movies

A quiet week

We ate at Rich Mahal (Burwood Highway, Vermont South) last Thursday night. It took a great deal of persistence to get the BF to try this place for a second time: the first time we ate there, about three years ago, we suffered some, ah, ill effects–the details of which I won’t lavish upon you.

Anyway, fortifying our stomachs, we rocked up in the pouring rain and stepped inside to be greeted by the wonderful aromas of Indian and Malaysian cooking. Warm spicy fumes shot straight up my nostrils; I inhaled in delight. Tantalising trays of curry sat on heated, glass-paned counters. Mere metres away, chefs stood in front of large stoves tossing things in woks. I was drooling.

We ordered our usual meal for trying out Indian restaurants: butter chicken, biryani rice, naan bread and mango lassi. Probably the equivalent of white folk walking into an authentic Chinese restaurant and ordering fried rice, sweet and sour pork and sweet corn soup.

I wish I could post up pictures of the food, but I always forget. It’s not so much about not wanting to draw attention (“Oh look, another Asian girl taking a picture of her food, whaddya expect”) but more that when the food arrives at the table, I get so excited that by the time I remember that I’m supposed to take a pic, the plate is half-demolished.

The naan bread with dahl turned out to be roti canai, which I love. The butter chicken was creamy through and through and absolutely delicious. The lamb biryani was a touch dry but went well with the curry. Warning: if you don’t do well with spicy food, you should probably ask for mild variations. We did not, and ended up slurping desperately at the mango lassi.

Later that night we watched Star Trek: Into Darkness, which I struggled to enjoy, mainly because I was wearing 3D glasses over my usual glasses and was pushing them up literally every 30 seconds. Eventually I sort of had to keep one hand on my cheek to prop them up. 3D does not agree with me. Also, you’re probably laughing at me because I wear two pairs of glasses to watch 3D movies. I do not care. I spurn your laughter.

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Oh, the movie itself was enjoyable. Sherlock Holmes in space?! How much more awesome can you get? ;P Sadly, I was born several years after the best decades (comic book, Star Wars movies, parachute pants). Partly because of that, I never became a Trekkie; I don’t groan at the new-fangled blockbuster movies the way the diehard fans do. I’ve only seen two old Star Trek movies ever and though I can appreciate the huge difference in style, I’ve never submerged myself in the universe. It’s a little intimidating.

As is this.

As is this.

If there are any Star Trek fans reading this: what would  you recommend to the uninitiated as the best introduction into the Star Trek Universe?

*

the office

Warning: Moderate Spoilers Ahead

After nine wonderful seasons, The Office (US) has come to a timely end. This show has grown on me like a barnacle ever since I started watching it about three years ago. I have come to believe that Dwight Howard is the most hilarious character ever created for TV. I am also genuinely puzzled as to how Rainn Wilson keeps his real-life beard so sparsely scruffy whilst Dwight’s cheeks are persistently as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

The 50-minute final episode was sweet, emotional, hilarious and pretty much perfect. Steve Carell appears for some killer lines but all in all says very little–it’s not his finale, but everyone else’s. Pam surprising Jim predictably but in a thoroughly touching way, Dwight and Angela–clearly perfect for each other–get married, Oscar goes into politics, Kevin gets fired and buys a bar…everyone reaches some sort of satisfying closure (Creed’s ending is surely the best). Erin’s surprise reunion was extremely random. The fourth wall is transcended as the directors/producers celebrate in the warehouse with the cast of their “reality show”.

There’s also a short documentary about the journey of the cast, well worth watching. I’d love to watch some behind the scenes filming of the Office, with bloopers and improvisation. Maybe I’ll have to get my hands on a box set.

Doctor Who Season 7 also finished last week, with a classic twisty Moffat episode. It was definitely the best episode of the second half of this season (I was starting to have my doubts during The Rings of Akhaten). It was just the right amount of twisty, too. Twisty enough to make me go “Oooh, that’s clever!” but not too twisty that I’m sitting there shovelling popcorn into my mouth in dismay and confusion. Clara’s leap into the Doctor’s time-scar explained the Impossible Girl in a satisfying and thrilling way, though he really shouldn’t have gone in and rescued her. That bit made no sense. Clara Oswald–or versions of her–could still have been the Doctor’s companion in many more adventures. That would have been more interesting.

Doctor Who - Series 7B

Clara’s an intriguing character but I’m still not entirely convinced by Jenna-Louise Coleman’s perky, super-speedy delivery and almost automaton-like mannerisms. And the way the Doctor tugs her around like a little doll–cute, but it makes her seem unassertive and patronised. I’m waiting for her to sprout more character in the next season.

 

Til next time,

GLF

A Mish-Mash of Highlights: Doctor Who, Cloud Atlas, Eddings, etc.

Beanie of the year.

Beanie of the year.

It’s getting towards winter down here in the southern hemisphere of the world.

Last week the weather took a welcome dip from the thirties into the low twenties, and we all started layering extra blankets onto our beds and pulling out scarves, beanies, brollies and boots. For me, this time of year is marked by the transition from pyjama shorts to pyjama pants, and the resumption of a continuous intake of hot tea. It’s quite blissful.

Important events of this week included:

1. Neil Gaiman’s wonderfully well-timed and encouraging post on, amongst other things, writing: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2013/03/princess-and-some-thoughts-on-writing.html

doctor who the bells of saint john

2. The return of Doctor Who; more specifically Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 6: “The Bells of St. John.”

Five-line review…

A modern-London adventure, penned by Moffat, with lively new companion Clara ‘Oswin’ Oswald, that also oddly comes across as a warning against being too connected to wifi/social media, just in case malicious aliens want to eat your mind through the interwebs. Chemistry between Smith and Coleman felt less forced. Plot was well-paced and easy to follow with neat twists. Great half-season kick-off that continues the mystery of the girl with multiple lives.

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3. Season 3 of Game of Thrones. You know it’s getting big when you see a GoT ad at the local bus stop. To be watched.

4. Finishing David Eddings The Elenium Book 2 (The Ruby Knight). Recommended by the beloved BF, who read it in the early days of his youth, the Elenium is a grand swords-and-sorcery style fantasy epic largely revolving around politics. There is a severe deficiency of cool female characters in this story, as Sparhawk and the other heroes are mostly big buff knights with even bigger swords/axes who deliver awesome one-liners before and after they behead their foes. The only key females are Sephrenia, an ageless sorceress, and Flute, a mysterious little girl with powers–interesting, but not entirely unique. Most of the book involves riding back and forth across the countries of Eosia chasing the Bhelliom (a precious gem). Eddings’ writing is unpretentious, lively and straightforward. An easy series to read, though long, and it keeps you turning the pages.

5. Watching Cloud Atlas.

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Cloud Atlas is an insane compendium of story fragments–6 different narratives, each taking place at a different point in time–piled on top of one another. Some of the narratives are fascinating (I liked the futuristic Neo-Seoul story best) and others are boring (Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in the post-apocalyptic distant future. It was impossible to engage with their characters given almost no context and zero background about their motivations and situation). Jim Broadbent’s imprisonment and dramatic escape from an English nursing home is also a gem, as is Jim Wishaw’s portrayal of composer/musician Robert Frobisher.

I was hoping that there would be more of a sense of interconnection between the 6 timezones, but apart from using the same actors and a few pieces of prose floating from period to period (journals, documents), it lacked for substance. The narratives were largely entertaining, but at the end of the Wachowski’s masterpiece I wasn’t sure what message I was supposed to get from it all.

The structure of the book, however, sounds intriguing: a sort of concertina of stories, travelling from 1849AD, through to 2321AD, and back again. Elegant. Perhaps I’ll get my grubby hands on it one day.

Off to work.

x,

GLF

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit

As I’m holidaying in New Zealand, the land of Middle-Earth, I had the delightful privilege of seeing the first Hobbit movie ahead of the rest of my country. On the evening of the 12th of December, we piled eagerly into a cinema that was showing The Hobbit in multiple theatres simultaneously. I was excited.

Sir Peter Jackson has not lost his magical touch.

The Hobbit is a long movie, but it doesn’t feel long. The pacing is absolutely wonderful. From the first minute I felt entirely engrossed in the story, whilst a little part of me wondered what was going to happen next and another little part of me hoped that the movie wouldn’t end for a while yet.

The adaptation is fairly faithful to the book, from what I can remember (which is not much, unfortunately) though I believe a few imaginative liberties were taken with the storyline of Radagast and the Necromancer (do correct me if I’m wrong; my Middle-Earth knowledge is hazy at best).

The fight scenes are wonderfully choreographed; special effects are universally impressive; the monsters are deliciously disgusting. Comedy and poignancy are perfectly inserted into the drama: the riddle scene with Bilbo and Gollum is a real treat. Fans of the Rings movies will enjoy seeing familiar faces and even scenes.

Martin Freeman is well cast as the bumbling Bilbo (our LOTR Rover guide smartly informed us that a “bilbo” is an old English word for a small sword!). I’ve always enjoyed Freeman’s performances (Watson in BBC’s recent Sherlock TV series; Arthur Dent in the Hitchhiker’s movie) and his understated comedic timing.

Credits to special effects for reducing the 6 foot 2 Richard Armitage (Robin Hood, North and South, Spooks) to a 140cm-ish dwarf king. His character was perhaps a little two-dimensional; but I suppose he had twelve other dwarves to share screen time with.

All in all, An Unexpected Journey maintains the epic, magical, slightly sentimental but altogether fantastic atmosphere of the LOTR series. Plus, you get to see an magnificent array of braided beards. I just wonder: it’s a short book; I hope they have enough content to keep the next two movies at an equally exciting pace.

9/10

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Everyone was surprised when Jiro Ono’s tiny sushi restaurant earned itself three Michelin stars. Three Michelin stars means it’s worth travelling to a country for the sole purpose of eating at that restaurant.

Situated in the basement of an office building, under Ginza station, with a shop front so modest you’d walk past without a second glance, Jiro’s restaurant is hardly the image of opulence. Moreover, the place seats a maximum of ten people at a time. And he only serves sushi. Beautiful, simple sushi that you can immediately pop into your mouth with your fingers, in the traditional style, or lift delicately with chopsticks.

Directed by David Gelb, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an intimate documentary about how Jiro Ono came to be regarded as arguably the world’s greatest sushi chef, and about how his legacy has influenced his two sons. Jiro, who came from poor beginnings, was on his own and working from the of nine. His success is the fruit of hard work, hard-earned talent, unflagging passion, and long hours in the kitchen.  Throughout the film, Jiro’s almost inhuman work ethic and single-minded dedication to his craft astound the viewer. Is this what it takes to make a shokunin, a master of an art? To never take a holiday; to become bored with idleness? To be unable to retire at the age of 86, even after you’ve suffered a heart attack? Suddenly the fact that his sushi is so perfect doesn’t seem so surprising.

The best parts of the documentary involve Jiro’s two sons. The elder, Yoshikazu, works at Jiro’s restaurant. He cycles to the fish markets in the cold, wet mornings to scout for fresh produce. He trains the apprentices and often makes the sushi. He knows his role is to take over his father’s restaurant after Jiro passes on. He wishes, out loud, that his father “could make sushi forever.” Jiro, on the other hand, when talking about handing over his business to Yoshikazu, remarks with a simple matter-of-fact tone, “He will just have keep doing it for the rest of his life.” There is an eerie sense grace and acceptance in their words.

The film has moments of wonderful, bittersweet quotes. The cinematography is simple, bare and elegant. The close-up shots of faces and the subtle few seconds that the camera lingers on their expressions after they’ve said something–they really made the show, for me. The soundtrack is a feast for the ears, particularly the scene where the experience of eating at Jiro’s restaurant is compared to listening to a concerto.

In a few short decades, sushi has gone from being an obscure, exotic dish to a mainstream fast food. Jiro Dreams of Sushi reminds us to be aware that our natural resources are not infinite. Without tightly regulated fishing laws in place, the numbers of fish in our oceans dwindle. It’s an important call to be less consumptive and more conscientious.

Batman: Year One – The Batman Book to Begin All Batman Books

I am very much a newcomer to Batman.

I read The Killing Joke a while ago, which I expected to enjoy, being the brainchild of the wickedly unpredictable Alan Moore–and enjoy it I did. Then I bought four hardcover Batman books, which are sitting on my shelf: Killing Joke, Year One, Arkham Asylum, and The Dark Knight Returns. The big four. The must-reads.

I was pumped. I attempted Dark Knight Returns, and got confused, and stopped.

The entire Batman comic universe is undoubtedly daunting to the uninitiated (i.e., me and all of us who were unfortunately born after the great age of pulp paper comics). There are just so many characters and so many story arcs. If you Google which Batman graphic novel to read, you get a list of twenty-five books. (Refer here for the advice of someone much better informed than myself.)

Then, in one glorious hour, I read Year One.

I can’t think of a better way to kick off your tour of the Batman universe. It’s the tale of how Bruce Wayne came to be Batman (Batman Begins is based loosely off it…loosely I say); how Jim Gordon, through sheer willpower and a sense of honour, rose through the ranks of a corrupt police squad; and how Batman and Gordon’s friendship begins.

The art style is simple but deeply evocative, bold and gritty. Purples and reds and blues. Thick swooping line art. It’s perhaps not the most amazing artwork I’ve seen, but David Mazzucchelli captures what I think can only be described as the spirit of the work–urgent, straightforward, emotional. The beginning of something big.

Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, Dark Knight Returns) introduces a number of key side characters, including the tragically noble Harvey Dent, Catwoman and mafia mobster Carmine “The Roman” Falcone. The two main plot arcs, however, are Bruce Wayne’s deeply personal quest for an effective method to rid Gotham City of corruption, and Gordon’s struggle to do the right thing in the face of unscrupulous and often ruthless law-enforcers.

I found Gordon’s story by far the most compelling. The storytelling is just beautiful; in a superhero action graphic novel, Miller makes you feel.

An animated film adaptation of Year One was released in 2011. It’s definitely worth watching, as well. It’s only about an hour long and is very faithful to the text and the atmosphere of the original graphic novel. It’s like reading the book all over again, but with moving pictures. The pace is quick and the characters develop quickly with the use of interior monologue. Also, you get to see Gordon being an astonishingly hulking bad-ass good-cop. Interestingly, it features the voices of Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle, and Grey DeLisle (also known as Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender) as Barbara Gordon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movie Review: Death of a Superhero (2011)

I decided to watch this movie after reading a review at Funk’s House of Geekery, so credit to slamadams for selling it so well to me.

Death of a Superhero is based off a novel of the same name by Anthony McCarten. It’s a tale that has elements of familiarity: fifteen-year-old Donald Clarke struggles to come to terms with his terminal cancer. Unable to keep up with the angsts and joys of being a typical teenager, he retreats into his imaginary world of superheroes and villains.

It stars Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the dark-eyed kid from Love Actually and Nanny McPhee) as Donald and Andy Serkis (yep, Gollum/Smeagol) as the only therapist who makes a connection with him. Both put up excellent performances.

The screenplay is populated with Donald’s amazing sketches: of himself, as a muscled, bald, wordless superhero with a blood-red circle cut into his chest by his nemesis, which perhaps represents his cancer and seems to drain him of energy. Of his archenemy, the Glove, a Frankenstein-esque monster with a fistful of sharpened blades. Of the Glove’s assistant, a leather-clad nurse with a voice like a kitten. The seamless integration of Donald’s gritty, stylised sketches with real-life events was one of the best parts of the film. I loved the art, the mood and the way it was layered on top of reality.

But the most part of the film is about Donald being a teenager. His brother and his friends are finding girls and having sex; he listens on with quiet fascination. Pale and thin in his beanie, Donald hangs on to the edges of school society. The typical new girl (Aisling Loftus) arrives at his school, and (as expected) she is rebellious, intelligent and different from all the other girls. He starts falling for her.

In essence this is a tender, subtle and endearing movie. The poignancy of Donald situation is never overdone and I was glad that it never bordered on sentimentality. The interactions between Sangster and Serkis were entertaining; the scenes with Donald and his parents I found most moving. I thought Brodie-Sangster was perfect casting for the role; I believed him at every moment. He has these super black eyes in a very pale face that add to his…profundity.

Not an entirely original theme, but it’s done very well and the art is a real bonus. Favourite scene: when Donald decorates the school window. Very enjoyable.

Rating: 7/10

We Need to Talk About Kevin

I’ll keep this straightforward.

The Book

Book is good. Story: fictional school shooting in America. Seven students, a cafeteria worker and an English teacher murdered. Two years after the event, the murderer’s mother tries to come to terms with her son’s deed by writing a series of letters to her absent husband.

Eva forces herself to be honest about her ambivalence and self-doubt. She questions her innate ability to be a mother. She recounts the unpleasant experience of raising a child who was callous from birth. How much of what Kevin became was biological, and how much of it was her doing? Can a mother be blamed?

This is the story of a family, and its dissolution. I was hooked from the start. The letter-style narrative works wonderfully. Eva’s voice is eloquent and intelligent. Yet the limitation of seeing only through her eyes charges the unfolding events with possible layers of meaning.

Lionel Shriver is excellent with words. I grew deeply envious of her ability to select the opportune word at the opportune time. She was fancy, but appropriately so. She was wordy when it fit and sparse when needed. Her vocabulary is fearsome, but her timing impeccable. She also has a gift for capturing nuance and personal interaction in a way that is refreshing and realistic.

We Need to Talk About Kevin raises a whole lot of questions, obviously, and doesn’t force any answers down your throat. I found the novel overwhelmingly touching, disturbing and marvellous.

8/10

NB. If the psychology of the story fascinates you, look up “callous-unemotional” as a childhood diagnosis. It seems to be an emerging topic of discussion.

The Movie

I had high hopes, but frankly the movie disappointed me. Perhaps because the book was so rich, the movie seemed fragmented and inadequate. Tilda Swinton was good as Eva, but had little emotional variation. John C. Reilly’s acting felt forced to me. The dialogue was so sparse that at times, it came off awkward. The cinematography was slow, artsy, spaced with plenty of pauses and close-ups of objects in the scene. I feel that they could have compressed some of those artsy bits and added more substance to the film. The story is told in alternating flashbacks and present-day, but isn’t too difficult to follow.

Casting for Kevin and Celia was altogether good, although Kevin was a little overplayed. Ezra Miller’s Kevin really relished all the stuff he did, whereas in the book he seemed subtler, colder and more restrained. In the end, the denouement felt somewhat rushed. But I’m sure those who watched the movie before reading the book would disagree.

5/10