Friday, 30 January 2009

Things I Like #1 - Podcast

My favourite podcast is News Radio’s Star Stuff, hosted Stuart Gary. While I don’t really know my quarks from my dark matter, the technical segments (such as on gamma ray bursts, or GRBs for those in the know) are always very well explained from either Gary himself or any of his ‘go to’ experts. The program also spends a lot of time on the latest rocket launch from all round the world, whether it’s the first ever (very wealthy) tourist into space, Chinese tests, or American trips to the international space station. I find it endlessly fascinating and Gary’s enthusiasm makes for invigorating listening.
The link to the podcast is here.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Slumdog Millionaire movie review

In cricket, who has scored the most first class centuries? Is it, A) Sachin Tendulkar, B) Ricky Ponting, C) Michael Slater, or D) Jack Hobbs ?
If you know the answer then you could win the million dollars in India’s ‘Who Wants To be a Millionaire?’ At least, that’s the million dollar question for Jamal in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire.
This film is an almost perfect mix of comedy, drama, romance and action and my pick for Best Picture winner at this year’s Oscars(*).
Some of the early scenes of this film reminded me of Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, a very fine picture that follows the youths of a slum (in Rio de Janeiro) and their inevitable descent into gang life. Slumdog Millionaire is similarly set in the slums, of Mumbai, but rather than follow the path of violence and destruction, it allows itself to be leavened by the impish behaviour of brothers, Salim and Jamal. That is not to say however that this film ignores the reality of their impoverished circumstances or the susceptibility to criminal behaviours. It does however follow the life of Jamal who escapes from these pitfalls.
Narratively the story is a series of flashbacks as Jamal answers questions on the gameshow and we see how he came to know the answers. At the end however you come to realise that the emotional thread that holds this film together is Jamal’s love for Latika, and his continuous search to be reunited with her.
The highlight of the film for me was the Bollywood dance scene involving the whole cast run during the credits. It had the feel of a cast party – unexpected but joyous. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the telling of the story but because we had come to know these characters, ridden the emotional wave of ‘will they/won’t they’ : to break out into dance seemed the most appropriate way to celebrate the end of the film.
Highly recommended. 5 out of 5.
(*)This does not mean I think it will win, although it might. I simply have no idea who will win. As you all well know, Oscar winners have only a little bit to do with how good they are and a lot to do with other things.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Gran Torino movie review

So tenderly your story is
nothing more than what you see
or what you've done or will become

There are moments in my life when I reflect and wish I had been a little braver, a little more forthright, or alternatively, wished I’d demonstrated a little more wisdom and just shut up. Last year I had an opportunity to do the right thing.
standing strong do you belong
in your skin; just wondering

Last year I was travelling home on the train a little later than usual. The train was about half full, so plenty of spare seats. Everyone was minding their own business. An inebriated man got on and started talking to a year 7 boy (13 yo) with a Melbourne Grammar School uniform on, who had his head down reading a book. This man was not being threatening as such but the young boy was intimidated and embarrassed. The man tried to be ‘humourous’ by imitating the boy’s Vietnamese heritage with the schoolyard classic, ‘slanty eyes’.
At this point I asked the man to sit down like everyone else and to stop disturbing the young fella because he was scaring him. I spoke in a respectful but firm way, taking the focus off the boy and on to me. “I was just trying to be friendly” said the man. He sat down though, somewhere else. I think he recognised he had acted foolishly.
gentle now the tender breeze blows
whispers through my Gran Torino
whistling another tired song

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is at the end of his life. He has seen death through his involvement in the Korean war and carries those images inside his head. He knows he’s not perfect – he’s not proud of the disconnect between him and his two sons, and their families.
But he doesn’t regret much in his life – he has only three things to confess to the priest. This is not hubris so much as knowing that rightly or wrongly, he has lived his life, knows where he comes from, and knows what he can do.
He is the last remaining white man in the neighbourhood, as the original inhabitants have slowly packed up and moved away. In their place many immigrants from South East Asia : Vietnam, Laos, China, have moved in.
Walt is the archetypal grumpy old man – he just wants to be left alone, drinking beer on his porch with his dog for company. The area has gang trouble however and Walt finds himself standing up to these bullies to protect his younger and more vulnerable neighbours. This draws him into the world of his neighbours.
The Gran Torino in the title is Walt’s prized 1972 Ford motor car. This is not a ‘car’ movie but does provide a starting point for how Walt becomes an unlikely mentor for his young neighbour, Thao. In return, Walt finds friendship with Thao and his sister Sue. Walt teaches Thao that being a man involves having a vocation, providing for your family, and ultimately making your own way in life, that is, thinking for yourself and not following the pack.
This is a very fine picture by Eastwood. Hopefully it is not his last although rumours abound (he is 79 years old after all). It is similar in style to his Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby although I prefer this one, albeit without the acting presence of a Hilary Swank or Morgan Freeman.
engine hums and bitter dreams grow
heart locked in a Gran Torino
it beats a lonely rhythm all night long

My headmaster at school implored us to “be our own man.” This is Eastwood’s message to young men everywhere. 4 out of 5.

'Gran Torino' music by Jamie Cullen, vocals by Clint Eastwood

Friday, 23 January 2009

Revolutionary Road movie review

Have you ever felt trapped by life? Is your marriage everything you hoped for? Do you fight often, or have you moved passed that into a sullen silence, covering intimacy with a blank smile and finally to indifference?
For April Wheeler (Kate Winslet), the “perfect” life – successful husband, big house in the suburbs, two kids – is a perfectly constructed prison which she and husband Frank (Leo DiCaprio) have fashioned for themselves, in Revolutionary Road.
In deconstructing films like this where a key relationship is in focus, it is helpful for the filmmaker if the script writer contrives to have the reality of everyday life muted or better still, removed. This film is set in the 1950s and yet we do not see any of the extra-curricular activities that occupied the housewives of the day – the church groups, the tennis club, the whatever else that could give a woman a sense of purpose and prestige in the community, outside of cleaning house and raising children. The children, of which Frank and April have two, are absent for long stretches, presumably staying over at “friends houses.” Naturally this hard headedness misses the point of the film and so, by removing these realities, allows the tense, incommunicative relationship to disintegrate before our eyes.
Their relationship experiences a reprieve for the summer. April decides they could move to Paris in the fall, in September. April could work as a secretary, she thinks, and Frank would have the time to discover what he really wants to do. Their dream of a new start replaces the fights. Passage is reserved on a steamer. Boxes are slowly packed. They tell their friends, who can’t understand why anyone would give up their perfect life in the ‘burbs.
But this dream is just a dream. Frank is offered a promotion at the office and this allows him the chance to slip back into the comfort zone of the familiar. For April, unable to find freedom and unable to break the marriage or leave her children, descends into an desperate hell.
The men in this film are ‘typical’ of their time and do not know how to give emotional support or even perceive when its necessary. This imbalance, the woman trapped by circumstance and the man blinded by it, leads to the irretrievable breakdown. It is a literary touch I think that names the main character “April”, while placing her dream in faraway September while Frank is anything but.
Kate Winslet won the “Best Actress” award at the Golden Globes for her troubles here and she brings a maturity to her character. She is married and had children in real life (to director of this film, Sam Mendes) and this adds depth to her performance.
Mendes previously won Best Director for American Beauty and this film shares some similarities – the “American” dream of pursuing the house / the wife / the car by way of a “better” job is an empty pursuit if meaning and purpose are forfeit.
While not a ‘happy’ film, it is well made, well acted and worthy of those who enjoy a serious, relationship drama. 3 out of 5.
Many thanks to ABC radio for the preview.

Post script
Scanning the Oscar nominations, which have just been announced, the only mention for Revolutionary Road (of the “big 6” awards) is that of Best Support for Michael Shannon.
Shannon plays John Givings, a neighbour who plays Lear’s fool to Frank and his rationale for firstly agreeing to move to Paris, and then not. He sees Frank and April as we, the audience do, and pushes and challenges them, often in colourful language, which serves the dual purpose of releasing the tension by amusing us for a moment and providing a counterpoint to the words that they don’t say to each other.
Revolutionary Road has also been nominated for Best Achievement in Art Direction and Costume Design.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Frost/Nixon movie review

[There are spoilers of sorts within this review]
The most compelling character in Frost/Nixon is none other than Richard M Nixon himself. With the most to hide and the most to tell, Frank Langella is a convincing Nixon. His mannerisms, deep throaty voice and cocksure attitude embody the spirit of the man.
The story follows British talk show host, David Frost, played by Michael Sheen and his team of researchers (Matthew Macfadyen, Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt) as they prepare a list of “no holds barred” questions to ask Nixon in an exclusive series of interviews in March/April of 1977. This type of movie is very similar to The Queen, which also starred Sheen, where a series of facts is known and the ‘behind the scenes’ is speculated upon. The characters represent real persons and the actors do their best to represent their mannerisms and personalities.
While the story of Frost - securing the interview, wooing the impressive looking Rebecca Hall, pleading with network execs - drives the story forward, it is Nixon himself that captures our attention. It is well known that Nixon was forced to resign from office because of illegal activities of which he participated in and covered up (Watergate the headline issue), he escaped trial because of a full pardon from successor Gerald Ford. This interview became his public trial.
Nixon agrees to the interview in the hope it will provide him with an intellectual challenge. Having a purpose in life, he announces, is how to stay young. In the first of the interviews it is Nixon who retains the upper hand as Frost allows Nixon to restore his battered image as a strong and bold leader.
It is make or break for Frost also as each of his television shows is cancelled by the networks around the world and he personally finances the production of this interview.
On the question of Watergate however, and his own admission of guilt and remorse, Nixon seeks an opportunity to come clean and own up to his part in it. He has betrayed his own “standard of excellence” he has always held for himself and seeks to be rid, once and for all, of the constant calls by the media for an admission.
An excellent insight into the ending of this film has been written by Jim Schembri from The Age, which can be accessed here.
Kevin Bacon plays the president’s aide, and displays the largest man crush in recent movie history.
This film is highly recommended, with Langella deserving of a Best Actor nomination.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Roger Ebert defends Nicole

Roger Ebert, America's premiere movie critic and my personal hero, has posted a blog piece that criticises show biz journalism which is entirely apt and defends Nicole in the process.

Why do we thirst for movie stars to fail? Why are so many showbiz journalists like hyenas circling a crippled prey? Why do so many gossip columnists behave like jilted lovers or betrayed investors, livid with anger at what they once valued so highly? Why are a few stars singled out like the victims of school bullies? Why do the box office receipts of "Australia" appear in almost every news outlet, but an actual review of it appears in so few?

Read the full piece here.

My defence of Nicole and Australia is here.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Twilight movie review by Mrs Blog

Hi there Green Guide Day followers, this is the Good Lady Wife of the frog! I have decided to hijack his blog to sprout some reflections about a movie I know you are all dying to see : Twilight!
I have had a lovely Christmas break reading the four books in this series : Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and New Dawn, all written by Stephanie Meyers.
At the heart of these books is a love story between two people that defies common sense and logic as love grows uncontrollably between them.
I loved these books. They swept me somewhere else between their pages and their words left me bewitched, wanting more every time I begrudgingly had to put them down. I fell “in love” with the main characters and their world.
Now because I got onto the Twilight bandwagon really late (not being a teenage girl anymore!!), The first movie was out before I even had started reading about the Cullen family.
This “review” stems more from my love of the books and the nearly always terrible adaptations that come in the form of movies. Fabulous books often make their way to the screen because they have been so loved by millions of dedicated readers. The idea of seeing your favourite characters pictorially is irresistible but the movie makers so often disappoint. Directors often feel the need to artistically push their ideas on already well formed plots and manipulate stories lines to “fit” the movie format!! All the while destroying what the audience had been so looking forward to seeing.
I went to Twilight On Wednesday expecting the story to be mutilated, major plot deviations, missing characters and holes everywhere (ie like when I saw The Spiderwick Chronicles) but found that I could intoxicate myself with love, vampires and of course “Edward Cullen” my desires satisfied.
Amazingly this movie captured the mood, the heart, the colour and the characters of Meyers novel. Maybe the subtle details of the story wasn't there, some character development was missing but no movie can ever portray all the detail that a book contains, if they did we would be watching movies that lasted for 10 hours or more and nobody wants that!
So if you have read Twilight I think you are going to enjoy this movie and as for Robert Pattison who plays Edward, FINE FINE FINE!!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button movie review

The first thing I wanted to do after watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was to hug my children. To love and be loved is the greatest of human treasures and not one to be taken for granted.
As I am sure you will all know by now, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born as an infant who has the body of an 80-year old and eventually dies as an 80 year old, looking like an infant. In between he ages backwards, peaking in his 50s, 40s and 30s before the inevitable decline of reverse-childhood.
A consequence of this peculiarity however is that Benjamin finds himself alone at many times in his life. His mother died giving birth to him. His father, from rage and grief at losing his wife and gaining an abomination, abandon’s his son on the steps of an old folks home, run by Queenie.
It is here that Benjamin experiences his first and sustaining life force, the love of a mother. Queenie raises him as his own son, “he’s one of the Lord’s children, after all” she declares. Being a boy in an old man’s body Benjamin does not look so out of place amongst the residents of Queenie’s home. Years later after Benjamin is reunited with his birth father, he resolutely maintains that she is his mother and cares nothing for his real father’s business or family history.
His second significant relationship occurs with Daisy – a granddaughter of one of Queenie’s residents, who comes to visit during school holidays. She recognises that Benjamin is a fine playmate, despite his appearance, and it commences a long and lasting love and chase that sustains the film.
The strength of this movie is not the curiosity of an elderly man who ages in reverse. It is the subtly and nuance of two people who age and change and make choices in their life. Choices that will benefit them, and others that will hinder. We are each faced with opportunity to make what we will of our lives. There are moments when we must take risks either in love, or in business or a myriad of other interactions. The net result is two characters for whom we care for and the end of their lives is a moving one for us because we have invested so heavily in their experience.
It is an interesting reflection for me that as Benjamin and Daisy’s ages ‘meet’ in their 40’s, their relationship is robust and strong and passionate. Perhaps in the prime of our lives we all only have a certain number of years to enjoy before other interests or priorities or the inevitable infirmities of age take us away from this time.
Benjamin Button is telling us in no uncertain terms to make the most of what life we have. It won’t last forever - it never does.
Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play their roles well as do all other support roles. Pitt is entirely convincing as a naïve, child-like old man as he is a wise and experienced young man. Blanchett similarly is apt as a carefree artiste in her early years and a bittersweet mature woman in her latter years.
The makeup and prosthetic team associated with this picture deserve a special mention also; expect to seem them listed in Oscar nominations next month. 3 out of 5.