Friday, January 31, 2014

The Joys of Speculative Fiction

Sam and I went along to see Spike Jonze’s “Her” her the other night.

I fell asleep in places, I confess.

However, I need to preface this with a few facts about the day I’d had. After a long day at work I finally made my way to my car that was parked in at work’s outside car park. It was a blistering 42 degrees when I ventured out from my air conditioned haven to the dustbowl of the car park. I jumped in the car, drove off and found that my car air conditioning was once again not working. I only had it fixed three weeks ago.

So I drove home old school style, all the windows down, whilst sweating buckets. The last time I did something like this I think we had vinyl seats in the car – back in the early eighties.

When I got home, I changed, ran out the door and went to a Spin class, joining Ellie the Mad in the Spin studio. You’d think you have to be mad to do Spin on a day of 42 degrees, but the arctic-like air conditioning in the spin studio is a bonus. Leaving the gym an hour later, the change was beginning to move in, had some dinner and then went out to meet Sam.

All a decent recipe for exhaustion.

We settled into the late movie, choc tops a blazing and sat down to a tale of modern relationships. A modern love affair between a man and his computer operating system.

A love affair between a lonely bloke and his computer – right. I’ve shared flats with nerds, know all about that. This was a bit different. In this futuristic Utopia, people appeared happy, their computers are with them at all times, able see, talk and converse through an ear piece and a small hand held screen.

We're probably not too far away from this scenario.

Anyway, the protagonist, a rather glum Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix installs a new operation system with the voice of Scarlett Johannson. She's smart, able and in his ear all the time. The two fall in love.

We also see some of Theodore's back story of a marriage gone sour, meet his friends who are just as isolated as himself and watch as he falls in love with an omnipotent machine that knows everything and everybody.

It's really cleverly done. You forget after a while that the voice is a computer. They thing of everything, from how the operating system gets to see the world to the normalising of the relationship. It's a great premise.

Some of the new technology really excited me. As a piece of speculative fiction, this was truly great. It's worth watching out for a Spike Jonze cameo as the alien in the game that Theodore plays regularly.

I also thought that it was a wonderful look at loneliness and aloneness in the modern world, this being the film's greatest gift. It also poses a lot of questions around the role of computers in society, how we go about doing things in this modern world and for all the connectivity we have, how isolated we are.

Definitely worth a look, just ignore me falling asleep. Sam and I left the cinema in a pensive mood. We both liked it, but a few days on, I'm still thinking about some of the themes and wondering if I should go back and see it again to revisit the spots where I was fast asleep.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Saving Mr Banks - Or a Course in Daddy Issues

Melbourne has just come out of a four day heatwave, an extreme event where the temperature reached over 40 Celsius for four consecutive days. Bloody awful is about the only way you can describe it, although I was able to count my blessings in that I work in an air conditioned office and my car air conditioning was fixed last week.

By Thursday, the heat was radiating from every surface in the state and the interior of my flat was warmer than the sauna at the gym. Staying out was the only option. Jay, my gym buddy was in the same boat, so we decided, after training with Slap on Thursday night, to go and see a film.

"Saving Mr Banks" was the film of choice. Jay and I are alike in that we both see a lot of films and thankfully we have fairly similar taste.

Both of us were keen to see this one. Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, the back story of the making of Mary Poppins - what more could we want? We both remembered seeing the original film as children - although Jay's old enough to remember it coming out in the cinema, I just remember seeing it on telly. (Disney's "Mary Poppins" came out in 1964)

Walking from the cinema two hours later, both of us agreed that it was just wonderful. A film that you could completely engage with emotionally. You don't get many like it. You think it's going to be one thing - turns out to be something completely different.

From the trailer it looked like it was going to be a fun film. P.L.Travers (Emma Thompson) going head-to-head with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), Travers, apparently an uppity Englishwoman reticent to give up the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins, Walt Disney, using all his charm and cunning to pry the rights away. A great supporting cast, including Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman), Jason Schwartzmann and Rachel Griffiths.

The film flits back and forth from the Disney Studios in the early 1960s to the 1920s and Travers' childhood, which she spent in a small town just South of Toowoomba, Queensland, the beloved daughter of a loving, but troubled man. Colin Farrell is excellent as her father, stole the show as far as I'm concerned.

What flows in the film is a glimpse into the life of a lonely and conflicted woman. Emma Thompson is excellent as the abrasive Travers, who gives everybody around her a hard time. She reminded me of my grandmother in full flight in her later years. She also gets to say all the things that you want to say but wont when you're surrounded by idiots. I'm not surprised that she's was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award.  (then again, there are so many brilliant performances this year - some great women's roles out there.)

Tom Hanks embodies Walt Disney as well. Warm, forgiving, indulgent but lurking underneath a tough businessman. The relationship between Disney and Travers starts off as adversarial but softens over time.

What I wasn't expecting was that the film was about fathers and fathering as much as it was about the back story of Mary Poppins. This was pretty subtle, but the undercurrent helped to carry was is an entertaining film into something more. The scenes with the ten-year-old Travers and her father are poignant, loving and intense.

The original film was on television a few weeks ago. Watching it as an adult, you see a lot more of the bleakness that you're not aware of as a child. The children, left to the nanny as the parents get on with their lives. Mary Poppins, there as a saviour figure, almost Virgin Mary like in the way she is idolised, nearly perfect - she's there but not there: remote, but caring. It's a strange dynamic which you don't think about. Mary Poppins in both exciting and frightening, a person who is entrusted with the children, even though they've never met this woman before. A nanny who lets the children hang out with chimney sweeps. This is a London where the street cleaners are happier than bankers.This is a world where children are seen, not heard then sent off

Mary Poppins gives her children order and structure, but she doesn't give them love or tenderness. Looking at the original film once again, this uncurrent is there like a pimple on your chin.

Jay and I walked out of the film, cheeks stained with tears, some of the last words of Walt Disney ringing in our ears."Storytellers restore order to the world with imagination."

This film is definitely worth a look. Even more worthwhile, dig into the real back story of PL Travers. The truth is stranger and far more fascinating than fiction. This film is an engaging and effecting look into an untold story.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Anchorman 2 - or Political Incorrectness for Dummies

I have this theory. There is a part of Karl Stefanovic who wants to once again be a serious journalist, but at the end of every session of the Today Show, they put him in front of the film Anchorman and Anchorman 2 and brainwash him into being a dickhead. You know there is a big part of him that wants to call some guests a smelly pirate hooker. You also know that he would love to be known for his salon quality hair - even though anybody who's seen him live knows about this wonderful male pattern baldness that he tries to hide.

Like Ron Burgundy in this film, he's down in the realms of interviewing Grumpy Cat or our current Prime Minister on air for whatever journalistic sins he's committed over the last decade.

When the first Anchorman film came out, I ignored it. It was only when Will Ferrell started plugging his latest venture into the character, going on all sorts of news broadcasts to read the news that my interest was piqued and I watched the first one - and smirked all the way through it. Last Friday, after a dreadful day at work, I was in need of something light - Ron Burgundy was on offer, so Anchorman 2 it was.

By Olivia Newton-John's hymen, I had a hoot.

Going in with no expectations, knowing that I really don't like Will Ferrell all that much (though he's good in straight roles) it was time to leave the brain at the door with my normal political correctness and periodically spray watered down diet coke over the seat in front of me for the next two hours.

A good film. No. A silly, funny, inappropriate film that is great for a giggle. Yes.

Like anything Judd Apatow has his hand in, there is a gentle moral to the story behind some of the gross out humour and politically incorrect barbs that were spot on for the time. In the first film, Ron and his news team had to deal with a woman coming onboard ("It's ANCHORMAN, not ANCHORLADY" bleated Champ in the first film.) Ten years on, Ron, facing unemployment after Veronica takes over the lead position, gathers his old team together to run the graveyard shift at Global Network News - a full parody on Fox news. Scarily accurate it was when Ron asks his boss,"You mean we show people want they want to see and not what they should see. Show them sports and car chases and kittens. That's not news. It's brilliant."

This is where the moral stuff kicks in. The 24 hour news cycle. The denigration of journalism. The dumbing down of the people. The so-called news that we see today.

It's all in there, hidden by lots of very pithy one liners and a hell of a lot of silliness.

The one pity for me was how they put more into Brick Tamland's role. I love Steve Carell, but since the original film his star has brightened. Carell is another comic actor who's great in straight roles - thinking of "Dan in Real Life" and the wonderful, "The Way Way Back" - but I loved him in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin too. The film could have done without his small side story. Still worthy of a few giggles, but not necessary.

It's coming out of the cinemas at the moment, but if you need a giggle, have a spare cheapy ticket or just want to escape the heat and have a laugh, this might be your film.

If not, wait for it to come out on DVD or download it. It's slightly elevated my opinion of Will Ferrell.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

August: Osage County

If you look at a map and look for the middle of America, you will arrive at Osage County. Kansas is in the dead centre of the United States of America and Osage County is about as middle of the States as you can get. Arrive in California, drive through Nevada, Utah and Colorado and cross most of the state of Kansas, cross the dead flat, head ridden plains and you arrive there. One of the characters in the movie asks why the hell anybody would stop and plant roots there, it really is the middle of nowhere, a hot, dry, flat godforsaken place with a feeling of menace.

Which is where this film takes off from, and eventually leaves.

If you like your comedy black, deep and complex, this is your film. If you want to see some of the better performances that you’re going to see this year, this too, is probably going to be your cup of tea.

As I hadn’t seen the stage production, I went in blind. A family comedy/drama about the grown up kids coming back home. What the ads don’t tell you is why the family have got together, or what has gone on in the past to make this educated, middle class family of strong women and befuddled men the way they are.

I walked way feeling like I’d done seven rounds with a boxing trainer – in the best possible way. A fulfilling, at times harrowing film, looking at families, secrets and loss.

You get the feeling that the screenwriter, who's was also the playwright, is working out of love. The cast couldn't be better picked. Meryl Streep as the drug-addled mother, Sam Shepard, cast to type as the lugubrious father. Julia Roberts, fish-lips and all, the sulky older daughter, Julianne Nicholson as the plain middle daughter who stayed behind and Juliette Lewis, as the youngest daughter. I was rather enamored with Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Cooper as the uncle and cousin figures. Dermot Mulroney and Juliette Lewis round out the ragtag bunch - the former wonderful as the sleazy fiance who does not fit in t all. 

I found the film riveting from the moment the movie started until the closing credits. Almost all of the film is centred around the family home and the goings on within the family, sometimes poignant, sometimes harrowing, sometimes funny,

Happy to bet that Meryl Streep will get another Oscar gong for her role as the family matriarch. Julia Roberts tosses the fluff and is excellent as well. Another standout to me was Misty Upham in the role of Joanna the nurse/housekeeper, keeping silent witness to the pain in the household.

What is it they say about families? Can't shoot them. Can't bury them behind the garden shed. This wonderfully observant film will make you realise that your own family isn't that bad.

My only slight criticism of the film as that as it's been adapted from a play, it has a bit of a stunted three act feel in a couple of places. The transitions could have been a little smoother. Other than this minor point, I loved this poignant, harrowing, funny ride of a family dramedy.

Highly recommended if you're like your comedy darker than Nugget boot polish.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Walter Mitty / Pandora Behr

When it comes to Christmas presents, I prefer to give experiences rather than gifts. Most of my friends have everything they need, most can buy what they want, so movie tickets or museum passes make great gifts for the people who have everything.

Friday night was my turn to give Blarney her Christmas present - a Gold Class screening to "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".

I love Gold Class as a treat. A full recliner chair, food to eat, alcohol if you want it  - it's decadent fun that's good for special occasions. Blarney and I try and go to the cinema this way for birthday and Christmas treats. Her birthday is in February, mine's in August, so it goes down well.

Friday night's film choice was "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". The new Ben Stiller directed version, not the Danny Kaye classic. I knew that in going along, my friend Bernie would be a little cranky with me. Bernie is one of Danny Kaye's biggest fan and I could feel her scowling at me for being a traitor. Thing is, they're two very, very different films.

The current Walter Mitty is a "negative asset manager" at Life Magazine. A dreamer who zones out to live out his own daydreams at inopportune times, it follows the story of the hapless Walter as he has to track down the elusive frame 25 from an equally elusive photographer, Sean O'Connell. In the background, we see Walter's life, loving, caring son and brother and hopeless romantic.

Walter is a man who doesn't appear to deal with change at all well - at first.

Throw into this Walter's foray into internet dating and his phone friendship with the eHarmony guy which had me thinking - err, like global roaming rates - and you have a very enjoyable, very likable, visually stunning film.

There is so much to like in this film. As a bit of a Walter Mitty myself, falling into daydreams to make life a bit more exciting, taking out frustrations in the back of my head, living an alternative reality. What hits you from the outset is that Walter works for a company who's motto is  “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life."

A bit of a square peg in a round hole is our Walter. Over the course of the film changes his life, going from the archetypal dreamer to somebody who embraces life in a huge way. Over the course of the film, he meets some wonderful characters. Sean Penn and the secretive photographer, Shirley McLaine as his aging mother, Kristen Wiig as the love interest - all really good stuff.

There is some true laugh out loud moments along with some lovely, gentle humour. You're with Walter the moment he meets corporate beard guy in wanting to go all Hong Kong Kung Fu movie on him. The scens in Greenland are genuinely funny. Empathy appears to be Ben Stiller's greatest gift in this film. 

Oh, and the soundtrack is great too. I found out that in David Bowie's "Major Tom" song he's not sitting on a Tim Tam, but floating in a tin can. And here I was for all these years thinking that Bowie was into Australian chocolate biscuits.

The message of the film - things change. And its amazing what you can do when you work through the fear and just do it.

Not so strangely, I had a tear in my eye at the end of the film, though I'm still trying to work out why. Stunning cinematography? Yes. Empathy for the situation of being in a world that is constantly changing. Maybe. The feeling of nostalgia for film camera - definitely. Appealing to my hopeless romantic side. Of course.

Then again, I can see a lot of myself in Walter Mitty. The unequivocal dreamer who at times feels like I'm waiting for my life to arrive.

I saw something in a new year blog the other day that resonated with me. Always have a bottle of champagne in the fridge there for celebrations.

I liked this thought, so on the way home from the gym I popped in at the bottle shop. In my defense, it was a third off, hence the calibre of the bottle. I blame Millie from Hold the Peas for getting me onto French Champagne. Lets hope I have things to celebrate soon. Preparation, inspiration, anticipation and a hint of gratitude are keys to bringing good things into your live.

The Champagne is now in the fridge waiting for good things to come and be celebrated.

I'm sure, out there somewhere, Walter is doing the same thing. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Here's to the New Year

As is the tradition, I use this blog as a journal of sorts. It's good for me to be able to look back the end of the year and see what I've done - and set a few goals.

After what turned out to be a lovely evening with Gloria and Gaynor and some friends of theirs for New Years Eve, I've greeted 2014 with a lot of hope and enthusiasm. 2013 had its challenges, as I'm sure 2014 will have some of the same, bit I'm feeling a bit different about his year. Maybe because it's a new moon today and it's like a cosmic clean slate.

Anyway, here's what I hope to achieve in the next 12 months - in no real order or importance.

1) To remain happily and gainfully employed in work I love. (At the money I'm on at the moment)

Sounds fair - well being a contractor, I hope that the work stays steady and interesting. I've done well with work last year, long may it continue.

2) To get back to my fighting weight

It's time to bite the bullet again. My diet got let go a lot in the last six months - it's time to rein myself in, do what I have to do and loose the 10 kg or so that I've stacked on in the last two years. It's just a matter of being disciplined. I know I can do this.

3) Get back into running

Following from the last resolution, it's time to get back int running. I love running, it helps to keep me sane. After a year off from it, it's time to get back on track. I should put myself down for the Mother's Day Classic in May, the 8 km run - and go from there. It's a goal anyway that I can see myself doing without too much hassle.

4) Help the overthrow of our current crappy government and see our current Immigration Minister up on crimes against humanity charges.

I think most people have worked out that I'm not particularly enamored with our current Liberal/National government. I just intend to keep on agitating, writing letter, talking, yelling, protesting until these environmental and humanitarian fuckwits are either out or under control. Sorry, you want to keep people ignorant and repressed, you will have me, and a lot of other like minded people shouting about it.

In particular, our current Immigration Minister has to be held accountable for the deplorable way in which he is authorising the treatment of asylum seekers. Jail is a bit too good for him, but it will do if it stops the fascist scumbag.

Okay, off my soapbox now.

5) Travel around the world

It's time for a trip abroad again - don't know where or when, but it will happen. At the moment I can't see past a week or two up in Ubud in Bali, but I'd like to maybe go back to Spain, or see a bit more of Italy. This all needs to be carefully planned and saved for, but it's a nice thought.

6) Save a lot of money

This is the antithesis of the last resolution, but I do believe you can save and travel. I'm not a five-star traveller - and I know about discipline. It's about time I did something about finding a house for myself seeing that a rich husband hasn't surface in the last year to buy me one. I'm auditioning financial planners at the moment. Also looking at being sensible with my discretionary spending. It all helps.

7) Maybe get a cat

Pinochet's kittens have got me all cat clucky. Maow Maow will get jealous however. Gloria and Gaynor said they would look after it if I went away for more than a day or so. We will see - maybe I should pay a visit to Ingrid's Haven... ( and see which one likes me.

8) Get that novel written

I had a reading in the week of Christmas. We had a look at my solar return chart - which said that all the ducks were in a row to get something big done this year, but it was a matter of applying myself. Time to break out the bum glue methinks.

9) Do something new once a week

This is an oldie, but a goodie. Whether it be cook a new recipe, try a different class at the gym, take in a free concert. Join Toastmasters.Time to expand the horizons, and how do you know what you can do if you don't try it.

10) Have more fun

I'm borrowing this form Gloria. I think this is a great resolution, so I'm going to attempt to have more fun too.

11) Cut right back on processed food and sugar

Speaks for itself this one. Cut down on the sweet poison and see what happens.

And lastly, I've set myself up with a tin with which I can write notes about the good things that happen. Then I can look back at the year and see how good the year has been.

An attitude of gratitude is the only way to get somewhere in this world.