Category: Film

12 Months of Movies 2006: January

I have kept most of my movie tickets for the year. If there are any I haven’t, I’ll look up the movie release dates and see if I can fit them somewhere in the timeline.
Keep in mind also that this is an Australian list: some of the films may technically be 2005 releases, but they were not released here until 2006. Therefore they make my list.

So, without further ado, let’s kick off 2006 with its first month: a month of cowboys, geisha, Nazis, terrorists and reds under the bed! This is a personal list, organised chronologically. It’s by no means encyclopaedic, but it puts the year into some sort of perspective.

Trailers: Threat Level Gamma

It’s been a while since I last saw fit to comment on any of the trailers I’ve seen, although I should probably point out that the Eragon trailers that I have been seeing for the last few months have uniformly bored me. Well, when I say uniform, I’ve only actually seen one. But I’ve seen it multiple times.

Anyway, A Scanner Darkly was particularly notable for the treasure trove of trailers that accompanied it. It kind of made me think that I hadn’t seen anything even slightly independent for a while – at least the sort of stuff that is preceded by trailers.

The pick of the bunch gets awarded with an embedded version of its trailer.

The Queen

First off the block! The Queen: Helen Mirren’s adventure into looking like Elizabeth Windsor and getting the Hell away with it. It’s easy to forget, when all you’ve seen of the film is Helen Mirren, that this film is about the royal family’s reaction to the death of Princess Diana.
Now call me heartless, but I never much cared for the Queen of Hearts. Quite why Elizabeth Windsor should care that greatly for the death of a woman who brought a great deal of shame to the family is beyond me, but I’m not the British public.

To be honest, I don’t really remember the content of this trailer; all that I know is that I want to see The Queen. Even if I were to summon up YouTube and post the trailer for The Queen right here, I doubt that I’d remember it immediately thereafter.

Stranger Than Fiction

Hooray for metatextuality! Stranger than Fiction is further proof that the quality of Will Ferrell is reliant entirely on the quality of the movie that he’s in. The execrable Wedding Crashers was made even worse by his mercifully brief involvement, but Talladega Nights was wholly inoffensive. Stranger than Fiction is like a triangle of delight: Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman.

Basically Emma Thompson has to write a novel, and she chooses to write it about Will Ferrell, not realising that he is an actual person. Will Ferrell can hear her narration, and he realises that she is trying to kill him off. Through Dustin Hoffman, Ferrell has to find Emma Thompson and convince her to let him live.

The trailer makes it look like an excellent story about a wholly mundane man who realises that, when his life is threatened, he really, really is quite attached to living. The grim clinging to the reality that he has come to inhabit makes this look like a good film indeed.

Scoop

What’s that, Woody Allen? You say this screwball serial killer comedy starring Scarlett Johansson is your penance for having made me sit through your horrid, grey, misanthropic Match Point? Why, I do believe that I’ll take you up on this offer!
My hideous confession – and this is one of my more hideous – is that, barring Match Point, I have not actually seen a Woody Allen film.
Shortly after I watched that mind numbing, insultingly filmed, thoroughly uninviting tennis movie, I happened upon Woody Allen: Complete Prose. Read it? I devoured it. Allen had presented a collection of comedic curios so exquisite that I vomited with envy (also because books are not designed for internal consumption).

Scoop features Scarlett Johansson, a magician’s assistant and journalist, inveigling herself into a serial killing plot that she suspects is engineered by aristocratic Hugh Jackman. Allen himself is on hand to discourage Johansson from getting herself killed, but journalists refuse to listen to reason!
Also I just realised that, save for Woody Allen in place of Michael Caine, this is exactly the same movie as The Prestige. And I’ll tell you what? I can’t wait.

Post-script: “Hey, buddy,” you may say to me, in your no-doubt affected New York accent (substitute for Boston if I start talking about The Departed). “These movies – they’ve already been and gone! What the hell country do you think you’re living in that you’d be so far out of the loop that this stuff is new to you?”
Yeah, well: Australia. Sometimes we get stuff early, sometimes months past due. If I can live with it, so can you.

Babel

Listen.

This is the first movie I’ve seen in a long time where I went in not having any idea what it was about. In recruiting my friends to see it – and I did a good job, as I was accompanied by nine of my comrades for this excursion – they demanded to know what it was about. I extrapolated, from the title and the poster, that it was an archaeological adventure about discovering the remnants of the Tower of Babel in the Middle East. The scary thing was that I explained this theory so many times that I came to believe it myself.

Babel is anything but that, though. It’s one of those ensemble movies that have become wildly popular since the advent of Crash. Loosely related stories are tied together into one movie, as was the case for everyone’s favourite unbalanced movie about LA racism. Behind Love Actually, Babel is my favourite example of this genre (although this stance may change if I were to rewatch Magnolia).

Babel seems to me a hard sell – despite its stellar cast, its dialogue is spread across five languages; Japan is represented in a style so accurate that many people will simply be confused; a lot of time is spent trying to figure out the precise details of the connections between the stories – but it’s worth the effort. All of the Golden Globe nominations, and therefore perhaps Academy Award nominations, will certainly help it along. I certainly believe that this film deserves a larger audience than Syriana, at any rate.

Oh, wait. I’ve digressed wildly and I haven’t even started the review yet. I apologise for that! Let’s get down to business.

A Scanner Darkly

Come on in, it’s open.

You know what’s great about Phillip K. Dick? He loved to write paranoid mind fucks. Perhaps it wasn’t so much a matter as “loved” as “had to”, so that he could expose the Man.
Less great is Richard Linklater, who is largely responsible for what he puts on the screen. I don’t understand how it is that one year can see something as leaden as Fast Food Nation and something as dynamic and arresting as A Scanner Darkly. To get the most out of it, you have to like the sort of stories that Dick produced. My friends were bored, confused, or both. Fortunately Linklater used the rotoscoping technique that he employed for Wanking Life a few years back, so it managed to aesthetically intrigue and give them motion sickness at the same time.

Japanese Film Festival Day Nine: The Stars Converge & Josee, the Tiger and the Fish

I missed days 6, 7 & 8 of the festival; I needed my down time. Day 6 was the student forum. By all accounts it was good. Day 7 saw the J-Horror Night, which nothing would have got me near. Its first movie, Ghost Train, was given rankings varying from “awesome” to “so bad it’s good” and its second, The Neighbour Number 13, was alternately ranked “arty and confusing” and “amazing”. Day 8 saw the movies Aegis (“made of boredom and lose”) and Ubume (“confused a complicated story for a good one”).

So I returned refreshed and ready to fight for Day 9, the penultimate day of the festival! Fortunately enough for me, it featured one of my picks of the festival. The other film wasn’t so bad either.

Casino Royale

Die almost never … nearly forever!

After the tyranny and foul oppression that was Die Another Day, James Bond is back! This time he does not hate on entire countries, but rather individuals who care for nought but money. Villainous schemes are nothing compared to the power of the dollar.

It’s a different sort of Bond film, one characterised by viciousness and an apparent dedication to physical possibility. Daniel Craig, despite everyone’s misgivings, is an excellent Bond (and those who said that they feared he would make the character metrosexual have probably never seen a movie). More surprising than that is the fact that Judi Dench turns in her best performance as M yet.

As a reboot of a beloved franchise, it’s a radical departure. As an action film, it’s absolutely amazing. Casino Royale is the first film since The Incredibles where I was almost moved to tears simply through sheer awesomeness.