy young Woody Allen type guy who’s smart but ill-suited to the social complexities of the big bad world. In that sense, he’s probably more of a Jewish Michael Cera. He’s also terrified of clowns, and germs, probably. Some genius decided taking this nice young chap and dropping him into an America overrun by unholy hordes, paired up with Woody Harrelson at his redneck-y best, would be a winning combination.

They’re probably right. I didn’t think the flick was anywhere near as funny as had been claimed by rapturous audiences and delirious critics, but I did find it entertaining enough. It’s no Shaun of the Dead, but then what is, apart from the legions of imitators that mention Shaun of the Dead in their marketing?

Columbus (Eisenberg), named after his hometown in Ohio, since most everyone in the flick is referred to by their point of origin rather than their actual name, is not only our protagonist but the perpetual fly in our ear, buzzing out a whole bunch of narration for your presumed benefit. Usually this much narration is a sign of a lack of confidence in your own movie, meaning you think people aren’t going to think it’s funny enough without someone else talking over a scene or some footage punching up the overall funniness. Columbus’s voiceovers are important, I guess, in the sense that without them we wouldn’t understand what was going on. I mean, these zombie flicks can get pretty complicated.

Rating:

Where The Wild Things Are

Wild Things

There is much wildness in all of us, no matter how
we might wish otherwise

dir: Spike Jonze

2009

Where the Wild Things Are is a beautiful film. It’s touching and sweet, scary but deeply felt, but I don’t really think it’s for children. I don’t even think most kids under the age of ten would really get that the Maurice Sendak book, of twenty or so pages, really connects with this film apart from the similarity in the merchandising. Sure, the imagery is the same, but the story has been greatly transformed by Spike Jonze, David Eggers and the forests and beaches of Victoria.

I have happily read the book to my daughter a stack of times, and so I know how profoundly expanded the story is in the movie. As to whether it’s true in spirit and intent to the book, you’d have to ask noted and thoroughly aged curmudgeon Maurice Sendak, who’s still alive, who wrote and drew the book nearly fifty years ago, and who I’m sure is happy to collect cheques for the film rights. I suspect deep down Sendak would hate this film if he ever sat through it, that’s just my gut instinct.

My instincts are often wrong, I have to admit. What I don’t think I’m wrong about is that this really couldn’t connect with kids for fairly serious and pervasive reasons, self-same reasons that would make it appeal perhaps to their elders.

There’s something simultaneously intellectual, inspired and childish about Spike Jonze and the flicks he’s been responsible for. He has tremendous control of the visual medium that he earns his crust from, but he’s more than happy to aim those skills at the ‘kid’ inside adults rather than the kid in kids.

My only real evidence for this is that his rendering of Where The Wild Things Are is completely lacking in treacle or schmaltzy saccharine, but is not averse to being incredibly twee and cutesy, and so goddamn hip that it hurts. But even more than that, the flick is suffused with such keen melancholy, and such a golden, halcyon longing for the freedom and joy of childhood that of course it would have to look strange to the kiddies.

Rating:

Up

Up

You beautifully hideous old man

dir: Peter Docter

2009

Yes, so Pixar have yet another film out. Hooray. And it’s the usual synthesis of state of the art computer animation and interesting story telling with decent characters.

You know what? They’re spoiling us, and we don’t appreciate their stuff anymore.

Like a kid you give new toys to every other day, at first they might be appreciative and surprised, independently of how great they are. Eventually this feel of being entitled and owed kicks in, and new baubles and trinkets are greeted mostly with a shrug.

It’s shameful to admit that I often feel that way with each new Pixar release. With only one exception that I can really think of, each of their flicks has given me great pleasure, especially with repeat viewings. And, as anyone with kids will tell you, a solid kid’s flick is one you can play for the millionth time without wanting to frisbee that copy of Finding Nemo into the stratosphere.

Pixar do have the touch, despite now being a fully fledged vassal state of the Disney empire. The quality of their flicks and their storytelling has not yet diminished.

Last year’s Pixar entry, being the tremendous WALL-E, I liked upon first viewing, and downright adore after the tenth or so. Sure, my kid might wander away after half an hour or so, but each time I get to see it, I marvel at the whole wordless opening, and the ability of the makers to give such an incredible amount of soulfulness to a little robot.

I’ve only watched Up once thus far, so I can’t say where in the Pixar pantheon it’s likely to reside, but mostly what I feel to this point is relief. Sweet, sweet relief. It’s as good as their usual stories, still light years ahead of the Ice Age and Shrek-like crap being pumped out by Dreamworks, still pushing the envelope of computer-led animation, and yet still holding onto to those quiet moments that elevate their stuff above most live action stuff with allegedly real people in the lead roles.

A little boy watches a newsreel way back in the day, back in, I dunno, the 40s? The 30s? He is besotted with the news stories about intrepid explorer Charles Muntz, who intrepidly travels around the world, delighting children with tales of derring-do and adventure. His ginormous airship, the aptly named Spirit of Adventure, being more than a phallic overcompensation, inspires children with their own dreams of travelling to South America and seeing the great sights and creatures the world has to offer.

Rating:

Public Enemies

Public Enemies

It must be such a burden being so wonderful

dir: Michael Mann

2009

John Dillinger is not really one of those names that lights up the night sky or the imagination, at least anywhere apart from the US. I’m sure he’s Robin Hood and Ayn Rand all rolled into one in the States, but to the rest of the world, if we know anything about him, it’s that he was alive at some point in the past, and is now dead.

And in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “If he’s so smart, why is he dead?”

Well, Johnny Depp, the dapper gent himself, and Michael Mann, the cop and crim obsessed-director, thought it was time to resurrect the tale of the Depression era populist ‘hero’, and his subsequent demise. Mann puts his particularly Mannish spin on things by emphasising the cool professionalism with which Dillinger and his crew conducted themselves. And, of course, the professionalism of Dillinger’s main opponents, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), also have to act as a parallel counterbalance.

Of course, all of this occurs independent of, and, in most cases, in direct contradiction to the established history of these events.

But, let’s be serious about this, does it really matter? Do I really care that the real Melvin Purvis was nowhere near Dillinger when he kicked the bucket, or that they never met in reality in order to have one of those “we’re so similar despite being on opposite sides of the law, I could almost respect you, but I’ll kill you given half a chance” moments that Mann has loved having in his films since Heat?

No, I don’t. I don’t want this to be a documentary. I couldn’t care less about the facts regarding Dillinger’s life previous to watching this flick, and I care even less now. I wanted to be entertained. And I was, for a good long while. The problem is that this flick, for no discernible reason, goes for two and a half long hours. I can honestly and accurately say that I was entertained for its first 90 minutes. I can’t say that about the rest of it.

The flick pulls a neat trick over on the audience initially. It makes the life of Dillinger and his cohorts seem exciting and interesting, at first. It’s all hookers and cocaine when things are going right. It could be the first time this idea has been represented in film, I’m not sure. These hardcore crims are nasty pieces of work, even back in the 30s, way before a form of music existed which would have allowed them to boast aloud about how badass they all were. Instead, a repetitive electric banjo has to tell us that something fun yet murderous is going down.

Dillinger and his crew, mostly, operate with ruthless efficiency. At least, that’s how Michael Mann wants us to see them. Sure, Dillinger was famous for getting in and out of banks with a speed that made the ladies look at him funny, but trust Mann to put far more effort into setting up the robberies, the shootouts and the getaways than any other aspect of the flick. The film also has not one but two jail breaks as well, in fact starts with a sterling one at that.

Truth is, these are the best bits of the flick. Any time where someone isn’t breaking out of jail or shooting at cops with Tommy guns, interest flags almost to the point of feeling guilty about wishing more people would get killed.

It’s just that, really, Dillinger wasn’t apparently that interesting a character.

Rating:

Moon

Moon

Watch out for the giant circle that's after you, Sam

dir: Duncan Jones

2009

Moon is an absolute throwback, to a kinder, gentler, colder era of cinematic science fiction, and it wasn’t until this flick came along that we knew we needed it so much. I won’t go so far as to say this is an utterly brilliant flick, because there aren’t really any elements of tremendous originality or mind-blowing complexity at play. But it is, all the same, a tremendously good flick. Really, really good flick.

Of course, it will bore the hell out of you if you’re expecting explosions, gunfights or aliens bursting out of people’s chests.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole occupant and operator of a mining facility some time in the future. This facility, surprisingly enough, happens to be on the moon. Earth’s moon. The world’s energy needs are being taken care of by this facility, which uses harvesters to extract helium-3 from the surface of the moon, which Sam sends them back at regular intervals. He does general maintenance, fix-it jobs the robots and automated parts of the facility can’t take care of, and drives out with a buggy to the harvesters to fix things that have gone wrong.

Sam is getting towards the end of his three-year contract with Lunar Industries, the friendly monolithic transnational and in fact now transplanetary corporation for whom he works. He fills his days with exercise, with model building, and with conversations with an artificial intelligence called GERTY (voiced perfectly by Kevin Spacey, who doesn’t overact for once). GERTY, whom I shall henceforth refer to as Gerty, just to save on capitals, is not some malevolent supercomputer intent on killing all humans, just like every other AI that appears in every science fiction flick (despite the clear homage to HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey), and isn’t an omnipotent, omniscient entity either. It just speaks in this almost sly but unaffected voice, and even has a little screen intended to represent expressions and emotions. Its role in the story is… ambiguous at best.

Rating:

An Education

An Education

Nothing unusual or illegal about this, swear

dir: Lone Scherfig

2009

If I was to tell you that this flick is the coming-of-age tale of a private schoolgirl seduced by an older, sophisticated man, then you’d tell me that this is clearly a porno or at the very least a remake of Rochelle, Rochelle, an young girl’s erotic journey from Milan to Minsk.

If I was then to tell you that it is nothing of the sort, and if I apologised profusely for having made a Seinfeld reference in one of my reviews, then you’d probably still not be interested in what is otherwise quite a charming little flick set in the early part of the 1960s.

Based on the memoirs of journalist Lynn Barber, with a screenplay written by Nick Hornby (of High Fidelity and About a Boy fame), An Education is set in 1961, and looks at what goes on in the life of an intelligent but unworldly girl called Jenny (Carey Mulligan), who comes across the path of a charming and sophisticated (from her limited perspective) older man called David (Peter Sarsgaard).

See, you could only get away with setting a flick like this in the 60s. Back in those halcyon days, the creepy setup looks a little less creepy. Back then you are meant to see it a little bit more as people being a product of their times, and acting accordingly. It's still creepy, but, y'know...

It makes it sound like it’s all about one thing, and it’s not. Sure, a seduction lies at the heart of the tale of woe, but it is more the seduction of an otherwise sensible young girl by a lifestyle she could only ever imagine before, let alone approach.

It’s specifically because Jenny has had so little exposure to the city, and the things that might go on there, and so little experience of anything outside her overbearing father (Alfred Molina), her cello classes and her studies, that David and his friends seem like such decadent aristocratic stars.

The thing is, it’s only to a teenage girl that these people could be what they appear to be, because to the viewer, they are anything but the sophisticates she desperately needs them to be.

Rating:

Hangover, The

The Hangover

I swear we're funnier in real life, officer

dir: Todd Phillips

2009

This flick, being a comedy, being set in Vegas, is by its nature the laziest goddamn movie you could possibly imagine. Studios love setting comedies in Vegas because all the work is already done for them. They don’t have to think up anything creative, new or original, at all.

I mean, why would you want to? Thinking is just sooooo tiring. It smacks of effort.

If you haven’t seen this, even you can probably guess most of the settings and most of the things that happen, without watching it. Try it out, see how you go. Maybe your version will be slightly more interesting than the actual version.

It was massively successful though, so what the hell do I know. This movie spoke to millions of people. Presumably males, but millions of them all the same.

Really, though, I’m struggling to remember anything that was funny about it at all. There’s scene after scene that approaches perhaps the level of being amusing, and then fades away before satisfying even basic needs.

But then, it is exactly what it claims to be. It never pretended to be anything more than a lowbrow comedy centring around a bachelor party in Las Vegas, where a bunch of dicks act dickish and try to get back to their town in one piece. It’s pretty much an American rite of passage, right up there with losing your virginity and shooting a gun for the first time, preferably at the same time.

The truly original part of this story is that it’s about a bunch of guys who end up having a crazy Bachelor Party kind of night, but they can’t remember it and they lose the groom, in a Dude, Where’s My Car kind of fashion. So they have to follow a trail of vomited-on bread crumbs to find their stuff and the groom, who, for all they know, has been sold into white slavery and is now the chattel of some odious sheik. Dance, pretty white boy, he’ll say, dance for me or it’s the chop for you.

Rating:

Last House on the Left (2009)

dir: Dennis Illiades
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The original horror flick does have a nasty reputation, which is certainly well-earned. Since everything is getting remade, from the Friday the 13th flicks, to Halloween, to Gone with the Wind, so naturally, Last House on the Left has to, nay, must be, remade too. On the most part, I would contend that the flick doesn’t do too bad a job for what it is. The ending, though, shows just how worthless the whole setup really was, and how it’s ultimately a lazy entry in both the revenge and nice white middle class people under siege in their own homes genres of quality filmmaking.

The original is a nasty, exploitative, vile flick. It truly is. This certainly isn’t, and for most of its running time actually seems like a highly charged drama more than an out-and-out horror flick. Of course it relies way too often on “someone comes out of nowhere to either attack or save a person that looks like they’re about to die”, but it’s virtually impossible for hacks to make these films otherwise.

Rating:

Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (2009)

dir: Tony Scott
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Ridley Scott’s less talented brother keeps getting work, which is okay, I guess. I don’t know the personal circumstances of Tony Scott’s life, but I imagine he has people to support, children, wives and mistresses and such, or rentboys, blackmailers and dominatrixes. Who knows. The point is, even after the atrocity to the eyes and ears that was Domino, he still gets work.

Here, in a remake of a pretty good flick originally, Scott mostly tones down the irritating editing and filming techniques that have made his more recent flicks virtually unwatchable. Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw assayed the roles the first time round, and they did an okay job. Denzel’s up for the job of playing a craggy-faced blue-colour working man ‘hero’, but they really could have gotten someone better for the Robert Shaw role.

Why? Well, all that John Travolta brings to this particular role is the way his voice goes really high-pitched and whiny when he gets angry, and that he says “motherfucker” at virtually the end of every sentence. I don’t have a problem with language, in fact I love that kind of language. It makes my heart go all aflutter.

Rating:

Brothers Bloom, The

dir: Rian Johnson
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Rian Johnson’s first film, Brick, was a noir crime drama worthy of the pen of Raymond Chandler, set in a high school. The dialogue sounded strange in the mouths of actors playing children, but it had style, and a commitment to its set-up that never wavered, perhaps to the flick’s detriment, but no matter.

When I heard that he was making a film about two con artist brothers, I was pleased. Pleased was an understatement. I was ecstatic. For reasons that make no sense, I felt glad that a guy who struggled, fought and agonised over making a flick with no budget (which is what happened with Brick) was getting the chance to move up in the moviemaking hierarchy, and was getting to make more flicks.

I’m still glad he’s making movies, watching Brothers Bloom hasn’t diminished that, but I realise he’s got a fair way to go as a director as long as his films require actors.

Listen to me, offering unsolicited advice to a director who’s achieved stuff I’ve never dreamed of and will never get close to creatively and professionally. How generous of me to criticise him and offer tidbits of wisdom.

Rating:

Crank 2: High Voltage

dir: two shmucks called Neveldine & Taylor
[img_assist|nid=905|title=Some guys will do anything to get out of an honest day's work|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=382]
There really isn’t any point reviewing a film like this. Notice that I’m still writing. There’s no point because it’s like reviewing a headache, a baseball bat to the groin, an epileptic seizure, a finger amputation, and a bag of strychnine-laced crystal methamphetamine all jumbled together and shredded through an industrial sized rusty blender.

It exists less as an actual movie and more as a collage of violent imagery sped up mightily, completely uncaring as to whether an audience can even comprehend most of the shit it is viewing. Sure, we’re supposed to parse it through the obvious lens of a live action version of a computer game, so much so that sections play out like sequences from Grand Theft Auto and its myriad knockoffs.

But even beyond there it’s the making of something that makes no fucking sense at all, and doesn’t care, making up for the complete lack of coherence only by trying to keep the crazy momentum up and the visuals experimental and vivid.

Rating:

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

dir: Stephen Sommers
[img_assist|nid=859|title=What, you expecting Shakespeare?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=420|height=652]
Watching Transformers 2 and this here G.I. Joe flick in close proximity to each other brought something to the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t just the strange knowledge that both movies arise from a product, being toys, being Hasbro toys at that. It was the sad reality that, at least for American audiences, film is what they now have to make up for a lack of a cultural mythology.

Sure, the US has a long and proud history, with all sorts of tall tales and Delaware Crossings, Fort Sumpters, Alamos, Granadas, Last Stands and Flags raised on Iwo Jima, but it’s not the same thing compared to the ancient myths and legends of other cultures, which, the more pretentious throughout history, whether writers or philosophers or people with real jobs, will tell you represent a deep cultural connection to the subconscious.

Instead what we now all have are films that basically explain or reinvent the origins of toys. The toys aren’t the adjunct, the alternative marketing stream, the subsidiary merchandising as such. They ARE the product, the emblem, the totem, and the films essentially pretend to market the toys themselves.

Rating:

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

dir: Michael Bay
[img_assist|nid=857|title=Which one's the machine? Go on, guess|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=377]
Michael Bay may be the director most movie reviewers and commenters on the tubes of the internets ridicule and belabour with the hate, but he is extremely successful, and thus virtually untouchable. He is like a shiny metallic titan from one of his movies: towering like a Colossus, legs splayed over the entirety of Hollywood, all his withered critics mewling and mouldering in his gargantuan shadow. The worst reviews, the lowest opinions of thousands, if not millions of people, are nought but ants at the feet of Alexander the Great. We cannot mark, let alone harm him.

If you were to run an algorithm or some kind of search on a review aggregator to find out what words are used most commonly by the majority of film reviewers who tackle his monstrous products, the list would run something like this: “visually spastic” or “incoherent”, “all shiny surfaces with no substance”, “nonsensical plot”, “aggressively violent”, “assault on the senses”, “women looking like glossy pornstars”, “way too long”, “painful, stupid dialogue”, “overedited”, “two dimensional characters”, and “breasts bouncing around in slow motion”.

Rating:

Inglourious Basterds

dir: Quentin Tarantino
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Look, it’s a Tarantino film. If you don’t know by now what that means, then you should probably skip this review, and this film.

Otherwise, be prepared to wallow in the geek hipsterism and pedantic cinephilia of a man-child who made the jump from obsessive fan to filmmaker to our collective eternal delight / regret. Tarantino has only ever made films about films, and this is no different.

Inglourious Basterds is not a remake of the shoddy Italian flick of similar name, nor is it the Dirty Dozen rip-off I’d heard so much about. In fact, you’d think from the trailers and promos that this was a rip-roaring action flick about a team of Jewish American soldiers striking fear into the hearts and scalps of the Nazis during World War II.

It’s nothing like that. The Basterds and their exploits take up a miniscule amount of screen time in a film that is certainly not a war film. This flick is far more about the thrill of revenge and the power of cinema.

Rating:

Push

dir: Paul McGuigan
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I love Hong Kong, I really do. That doesn’t mean I’m going to like any film just because it’s set there. But I really do love the place, visually speaking at least. It’s not because I have any personal experience of the place, or because of my heritage, or because of any deep-seeded identification I have with the former British colony. I just like it, is all, and have watched around a thousand flicks set there.

This film Push has a lot of great cityscape footage of Hong Kong, truly it does. It mixes the high art cityscape stuff with postcard shots and, most importantly for me, the shots revealing the commonplace squalor of some areas, with the hustle and bustle of places like Mongkok, Wanchai, Kowloon Bay and all the rest, whether tourist destinations or not, whether ‘pretty’, grungy or not.

Beautiful, beautiful images of a real city that looks almost like what Ridley Scott was going for with Blade Runner, except that it’s real, and it’s a place even more thriving, alive, chintzy and garish than you can imagine, with the quicksilver of commerce, greed and violence running through the city’s veins, in the abstract perhaps more than in fact. All of this I could see and think about as I watched this amazing city depicted in this film.

Rating:

Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The

dir: David Fincher
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David Fincher almost gets a lifetime pass from me for Fight Club. It’s a film so goddamn good that it elevates him into the lofty heights of directors whom I’ll defend even if they make twenty shitty films compared to their one or two masterpieces. Brad Pitt has no such pass from me, lifetime or otherwise. I have such a deep antipathy for his brand of actoring that he is usually the weakest link (for me) even in the strongest of films.

This flick, right off the bat, I enjoyed, very much so, despite the fact that there is less going on here than meets the eye. The premise sounds like it’s high concept enough, but it’s used more for its ironic sense than anything else. A F. Scott Fitzgerald short story is the origin of the film’s screenplay, but it has been fleshed out and elaborated upon in order to make it a serious, prestige Oscarbait contender, instead of the Twilight Zone half-hour that it probably warranted instead.

In the early part of the 20th Century, a clockmaker grieves over the death of his son in the Great War. He constructs a clock for a train station that runs backwards instead of forwards, with the (poetic, not literal) hope that such a clock going backwards would reverse time and resurrect the many sons who died needlessly, bringing them home to their devastated families.

Rating:

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