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AACID TUNG'S CRUEL-TO-BE-KIND REVIEWS FOR 2004

AACID TUNG, Urban Cinefile’s world weary, sarcastic and cynical sourpuss goes to the movies in the forlorn hope that something will appeal. It rarely does. After an absence of almost five years, Aacid Tung makes this unprovoked return, for a mean peek at some of the year’s most popular movies; he calls it ‘cruel to be kind’.

As my poisonous aunt Ivy used to urge, “if you can’t say something nasty about someone, blow them a raspberry…” and I’ve tried to follow her advice, in the belief that sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. 

BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON
THE STORY:
Predicably enough, given filmmakers’ general urge to regurgitate their work, it’s not long after Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) had snared Mark Darcy (Colin Frith), according to her last diary entry. But she is insecure. And jealous of his leggy new assistant Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett). Her new boss at a TV station sends her to Thailand (as if) with that rogue womaniser, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), who tries to seduce her. Again. And on her way home, she is arrested and thrown into a Bangkok jail for carrying cocaine, hidden in a gift she packed for a friend. Meanwhile, dour Darcy is pining for her.
AACID SAYS:
The Edge of Reason … Cleverly avoiding any reference to the movie, the title suggests a state of insanity, which of course it is required to do by truth in advertising laws. Insanity as in spoiling a movie franchise by inanity. The team of four writers who mangled this script collectively couldn’t come up with any new gags, so we get a reprise of ‘Bridget’s fat bottom landing onto camera lens’ gag, and ‘the oversize underpants’ gag from BJ’s Diary. For good measure, Hugh Grant as Daniel The Cad does the same old womanising schtick. To throw us off the scent of its rotting carcass of ideas, they fly Bridget to Thailand for a fatuous scene in a Thai prison. This was to enable the producers to swan off to Thailand and get some decent Thai food. No such perks watching the film, though. Renee Zellwegger continued to grow during production, while Colin Frith continued to shrink – into himself. But it’s Zellweger’s oversized acting that turns Bridget into a recycled caricature. Dear Diary, note to self: stop hamming.

SHARK TALE
THE STORY:
It’s animated and it’s set in the underwaterworld. Cleaner fish Oscar (voice of Will Smith) works at the Whale Wash; that’s where cleaner fish clean whales. Obviously. Angie (Renee Zellwegger again) is the angel fish receptionist who is secretly in love with him, despite Oscar being unreliable and dreaming of making it big at the top of the reef in his own penthouse. This is the old ‘good girls fall for bastards’ routine. Oscar finds himself in the wrong place one day as Mafia Don Lino (Robert DeNiro, how original) sends his tough son Frankie (Michael Imperioli, you’d know his thuggish face if you saw it) to teach his subversively vegetarian son, Lenny (Jack Black) how to kill, like all normal carnivore sharks. When Frankie tries to show Lenny how it’s done, he has an accident and is killed, apparently by Oscar, who happily takes full credit for being a sharkslayer. It brings Oscar fame and fortune, and the attentions of Lola (Angelina Jolie) but he loses Angie’s respect. Oh and brings him face to face with Don Lino and his heavies. 
AACID SAYS:
There used to be a Whale Car Wash near my place, and it was heaps funnier than Shark Tale. All you had to do was sit at one of the rickety little tables outside the cashier window and watch the passing herd of humanity. The car washers were funny, too. Why am I talking about a car wash? Because the film is so boring. And when it isn’t boring, it’s plain insulting: Will Smith as a lowly car wash worker? Racial stereotyping, right there. Robert DeNiro as a gangster? Insulting crims with ‘dumb thug’ characterisation like that is a cheap shot. (He had to go to Italy this month to apologise to the Italians for his entire career as an Italian thug!) Renee Zellweger (AGAIN…this time just her voice, no fat Bridget jokes, even) as Oscar’s love interest begs the question: isn’t a black chick good enough for him? 

I, ROBOT
THE STORY:
In 2035 Chicago (where else, with its already robotic population), robots have become an everyday household item, trusted by all, except the rightly paranoid Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith, again). When the creator of new robotics at USR (Robots ’r’ Us anagram) Dr Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), commits suicide, knowing how the film will turn out. Spooner is summoned by the late Dr’s hologram version of himself. This is cool but dumb. Spooner quickly grows suspicious of a special robot called Sonny (Alan Tudyk). So would I. Have you seen The Godfather? But neither Dr Lanning’s associate Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) or USR boss Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) believe that any robot could be responsible, as robots are all hardwired with The Three Laws of Robotics, preventing them for harming humans. Yeah, as if. Spooner investigates, but he and Calvin discover that there is a greater danger than a single robot; it’s called writer’s block.
AACID SAYS:
Yeah, Will Smith AGAIN. Lack of imagination at Casting HQ, I’d say. That aside, the film has a gaping hole right through it. It’s in the glass wall through which Dr Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) is pushed by Sonny, the rotten little robot. Smith’s Spooner demonstrates for us how tough that glass is, hurling chairs and desks and bazookas at it. So, he figures with his years of experience, Lanning couldn’t have jumped. He had to be pushed, and pushed by some/one/thing very powerful. The problem with this notion is that if the glass is that tough, Alfred Lanning would’ve been squashed like a fly on the window, not gone crashing through it. Prettttty obvious, really. So we can’t take anything that follows at face value, either, including Sonny’s glazed look of creepy menace, on a face that looks identical to four million other robot faces. Such waste, such carnage of opportunities …. I, Robot is perhaps the I, Botox of the year’s movies.

GARFIELD
THE STORY:
The flabby tabby from the cat-toon strip turns up on screen. Garfield’s (voice of Bill Murray) lazy, lasagna-led lifestyle at the home of his bachelor owner Jon (Breckin Meyer) is rudely interrupted when Jon blunders his way into accepting a stray dog, Oldie, from the local vet, Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt) for whom Jon has the hots. Garfield of course rejects the ‘dumb dog’ but is somehow drawn to the likeable, undemanding mutt – who gets lost and is dognapped by tv show host Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky) in a devilish scheme to take him to the top of the ratings. Garfield sets out to find and rescue Odie. Jon and Liz follow suit, and their romance is the better for it. Odie allright…
AACID SAYS:
Neither Will Smith NOR Renee Zellweger appear in this one. Their agents have been fired. The paw cousin of the cartoon of the same name, the movie fails to maximise on the fact that Garfield is a cat whose philosophies are best understood by stressed out adults. It’s not a kiddie cartoon. The filmmakers’ instincts were right to hire Bill Murray, he of the flint-dry dark humour, as the voice of Garfield, but they hobbled his natural beastliness, turning the film into a bland tin of cat food that leaves us feline purrly. 

COLLATERAL
THE STORY:
Vacant dreamer Max (Jamie Foxx) has been a cab driver for 12 years. But he’s got an exit plan….Then on a single night he has two fares that change his exit plan – and theirs. Annie (Jada Pinkett-Smith) is the DA, a prosecutor on a huge case. Lovely. Smart. Warm. Black. Next up is Vincent (Tom Cruise), a contract killer we soon discover, working a round of assignements in Los Angeles; he wants Max to drive him to work. L.A. isn’t a town to walk about. Vincent’s targets are informers who threaten to jail a narcotics lord, Felix (Javier Bardem)… this is the same guy Annie is about to put on trial. Incredible coincidence; incredible, I say. 
AACID SAYS:
Hey, taxi, take me to a murder. Actually, five. So far, the concept’s pretty incredible. And it gets better/worse. The assassin carries a briefcase, wears a very expensive suit with a starched white shirt, and looks damn near like Tom Cruise. Nothing eye-catching about that; he’d just blend right in with the rest of well groomed assassins in greater Los Angeles. He’s a clean hitter, too, and never gets a mark on the suit. Then there’s that major coincidence, in which Annie is taxi driver’s Max’s first fare of the day – and Vincent’s last hit. So neat, you can hear the filmmakers whoops of self congratulations as they pat each other in the back…ooops, I mean ON the back. 

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY
THE STORY:
Hey Dude, where’s my memory?…. Living with new identities in a seaside village in Goa, Jason Bourne and Marie (Matt Damon and Franka Potente) are forced out of hiding when Jason spies a spy (Karl Urban) spying on them. His cover blown, Bourne and Marie drive off, with the mysterious spy in hot pursuit. Bourne’s been framed. As tantalising pieces of his missing memory return to build a picture of the trauma that caused his amnesia, Bourne again relies on his (unforgotten) skills as a trained assassin to survive till the end of the movie, as he hunts the bitch who wants him dead. 
AACID SAYS:
Matt Damon’s agent deserves twice his cut for managing to sell Matt Damon as a spy/trained assassin. Maybe it was the run on assassin roles this year (see more below) that dried up the assassin acting pool in Hollowood. Damon the downtrodden would be great as the guy who drives the ice cream van. And if there isn’t one of those in the film, it’s not hard to write it in. Might have given the movie some flavour; as it is, we are asked to accept that Jason Bourne, a lethal weapon on legs, trained to kill even when he loses his memory (selective memory is a sign of happiness, but this is taking it too far), is actually a puppy. But if you overlook that hurdle in the film’s opening seconds, you can luxuriate in the argy bargy about why he’s lost his memory: well, because he killed some people. Isn’t that what assassins do? I find watching my pavlova sitting on a tray (the pavlova, not me) more interesting than this Bourne-again film.

KILL BILL VOL. 2
THE STORY:
The unblushing Bride (Uma Thurman) continues her quest for revenge, having dispatched three of her five betrayers in Vol 1. Now she’s after Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), Budd (Michael Madsen) and last and biggest of all, Bill (David Carradine), who shot her and left her for dead at the altar – pregnant. That’s the Bill in Kill Bill. He was her boss (and rather older lover) in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DVAS to you and me). She has to use all her training from Kill Bill Vol. 1 to beat the shit out of her vicious enemies who are intent on burying her alive. And then The Bride discovers her baby, a girl, might have survived. Oooooh, that makes her REALLY mad. 
AACID SAYS:
And the killing continues: I imagine that if Tarantino’s name wasn’t attached, Kill Bill (Vol 1 & 2) would have been treated like a messed up martial arts film shown at 5pm on Saturdays before hustling off to the video shop shelves. Why? Because it is so derivative that it’s like watching a collage of Asian martial arts films for two hours. And who wants that. The fact that Tarantino makes a big fuss about admitting this (“I got it all from the films at my local Asian video store…”) has energised punters and sent them into the cinema in droves to see what is in his Asian video store. The same as in theirs, they quickly found out. There is just one thing I do like in this film, though: the five point jab of death. I’ve been practicing it on my local video store clerk. I never thought it’d work…

TROY
THE STORY:
Yadda yadda yadda ….In 1193 BC (Before Cinema), Prince Paris of Troy (Orlando Bloom in poncy mode) steals the beautiful Helen (Diane Kruger, in blonde mode) from her ugly husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson, in frothy mouth mode), the king of Sparta, setting the two nations at war. Family pride dictates that an affront to Menelaus is an affront to his brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox), the King of the Myceneans, who is a bit of a biffo. (Reminds me of Mark Latham.) He gets all of Greece agitated and ready to try and take Helen back from Troy. A real politician…. The uber-swordsman he needs is the insolent but sword-handy Achilles (Brad Pitt). The Greek armada sails to Troy and begins a bloody siege, as the Trojan forces, led by Prince Hector (Eric Bana), Paris’ brother, prepares the defences. Wimpy Paris suffers a crisis of conscience, but it’s too late. Yadda yadda yadda …
AACID SAYS:
Brad Pitt as Achilles? That’s like casting Roberto Benigni as Spartacus. This is a war movie that mixes Greek mythology with digital tomfoolery and dick and harry foolery, so the filmmakers can sail a single ship around a play sea and the computer turns it into a thousand ships. Who’s playing us for a sucker? When real movie makers strode the earth, we could rely on an army being an army. In Cleopatra, the slaves were real. They were whipped by real sadistic actors. The Nile was a genuine backlot river. Now, we are given spectacle that is as thin as my plasma screen. I also have trouble with the film’s sense of time: considering its running time of 163 minutes, you’d think they could make the 10 year siege seem a bit longer than 10 minutes. As for the acting, I’m not sure which is worse: Greeks talking American or Americans talking double Dutch, but Paris of Troy and Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) the louse, just don’t do it for me. Orlando Bloom’s Troy is about as robust as a feather duster, and the idea of him stealing Diane Kruger from anybody is hilarious – on second thoughts, look at her other option: stay with Brendan Gleeson? 

HARRY POTTER & THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
THE STORY:
Almost at the randy age, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is back with the dreary Dursleys for his holidays when a vile visiting aunt provokes him into blowing her up. He runs away, to be picked up by the Knight Bus and taken to the Leaky Cauldron pub, where, instead of getting pissed, he learns that the dangerous wizard who supposedly led Lord Voldemort to Harry’s parents and was thus responsible for their deaths, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped and is said to be after Harry himself. Bummer. So his third year at Hogwarts looks like being a pain in the ass, what with the soul sucking Dementors – Azkaban guards – slimy new creatures and the looming confrontation with Black. Just what is Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) so eager to reveal (no, he’s not a flasher) and just what is the real link between Sirius Black and Harry Potter’s past? The answer: J. K. Rowling.
AACID SAYS:
Repetition is good for learning the maths tables (3 times a sequel equals a franchise), but the sound of a drone bee carries more tension than this return to Hogwarts. The first problem we recognise is that even after two years at the school of magic and wizardry, the pupils are incompetent at best. But let’s not get academic. The entertainment factor here is supposed to be watching the three central characters get into puberty, with Harry having the hots for Emma Watson’s Hermione (that’s her name, not my misspelling). Of course, he does no such thing, and you’ve wasted your fifteen bucks. 

SOMERSAULT
THE STORY:
Heidi (Abbie Cornish) is just 16, but her life isn’t sweet – and she has been kissed. In fact, she’s been doing the kissing, with her mum’s (Olivia Pigeot) no-hoper boyfriend. That kiss becomes the kiss of death for the mother-daughter relationship right then, and Heidi runs away from their Canberra low-rent home, catching a bus to Jindabyne at the foot of the resort-driven mountains. Any excuse would have done….She is befriended by the tragic motel keeper (Lynette Curran) whose rotten son is rotting in jail. Desperate not to be alone, she uses her newfound, sexually awakend body to make contact with the world. Well, men…well, boys, actually. She meets Joe (Sam Worthington), who thinks he may be gay but they are tentatively drawn to each other. Nothing much else happens.
AACID SAYS:
So much hoo-ha over this Australian film that you’d think it was the new Rear Window or something. What could be so exciting about a 16 year old country girl’s misadventures with men as she tries to get away from mum? Look down the street and there’s Heidi (version 168)… Anyway, the film’s earnest tone is badly undone when Sam Worthington grabs poor old Erik Thomson, who plays Richard, a plain, quiet gay guy, and kisses him smack on the lips in a confused state of ‘what am I and where do my erections really come from?’ Or was it that he didn’t get any with Heidi? 

MASTER AND COMMANDER: FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD
THE STORY:
It’s been a while since Troy; now it’s 1805 and the British are fighting the French under Napoleon B. (Son of Napoleon A.) Royal British Navy Captain ‘Lucky so far with the Oscars’ Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) is off the coast of Brazil on his 28-gun HMS Surprise with his friend and the ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), whose hobby as a naturalist is maturin’ nicely (sorry..). Aubrey has to pulverise the French Privateer, the Acheron, but the French ship finds the Surprise first, and launches her own surprise, crippling it. Aubrey is mad as hell, pursuing the frogs from Brazil round the stormy Cape Horn and on to the Galapagos Islands, while playing his violin with Stephen on the cello. 
AACID SAYS:
Let’s play dress ups and build models and do a re-enactment … but for the sake of pragmatism, let’s make the baddies French, so the Yanks’ll give us the money. So the setting moves back from 1815 to 1805 and the Americans are replaced by the French as the villains of the piece. And serves them right, too, for being bloody minded at the UN Security Council. Bloody arrogant French, trying to out-arrogance the Yanks. Quelle cheek! So much for veracity, which of course is the mantra for the film’s very being. Veracity in capturing the terror of battle and the salt of the sea (sprayed into the auditorium via the air conditioning system), and veracity in the very fibre of the wardrobe. And veracity in the music played by Russell and Paul on board … not! Richard Tognetti played the violin, for gorsakes. Selective veracity, like selective memory (see The Bourne Supremacy, above) are the tools of today’s cinematic trade. 

That’s enough kindness from me; enjoy the movies (if you can).

Published December 23, 2004

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Please see our REVIEWS (and extensive Reviews Archives) for a complete and more savoury selection of what our regular critics say about all the movies released in Australia since February 1997.


Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason


Shark Tale


I, Robot


Collateral


Garfield


The Bourne Supremacy


Troy


Somersault


Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban


Master and Commander







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