Saturday, 29 August 2009

Inglourious Basterds movie review

The last line uttered in Tarantino’s latest action pic, Inglourious Basterds, is, “I think this might be my masterpiece.” Is this the film-maker staking his claim? You bet. And is it justified? Absolutely!
Tarantino demonstrates that he is a fine film maker with his latest offering. After the car wreck that was Death Proof, I personally wondered if we had seen all that he had to offer. Undoubtedly the celebrated, pop-infused dialogue of Reservoir Dogs was meritorious and the extended mish-mash of action in Kill Bill 1 enormous fun but it was all recycled and tired by the time we got to Death Proof. What Basterds offers is a “traditional” unfolding of a story, similar to Jackie Brown or Kill Bill 2, only better.
And so the adventure begins with “Once upon a time ...” This is a fairy story, pure and simple, and the story is imbued with a sense of mischievous fun as the characters set about writing their own version of history. Many times, the actors are given time and space to develop the speech and behaviours of their characters – no shaky hand-cam here or two second jump cuts.
Set during “Nazi occupied France” we are introduced to the ultimate in Nazi badness, Colonel Hans Lander, played to perfection by Christoph Waltz. Waltz, a German stage actor not particularly known outside of Europe won Best Actor at Cannes earlier in the year. His nickname is “The Jew Hunter” as his reputation for detective like routing out of hidden Jews is manifest in a ruthless zeal for the job.
As in previous Tarantino outings, the action is punctuated by ‘chapter’ headings. Rather than them just being quirky or in jest, here they contain each episode and like a good novel, have the audience keen to turn just one more page to find out what happens.
Brad Pitt is about the only ‘name’ Hollywood actor hence his picture appears in all the advertising posters. In truth though, he is just one member of a large cast with many French and German actors playing key roles. Pitt is Lt Aldo Raine, the leader of the Basterds, a Jewish-American band of guerrillas dropped behind enemy lines to dispose of as many Nazis as possible. Their Apache style scalping of their victims becomes the stuff of legend amongst the German army and The Bear Jew (Eli Roth) prefers to dispose of his victims in a more patriotic American way.
The story wends its way toward a movie theatre where the four most senior German leaders (Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Bormann) will meet for a film premiere of the latest propaganda feature and the Basterds seek to infiltrate the event and end the war by killing them all. What occurs to whom and when is not easily guessed as the narrative does not let a particular character or celebrity survive where it is not reasonable for them to have done so! The cinema owner’s short film that is inter-cut with the main feature becomes a terrifying angel of destruction as it is projected onto billowing smoke is one of many highlights.
I had read that the violence is extreme in this film and I expected it therefore to be a study in excess à la Kill Bill 1. In truth however what violence exists occurs only in bursts and is necessary for the film to remain true to itself. These were frightening and ruthless times and to somehow sidestep the confrontation would have taken something away from the story.
Tarantino’s geeky film knowledge is extensive and his films are littered with asides, references and homage. I would be fairly certain that the young women in my screening who kept looking at their iPhones, showing each other their latest message and who ended up walking out twice (not just once) would have been lucky to have followed any of the story, let alone known who the heck Emil Jannings, Leni Riefenstahl or Georg Pabst might have been. If only they had stayed out. But Tarantino gives a little bit to each film lover and you wish that such intelligence was evident in more Hollywood, plot driven epics.
5 out of 5.


In a way it is a surprise and a relief that Study is considered a spiritual discipline in Foster’s ‘Celebration of Discipline’. Having benefited from a good education, to study a book, or a play, or the world around me, has been ingrained as just a normal part of growing up. But Foster continues to challenge us in our Christian living by having us transform and renew our mind.
I am aware that many books or films, for example, that I read or watch are just for that moment. Once finished, I move on to the next (and for the most part, that is quite appropriate and even more than some of them deserve!) If I were intending to create my own film for instance, I would learn my craft by watching a master like Ozu or Hitchcock, scene by scene if necessary and then applying what I’d learnt. In reading Foster’s book, I have read and re-read the same chapters, understanding and interpreting what has been written so that I can better apply his insights into more godly living.
Like all the disciplines, Study is not just an object in and of itself. It is not about storing up great multitudes of knowledge or trying to outsmart the next person. The repetition, concentration, comprehension and reflection of the object of our study merely become the tools to gaining this discipline. The focus remains on knowing who we are through Jesus and living our lives for God. It is through Jesus that we come to know we are saved and are given the grace to live with humility and purpose.

6 The discipline of Confession

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Rachel Getting Married movie review

We are accustomed to seeing Anne Hathaway as a ‘sugar and spice’ sort of actress after The Princess Diaries, Ella Enchanted and ‘Agent 99’ in Get Smart. In Rachel Getting Married she is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar by playing Kym who is anything but ‘all things nice.’
After an extended absence from home, Kym (Hathaway) releases herself from a Sanatorium, 9 months clean from drug abuse. She is home for the weekend for her sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) who is marrying Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). Rachel is barely in the car to come home when the family rivalries and the imperfect self interest begin to impose themselves on her actions and conversation.
In the context of the story, Kym allows the screenwriter to inject a destabilising catalyst into the dynamics of an ordinary family where the histories are tightly interwoven and certain issues have been overgrown and avoided.
As the family “Sheba the destroyer” (‘black sheep’ doesn’t quite capture it) Kym’s nadir comes in the form of the pre-wedding rehearsal dinner speech where any or all of the guests are welcome to say a few words about the happy couple. Kym’s inability to look beyond her own needs makes for the kind of train-crash wedding speech that is so awkward that you can be content she is not your own sister.
When the characters do finally have an honest and open conversation about their repressed feelings of hurt and disappointment, we know this is the first conversation they have had like this for a long, long time. Free of purely self interest, it allows the characters, and the sisters in particular, to hear and respect each other. It is in many ways the film’s high point as we sense that there is a way forward.
Despite all our imperfections and all our failings, we all need the acceptance, grace and forgiveness of those who love us. When Rachel washes the bruised Kym and helps her into her bridesmaid dress, we know an important transaction has taken place beyond the competition and self-interest of the earlier part of the film.
The film's realism of its characters is impressive – the choice of an unobtrusive camera reinforces this sense of a realistic weekend together.
The wedding itself has moments of great sensitivity and joy. The musician friends are both part of the story and beyond it, as they are both wedding guests and the film’s soundtrack evoking mood and turning points in their playing, practising and jamming.
This is a great character study of a whole family exploring both great hardship and incomparable joy. Hathaway is more than just a pretty face who becomes entirely believable in her role and deserved her nomination. I cannot say however that I enjoyed the first half of this film. I find family drama and conflict (and wedding speeches) a difficult set of topics to confront. This whole drama however is rewarding as is its message. 4 out of 5.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

MIFF : Bran Nue Dae movie review

With its blend of toe tapping tunes, acting and voice talents, and beautiful scenery, Bran Nue Dae is great musical fun.
The story itself is a fairly flimsy excuse for stringing the musical numbers together. Set in 1969, aboriginal student and head boy Willie Johnson (newcomer Rocky McKenzie) runs away from boarding school in Perth, back home to his devoutly Christian mother Theresa (“not the Mother Teresa”) and would be girlfriend Rosie (Jessica Mauboy), in Broome, the far north west of Australia. Along the way they collect hippy tourists, Wolfgang (Tom Budge) and Annie (Missy Higgins); the homeless Tadpole (Ernie Dingo); Kimberley girl Roxanne (Deborah Mailman); and steal from Roadhouse Betty (Magda Szubanski). They are pursued by head teacher Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush) up the highway as he seeks to return Willie to school.
They all meet on the beach in Broome where family relationships are reconnected and restored.
The highlights of the film, without question, are the show tunes. Drawing on the popular stageshow of the same name, the songs are a mixture of 50s rock, show tunes, Negro spirituals, country & western and one Zorba inspired accordion backing to a traditional Aboriginal dance. Casting Mauboy and Higgins ensures that the numbers they are a part of are performed consummately. The other professional actors sing capably and in between times enjoy their comic byplay with each other.
The desert scapes are beautifully shot by Andrew Lesnie making the most of the unique colours of the Australian bush: the deep turquoise of the waterhole, sunburnt orange of the desert sand, the clean white robes of the gospel choir and so on.
The musical high point for me was the breakout, tapdancing
“There is nothing I would rather be
than to be an Aborigine”
by Willie and the boarding house boys, just as they were to feel the full weight of Father Benedictus’ ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ smacking stick.
Director Rachel Perkins previous credits include the acclaimed TV series First Australians and the Paul Kelly musical, One Night the Moon.
This film was great fun and a great way to finish the Festival.

MIFF : The Matilda Candidate movie review

Curtis Levy is better known as a filmmaker (The President Versus David Hicks) but in his documentary The Matilda Candidate, he becomes the subject in his own film as he runs for a place in the Senate during the last Federal election on a ticket of Waltzing Matilda for the National Anthem. He believes it represents the spirit and history of Australia and wants to re-ignite public debate which will lead Australia to becoming a republic.
It is not surprising therefore that we hear the titular song some 26 different times during the 57 minute running time. It becomes its own highlight as it is presented in a different way each time : by an opera singer, aboriginal women with guitar, on didgeridoo, by Dame Edna, by marching bands, the banjo, a Chinese harp, at a football stadium before a Wallabies game and (my personal favourite) on Levy’s own mobile phone as his ring tone (well, what else would he have)?
The documentary shows Levy campaigning on the streets of Sydney, interviewing some people with a personal story to tell concerning the history of the song, via a re-creation of the events that inspired the song and by utilising old footage (using Dad ‘n Dave’s ‘Rudd for PM’ was a great get). Bruce Petty also chips in with some of his timely cartoons.
Levy said that he was deeply uncomfortable about the potential conflict in making himself the subject of his own documentary (“I broke all my own rules”) and had to make committed promises to his financiers that he would not use their funds for campaign purposes. It is a key reason why his campaign has very little in the way of funds.
The friction and banter between Levy and his friend and volunteer campaign manager, Jo Smith, gives the doco its great sense of fun and mischief even as Levy introduces important ideas and themes about Australia’s identity. His humour is delivered deadpan while the patient Jo endures his criticisms, all the while exposing his own lack of planning and strategy. Her great comeback is that she votes Labour and believes Australia should remain a monarchy!
It is anticipated that this doco will appear on ABC TV later in the year.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

MIFF : The Loved Ones

The Loved Ones is Australian Sean Byrne’s first full length feature. It is a teen horror / comedy and follows the genre rules faithfully. The MIFF audience I watched with were 1) family & friends of the post production crew (who were sponsoring the screening) and 2) the right age. The end result was many loud and enthusiastic laughs which meant it was exactly the right environment to watch it in.
It opens with Brent (Xavier Samuel) driving and his dad in the passenger seat on a country road. He swerves to avoid a figure standing in the middle of the road and ends up crashing into a tree and killing his father. This theme of ‘loss’ lays the emotional foundation for the film as Brent’s future survival becomes more important to us because of it.
His love interest, Holly (Victoria Thaine) does not have a lot to do but bestows the early teen love scene (check) and, along with Brent’s widowed mother, provides the pull for Brent’s return.
When asked to go the school dance by Lola (Robin McLeavy), Brent turns her down as he is already going with Holly.
Lola looks to be the school loner and odd-ball, not quite fitting in. She keeps a scrap book of her school crushes, dresses in garish pink and listens to Taylor Swift : evidence in the film of her slow emotional maturity (my 10 year old daughter loves Taylor Swift which I think is the point – Lola is 17).
Playing in a similar space to last year’s Aussie teen horror Acolytes, Brent is kidnapped and taken to a remote farm house and tied to a chair. There he meets Lola and her father Eric (John Brumpton) who have arranged their own school dance with Brent the special guest. There are plenty of “squirm” moments when the audience can hardly look at the screen and some first rate shock moments. There is also one of the best pantomime “look out behind you” moments I have seen for a while.
While none of the actual horror is witnessed on screen, Byrne soaks up as much tension as he can in anticipation and with the sound effects amped up, every hit, thump and drill bit allows the audience to feel the experience.
The tension of the farm house is off-set at intervals by the first date between Sac (Richard Wilson) and Mia (Jessica McNamee) at the school dance. Byrne delivers plenty of laughs in between however from both settings. While there is a risk is that the comedy will undermine the horror, for the most part Byrne gets it right and viewed in the right frame of mind, there is plenty of fun to be had.

MIFF : Balkan Experience

This year’s Festival dedicated a section to Balkan Cinema. Unshackled from years of Communism, film makers are expressing a love for their homeland which laments the recent past often accompanied with great humour and irony. Accompanied by Uncle J, we took in two films : Silent Wedding and Zift.
Silent Wedding is an affectionate and funny look back at life before the Communists invaded in rural Romania. The Villagers have their rivalries but all can be forgiven at the local tavern. When Mara and Iancu announced that they’re getting married, the whole village turns out to celebrate. The problem comes when it is announced that the whole country must go into enforced mourning for Stalin’s death. The wedding goes ahead anyway in silence with the larger than life characters and good humour continuing. The tragedy at the end of the film reinforces what was lost. The modern day is portrayed as bleak and dour (and its raining) – the past highlighted by sunshine, vivid colour and a lust for life.
Zift from Bulgaria, hits all the elements of a modern film noir that (I think) is telling us a tall story. The black and white photography is clean and strong (although the white subtitles sometimes hard to read); Ada, a very saucy and fatal femme; the missing diamond, valuable; lead man Moth is tall, strong, handsome and ultimately undone by his loving heart. ‘Zift’ is the word for resin used for sealing roads, or a chewing gum; it is also a slang word for ‘shit’. As in Silent Wedding there is a lot of black-humour although perhaps it would be more accurate to call it (poo) brown-humour. I enjoyed it although Uncle J felt it all amounted to nothing. An illustration of life perhaps? You will have to make up your own mind.


Confession as a Christian discipline has a bad reputation these days. We acknowledge our right to communicate directly with God : “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Similarly we shun the legalism of confessing either because we have to or as the only means to be forgiven.
Sin is not just doing something ‘bad’ per se. Sin is the thing that breaks the relationship between man and God. Foster, in his book ‘Celebration of Discipline’ constantly reinforces to all Christians the challenge of putting their relationship with Jesus first.
My fears are universal I think: I do not wish to broadcast my failures and shortcomings to others. My brain is very clever however. By remaining mute and unspecific about my actions, I can conveniently forget what I’ve done and justify away any consequences.
Keen to try all aspects of the disciplines Foster writes about, I started with my attitude toward my sinful behaviour. Am I genuinely sorry for having caused a rift in my relationship with God? Am I determined to avoid doing so again?
Then, to a trusted friend and Christian brother, I named specific sins, out loud. Attitudes of the “heart” (such as pride, anger, sloth, gluttony etc) are equal with “things done” when it comes to dealing with sin.
My confessor enunciated that God forgives me (we have the authority : “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven”)
What a wonderful freedom to be set free from guilt and shame. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” To walk more closely with Jesus is to experience life being fully loved and better able to love others. The challenge remains to continually place God first.

5 The discipline of Study
6 The discipline of Fasting

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Anthony La Paglia

Anthonly La Paglia (in town for Balibo) was also on hand at the Australian premiere of $9.99 to answer questions after the screening (he voices Jim Peck). A question asked from the audience was how different it was to voice an animated characer compared to acting a full role. La Paglia answered the question in a roundabout way but took 5 minutes to say it, distracting himself with many other detail. He then wasn’t sure if he’d actually answered the question and asked for it again.
Given the opportunity for a followup, the young questioner took control of the roving microphone and asked : “What chance Melbourne Victory going back to back?”
The staunch Sydney FC supporter and backer, La Paglia, answered : “Not a chance. SFC will kick some serious butt.”

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Milk movie review

Last December, colleague, friend and fellow cine-lover, Mr T and I saw Mickey Rourke tear up the screen in The Wrestler. We both agreed that it was a fine performance and reasoned that he would have to be favoured for the Best Oscar award. A couple of months later, Mr T announced he had just been to see the winner, Sean Penn in Milk. And so it turned out to be.
Penn plays Harvey Milk, gay rights activist and San Francisco councillor from 1977 and 1978. Based, on actual events, Milk became the campaigner for equal rights for gay people in the face of conservative and fearful opposition. He was assassinated in his office on 18 November 1978 and 30,000 people marched silently through the streets of San Francisco holding candles aloft, to mark his passing.
This is a sensitive performance from Penn where never for a moment do we believe he is not gay. His slight lisp and effeminate movements become a part of the character he his playing so that we do not remark on HIS ACTING or his “presence”. Perhaps we are used to Penn’s intensity on screen but here we see his enjoyment of life – laughing freely with his friends, his empathy for those in need and his great vulnerability with the few loves of his life. In this film we see two of them, played by James Franco and Diego Luna.
Harvey Milk typifies what is best observed about the ‘gay lobby group’; they are typically well educated, eloquent and motivated. Their campaign however goes beyond just ‘gay rights’. It was (and remains) about ensuring that equal rights and mutual respect are not put to the sword by prejudice and bigotry; for all oppressed groups : blacks, Asians, young, old, the disabled and so on. Its about hope he says, to make life worth living.
It is a nice touch I think that 3 actors in the film actually play themselves (albeit 30 years older), such as a union man or political script writer.
I found however that the storyline of tracking through Milk’s life and his rise of influence was not that interesting despite Penn’s fine and moving performance. 3 for the film and 1 for Penn : 4 out of 5.


Small Group is a place where I meet up with some mates from my local church. We pray together, read the bible together and encourage each other in our faith. At the moment we are reading a book together, The Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster.
In the chapter on ‘fasting’ we actually tried it out, rather than just read about it. Over the course of a normal work day, none of us ate breakfast or lunch. We met at the end of the day to break the fast; share a meal together and relate our experiences.
The point of fasting of course is not just to go hungry. Nor is there anything wrong with food or with eating. It is after all one of the very tenants of our existence! The challenge of Foster’s book is to put God first; to let nothing come between Him and us. Very easy to say, very hard to do.
During my fast, at times when I would otherwise be eating, I either read my bible or spent the time in prayer. While there was no startling revelation per se, indeed I have read my bible and prayed many times before, just the action of inviting God into times and places where I usually do not, subtly changed my perspective to be more gracious and light of spirit. Inevitably this experience left me wanting to seek God more.
During the day I found my stomach acted as a quiet (rumbly) reminder that this day was a day to seek God. An opportunity to not be distracted by routines and the often selfish living.
Foster says in his book that “fasting reveals the things that control us.” I realised today that I have an obsession with food that is controlling. Jesus says, “hunger and thirst for righteousness, then you will be filled.” I intend to fast again next week.

5 The discipline of Confession