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Non-Review Review: The Counsellor

There are two ways of looking at The Counsellor, both handily articulated by the movie itself.

At one point, two characters engage in an abstract conversation about grief. They speak on the phone about what it means to lose something that is irreplaceable, and what that does to a person. They speak in metaphors and lyrical turns of phrase, dancing around the issue at hand. One participant in the conversation recounts the story of Spanish poet Machido, who managed to channel his grief into beautiful and moving poetry. Poetry woven from misery and suffering, beautiful and yet torturous. Much like The Counsellor itself, a story about corruption and consequences and greed and wraith, articulated with thoughtful elegance.

There's a lot going on under the hood...

There’s a lot going on under the hood…

At another point, one character regales another with a tale of his strange sexual misadventures. Awkward metaphors are used to describe exactly what went down, as the other character (and the audience) watch on in a state of awkward disbelief. Using surprisingly elegant language – never at a loss for words to describe a truly surreal turn of events – the storyteller crafts a stunning portrait of a bizarre encounter. Trying to make sense of it all, the listener articulates the thought running through the mind of most of the audience. “Why did you feel the need to tell me that?”

The Counsellor straddles both extremes almost recklessly, veering from a sophisticated and thoughtful moral tale into something grotesquely indulgent and almost distractingly oblique. During one conversation, the seductive Malkina asks her lover Renier how he sees things playing out. He can’t help but imagine two contrasting extremes. With just a hint of self-awareness, Malkina point out that there’s a middle that Renier just isn’t seeing.

Deal or no deal?

Deal or no deal?

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Non-Review Review: Shrek the Third

The biggest problem with Shrek the Third is arguably reflected in its lead character. Despite producing two sequels, making a boatload of money and establishing a massively iconic franchise, it seems like the creators are unwilling to accept their changed reality. Much like the title character refuses to adapt to his new-found circumstances, and the possibility that he will become a father, Shrek the Third refuses to admit that it has essentially become the fairy-tale establishment that it so sorely ridiculed and mocked. The wry and subversive take of fairy tales championed by the original Shrek is no longer on the outside looking in, but on the inside looking out. Shrek the Thirdjust stubbornly refuses to accept that.

Has the franchise lost direction?

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Non-Review Review: Shrek 2

Shrek 2 is quite entertaining. It’s not nearly as good as the original Shrek, but it doesn’t feel quite as tired or stale as the two films that would follow. There’s still an endearingly subversive streak to the film, and the series hasn’t quite evolved into the very thing it was originally mocking. While it is charming, witty and intelligent, there’s a case of diminished returns. In particular, this time around, the series is growing increasingly dependent on pop culture references and cheesy “in-joke-y” references. While, again, not quite as bad as the two films that would follow, it’s a sign of things to come. Still, despite that, Shrek 2 has its heart in the right place, and continues the original’s spirited deconstruction of the Disney fairytale franchises. It’s only slightly diminished by the fact that it is gradually evolving into one itself.

Happily ever after?

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Non-Review Review: The Tourist

In theory, The Tourist should be great fun. After all, the last time we had a high-octane romantic adventure thriller, we ended up with the genuinely entertaining Knight and Day. And, if anything, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie should represent a large step-up from Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite deliver. Mistaking twists for plot and assuming that strong leads can make up for underwritten roles, the film flails around rather randomly, alternating between a genuinely exciting little European thriller and fairly paint-by-numbers twist-a-minute adventure, it never manages to set a particular tone, and leaves its two actors struggling to stay afloat amid the rather wonderful Venetian scenery.

Tour of duty?

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Non-Review Review: The Box

I have an offer to make. If you push the button, two things will happen. First, someone, somewhere in the world, whom you don’t know, will die. Second, you will receive a payment of one million dollars. You have 24 hours.

“Arlington Stewart”

Such is the premise of The Box, a movie based on a short story by science fiction icon Richard Matheson, but one of the movie’s many problems is that director Richard Kelly apparently doesn’t find that premise interesting enough to sustain his film. That seems inherently pithy, considering that Matheson’s story Button, Button has been adapted for The Twilight Zone and as a radio play for CBS Mystery Theatre – there must have been something there. Instead, Kelly uses the eponymous box as a jumping off point into what can only really be described as “abstractsville”, taking a left at “crazy town”. There are moments in this film which work, but they are few and far between – there are large stretches of time when it is just infuriating.

James Marsden counts up the box office receipts... they aren't good...

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Non-Review Review: My Sister’s Keeper

Dying kids are a story device that should always be considered very carefully before you use them as a storytelling device. On one level it’s because it’s a very tough blow to deal the audience, but – on a more sophisticated level – because it can horribly misfire and seem like blatant emotional manipulation. Which, in fairness, all movie-making is – but you don’t want the audience cottoning on to that fact or you’re ruined. The illusion is shattered. Unfortunately My Sister’s Keeper isn’t smart enough to be aware of either of these risks in framing a story around a dying child suffering from cancer, so it smashes through both ideas like two large window panes before staggering blindly through the china shop of the tangental moral issues it raises. And yes, even those awkward and ham-fisted analogies I just fed you are more subtle than the movie itself.

Cameron Diaz really wants the part of Blofeld in Bond 23...

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