Thursday, 22 February 2007

The Barbarian Invasions - GG

The Barbarian Invasions (Sun SBS 930P) is easily GG-movie-of-the-week. Winner of the 2004 Best Foreign Film Oscar (French Canadian), it tells the story of Remy, dying in a hospital bed in a Montreal hospital. A “rambunctious socialist” all his life, he is surrounded by his son, Sebastien, a “modern capitalist” and a collection of old friends and lovers.
A reunion of sorts for the cast and crew of 1989’s Jesus of Montreal, this film mixes its challenging scenes with “great warmth and acerbic wit.”

Extra, Extra - do you want to read all about it ?

Extras (Wed ABC 9P), season two, ran its second ep. last night. While it is unusual for me to watch too many TV shows too often, I did watch all of season one last year and was prepared to tune in again this year. So far I don’t think its working for me.
In season one, Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) played the straight man as an ‘extra’ on film sets, waiting for his big break. Season two stakes a lot of its comedy on Andy’s (intentionally) camp, “lowest common denominator” weekly sitcom : a sort of modern day On The Buses. We are encouraged to laugh at the sitcom while Andy sits back depressed and says “its crap.” Unfortunately, that’s not funny.
Where Extras still derives almost all of its good comedy is from its cameos of bona fide stars willing to appear as ‘themselves.’ Orlando Bloom in week 1 was desperately trying to convince Maggie (Ashley Jensen), Andy’s sweet natured, simple minded friend, that he was deserving of the tag as Britain’s most “shaggable” star. Orlando’s humiliation at Maggie’s rejection sent himself up beautifully while ultimately playing on Maggie’s character comedy too.
Last night, David Bowie appeared briefly and led a sing-along about a “sad, little, fat man.” The public humiliation of Andy was the show getting back to its ‘roots.’ All too briefly however.
The promo for next week’s show doesn’t look that appealing frankly and while I am hoping it improves, if it fails to generate enough “laffs” then I will be consigning Extras to the “okay while it lasted” TV box of history.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Anagram from TV Tasty Knows

Penelope Cruz Sanchez := Nup, Cheap Screen Lezzo

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Disasters aplenty - GG

The Day After Tomorrow (Fri 7 830P) should be enjoyed only for its CGI spectacles, as significant American landmarks are destroyed, piece by piece - even if you have to endure Dennis Quaid as a “scientist”. I dare say this cliched, cross-state trek to save his son, let’s-throw-in-a-vapid-love-interest, disaster movie is fully deserving of its 47% RT rating but ‘big and dumb’ is okay sometimes. From the director of both Independence Day and Godzilla, Roland Emmerich has the ‘big and dumb’ section of the market cornered.
Speaking of ‘big and dumb’, Saturday night sees the 3 ½ hour 1977 epic of A Bridge Too Far (7 1150P) which stars every conceivable male “name” of that era : Michael Caine, Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Anthony Hopkins, Elliott Gould, Edward Fox, Gene Hackman, Laurence Olivier. Throw in Norwegian goddess Liv Ullmann and director Richard Attenborough, who cares what it is actually about ? [A recreation of the failed campaign by British and American troops to enter Germany during WW2, if you did actually care what it was about]

Superman Returns - Please Don't

"Superman Is Dead” screams the headline of the Daily Planet, employer of Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen (not the prime piece of St Kilda real estate (stock code PPN)).
You will not be surprised to learn that there is a significant proportion of the American population who consider Superman to be an allegory of the Christian story : Son sent from out of this world to offer redemption from evil; can do super human feats – you get the idea. The religious iconography doesn’t end with mere inference either.
In Superman Returns (you will notice too how modern day film producers do not number sequels, such as Superman 57 or Rocky 112, they give them actual titles, eg Rocky Balboa, because the punters (that’s us) think that sequels are crap and that films with individual titles are cool … or something like that), anyway, in Superman Returns, Superman saves the world (and himself) by casting the kryptonite infused crystal continent into outer space. Dying (because of said kryptonite), he falls back down to earth, arms outstretched to form a super-crucifix, with his red cape flapping about him to look like spilled blood.
Naturally, falling to earth from outer space would be enough to crush most people but this is Superman after all. Rushed to emergency, the ECG’s blow up when administered to his super-chest, needles bend when attempts to inject into his super-biceps fail and the heart rate monitor flat lines. Superman is dead.
But, like Hulk Hogan in many a super wrestling bout (I half expected to see the hand go up and the fingers raised 1, 2, 3, just like the Hulk but not on this occasion) the Super Man ain’t Super Dead, he’s just waiting for a bit of a pep talk from Lois and the boy who can seemingly cross police lines and enter an ICU with no-one to stop them.

Kevin Spacey plays Lex Luther, Superman’s arch-nemesis, and he gets all of the good lines. On song, Kevin Spacey’s manic insouciance is better than anyone’s. When played against Parker Posey’s simple minded blonde, Kitty Kowalski, you do get some good comedy :
Lex : Kitty, what did my father always say ?
Kitty : “You’re losing your hair”
Lex : Before that.
Kitty : "Get out" ?
It was a pity therefore that Lex is caricatured in his last scene on a desert island. But don’t worry, also like the Hulk (two Hulks ? well go figure) he’s still breathing and will find a way to get back for Superman Returns Returns.

Brandon Routh who plays Superman bears an uncanny resemblance to Christopher Reeve and is believable in the role – for the record, it wasn’t Routh’s acting that made the whole thing unbelievable, if you can reason that out.

In truth I’m a bit sick of the heart wrenching, hand wringing, stoic, I’ll Go It Alone, heroism of our super heroes who spurn their lady loves for super deeds (think Spiderman and Kirsten Dunst … although perhaps its Kirsten Dunst. Jason Schwartzman as King Louis didn’t want to go KD either). At least we reflect that Superman got a little bit of super-action in one of the (three hundred) prequels because Lois Lane has clearly given birth to a mini-super-me. Wouldn’t Lois have worked out the whole Superman/Clark Kent thing ? Or is he a super-lover with a super-you-know-what that Lois didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about anything else ?
And while we’re on the boy, why would an 8 year old spend so much time in his parent’s work place, the news room ? Doesn’t he have school or day care and why doesn’t the cranky boss, Mr White, get cranky about that when he gets cranky about everything else ?

And one more thing, if Superman really was a super-deity, then how do they explain the moral issue of people dying in freak accidents all around the world when the best Superman can do is attend one incident at a time, albeit at super-speeds ? And then, only at night time (because he’s posing as Clark Kent during the day). And given his singular presence (more like an angel, less like an omnipresent God) how does he know who needs super-saving ? If he was that super-clever, why doesn’t he find Lex on his desert island and have him locked up in Guantanamo Bay or somewhere ? That’s the American Way.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

In No Man's Land - GG

Welcome to GG in 2007 – our weekly highlight package of what’s on the box, inspired by Thursday's Green Guide.
Below you will find many entries about What I Did In The Holiday’s and regular readers are invited to make relevant contributions (regularly or not) which will be posted here :- rants, film reviews, TV likes, you know, the usual.
I note a return of Ricky Gervais’ Extras (Wed 2 9P), the first ep. starring Orlando Bloom, which will be of interest to many.
No Man’s Land (Tue SBS 12am-midnight) is a 2001 Bosnian black comedy which pitches one Serb and one Bosnian soldier into a disused bunker, in no man’s land, between the two lines. The UN, the media and the two sides are all ‘targeted’ as is the absurdity of war. The absurdity of “having a referee traipsing about a battlefield in the middle of a war works only on paper” and provides a “sharp and bitter comment.”
For mine however, I will be sure to tape Journey Into Fear (Thu 2 120A) which teams up Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles immediately after The Magnificent Ambersons and Citizen Kane. “The film is as good as Hitchcock, with the unmistakeable stamp of Welles all over it. Great editing keeps it as tight as a tourniquet at 70 minutes.”

Post Script - and don't forget to go "over the page" for the final post on what I did in the holiday's regarding Happy Feet !

Rabel Watch - Socceroos Vs Denmark

I was glad (with hindsight) that I did not wake early yesterday morning to watch Australia v Denmark in a “friendly” from London. 3-0 down at half time would have dented even the most hardy fan. Despite having a population of Melbourne, Denmark have a football team ranked at #21 (Australia at #39), are gearing up for European Cup qualifiers, were at full strength while Australia were missing many of their World Cup stars.
Still, by all accounts it was a sloppy first half from the Socceroos (as if 0-3 isn’t evidence of that enough) who tightened up considerably in the second half and scored one consolation goal. With another couple of practice matches (at least) on home soil before the Asian Cup starts mid-year, the Socceroos will be better for the hit out.

What I Did In The Holidays - The Queen

The Queen : Helen Mirren will deserve her best actress Oscar when it is presented later in the month. Not that a current performance always has much to do with winning an Oscar. Usually seen as a reward for many fine efforts, longevity or for an overlooked gem (which is why Marty Scorsese will win Best Director, not because The Departed is necessarily that deserving), Mirren does actually produce a performance that is every bit as good as anything she has done and no other nominee has done better.
While the make-up department make Mirren look like Her Maj., it is her poise and manner of speaking that make it easy to accept her in that role. And so it is with the other main characters : Tony Blair, Prince Charles and Prince Philip. While none of the actors who play these roles look exactly like the person whom they are playing, unlike Mirren who does, it does not take long before their speech patterns and style allow us to become involved in the drama and not be continuously challenging who we see on screen.
While the script takes some liberties in suggesting that England was on the verge of a revolt toward the monarchy after Diana died, it carefully and evenly fleshs out what might have happened behind the scenes. In particular with conversations between the prime minister and his monarch.
For me, having lived through the experience of Diana’s death as an adult (unlike say, JFK’s assassination which occurred before my time) the film transported me back to my emotions and memories of that time. I was surprised in 1997 how affected I was by Diana’s death (not having known her personally or particularly caring about the royal family, one way or another) and perhaps more so, how affected so many thousands of others were. A great sequence in the film is the slow build up of flowers outside of Buckingham Palace : thousands upon thousands of bouquets piled up in front of the gate. It is this emotional attachment to the film that allows me to recommend it more strongly than just another character drama with fine acting.

What I Did In The Holidays - Volver

Volver : Pedro Almodovar is rightly regarded as one of Spain’s greatest film directors. With previous titles, Talk To Her and All About My Mother, both quite dark in mood, Almodovar signalled a change in attitude with Volver. Fun, colourful and a (mostly) happy ending allow the cast of women, headed by Penelope Cruz, to do what women do best : talk to each other.
It is true that Cruz, speaking her native tongue and asked to perform roles with which she has some affinity, demonstrates a capable acting range. Aided by padded hips and a push-up bra, displays real woman curves for the first time and young master rabel might have to compete for her attention! Almodovar, a gay man with a love for “the women that raised him,” loves breasts and one key shot of Cruz, leaning over the sink, is a testament to women, their breasts and everything that we love about them. Perhaps it is also instructive to note that Cruz was cleaning a bloodied knife while we were ogling her? These women are capable.
By populating a film solely with women (the men are dispatched early on in proceedings), Almodovar tells the story of a family of women loving, encouraging and confronting each other. All in all it is quite good but never quite gets to “great” for me.

What I Did In The Holidays - Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette : The third feature of Sofia Coppola (Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation) and I had high hopes, being a fan of LIT. Kirsten Dunst, appearing again for Coppola after her role as the eldest sister in the Virgin Suicides, does well enough with the role given to her, as Marie, although in truth, the period tracked in the film (from her wedding to immediately prior to her incarceration and ultimate beheading) is hardly the most compelling, story wise.
What the story does demonstrate is the enormously absurd ritual that surrounded the royal family in Versailles in the fifteenth century and how dislocated they were from the people they were required to rule. Not so dissimilarly to Borat (below), they wouldn’t know a common person if they fell over one in the palace garden.
The colour and costume and palatial wealth is captured in this film but neither Dunst, nor Jason Schwartzman as her husband, King Louis, can quite save an otherwise bland script. This is a pity because some of the best rendered images on screen are the food (cake gets a knowing glance at least twice) which look anything but bland.

What I Did In The Holidays - Borat

Borat : The truth is that I didn’t find Borat that funny. Its just not my sort of humour. And for the record, I watched the first hour and was happy to leave it there. With the benefit of some reflection however I can appreciate what a clever man Borat’s alter ego, Sacha Baron Cohen, really is.
On screen we see Borat as a somewhat bumbling, naïve but determined Kazakhstanie, travel to America to understand its culture and be better able to help his homeland. Borat hates Jews, gays and the neighbouring Uzbeks but it becomes clear he recognises neither when he meets them later on. He is as much a product of his cultural upbringing as any of us.
It those ‘cultural differences’ that Cohen exploits as Borat to embarrass or provoke his American hosts that provides the staple of his humour in this film (for example, interviewing a group of New York feminists about the role of woman in society).
Where I found Cohen to be sharpest however was his aim to highlight how xenophobic and reactionary we can all be when we rely only what we have been told and do not challenge issues in our own minds.
At the rodeo, we can almost see Cohen think, ‘right, you guys are going to get it,’ after being confronted by the rodeo chief who asks if Borat is a Muslim : “You’re not a Mus-lim are you fellah ? That mus-tache sure makes you look like one. We don’t care for them types here.” The local man misses Borat’s response when he says follows the mighty hawk. It is clear that this man has never met a Muslim and wouldn’t know one even if one rode up on a horse.
Invited to sing the Kazakhstanie national anthem at the rodeo, Borat first tells the crowd how delighted he is by their “terror war” and escalates his remarks to be more and more outrageous. While not sure if they misheard or misunderstood, most of the crowd’s initial, lusty cheers are met with confusion. Finally they boo him off stage when he sings the national anthem to the tune of Stars and Stripes : “Kazakhstan, greatest country in the world, all other countries are run by the gays…”
Cohen modifies his behaviour depending on who he is talking to, a subtlety I suspect Borat would be unable to discern. To the black street gang he is respectful and not quite so provocative. To the well-bred he is as politically incorrect as he can be all the while demonstrating a keen sense of timing and humourous one liners.

What I Did In The Holidays - Flushed Away

Flushed Away : from the Aardman (Wallace and Grommit) stable, this animated feature (with computer graphics, not clay) is a James Bond spoof and a lot of fun for adults. Plenty of gags, as many in front of the camera as in the background make this worthwhile. Unfortunately the three younger members of the GGBlog family lost interest making this effort more appropriately pitched for ‘upper-primary’ and up. By contrast, we also watched the much maligned Disney effort, Home On the Range, their last hand drawn animation which is very much aimed at the ‘lower-primary’ age and they loved it. Roseanne Barr and Judi Dench are the lead cows in this fun Western who go in search of the baddies to save their farm. The country music is great too with tracks from k.d.lang, Bonnie Raitt and Tim McGraw.

What I Did In The Holidays - Happy Feet

Happy Feet : Unfortunately I have to say this song and dance animated feature was a disappointment. The animation itself is first rate and the depiction of the South Pole as a wonderland is excellent.
Do I really want to sit through animated, song and dance routines though ? Yes, they’re catchy. Yes, the voices are appropriate (Hugh Jackman, Elijah Wood, Nicole [only a small role and not enough to get excited about … pity], Robin Williams – a bright spot with his brand of comedy pitched at just the right level). No, it just doesn’t sustain interest. And the ending – urgh ! What a terrible way to end. “Quick, lets cram in an environmental message, go for “happy” and play the ‘get out of jail free’ card.”