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The Departed

by Walton Goggins

Watching Martin Scorsese's highly-praised crime thriller The Departed, I couldn't shake the feeling that the director spent the entire movie hovering off-camera muttering to himself, "So you didn't like Gangs of New York or The Aviator, didya? You want to see gangsters, guns and gore all scored to classic rock tunes, huh? Okay...you asked for it. How about this? And this? And this?" In other words, this is a movie that Scorsese has clearly made for the audience, rather than himself. And the audience has responded in kind. Critics are falling all over themselves to hail The Departed as the director's return to form, as if he had spent the past decade in some kind of artistic hibernation, instead of exploring such diverse times and places as turn-of-the-century New York, the Golden Age of Hollywood and the mountain ranges of Tibet.


You're waiting for me to say that I sat there the entire time with a frown on my face and hands folded in my lap, right? Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not going to be that man...at least not completely. The Departed is a very entertaining ride that delivers in most of the ways we expect a Scorsese crime picture to deliver. With his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker riding shotgun, Scorsese serves up plenty of brutal and bloody action sequences that are further enlivened by some inventive cutting. I particularly liked Schoonmaker's use of freeze-frames during the climactic shootout. I also loved the film's dark sense of humour, which is the one area where it improves upon its source material, the great Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs. And with one notable exception (more on her later), the ensemble cast is terrific, with the standouts being Leo DiCaprio, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg.


Still, anyone who tries to tell you that this is Scorsese's best movie since Goodfellas is either lying or hasn't bothered to see any Scorsese picture since that 1990 gangland epic. Ditto for anyone that claims The Departed is ultimately superior to Infernal Affairs. That movie is a lean, mean crime story that's expertly paced and chock full of white-knuckle moments. It also happens to run just shy of 100 minutes. The Departed spins its yarn over the course of 2½ hours and it simply doesn't need that extra hour. Where the Hong Kong film wasted little time leaping into the story, this one takes its sweet time getting underway. In fact, we have to wait for about 45 minutes until it reaches the point where the original picture more or less began.


You may have noticed that I didn't single out Nicholson as one of the standout performers. That's not because he's a total washout as crime boss Frank Costello; far from it, he gets many of the movie's best lines and he has no trouble showing us his character's more psychotic side. But it's hard to call what he does here "acting." He was acting in About Schmidt, he was acting in The Pledge, he was even acting in Something's Gotta Give. In The Departed he's basically playing Jack Nicholson or, to be more accurate, the Jack Nicholson persona he's honed onscreen over the years. You know, the funny, yet incredibly creepy guy that smiles to your face, but is ready to literally stab you in the back as soon as you turn away. It's great schtick, but it's still schtick and it inevitably starts to grate. Speaking of grating, let's talk about the film's female lead Vera Farmiga, she's simply awful in The Departed and every scene she appears in brings the move to a dead stop. Granted, she's stuck in a thankless role as the shrink caught between DiCaprio's undercover cop and Matt Damon's undercover crook. This character was equally boring in Infernal Affairs, but at least her screen time was kept to a minimum in that film. Here, the filmmakers go out of their way to include more of her, which is exactly what we didn't need. Oh and Ray Winstone – whoever cast him is obviously looking for payback on all the Dick Van Dyke jokes from Mary Poppins, stick to geezers Ray.


So to sum up: The Departed is an enjoyable, but overlong crime caper with some great performances and plenty of moments that scream "Scorsese!" But you know what? The Aviator is a better movie. So is The Age of Innocence. Even Gangs of New York, as fatally flawed as that picture is, remains more interesting than The Departed. The knock I often hear against The Aviator is that it doesn't feel like Scorsese is fully engaged with the material. I simply can't understand that line of reasoning though since to me, that deeply underrated movie is overflowing with personal touches. For all its technical wizardry, The Departed strikes me as a largely impersonal picture. Scorsese's handprints are all over it, but his heart is elsewhere.

 

Casino Royale

by Walton Goggins

I don't even know where to begin with this review, the plot was simplistic, yet dense and at times a little too complicated. In a nutshell, Bond is trying to figure out who is funding several major terrorist groups. At the same time he finds himself at constant odds with M (Judi Dench). For the first time Dench actually gets to do some acting in a Bond film, in previous films they would trot her out to utter a witticism and then disappear for the rest of the movie. In Casino Royale she's a vital part of the story, but it's in the cliched boss trying to reign in her out of control detective kind of way. Somehow it works here and feels appropriate.

 

If you want your trademark Bond gadgets, cars, and gear, Royale will disappoint as this Bond drives a rented Ford Focus, that is until he gets back into M's good graces, then he's given the sporty Aston Martin. But even that car lacks gadgets, unless you consider a tray that holds a first aide kit and a gun cool.

 

With Casino Royale, the series reinvents itself along with the main character. I've seen the film described as Bond Begins in some reviews and that's really the best way to characterize it. Casino Royale is the story of who James Bond is and how he came to be. The film opens with a black-and-white sequence that shows Bond making the two kills that earn him "00" status. After that, he's dispatched on his first mission, a simple observation gig that naturally turns into an extended chase through a construction site.

 

A clue from this encounter leads Bond to the Bahamas , where he encounters an associate of the international terrorist La Chiffre and prevents him from carrying out his boss's plan to blow up a prototype jet. In order to recoup the money he lost on that failed mission, La Chiffre organizes an exclusive Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament in Montenegro and guess who happens to be the best poker player in the British secret service? Bond's associate on this assignment is Vesper Lynd, who he inevitably ends up falling for.

 

Daniel Craig said he wanted the character to be more vulnerable, and vulnerable he certainly is. Beaten, tortured (in a scene up there with Larry’s penchant for freelance dentistry in Marathon Man), poisoned shot with a nail gun then beaten again, the old/new Bond is far more convincing than all his predecessors, Connery excluded.

 

As if we didn't already know that the main goal of Casino Royale is to rebuild Bond and re-establish his character, the film's amazing last scene ends, with nothing really resolved, leaving you wanting more. Casino Royale is one of the best films of the year, well worth checking out. 

 

Special thanks to exploited Chinese DVD sellers for bootleg copies, three for £10 - excellent quality at a good price!

 

Borat 

by Milo

 

Don’t start, I went under duress. Anyway, having avoided all trailers for this film and guided only by a raft of positive newspaper reviews and word-of-mouth testimony I trundled along with an entourage of hand-holding couples to see Sacha Baron Cohen’s alter-ego Borat make his way across America .

 

If ever a film was destined for a trailer with the voiced-over tagline “…with hilarious consequences” then this, I thought, would be it.

 

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the format. Vaguely ignorant TV reporter from backwards eastern bloc country travels to supposedly advanced western society and along the way demonstrates through an array of well timed set pieces and toe curlingly embarrassing social situations that we are (as Dean Friedman and Denise Marsa once squeakily sang) not as smart as we’d like to think we are.

 

From the outset, it’s not difficult to see why the film has caused a stir or two in Kazakhstan . In setting a benchmark of ignorance which Cohen then attempts to not-too-subtly surpass on his American odyssey, Kazakhstan is portrayed as a Jewish hating, misogynistic, inbred society. It’s clearly tongue in cheek and it’s a vital cog in the film’s machinery, but it’s also upset the supposedly “Politically Correct Brigade” for perpetuating tired myths.

 

Incidentally, is anyone else sick of that phrase? It’s now being used in the same way as the word “liberal” as a term of disparagement, usually by the thoroughly ignorant to further demonstrate their thorough ignorance. There is “being right” and then there is Political Correctness – trying hard to be seen to be right. In breaking the conventions for acceptable social behaviour, this film walks the very fine line and just about gets away with it. That said, I’m not from Kazakhstan , and who is anyone to say what the people of a country should and shouldn’t find offensive?

 

Landing in New York and working his way across the country, Borat encounters and engineers a series of situations with the public at large. The surprising thing is, quite a lot of them are very funny. From slapstick shenanigans in antique stores to grown men wrestling in the buff – you won’t see it on WWE – some of the scenes will literally make your jaw drop. The key to its success is that it rarely over-eggs any of the episodes. The joke is delivered, the film moves on. With one notable exception.

 

The whole film is based on the premise that he’s a bit dumb and he’s from a country that’s a bit dumb. It’s how he dupes his victims. This is the joke. But there’s only so much you can watch someone pulling the wool over the eyes of someone who isn’t in on the gag before it becomes a bit samey. In one respect, the issue is addressed in that Cohen raises the bar for shock tactics – I’ve seen the film described as “Jackass with an agenda”, which goes too far (it’s better than that) – but it gives you an idea of the kind of things you can expect to see. Cohen also ensures he doesn’t dwell on any one target for too long. But the film remains one big exercise in conning the public.

 

I’ve also seen it said that the key to the film’s genius is that it exposes America for what it is. It doesn’t. It doesn’t say anything you won’t already know, have heard or have experienced about America . What it tells you is that New Yorkers don’t like being kissed on subways by men they don’t know (New York men especially), some people in the Deep South are still racist, antique owners want broken goods paid for, frat boys have lots of money but still get drunk and act like regular boys, Americans don’t like their National Anthem ruined and you can’t squat and do a turd in a busy city street and expect it to go un-noticed.

 

It’s quite a funny film as far as it goes. If you see it, you’ll probably laugh at at least some part of it but never watch it again. It’s been said that the joke is not on Kazakhstan and its people, but on America and Americans. Having spent £7 of my own money on an 80-odd minute film that could have been a ten minute sketch, I couldn’t help but feel that it might also have been on me.

 

 

 

 
   
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