Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

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Wishing everyone in blogland and beyond a very Merry Christmas and an only slightly sore-headed Boxing Day!!

My family has cut quite an international swathe through this holiday season. The parents are freezing in NYC, my brother and sister-in-law honeymooning in Hawaii and my other brother and his girlfriend are cuddled up with soup in the south of France. Forget Vince Vaughn, this is the real Four Christmases!

For my part, I pretty much lived the Australian cliché yesterday. The Pom's parents are in town, so it was up early to take them over to my uncle's house for a BBQ breakfast, then back to the homestead for champagne and pressies before hitting up the beach for some sun and surf.

When we started to feel like we might in the nearish future possibly be hungry again, we made our way back home to prepare a seafood BBQ extravaganza. There were scallops to marinate, green prawns and vegetables to skewer, swordfish to char in expensive looking crisscrosses, as well as king prawns and tuna steaks to cook just right. Of course there were cheeses and crackers, chips and dips to whet/ruin our appetites, and salads, grilled asparagus, eggplant and hot chips to accompany the main course.

I did mention this was a meal for four?

To top it all off there was homemade pavlova for dessert. Yes indeed, we lived the cliché. The Pom's parents were certain this is how I must have spent Christmases growing up, but in fact my memories are much more about the hoards of cousins, hours in the pool and maybe a cold chicken leg and a bit of potato salad squeezed in their somewhere.

That said, I'm happy to have taken part in a quintessential Aussie Christmas, albeit with a bunch of Brits. Considering my far-flung family members, I guess I was the Australian contingent, represent'n.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In Flight Entertainment


Sure, it's essentially an oxymoron, but I've come to rely on the in flight entertainment to see me through the bum-numbing tedium of long haul flights. This dependence can't be rational, because invariably the screens short out, or entertainment system goes fut, or my favourite, just a select few rows are on the fritz, nothing to be done, sorry. Of course that's always where I'm seated.

Regardless, I've done enough flights that the law of averages has seen fit to bless me with many in flight movies, some of which I have even been able to select 'on demand'. Huzzah! For whatever reason, I don't like to read on flights, I'm often to cramped and fidgety to really be able to settle into a good book, hence my reliance on films.

So it was with some trepidation that I looked at my tickets for Hawaii and realised that although the Pom and I had booked Qantas flights, we were actually on a Jetstar plane. What does this mean?! 10 hours with nary a Simpsons rerun to watch? The Pom eyed me warily as we took our seats, the headrests devoid of tv screens...

I quickly whipped out the Jetstar in flight magazine and discovered that some tv shows and Mamma Mia would be screened on the central monitors that punctuated the plane; headsets could be purchased for $3.00. But then, jackpot! Individual, handheld tv sets could be rented for $15.00: Wall-E, Unfinished Sky and Bottle Shock (to name just a few) were a mere flight attendant away.

But of course I spoke too soon. Of course, my in flight entertainment karma put me in a seat surrounded by clever folk who had pre-ordered all the available the tv sets, leaving none for the Jetstar uninitiated. I feel I dealt with this disappointment maturely, though the Pom maintains a pathetic chin wobble gave me away.

Not all was lost, however, as our inflated Qantas prices scored us Jetstar packs which contained headsets, a small consolation prize indeed. On a separate point, our Qantas tickets were our meal tickets, along with the clever folk who stole my movies, who had also pre-ordered the food service. It was the first time I'd been on a flight where only select people were brought food; I felt like it established this weird quasi-class system, over aeroplane food, of all things!

Our return flight was on an actual Qantas plane, and even though it was an old school one with only one central screen per section, I wasn't complaining. Ghost Town, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Mamma Mia (enough already!) and The X-Files: I Want to Believe were all served up to this ecstatic passenger. Granted, they were all edited and censored to within an inch of their lives, but I was coming from the US where that's par for the course (I could hardly recognise a Sex and the City episode it had been so profoundly censored).

Ghost Town made a great plane movie: simple, funny-ish and easy enough to follow through rows of heads. Ricky Gervais does a rather muted version of his famed shtick, perhaps tamed down for American audiences. Playing a misanthrope, depressive dentist who starts seeing dead people after a medical mishap, Gervais brings a bit of life (ha!) to this paint-by-numbers comedy.

I'd recommend the far superior Hearts and Souls (with the captivating Robert Downey Jnr) over Ghost Town any day, but if you're keen, Gervais will hit the silver screen in Oz on February 12, 2009.

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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day I LOVED! I actually saw this delightful film while I was struck down with black lung, so I was happy to reunite Miss Pettigrew on the flight. Frances McDormand and Amy Adams are simply remarkable, and they play so well off each other. The story of a destitute governess who hooks in on high society for a day, this film brims with old Hollywood charm.

Unfortunately, what I love most about the film - the to die for art-deco production design - was less enjoyable through said backs of heads, but I can highly recommend catching up with this movie on DVD.


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Though perhaps tainted with the inevitable 'plane cranky' that develops towards the end of a long haul flight, The X-Files: I Want to Believe found no convert in me. As a crime drama, it held my attention as we hurtled the final few hours to Sydney, but I wasn't at all engaged with the characters. And considering the characters were precisely what struck a friend of mine in his review, I can only assume the film was butchered to make it in flight friendly. I'll have to give this another try, if only for a 1990s tv nostalgia trip.

******
Well, this jetsetter is cashing in a gazillion frequent flyer points, playing fast and loose with her carbon footprint and heading to Europe just after Christmas. So those of you not cursing my name for such reckless extravagance will hopefully stay posted for more in flight shenanigans.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Wedding: Post-production


I'm back from Maui, my mind still spinning with the jet lag and the fact that my big brother done gone got hitched. And what a wedding!

It strikes me that organising a wedding is probably much like producing a film. And if so, my new sister-in-law should be in the running for an Oscar. Imagine putting together a wedding in Maui from back in Sydney, and coordinating 60-odd guests of different locations, ages and drinking habits for three days of festivities. Fortunately, both my brother and sister-in-law are hyper-literate in Microsoft Excel, so they had some serious spreadsheets going on: the run-sheet for the three days was broken down to 5 minute increments (really).

As director, producer, costume and production designer, my sister-in-law was indefatigable. The bridesmaids dresses were sourced from New York, the table linens from LA and the celebrant from Maui by way of Bondi. This truly was an international affair.

Despite the fact that we had almost been washed away by a tropical storm earlier in the week, and that every subsequent afternoon had brought rain, even Mother Nature followed her cues come wedding day. After much location scouting, the selected setting, as you can see, was just sublime.


A trio of strings heralded the ceremony, while the soundtrack for the evening was a multicultural mix of American pop with the odd Aussie classic thrown in. Of course the dance floor went berserk for Men At Work's Land Down Under.

A surprise musical addition was a specially commissioned wedding song Pacific Love* by the ever entertaining Ben Walker. The tale of two love birds who traverse the ocean to meet in the middle, the song's fusion of Hawaiian style guitar and swing was an instant hit and even had the bride in tears (awww!).

At the scrumptious post-wedding BBQ the following day, I asked the somewhat weary lady who penned and produced this epic wedding how she felt about the final cut: "It was a dream come true," she said.

You can't ask for a better reception than that.


*I'm told Pacific Love will be the soundtrack for the DVD and photo-montage, both currently in post-production, release date TBA.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mawage is what brings us together...today...


That's right, folks, I'm off for a week in Hawaii to watch my big brother get Maui'd.

It's a hard life...really.

For me, weddings are always an inevitable combination of Princess Bride, Father of the Bride and Four Weddings and a Funeral. You could probably toss a bit of Wedding Crashers in there for good measure too...just for giggles.

Aloha!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Girls' Night In

A recent trip to the homestead found Mum and I both feeling a little fragile. Some tasty Thai, a glass of crisp white wine and some shameless chick flicks were just what the doctor ordered.


What better way to kick of a Mother/Daughter bonding evening than Mamma Mia!? Shameless is certainly the way to describe this ABBA stage musical turned movie: shameless fun. I know there wasn't a lot of love for this film, but I couldn't help but feel that all the cast were just having a cracking time! They were definitely being good sports about it - those ABBA tunes aren't at all easy songs to sing - and I especially loved the way Stellan Skarsgård growled his way through.

Meryl Streep is simply a force to be reckoned with, and belts out the songs with warmth, humour and feeling. Amanda Seyfried, who I recognised as the ditz from Mean Girls, also does surprisingly well as the wide-eyed bride-to-be.

Sure the direction is a bit clunky and some scenes totally camp it up, but I was won over by the sense of fun and frivolity that the actors brought to film. However, with the ABBA score and the baby boomer man-candy on offer, I think the film was much more Mum's cup o' tea.



Next we prepared ourselves to get Carried away with Sex and the City. Now I'm a big fan of the TV show and will even admit to digging out the DVDs in preparation for the film's release. Then I lined up with a confronting number of women wielding plastic champagne flutes to see the glamour girls grace the silver screen, and I was not disappointed. Perhaps it was the dangerous levels of oestrogen in the cinema, but my friends and I were carried away indeed.

Second time around, I let myself consider the niggling comments I'd heard from critics. Yes, Charlotte essentially squeals her way through the movie (although I do think she pulls off her climactic scene with Mr. Big). Yes, Samantha's arc is underwritten and a repeat of her breakup with Richard: "But I love me more". And yes, perhaps Jennifer Hudson's character Louise is a bit politically incorrect, as a black women coming in to rescue and restore the rich white lady.

But I don't care. As a fan of the show, I know I'm the target audience for the film and on that level I think they delivered. They dished up the labels, the laughs and our favourite foursome. I even think they had some interesting things to say about marriage, fidelity and forgiveness. Miranda's story dovetailed nicely with Carrie's, although my cousin did wonder when Miranda got so schmendy.*

All in all the film is a fabulous reunion of old friends - with fabulous being the operative word. I can happily watch the series and the movie without forfeiting any post/feminist leanings and without needing to go out and buy a Louis Vuitton.

That's just how I roll.

*I took this to be a combo of chic and trendy, and believe she was well on her way by the end of the tv series. Lawyers, it turns out, can look stylish.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Death to the Australian Auteur!


Or so says Bill Bennett in this SMH article.

I can appreciate where he's coming from, but alas I fear I'm too ignorant about our local industry to comment on the specifics. It sure doesn't seem like we have the money to institute such a roundabout production process? In any case, it looks like we now have $197 million Australia sized hole to deal with.

At the other end of the spectrum is the philosophy behind Hugh Jackman's Seed Production. I welcomed the news that Jackman was hanging out his shingle, with the aim of producing four to five films a year with budgets under $10 million.

Says Jackman, "Our aim is to support Australian filmmakers, to stimulate the creative community and provide international opportunities for Australian artists."

In a TV report I recall Jackman's business partner John Palermo citing Calender Girls as an example of a small budget film that was a huge commerical success. The idea, he explained, was that in making these $10 million films, every so often a Calendar Girls would come along and pay for the rest.

It sounds ambitious, but it strikes me that this approach has merit. And with an actor (and 'star') rather than director calling the shots, perhaps Bennett would agree?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

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Happy Thanksgiving ya'll!

No, I haven't morphed into a loud American, but my brother's fiancée has brought this turkey day to our clan. A day of eating, drinking and family infighting?! Sounds like something Australians can sign up for - think of it as preparation for Christmas and Boxing Day.

In three years, however, I have still to figure out how or why stuffing is a separate dish from the turkey. Really. I'm not an unintelligent person, yet for years I've made the crazy assumption that stuffing is what is actually stuffed inside the bird. And for some reason that continues to allude me, American thanksgiving meals are evidently incomplete without a separate bowl of stuffing (and not just scraping the goop out of the turkey).

This is also the same people that melt marshmallows on sweet potatoes to serve as another side dish...

You live you learn!


Someone also struggling with the prospect of cooking a thanksgiving meal for her family is Ms. Burns in Pieces of April. If you're looking for a thanksgiving film tonight, then I can recommend tracking down this one. It's got a crazy family, tears and turkey, captured by the astute eye of writer/director Peter Hedges (of Dan in Real Life fame).

Otherwise, gather some friends and gorge yourselves until you're in a food coma...that sounds like the true meaning of thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Defiant Bond

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While I'm about to go and see Quantum of Solace tonight, I'm already eagerly anticipating Daniel Craig's next brooding turn in Edward Zwick's Defiance. Craig trades in Bond to become a Bielski brother, in this true story of Jewish resistance during World War II.

In the part of Soviet Eastern Europe now known as Belarus, Tuvia Bielski and his two brothers took to the woods and set up camp. After rescuing men, women and children from the ghetto, the camp became a community and one of the largest Partisan bands of the war.

Zwick can wander into the melodramatic, but in general I find his films thoughtful, provocative and beautifully shot. His impressive filmography includes: Glory, The Siege, Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire, The Last Samuari and of course Blood Diamond.

He's taking on history again with Defiance, and I'm pleased to see the movie's website features a lot of historical detail. Of course the site includes the telltale caveat, "Even playing heed to true events, Edward Zwick notes that he was never interested in presenting a documentary."

Encouragingly, Zwick elaborates, "In addition to investigating the characters, I want audiences to be on the edge of their seats, a feeling that only a movie can create. And remarkably enough, in order to do that, we didn't have to bowdlerize the history, because the excitement was all there in the real story."

One wonders how history would have been treated had the 'real story' not lived up to the required excitement. And while I agree narrative is probably the most engaging and accessible way to portray history, I'd wager that documentaries can put audiences' bums on the edges of seats.

But I'll get off my soap box now...

...History, heroism, and a defiant Daniel Craig...sign me up!

Check out the trailers here.

Defiance is slated for an Australian release on 19 February 2009.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

For better or worse...

Hold onto your hats, people, Australia is coming!

R.I.P Michael Crichton


I was sad to read that Michael Crichton succumbed to cancer on Tuesday, at the age of 66. He was a thoroughly entertaining writer whose Hollywood adaptations shaped the 1990s blockbuster. I was too young for The Andromeda Strain, but who among us didn't scare the bejesus out of themselves in the cinema watching Jurassic Park? Rising Sun, Disclosure, Twister, Congo and Sphere soon followed: the scary, racy and raunchy thrillers that punctuated the 1990s - as regular as clockwork, and as anticipated his Christmas novel releases.

Having worked in a bookshop, I've sorted, stickered and shelved countless Crichton titles and introduced a few readers to his engaging and accessible novels. I've also spent countless hours in front of ER, which Crichton created, wrote and produced. His medical drama shaped the course of television history just as his blockbusters shaped Hollywood. ER was surely M*A*S*H of my generation.

Crichton was a medical doctor, writer, producer, director: a great talent to match his prodigious height.

UPDATE 5pm: Here is the official NY Times obituary.
And how cool is this pic?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New World Order


He's done it! Hallelujah!

It's been a tense wait for we internationals, unable to vote, yet profoundly affected by the outcome. To us, Obama has declared, "A new dawn of American leadership is at hand."

Change has come to America...at last!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I don't really do Halloween. I think the most ambitious outfit I ever wore growing up was a 'ghost', aka a yellowing white sheet, with eye holes. I recall wandering up and down my cousin's street and getting rejection after rejection. Perhaps that was just a reflection of my uninspired costume, but either way, the Halloween bubble was burst and that was that.

My parents hung on for a while longer. By that I mean they'd usually tear up to the shops at dusk to pick up some fun size chocolate bars, but until the gorgeous American family moved in next-door, we'd usually end up gorging on chocolate for weeks (ok, days).

Anyway, the Pom sent me this a couple of days ago, which made me giggle, so Happy Halloween, folks!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Australia on Sale

It's not just the Australian dollar on sale right now, it appears the publicity campaign is underway for Baz Lurhmann's epic film.

Nic and Hugh have made a beeline for the oracle that is Oprah, recording an appearance on her show last week. Now, Oprah may love our UGGs, but it remains to be seen if she'll love the rest of Australia.

Although, I highly doubt the effusive Oprah will give Australia anything but a gushy tick of approval, which will surely set the tone of the publicity tour. That said, I don't envy Hugh or Nic the brain-numbing PR weeks ahead (all ten of them) as they spruik the film, with the added weight of a continent on their shoulders.

The official site boasts that Good Morning America, amongst others (including Ellen), has expressed interest in trekking over to Oz to film shows and publicise the film. I'm anticipating a passive-aggressive run-in with Kochie (a 'popcorn moment' as Bean would say), as well as every single Australia cliche under the sun...pun intended.

Even if the film and the tourism campaigns bomb, at least the diving dollar should help entice the Yanks over.

Let the games begin.

Image - Nic and Hugh, hitting the campaign trail

Australia opens in cinemas on November 26th.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's a small world after all

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So it turns out Hollywood isn't totally useless after all. Surely not if Kevin Bacon has cured cancer?! No really, I've just seen it on the ABC.

How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer is actually a fascinating look into the mathematics of networks, as developed by a couple of American and Australian über-geeks studying crickets, and developed into the study of the World Wide Web (as my Mum still refers to it), transport systems, the spread of pathogens and even the internal workings of a single cell.

I've often feared my encyclopedic knowledge of movies would come to nothing, but now I can sleep soundly knowing all those 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' games I've played over the years have at the very least contributed to an understanding of networks, their hubs, and the increasingly small world we living in.

Visit Sixdegrees.org to see how Kevin Bacon is doing his bit to spread the love.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Turning Pink

Today is Pink Ribbon Day, so in support of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, here are a few interesting ads and images I've come across.

Image - from a Kuwaiti awareness campaign.


Image - "Unfortunately we can't test everything for you"


Image - So true!





Image - "Detect Cancer before it strikes." "To find out how, insert and play."


Image - Because this made me giggle

Friday, October 24, 2008

Valkyrie

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I've kept a wary eye on Valkyrie for a while now, and just revisited the trailer and featurette. Don't get me wrong, there are lot of great things going for this film: Bryan Singer is teaming up again with The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie, which leads me to believe we're in for a stylish and tightly written thriller. In the featurette, Singer even takes on the assumption that a Cruise/Singer collaboration would be 'X-Men meets Mission Impossible', reminding viewers that he's done The Usual Suspects, and Cruise was in Born on the Fourth of July. An apt, if self-conscious clarification to be sure.

I'm also really excited by any film that puts Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Fry and Eddie Izzard in a room together. Although, it does seem a little unfair that all the 'good Nazis' are played by these British greats, and the 'bad Nazis' are played by German actors.

Most of all I'm geeking out on the German history (no surprises there!). In the wake of Der Untergang, I'm keen to see how the Germans will react to their story being told by a bunch of Yanks and Poms. Plus I have my own idea for a WWII Germany film, so I'll be taking notes!

My main concern centres around Mr. Cruise and his ability to not act like Mr. Cruise. I notice everyone is keeping their accents in this film, but I don't think it'll help audiences distance themselves from TomKat. I would have preferred everyone to at least attempt a nondescript, quasi-English accent a'la Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

Accents aside, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Cruise can pull this role off, and that history doesn't get too badly butchered in the process.

Resistance & Collaboration - Image

Valkyrie is opening in the US on Boxing Day. No word yet on the Australian release date.

UPDATE 6/12: Australian Release date now set at 22 January 2009.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tag 'em & Bag 'em


"Doc, tag him and bag him!"

Or so say Tori and Kate, only without the shouting, swearing or the Vietnam War. Indeed this is a much more pleasant, less fatal exercise - or so I trust!

Here are the rules:

1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself, some random, some weird.
3.Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

And so I begin to bag myself out:

Fact #1
Strawberries are known to me as "little...red...yummies". I'm not quite sure what happened to my brain that fateful day as I attempted to say "strawberry," but it was much like Homer and, "that...metal deely... used to...dig...food." Kate was on the receiving end of my brain spasm, though fortunately I think she laughed with me as much as at me.

Fact #2
I'm a shameless mimic. Sure it's helpful learning languages (evidently I speak German without an accent), but it can become a bit of a problem if I'm just talking to someone. I'll pick up their accent, their phrases and even their mannerisms. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but I think I may just come across deranged! I had a field day in Ireland! And when I returned from a year in England, I had what my brothers described as "the dirtiest English accent," - one they ridiculed out of me, barring my pronunciation of "book".

Fact #3
Further to #2, I do love words and revel in languages. My German, though rusty, remains conversational, and I think I do English good, but Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Arabic, Japanese and Mandarin are all on my pipe-dream to-do list. My German host sister can speak English, French and Spanish, which just makes me feel lazy, not to mention envious!

Fact #4
I have actually started in on Spanish, though I've encountered an interesting dilemma: whenever I'm searching for a Spanish word, my brain will wave around the German one. It's goes "Eee! Here you go! I've got it!" and I have to repeatedly, yet calmly tell my brain to put the Deutsch away and help me find the Español. It can be quite exasperating (and again I probably seem deranged!).

Fact #5
I'm a frustrated screenwriter. I have a moleskine full of ideas for grand historical epics, most of which place in far-away lands and in foreign tongues. I think the eternal student in me hopes to travel the world learning the history and languages of countries before writing films about them. Until I figure out how to bankroll that, I really should work on a more modest foray into the industry.
Fact #6
Between bouts of take-away apathy, I do actually enjoy cooking, and baking in particular. It's always more fun cooking with someone, or at the very least for someone. If left on my tod (a phrase stolen from the Pom), I'm all about simple pleasures: Vegemite and cheese on fresh sourdough.

Fact #7
I'm semi-obsessed with my stat-counter. I don't mean to pry (mostly), I'm honestly just fascinated by where people come from and how they come to be reading my lil'ol' blog. It certainly is a small world out there. And just for the record, Bean, Heaps Beached gets a lot of traffic, so surely I deserve a t-shirt?!

So there you have it, folks! Make of my own special brand of crazy what you will. It's been a lot of fun reading what others have divulged, so I hope I've added to the giggles.

And now to snap off some dog tags of my own:
1) Love You Big
2) eat tori
(ok I'm cheating, but I can recommend reading their entertaining lists)
3) Little Miss Monkey Mind
4) Dark Habits/Just Another Clumsy Romantic
5) Syms Covington
6) Patch
7) The Flashpacker

While I Was Sleeping II

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15 years in the making, Andy Garcia's The Lost City is a beautiful, deeply personal, if flawed film. In his ode to Havana, Garcia weaves a slightly wonky tale of a wealthy Cuban family, torn apart by the revolution. Two of the three brothers take up the cause, but Garcia's Fico tries in vain to maintain the status quo and continue his life as a successful nightclub owner.

Fico's reticence to react to the disintegrating world around him reflects Garcia's own slipping grip on this film. His story seems to get lost in the telling; this part drama, part love story, part political thriller mish-mash could perhaps have been held together by a strong lead character, but Fico remains aloof from the action, and the audience.

I was also completely confounded by Bill Murray's performance as The Writer. I'm always a fan of his endearing character roles, but his very presence was confusing: was he Fico's alter ego or perhaps a quirky Greek Chorus? The latter makes sense as this is certainly a tragic film.

Garcia's strengths lie in his portrayal of family and of music. Both aspects are at the heart of this story and are the source of its successful moments. Aside from producing, directing and starring in this film, Garcia also composed the original music. Such is the depth of his commitment to The Lost City, that you can forgive him its flaws. Perhaps, though, Havana may have been more beautifully revealed by someone less devastated by its loss.




Another ode to a favourite city of mine is Cédric Klapisch's Paris. Unlike Havana, I have been fortunate enough to visit Paris a few times and hence watched this film from my sick bed, wishing myself back to the banks of the Seine. Klapisch's Paris is told through the nostalgic and longing eyes of a dying Pierre (another standout performance by Romain Duris), who plays sentinel over the city as he awaits a heart transplant. Pierre's harangued social worker and single mum sister, Élise (my favourite Julliette Binoche), moves in with her brood to be with her brother.

The other colourful characters in this multi-narrative tale include an historian of Paris who falls in love with one of his students, an architect about to have his first child, an ethnic North African girl looking for a job, a group of local market vendors, some de rigueur fashionistas, and a Cameroonian man about to set sail for the promised land. These vignettes are well conceived and carefully interwoven, resulting in a wonderful and heartfelt snapshot of Paris.

Klapisch wisely avoids labouring the obvious cliché of Pierre as Paris: the romantic city, the beating heart of rose-coloured, bespectacled people everywhere. Instead he subtly teases out the themes of the heart - of hope, love, loss and life - within the lives of his characters. To be sure there's a healthy dollop of romance doled out with all the reality, and the final shot is more than a little rosy-lensed.

But if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself entirely caught up in the celebration of the everyday, the eternal, the magnificent, Paris.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't Vote!

Talk about cinematic advertising:



Thanks to Tori for sharing "like herpes, but for positive"...looks like Pay It Forward is all grown up!

SFFF V: Lemon Tree


Image via Sydney Film Festival

I notice Lemon Tree finally received an Australian release while I was sleeping. This film is sublime, a definite favourite from the SFF. It's thought provoking without being too provocative, which is a hard line to walk when you're dealing with Israeli/Palestinian relations.

Based on a true story, Lemon Tree follows the fate of Palestinian widow Salma Zidane as she struggles to protect her lemon grove from being destroyed by her new neighbour, the Israeli Defense Minister. Hiam Abbass, who was so wonderful in The Visitor, impresses again in her performance as Salma. She lives a simple and lonely life, yet one she fiercely defends, taking the Minister to court with the help of lawyer Ziad Daud (Ali Suliman). The love story between Salma and Ziad has received a bit of criticism, but I felt it was really well handled, and more poignant for developing from a recognition of loneliness in each other.

The Defense Minister's wife, Mira Navon also shares Salma's loneliness, and this mirrored experience is deftly handled by director Eran Riklis. Indeed the entire film benefits from Riklis' deft touch, never becoming shrill nor sinking into movie-of-the-week soppiness.

Lemon Tree
is an engrossing parable about the West Bank, whose message is devastatingly confirmed in the film's final shot.

Image via Fribourg

In Treatment

Images via Imdb

Make sure you're sitting comfortably, and have your tissues handy.

...The shrink is in session.

Monkey Mind's post on Blue Day 2008 got me thinking about depression, general nutsiness and getting help. Her post has also coincided with a new TV obsession of mine, HBO's In Treatment. While I remain up at the homestead battling the black lung, I've been enjoying Foxtel's premier screenings of this fascinating show.

Based on the Israeli drama Be 'Tipul, In Treatment traces the life of psychoanalyst Paul Watson (played by the dashing Gabriel Byrne) through his sessions with five patients and his own visits to his former supervisor and therapist, Gina, after a tense, ten year hiatus. Structure is key to this show, as its set up to screen five nights a week: Monday - Thursday with Paul treating his patients (three individuals and one couple) and concluding on Friday with Paul's visit to Gina.

Now I can imagine a television show based on two people sitting and talking must have been a tough sell. Executive producer/writer/director Rodrigo Garcia had his work cut out for him because the focus is entirely on the writing: the dialogue and plot have to be razor sharp to keep your attention.

Much like blog posts hey...ahhhh bad joke.

Given all this sitting and chatting, I am fascinated by the way the show incorporates movement. At least once an episode, someone will get up in a huff, or need the bathroom, or want a drink, anything to create a bit of movement. Then there's the wave machine (or Tranquil Tide Machine
as it's officially known), which sits behind the patients, providing a constant source of motion. But the most intriguing movement for me is in the editing. It's fascinating to watch how Garcia times the edits; he'll get you into a rhythm of a shot-reverse-shot then change the angle completely, to a subtle, yet great effect. All dialogue heavy films and TV series should take notes from In Treatment. It's a brilliantly crafted and absolutely riveting show.

In Treatment in motion

I also wonder if In Treatment will demystify the therapeutic process for viewers. It's telling that a number of Paul's patients come to him with preconceived ideas of 'shrink questions', demanding that they don't need 'therapy', they just need his opinion, or for him to answer a question for them. I imagine a lot of people view therapy in that way and indeed there remains a huge stigma about getting help. Perhaps not in America, where every man and his dog seems to see a shrink (quite literally, Cesar Millan runs a psychology centre for dogs), but we Australians seem to have inherited the British stoicism and prefer to stiff-upper-lip our way through things. This is in spite of alarmingly high rates of depression in Australia, particularly amongst males, who are even less likely to seek help.

Speaking of which, Movember is coming up next month, so hopefully more awareness will be raised about men's health issues and depression in particular.

In the meantime though, I can recommend getting yourself in treatment.

W.

Image via Apple

Apple has an exclusive trailer for Oliver Stone's W. (aka why the US presidential election is so anxiety inducing for the rest of us).

Not one to shy away from historical or political controversy, Stone's film is a very timely look at the life and leadership of George W. Bush. That the man behind the W, Josh Brolin suggests the film is akin to Dr. Strangelove, should fairly set the tone (and perhaps the tone of the reviews) of the film.

As a student of history trying to reconcile her love of (inaccurate/misleading/butchering - take your pick) historical films, I've always had a huge amount of respect for Oliver Stone. Audiences may disregard him as a crazed conspiracy theorist and historians may deride his treatment of the American past, but the man loves his history and knows how to make a compelling case for it on screen. Plus he's actually addressed the American Historical Association to discuss his films. The resulting book, Oliver Stone's USA, is a fascinating historiographical debate about his methods, his historical interpretations and indeed the very definition of history and her historians.

Needless to say, I'm eagerly anticipating W. and trust Stone won't scrimp on the history, or the controversy!

Nb. I haven't come across an Australian release date yet.

UPDATED 23/10/08:
There's my cinematic historian! Check out W. The Official Film Guide which sources and references 83 key events and sections of dialogue
.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Come Walkabout

Image via Australia.com

Last week Tourism Australia launched its much anticipated ad campaign created by Baz Luhrmann. Tying into the November 26 release of Luhrmann's epic Australia, the two mini-films speak to the transformative effect of the outback. Eschewing the famous Australian landmarks for more natural wonders, the ads appeal to stressed out execs, whose lives are enriched and their senses of self restored after a dip in a billabong and a dance beneath a boab. The beautiful Brandon Walters features in both ads as an Aboriginal apparition, inviting the weary execs to 'come walkabout'.

It seems not everyone's a fan of this tourism tranformation, as this quote from The Age attests:

Advertiser Allan "Jo" Johnston, co-creator of the successful Paul Hogan "throw a shrimp on the barbie" campaign, says the new Tourism Australia TV ads leave him feeling similarly displaced. "Lack of friendliness, I think, is the main thing wrong with it," he says.

"It's all about a marriage breaking up, someone coming up and sprinkling magic dust on you, with a few standard shots of beautiful footage. This is just a bit too dark and mysterious for me. It's beautifully shot, but it looks like it's been shot in Siberia — talk about bloody sunniest country in the world, it's all dark."

Then today the ads have been criticised for being too 'white-collar'. Not an unfair comment I suppose, but given the financial meltdown, I'm wondering if any collar colours will be springing for a ticket to the land of Oz?! I fear we may soon be back to demanding, "Where the bloody hell are you?"

Friday, October 10, 2008

Blog Love!


How delightful to return to blogland and find myself the recipient of such a lovely award! Sure, I was nominated by the two women who inspired me to start this blog in the first place and who also happen to be family, but well, that's just my kind of nepotism!

Many many thanks to Kate (of Love You Big fame), and Little Miss Monkey Mind for the blog love, all the fun comments and for being such great and inspiring reading yourselves.

The rules of the award are thus:
1. Choose seven of your favourite blogs to nominate and link back to them
2. Link to the person from whom you received the award
3. Leave a message on the blogs that you've nominated
4. Post the award on your blog (optional)

Now I'm still fairly new to blogland, still building my Google Reader and discovering different blogs, but my award picks are (nepotism or no!) already firm favourites. I've also realised that despite their different subjects, they are all beautifully written. Turns out I'm just a sucker for language.

So in no particular order:
1. Eat Tori - my cooking, restaurant and travel guru, whose masterfully penned posts always get my tummy rumbling.
2. Love You Big - a veritable smorgasbord of all things literature, design, craft and chic. My inspiration in blogland (and in life!).
3. Little Miss Monkey Mind - fabulous observations of Oxford, PhD life, photography, family (ahem!) and the reluctant yet arduous battle of being an Aussie abroad.
4. I Hate Mornings - for catchy tunes about colourful characters, Ben always gets me smiling.
5. MetroDad - heartfelt and hilarious tales of family and fatherhood in NYC. (Thanks to Kate for introducing me to this great blogger).
6. The Flashpacker - a new travel blog by a friend and fellow wanderluster. His posts always leave me with itchy feet (to travel, not scratch).
7. Syms Covington - my window into the weird and wonderful world of Australian cinema.

So thanks again for my shiny award! I graciously accept. Here's my dramatic recreation:

While I Was Sleeping

Images via Imbd

It should come as no surprise that the first of my 'While I was Sleeping' films came straight from the comfort food stash. Before my parents hijacked me up to suburbia, I dragged my bedraggled self into the living room, curled up under my blankie (yes, I still have one, though it is disguised as a Freedom throw rug) and settled in to watch The Princess Bride. There is no doubt this is the quintessential sick film. That morning I was the chubby cheeked kid from The Wonder Years and old Columbo was my kooky grandpa, come to read me a fabulous story.

Or perhaps that's just the temperature talking.

In any case, there is definitely something soothing about The Princess Bride. It's like a cold hand on a feverish forehead; conveying the comfort and nostalgia of childhood. William Goldman's screenplay is - unoriginally - pure gold. His quirky dialogue and creative characters are old friends, not to mention the source of timeless film quotes!

Rob Reiner's direction is just the right slice of hammy, as are the performances, sets and soundtrack. But of course I'm totally biased, and almost always tear up as the grandpa turns and utters the final line, "As you wish."

Awww.


Changing the tone entirely is this latest, disturbing offering from Sidney Lumet. I'm not an avid follower of Lumet's work, but of course know his (in)famous Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. Before the Devil Knows Your Dead sets up a similar, doomed fate for its characters that also revolves around a robbery. You know all is not going to end well here in this morality play. My brother reminded me that it was similar to The Square in that way, which is very true, though the first film I thought of watching it was Cassandra's Dream. I believe Allen was attempting to drag you across the coals like Lumet and Edgerton do in their respective thrillers, but Cassandra's Dream somehow gets distracted by the South London dialogue.

The two brothers in Lumet's film have similar motivations to their London counterparts: money and social mobility. The tremendous Philip Seymour Hoffman is unrepentantly self serving as older brother Andy, who recruits a reluctant Hank (Ethan Hawke) to rob their parents' jewelry store. Lumet cuts between the stories of the brothers in a self-consciously jarring fashion, showing there is little to like about either of them, nor the wife/lover role of Marisa Tomei, who came across as some sort of depressive space cadet. Albert Finney is a scene stealer as the distraught and determined father, Charles. I'm not sure I absolutely bought the climactic scene, but Finney's performance is terrifying!

This film is fueled by great performances and a car-crash like captivating plot. I'm fairly sure it's not just the flu talking when I say it leaves you feeling grimy and in need of a shower.


To restore your faith in families, I can recommend a dose of Dan in Real Life. Now I've never fully appreciated the 'home-for-the-holidays' genre of American films. These days I'm fortunate enough to have the family living locally, so we regularly catch up over barbecues and coffees; a pleasant couple of hours here and there, which seems entirely more civilised than torturing each other with a week under the same roof!

Dan in Real Life may avoid the added stress of Christmas cheer, but the family nonetheless comes together for some - gulp - quality time. Fortunately, the Burns clan seem like a fun bunch to be with. They're friendly, loving and nosey as all good families are, and gratefully devoid of the 'token outcast' role awkwardly written into so many family dramas. No, the drama (and comedy) here is provided by a painful love-triangle, and a healthy dose of teenage angst.

I was taken by this film from the very beginning. The opening scene is brilliant and immediately launches you into the life of widower Dan Burns, who is carefully and wonderfully portrayed by Steve Carell. I watched the 'making of' extras in which director Peter Hedges* describes how he was raised by a single father and really saw this film as a tribute to him. I think that goes a long way to explain how naturally and poignantly Carell comes across.

What I imagine Carell needs no direction in is playing awkward. When Dan unwittingly falls for his brother's girlfriend, Marie (played by the sublime Juliette Binoche), the awkward is palpable, and very very funny.

My favourite line: "This corn is like an angel."

See this film if you fancy a warm-hearted comedy about fatherhood, families and finding love. It's a lovely experience and a lot of fun to boot.

* I'm just seeing that Hedges wrote and directed another 'home for the holidays' flick, Pieces of April, with Mrs. Cruise. I really enjoyed that film and even thought Katie Holmes carried off the lead quite well. And would you look at that, it's another Burns family! Coincidence? I think not.
Don't you just love IMDb?
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