Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Wrestler movie review

The Wrestler is Mickey Rourke’s movie. A big time wrestler in the 80’s, Randy “The Ram” Robinson is now in his 50s and still wrestles, hoping for one more shot at the big time. Its the one thing he can do well and he lives for the roar and adulation of the crowd.
Yes, we all know that wrestling is “fake”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real or it doesn’t hurt. Each time you hit the canvas, or get hit with a fold-up chair, or any of the other creative ways the pros use to entertain you, the wrestler still has to take the blow, get up, and do it again. And the strains of this entertainment are starting to show. The Ram's body is scarred from ring mishaps of years past; the muscle tissue is starting to weaken and tear from years of abuse; and the drugs to repair the damage, build the muscle and eat the fat, are common place. Back stage, its not a glamorous lifestyle and the pay for his efforts is solely dependent on the gate – often not a lot of reward for his effort.
Rourke is such a physical actor. His body is as much a part of the role as any words he has to say. His big shoulders, square jaw and scarred brow all play the role. And you know too, or at least deeply suspect, that Rourke is doing all his own stunts. Each crunch is hurting.
The other notable performance, also a physical role, is stripper/friend Cassidy, played by Marisa Tomei. Striking to look at, 44 year old Tomei puts her body on the line. She is every bit as gutsy and compelling as Rourke, in a support role.
The director is Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) who revels in the dark hallways or crowded change rooms that twist and turn before leading out onto the glittering pole-dancing stage or the brightly lit wrestling ring.
The story tracks The Ram through the final stage of his wrestling life as he tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter and make something of his relationship with Cassidy. It is straightforward enough. There is some humour, especially in the early wrestling scenes where each opposing pair works out their moves beforehand.
The power and appeal of this film however is in the dominating hulk that is Mickey Rourke and is worth every cent watching him strut his stuff. 4 out of 5.
The film is due out in Australia in January. Many thanks to Hopscotch Films for the preview.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

James Bond Quantum of Solace movie review

I must confess to finding some of the detail of this latest Bond jaunt a little confusing. As such I won’t try and write a complete review. I will leave that for the more distinguished members of the Bond alumni such as old friend Veejay.
Some reflections then: Daniel Craig has ushered in a new Bond and with it none of the cool charm of previous incarnations. Gone are the scrapes but no bruises, the witty asides that cause the girl to go weak at the knees and the fawning of Miss Moneypenny and Q. This Bond faces a series of assaults that are anything but fun. He doesn’t sleep for days on end, is covered in welts from the various beatings, and manages to over compensate the level of force required by killing each possible lead, one after the other.
Apparently there is some international terrorist group called Quantum although we don’t get many insights into this throughout the movie. I assume they will rival Goldfinger when its all said and done but that must be for the next movie.
The Americans just want the oil and don’t care who they get it from. The Haitian coup leader is a nasty piece of work, and the French business man (Mathieu Amalric) will extort any or all. No wonder there’s trouble in the Home Office with M (Judi Dench) wanting to believe that Bond can sort it all out before the Minister outmanoeuvres her and closes their operation down.
I must say though, if nothing else, you must admire his “can do” attitude. Handcuffed in a lift surrounded by Secret Service goons? No worries. Just knock them out and away you go. Caught in a gas fired inferno with the roof crashing down around you? Don’t panic. Say a few quiet words to the girl your protecting, aim your gun at a cylinder and “Pow!” the wall explodes and out you jump. Apparently you don’t have to worry about the odd little thing like machine gun bullets too, either from a moving speedboat or motor vehicle. They can’t shoot straight anyway.
All the action sequences were filmed by “shaky hand Steve” with 2 second cuts. This made watching any of the chase or fight scenes very disorientating. My deeply held belief is that this kind of “kinetic”, “adrenaline charged” camera work is merely covering poorly choreographed action and they don’t want you to realise it! The rest of the film, you’ll be pleased to know, was shot perfectly normally.
It is also a great thrill with these modern action type films when they shoot on location, around the world. In Quantum, you have a little of Italy, Austria, Chile, Panama and Mexico.
Broadly I got what I expected out of a Bond film. Lots of big action and one superhero who can take them all down. The Bond franchise desperately needed a re-boot. Each Bond film was becoming a cliché of itself. This new series with Craig has given fans a gritty agent who really only wants to do it for “God, Queen and country.”

In the Garden, in the Rain

On the wettest day in Melbourne in the whole of 2008 and close to the wettest day in December, ever, young Curly and I weeded under the play equipment and moved one cubic metre of tan bark to cover the ground. Timing!
The remaining two cubic metres of mulch will go on the front garden beds tomorrow afternoon, after they have had a good soak.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

In Defence of Luhrmann's Australia and Nicole

There is an abundance of negative publicity surrounding Baz Luhrmann’s latest film, ‘Australia’.
Tall Poppies
Criticism of ‘Australia’ seems to be strongest from the high brow movie watcher who appear guilty of a local cringe factor. It puts me in mind of the national consciousness in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony where a similar negativity was leapt upon by a waiting media, always happy to push any measure of bad news. And with headlines that scream “Australia disappoints at box office”, who can resist a knowing nod?
With a reported cost of $130m to make and promote the film, there is no doubt that this one film has cost more than any other Australian film. Coupled with a calculated business drive to promote the film heavily, which is unusual for Australian films, the nation’s “tall poppy syndrome” has been quick to set in.
Luhrmann’s use of Australian actors is welcome and his portrayal of outback landscapes is appealing. It is no wonder that Tourism Australia were keen to align themselves to his vision.
Despite the high price tag and popular nature of this film it has been far from a failure. In its first week alone its box office takings were in the order of $10m in Australia alone. It will run for a few weeks yet into the summer holidays and that figure doesn’t take into account any overseas takings either.
Contrast this with the Australian films nominated in the Best Film category at last weekend’s Australian Film Institute awards : The Black Balloon, The Jammed, The Square and Unfinished Sky. Have you heard of any of these films? Let alone actually watched any of them? Perhaps you have heard of The Black Balloon (which won best picture) or Joel & Nash Edgerton’s The Square, and that because they were advertised in some way more than the others. Their combined box office takings however are $3.9m. Total.
Furthermore their themes are broadly consistent with many Australian films of recent times, darker in tone and more serious in nature. By all accounts they are very fine films but do I, as a potential audience member, get excited about the prospect of seeing something dour and downbeat? To be sure, I will be watching these films as they hit our DVD shelves, if for no other reason than because they are Australian films, but don’t tell me that somehow they are success stories (other than the actual success of getting them made which is no small feat in and of itself) while ‘Australia’ is a failure. In every way ‘Australia’ outpoints these other films: in its profile, its popular sensibility and its takings.
The Nicole factor
The other reaction against ‘Australia’ is that of Nicole Kidman. For some reason she is ‘on the nose’ of Australian audiences and that is counting against the film.
As you all know, I am a fan of Nicole and have been for a long time and I don’t back away from that now.
I think the reasons for this anti-Nicole sentiment is two fold. The first is her tabloid profile and regular folks are heartily sick of seeing her mug on the cover of every women’s magazine. Being married to Tom Cruise placed her in the echelon of uber-celebrity and she has been a target ever since.
As an adjunct to that, facial surgery in early 2000s, initially (I believe) to reshape her nose and since then, who knows what else, has resulted in a face with no blemish or wrinkle. Certainly the absence of any “laughter lines” or the like give opportunity for people to complain of an expressionless, “plastic” face. Ironically she has the appearance of a Stepford Wife, a role she played in 2004.
Secondly, the movies in which she has played a part in recent years have not been either critically or popularly acclaimed.
Kidman’s great film roles occurred around the time of her break up with Cruise and which garnered a Best Actress Oscar : The Hours, Dogville, The Human Stain, Cold Mountain and Birth. The dark subject matter was more than met with the dark moods of her personal life. They were powerful and serious storylines.
Since then, lighter tones and more popular offerings that sadly have been less impressive: The Stepford Wives, The Interpreter, Bewitched, Fur, The Invasion and Margot at the Wedding.
All I will say in defence of Kidman and her choice of roles is that she takes risks. I can only imagine that an actress with her profile would be offered countless roles in blockbuster, ‘James Bond’ type movies. The fact that she has done very few of those types of films, and none recently, should be marked as a credit but it is not recognised.
For example, with Fur, she took the opportunity to work with director Steven Shainberg whose previous success was with the controversial and independent film Secretary. Fur turned about to be a bit too quirky for its own good.
Margot, to work with Noah Baumbach whose previous success was with The Squid and the Whale. Margot was a hard script to work through and would have sunk irrespective of the cast.
I believe that the opportunity to work on an Australian film and support the local industry was behind her motivation to work on ‘Australia’ and before that ‘Happy Feet.’
I tend to judge the success of an actor very simply. If, at the end of a movie, I am satisfied that I believed what I was seeing, then it’s a ‘pass’. It is my opinion that Kidman remains a fine actress although not every film she has appeared in, has worked.
In conclusion, I comfortably rate ‘Australia’ as a 3 out of 4 star movie. The fact that it is an Australian film that highlights our history and addresses some of our current day issues is to be celebrated and enjoyed.

You can read my review of 'Australia' here.

Movie Reviews : A-K

My Top 12 movies of the 2000s
All The President's Men
An Andalusian Dog (La chien Andalou)
Aussie Rules


Bad Boy Bubby
The Ballad of Narayama
Bangkok Hilton
The Black Balloon
The Book of Revelation
The Bourne Ultimatum
Bran Nue Dae
The Class
Cold Mountain
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess
Flags of Our Fathers / Letters from Iwo Jima
Flushed Away
Frozen River
Ghost Dog : The Way of the Samurai
Gosford Park
Gran Torino
Happy Feet
El Heist Grande
Howls Moving Castle
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
In The Loop
The Jammed
Jim Jarmusch retrospective
Kill Bill Vol. 1

Movie Reviews : L - Z

Movie Reviews : L-Z

Lady Vengeance

The Last Station
Letters from Iwo Jima / Flags of Our Fathers
Little Sparrows
The Loved Ones
Man On Wire
Marie Antoinette
The Matilda Candidate
The Natural
Paranormal Activity
The Passion of the Christ
The Princess and the Frog
Punch Drunk Love
James Bond Quantum of Solace
The Queen
Rachel Getting Married
The Reader
Requiem for a Dream
Revolutionary Road
Romper Stomper
Hitchcock's Sabotage
Slumdog Millionaire
The Square
Superman Returns
Team America
The Tree
Tristan + Isolde
Unfinished Sky
Van Dieman's Land
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Visitor
Waltz With Bashir
The White Ribbon
Winter's Bone
The Wrestler
Zidane : a 21st Century Portrait

Movie Reviews : A - K

Friday, 5 December 2008

Bad Boy Bubby movie review

Rolf De Heer is one of Australia’s most talented and diverse filmmakers. From the race conscious Tracker, to the silent-era homage Dr Plonk, De Heer utilises local talent to make Australian films crossing genre and style. Ten Canoes is set exclusively in the Northern Territory and tells a coming of age story about passion and respect amongst a tribe of indigenous Australians; Alexandra’s Project is a revenge thriller set in the suburbs.
And then there’s Bad Boy Bubby.
I am not so easily horrified by films. Indeed, only last weekend I watched an Asian horror film about evil spirits that barely flickered above the ho-hum. The first half hour of Bubby however made me repulsed by the squalor and abuse and I questioned whether or not I would make it to the end of the film. I could sense however that in a perverse way, De Heer was having some fun with us. It is as though he said to himself, “Now, just how putrid and disturbing can we make this scene?”
Bubby, played by Nicholas Hope, is an idiot savant who has been locked in a one bedroom cell for 35 years by his mother who shares the room, her bath and bed with him. Her psychological abuse is unrelenting and her slaps and punches leave him cowering. She prevents him from leaving by wearing a gas mask and telling him the air outside will kill him. The cell is dirty and sweaty and bare save for a few pieces of furniture.
With nothing to do and no one to talk to, Bubby keeps a ‘pet’ cat locked in a cage which he antagonises with a stick.
His brain slowly rationalises how the cat could survive outside if it didn’t wear a gas mask.
His mother answers, “it survives by holding its breath.”
“What’s holding your breath?” he asks
She grabs him from behind, blocking his airway.
Now he knows. He experiments on the cat only to find the cat doesn’t care for having its airways closed. He wraps its body in cling wrap. It still finds a way to breathe. Breathing is a little harder through the plastic and he is somewhat surprised that the cat dies.
When his father turns up, this proves the last straw for Bubby who eventually cling-wraps his parents. He stumbles into the outside world for the first time and sadly this is where the film loses some of its impact. As gross as the first Act was, the claustrophobia and tension was becoming compelling.
Bubby stumbles from one group of welcoming strangers to the next. They all take care of him in some way which I didn’t find wholly believable. He gets by with a few phrases he has learnt from his mother or picked up along the way. This alternately gets him into trouble or endears him to the next audience.
Eventually he meets Angel, a nurse at a disabled person’s home, who has breasts like his mothers. He demonstrates affection toward her and she welcomes him. Angel has experienced abuse at the words and attitudes of her judgemental and self-righteous parents. In a moment of dark humour, the cling wrap killer dispenses some movie justice.
Nicholas Hope when left alone on the set, ably plays the simpleton who discovers and reacts to the world around him. He does not pre-empt the consequences of his actions and appears bewildered but nonplussed when things do occur. When he interacts with others however we sense a spark in the actor that belies the reality of the character.
It is easy to see why Bad Boy Bubby has become a cult favourite since its release in 1994 and is an important stepping stone in the life of an intriguing and talented Australian filmmaker.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Monday, 1 December 2008

Baz Luhrmann's Australia movie review

Baz Luhrmann, writer, director and producer of Australia, promised an ‘epic’ and epic is what he delivers. Starting pre-war in 1939 with the arrival of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole) on a Qantas flight from England, it finishes with the Japanese bombing of Darwin in 1941. In between time we drove 1,500 head of cattle from Faraway Downs station onto the ship in Darwin harbour with The Drover (Hugh Jackman), have the boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters) taken to Mission Island, as was the experience of many coloured and native children, have The Drover and Lady Sarah fall in love, be separated and then reunited, all the while compete with the voracious and avaricious King Carney (Bryan Brown) and his son in law Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), rival cattle barons and acquisitive land owners.
The thread of the story however belongs to Nullah, his ties to the land and his people. When his mother dies, he is left in the care of Lady Sarah who adopts him as her son.
The opening Act, that of Lady Sarah coming to Australia and to her property at Faraway Downs, is filled with vaudeville as Luhrmann plays up much of the Australian larrikin sense of humour. The Drover (whom we first meet looking up from under his hat a la Clint Eastwood) is centre stage for a brawling fist fight outside the hotel; Lady Sarah’s English ‘tourist’ is excited by her first sighting of a kangaroo; Jack Thompson’s inarticulate entrance.
The film really represents two distinct story arcs : the drove, and war-time. The Drover, clearly a white man, is a friend of the blacks and is seen as “black” by white society, and therefore shunned. Nullah, born of a white father and black mother, is seen as neither one nor the other by each race. The film goes to some pains to incorporate themes of the stolen generation, black dreaming and segregation but it is a testament to how well the story is told without it ever feeling like a ‘message’ movie. There is even an acknowledgement that the most sympathetic of white fellas, The Drover (and even, by inference, the filmmaker) doesn’t always fully understand. Take for example the confrontation between The Drover and his best mate, Magarri, after Nullah is taken by the Police. Even with the best of understanding, a child remains a child and should be protected and cared for by loving parents, not left to their own devices where they can unwittingly get themselves into trouble.
Nicole is fine as an English lady staring down a strange and remote environment. That English resolve is demonstrated here which founded a whole Empire. Hugh Jackman is a little too ocker (one too many “crikey’s”) but otherwise entirely believable as a hairy, sweaty, manly cattle drover who believes in mateship but is fearful of expressing his emotions. There is chemistry between these two and thankfully Luhrmann doesn’t throw in a gratuitous love scene just to please the formula writer. What is shown on screen is quite appropriate.
Brandon Walters is the real find of this film. He is such a handsome boy who is able to look into the camera with such innocence and openness. His manner, and the character he is playing, is so assured however he does not lose that vulnerable and childlike manner.
David Wenham does menacing better than most and the rest of the support performances are great : David Ngoombujarra (as Magarri), Jack Thompson (as Kipling Flynn, Lady Ashley’s accountant), plus old favourites, Barry Otto, Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Spence and David Gulpilil.
While Australia is not a complex story, it is entertaining, takes us on a fun and dramatic journey and is most assuredly recommended.

Blog Re-design

I have been fiddling with the design and functionality of my blogsite over the past few days. I have changed some of the link features on the sidebar, down the right hand side, including a scrolling photo board. In honour of the new film release Australia, I have started with a Nicole Retrospective. Can you name each of the movies she appears in? I expect I will change the content of the slide show every now and again as time and ideas allow.
I have also added a counter down the very bottom of the page. I know every website has them, and clever programmer people add them in with ease, but I was very excited to find this bit of code, linking back to WebTracker.
Finally, I have changed the look of the site. I haven't totally settled on the final colour combination but I think a black background is an improvement over the white. I am far from happy with the header, so expect changes there.
Let me know what you think. Are the colour combinations working for you? Do you use, or are you likely to use, the links?

Friday, 28 November 2008

Op + 2

Two days after the Op and the swelling around my jaw is worse. It feels swollen in my gums too. Somewhat uncomfortable. The Neurofen however is doing a top job and the codeine is on hand (although does have an unfortunate side effect of blocking one up). Didn't sleep that well last night so will look forward to a nap this afternoon.
Darling daughter is off to her op this afternoon and she is getting a little anxious. At least she will have her mother with her to keep her company. Am applying all my distraction skills to keep her mind off things!

Thursday, 27 November 2008


Oliver Stone loves a big story that flirts with controversy, think Natural Born Killers, Platoon and this year’s W, a life story of George W Bush. With JFK, Stone has Kevin Costner as New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison investigate the assassination of John F Kennedy.
Garrison mounts a case over the first 2 hours of the film that disproves the lone gunman theory, ie, that Lee Harvey Oswald could have been the only gunman that shot Kennedy. He further states that the entire government and security forces conspired to kill the President and keep the truth from being made public. As Hitler said, “the bigger the lie, the more the people will believe it.”
The final hour of the film is Garrison retelling the story you have just seen unfold, in the courtroom.
Costner is indefatigable as the prosecutor in this case, the only case ever tried in the United States regarding the death of Kennedy. His support characters all demonstrate the intelligent and legal thinking that went into the script while the government, Mafia and intelligence forces are all played by known actors, enjoying their roles as ne’er do wells : Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Donald Sutherland, John Candy, Kevin Bacon and Gary Oldman as the unfortunate Oswald.
This is an interesting piece of history, not something that I lived through and as such does not have the same resonance as I imagine it would had you some memory of that time in 1963. It is always said that people remember where they were when JFK was shot, similar perhaps to this generation’s reaction to the death of Lady Diana.
The film raises a number of issues which question the heart of a government that condones war in another country and will silence critics who speak out against it. Let us hope and pray that the new governments of Obama and Rudd have sufficient conviction and fortitude to lead with honesty and integrity.

Surgery - one quarter of my wisdom, gone

Yesterday (Wednesday) I had one wisdom tooth removed (lower, left side) which was impacted, that is, it was growing sideways into the other teeth. As my dental surgeon said, "it won't get any better by itself and it will get infected." With that advice I elected to have it removed.
Thankfully they only operate at civilised hours so my Good Lady Wife dropped me off at Monash Medical Centre at 1030am where, with newspaper in hand, I sat down to wait my turn. I hadn't had any breakfast, let alone morning tea or drinks of water (except for one) and was more concerned at that than anything else. Thankfully (?) the nerves kicked in and it felt like the preamble to a football match. The usual worries circulated, "how much is this going to hurt?", "what if I don't wake up from the anaesthetic?".
Reading my newspaper managed to distract my thoughts and before long I was changed into my operating gown and a name tag on either wrist (in case they chopped one off?). It was another hour before I was called to the table whereupon the anaesthetist inserted a needle into the back of my hand, told me I was going to feel relaxed and a little drowsy before he sent me off to sleep ... and I don't remember another thing.
I woke up about an hour later in the recovery room. The muscles in my jaw were (are) stiff and sore and the throat dry and coarse. That is from the breathing tube so I am lead to believe. The operation itself was straightforward and is now complete. My gum was split to allow access to the tooth and I have stitches in there now to help them heal. Anti-bios and salty mouth-washes are on the diet. Last night I was quite tired and worn out and enjoyed 9 hours sleep with no interruption.
Today the swelling around my jaw is slowly getting bigger even though I am icing it every hour (see pic, left). I haven't felt nauseous from the anaesthetic (thank god) and have managed to eat 'soft' foods, ones that don't require too much chewing on my part. Thankfully I love breakfast cereal and weet-bix and rolled oats are perfect foods.
I have the rest of the week off and as much of next week as I need. I have borrowed a number of DVDs and look forward to watching as many of them as I can take plus the crick is starting again tomorrow (Aust v NZ, test #2 from Adelaide) which will no doubt aid recovery!
Diverse titles such as Fritz Lang's 1927 sci-fi classic, Metropolis (by the way I have seen a couple of Lang's other pics recently : 'M' and 'Dr Mabuse, the Gambler', and they are excellent. He has become my 'silent-era' hero along with Buster), Oliver Stone's JFK, Wim Wender's 1987 Wings of Desire and a couple of Asian shoot-em-ups, my fave HK director, Johnnie To : Exiled, and three short films packaged together : Three Extremes 2. The first one was appropriately weird and scary. This one promises no different.
My darling 10-year old daughter is having an op tomorrow to have grommits inserted into her ears and so we will be quite the pair over the weekend. We have Footrot Flat's, The Dog's Tale, to help us through. Cue Dave Dobbyn, 'Slice of Heaven, yeah".
Have you seen any of these? Let me know what you thought of them.

Blogging Resumed

Its been quite a lay-off between blogs however with the success of my Good Lady Wife's micro-bag-business, I have been inspired anew. Check out her latest creations and compliment me for marrying into talent.