Lars Von Trier’s new film is pretty goddamn dumb. To their credit, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe do their best with some pretty ludicrous dialogue and situations. If it wasn’t Von Trier, I’m not sure anyone would be paying this film much attention. I’m not sure it deserved mine.
THE TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS ***1/2
This extremely entertaining documentary offers a comprehensive portrait of one of New Zealand’s most unique cultural phenomenons – the Twin Sister act The Topp Twins. Lesbian icons, anti-nuclear activists, country-and-western singers and all-round amazing sports, these two girls exude a relentlessly beautiful energy that is well captured in this loving documentary.
A SERIOUS MAN ****
Brilliant new comedy from the Cohen Brothers proves nothing has changed – they can still make you laugh with the pain.
COLD SOULS ** 1/2
A cold movie and highly derivative of the work of Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. Perhaps too derivative for its own good – but a lovely experience if you’ve got a thing for Paul Giamatti, who is not only in every scene but plays himself!
Excellent film shows what a smart sci-fi / CGI film can be. See also District 9.
CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY ****
Michael Moore does it again. In fact, this might be his distillation, his magnum opus – a brilliant dissertation on how America has, at some point, managed to convince its citizens that Democracy and Capitalism are the same things – and why they’re actually not.
The worst movie of the year – maybe a few years. Defies description in its awfulness. A total waste of gazillions of dollars. A travesty. What more can I say?
AN EDUCATION ****
An extremely beautiful, well-thought out and above all well acted movie. Impossible to write about the plot without giving away many delights, the main thing one can say is that the lead, Carey Mulligan, will be the biggest female movie star of the Twenty-Tens, mark my words – and, I guess, everyone else’s. She is nothing short of magnificent in this extremely well told story of a young girl, an older man, and the last gasps of a choke-holed Britain.
INGLORIOUS BASTERDS ****1/2
The Best Movie Of The Year.
THE GIRLFRiEND EXPERIENCE *** 1/2
Steven Soderbugh’s new low-budget film is an extraordinary, very intelligent examination of the triangle between sex, money and power, as seen through the prism of the Global Financial Crisis. Incredibly timely and topical, this is a filmmaker at the top of his expedient form.
ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL ****
Incredibly entertaining, and ultimately moving, documentary about a failed Heavy Metal band, ANVIL! is like a real-life This is Spinal Tap.
OBSERVE AND REPORT ***
Jody Hill’s $25,000,000 follow-up to his $70,000 THE FOOT FIST WAY sort of asks the question, “What if TAXI DRIVER were a comedy?” This certainly bold film will not appeal to all – in fact, it will probably appeal only to a certain 10 percent of the movie-going public, those who are willing to see a story whose central character is almost not only almost completely unlikable but completely reprehensible. Seth Rogan plays a mall cop (not to be confused with the recent movie PAUL BLART: MALL COP) who has delusions of grandeur, terrible social skills and, most disturbingly, extremely violent tendencies and desires. With date rape not out of the question for this central loser – and with his mental illness not examined in proper detail – the movie must be admired for its boldness just as it will despised by some for its lack of heart.
DISTRICT NINE ****
Excellent film shows what a smart sci-fi / CGI film can be. See also MOON.
FOOD INC. ****
The best documentary of the Year. What goes into your food? What goes into American’s hamburgers? You won’t eat one again.
STATE OF PLAY ****
Joining the ranks of All the President’s Men, Kevin McDonald’s old-school hard-edged Journalism drama is smart, witty, and intelligent – a solid drama for adults. Russell Crowe brings his best game, with best-of-career turns from Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED? ****
Definitely one for the movie lovers (and those who love movies about the movies), Robert De Niro gives his finest, most nuanced and most charming performance in ages as big-time Hollywood insider producer Ben (based on Art Linson) who has to deal with a spoiled British psudo-Auteur director (Michael Wincott), a VERY spoiled major motion picture star called Bruce Willis played by Bruce Willis (but based on Alec Baldwin) and his yearning for his ex-wife. Based by Linson on his own tell-all Hollywood memoir, this is surprisingly more heartfelt – and less obviously comedic – than one might imagine from its campaign. If you’re reading FILM MAFIA, you’ll probably enjoy WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Extremely well-acted, sprawling, kaleidoscopic and uncompromising look at the Comorra crime families in the provinces of Naples and Caserta by master director Matteo Garrone from the incredibly popular novel by Roberto Saviano (the publication of which has forced him to live in hiding, and protected) shows, through five intercut stories, just how deeply violent crime and the drug trade is connected to every strata of Italian life. A bold, brave and complex film, absolutely requiring viewing on the big screen.
For the kids. Mother’s a terrible driver! That’s the main thing for anyone over seven in this over-cooked story about the sea and its pollutioners. Not the Gimli Studio’s best.
A good try from Todd Graf, who made the excellent Camp. But not as good. Maybe there were too many cooks on this one? Seemed like a “lite” version of what Mr. Graf may have wanted to achieve.
RIP: A REMIX MANIFESTO ***
Brett Gaylor’s entertaining and completely subjective documentary argues for a brave new world free of copyright and the tyranny of intellectual property. Whether you agree with his view or not will probably depend on your age and whether, say, you are a published author or musician who depends on royalties for your income, but regardless, his examination of the new uses of other people’s creative work through re-mixing, mashing, sampling and re-editing will probably open your eyes and cause you to question the notions of intellectual property, especially as espoused by the United States. Also a terrific look at Canada’s master of remix Girl Talk, the film suffers a little through an obviously Michael Moore style – but then, stealing other’s stuff is precisely the argument of the film!
THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE ****
Brilliant. You don’t need to give a fig about fashion to enjoy this very intimate insight into the world of Vogue, a magazine that might not be for all of us – but the characters who create it are certainly fascinating to anyone interested in creativity, full-stop.
GRAN TORINO (open) ***1/2
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (open) ***
THE CLASS (open) ****
MILK (open) **** 1/2
CHANGELING (opening Thursday 05/02/09) ****
OBJECTIVITY AND TRUTH: ULI EDEL’S BAADER-MEINHOFF COMPLEXITY
THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX ****
There can be no faulting the casual German-filmgoer in the non-German cinema for thinking Uri Edel’s new film, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX, was directed by his compatriot Oliver Hirschbiegel, who made the outstanding 2004 film DOWNFALL. Both films were nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards; both are long (over two and a half hours); both feature immaculate period design and superb acting (including the force of nature that is Bruno Ganz); and both are based on terrible, violent episodes in Germany’s history. Most importantly, however, these films form a union based on their objectivity.
Like DOWNFALL, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX avoids any judgement. The earlier film carries its own weight: we know Hitler was a monster, and possibly psychotic: we bring to the film our own (fair) prejudices, and, remarkably, Hirschbiegel let us. Edel does the same, but in THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX, he is dealing with a much more delicate question, as the monster is not out in the open at all.
Depending on your political leanings, you may find the activities of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany in the 1970s either laudatory or completely reprehensible. The genius of Edel’s film is that he lets you make that choice. Unlike many of the (sometimes very well-made) films about the IRA that surfaced in the 1980s and 1990s, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX is about as objective about a difficult and contentious subject as a film could get. The story is told through the eyes of the organization itself – there’s no doubting that – but they aren’t celebrated; neither are the German forces out to stop their operations. All the big issues that the RAF were fighting against are examined (in quite delicate detail) but a stand is never taken: the viewer is left to examine the facts – as presented in this movie – for themselves.
This film could be shown in classrooms. It does not take a side – it takes the opposite. Certainly not a docudrama, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX nonetheless is a level-headed examination of an important period in recent German history. I suspect part of its immense worldwide appeal rests with that: its audience are learning, without being lectured. It is a major film.
BOLD NEW WORLDS:
SAMSON AND DELILAH and the New Australian Cinema
SAMSON AND DELILAH *****
Mark my words: Warwick Thornton’s debut feature, SAMSON AND DELILAH, will win the Palmes D’Or at Cannes this year, and if it doesn’t, it will win the Camera D’Or (for Best Debut). It will also make, as a per-screen average, more money than any other Australian film this year, and possibly more money per screen than any movie this year (released into Australian cinemas).
This extraordinary film, about the most marginalised of subjects (petrol-sniffing amongst Australian Indigenous youth) has gripped the Australian public imagination. How do I know this? I just saw a packed 12:15pm Sunday session; as I came out the line for the 2:15pm session went out onto the street, and the afternoon sessions were already sold out. SOLD OUT. This is a sign of a true cultural phenomenon.
Now, granted, the cinema I was at was the Dendy at Newtown, which would have to be the most leftist intellectual cinema in the country (per “capita”, or head). But this is the type of cinema where this film is playing, and that is partially why it will be such a per-screen success.
Why else, however? Well, the advance reviews have been spectacular, with Australia’s two most visible film critics, David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz, doing the unthinkable and both giving the film five stars out of five on their nationally televised At The Movies. Likewise, in the not-much-read (but ably ad-quoted) Australian, Mr. Stratton gave the film the line “one of the finest films ever made in Australia”.
But what else makes a small, marginal film like this – a film with nothing approaching a star, about subject matter most people recoil from, shot on a tiny budget – a hit? WOM. Word of mouth. And why will this movie have WOM in spades? Easy. Heart. This film has heart to burn. It is a portrait of love every bit as tender as ROMEO AND JULIET – the Shakespeare version, the text. It has so much to say about why people love each other – and says it with so few words (there is barely any dialogue in the entire movie) – that people will not be able to contain themselves from saying to their friends, “Yes, it’s bleak. But it’s magnificent. Go.”
SAMSON AND DELILAH is magnificent. Go.
Daniel Craig again proves himself the most charismatic actor around as the leader of a group of forest-dwelling Jewish Bellorussian resistance fighters in Mark Doher Zwick’s masterful telling of an almost-forgotten but amazing historical event.
A FILM WITH ME IN IT **1/2
Mark Doherty writes and stars – with Dylan Moran, in this low-key, very black comedy that might have seemed very funny on set but has lost something on its way to the screen.
GHOST TOWN (opening Thursday 12/02/09) **
Ricky Gervais’ first Hollywood film is, unfortunately, a ghost of an idea. Not good.
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS **1/2
Holocaust fable sits uneasily between young-teens and adult-oriented fare. Great implausibilities don’t help well-meaning but misguided tale.
CLOSED FOR WINTER **1/2
Natalie Imbruglia returns to the screen in a slow and unrelentingly grim Aussie drama.
Beautiful May-December romance with Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. Based on the Phillip Roth novel The Dying Animal, this simple, quiet film depicts real human emotions, flaws and tragedies in an intimate and unflinchingly honest way. We all know Kingsley’s good – and he is here, very very good indeed – but Cruz again shows herself to be an actress of remarkable depth and integrity. A major showcase in a minor key.
STAR TREK ****
JJ Abrams takes the full prequel route: this film not only happens before the events of the 1968-9 Star Trek series, the actors playing Jim, Spock, Bones, Scotty etc. all do impersonations of the actors who played them in that seminal series – with great success. Enormously fun from start to finish, the film is broadly based in style on the original Star Wars as crossed with Starship Troopers. It will be a sci-fi classic no doubt, and sequels are assured.
THE BOAT THAT ROCKED **
Richard Curtis’ new attempt at a mass-market crowd-pleaser has a great concept, a great cast, terrific design… and a lousy script. A real missed opportunity, with a plot so loose it feels almost (and badly) improvised. A true historical representation of the pirate radio stations in the North Sea in the 1960s would have been a lot more interesting than this “Carry On In The North Sea”. The central plot point: a young man is sent to one of the pirate radio ships to lose his virginity. We care?
Subversive and completely unique post-modern satire sees Jean-Claude Van Damme playing a washed-up, disenchanted, B-movie action star… himself. Also his first ever film in French, and in black and white!
MARY AND MAX ****
Adam Eliot’s feature debut, following his Oscar for Best Animated Short for Harvey Krumpet in 2004, is as enigmatic, strange and wonderful as that earlier triumph. Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives an amazing vocal performance as Max, an aging, overweight New Yorker with Asberger’s syndrome who sporadically maintains a twenty-year pen-pal relationship with a girl from a rural Australian town named Mary (based on Eliot himself). A unique work of art.
BOTTLE SHOCK ****
One hell of a wonderful movie. Like Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways and Slumdog Millionaire, this is neither a comedy or a drama – just a wonderful, feel-good film, well-written, performed and directed. A total gem, with a terrific comic performance from the great Alan Rickman at its centre, as a Francophilic English wine snob out of water in the Californian vineyards of the mid-1970s. A feel-good triumph.
WENDY AND LUCY ****
A tiny film, but with a huge emotional impact. Only playing at one cinema in each of the nation’s capitals, this is worth seeking out. Michelle Williams proves her mettle again as a young woman with five hundred and forty dollars and a dog to her name – until she loses her dog.
Alex Proyas’s latest – shot on RED cameras in Melbourne, utilizing a nearly entirely Australian cast (except for Nicholas Cage), yet seeming for all the world like it was shot in Boston and New York City (where it is set) is an apocalypse movie (which seems to be the vogue at the moment. It starts well enough – indeed, is very spooky at the beginning – but unfortunately it descends into a ludicrous affair, with some truly (unintentionally) laughable moments. Cage does not seem up to pretending to believe in the material, and the whole thing seems a bit exploitative – burning bodies as spectacle.
Extremely confronting and original twist on the apocalyptic / “what-if” trope sees a major, unnamed city catching the passable disease / virus of blindness. An attack on Bush’s prisons as much as a sci-fi vision, this is an uncompromising vision, and not for the faint-hearted.
Excellent, faithful, exciting adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel will please fans no end, but probably bewilder those who have not read the source material. Violent, strange, enigmatic and loads of fun.
THE COMBINATION ***
David Field’s film about young and youngish Lebanese men in Western Sydney is already mired in controversy, with Greater Union pulling the film from its screens nationally after a fight broke out at a Parramatta screening. The film alternates between highly effective scenes of high-school youth in conflict, and an extremely stilted and conventional love story that is very unconvincing.
W. (pronounced “Dubya”) ***1/2
Oliver Stone’s film documenting the life of George W. Bush from his college days through his first term as President of the United States is very well made and features a brilliant performance from Josh Brolin as the title character… yet is also extremely, and sadly, tame. Surely the worst President the United States has ever had deserved a more subjective portrait?
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN ****1/2
Easily one of the best movies of the year. A perfectly crafted piece of art that takes the Vampire myth in beautiful, and touching new directions – those of the very young and very real.