Posts Tagged ‘movie review’


SICKO (2007)

November 25, 2007

Sicko review

Matt: Four Stars
Tracy:Four Stars

Length: 124min


This might hurt a little.
Get well soon.
What seems to be the problem?
For many Americans, laughter isn’t the best medicine – it’s the only medicine.

Review by Matt:

Hey USA! Start running a fair and humane health care system, you utter sicko! That’s the message Michael Moore is hollering in his new critical documentary Sicko. Moore’s back in his favourite role as the good hearted iconoclast-of-the-conservative. He leads a support cast of everyday mistreated citizens against the irrepressible villain: the corrupt, capitalist USA. This time Moore has America’s ill and undernourished health system in his sights.

This might sound a bit like a good versus evil fantasy tale. In some ways it is. Michael Moore’s productions always have an element of constructed-ness about them. This has been the case ever since the set pieces he ran in his old television shows such as The Awful Truth and TV Nation (Moore has spoken about ‘racing health care systems’ in mock time-trials in TV Nation and being forced by the network to ‘doctor’ the results so that the USA didn’t show so poorly).

The same sense of constructed-ness is here in Sicko. While I actually enjoy it, I can see how it leads critics to question the veracity of Moore’s films. For example, as Moore pretends to set off to Guantanamo Bay with a boatload of needy patients (to access the Cuban health care system), you wonder how these scenes were really put together. Or as Moore reveals that he anonymously (until the film’s release that is) donated money to help the health of the leading anti-Moore campaigner, you have some trouble believing Moore is genuinely that Buddhist. The film’s style provides a lot of ammunition to vehement Moore haters who can denounce it for not being three-dimensionally analytical about the intricacies of health care systems. It even supplies enough ammo, apparently, to fuel a recent feature length documentary dedicated to Moore-bashing called Manufacturing Dissent. (incidentally, the title parodies a brilliant and essential book by Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent).

For me, Moore’s style is fine. You have to take it for what it is. He’s a showman and he’s trying to be funny, entertaining and satirical about important issues. It’s just that his slapstick is merged into a documentary that also carries heavy criticisms and a deep message. But it’s easy to distinguish the tone in the film, and once you’ve got it, I think the messages that he communicates are sound.

They are big picture messages. Sicko is telling us that the health care system in the USA is sick. It has become this way because of something fundamentally perverted at the core of American society. Moore is pitching a message about compassion and humanity and urging us to think how things can improve. Personally I embrace these messages and I’m grateful that Moore is spreading them to a wide audience in an entertaining and palatable way. In any case, the film stands as a defiant counter-message to the brainwashing conservative propaganda that we’re pumped with for most of our lives – Moore shows some of this in his film too (the rhetoric of politicians and the AMA, advertisements etc). Sicko’s style is partly a reaction to dominant orthodoxies, and its strategy is understandable. Like Marx said, the habit, tradition and accumulated mis-education of generations ‘weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living’. And, as Howard Zinn says, you can’t be neutral on a moving train. You have to confront those corrupt messages.

Overall, although the veneer of entertainment slightly smears the fundamental messages in Sicko, its humour and staging is mostly funny and enjoyable. It softens a tough topic. The film still outs the corporate, capitalist sicko that is poisoning us like some greedy virus. I’m glad Michael Moore is fighting that cause, and Sicko is another of his good films. We should watch it, think about it, talk about it, and take action.



July 7, 2007

Snakes on a Plane review


Matt: One and a half stars
Tracy:One and a half stars

Film length: 105min


Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the fright.
At 30,000 feet, snakes aren’t the deadliest thing on this plane.
Airline food ain’t what you gotta worry about.

Review by Matt:

Really, this is a poor movie. There’s pretty much nothing to enjoy here. I would have much preferred to see “Snakes on a Train” where, after 20 minutes, the passengers realise there are snakes aboard so they stop the train and all jump out. And we go home and watch something else. [edit – have just realised that “Snakes on a Train” is actually a real movie. In fact, by the looks of it, I probably would not prefer to see it instead of Snakes on a Plane.]

Good news is I can describe the plot in a sentence without leaving anything out: A man witnesses a crime committed by a notorious gangster and while he’s on a plane to Los Angeles to testify, the gangster opens a can of worms by unleashing a crate of snakes. Beyond that there is literally nothing except people being chomped by snakes. I can’t even recommend this to action-movie fans – the extent to which the audience needs to suspend disbelief will surely be too much for them as well. There are too many key moments that lack verisimilitude. You always want to jump up and say “But how could that happen?!” Check out the awesome landing of the plane at the end for example. Actually, don’t – it’ll just make you scoff.

Snakes is a fine study in one-dimensional characters. And that’s just the leads. Most others are just meaty sacks of snake food. It makes it impossible for the film to evoke any pathos for its endangered characters – and the silly thing is that the film obviously wants us to connect with them at times. You can’t care that the characters are in peril, or that they’re brutalised by snakes, except to the extent that you would care for any random person in that situation. To top it off, the computer-generated snakes look unrealistic, and are nothing but aggressive. Badly characterised snakes as well.

There’s also something a little distasteful to this film’s morality as it chooses who lives or dies in its fictional world. The handsome surfer will survive. The fat lady will die pathetically. The promiscuous woman will die by having snakes chomp her naked breasts – a sex object to the end. We know the short tempered man will die horribly as soon as we see him mistreat the pretty girl. There’s something sinister at work that we are supposed to unthinkingly identify with it. It’s like that hidden arbiter that pulls the strings in horror films, to punish the lustful and spare the chaste. It’s primitive and unpleasant.

If you’ve seen any publicity about this film you’ll know that Samuel L Jackson is at the centre of the reptile riot, playing the cop escorting the witness to the trial. I originally held a cynical view that this film was only made because Hollywood had snared Samuel L to star in it, and they paid him to forget about artistic merit for a few months. I was ready to use this review to rail at Hollywood’s marketing machine millions, paying to fool us into watching their trash. But, although it is true that the film was made only because of Samuel L, it wasn’t driven by Hollywood at all. It was Samuel L’s project, and he insisted it remain uncorrupted by interfering Hollywood editors. More interestingly, the basic plot for Snakes (ie the title) leaked onto the internet before the film had been made. Many of the scenes and ideas that appeared in the final film are apparently those thought up by the fans chatting about it in anticipation – “Wouldn’t it be cool if a guy’s bald head was sucked inside of a boa constrictor? LOL” etc. So, in fact I appreciate the unique way the film was made and its willingness to absorb the ideas of the people. Just a real shame the result was a jumbo full of nonsense.

On the plus side however, we do have Snakes on a Plane to thank for that handy and adaptable complaint: I’ve had it with these motherfucking [blanks] on this motherfucking [blank]!  For Samuel L the complaint was obviously about the snakes on the plane.  But people can put on their best exasperated voice and adapt the phrase to any vexatious situation.  Domestically (I’ve had it with this motherfucking dust on this motherfucking bookshelf!), politically (I’ve had it with these motherfucking subsidies for these motherfucking polluters!), or even gastronomically (I’ve had it with these motherfucking pickles on this motherfucking burger!).  Obviously the options are endless.

This doesn’t redeem the movie of course. Ultimately, I can see Snakes being one of those films screened on TV in a few years time at 11.30 on a Saturday night for people who are too tired or lazy to move from the couch for a couple of hours (I’ve had it with the motherfucking drivel on this motherfucking station!). Perhaps only then you should stay there and watch it – but only if you really can’t reach the remote.


BREACH (2007)

June 25, 2007

Breach review
Breach screenshot

Tracy: Four Stars
Matt: Four Stars

Length: 110min


How one man betrayed the security of a nation.
Inspired by the true story of the greatest security breach in U.S. history

Review by Matt:

Breach is a spy drama/thriller. It’s well structured and well acted. It examines themes of trust, integrity, motivation and personal sacrifice in a thought-provoking way. The film is set against the intriguing background of America’s most serious information security breach. However, it’s focused on character, and develops its themes in a relatively slow paced and thoughtful way. There’s a perpetual buzz of tension that’s not quite nail-biting, but definitely uncomfortable. Anyone of reasonable firmness should be fine, but it was enough to cause Tracy to pace anxiously at the side of the room moaning that she couldn’t take the stress.

In Breach, Ryan Phillippe plays Eric O’Neil, a young FBI agent sent to work under another agent – the aging and experienced Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). Ostensibly working as Hanssen’s clerk, O’Neil is in fact tasked with covertly investigating Hanssen who is suspected of various offences of inappropriate behaviour. O’Neil learns there is actually much more to Hanssen’s character and his crimes then he knew – perhaps more than he even can know. Ultimately, O’Neil’s success depends on cementing the trust of the suspicious Hanssen. He works at it, and the two proceed into a complicated web of deceit and sacrifice.

The film eschews the usual action and shootouts of spy films, yet it generates considerable excitement. All of the tension results from the two men’s battle to understand one another. As the audience we are privy to the motivations and deceptions of O’Neil as he struggles to snare Hanssen. Our audience gaze is blocked when it comes to Hanssen though; he remains a mystery. We are never sure how much he knows, what he believes, or what are his own motivations. Ultimately, the sacrifices required by O’Neil to prove his integrity escalate to dangerous levels. And we’re pushed to the edge of our seats – or, for some, out of our seats and to the corner.

Breach is a compelling character piece. Its success rests with the very good acting of the two leads and the intriguing interactions of their characters. Questions about the complex and sometimes indiscernible nature of human actions are central to the film. The audience is left with plenty to ponder about the characters, about their integrity, and about the motives behind people’s behaviour. It’s a good one for debating with fellow viewers after the film is done – just as friends analyze and muse on the behaviour and motivations of other real life people.



June 24, 2007

Spring, summer, fall, winter … and spring review
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring

Matt: Four Stars

Length: 103min

Review by Matt:

It’s not often we can go to the cinema and watch a film that is a simple and moving Buddhist parable about life and morality. Obviously that’s not a common theme in Hollywood or European cinema. Even the Asian cinema that reaches our theatres is usually kung-fu extravaganza, or a ravenous monster piece (although there was the lovely Tibetan film Travellers and Magicians a few years ago). It’s especially great then that we’re able to see the rare gem that is Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring (or Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom in Korean). Provided you aren’t actually expecting the ravenous monster or crazed kung-fu, and you’re prepared to engage with the film’s slow, meditative mood, you’re likely to find this a unique and special film.

Spring is a South Korean film made in 2003 by one of the country’s most internationally successful directors, Kim Ki-Duk. It tells a simple, well-crafted story about a nameless Buddhist monk and the nameless boy under his tutelage. The entire film takes place at a small Buddhist monastery floating isolated at the centre of a lake. As the title suggests, it is set over five seasons. Each shows a significant episode in the pupil’s life, from childhood to adulthood. We watch as the boy grows to an adult and learns dramatic lessons about life and the suffering caused by straying from a path of purity.

In the opening story, the boy is a 6 year old in Spring. Exploring the world of the lake, he unthinkingly tortures the little creatures that dwell there – a fish, frog and snake – by tying rocks to their bodies with string. The boy’s master observes and encourages self-awareness by trying a rock to the boy’s own back – a symbolic lesson that stays with the boy his whole life. The story continues a few years later in Summer when a young woman visits the monastery to convalesce. Now a teenager, the young monk succumbs to the destructive emotions of lust and desire, despite the portentous warnings of his wise master. As the seasons unfold, the young monk’s path to Buddhist enlightenment is marred by impurities.

By the time the Fall episode arrives it seems there can be no going back for the reckless protagonist. Karma – the law of cause and effect – is a strong force in this film. Like the rock weighing down the boy, or the omnipresence of the seasons, the young monk cannot escape the consequences of his actions. He has corrupted his inner world, indulged the ego, and yielded to damaging desires causing serious external consequences and suffering. Yet, like the monk’s ever-accepting old teacher, the morality of Spring is one of redemption and forgiveness. It shows clearly that we can overcome impurities that mar the path to harmony. The film is a moving picture of the eternal circle of life in all its power, suffering and beauty.

Kim Ki-Duk was previously a painter. He turned to film-making relatively late in life. His artistry is evident in the serene beauty of the film. Each of the vignettes is exquisitely shot, and almost wordless. This meditative quality and the sparse population of characters is reminiscent of another recent film by Ki-Duk, 3-Iron (Bin-Jip). As in 3-Iron, Spring depicts an honest picture that exposes life’s ugly cruelty and suffering as well as its compassion and beauty.

Koreans, or others with a better understanding of the symbols of Eastern spirituality might gain more from the symbolism in this film. For example, the animals that inhabit each season – a snake, a cat, a chicken, a turtle – all have particular significance in Eastern culture. But the film’s core of philosophy speaks universally. Spring is a rare, beautiful and ponderous film with an ability to touch the viewer. There are plenty of other films that might give you a stronger and more immediate buzz of excitement. But that is likely to be fleeting compared to the lasting introspective experience you can gain from seeing this wise work of art.


HOT FUZZ (2007)

June 24, 2007

Hot Fuzz review
Hot Fuzz

Tracy: Three and a half Stars
Matt: Four Stars

Length: 121min


Big Cops. Small Town. Moderate Violence.
They are going to bust your arse.
They’re bad boys. They’re die hards. They’re lethal weapons. They are…
When the heat is on, you gotta call the fuzz.

Review by Matt:

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are onto a winner with their sharp, satirical and enthusiastic style of filmmaking. In 2004 they dished up the popular Shaun of the Dead – ‘a romantic comedy … with zombies’ – which was simultaneously a comic spoof and loving homage, marinated with a slosh of B-grade gore. The recipe is almost identical for their second comedy film, Hot Fuzz, only the lens is turned away from the zombies and onto cliché-ridden cop films. As with Shaun, Wright and Pegg scripted the film, Wright directed, and Pegg stars. Nick Frost again supplies the supporting buffoonery. They’ve come up with another delicious success.

Hot Fuzz introduces us to Nicholas Angel (Pegg), the hottest of cops. A thief can barely lift a hand in London before Angel snaps it into a handcuff. Unfortunately, Angel’s colleagues are so sick of being shown up by the brilliant bobby that they ‘promote’ him to far away Sandford. In humdrum Sandford the local police diligently enforce the ‘dessert-eating punishment’ they’ve introduced for contraventions of police procedure, but they don’t enforce much else. Their laxity isn’t an issue – the most dangerous assignment in this village appears to be hunting down the escaped village swan.

On top of this tedium, Angel has to endure a new partner, the fat and feckless PC Danny Butterman (Frost). Butterman is obsessed with high-action cop films such as Bad Boys II and Point Break. He’s overjoyed that he has a pro partner to watch his back and he wants to know if it’s true that there’s ‘a special spot in a person’s head you can shoot to make it explode’. Of course it’s not true, because this is the real world of real policing, not Bad Boys II

At least not yet. Turns out that for now, Angel and Butterman are in the same village from a hundred English murder mysteries, where there are all kinds of gruesome goings-on behind the lace curtains. The tedium ends for Angel when he receives a call to attend a grizzly scene where two villagers have been ‘decaffeinated’. These suspicious ‘accidents’ continue, and Angel and Butterman are on the case.

As the duo investigate, the filmmakers delight in genre play, toying with conventions and cheating our expectations. As with Shaun of the Dead, although Hot Fuzz is a funny pastiche, it is also an earnest adventure into filmmaking in the genre. The story and the characters are kept central to the film. This means the pace is slower and many of the gags are subtler than in other spoof films. For most of the film’s length the parodying is woven into a proper and pretty enjoyable story. Watch the way the film lampoons the macho friendships of cop films, for example, by just seasoning the relationship of Butterman and Angel with a sprinkle of peculiar romance. Wright and Pegg are like postmodernists with an itch to deconstruct, but they’re just as itchy to try their hand at the enjoyable excesses of cop films.

This you will see at the film’s finale, when the subtle parodying is usurped by out-and-out Jerry-Bruckhiemer-style excess (a-la Déjà vu). Now it is Bad Boys II at last. Hollywood’s incursion is joyously signalled with a karate kick to the face of an elderly woman (she’s deserving though). There’s a half hour of cliché-crushing madness that is hilariously self-conscious – though if you didn’t see it building up, you might be jolted by its arrival (much like the vampire fest that came out of nowhere in Dusk till Dawn). But it’s a great parody, and it’s funny. And this will probably be the only time you get to see English bobbies diving sideways and firing guns in slow motion.

Hot Fuzz is definitely one of the better, cleverer comedies around. It’s creative, it’s funny, and it has got verve. It’s helped along by its bright acting. Simon Pegg’s mastered the comic expression, and he’s as good at playing the straight super cop as he is at playing a likeable slacker. Timothy Dalton is also better than he ever was as James Bond as the excessively slimy supermarket mogul. Wright’s visual style – the snappy editing and even the comic gore (I say comic, but weak stomachs might disagree) – also sharpens the humour in the film.

Most people should get some enjoyment out of Hot Fuzz. Probably many people will love it cultish-ly, tallying its many film references and send-ups. It’s particularly likely to hit the spot for those who – like the filmmakers – are obsessive culture geeks. Two hours is probably still a bit too long, and I don’t know if it hits the bullseye every time. But there’s so much there, and it’s so lovingly crafted, that you can’t help but enjoy the feast.