Sunday, January 15, 2017

Movie Review: Jackie

Stars:  3.5 - 4 (Jury is still out)

Here's the rub. Natalie Portman will more than likely get an Oscar nod for this film. After a while, you forget you're watching an actress on stage and you get the impression that you're watching Jackie Kennedy.

Here's the other thing. For a number of reasons, I was a little disconcerted and underwhelmed by this film - and most probably because of the scope of the film, which takes in the says from JFK's shooting in Dallas to the days after his funeral. I think I would much rather see a film that encompassed her time as First Lady before Dallas, or her time after the White House. Closing in on this small facet of her life, and knowing the history, this film provides an alternative viewing of this piece of history - or in this case - her-story. 

There are so many great things about this film - but I still came away from it with a bit of a meh sort of feeling. A lot of this is because from the moment you walk into the film, you know what is going to happen. JFK dies, Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as President and there is a big funeral to arrange.

Let's look at the great things. Natalie Portman is stellar as the shocked and grieving Jackie. The movie takes her from cultured and curated First Lady to grieving widow and back again. She's amazing. Peter Sarsgaard almost ghoulish as Bobby Kennedy. Jackie's aide, Nancy, is played by Greta Gerwig - and she provides a bit of humanity to the film. Billy Crudup plays a journalist, interviewing Jackie the week after the funeral. I always find him disconcerting, but his unsettling presence give the film an edge. It's a great cast.

The setting and costumes are amazing. Spot on. The cinematography blew me away. The way the movie was filmed it was like watching a movie which was filmed through the lens of an old Time or Life magazine. It portrayed both the White House and Hyannis Port with grace and elegance, but in a way that shows it as 1963 camera work.

The music provides a haunting counterpoint to the cinematography, always keeping the viewer on edge.

However, for all this good, indeed stellar points, my greatest beef with the film is the fact it has an MA15+ rating. I'm really not sure if it needed to be rated as such. All of this is for one scene in particular. Going into the film, I was wondering how this would come about - and after seeing it, I think the censors are erring on the side of caution.

One of the great mythical parts of the JFK story is that he was shot whilst riding in a motorcade. What is never show is in depth photos of JFK's death. What this film does is demystifies the shooting and shows Jackie scooping up his exploded head and trying to keep it all together. It was this ghoulish detail that left a bad taste with me. The scenes are graphic, but not overly gratuitous, yet I think that this could have been left out. 

These scenes are akin to seeing a movie about Lady Di with scenes of her dead half hanging out of the Mercedes, or Natalie Wood with an anchor through her head.

The other thought that struck me as I walked out of the cinema was "Where were 'her' family in all of this?" The myth of Camelot left me wanting to take her under my wing and give her a big hug. Having to grieve in such a public way would have been horrific. To handle it all with such poise and grace would have taken super-human strength.

It is a sumptuous production. The acting is brilliant. The haunting music will probably get an Oscar not as well. 

I'm glad I've seen it - but I don't need or want to see it again.

The Very Forceful Questions Meme

Go back to work to tomorrow. Thought after three weeks I'm ready to go back as I need the money, but I've been having a ball reading, seeing movies, having lunch with friends and generally relaxing. I have a funny feeling, when I get back into it, its going to be intense - even worse, I'll be doing two subjects from the end of February (which reminds me, I need to get onto writing a worthy short story for one of the subjects)

Anyway, these look like good questions. Get one done, get something ready for work tomorrow. That will be pretty  cool.

Questions, as always, from Sunday Stealing.

1. Do you have/have you had any pets?

No, but I get to borrow people's cats regularly, being the mad cat sitter of Richmond. I handed back the Maow Moaw on Monday and I'm getting another cat in a fortnight while a gym buddy goes and gets married. Should be good. I'm away too much to have one of my own.

2. Do you play video games? If so, do you have a favorite video game series?

No. Other than games on my phone like Candy Crush, I'm not a gamer.

3. Any unpopular opinions on anything?

Lots of things. Well they're not to me. On the topic of abortion I'm very much on the pro-choice side of things - and I can get very vocal about this. I would love for the pro-lifers to tell me that for many of the women who choose to have an abortion, if they were to give birth if they would like to be responsible to educate, feed, love etc the child. Well?  Rather than pro- life many people are pro-birth. I'm also very much in favour of allowing people when choice the end their life when they are terminal and in pain. This is not to say that I don't respect other people's views,,, but...

Oh, and don't get me started on Trump. God help America.

4. Do you have a favorite gem? If yes, has anyone ever bought you jewelry with that gem?

Not really, but I do like sapphires.

5. Favorite story genres?

I'm a literary fiction reader. Don't mind good popular fiction and well crafted non-fiction (like the stuff Michael Lewis produces)

6. What was once a secret that you can now share? (The original question was "What kind of fruit do you hate" which is type of question that I think "who cares?" so I just change them.)

Umm, there was going to be a restructure at work. That all happened in December, but we've known about it for months.

7. Do you like reading?

I love reading. I wish I could have a job just reading for pleasure.

8. What time is it for you now, what are you usually doing at this time of the day?

It's 2.30 in the afternoon. On a weekday I'm normally at work. Otherwise, on weekends, I'll normally be mooching about.

9. What character on TV or in film is most similar to you? You can go with looks or personality. Or you can make a quip and go to the next question.

I'm told I look like the SuperNanny. Personality wise, I'm a bit of a mix between Leonard from Big Bang and Meredith Grey from Grey's Anatomy. Normal, but driven and a bit scatty at times. As an INFJ on the Meyers Briggs scale, I'm told I'm a lot like Remus Lupin - who I love dearly.

10. What's something weird you wanna do? It cannot be weirder than Mr. Watermelonhead. 

Is walking 800 kilometres across the top of Spain weird? I dunno, but it does sound kind of crazy.

11. Have you ever accomplished a New Years Resolution?

Yes. I resolved to put on hand cream every day. That was a new year's resolution I could keep.

12. Is there any music artist you look up to?

I had a great amount of respect for David Bowie.

13. Are you allergic to anything? If yes, what?

I'm slightly allergic to cats. Nothing that a daily antihistamine doesn't fix. I also don't react well to red wine - keeps me up all night.

14. When was the last time you took a swim? Who else was with you?

I think that might have been in Bali last January - which thinking about it, is too long ago.

15. Would you rather have the ability to sleep for as long as you want, or have the ability to never have to sleep?

I'd love to be able to sleep more than the six hours at a time. I don't sleep much more than that most nights.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Movie Review: Collateral Beauty

Three Stars

Reading the review in The Age and checking, you't think this film was made out of the remnants of  on of Donald Trump's alleged golden showers. The Age review is particularly scathing, commenting that is it the worst thing Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Edward Norton will ever do.

I'm going to be a bit kinder to this film, mostly because it is well-intentioned, but also, it's pretty to look at and it brings up some universal concepts, which okay are somewhat misguided and yes, the plot has holes the size of a Beijing sinkhole, but there is a bit to this movie which is good, and interesting, and universal.

I also will not complain too much as I used a free ticket on this one. You are not allowed to moan about freebies.

The general story is one of loss. Howard, a genius advertising executive is barely functioning three years after the death of his six-year-old daughter, to the point that his business partners (Norton, Winstlet and a surprisingly underwhelming Michael Pena) need to find a way to remove him from the business. Howard's party piece is that he talks about the great levelers of life. Love - which we all need, Time, which we can never have enough of and Death - which we all must face. Howard writes to all of these concepts and posts the letters. After a wily private investigator manages to get a hold of these letters, the trio hire a troupe of actors to face Howard and his current life choices. Mirren as Death, Keira Knightly as Love and Jacob Lattimore as Time.

This is by no means a perfect film. The script is patchy (I think The Age put it that it has numerous lines that Chuck Norris would have vetoed). In many ways, the whole premise of the film is pretty silly. Okay, it's not up there with one of the Kardashians doing Ibsen, but the script isn't great. At all.

One the good side - New York hasn't looked better. It's lovely to look at and the setting kept me entralled for most of the movie.

For me, what got me about this film, as trite and as clumsy as the storyline makes the concept, it is a very good, very thorough look at grief - particularly parents grieving children. Having been around a bit of this, this part of the story worked for me (though the saccharine ending you could see coming in the first 20 minutes.)

Though not done well, it does bring up some universal questions of love, time and death - concepts people have to deal with on a daily basis - and for attempting to look at these things, I take my had off to it.

Will Smith is next to catatonic for most of the movie, but shows a prowess for dominoes. I enjoyed Helen Mirren playing the older wise woman. Keira Knightly's wavering American accent pushed it a bit, an Naomie Harris added a good bit of gravitas to her end of the movie playing a counsellor for a support group. Michael Pena had a hard time with his material. And Edward Norton tried to make the best of a bad script.

I'd love to see what a better script writer and director could have done with this material, as it has the hallmarks of greatness, but falls very flat.

Then again, look at other films which look at death in a conceptual way - such as "Meet Joe Black" - which is always seen as Brad Pitt's worst movie to date. 'City of Angels" with Meg Ryan pre-trout pout and Nicholas Cage when he was half hot - again, a stinker - and a bit weird.

Despite all the problems with this film, I walked out with a tear in my eye, pondering the questions asked in the film.

I'd also not recommend this to anybody who has suffered a recent bereavement, particularly that of a child. However I do give the film kudos for at least trying to broach the topic.

There are a lot of good films out there. This is not one of them, but don't dismiss it entirely.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Movie Review: A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom - 4 Stars

Looking over the movie listings on a hot day, it became apparent my options were running short until the new movies came out. One of the last movies on my "To See" list was "A United Kingdom", which looked like a something up my alley from the trailers.

A historical film, based on a true story, the film presents the story of Seretse Khama, prince of Bechuanaland (modern day Botwsana) in the shadow of the second world war. Seretse is in England, studying Law at Oxford in preparation to take over his birthright as the king from his uncle who has acted as Regent since he was a child. Seretse is charming, intelligent and an all round great fellow who takes his role of future king seriously.

One night at a dance, he meets Ruth Williams, a clerk with some prospects. She'd been unwittingly dragged along to this dance at the Missionary Society by her sister (played with exquisite frumpiness by Laura Carmichael - commonly known as Lady Edith from Downton Abbey)

The two, the African Prince and the girl from South London fall instantly in love - which is when all hell breaks loose.

The inter-racial marriage, though not illegal in Britain at the time, is widely condemned in both families as well at by the public at large. Making things more difficult, the British Government want to keep Bechuanaland in their sights as the neighbouring lands of South Africa and the like are proving to be a gold mine. Adding to this pressure, South Africa is on the verge of legislating their draconian apartheid laws.

Set in post-war London and the last days of Colonial Africa, A United Kingdom provides an entertaining and educating look at what it is to stand for your principles. It also shows what life must have been like back in the days where to stray from the carefully observed norms was enough to bring a wave of Kardashianesque press pressure.

Another element of the movie is the insight it gives into post-Colonial Africa and the last days of British Rule. Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Jack Davenport are at their entitled and most irritating best as they try and maintain the last grasp of English rule by oppression. This movie also presents the oppressive politics of the time in how they were seen - unacceptable to many and lead by the few. There are quite a few parallels with today's right wing lanings.

David Oyelowo is great as Seretse, giving him both gravitas and humanity in equal doses. Rosamund Pike is wonderful as Ruth, his plucky bride.

This is well worth a viewing - even just to see that occasionally the underdog does win, and will well.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Shipwreck Questions

The thought of being shipwrecked with my friends would be enough for me to swim out to sea and never come back. So when I look at these questions, remember that I am all Robinson Caruso on my island, Would much rather be stuck on an island with strangers. At least that way you can get to know people and not have to ruin your friendships. (Sorry friends - it's the same reason I'm going on the Camino alone. And you'd never get me on a cruise. Sounds like torture to me.

Questions, as alway, from Sunday Stealing.

You are shipwrecked with friends (your group can include real life or virtual life or both) think about it and pick some friends to truly enjoy your cruise +  and tell us why you assembled the group by just telling us...

Who would throw the wildest parties, and why did you pick them? 

I didn't pick them - they are people I don't know.

Who would always fall asleep on the couch, and why did you pick them? 

Where else are you supposed to sleep?

Who would enter to be in a talent show, and why did you pick them? 

You're shipwrecked - why would there be a talent show?

Who would try to get out of doing their chores and why did you pick them?

That person would get banished. Don't like slackers.
Who would accidentally set the kitchen on fire whilst cooking and why did you stupidly pick them?

We have to make our own kitchen. You learn to look after fire pretty quickly.

Who would try to domesticate an island pet and why did you pick them?

That would be me.
Who would make the other carry their bags on a shopping spree and why did you pick them?

You're shipwrecked. No shops. Silly question. Besides  - who doesn't carry their own bags when shopping?
Who would throw the first person off the boat and why did you pick them?

Probably the arsehole of the group. He'd be second into the drink.
Who would be the best caregiver when someone got sick & why did you pick them? 

I might be in that group. Give me something to do.

Who would try to force the another to play sports with them & why did you pick them? 

They can follow the arsehole out to sea. Should learn to leave people alone.

Who would have the best holiday ideas for your space on the island and why did you pick them?

Me. I plan great holidays.
Who would need to clean out someone others stuff to make room for their own & why did you pick them? 

You're shipwrecked. you don't have stuff.

Who worries about how they will look when they’re older & why did you pick them? 

There will be one of them in any crowd. Stay away from them.

Flashes everyone when they walk by after taking a shower alone & why did you pick them? 

That's a bit daft.He can go be with the vain person. The deserve each other.

Who wakes you to asks weird questions in the middle of the night & why did you pick them? 

I can be accused of that one occasionally.

Who will constantly ask you “what are you thinking about?” & why did you pick them? 

Another person to go walk the plank...

Which of your friends on this island might being too touchy-feely while you interact, why did you pick them?

Stick them with the vain couple.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen

Back in the 80s, they made some of the best teem movies ever made. "The Breakfast Club", "Pretty in Pink", "Some Kind of Wonderful", "Ferris Beuller's Day Off" just to name a few. Films which spoke to the masses about what it is to be a teenager and the general pains of growing up.

Since then, with only a few notable exceptions, there hasn't been any truly relatable movies about the joys and dramas about being a teen.

"The Edge of Seventeen" stands out as an exceptional movie in many ways. A great cast, a modern setting, an unlikeably likable protagonist and the perfect mix of humour and angst and situation brings about a film that comes to rival the John Hughes films of the eighties. It's also got a killer soundtrack, taking from recent music back to the 80s.

Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine. A sixteen-year-old girl dealing with being the multiple joys of a disfuctional family, a popular brother and complete weirdo status. This is possibly why I related to this, as in many ways, it mirrored my own high school days. Nadine is an outcast to all in her life, with the exception of her only friend, Krista. When Krista hooks up with her brother, Nadine starts the slow and steady spiral into complete alienation.

There are many elements of this film that set it apart from your normal teenage fare. A fantastic script, realistic family settings and a soundtrack is up there with 'The Breakfast Club".

Hailee Steinfeld carries this movie as the moody and apparently dreadful Nadine. She brings a "girl-next-door" feeling without making her trite or smaltzy. She butts heads with her brother, played by Glee alumni, Blake Jenner, her unstable mother (an underappreciated Kyra Sedgewick) and feels at one with her grumpy teacher, played by an equally lugubrious Woody Harrelson.

Hailee Steinfeld is going to go places. She brings an outward strength and inner vulnerability to this role which could have so easily slipped into triteness or just being plain annoying.

This film also brought back every teenage bit of angst I'd ever felt. This movie did it's job.

With a soundtrack that features Birdy, The Pixies, Spandau Ballet and Aimee Mann, it's an album I'd happily hunt out.

The other great thing about this movie is it takes away a few of the stereotypes, and makes fun of quite a few stereotypes often found in these kinds of films. The love interest, in particular, is a breath of fresh air.

The Edge of Seventeen has all the stamps of a classic film. Funny, edgy and on the money. If, like me, you're avoid the hot weather and making frequent trips to the cinema, I highly recommend this film. It gets pretty much everything right.

My only question - what is it with these teenagers and their eyebrows? Is plucking now illegal?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cafe Review: Square and Compass

Square and Compass Cafe
222 Clarendon Street, East Melbourne

Open for breakfast and lunch Monday - Sunday.  Bookings available.

The day had gotten off to a good start. While waiting for the tram, a friend was passing by and she gave me a lit into town. So much better than taking an over hot tram into the city and it was great to catch up with this friend.

So after running a few errands I went to meet Jonella for lunch. Being back at work, she was looking for distractions - as was I having another ten days of holiday under my belt. Working in East Melbourne, she made a couple of suggestions - a couple of places I've been to, but one that stuck out on the list was Square and Compass cafe, nestled in the shadow of the old Dallas Brooks Hall (currently being disassembled). I am a freemason after all.

I'd checked the menu before I'd gone to meet Jonella and was suitably intrigued. It looked like decent cafe fare with hipster elements. It certainly made a difference from the normal sandwiches and rolls found around East Melbourne (though the cafe on George Street has always been an exception)

Being a hot, sunny day, we strolled down Albert Street to our waiting table.

The first thing about Square and Compasses - it has nothing to do with the masons, other than it's near the old temple buildings. It's also not stuffy or pretentious, as you'd often expect, but the cafe has an open, friendly feel, with friendly, attentive staff.

On being taken to our table, we perused the menu. Jonella, who has been to the cafe on a number of times was wanting to try the crunchy peanut butter and tomatoes on toast.

Not being one for tomotoes, I found a salad bowl of Smoked Salmon pastrami, saurkraut, avocado, tomatoes, caperberries and pickled cucumber. Being one for pickled vegetables, it sounded great.

Jonella ordered a green juice concoction, me an iced coffee. I was thrilled with the ice coffee - espresso, ice, skinny milk and a little sugar. Perfect for a hot day.

Jonella sold me on this place on the fact that it was a little more expensive, but worth it.

She was right.

A view of the menu does look like a lot of hipster wankery when you have a first glance - but the they take such pride in their food. The salmon pastrami bowl was one of the best meals I've had in ages. Jonella was very please with her peanut toast and tomatoes - and I'm pretty sure they make their own peanut butter.

Yes, you can get a golden latte here (made with tumeric, not urine). Yes, there appears to be quite  a bit of quinoa, kale and other hipster staples, however, despite the perceived pretentiousness, these people do great food and a reasonable price. We were bowled over enough to make plans to go back again next week.

Square and Compass Cafe gives a bit of respite from the banality of East Melbourne eateries. I'm looking forward to going back.