Monthly Archives: January, 2011

Worth Watching January 2011

Worth Watching:

  •  Murphy’s Law Series 1 (2003, pilot 2001), Colin Bateman – British crime series in which the very first scene of the first episode is to the sound of a Gorillaz track, which is a big plus. Smart, wryly funny scripts and James Nesbitt in good form maintain the interest.
  • 24 Season 8 (2010), Joel Surnow & Robert Cochran – This final season of one of my all time favourite shows starts slowly with a lesser cast than other series. But this is still 24, with Jack Bauer so for me, definitely worth watching. The second half turns it into one of the most, if not the most intense of all seasons as Bauer goes on a bloody vendetta.
  • The Book of Eli (2010), Albert Hughes – Some lazy characterisation has opened up the film for simplistic readings, but I think the film is infinitely interesting. The film is boosted by some exhilaratingly shot action sequences and Denzel being his usual awesome self. Mila Kunis initially lacks gravitas but grows into her major role as the film goes on.
  • The Green Zone (2010), Paul Greengrass – Poorly marketed Damon/Greengrass film that slipped under the radar, unfortunate cause it’s close to the best film on the Iraq war yet. Mainstream American filmmaking at it’s best. A war thriller about a man’s commitment to a cause, and his right to question it.
  • The Tourist (2010), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck – Only von Donnersmarck will know why he followed his powerful best foreign flick Oscar winner with this light piece. But the good news is it’s much much better than you’ve been told. Won’t change your life, most films won’t, but will pass an arvo entertainingly. Timothy Dalton, fantastic in a small role, makes you wish he worked more.
  • A Single Man (2009), Tom Ford – This day in the life of a man who feels he has nothing to live for is a pretty special piece of work. Colin Firth delivers his best performance, and first time (but hopefully not last) director Tom Ford brings his fashion industry honed eye to bear on this film which is both beautiful and interesting to look at.
  • Jonah Hex (2010), Jimmy Hayward – One of the most maligned films of the past couple of years, I think is worth a look… just. Preferably half-watching with a beer or two and good company. It’s good, stupid neo-Western fun.
  • The Hurt Locker (2008), Kathryn Bigelow – Yep, this is worth a look. It’s a very well made, gritty war film with some nice doco-stylings and slow-mo stuff going on. But in my opinion its status amongst films from the past 18 months is overstated – it’s overhyped and at times a bit obvious.
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Alfred Hitchcock – An incredible ensemble cast (including Peter Lorre’s first English speaking role) deliver an initially stagey but overall really intriguing espionage thriller. And possibly the most awesome chair fight ever committed to film.
  • Space Jam (1996), Joe Pytka – It’s hard to botch a family film with ready-made characters as good as The Looney Tunes (been done before though). This amusing film is greatly enhanced by Michael Jordan’s willingness to mock his own baseball career, and some brilliant sequences involving Charles Barkley & other NBA superstars as they struggle to cope with the loss of their athletic prowess.
  • Unstoppable (2010), Tony Scott – This is pretty standard action fare. But as far as standard action fare goes, this is really enjoyable. Exciting, tense and featuring an interesting central odd couple. Nice to see no one phoning it in, with good performances all round, the excellent Rosario Dawson the pick of them.
  • Morning Glory (2010), Roger Michell – Well judged and funny Saturday afternoon fluff. Like the above shows the value of good performances in this kind of film, with Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdams taking the honours in this one.

Not Worth Watching:

  • The Haunted House (1921), Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton – I never thought I could dislike a Keaton film. But this short is tiresome & incomprehensible. Set mainly in a bank – not even Keaton can make that funny.
  • Salt (2010), Phillip Noyce – Lovin the return to old school spy film norms, double agents and the Russians are even the bad guys. But a cool first half descends into silly twistathon of a second half. Good thrillers require suspension of belief and a good twist, but not too much, which this has.
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), Mike Newell – It aims for Indiana Jones for a video game generation, and it fails totally. No texture, doesn’t look real and shows exactly how special effects should not be used. Mind numbingly bad.

If you only have time to watch one The Green-Zone

Avoid at all costs Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

The Best and Worst of Football

I am aware that this is generally a film blog. But the last 24 hours has inspired me to have a bit of a ramble about one of my other passions – football. Last night was a bit of a miserable stormy night in Canberra. Tired after a return to full-time work, the bed was definitely calling. Instead, around midnight I forced myself into my Socceroos shirt and my Johnny Warren scarf and took myself down to the local club to watch the Asian Cup quarter final. Despite not having the hype associated with a world cup match, this was going to be one of Australia’s most important games in the last 5 odd years.

I sat alone at the club, but amongst about 30-40 others there for the same purpose, and was treated to quite possible the most tense Socceroos match I have ever watched. For two hours, I sat practicing my best ‘nervous, praying football fan’ face. This was an incredible match, the ‘best of football’ of this piece’s title. Australia had the better of the game. Initially they dominated the opening 15-20 minutes before Iraq came into the game more strongly. However in the first half it was Australia with the better chances, both Harry Kewell and Matt McKay having chances to put the team in front. In the second half Iraq had a golden chance early when one of their players got through one on one with the keeper. Both teams had very good chances in the second half, Brett Holman nearly banging a long range effort home. Into extra time it went, by this stage I was well and truly wishing I was not driving so I could have a stiff drink or three to calm the nerves. There was no shutting up shop and waiting it out for penalties (although there was the occasional suggestion of this from the Iraqi team). Newish Australian coach Holger Osieck was astute with his substitutions. He still had two up his sleeve going into extra time and used them to bring on youthful attackers Nathan Burns and Neil Kilkenny. During extra time, Sasa Ognenovski almost scored what would have been probably the most amazing debut goal ever for the Socceroos. The ball spilled to the 6 foot plenty man known as Ogre, who launched into an amazing acrobatic bicycle kick any forward would be proud of. As the ball was goalbound, Australia’s Mile Jedinak reacted instinctively, attempting to nod the ball in. He only succeeded however in heading the ball over the top. There were plenty of nervous moments during extra time, especially when the referee waved away what probably should have been an Iraqi penalty when Lucas Neil bundled one of their players over when they were through on goal. It appeared penalties beckoned and I was preparing to take my nervous face to a whole new level. But, with 3 minutes left in extra time two of Australia’s best players combined for a stunning winner. Matt McKay (thank God for strong domestic football) broke down the left and played a floating, early cross. It split two defenders perfectly and was clinically finished with a wonderful Harry Kewell header into the bottom right corner. Myself and the rest of Dickson Tradies went suitably wild.

Pretty much all the Australian players were impressive, including a bunch of less-familiar names. I thought Sasa Ognenovski was our best player, rock solid at the back and a continual attacking threat from set-pieces. He is the man to build our defence around going forward. Matt McKay, despite some poor touches was another who was close to Australia’s standout. His running from midfield was inspired and he looked always dangerous. The only issue with McKay is his finishing, which he has struggled with even at A-League level. A major question for Osieck is what to do with McKay. Will he be dropped? Brett Emerton will be coming back in to the side for the semi, and is surely an automatic selection. It appears that unless Osieck is willing to dispense with playing two holding midfielders that the Brisbane man will have to make way. Harry Kewell was the third player who stood out for the Roos last night. Why some people continue to be so negative towards this player astounds me. By a good margin he is the finest Socceroo I have ever seen play, and at times last night he looked a class above, with his control on the ball and most importantly hunger to win for his country. Because he has been injury prone, many have made the suggestion that Kewell lacks heart. These people have not been watching the last 5 odd years of his international career where every time he has played the passion and effort are plain to see. If Harry can sharpen up his finishing Australia are a very very good shot at winning this title. The draw has opened up nicely now for Australia who are to play Uzbekistan in the semi-final. The Uzbeks have been a bit of a revelation in this tournament and are to be respected, but Australia at their best should have too much class. Make no mistake, this is Australia’s best ever chance to win a major international trophy. It’s time to jump on the Asian Cup bandwagon people.

And now to the worst of football which was also on display last night. Lo and behold, yet again it is Kevin Muscat at the centre of it all. Muscat is a man loved by his own team’s fans and despised by all others. Surely after last night’s sickening challenge on the 20 year old Adrian Zahra, even the Victory fans are starting to have their misgivings. You can see the tackle I am referring to here:

From all reports Kevin Muscat is a nice guy off the field. I was certainly surprised at his astute, well-spoken commentary on SBS’s World Cup coverage last year. The issue is that on it, for lack of better terminology, he is an utter scumbag. I went and saw the Victory play recently and he elbowed two players in the head and made a late, wild challenge that could have broken legs. He continues to get away with this behaviour, in that game against the Newcastle Jets he did not even receive a yellow card. The tackle on Zahra is horrible, even for Muscat. He never gets within a metre of the ball. He realises that he is beaten, but instead of pulling out of the challenge he throws his weight onto the knee of the young player. The adage that ‘what happens on the field stays on the field’ is an old, and surely outdated one. If I go to work and am injured due to the incompetent and dangerous behaviour of a work colleague, then surely I should be compensated. Zahra, having just signed a two year contract is fortunate in that he will be financially supported throughout his rehab. But it’s more than that. This is a young man, living his dream having been plucked from relative obscurity and that has been taken away from him for possibly up to a year. Whilst I have not seen a whole lot of Zahra’s play, what I have seen shows that his speed is a great weapon on the park. It appears that surgeons will have to try and piece Zahra’s leg back together again, and if that is the case who knows how much speed he will have lost. Let’s hope it is not the case, but we are talking about a man with 15 years ahead of him in the game. A guy who could make massive money in the great leagues of Europe or even just a very good living in the A-League. Who knows? But at any rate, if last night’s tackle hinders that in any way, it is Kevin Muscat who should pay the dollars. The Melbourne Heart should feel aggrieved as well. Why should they have to pay a player who will not play for a year. The Melbourne Victory continue to put on the field a player who has a proven record of being a danger to the safety of opposition players (and as he has proven on two previous occasions, staff). Maybe they should foot the bill.

I know I am harking on about the financials here, but I think the greater shame is that an exciting young player looks like missing out on getting to do what he loves for an extended period. I know how much the poor level of sport I play enhances my life, and can only imagine how much it does for Adrian Zahra’s. Kevin Muscat will likely get 2-3 weeks suspension which highlights the sheer inadequacy of football disciplinary action. A similar incident in the NRL would earn the guilty party 8-12 weeks, and Muscat should get the same. Or even better shouldn’t be allowed to play again til Zahra is able to.

I was actually quite upset after thinking about this whole issue this morning. The way in which the reckless actions of one individual could have such a major effect on an others. The last 24 hours for me have shown the best and worst of football, and sport in general. A wonderful free-flowing game that was full of skill and desire to win for the national team (this applies equally to the Socceroos, and the Iraq teams). And on the other hand a malicious act that shows the desire to win is not the be all and end all. Muscat has it, but if he can’t control it, then he should not be on the field.

2010 In Review

It is that time of year when people reflect on the year that has just gone. So I thought I would reflect on the films that were released in 2010. To qualify a film must have been released theatrically in Australia in 2010. I am not the sort of person who goes out and sees every single new film and I have not seen a number of films regarded by many people as the best (or worst) of the year. Throughout this process I was tempted to expand my initial idea for a top and bottom five, so I could fit in more films. But I have stuck fast and these are my absolute favourite, and absolute least favourite for the year (with a couple of honourable mentions in each category). Would love to hear your thoughts on any of these films and especially any films from 2010 not on these two lists which you think should have been. Even you’re feeling really motivated hit me with your top and bottom 5s of the year below.

Bottom 5: These are my five least favourite films released in 2010. Some of these films were quite well reviewed and/or quite popular this year, so I will emphasise the point that these are my personal opinions. The films are rated according to how I personally reacted to them, nothing else. (Dis)honourable mentions for 2010 go to Iron Man 2, The Expendables and Jackass 3D.

#5. The Ghost Writer – But it’s a Polanski film they’ll all scream. That in itself does not make it enjoyable. Good performances from Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan can’t overcome the fact that this is a tired, bland script. I think it’s meant to be a thriller but there was very little tension created. Rain and grey skies do not automatically create atmosphere, and even a nice late twist cannot elevate proceedings above the mundane.

#4. The American – When a film relies totally on its central character, that character should be interesting, and even more importantly believable. Clooney’s character in this was neither. The film is bookended by two spurts of action, in between which very little happens. I think that’s meant to be ‘arthouse’ or something. It’s not, it’s just bloody boring. I’m not the sort of viewer who generally picks the ending that often, but even I saw the conclusion to this coming a mile off.

#3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – This is a really nasty film. Sexual assault of and violence towards women is an unfortunate reality of our society, and I think is probably the greatest, most disgusting scourge in it. This film contains totally unnecessary depictions of both. These things should not be shown willy-nilly to show that a character has a ‘disturbed’ past. In fact this had already been established reasonably well before the gratuitous scenes depicting these things appear. Even discounting my revulsion, which some may think is misguided, this was an average thriller at best. The two lead performances were uninspired (based on this performance I struggle to see the hype regarding Noomi Rapace) and the plot held no interest for me. This is the “Da Vinci Code” all over again. Slick, pulp thrillers that for some reason become publishing phenomenon and are then turned into middle of the road films.

#2. The Prince of Persia – This was such a bad experience, it bordered on being physically painful. One of the few films I have seen with no redeeming factors. A slick, totally soulless video game inspired Indiana Jones rip-off. At times the special effects were so dominant this looked more like a game than a film. It would appear every time the director was stuck for something to show he went for a bigger, more meaningless effects shot. If all that and some inept acting from people who should know better (Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton & Ben Kingsley) was not enough, they throw in some woeful political references to the Iraq War, Guantanamo Bay and taxation.

The First Ever Scott Pilgrim vs the World Award for Least Favourite Film of the Year:

Scott Pilgrim vs the World – Whilst some films, such as #2 on this list are open about their lowest common denominator, something for everyone approach to filmmaking; this film seemed to think it was so much more. However it wasn’t very original, all it was was self-important and oh so repetitive. The whole ok concept, our everyday hero having to defeat an evil ex-boyfriend with superpowers, was repeated over and over and over again. Some of the ideas sound cool on paper – comic book stylings on screen, novelty weapons in fights, video game health bars for characters – but there is no connection to the narrative. They are just slapped on there because they should be cool, and the audience is expected to get that. If you want to watch a cool, self-aware comic book film then watch Kick-Ass. If you want to watch a second, watch Kick-Ass again. I just hated this film, it’s attitude, the dialogue , the performances. Makes me angry thinking about it, and the fact I spent money to see it.

Top 5: There were some absolutely crackerjack films released in 2010. Contemporary film gets a lot of bagging due to the number of sequels and remakes getting released. I think this is misguided – I don’t care the source of a film, if it is a remake or the fourth sequel in a franchise, I just want something original and enjoyable. I don’t see too many film fans complaining that the Coen Brothers are remaking the John Wayne Western True Grit. I think the common factor in all these five films was that they are original, they all offer something new and surprising whether it be an exciting new actor, script or director. If you have not seen any of the films listed here, then I wholeheartedly recommend you do so. Big, big honourable mentions go to The King’s Speech, A Single Man, Toy Story 3, Brand Nue Day and The Last Station.

#5. Animal Kingdom – One hell of a crime flick, Australian or otherwise. This was gritty, violent and featured one of the scripts of the year. Also one of the ensemble casts of the year, everyone is great in it, Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver (who is getting the plaudits at the moment), Joel Edgerton, Sullivan Stapleton and newcomer James Frecheville. I cannot wait to see what young director David Michod does next.

#4. The Green Zone – This was sold as ‘Bourne in Iraq’ but is much more than that. Greengrass and Damon delivered what I think is the best film on the Iraq conflict yet made. It doesn’t dodge the politics, the plot is concerned with the intelligence re WMDs in Iraq. Whilst all this is nothing new, it feels fresh because it has rarely if ever been presented in an entertaining way on screen. Don’t like politics in your films? Never fear because this stands up as a crackerjack war thriller aside from all of that. Damon’s character starts out as a man totally committed to the cause he has been sold and gradually begins to question all of that as the narrative unfolds. As good as mainstream ‘Hollywood’ filmmaking gets.

#3. Monsters – Probably the big surprise for me this year. A low budget sci-fi flick that is actually a reserved, wonderful romance film. The two leads are good, and the direction is interesting without being intrusive. The couple of big, monster-driven special effects sequences are also awesome and the fact they manage not to jar with the low-key romance narrative is a testament to the quality of the script. If you were put off by the woeful (and misleading) title of this film then I urge you to give it a look. The whole, really enjoyable experience is topped off by a great central premise (Mexico is off limits because of an alien contamination) and some beautiful Central American scenery.

#2. The Town – From the low of ‘Bennifer’, Ben Affleck has made quite the comeback in recent years, Which is good because he has always come across as one of the system’s more interesting and thoughtful actors (and now director). Judging by this film he could be set for a long Clint Eastwood style career as a director. This Boston set flick is the most authentic feeling film of the year, perhaps stemming from the fact it is Affleck’s home town. It creates a real sense of place, and conveys perfectly what it is to be stuck in a situation that you desperately do not want to be in. Reminds me of Animal Kingdom in terms of violence and grit. But this is filmmaking on a grander stage than the Australian effort and the budget and star power make it a slightly more enjoyable film for me (both are incredible, and could be viewed as companion pieces).

The First Ever Kick-Ass Award for Favourite Film of the Year:

Kick-Ass – Another film with one of the standout scripts of the year. Much is made of the violence and profanity in this film, but I think that both are used well. Has three or four of the best performances of the year as well. This film packs a hell of a punch. Manages somehow to be one of the funniest films of the year whilst also packing in some incredible over the top action sequences. I really think that both this film and Scott Pilgrim were aiming to achieve the same things and please the same core audience. Pilgrim got it wrong by trying to be too clever and witty. This film is both clever and witty, but it does not force it. The result is laid-back hilarity, winking nods to comic book convention and in my opinion the most enjoyable film of the year.