Reviews

17 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
10/10
Truly incredible movie-making
4 February 2006
I must admit, I've been quite a bit of a fan of George Clooney for some years now, dating, I think, back to when I first saw him in "O Brother, Where Art Thou". I can't remember if I'd seen him in anything before then, but I couldn't resist his charisma and comic timing in that movie, qualities that I then went on to appreciate in films like "Intolerable Cruelty" and even "Three Kings". Clooney was, I realised, a film-star in the Classical Hollywood sense - dynamic, entertaining, vibrant, witty, sickeningly good-looking (I'm sure I'll never be able to look that good when I'M grey) - a truly energetic screen-presence. When he made his directorial debut in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", we saw glimpses of something deeper, and his working relationship with Steven Soderbergh began to evolve, seeing the two co-producing numerous movies, some innovative and intelligent, others just generally enjoyable. They also made "Solaris" and "Ocean's Twelve" together, two movies which couldn't be less alike if they tried. Anyone that saw "Solaris" (all three of us) would have noticed that there was a strange evolution happening. Clooney was becoming a bit more brooding, a bit more fragile, a bit like the change in Fred Astaire from "Shall We Dance" to "On The Beach". The man had some deep thoughts going on in that prematurely grey head, and as self-deprecating as he continued to be in the press (one of his most admirable qualities), he was starting to suggest that he was more than we had thought.

And now we have "Good Night and Good Luck", a film that would be a masterpiece from anyone, but is all the more precious, all the more rewarding, for knowing where it came from. The man who was first noticed on our movie screens as the third Batman has now emerged as a bona-fide artist, as an actor, director, and, for the first time, screenwriter, and has four Oscar nominations to show for it (sadly, no acting nomination for his beautiful performance here as Fred Friendly, but I'm going to have to check out "Syriana" when it comes out in Australia to see the performance that earned him a Golden Globe and will hopefully win him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar). This is a stunning movie - beautifully filmed, scripted, paced, performed. All actors involved give their all - and what a cast to see giving their all! Patricia Clarkson is, naturally, a standout, as is the often hard-done-by Robert Downey Jr, and Ray Wise, who I remember fondly as Leland Palmer from his "Twin Peaks" days, gives a performance that will threaten to bring tears to even the most hardened viewer's eyes.

But this is not just an amazing work of art. If it was just a beautifully filmed, acted and scripted movie with an intriguing story, brilliantly told, it would still deserve to make every "Best of 2005" list, but this not just a brilliant movie - it is an important movie, and, thank heavens, one that is confident enough in its importance not to feel the need to become an Important Movie. Clooney has a message, but he doesn't bludgeon us with it, or declare too loudly that he needs to be heard. He speaks softly, and earnestly, and eloquently, and is thus heard for the merits of what he says and how he says it. His message is that of his hero, Ed Murrow, a message that was relevant in the 1950s, and is just as relevant today, if not more - a message about the responsibility of the media to communicate truth, to challenge the status quo, to give the public the information they deserve, even if it isn't the information they want. It is a message that lies at the heart of democracy, a philosophy that all western societies currently feign adherence to, although failing to realise that, without free and reliable information being distributed to the people, the people themselves cannot make informed decisions as to how they should be governed. So long as they are lied to, and encouraged to think as little as possible, they can never know what is right, or know how well they are being governed - and this is the message that Clooney and company declare loud and clear. The truth must always be told, and each side of every story must receive a fair and equal hearing, for the sake of the truth, for the sake of liberty. What a message to be declared in 2005, and what a spectacular job Clooney does of declaring it - with humility, intelligence, caution, clarity and heart.

Everyone - I repeat, everyone - should see "Good Night and Good Luck". This is a movie of compassion, intelligence, grace, craftsmanship and significance the likes of which I have not seen in a long time. To be completely honest, I don't think a movie of this level of importance has been made in my lifetime, and I've had a few months since seeing the movie to confirm that I still feel this way. This film has the urgency and poise of a film like Robert Wise's "The Day the Earth Stood Still" or Kramer's "On the Beach" - a film that demands to be listened to, and heard. Everything about this movie works, and everything about it is brilliant. I wish there was a way of conveying that, when I give this film 10 out of 10, I would even like it to be placed above almost any other film to which I would assign that rating. Numbers are not enough to communicate how incredible it is, nor are words.

Mr Clooney, thankyou.
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9/10
Brilliant early Duigan
30 November 2003
In the eighties, John Duigan was one of Australia's most innovative and charming film-makers. Although he hasn't done much of note in recent years, "Flirting" (1991) and "Lawn Dogs" (1997) are 90s examples of his brilliance, and his forthcoming film, "Head in the Clouds", sounds promising. "Lawn Dogs", with its magnificent acting, screenplay (sadly not by Duigan) and stunning cinematography, is probably his masterpiece, but for sheer experimentalism and surprising pathos, "One Night Stand" is hard to ignore, especially considering it was made in 1984.

The story is very simple - actually, there isn't much of one. A group of four people sit around in an abandoned Sydney Opera House, worrying about the end of the world. But Duigan uses this merely as a point of departure. With some of the most interesting, and subtle, uses of flashback that I've seen in a while, nice acting, and clever uses of "Short Memory" by Midnight Oil and Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", Duigan has come up with quite a gem. It doesn't have any of the usual trappings of Australian film - excessive "larikanism", lack of subtlety and depth, cinematic blandness or an irritating effort to be noticeably "Australian" (despite the potentially cumbersome use of Sydney landmarks) - and has so many things that many American and world movies lack. "One Night Stand" is a film with the potential to surprise in an age when we so often think we've seen it all. It's dated a little bit - quite a bit, actually - but, well, it was 1984, so you can't exactly expect it to look like it was made yesterday. But in terms of what it achieves - emotionally, politically, cinematically - it is avant-garde in the truest sense. Not unwatchable, not difficult, just truly ahead of the game. And so few films have really caught up in the 20 years since.

I just hope that "Head in the Clouds" can show that Duigan still is, rather than just was, an amazing film-maker. More people need to see "Lawn Dogs". More people need to see the Danny Emberling films. And, judging by the seriously low user-rating, and startling absence of user comments on IMDb, it seems very clear that more people need to see "One Night Stand".
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9/10
Ridley, what's going on? (In a good way)
24 November 2003
I should start off by saying that I don't like Ridley Scott. I have admittedly only seen the German dubbed version of "1492" while overseas, and my German wasn't really good enough to appreciate it fully - but, while it was visually impressive, it didn't seem to be much more than a self-important, grandiose epic. My understanding is that many of Ridley's films fall into this trap. There are exceptions, I know - "Blade Runner" is supposed to be a masterpiece, and I'm not sure why I haven't seen it. But, as a rule, I just have no desire to see Russell Crowe play Gluteus Maximus, or watch Josh Hartnett be wasted in yet another Jerry Bruckheimer explosion-feast.

SO...when I saw that Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohmann, all actors that I love, were going to be in the new Ridley Scott film, I was certainly not excited - verging on despair would be a more accurate description. But then the reviews began to come in, and I was forced to reconsider what I expected. It sounded as if, for whatever reason, Ridley had decided to take a break from his usual films to make something much more intimate, taut and touching - it almost sounded as if "Matchstick Men" would be worth checking out.

So yesterday I watched it. And I have to say that it was one of the best films of the year. Packed to the brim with surprises (but which, unlike in films like "Boxing Helena" or "Wild Things", were genuinely clever, genuinely suspenseful), with some stunning cinematography, clever use of editing, music, set design, even costume, and a truly touching (not at all sentimental or cloying) script, "Matchstick Men" is already streets ahead of most mainstream films to hit our cinemas at the moment. Add to that the sheer genius of Cage, Rockwell and Lohmann, all giving performances that rate among their finest, and you get a surprising, memorable and provocative film. If it were only a crime caper film, it would be much more tense and intelligent than most. If it were only an emotional drama, it would beat almost every other film of its kind for avoiding heavy-handed sentiment and genuinely sticking in your head and heart. Put these two together and you get a film that really SHOULDN'T have worked (who ever thought of putting "White Oleander" and "Nikita" together?), but it DOES work - it works marvellously. Perhaps Scott's style of direction could be a little more experimental, but it does have moments of fascinating experimentation which (again) put it ahead of any other film of its kind. And really, you just have to respect it for working. Don't be a genre purist when watching this film; and don't be cynically hardened to the possibility of it affecting you emotionally. If you do either of these, you will be unable to enjoy it. Let it be what it is, and respect it for doing what it does so well. And let it touch you, because it will if you allow it.

I can't stop thinking about the relationships in this film, about Lohmann's beautiful performance, Cage's surprising restraint, and Rockwell's incredible sense of style. This film was beautiful - it really was. Four and a half out of five. (Excellent work, Ridley. But I'm still not going to watch the rest of your work.)
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Lawn Dogs (1997)
Under-rated masterpiece
11 November 2003
John Duigan is one of those directors that can be really frustrating for his fans. Starting out as one of the great auteurs of the Australian New Wave, with "One Night Stand" and the Danny Emberling duo, he began to lose the plot in the 90s. Not writing a lot of his later material probably didn't help. But this film is quite an incredible little piece, particularly when you consider how little recognition it seems to have received. "Lawn Dogs" shows that that deft artistry of Duigan's which revolutionised Australian film certainly hadn't been lost by 1997 - it just wasn't getting much of a cinematic airing.

A lot of talent went into this film - Mischa Barton, who sadly couldn't follow up one of the best child acting performances ever with anything decent ("Tart", anyone?); Sam Rockwell, who everyone knows now for "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and "Matchstick Men"; DOP Elliot Davis, who gives the film an incredibly magical, almost dreamlike feel. And the story is phenomenal. Devon is one of cinema's most beautiful characters, and the relationship that enfolds between her and Trent is so amazingly touching. The final act will leave you speechless - perhaps a little depressed, but overwhelmed with emotion. Movies are so rarely this beautiful and complex.

Don't even bother finding out the story. If you want to be touched by one of the most artistically impressive and beautiful films of the 90s, get "Lawn Dogs" out instantly and let Duigan, Barton and Rockwell blow your mind. You won't regret it.

10/10.
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Brilliant Coens, and that's saying something
31 October 2003
Normally I would wait a little bit of time after seeing a movie before writing a comment, mainly because I like films to sink in before I give a clear-cut opinion. But this is a film that I have to comment on instantly, if for no other reason than to correct all the snobbish comments that have disparaged it so far. "Intolerable Cruelty" is by no means a let-down for Coens fans - or certainly wasn't for this one. Nor is it mainstream. Nor is it a failed pastiche. Nor is it merely eye candy. Nor is it contrived, shallow, unfunny, etc. etc. Perhaps I can't lay claim to being an objective voice on this film, since essentially I can only express my opinion - but, for what it's worth, I absolutely adored it.

Anyone that makes comparisons to "Blood Simple" in order to prove how far the Coens have fallen really has missed the point of "Intolerable Cruelty", and possibly also of the Coens. This is, in some ways, a very different film to previous Coens efforts, but the Coens have always succeeded in being original and clever in whatever they do. "The Man Who Wasn't There", for example, could have been little more than a clever exercise in noir homage. Instead, it turned "Double Indemnity" into "The Outsider", with an emotional, psychological and existential depth that was largely ignored.

Their latest film is no exception to this. "Intolerable Cruelty" does see the Coens go as mainstream as they have yet - yes, gasp, shock horror, it's true - but that isn't such a bad thing. It doesn't mean any loss of that razor-sharp, very, very black wit that they are known and loved for. Nor does it mean a lack of cinematic experimentation. No really. And as for the notion of its being a failed pastiche - I haven't laughed as much, or as loudly, in a film since "Bringing Up Baby". "Intolerable Cruelty" has a wit, emotion, charm and pace to it that hasn't been seen for about fifty years. Favourable comparisons to the Howard Hawks screwball comedies, or even to the Fred and Ginger classics, are completely justified - think of all the hallmarks of a brilliant Hawks film, and you'll find it in "Intolerable Cruelty". It's funny, sophisticated, brilliantly acted (who knew Clooney or Zeta-Jones had it in them?!) and did I mention that it's funny? This film has made it to No. 1 in Australia in its first week, and yes, on the surface this probably seems like the last thing that a fan of "Blood Simple" wants to hear. But dammit, I'm a fan of "Blood Simple", and I'm just overjoyed that the Coens are getting enormous audiences in to see a film that does not in any way waste their incredible combined talents. If you love Joel and Ethan as much as I do, and you are willing to suspend snobbery, and if you also don't mind the idea of Clooney and Zeta-Jones doing Hepburn and Grant, and do it perfectly, then you'll adore this film. You'll probably even laugh when you see Roderick Jaynes's name credited as the Film Editor. And you might even want to write a comment on it immediately after seeing it, just to let everyone know that this film is good, it's damn good, and the Coens, contrary to esoteric belief, have not disgraced themselves. They may, if success goes to their heads, but they haven't yet. They deserve the success, because I've said it once, I'll say it a million times - "Intolerable Cruelty" is fantastic.
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9/10
What's your problem, people?
25 July 2003
This film is another one of those mysteries - a work of brilliance which everyone hates.

Okay, it isn't THAT much of a mystery. It is, I have to admit, a very strange film that really does NOT pander to mainstream tastes in any way. But ultimately the problem is that people do not like to think about movies. When a film doesn't answer every question it poses, it gets deemed the "worst movie ever made", and thus no-one else goes to see it, because, quite frankly, who'd want to watch a film that got only a 4.4 user rating on IMDb?

Well, there's a number of very good reasons to watch this film. I just wish more people could realise that.

First of all, it gives that brilliant and utterly gorgeous Ashley Judd a chance to FINALLY show us that she can act far better than the J.Lo's and Sandra Bullocks that she always loses out to. She has been brilliant in every role I have seen her in, but it was such a joy to see her being brilliant in a role that deserved her brilliance.

Secondly - yes, this film is enigmatic, but it WORKED as an enigma. Stephan Elliot, Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd all brought such style and emotional complexity to the film - McGregor and Judd through their understated and moving performances, Elliot through his stunning and classy direction. If you expect it all to make perfect sense, then you'll hate it, and all its stylistic brilliance will be missed. But if you accept it for what it is, then you can't avoid noticing how well done it is.

Thirdly, it does actually have an intriguing and interesting plot, just not a conventional Hollywood narrative. I admit that, at the moment (I only saw it two days ago), I don't really understand what happened. But I am sure that it would benefit from multiple viewings, and I know that the way in which it affected me emotionally more than compensated for any confusion that I suffered.

If anyone can actually bother with this film (ie. THINK about it, perhaps watch it more than once, willing to witness something challenging, not pre-digested for ease of mainstream consumption) and can still hate it, DESPITE the brilliant acting, editing, cinematography, soundtrack (I haven't heard Massive Attack used so well in a film-score before) and overall ambience created by all these things coming perfectly into place, then, well, I'll let you hate it, and, which is more, I'll take my hat off to you. I can't help but be overwhelmed by this film, and I really don't see how anyone that accepts it on its own terms, and is willing to admire film construction over easily-understood plot, can avoid doing so either.

Four and a half stars out of five.
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Unpleasant, but can you really fault it?
13 May 2003
I have to say, I'm a bit confused by the responses of so many people to "Alexandra's Project". Enough Australians have gone to see it for it to be one of the only art-house films in my living memory to make it into the Top 10 at the Box Office, but no-one really seems to like it, with the exception of a few critics. In fact, when I came out of the cinema after seeing it, I heard one woman say, "That was a really bad movie." And this intrigues me - in what way is this a "really bad movie"? I can understand that very few people will enjoy it. I personally cannot say that I did. But as to its technique, construction, delivery etc., how can you fault it? The only explanation that occurs to me is that audiences are so alienated by the material that they can't notice a) Gary Sweet and Helen Buday's amazing performances, b) tight direction, c) brilliant sound and film editing and d) eerily effective cinematography. Perhaps Australian audiences don't like to be provoked in this kind of way, and I can see how that could easily be the case. "Alexandra's Project" is a feel-bad movie to end all feel-bad movies. It makes "Leaving Las Vegas" look like "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood". But does that make it a "really bad" movie? Some have actually criticised the material for being mundane - I REALLY don't understand that. Rolf de Heer has come up with a phenomenally complex and thought-provoking story, which, with the benefit of an amazing cast and very skilled technical crew who don't seem at all affected by what was a ridiculously low-budget, has been made into one of the (technically) best Australian films in years. If you don't want your films to be challenging, then don't bother - you'll hate it. But if you DO go and see it, try to accept it for what it is, which is an unpleasant but brilliant film that will give you food for thought for the next year.

That being said, I don't think I could ever watch it again, and probably couldn't bear to watch a film that I thought would be anything like it. It's impossible to come out of with your emotions at all intact.

Objectively speaking, ten out of ten. Congratulations Rolf. But in terms of audience enjoyment? Impossible to assess. Just watch it for yourself and see.
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Unfaithful (2002)
10/10
Ludicrously underrated
28 March 2003
Every now and then, I read a review of a film which is so drastically different to my own reaction to it that I wonder if we have watched the same film. This is the case for almost EVERY review of "Unfaithful". Aside from the occasional positive comment that I have read by other IMDB users, and the glowing review given by Margaret Pommeranz on the (Australian) "Movie Show" (four and a half stars, if I remember correctly), this film seems to have met with either negative or ambivalent reactions from everyone. And this surprises me immensely, because I was overwhelmed by it. I expected quite a good, slightly arty film with good performances (particularly from Diane Lane, who really impressed me in Coppola's "The Cotton Club"). What I got was a film which I think will be one of my favourites for many years to come.

The criticisms that I have read of "Unfaithful" don't confuse me because they disagree with me. I can accept that - no really, I can, although I don't see how anyone could miss the brilliant acting (one user comment said that any Hollywood actress could have done Diane Lane's performance - well, I DO look forward to the J.Lo remake in a few years), or the amazing photography, this being one of the most lush and seductive films I have seen in a long time. It's the way in which the reviewers have seemingly missed the entire point of the film, or fell asleep half-way through it.

Firstly, I will concede that Connie's motivations were unclear (although I'd call it subtlety, rather than poor scripting), but they weren't as unclear as many people would have you believe. Nor did Lyne simplify the relationship between Connie and Paul (someone called him Marcel - perhaps they DID watch another movie, or just couldn't spell his surname) - in fact, I would suggest that anyone who thought Connie was willing to sleep with the first guy she met would do well to rewatch this film and see the way that her mind works (or do you need a voice-over narration in addition to Lane's phenomenal performance?). In addition to this, I have read complaints about nudity (because apparently has no place in an erotic drama/thriller), technical problems (the reviewer who mentioned this loved the movie, but had issues with constant shots of the entire microphone, shots which he/she found very hard to ignore, but which I managed to miss completely) and the apparently "cliched" narrative. In response to the latter, I don't want to give anything away, but this film, although addressing a common topic (ie. adultery), is by no means a traditional Hollywood film, and certainly doesn't treat the topic in the same way that every other film has. Many may find the ending unfulfilling, but I can't comprehend the idea of it being cloying and unoriginal. And even if the narrative itself is conventional, the way in which it is handled by cast, director and technical crew (if you can forgive the microphone shots, I suppose) puts it so far above any of its counterparts as to warrant a much warmer reception than it seems to have been given.

Diane Lane deserved the Oscar for this, without question. Unfortunately, her film came in a year when every single Best Actress nominee was of nearly equal quality. As you can see, I liked it - and wish that more people felt the same way about it. The only suggestion I can offer is that, if you have yet to see it, then don't go into it expecting a standard thriller - in fact, it can be quite slow-moving at times. But let it be what it is, because it does a damn good job at that.
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Boxing Helena (1993)
1/10
Can it truly have been THIS bad?
4 March 2003
It doesn't go without saying that the child of a brilliant director will be brilliant also. Sometimes children can exceed the abilities of their parents (for example, Sofia Coppola with "The Virgin Suicides"). Other times they can fall quite short of the mark, proving that brilliance isn't always inherited.

And Jennifer Chambers Lynch certainly DOES fall short of the mark.

Not only does this film make absolutely pathetic use of Julian Sands, normally a stunning actor (see anything that he's done with Mike Figgis, for instance, especially his comic turn in "Timecode"), it also makes Bill Paxton worse than usual, destroys Sherilyn Fenn, whose "Twin Peaks" days are quite clearly over, and doesn't seem to have a clue what to do with Art Garfunkle, who gives the film's only decent performance.

I would never criticise a movie for being "strange" or "unpleasant" - some of my favourite films would be quite aptly described as such. David Lynch has made quite a phenomenal career out of being strange and unpleasant. But his daughter just DOESN'T know how to do it like he does. It would be ridiculous to expect a film about sexual obsession to follow "normal" patterns of human behaviour, but this film doesn't even follow its own internal logic. Nick's actions are not those of a weak and naive pervert - all they demonstrate is mind-blowingly bad script-writing. And, not wanting to give anything away (although it could hardly ruin the film for anyone), I can only say that Jennifer's attempts to provide the story with a thought-provoking twist are, at best, pitiful.

No, really - it's that bad.

Pretentious camera-work and editing (and "pretentious" is a word that I don't use lightly) only serve to further compound the film's status as truly awful. I wanted to enjoy "Boxing Helena" - I truly did. When I read other IMDB user reviews that complained about it being "strange", I took this as more an encouragement to watch it than a discouragment. I hoped for a dark and intriguing journey into the human psyche. What I got was a waste of time and money - I'm not entirely sure why I stuck with. I found myself fast-forwarding through the sex (strange, I know), and laughing where it sought to be either disturbing or compelling. I dearly wish I could say it wasn't all that bad, but the time that's elapsed since I saw it only confirms my initial reaction: really, really, REALLY bad. I can't give it few enough stars to fully convey a sense of this badness.

All I can say is: David Lynch, you really should have brought your daughter up better than this.
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Spirited Away (2001)
10/10
Indisputably brilliant
31 January 2003
A film like "Spirited Away" is an incredibly rare gem. While works of absolute genius do appear most years (and 2001-2002 has certainly seen a lot of these movies reach our screens), they are so often the sort of films that can only be recommended to hard-core film buffs, generally because they would be dismissed as "strange". Films which are easy to watch, entertaining, and yet are absolute and indisputable works of artistic genius are few and far between.

All this said, "Spirited Away" meets all of these requirements. With some of the most beautiful animation you will ever see, clever dialogue, brilliant characters and some fantastic social commentary, it works at so many levels and can, and should, be appreciated by everyone. Unfortunately, the majority of animations which come to western cinemas are only able to be truly enjoyed by school-age children, and a lot of children beyond a certain age are reluctant to either watch or enjoy them at risk of being "childish". As a result, truly original animations which appeal to an older demographic are rare - Richard Linklater did a brilliant job with "Waking Life", but unfortunately that could only really appeal to a small group of adults because of the high-brow intellectualism of the ideas explored in it. Films like "Toy Story" and (breaking the tradition of all sequels being pathetic) "Toy Story 2" are usually the only exceptions, managing to appeal to adults with a more sophisticated style of humour.

BUT "Spirited Away" is, despite being technically a "children's" film, the sort of movie that almost no-one is too old or too young to enjoy. Very few movies like this exist, even though a lot of films are marketed as being "all-ages" films. The sheer imagination that has gone into making this film cannot fail to bewitch anyone who sees it, and it has so much which can appeal to older viewers, particularly the many satirical and poignant comments it makes about contemporary capitalist Japan (such as the faceless people on the train, lifeless, barely there). This film will probably never truly make sense, which is the beauty of it. There are no cop-outs - it truly embraces the surreal and the imaginative, without ever becoming conventional or at all unoriginal.

I saw this film in the original Japanese version, and would suggest that people watch it in this version if they can. But really it should just be seen in whatever version is available, doing whatever it takes to see it. No really - it's worth it.
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