Thursday, 27 April 2006

In the mood for love

Movie highlight for the week is Hong Kong director Kar Wai Wong’s In the Mood for Love (Wed SBS 10P). This movie is effectively the prequel (or at least companion piece) to last year’s 2046 which received some air time. Not surprisingly Margaret and David loved it (and by inference In the Mood for Love – read some of Margaret’s gushing and you’ll see why). Both films have the same male character, played by Tony Leung, who falls for Maggie Cheung in the first and Zhang Ziyi in the second (and quite frankly, who wouldn’t?). In the Mood for Love is beautifully shot, Cheung’s “early 1960s dresses utterly stunning” and the musical theme “striking”. Take the chance to watch this otherwise relatively hard to get film before venturing down to the local library to watch 2046.
Whale Rider (Sun 7 830P) stars an impressive Keisha Castle-Hughes (nominated for an Oscar for her performance) in what effectively is a coming of age story within an indigenous community (in this case the New Zealand Maoris) and challenging long held traditions and beliefs.
Try to avoid View from the Top, Beverly Hills Cop III, Cats & Dogs and Mission Impossible II. Ocean’s Eleven (Sat 9 930P) is a good fun heist movie starring George and Brad (yes, you know who they are) but that is as far as you are allowed to go.

Rabel Watch

With only 35 sleeps until the no-more-sleep World Cup starts, SBS is kick starting another soccer doco build-up with More Than a Game (Sat SBS 730P).

Funland - TV

I’m also taken a little bit with what Funland (Mon SBS 10P) might offer. The creators say that they are inspired by the likes of David Lynch and the Coen Brothers (good) but admit that some of the contrivances at the end of each episode are a little soap-ish in their application (not good). Maybe its worth a week or two to find out.

Thursday, 20 April 2006

Robert Altman and Magwitch

Honoured at last year’s Academy Awards for “a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike,” [in short, for not honouring him for M*A*S*H, Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts or Gosford Park], Robert Altman has a long and distinguished career as a filmmaker. Gosford Park (Sun 7 830P) is the pick of the week and stars an absolute who’s-who of British Casting Central Inc. : Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen and so it goes on.
Bad Eggs (Sat 9 915P) is a knock-about Aussie detective comedy starring Mick Molloy and directed by his mate Tony Martin, followed by Waking Ned Devine (Sat 9 1115P) which is a knock-about Irish comedy starring David Kelly, Ian Bannen and Fionnula Flanagan.
Great British film director, David Lean (Brief Encounter, Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago – to name just some) brings Dicken’s Great Expectations (Thu 2 1230A) alive, “one of the best British films of all time.” Stars a young John Mills and Jean Simmons (see Howl), Alec Guinness and Finlay Currie as Magwitch.
And for fans of Indian culture and life, Inside Australia : Wedding Sari Showdown (Wed SBS 730P) looks like an intriguing documentary on “love, tradition, cultural clashes and notions of femininity and identity.” It follows a couple as they marry three times. The first at a Melbourne registry office, “simply and secretly”; the second a Punjabi Sikh celebration in Melbourne with the groom’s family and then finally a “Bollywood-style extravaganza” in India with the bride’s family.


When reviewers do comedy, sometimes it’s funny. Here is Fergus Shiel’s review of next week’s ep. of Lost :
“I could tell you that this episode will reveal much about Eko’s violent past, shed light on his mysterious 40-day vow of silence, crack the secret of the Virgin Mary statues and give Claire reason to doubt Charlie’s commitment to the straight and narrow. But I know [that] all you diehard Lost fans want to hear is that Kate gives Sawyer a much-needed haircut and that has to mean they’re going to get hot and jiggy.”

Wednesday, 19 April 2006


Howl’s Moving Castle, the latest Japanese animated feature from legend creator/director Hayao Miyazaki has recently been released on DVD after its cinematic run during 2005.
The story follows the adventures of Sophie, a young, “plain” looking hat maker who, while walking home from work down the backstreets is met by two soldiers, on leave from the war that is breaking out across the country. Amidst their attempts to “chat-up” young Sophie (and not taking no for an answer), a dashing wizard (Howl) comes alongside here, rids her of the soldiers and escorts her to safety.
Howl is being pursued however by evil-looking black slime creatures, minions of the Witch of the Waste (voiced in the English speaking version by Lauren Becall) and only affects their escape by flying into the air. Unfortunately young Sophie, now seen as an ally to Howl, is visited late at night by the witch herself who casts a malicious spell, aging Sophie by 75 years with no known means of reversing the curse.
And so begins the journey of Howl’s Moving Castle. With bones cracking, complaints about the cold and the inherent frailty of an elderly woman, Sophie sets off into the wild country in search of Howl and his moving castle. It is here that Miyazaki does his best work. With vivid landscapes and quirky characters he is the very best of what Disney can offer without the need to dumb-down his ideas or overlay his concepts so that he is exclusively understood by primary aged viewers. It is very much for the sophisticated movie watcher that Miyazaki does his best work.
The castle itself is a collection of improbable moving parts, metallic chicken-like legs, great moulded hubs that form rooms and powered by a cartoon-like fire spirit, Calcifer, (Billy Crystal who does not go over the top and in fact plays his comic part with just the right degree of dignity). Sophie (voiced by 77 year old Jean Simmons – she of Robert Mitchum’s femme fatale in 1952’s Angel Face and a hundred other screen credits) begins her new life as a member of the moving castle in addition to Howl (voiced by Christian Bale), junior apprentice Markl, and a helpful, mute scarecrow affectionately dubbed Turnip Head (who in turn happens to be under a spell and, with spell reversed, appears as the king’s nephew at the end of the movie and agrees to stop the war – how’s that for a deus ex machina ?).
Often Miyazaki is not just looking for entertainment in his films but to convey a serious message – usually about the environment (take for example Princess Mononoke or Nausicaa Valley of the Winds). In this one his not so subtle lens takes in the destructive stupidity of war and how it is perpetuated by vain and selfish men and women. Each character in the moving castle is battling their own spell (some of their own making) and it is the personal stories that are the most vividly drawn whereas the global story of war and governments is only drawn in broad brush strokes. Some of the interplay between Howl and his role in the war is indistinct and esoteric and it is here that the storyline foundered. I recall having a similar level of disengagement during some of Miyazaki’s other stories where giant armies are facing one another.
The beauty and majesty of the Miyazaki canvas however is in the detail : the water from the lake lapping the shore and washing over the smooth pebbles; the field of wild flowers swaying in the wind; the clouds of smoke billowing from the steam train as it pulls into the station. These images are spectacular and are the absolute highlights of the Miyazaki experience and Howl’s Moving Castle does not disappoint.

Thursday, 13 April 2006


With Easter the time when a ratings-truce is called among the networks and a chance to screen of some clunky, old fashioned bearded Jesus' monologues in a dusty Judean back-lot, this year (amongst the new Moses mini-series) is the screening of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (Sun 7 1030P).
While all films that use religion as their subject draw fire from one corner or another, and this one no exception, I think The Passion is a really good film, one that I own a copy of and one that I recommend to others to watch.
A lot was made of its Catholicism (Gibson is a "serious" Catholic), violence and anti-Semitism but I think all three of those issues are either not true or non-issues and the message it sends is far more powerful; it goes above and beyond the small-mindedness of some of its critics.
I have seen plenty of films that I would regard as more violent and more bloody (Saving Private Ryan or Seven to name just two, both equally well made and confronting) however The Passion is a brutal movie. It is the Romans (and not the Jews) that attract your ire because they are relentless in their brutality. And they know it. And they don't care.
The film's basis in the Catholic faith does not detract from the viewing experience for me (even though it adds to the "story behind the story" for those interested). What The Passion does, in my opinion, is give you a very real account of what Jesus went through and reinforces why it is a big deal. For the christian, Jesus death is more than just an historic incident or religious anomaly, it is the very core of their faith. Jesus, as God's son (and in reality God himself {as part of the trinity}) was killed so that God could have the perfect sacrifice for mankind's sinfulness (the separation from God). Jesus coming back to life (on Sunday, the "third day") demonstrates God's power over death and allows believers, through their living saviour, to be in relationship with God.
What this film presents is what Jesus (also God) went through to redeem mankind back to himself. The beatings, the humiliation, the accusations, the death. It was a big deal. When I watched this I found that I could not separate my own belief (as a christian) from an objective movie watching experience. I identified with the character on screen and this reinforced my faith. It furthers my contention that this film was in fact made for a christian audience as there is every chance that non-christians will either not relate to the story or see the point in the journey taken. Certainly there were enough non-christian film critics who did not like the film one bit. Was this objective criticism of the film itself or as much a criticism of the faith shown on screen ? Hard to say. Like all things one must (often) make up their own mind.
The story starts in the garden of Gethsemane. It is here that Jesus prays quietly before dawn, aware of what lies before him but receives little comfort. His mates are sleeping nearby, offering no moral nor spiritual support. The tranquillity of the early morning is a strong and slow counterpoint to the bright sunshine and loud noise that overtakes the story later on. It is here that Jesus meets Satan, a fallen angel who is no way equal to Jesus but capable of menace and also looking to win men's souls. Here he tempts Jesus to give it away however he does not realise God's master plan (of death and re-birth) which will once and for all thwart the devil's power. Satan re-appears at different times in the movie, always at a slight distance, always quietly watching the events as they unfold and always amidst the trouble. At the end of the Gethsemane sequence, just before the guards come to arrest Jesus, Satan turns into a snake and Jesus crushes his head with his heal. This highlights so many biblical truths that it is not possible to elucidate them now however here is one little verse from the very start of the biblical timeline. Gen 3:15
In addition to acting out Jesus' last 12 hours, the film has three or four flashbacks which are the only concession Gibson makes to contextualising Jesus' earthly ministry. As I am very familiar with the bible's teachings on Jesus life, I found the flashbacks enough to tie in what has happened up to this point with why he is enduring these punishments. There is one flashback that occurs just as Jesus is being nailed to the cross where (I think, I haven't seen it in twelve months) this image segues with Jesus explaining why he came to earth and why he must die - that is, to save mankind and redeem them to God. This is the power of the movie and why I highly recommend it.

Thursday, 6 April 2006


Now its one thing to put your prime shows on during an event like the Commonwealth Games to steal as many ratings points as possible (they didn't) but then quite another to take them off for a week (or two) once said event is over. That is what channel 7 have done this coming week (it is the build up to Easter and maybe some folk fast from TV for Lent ?) with their three high profile shows: Desperate Housewives/Prison Break/Lost. What's more, in a nod to those who might have "come in late" they have highlight shows for DH and PB as a service to those who feel as though they can't start watching because they don't know the whole story (they're not called highlight shows of course, too mundane, for example : "DH : All the Juicy Details"). I suspect these interruptions will only serve to disenfranchise faithful viewers.
And in a bid to rival True Lies on ch.10 (not really, no one is that close), ABC is once again showing the only film noir they have in the cupboard : Angel Face (ABC Thur 1230A) starring Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons. This is at least the third time (and quite possibly fourth) that it has been shown in the last 2 years.

Generally speaking it is going to have to be a pretty good documentary for me to watch that in preference to a fictional movie (even a bad one at that) but that is the promise of The Gleaners and I (SBS Tue 10P). Someone who gleans, gathers remains (for example of ears of corn left by reapers) or collects something left behind in small quantities or perhaps as a reporter scrapes together facts. French documentary maker Agnes Varda has made a "wise, playful, humorous and witty" documentary that includes herself as one of its subjects, "not just to advance the story or to commentate but to add an extra dimension to her inquiry."
Following this is a followup documentary on the first's subjects, two years later. If you enjoy the first 90 minutes then I suspect you will be tempted to go the next 90.