February Short Movie (etc) Reviews

Slum Dog Millionaire – A clever, well-strung together film which was thrilling to watch and had a great soundtrack. Occasionally violent, often joyful, and more entertaining than educational, I suspect, but very good at that. Obviously, I enjoyed it, but it hasn’t really stuck with me and I’m not sure yet why.

Cressida Campbell exhibition – My aunt took us to see this and the works were very lovely: large scale, bold and delicate watercolour woodcuts. The technique Campbell uses is to draw the picture onto the wood, carve out the lines, colour it directly with thick watercolour, then dampen the block and take a print off it. Several prints were displayed with their blocks, and there was such an architectural/design quality to them. Beautiful Australian scenes. I can’t afford the exhibition book, but it is lovely and printed on thick textured paper (although it can’t capture the scale and light of the exhibition).

Gran Torino – One of the few movies where the purpose-written song over the credits didn’t offend. As for whether the rest of the movie did… I was wondering. On one level I enjoyed it, especially the acting which at first seemed amateurish and became really compelling (the casting and simplicity of the movie were good and daring choices), but the sheer quantity of vitriol that Eastwood’s character was capable of seemed so excessive it was caricatured. The movie was meant to be a critique of racism, but I wasn’t always sure it worked, and wanted to get the point of view of someone more nearly affected.  And I found this really great review, and lost the link. It might have been this one from reappropriate, who found it nauseating. By contrast, here’s a review from Geo on Racialicious, who found positives. Whether or not you see the movie (and I did like that song), the reviews are worth reading.

He’s Just Not That Into You – I… liked this. It wasn’t brilliant, and certainly the morality was occasionally absent, occasionally odd and often confused. But it managed to do what most romantic comedies don’t: a well-handled ensemble cast not overshadowed by the bigger stars; a satisfyingly but not excessively intricate plot; and humour that wasn’t (a) crass or (b) all in the preview and left out of the movie. Faint praise, maybe, but pretty high for the genre.

Rachel’s Getting Married – A painful, odd and occasionally excessively self-indulgent film, but with some remarkable performances, a good treatment of the love and nastiness in sibling relationships and some really touching/quirky family scenes: the musicians annoying everyone by playing, the planning of table settings and the dishwasher race were particularly memorable.

Also, music:

Washington Square Serenade “City of Immigrants” was playing on the radio a lot, and I loved it and it turned out to be by Steve Earle (“Copperhead Road”). I’m glad I bought the album. It’s country seguing into a folky/ballad style which I love – parts of some songs reminded me of Bright Eyes (go figure) and Chumbawumba-not-I-get-knocked-down-again-but-their-folk/political/protest-stuff (this is now how I refer to that band). It weakened in the middle, but there were some stand-outs: “Tennessee Blues”; “Down Here Below”, a Tom Waites/Tom Petty-esque song of New York from the point of view of a red tailed hawk; “City Of Immigrants”  –  “I don’t need to go travellin’, open the door and the world walks in”; “Days Aren’t Long Enough” – a love song which I didn’t like the first time, and then began to listen to on repeat. But obviously my views on the weaker songs aren’t shared, because I see the album won a Grammy for best folk/americana album.

War Child – Heroes – I’m a sucker for rewrites, covers, reimaginings, allusions, spoofs and updates, so I was looking forward to this album of old(er) songs covered by young(er) artists. Nothing stood out like Cat Empire singing “Hotel California” in French reggae-style on Triple J’s Like a Version, but it was still pretty good to hear some of these covers.

Knowing: a review

When a time capsule is opened at his son’s school’s 50th anniversary, Nicholas Cage, a professor at MIT who has given up the search for meaning in life after his wife’s death and become estranged from his father (a minister), discovers that a piece of paper covered with numbers by a schoolgirl 50 years before in fact predicts major global disasters since it was buried. There are only three left, and the last one may be the end of the world.

Knowing was visually lovely: the observatory white over autumn foliage, the floating stones, the quality of light in the 1959 classroom, the little details of life. Visual beauty cannot always save a speculative/philosophical film (c.f. What Dreams May Come, Dreamcatcher), but it can make it a pleasure to watch with the sound off. What seemed ultimately hollow was the loss of that beauty.

It was also remarkably restrained. There was a surprising amount of hugging (I’d be interested to get a final tally), but no love interest. What promised to be an awkward blind date never eventuated. The major female characters were Cage’s sister and a drawn and haunted Rose Byrne who never was the subject of a romance (she got hugged, but no-one will escape). Considering the final role of the children, the child characters never took centre stage. Necessary graphic violence was not accompanied by gratuitous gore. Anguish and heartbreak and terror, while visible, were not dwelt on, and there were scenes and histories and possible side-stories which were alluded to but not pursued. That same restraint, however, ultimately cheapened all those lives.
The restraint did make the movie occasionally creepy. We knew we were being played – the light, the music, the placement of windows in a scene – but the audience, to its own amusement, yelped more than once. The sudden contrast of the full-on scenes of destruction were also (variably) effective. I quite like epic, world-destroying cinematography, and although the scenes were not always believable and sometimes over the top, they weren’t flinching, and the devastation seemed appropriately devastating. It’s just a shame that the destruction was more interesting than what was being destroyed.

The lack of connection may be Nicholas Cage’s fault, because I don’t watch him to see him emote. It’s not that he can’t. I could see the emotions he was going for quite clearly. I wanted to feel for the man, but I kept giggling, or worrying he was accidentally going to do the splits. Of course, it may not be all Cage’s fault – I noted at the very beginning that I wished the X-Files movie had started like this one, and all to the end I kept thinking that a few tweaks would have made this a passable X-File, and in that case we could have watched David Duchovny while not thinking about the science or the plot (which were so aerated I’m not going to go into them).

In the end, there was no-one else to think about except Cage. No-one did anything. Well, Rose Byrne stole a car, and we approved of that, but most characters stagnated and were odd, or off-screen and I didn’t care about them one way or the other enough to be particularly concerned with their fates. Not even the animals. Not even the rabbits. Especially not the rabbits. As a result I did not find the ending hopeful or tragic or appropriate or anything I thought it might be meant to be. Disturbing and peculiar and odd, yes. With alien-angel beings and religious references which didn’t prove anything or go anywhere, and vaguely prehensile-looking grass.

Without the philosophical/religious underpinnings, this might have been just another end of the world, but the movie’s allusions and questions and conclusion didn’t make me think or twist my view of reality or raise or answer any questions. They seemed to me to be so shallow, gratuitous and wrong that ultimately my reaction to the movie was not “whoa” but “huh”. Or possibly, “Huh?”.

Disclosure: I received the pass in return for doing a review.

If you like one-line reviews: It was Deep Impact meets a Watchtower tract (purely for the visual impact of the final scenes).

Further thoughts: Lately I’ve been thinking about whether and how religion and philosophy combine with science fiction (or fiction at all). For example, if you level the playing field as far as research and characterisation, I have big (literary) issues with a lot of ‘Christian fiction’ and barely any with secular fiction which happens to have Christians in it, even if one is as orthodox as the other. It may be a difference between being hit over the head with something and observing someone else live out what they believe, but I’m still refining those thoughts.

2008 – first lines of the month

3 January
Illustration Friday: Soar
A clockwork horse for this week’s Illustration Friday theme.

10 February
Kathleen is…
Hitting the new year running:

1 March
February Short Book Reviews
Return to Labyrinth, vol. 1. No, no, no, no, no. This isn’t Labyrinth.

7 April
Five Names for a Guard Dog
1. Rodrigo

6 May
Weekend in Melbourne
Deb and I spent the Labour Day long weekend in Melbourne.

2 June
Wind in my hair, stars in my eyes… rain in my shoes
I’d forgotten the sky could hold this much water.

14 July
Home
I’m back!

10 August
Red Islands
My first entry for moly_x_32 was featured on Moleskinerie!

4 September
August Short Reviews of everything except books, plus bonus rant about Taken
Yes, there is a new blog header.

2 October
Writing Updates
New blog header for October!

2 November
Why yes I am doing NaNoWriMo
New blog header – a quick marker illustration messed with in Photoshop – reflecting roughly half of the month’s activities to date (the other half consisting mostly of eating cupcakes, high tea and almond croissants, and being elected president).

1 December
December
A rough and ready header for December because I can’t post unless the header’s done and I don’t need any more excuses not to catch up on reviews!

August Short Reviews of everything except books, plus bonus rant about Taken

September Blog Header

Yes, there is a new blog header. If you’re trying to work out the cryptic meaning, you should know it is a bit of scratchboard I was practising on. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a cryptic meaning (if you really want there to be). On to the main event:

Faithful Writer Conference: The second Faithful Writer conference, held at New College in Sydney, emphasised the “writing” more than the “faithful” this year – based on what I attended, it was a writing conference attended mostly by Christians, rather than a conference about Christian writing, which provided a contrast to last year and I hope they continue to mix it up in future. Mark Treddinick, the keynote speaker, was not a Christian but is a well-known writer, which created an interesting tension between his expertise and the audience’s lack of it, and vice versa. As a literary author, his emphasis was on the writing over the content: “the sentence is the thing”. Coming from a genre background, I am not used to this emphasis on writing over story – quite the opposite! Many of the guidelines, however, are the same. After lunch we broke into workshops. I went to Tony Payne’s “The Art of the Essay”. When he asked why we were there, I said I had spent too long in uni and was there to have my faith in essays as a worthwhile form restored, which he did. Also, we got to read Chesterton and Orwell, and that usually makes a good day even better. And I got to make new friends and catch up with old and eat doughnuts and drink strange drinks at dinner, so I am looking forward to next year. Karen and Rebecca did an excellent job of organising it and Karen very kindly put me up and fed me and took me to book-buying locations.

The Dark Knight: I reviewed this last month. And while I enjoyed it a second time (and parts of it held up *better*), I enjoyed the ‘Half-Pipe’ cinema at Mt Druitt even more. Big soft beanbags, very late at night after the conference, very hard to keep my eyes open.

Hellboy II: I had preview tickets to this and after some frantic calling around (I hate to see good tickets go to waste) Karissa came along. I enjoyed it much more than the first. Partly, I am certain, because of the big screen, but mostly because of del Toro. I’ve been muttering about how del Toro should make Neverwhere, but after seeing the Goblin Market in Hellboy II, I think he already has. So see it just for del Toro’s weirdly beautiful fantasies. And, you know, the rest of it wasn’t bad.

Persepolis: I saw this at the Brisbane Internation Film Festival with Kashelle and Aimee. I loved the book, and this was an excellent adaptation. Still episodic, but with changes as necessary, new scenes, missing scenes (I wish they could have put the footnotes in!). The art and animation were effortlessly true to the style and feeling of the book. See it if you can find it!

Ekka: No takers for my spare ticket! That is always a sad thing, and it feels a little odd to go to the Ekka alone. But it was a pleasant day, not too cold or too warm, and there were many things to eat (strawberries and cream, dagwood dogs, a neenish tart from the CWA stand) and stare at (wigs and cattle and utes and dogs and the very… forthright views of the judges of the contemporary art category) and draw (speed chainsaw contestants don’t hold poses very long) and buy (exotic chutney for my parents and a show bag for Deb).

Taken: The nice review is that it was a pretty good standard action movie, not too choppy in the filming or gory in the action. I will put the scathing review of the characterisation below, as it is quite long.

Bank Job: There are many movies I wish didn’t have sex scenes for my sake. This movie would have actually been improved by taking them out. Once it got them out of its system, it was a good, relentless, twisted, Brit/caper/crime story with a low-budget feel (I kept expecting Australian accents), one or two excellent performances, incompetent criminals you want to succeed mostly because everyone else out to get them is worse, and the bonus of being based on (inspired by) real events, which always makes slightly unbelievable storylines more enjoyable. I’m not looking at the characterisation in this one, because it didn’t creep me out quite as much as Taken.

Continue reading

June and July Short Movie Reviews

Obligatory Vanuatu reference: We did go to a series of increasingly bad movies at Namawan Cafe’s free moonlight cinema, but I did not review those here (everyone agreed Total Recall was better the first time). Still, for being away for three weeks, I still managed to see a fair few shows. And if you do have any questions about Vanuatu, or things you want me to talk about, feel free to let me know!

The Painted Veil: Should have been called “Love in the time of Cholera”, and did a very good job of making me lose all sympathy for Norton’s character over the course of the movie. Good acting, nice touching on some issues of colonialism, gorgeous opening credits.

Sex and the City: Actually a very good movie-of-a-show. But I dislike the show.

Turner to Monet – exhibition at the National Gallery: Landscape art exhibition. I did not know Monet painted snowscapes. Forget the waterlillies – the snowscapes are where it’s happening!

Prince Caspian: Way better than TLtW&tW, and though not perfect, I really liked that they didn’t need to resort to flashbacks and that they showed the children having some difficulties with having been grown up and powerful and now being children again, and especially the effect on Susan. Caspian was great, although I kept wanting him to say “You killed my father, prepare to die”, but I think Edmund was the best character.

Hulk: Better than the last rendition, in that the Hulk fit a bit better into his world. Still problematic, especially the end (but the showdown scene in Superhero movies usually is) but I think those problems are in the nature of the story, and Norton does damaged well. I loved the beginning – science from scratch, first principles, making do, what I probably erroneously think of as a steampunk aesthetic (or at least what attracts me to steampunk, do-it-yourself, Antarctic exploration and self-sufficiency handbooks).

Meet Dave: Ow. Um – not the worst Eddie Murphy has made?

Red Tree – Australian Chamber Orchestra: The first half was Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 15” with images from Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, the second Yezerski and Tognetti’s “Red Tree” with Gondwana Voices and images from The Red Tree. The first half was alright. I wasn’t particularly stirred by the music and the images chosen were disjointed and statically presented. The second half, however, was brilliant – soaring voices, incredible close-ups of paint strokes and images so that I felt like falling into paintings and going home to read The Red Tree with a magnifying glass.

Dark Knight: I feel I was expected to like this more than I did. It was very good, and I can’t fault too many things (those I picked up on the first time bore out the second). Ledger and Oldman were both brilliant and I admired how the story kept rolling relentlessly forward. But the ethical dilemmas and mature philosophical questions occasionally tilted a little too far into angst for my taste. I’m more a fan of Commissioner Gordon (the true hero of Gotham) and of other characters who just get the job done.

Hancock: First half: brilliant riff on superhero genre. Second half: okay superhero movie.

Mamma Mia: My parents and Aimee and I saw this (my dad’s choice) and it was just fun. No, the story isn’t blindingly brilliant, no the singing isn’t mindboggling. But it’s all about roaming over Greek islands singing “Dancing Queen” and having a good and carefree time, and we did. My dad sang along. My mother and I cried. I found Shapely Prose’s review very lively and entertaining and it points out many of the reasons the movie does work (but I must include a language warning).

Scheherezade: A Middle Eastern cultural day as part of the festival of Brisbane. Small but colourful and with good food and Balkan dancing, and I sketched and Aimee danced and I sat on a carpet which was wet from the grass beneath and spent the rest of the day wearing my jacket around my waist instead of my arms which were cold.

X-Files – I want to believe: that this could have been a good movie. But it was a very B movie and unrelieved by almost everything that endeared me to the series, and even Skinner’s appearance didn’t help (much). Pretending it bears no relation to the show, it was an alright B movie, if you like groaning every time your predictions are correct.

June and July Short Book Reviews

Obligatory Vanuatu connection… the Rivers, Trudgill and Sayers were all read in Vanuatu, in my little guest room/storeroom/library overflow at the top of the flats looking out over the Coral Motel to the port. If you want more specific information about Vanuatu, feel free to leave some suggestions in the comments ;)

Tales from Outer Suburbia – Shaun Tan. I was so looking forward to this book. And then I went and bought it and had it signed (and he drew a picture in my sketchbook as well) and as I flipped through it I thought, “Hmm, maybe my hopes were too high” because it looked wordier than his others. I WAS WRONG! I read it and cried on the bus home and read it out loud to my mother when I got home, and to my nephew in Canberra. The stories and pictures (and they breathe into and rely on each other) are beautiful and eerie and haunting – suggestive but not allusive (I do like allusion); elusive and original and funny and sad and just the way things should be or ought to be or are in Australian suburbia. Of course a sad home might be helped by an abrupt dugong. Of course there should be an inner garden between the rooms of a house (only in this country). I want to celebrate the ‘Nameless Holiday’ on the basis of a single scratchboard illustration (that and the gingerbread crows and pomegranate juice). ‘The Night of the Great Turtle Rescue’ went for one page, had no context and is the most suspenseful story I’ve read. ‘Stick Figures’ freaked me out more than Picnic at Hanging Rock. The story about what happens to unread poetry came true the very next day when I went to the busstop and found a bin of shredded paper had been tipped over in the rain. I now want a backyard missile (for entirely aesthetic reasons) and thanks to the answer of what is at the edge of a street map, my mother has been writing down her stories. There are so many styles of illustration: collage and oil and pencil and scratchboard – thin whispy figures, juicy colours, complicated text, faded salt-whitened suburban scenes. A beautiful and amazing book.

Little Brother – Cory Doctorow. I’m a Fahrenheit 451 girl: I don’t like the horrible inevitability of 1984 and I had a bad reaction to Brave New World. I like a touch of hope with my dystopias. And so I thoroughly enjoyed Little Brother, which was a combat-boot-first, high-speed, technobabble, name-dropping, near-future rollercoaster of a book. I read it in one day, a day on which I flew back from interstate, went to work and out to the movies after. It made me want to go out and do things, good and big and independent things, and to think about what governments and security are and do and are for. It’s available for free download and it’s fast and I don’t mean that (in this case) as faint praise.

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon. I enjoyed this very much, more than Kavalier and Clay (reviewed here). Literary genre fiction is a category I can definitely live with. This is a noir detective/alternate history set in the decaying city of Sitka, Alaska in the last days before the Federal District – created for Jewish refugees after Israel collapsed soon after World War II – dissolves and returns to American rule. It is perfectly noir (I do like hardboiled detectives) and odd and more real than some books I’ve read about real cities. It has seedy hotels and daredevil bush pilots and conspiracies and chess tournaments and was dark and funny and just an enjoyable book.

Redeeming Love – Francine Rivers. I’ve given a few answers I shouldn’t have, and I feel that telling the person who pressed this upon me that it was like The Da Vinci Code (I had problems with the theology, but it was very quick) was one of those answers. A resetting of the story of Hosea’s in  mid 18thc America, I found it – ugh. I had problems with the theology (especially that of guidance) and the representation of the author’s theology (ask me about Christian fiction sometime), the sex scenes (coy but more numerous than any other book I have read and I once spent a week with a bad back and nothing to read but Mills & Boon), the characters, their motivation, and the cover art. The best part was when Angel went off on her own rescuing people, and even that got a stop put to it. I found it unbelievable, ridiculous and often offensive and yes, I did read it all the night I got it. Like The Da Vinci Code, it moved at a cracking pace.

Sociolinguistics – Peter Trudgill. (My room in Vanuatu was part of the SIL library). Recommended. I don’t know how it compares with current theories, but it made me think about all the currents and debates and factors which go into language: culture, class, gender, ethnicity, geography, nationalism, politics. Also, it produced plenty of interesting facts with which to startle people at the dinner table. Everyone should read some linguistics, but I am starting to consider sociolinguistics a very useful area of study for authors.

Murder Must Advertise – Dorothy Sayers. The first Sayers novel I have read, and it was like Agatha Christie with a touch of Wodehouse. Or Midsomer Murders with a hint of Fawlty Towers. Remarkable observation of what happens in a workplace, numerous puns only excusable because it is set in an advertising firm between the wars, and kept me reading through the description of a cricket match which ran for an entire chapter. I will not object to reading more.

Also, James, 1 Peter and then I lost track.

Page 15

May Short Movie Reviews

I’ve linked to some other reviews of interest which I came across in the last month – I don’t always agree with everything the reviewers say but they raise some good points.

Iron Man: Twice. Not unflawed, but the best superhero comic book movie I have seen. It managed to avoid many of the sillinesses common to the genre, or at least smooth them into obscurity. I still think the real superpower belonged to Pepper, and her ability to run over metal gratings in high heels. Jennifer Fallon agrees in her review, and lists most of the reasons this movie shouldn’t have worked. Considered apart from its genre it was a very enjoyable, watchable, big screen movie and I recommend it. Some discussion (favourable) on Pepper Potts’ role at the Hathor Legacy, less unambiguously positive here on what makes a movie misogynist. Then this review critiques its approach to race and raises some interesting discussions – I didn’t actually see some of the things they saw as happening in that way. I’ll have to watch a third time :) My favourite part was the development of the suits – from the almost steampunk aesthetic of the Mark 1, through the variations and additions and decorations of the later suits, the balletic awkwardness of learning to fly – and it has been justifiably called “Top Gear for robotic attack suits”. It was an excellent origin movie and I like those best – also, do stay to the end of the credits.

Twelve Angry Men: I know it’s a classic. I had never seen it – not the movie, not the series. Then for this year’s Law Week the Queensland Young Lawyers put on a rehearsed reading of the play in the Banco Court of the Queensland Supreme Court, starring a stellar cast of judges (including the Chief Justice as “the old man”), barristers, lawyers, civil libertarians and local actors. It is a brilliant piece of theatre, the acting was often genuinely good and the “rehearsed reading” format removed any weight of expectation from the acting – if you ever get the chance to see a rehearsed reading, do. And afterwards they let us go back into the real jury rooms which were very small and instead of “break glass and press button in case of fire” there was a box by the door where the glass could be broken to get the key to open the room from the inside.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day: This felt laboured at times and lacked a lightness. But the story is charming and Frances McDormand and Ciaran Hinds lifted the movie above the everyday. I really liked the theme of the older characters who remembered the last war while the younger set carry on their bright brittle round of entertainments, and it had a gentler deeper feel than most such movies.

Indiana Jones: Twice. Oh, did we have any right to expect anything more than a B-grade movie with an A-grade budget? It was a lot of fun and silliness. From the previews I did not expect to like Mutt’s character but he and (of course) Marion Ravenwood were brilliant and the highlight of the film. I am trying to erase the monkeys from my memory (not the first Indiana Jones movie that has made this necessary) but the giant ants were fabulous. I heard some criticism of Indiana Jones’ graverobbing ways, but nothing has changed in this regard, and after all it wasn’t he who dealt with the city in the end. Nothing like tidy aliens, I always say. Heroine Content reviewed the movie from their perspective, while Screen Rant did a lovely piece on what the movies meant to their contributors growing up.

Moliere: An unexpected delight and unfairly compared to Shakespeare in Love – a fictional account of the playwright’s life, full of hidden identities, illicit romances, thwarted young love, betrayal, greed, foolishness, ridiculous conflicts and inspiration. Beautiful constumes, characters and surprisingly restrained in the more European aspects of the film :). A light touch, never too ridiculous, never too serious.

And here is a review of There Will Be Blood which is much more entertaining, accurate and, well, visual than mine (the whited-out lines just add to it).