Sunday, 29 March 2009

Man On Wire movie review

This is the first on a new series of movies nominated for Oscars from earlier in the year. As these films are released on to DVD I will review them here. Films I have seen in the cinema that have already been reviewed are : Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire and The Wrestler.
Man On Wire won Best Documentary for its account of Philippe Petit’s breathtaking and daring high wire act between New York's twin towers in 1974.
He crossed between the towers 8 times over 45 minutes. The policemen waiting to arrest him did not describe him as a tightrope walker, but as a dancer. Petit performs as he crosses : he lies prostrate in the middle of the wire, he salutes the crowd. The policeman goes further : “we were watching something once in a lifetime”.
Photographs and film footage taken that day, both from the ground and from the top of the tower, next to the wire, show Petit’s face as “an ageless mask of concentration : a sphinx.” “I need complete detachment,” says Petit. “A castaway on the desert island of my dreams”
It evokes a mood that is “magical, profound.” His girlfriend, watching from the ground calls people’s attention to the highwire walker. “It was extraordinary. It was so beautiful.”
His lifetime friend who helped rig the wire from the other tower is watching Petit step out onto the rope. They are exhausted, it having taken all night to evade the guards, haul the wire across and secure the tightrope. Petit’s face is tense as he steps on the rope. As he crosses about one-third of the way, he sees “relief ... he’s secure, he’s good.” His friend cries at the memory as his fears throughout the planning and of what might go wrong, go unfounded as Petit succeeds in this one audacious act.
Petit recalls that “in the middle of this madness, I had hope and joy.”
And this is the effect this documentary has on the viewer. Petit has such impish enthusiasm that it infects you from through the screen. He lives “everyday as a true challenge - living his life on the tightrope.” His artistic flair draws you in to re-live his tale, some 35 years after it occurred. “If I die what a beautiful death. To die in the exercise of your passion.”
At the end, the American press cannot believe what they have witnessed. “Why?” they ask over and over again. Petit simply answers, “I have done something beautiful and mysterious. There is no ‘why’"
5 out of 5.

Green Guide Blogs will go into hiatus for a couple of weeks as I am away over the school holidays.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Things I Like #8 - Breakfast

While it would be true to say that ‘food’ in general is a thing that I like, especially if you are buying me lunch or my beautiful wife is cooking a loving tea. Is there a better way to start they day though than a warm, nutritrious and sweetened bowl of porridge ?

The process is simple. One cup of rolled oats, one cup of water and into the microwave for 3 minutes.

A spoonful of brown sugar and milk on top to finish if off.
This breakfast has the lowest fat / highest “fill me up” ratio of all of the cereals. Something to look forward to, every single day.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Unfinished Sky movie review

It takes less than 5 minutes into this film, Unfinished Sky, before we see this woman come staggering up the country road; dirty, covered in bruises and with cuts about her face, arms and legs. She does not speak English and is having wild hallucinations.
She finds herself at the remote farm property of John Woldring (William McInnes). He is a lonely, single farmer who has shut himself off from his community and has been happy to remain so since his wife died in a farm accident some years before. He is not looking after himself particularly well and does not communicate with others beyond mono-syllables.
John takes in the foreign woman where he bathes her, attends to her wounds, and allows her to rest. He discovers her name is Tahmeena, an illegal immigrant from Afghanistan. She has found her way to Australia to locate her daughter who she gave up to another family who immigrated earlier, ‘for a better life.’
The next hour of this film, John and Tahmeena slowly build a trust for each other. John discovers who is looking for Tahmeena, what has been done to her and hides her from those who wish her harm. Both people have experienced hurt and isolation and have to learn to be around another person they can relax and share with.
Tahmeena shares an uncanny likeness to John’s wife – the same body size, long dark hair – and despite experiencing some discomfort at discovering this, the story does not take this issue further.
Although it touches on some of the same themes as The Jammed, it is not as hopeless as that film was. While the ‘relationship building’ phase of the movie is believable – it does not feel rushed or forced – it struggles to maintain tension.
The last quarter of this film changes pace and is a little at odds with the preceding hour. It is the ‘action’ component and the inevitable conclusion to the story line. In truth, you probably cannot keep an illegal immigrant at home and have no one notice!
This film won the "other half" of the "Best" awards at last year's AFI Awards, winning Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay etc.
A 3 out of 5 film.

Things I Like #7 - the Gym

Four years ago, at the ripe old age of 35, I wanted to play football again. As part of that decision was the desire to improve my fitness level. Mostly that meant running and sit-ups. After one full season, the next obvious step was to join a gym. Nunawading Aqualink was an appealing choice as membership includes the use of their 50m pool and gymnasium. I now have the choice of exercising indoors, in the pool or continuing to run outside.
My aim is to do 3 aerobic sessions (of 30 min each) and two weights sessions per week. By simply "turning up and doing it" I have noticed a gradual and positive improvement to my fitness level, strength and body shape. I am measured 3 or 4 times a year and it is always pleasing to know that progress has been made.
What has taken a little longer to realise is that one of the benefits of being fitter includes keeping (a physical form of) depression at bay. Instead of feeling life is getting on top of me, I can approach my life positively and interactively.
Since my last measure, at the start of summer, my aerobic fitness has improved from 1.79 to 1.92 (watts per kg). What does this mean? I don't really know except that its better! Go boy!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Jammed movie review

Has there been a more powerful Australian film starring so many talented female actors ? Dee McLachlan (writer, director, producer) has conjured such a strong, moving and disturbing drama, The Jammed, that to simply give it a moniker of “message movie” is to entirely under-sell what she has accomplished.
Insurance clerk, and ‘ordinary’ every-girl, Ashley (Veronica Sywak) is implored by Chinese visitor and mother, Sunee, to find her daughter Rubi (Sun Park). Reluctantly at first, Ashley starts making phone calls, putting up “missing” posters, and visiting seedy addresses. As she becomes more involved in the search, her own safety threatened, Ashley desperately tracks down every lead to uncover the whereabouts of Rubi. Her bravery and goodness is the narrative thread of this story and our ‘way in’ to the events on screen.
The other half of the story follows Rubi, Crystal (Emma Lung) and Vanya (Saskia Burmeister) – how they are tricked into slavery with the promise of jobs and employment in Australia, how they are locked in their room during the day, and how they are forced into prostitution during the night. Their performances are disturbingly powerful and show all too plainly how slavery, abuse and loss of self esteem is often not about chains or bars on the window.
The last film I saw that had this many talented women was Almodovar’s Volver and that required the experience and talent of ‘name’, Penelope Cruz to work as well as it did. In The Jammed, the young, and mostly inexperienced actors, produce characters that are raw and believable.
Most at contrast is the men in the film. While not large parts, they impose themselves so strongly that the women believe they do not have a choice. These characters are so well developed that at no stage does the screenplay slip into caricature of “bad guy”. Perhaps the ‘bad guys’ in the film are the men who visit these brothels?
What was most frightening to me about this film is that I recognised so much of the background. This was not some unidentified northern European town (as in Lilya 4 Ever), some vast American city or foreign Asian streetscape. This is Melbourne. My home town. This is happening under our very nose and we know nothing about it.
The film is inspired by “true events”, that is, as many as 700,000 women and girls are trafficked around the world each year. This could be three of them.
Recommended? Absolutely, but beware, some scenes are disturbing. 4 out of 5.
Post Script, Mrs Blog did not plan to watch this film but once started, didn’t stop. While she could not claim to “enjoy” this film, she was compelled to know what happened to these women.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Things I Like #6 - Pearls Before Swine

Dilbert creator, Scott Adams, has written his "formula" for what makes a really funny comic strip. He claims that achieving a minimum of 2 out of 6 makes for an "amusing" strip, but obviously the higher the matches, the more successful it becomes. His rules:
1) Make it cute (as in kids and animals)
2) Naughty
3) Bizarre
4) Clever
5) Recognizable (ie, you've been there)
6) Cruel

{Adams himself laments that his own comic strip Dilbert frequently only breaks even at 2 out of 6, and marvels at the conversion rate of Calvin & Hobbes, 5 out of 6, "virtually unheard of," or The Far Side, 4 out of 6, "no wonder he sold a trillion calendars"}
On this scale, Pearls Before Swine by artist Stephan Pastis consistently rates 4 out of 6. It has cute animals, some cruelty that's definitely cruel enough, some bizarre behaviour and often a clever or recognisable theme. It ranks as my favourite comic strip. You can read it here.

Meet some of the characters:
Rat is malicious and cynical and perpetually taking advantage of the naive and simple Pig.

Next door neighbours, the Crocky-diles, are dense and all the funnier because of their inept hunting of prey.

And occasionally the jokes are just sick plays on words.

Finally, sometimes Pastis breaks the “fourth wall” and inserts himself into his cartoons, often at his own expense.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The Square movie review

The point is, if you want to steal the money, escape the bad guys and get the girl, then for heaven sakes, get going. Don’t wait for them to come and get you!
Such is the fault with brothers, Joel and Nash Edgerton’s crime thriller, The Square. The truth is however our ‘heroes’ in this film, Ray (David Roberts) and Carla (Claire van der Boom) seem to frequently make the wrong choice in what to do next. This of course helps keep the drama contained, that is, all the protagonists are kept legitimately within the Sydney suburb it starts in. And what a tangled web of self-serving interests it becomes.
Ray and Carla are having a an affair and when Ray can steal enough money via kick-backs from his cement supplier, they will each leave their partners. Carla discovers her partner, Smithy (Anthony Hayes) hiding a bag full of cash. What if Ray steals the cash and trashes the house to make it look like an arbitrary robbery? In steps Billy (Joel Edgerton), professional arsonist and willing to assist, for a fee. Things like this never work quite as well as one hopes, a complication arises and suddenly everyone is suspicious that everyone else knows something and is hiding it.
Most Australian films in recent years are either knock-about buddy comedies (Strange Bedfellows) or tragic family dramas (Somersault, Little Fish). To have a film that follows a “genre” storyline in an Aussie accent is welcoming. The acting is fine, the direction feels accomplished and the setting “works” as the story criss-crosses between respectable suburban ordinariness and the deceitfulness of those on the take.
At times this film evoked the unsettling mood of Lantana but unfortunately the inconsistent steps in the plot left me wanting more. Recommendation : Okay. 2½ out of 5.

Things I Like #5 - things starting with V

I picked up these limes from the Vic Market for 20 cents each (bargain), juiced them, and stored them in the freezer. They form a perfect base for my drink of choice : Vodka.
(Oh yes, I also like Victoria!)

(The kids and I had some fun with our photos. He he.)

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Black Balloon movie review

This week, and over the next three weeks, I will write a review about each of the Australian Film Institute’s Best Film nominees from the end of 2008 : The Black Balloon, The Jammed, Unfinished Sky and The Square. They are out on DVD now.
In Black Balloon, Thomas is nearly 16. His dad’s in the Army and so they move around a lot; this is already his fifth school. Mum is pregnant with their third child and suffering from high blood pressure as she nears full term. Oh, and his older brother, Charlie is autistic – the body of a 17 year old and a mental age of toddler. All Thomas wants is a normal adolescence.
Thomas is a mass of contradictions. He deeply loves his family and does his share of caring for his brother. He is also highly embarrassed by his brother and goes to great lengths to ‘hide’ him from his classmates, the girl he likes and the neighbours.
This AFI Best Film winner from 2008 draws a lot of experiences from writer/director Elissa Down who has an autistic brother. A lot of the situations of the household in this film either happened to her or are borrowed heavily; such as the funny : Charlie running down the street in his underpants and invading a stranger’s house to go to the toilet; or the mortifying : Charlie conducting a tantrum in the supermarket.
This pressure in Thomas builds as he struggles with the expectation of helping to look after his brother and the guilt of resenting him every step of the way. The ‘explosion’ within Thomas toward the end of the film is both expected and shocking. It is compounded by the fact that it occurs in front of new girlfriend, Jackie (Gemma Ward).
All roles are played with great affection and believability : Rhys Wakefield as Thomas pulls of the difficult role of dutiful son, awkward teenager and boyfriend material. Luke Ford by all accounts spent a great deal of time studying and observing autistic men, his portrayal never falters, nor does it feel forced or a caricature. Toni Collette is superb as always as mum and Erik Thomson balances the dual responsibility of military officer and loving and supportive husband and father.
This is an affectionately told drama that captures the highs and lows of family life. It is very well put together and an Australian film we can be proud of. Recommended. 3½ out of 5.

Things I Like #4 - Crumpler bag

Sure, it makes me totally hip, trendy and modern, and sure, it highlights the blue in my eyes, but what I really like about my Crumpler messenger bag is that I can carry it over my shoulder, keep my hands free while I walk, and carry whatever I need to easily. The shoulder strap is broad enough to be comfortable, the flap is safely secured by Velcro and may be further secured by clips and the bag sits in place on my back by a simple yet ingenious third leg. I have “accessorised” it further by purchasing a wee mobile phone pocket which sits on the outside for convenient access. Totally Happening!