Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar Watch, Part Two: More Movie Reviews

I knew a little of Her going in...Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his Operating System. Written and directed by Spike Jonze, I figured it'd be awkward, quirky, funny, and sad.

And it was...but it was so much more including so very, very human.

Phoenix is Theodore Twombly, what a most delightful name! He is in a state of mild depression, melancholy, and upset since his wife (Rooney Mara) divorced him. He works at a letter agency, where he types up beautiful, heartfelt letters for people. What a unique concept, I loved the idea of this, though in a way it is a little sad. Imagine paying someone to write a birthday card or letter to a loved one. Through the writing of these letters, you can see Theodore is a sensitive, sweet guy. His friend Amy, Amy Adams, is similar in nature. I adore Amy Adams, whilst only a small but integral supporting part, there is something about her, she adds a special something to every film she stars in.

The set design - which I absolutely adored - was futuristic yet believable. Highly stylised, from the beautiful woolen high-top pants the men wore, to the technology used and understood by everyone. It appeared to be a quiet, reflective, zen community, this near futuristic LA. It was hypnotic to watch the people scenes, as they moved about from the subway to work to home.

So when Theodore changes his operating system and selects a sexy female voice (Scarlett Johansson), and begins to fall in love with it you actually buy it. And this is where the movie really works...the 'romance' has to be believable. So much so that when he begins to tell those close to him, they barely bat an eyelid.

But things get out of control and the film takes a darkish turn, and you'll have to see the film to find out what really happens.

Phoenix was stunning and adorable as Theodore Twombly, you believe his every word and feeling. An absolute crying shame he was not nominated for Best Actor!

The script was pitch perfect, it walked a fine line and it worked. Kudos to Jonze, who has obviously spent a lot of time around Charlie Kaufman. 

I really think the movie was about connecting and how we all desperately want to find someone to connect with, and how easy it is to fall in love with someone who you feel gets you (whether it is the kind of romance you have with like-minded friends or actual lovers), and how very deeply we can fall in love when we realise we have found a kindred spirit...regardless of their suitability.

Her is a great movie, one that stayed with me for days. I still think about it, and I love it when a movie does that.

12 Years A Slave
Wow, this was heavy going but what an amazing story. Now, I realised it would be a harrowing film but not quite how much. It was shot in a very discombobulating fashion during some of the scenes. So the action and story were emotionally upsetting, but this made you feel physically upset, uncomfortable, at unease. This is not to put you off but to have you really understand the pain and suffering these people used as slaves went through.

12 Years A Slave is the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man, who unwittingly becomes captured and sent south as a slave. An intelligent, cultured man, who finds himself in the worst of the worst conditions and with no reprieve but the kindness of strangers, and they were very few and far between. The scenes leading up to and including his capture, and then his transport to the auction houses (Yes, they auctioned these people off!) were very unsettling. Steve McQueen's direction cemented the unsettle, disjointed scenes of the paddle steamer boats paddles grinding the water and so forth were offputting yet stunning. The cinematography of the beauty of The Mississippi against the brutality of the injustice ensured profound viewing.

Once sold, by the horrific and ironically named Freeman (Paul Giamatti), to the gentle Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) Solomon had things a little 'easier'. However, Ford's kindness towards Solomon was unappreciated by others on the Plantation, and after some incredibly harrowing scenes, Solomon was moved on to work for Epps (Michael Fassbender), a nasty piece of work. And it was here, that the unease ramped it up a few notches. Mostly with Fassbender's interaction with Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), a maid on the plantation.

Yes, it is a horrific story of all our pasts, and yes at times I was pained and in tears, but this is a must see movie. The story is incredible, from start to finish, and ultimately uplifting when you know the history that came (all too slowly) after. It is a visual masterpiece, there is no doubt about it, and it has a soundtrack that is near perfection.

But it is the acting that makes this magnificent movie an instant classic. Chiwetel Ejiofor is Solomo, and commands your attention in every scene. There are no words to describe his performance, it is simply the role of a lifetime and he more than makes it his own. Lupito Nyong'o broke my heart, she was note perfect as the aptly named Patsey. Also Adepero Oduey as Eliza, who worked at the earlier Plantation, a woman separated from her children, her performance was like watching someone's heart break from the outside. Giamatti, Cumberbatch, and Paul Dano (a nasty redneck) were superb as deeply flawed men, but Fassbender's Epps was so nasty and mean, he will go down as one of the all time villains in movies. Also outstanding in smaller parts, Sarah Paulson as Epps' wife, and Brad Pitt in a small but pivotal role.

12 Years A Slave was another movie that stayed with me for days, it haunted me, still does. And I think that is important, go and see this film, you will be rewarded for the experience.

Dallas Buyer's Club
Oh my, talk about seeing harrowing films back to back, this was another one with some rough scenes that almost broke me. However, it is also a film with a lot of laughs, and great deal of heart, and an important part of our recent history.

It is the true story of Ron Woodroof, a redneck electrician and hustler, who makes money on the rodeo circuit. After an electrical incident, he is taken to hospital where he is diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. A womaniser and homophobe, he refuses to believe he has it and thinks they made a mistake. After deteriorating he ends up back in hospital in a ward with transgender woman, Rayon (Jared Leto), and being looked after by Eve (Jennifer Garner), a kind hearted doctor.

Once Ron comprehends his reality, he begins to research drugs and finds information on one unapproved in the US, but available in Mexico. He travels to illegally obtain the drugs, more than he needs, to sell to other patients and make a little money on the side. And so it begins, a journey to many foreign locations, hustling and buying drugs, bringing them in illegally and trying to stay one step ahead of the law and the disease itself. This makes for heart wrenching drama and black humour in equal doses.

And along the way he not only befriends Rayon, but cuts her in as a partner on his deals. The character arc of Ron Woodroof not only as a patient but as a human is simply incredible. Set in the mid 80s, as Rock Hudson dies and people just don't have the knowledge we have today, watching the developments was heart wrenching.

Matthew McConaughey will surely take home Best Actor at the Oscars for this performance. You forget it is McConaughey and start to think you are watching a documentary, his portrayal of Woodroof is that fine. I was never a fan of his Southern 'charm' and poor choice in roles, but as he has gotten older he is choosing more interesting parts, supporting characters with guts, and these last few years has led him here and, like Ron Woodroof, his personal journey has been outstanding.

Jared Leto is unrecognisable as Rayon, again, he will surely take home Best Supporting Actor. Watching Leto and McConaughey duet on screen is one of the finest performances you will see. Add in the steely reserve of Garner's Eve, Steve Zahn's redneck cop, and the solid Griffin Dunne as Dr. Vass, and you know you are in good hands.
Why is it called Dallas Buyers Club?
Well, you need to go along and see the film and find out. You'll be surprised and pleased, but remember to take was a two hankie film for me, but I'm a bit of a sook!


Nebraska was such a change of pace to the other films. Filmed beautifully in black and white, and directed by Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, About Schmidt, and The Descendents), Nebraska is the tale of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), a cantankerous fellow who is frustrated with his elderly life and is convinced he has won one million dollars in sweepstakes. The sweepstakes are obviously a scam but he is certain he is a millionaire and keeps escaping from his home in Billings, Montana to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his money. His wife, Kate (June Squib) is fed up with his vagueness and wandering. His sons are called to assist. Both live in town, Ross (Bob Odenkirk) is a wannabe news anchor, and David (Will Forte), an electronics salesman.

So David indulges his father and drives him to Lincoln to see if he has indeed won. They stop in Woody's hometown of Hawthorne along the way for a family reunion of sorts. Although, things are not quite as friendly as they seem, when the family gets wind of Woody's 'winnings'.

Nebraska is essentially a father/son road movie and a glorious one at that. It is a slow, even paced film, almost mirroring Woody's slow and shuffley gait, and we are all the better for slowing down to take in their lives and watch the stunning cinematography of the country terrain, filmed in sharp black and white. It is at times a little slow and quite melancholy, but that is broken up with great humour and some great moments, especially during their short stay in Hawthorne and the interactions with the characters there.

The characters in the town of Hawthorne, and the family members are delightfully drawn, apparently some of them locals and not actors (much as he did in Hawaii in The Descendents). Stacey Keach is particularly good as Ed, Woody's ex business partner, also Devin Ratray and Tim Driscoll as Woody's redneck nephews.

Bruce Dern is superb as Woody, a man of little words, and ill health, he acts through his drawn, hunched, and shuffley body. June Squibb steals every scene she is in, her face is luminous, and her angst and distaste for situations and some people is hilariously venomous. It is a truly outstanding and feisty performance. However, for me, it was the delightful performance of Will Forte as the unshakeable David, which drew me in the most. A laid back fellow, who obviously has issues with his father, but clearly adores him too. His kind face and mannerisms, and the patience he had through multiple taxing situations along the way were played with subtle charm and sweetness.

This is a lovely, heart warming story, filmed only as Alexander Payne can. The black and white cinematography is postcard picture perfect. It is worth the journey, take the time out to slow down and join them on the road to Nebraska.


Friday, February 14, 2014


From now on I will list all the books I've read, DVDs watched, and music listened to in a separate post. I'll call each post Reviews, though not everything will be heavily reviewed!
So whilst January was very busy I did manage quite a bit, not much on tele, so my DVD viewing was high!
I saw Laurel Canyon, In the House, Flight, World War Z, Delicacy, and The Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger and Laurel Canyon were good but ultimately disappointing. I really loved Flight and World War Z, both nowhere near as bad as I expected. In the house was a creepy French drama and Delicacy was the sweetest romantic French Film with Audrey Tatou.
Genova was my pick of the bunch, with a very solemn Colin Firth packing up his family to Genova after the death of his wife. It reminded me a lot of Don't Look Now, in terms of a family in Italy with a dead family member almost always around the corner. It was beautifully portrayed, the drama and the city. A slow paced film, but interesting to watch unfold.
I also saw an interesting documentary called Face Off about aging models from the early 80s and earlier, and how they are coping with ageing now. What I found really refreshing was most are ageing as they should, naturally and beautifully. It was interesting and honest. 
I've also been bingeing on TV series. 
I watched S2 of Laverne and Shirley, like S1 it holds up well, still funny and sassy! Love those girls and that fabulous theme song.
I devoured S6 of Man Men, I am sure my neighbours must think I have a lover called Don (I wish!) as I seem to spend most of it saying "Oh Don" this season more so than any other. It was, as always, grand, devastating, and brilliant!
I am halfway through Game of Thrones S3 and trying to stretch it out, but so far I am impressed, this just gets better and better!!!!
I haven't read much this month as you can see I have been busy, this will change as of Feb, so stay tuned for that blog!

I did read That Girl by Samantha Geimer. This is a memoir about "the" girl in the Roman Polanski sex scandal as told by the actual girl. I didn't learn much that I didn't already know, though it must be a terrible thing to live with. 
I loved The Television was Revolutionised, which was a padded history of quality television, eg Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, The Wire etc. 
I also loved Angelica Huston's first volume of autobiography, A Story Told lately. It mostly is about her childhood up to her late teens, living with and apart from her famous father, the famous people drifting in and out of her life, and the new people she has started to know as she moves into adulthood. Also a fascinating insight into her life juggling the fame of her father's family and the ordinary of her mother's. And the tragedy of her mother's death. Boy, this woman had more happen in that first 20 years than most do in a lifetime and the best is yet to come. I look forward to the next volume.
I started Someday, Someday, Maybe by the actress Lauren Graham (Lorelei in The Gilmore Girls) and it's ok, about a struggling actress working towards her big break.
I finished Haruki Murakami's After Dark. My god, he is the most amazing writer, hypnotic and poetic best describe him. His subject matter is almost always deep yet the writing light, you move along devouring his words and understanding his meaning without a huge amount of effort. That is incredibly rare. After Dark is set during one night in Tokyo and a range of characters whose paths cross, for better and for worse. At it's heart are Mari, reading in a large cafe as she missed the last train home, and Takahashi, a musician killing time before a late night practise. Takahashi knows Mari's sister (who is having her own issues in another thread of the story) and strikes up a conversation. Later they cross paths with other characters that set off other threads, woven beautifully into this haunting story. 
I started the year off listening to The Beatles as a lead up and follow up from the show I saw. Abbey Road was always my fabourite album, but I had been getting into The White Album more in the past few years, so it was nice to revisit an old friend.
I also love the new Robbie Williams album, Swings Both Ways. I saw his concert on New Years Day and the CD came through at work so I've been listening to it a lot. I never cared for him in his early days, not my type of music, but he swings well and most especially his version of the Jungle Book's I want to be like you. He also duets with Rufus Wainwright on a new song which is very amusing.
I finally got my hands on the Neil Finn/Paul Kelly album, Goin' Your Way, and it is brilliant, been playing it a lot at work.
Of course listening to Amanda Palmer, Theatre is Evil and AP Down Under, both of which are excellent, but honestly seeing her live is far superior.
I watched a great taped concert of Harry Connick Jnr from a few years back when he was on Broadway, he is a great performer, incredibly talented and very easy on the eye!
I'd love to know what you've been watching, reading, and listening to??

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Hello 2014, one month down (and a bit) already and what a splendiferous month it has been!!!
I spent more time in Sydney this month than I have spent in years. When I was much younger I was in and out of Sydney all the time, enjoyed it, had fun, shopped even...but then I discovered Melbourne and it kinda paled in comparison. I still went and there is nothing like driving over the bridge and seeing the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, and hanging out around those areas, but it's all a bit splashy with no soul, money but no sense if you will!

But Melbourne, ahhh, there is something that makes me feel at home immediately, the art, the ease of moving about, the later starts, the trams, I even shop in Melbourne (not normally a fan of shopping) mostly as you feel like you are exploring and not shopping at all, the food, the laneways, the architecture and the's very European and cosmopolitan in a way Sydney just never will or can be.
Nonetheless I went to Sydney three weekends in a row.
First up was to see Sgt Peppers and Abbey Road played Back2Back by a range of Australian musicians at Sydney Opera House. We travelled down via Bobbin Head, had a wander and a meal at Circular Quay and loved the show.
The following weekend, we stayed overnight for Amanda Palmer's Sydney Festival Show, taking up the atmosphere at Hyde Park, before and after.
And then back the next Saturday for the Yoko Ono Exhibition and to see David Sedaris at Sydney Opera House, with a bit of chillaxing in between at the Garden Party just outside the Opera House.
The Australia Day weekend was relatively quieter, but the month was rounded out by a visit to Melbourne. I went with my good friend C and we had a blast. We saw shows and exhibitions, ate very well, and explored the streets and took photos.
Being the lead up to The Academy Awards, I have been also soaking up as many nominated films as I can.
I also saw The Secret life of Walter Mitty, which was lovely and sweet, I much prefer Ben Stiller in what I call his melancholy roles, it suits him better. Also two French Films as part of the Summer of Film Festival at The Towers, A Lady in Paris (starring Jean Moreau as a formidable older Estonian lady living in Paris but needing live in help, a black comedy with the usual French flair) and Looking For Hortense (another comedy with melancholy longing, affairs and double crossing was Tres Francais!).
As usual I've been out and about eating and being with my fabulous friends. We said hello to S with a group at Bar Petite, lunched at Beaumont Street with C, ate fish and chips in the mall, entertained B at Club Cathy, and had the most god awful meal and service at Pippis with M - thank goodness the company and alcohol was good - but won't be going back there in a hurry!

I also spent some time with my family, hanging with my niece and nephew, dinner with my parents.

The start to the working year has also been good, hectic in the right kind of way with many exciting projects that I am working on plus the usual stuff and all rather enjoyable.

Also managed a few walks and started a little photography project...more on that in weeks to come.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Melbourne: Part Three

The thing I most love to do in Melbourne is walk, explore, and look up. As a lover of architecture this city does it for me every single time. I have favourite buildings, alleys, and lanes I will always come back to But I also love to 'discover' new pieces.

So here are a selection of my favourites, new and old. They were taken on either my phone or my camera. I have a good 35mm camera, and the phone camera isn't bad either. I always keep things natural and authentic, no fancy settings, apps, or filters.

Laneways: they always thrill me, I love off the beaten track, places regular people don't go, quiet hidden gems. Melbourne has loads of them.

I've never noticed these lamps before just off Centre Place.

A graffitied laneway off Bourke Street Mall.

A Brett Whiteley like sculpture in a little plaza off Little Collins Street.

And this shot from Chapter House Lane I replicate almost every time I visit!

Art: there is always something arty to be found on the streets if you look.

Something these Rhinos in Federation Square for Melbourne Now.

Sculpture that has been there for years, and I must have walked past many times but only noticed this time.

The mannequins in Myers at dusk. 

This beauty on Swanston Street.

And the knitted and crocheted poles at the square on Swanston.

New Buildings: well, new ones I photographed this time.

This is the old Melbourne Safe Deposit on Queen Street.

And this beauty on the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Streets.

The façade of the former Martin and Pleasance building.

Still trying to place this one, near Bourke Street Mall/Swanston, I remember looking up and going wow, the crisp white tiles against the perfect blue sky!

And this, whilst I know the lovely Mercantile Building and the clock from Town Hall very well, I've never seen them at this angle.

The classics: and then there's the buildings that scream Melbourne.

Ethiad Stadium, caught from inside Spencer Street Station Skybus terminal.

The MCG and at night from under St Kilda Road Bridge.

Corners and reliefs at The Town Hall

The façade of The Atheneum Theatre

My personal favourite, The Forum

And the Post Office at dusk

Melbourne: Part Two

Eating out and about in Melbourne
Always a highlight of any trip to Melbourne is the amazing food. I have some places I always go back to and also love to try new spots.
Thursday night took us to an oldie but a goodie, Pancake Parlour. Located downstairs on Bourke Street Mall, is it a family friendly place and I must admit in need of a spruce up. However, the food is not bad, a little more expensive, smaller and not as good as I remember but it was still good.
We met M for brunch at Sunny Boy Cafe on Friday morning. It's a great little cafe tucked downstairs at Gurners Lane, off Collins Street, and only a few months old. It's a cute spot with a hipster vibe. I had smashed avocado and Feta on toast, and it was divine. Along with a fruit smoothie I was soon full. C had the blueberry pancakes and they looked amazing, M the almond Croissant. Later the lovely staff brought out a poached pear and rhubarb Brioche Muffin to try...oh my!
We actually went back the next day for more, but it was closed. We tried another cafe closeby and I had pulled pork, spinach, and eggs Benedict on toast which was pretty good.
Because we had been brunching around 11/12 we then had very late lunches or very early dinners or what I like to call First dinner and then a Second dinner much later, more like supper!
On Friday we found a new (to me) Dumping place to try for First dinner and along with their cold rice paper rolls. The Dumpings (chicken and prawn) were delicious BUT the cold rice paper rolls were out of this world! I cannot remember what it was called, but it was on Flinders Lane as you turned into Degreaves Street and was very popular!
Friday night's second dinner was at Timeout Cafe on Fed Square, we had Chorizo, potato, and caramelised pizza with cocktails and chatted and watched the world go by.
Of course a trip to Melbourne is not complete without a box of Little Cupcakes to munch on as the days progress.
For Saturday's first dinner, we had chips with Aioli and pulled pork sliders with Pimms at the Optic, the new restaurant/cafe/bar at the ACMI. And second dinner was quite the experience, we went to Lustre Bar, which is situated off Flinders Lane from another laneway, and overlooks Flinders Lane and Degreaves. I had always seen the balcony but not worked out how to get there. It was a small, funky bar, for late 20s to 40s I guess. Extensive cocktail and whisky menu, and small finger foods and they specialise in desserts. We had Aracini Balls and mini chicken and Camembert pies, followed by a dessert degustation to share, with a small selection of their best desserts...oh my! Plus some damn fine cocktails. Great music played in the background, they do have live Jazz there sometimes...not the night we were there, so I guess another trip is required.

For breakfast Sunday before we left we went to a favourite cafe, Caboose Kitchen, they do traditional meals so was the perfect place to get basic scrambled eggs and bacon!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Melbourne: Part One

My friend C and I had a lovely weekend in Melbourne recently. We flew down specifically to see The Doctor Who Symphony. But we also saw a few excellent exhibitions, did a fair bit of walking and balanced that nicely by consuming some amazing food and cocktails. We stayed in what will henceforth be known as MY apartment. I found it on my last trip and it's a clean, modern little one bedroom with kitchen, bathroom, laundry etc and in an excellent position on Collins Street, near Elizabeth Street, AND it has a view!
Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular
This was held at the Plenary at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre on our second night. I have never been there but it's a very large, newish, modern centre with various areas for exhibitions, concerts and so forth. I loved the range of ages who attended and some amazing costumes, from t-shirts and scarves to Dalek or Tardis costumes. There was much to see in the foyer prior too.
Our seats were towards the back but still pretty good. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) was joined by the Melbourne Choral Ensemble, conducted by Ben Forster, and some beautiful arias were added by the stunning Antoinette Halloran. And the whole thing was hosted by 5th Doctor, Peter Davison. Peter was charming, very English, and gentlemanly as you would expect. The music played with clips on a large screen behind the orchestra. 
At various times monsters, Cybermen, Oods, and of course Daleks would appear on stage, on throughout the audience which really added to the charm of the evening. The sequences with the Daleks were particularly funny.
But the star of the show was the sensational music of Murray Gold. With powerful music like that I knew it was going to be an amazing show, but I wasn't prepared for how emotional and beautiful the whole thing was. I would have gone again the next night, had it not been sold out!
Spectacle: music video exhibition at ACMI
We spent hours watching, dancing, and singing to this brilliant exhibit on the Friday afternoon. It was great to escape into this cool area on a hot afternoon. As you walked down the stairs into the main exhibit area there was a large screen with 'movement' video clips playing, that is videos that used a lot of dance movements within. We entered to Bjork's It's Oh So Quiet, which was followed by Toni Basil's Mickey and many, many more. 
Then we were taken on a journey through videos from early 'music' clips including jazz and blues from the 20s and 30s through to Dylan, the Beatles, early 60s clips, Bowie, Queen, Devo, the MTV era and Countdown. There were mini screens with multiple headphones, and posters, album covers, and memorabilia. You couldn't help but groove and sing along. 
After that it moved to the more interactive generation of filmmaking, had a lot of clever clips and how they were made or ones you could interact with. My favourite was this Johnny Cash project, where you could much about with various stock photos of Johnny and they are added to a continuous clip.
Other rooms had loads of memorable video clips on large screens, there was photography and even a curtained off room with small peep holes to view the more risque videos. 
I was very impressed, my favourite piece being this:

All that Glitters: Costumes from Arts Centre Melbourne's Performing Arts Collection
We spent Saturday moving slowly through this and the other 3 at the NGV...the best way to spend time in Melbourne!
All That Glitters was a free one we chanced upon and it was wonderful. Featuring costumes that dated back to the late 1800s up to Kylie's ShowGirl Costume and Hugh Jackman's outfits from The Man From Oz. Plus everything in between, a lovely array of Dame Joan Sutherland's Operatic costumes plus hats, jewells, posters, photography, and costume sketches. C did overhear one elderly lady stating how disappointing that there was not at least a cardboard cut out of Hugh next to his costume, lol!

Art Deco Fashion including the photography of Edward Steichen at NGV
This was the most divine collection of costumes from the Art Deco period and about 200 beautiful black and white photos from the camera of Edward Steichen. The photos ranged from shoots for Vogue and other fashion advertising at that time and of famous people and movie stars. His style was glamorous and of that period.
Melbourne Now at NGV
Spread throughout the NGV, this was all modern art, some great, some not so much. Some interactive and some just had to be seen to be believed.

This was my favourite, as you walked into the room you were drawn to it, but as you got closer you realised how very special it was. Each letter is made from cast resin and depicts the artist, Mark Hilton's journey from childhood to adulthood. Incredible!

Regular Collection at NGV
Always outstanding, I can't visit without at least seeing my favourite lady!
There will be more, buildings, Melbourne at night, and places to eat so stay tuned!