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It's been a busy month or so. In lieu of a proper blog post, you're getting subheadings.

I was on four panels at Continuum 9. They all went really well, I think, including the one on cultural appropriation that I was most nervous about. I don't really remember much about what was said in my panels. The Plot 101 panel  started in one room, but it was too small, so we moved to a bigger room, then got kicked out of that one when the organisers needed it to set up for a speech, so we moved out and finished in the foyer. "It's a character journey," I quipped. "Beginning, middle and end."

I also won a free ticket to next year's Continuum, and am plotting panels.

Another production as part of MTC's Neon festival. 'By Their Own Hands' was a retelling of the Oedipus myth. Or more accurately: three retellings. Act one, the two actors invited the audience on to the stage, and told the myth as straight story-telling. Act two was a silent, visual retelling. Act three was just dialogue, the two actors standing at microphones and talking. It was fascinating to see the same story stripped down and retold different ways. But after embracing the audience in the first act, it felt distancing to be told to go sit back down in our seats.

Splendid Chaps is a podcast about Doctor Who by Ben McKenzie and John Richards. There were meant to be eleven episodes, one for each Doctor. But then they did all these side episodes, and then John Hurt happened, and now that plan has been abandoned. What's lovely about this podcast is that they record them in front of a live studio audience. I've been to several of them now, and hearing them talk so passionately about classic Who has finally inspired me to go back and watch some old episodes.

Some of the old episode are great. Some of them remind me why I decided not to rewatch them.

Joss Whedon's low budget indie version of the Shakespeare play. He shot it in two weeks while on a break from directing The Avengers, which has led to some peculiar cross-marketing: "Like superheroes and explosions! You've love a five hundred year old romantic comedy!"

It's fun, but slight. Oddly for Whedon, he never quite nails the emotional swerves. And the modern-dress, Californian bungalow setting is at odds with the play's obsession with maidenly virtue. Amy Acker is great, though.

My friend Alex Hammond has had his debut novel published by Penguin. It's called Blood Witness, and it's a crime/legal thriller set in Melbourne. There was a book launch last Tuesday at Readings, with Alan Brough interviewing Alex. I'm really excited for Alex: he's the hardest working writer I know, and it's fantastic to see his dedication pay off.

We've also been to Women of Letters, Melbourne Literary Salon, and I saw the Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures exhibition with my sister. I'm also way behind on blogging about my Project Read All the YA.

Right. Update over. Back to work, you lot.

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We saw Jane Eyre tonight.

I enjoyed it. But I also felt something was missing.

It all seemed a bit too polite, a bit too polite. Surely the whole point of gothic romance is that it sweeps you up in its melodrama?

It's a good looking film, with all those moors and run down English manors and bonnets. And I'm sucker for Mia Wasikowski. But Michael Fassbinder never really got his brooding on. There just wasn't enough chemistry between them.

I do want a frock coat now, though. And possibly some muttonchops.
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Arrr, me hearties. 'Tis true.

Oddly, the US release not only has a different trailer (which gives away more of the jokes)t, but has a different subtitle. I guess the idea of Charles Darwin and his monkey Bobo will be less popular over there. Idiots.
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Damn it, Melbourne. We go see a movie for two hours, and you go get yourself all wet.

"Floods" seems a bit of a strong word for it, though, in comparison to what Queensland went through recently.

Anyway, tonight we went to see True Grit.

It's a Western, about a 14 year old girl who sets out to capture the fugitive who killed her father.

It's based on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, and directors the Coen Brothers have said they wanted to be more faithful to the novel than John Wayne's 1969 film version.

Along with Deadwood, the film makes a damn good case that Westerns are the American Shakespeare. The language is rich, the themes deep, there is both humour and terrible violence, and the characters are larger than life, yet full of subtlety.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon eat up their roles as, respectively, a whiskey-soured US Marshall and a prim Texas Ranger. But the revelation of the film is Hailee Steinfeld as the teenaged Mattie Ross. She's a fantastic blend of intelligence, determination, and a belief in the working of law and order that borders on the naive.

In fact, the one real weakness of the film is that the actor playing the 40 year old Mattie can't hold a candle to Steinfeld.

A great film. Highly recommended.

It was spitting lightly when we went in to the cinema. We came out find Collins Place had flooded, and cleaners trying to vacuum-clean up the water. And when we got home, the power on our block was out. we'd just found some candles and lit them when the power came back on.
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Just back from seeing Sofia Coppola's Somewhere.

It's about a actor, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), who is aimlessly filling in his days at the Chateau Maromont in Hollywood while he recovers from a minor injury. His ennui is only punctured when his 11 year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) comes to stay with him.

It's quite similar to her first film, Lost in Translation. But where Lost was filled with a melancholy beauty, this film is numb. Johhny Marco drifts through the parties and the women, feeling nothing. And this is where Coppola is perhaps too literal: there are long shots where nothing happens, which makes the film arduous.

What saves it is Elle Fanning. She's radiant.

Somewhere is my least favourite of Coppola's films. Too many scenes are too long, and it's a very "bitsy" film, made up of little vignettes that never quite add up to something richer. If you've seen the trailer, you've pretty much seen the film. I'm glad I saw it, though, just because Fanning is so enchanting.

It's possible my opinion was coloured by the audience at my session, though. People complain about rude teenagers at the cinema. My fellow audience members were mostly old couple, and they spent the whole movie whispering and muttering to each other. It was very distracting.

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We saw this film on Sunday.

The plot: Gawky, bass-playing Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) falls for the mysterious, brightly-coloured-hair Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But if they're to be together, he has to fight her seven evil exes.

Que a mash-up of indie comedy, retro video games, and over the top anime-style fight scenes, directed by Edgar Wight (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead).

The film is based on a comic book series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. This is where I reveal my bias: the Scott Pilgrim series is my favourite comic book of the 21st Century. They're funny, fresh, touching, outwardly stupid and cartoonish, but inwardly thoughtful.

The movie isn't perfect. But it's a worthy adaptation. I had a ball.

Like a lot of fans, I had my doubts about Michael Cera playing Scott. Cera is cute in a dopey, passive sort of way, whereas Scott in the comics is more high-energy, like an overexcited puppy. But Cera works in the role. He's not stretching his acting range by any means, but there's a reason he's the go-to guy for "nerdy geek falls in love with hot indie chick" movies.

Speaking of hot indie chicks... With her huge dark eyes and her coloured hair and her aura of emotional damage, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona is so brain-meltingly gorgeous that I didn't notice that her character doesn't actually do anything for the whole film.

It's a pity. Ramona in the comics is far more nuanced. As it stands, she's out-shone by Scott's exes: the besotted highschooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) and the wonderfully sarcastic drummer Kim Pine (Allison Pill).

So that's the first problem. The second is the fight scenes.

Individually, they're funny and exciting. But seven exes is just too many. The repetition gets repetitive. I appreciate Wight wanting to be faithful to the books, but the film would be tighter if he cut out two of the fights, and used the extra time to flesh out the Scott and Ramona relationship.

So, there are problems. But they're minor ones. Overall, the film is fast, funny, clever and stupid in the most joyful way. Wight keeps it moving a frenetic speed, cramming in jokes and action sequences and a fantastic array of supporting characters. Special mention has to go to Kieran Culkin here, as Scott's sardonic gay house mate Wallace Wells.

Conclusion: You should see this film.
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This movie? It's like the Sex Pistols being covered by Coldplay.

Spike Jonze has made a beautiful movie here, but it completely misses the point of Maurice Sendak's book. For some reason, he's turned the gleefully ferocious monsters of the title into whiny, neurotic wimps.

Seriously. In the book, the Wild Things make Max their king because he can stare into their eyes without blinking. In the movie, they make Max their king because he says he has a sadness shield that will keep the loneliness out.

Every time there's some action or whimsy or excitement, it's killed dead as the wild things stop to complain about how sad they are, or that the other monsters don't like them. It's like Woody Allen in a fursuit.

The Wild Things look fantastic, a mix of Creature Workshop puppetry and CGI faces. But it's wasted. The creature look exactly like the beasts from the book, but they have none of the savageness. You don't want to know me, one tells Max, I'm kind of a downer. And she's right. I don't.

I get that books and movies are different media, that adaptations require artistic licence, and that to make a feature-length film out of a ten sentence children's book requires some additions.

But surely, if you're adapting a book you want to capture the essence of it.

And that's why this movie failed for me. It just wasn't wild.

EDIT: Some background reading
Newsweek interview with Sendak, Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers.

Essay - Do Children Actually Like Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are?"

And from 2004: Bill Moyers interviews Maurice Sendak about the creation of Where the Wild Things Are. Fascinting.

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Have you ever thought to yourself "I really like Sherlock Holmes. I just wish he spent less time deducing things, and more time punching people in the face"?



Director Guy Ritchie has, and Sherlock Holmes is the result. At last, the world has the two-fisted Holmes that no-one else was waiting for.

More. Mild spoilers... )

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If you were a 13 year old boy, Avatar would be the best movie ever.

It's got helicopter gunships. It's got alien worlds. It's got noble savages who ride flying lizards. It's got a sexy blue cat-woman and you can kind of see her nipples.

Visually, it's spectacular.

Plot wise? Um...

If you've seen the trailer, you know the whole story. Evil humans invade alien paradise. White male hero goes native, helps tribespeople fight off the invaders, gets to shag the sexy blue cat-woman.

Forget the Apology to the Stolen Generation - this is how you deal with white oppressor guilt.

I know, I know -- I'm being a spoilsport. Any film with blue cat-people is clearly telling you not to take it too seriously.  It's just... I cringed everytime those cat-people were on screen. It's like James Cameron took every dumb cliche about primitive tribespeople, and put a blue tail on them.

And it's all so by-the-numbers. So much imagination went into designing the alien world of Pandora, and devising the technology to film it, that it's a shame so little was spent on the plot. There's no twists, no surprises, no uncomfortable complexity to get between the movie and it's goal of making squillions of dollars.

The highlight of the movie is Pandora, its lush jungles, its bioluminecent plants, its wonderful zoology. If you see it, go see it at IMAX, so you can drown yourself in this amazing world.
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Saw Star Trek last night.

It's a good, solid sci-fi action-adventure film. There's fistfights, explosions, giant space battles, and enough character development to give it some emotional heft.

It's easily the best Star Trek-related thing I've seen. But I've seen very little Trek, and what I have seen was uniformly bad. So my opinion may not count for much. The film doesn't measure up to, say, the new Battlestar Galactica, but that may be an apples-to-oranges comparison.

The plot is about an evil Romulan blowing up planets, but really that's just background colour for the story about how Kirk and Spock start off hating each other but then end up best friends.

The star of the film is definitely Zachary Quinto as Spock. This is a younger, sexier Spock, and the conflict between his seething human emotions and his coldly logical Vulcan side is the main character arc in the movie.

Chris Pine as James T. Kirk was probably meant to be the star, but all he really does is be smug.

Eric Bana plays Captain Nero, the aforementioned evil, planet-destroying Romulan. He's fine as an actor, but he never really gets enough screen time to be anything except a fairly generic bad guy. Which is a pity - the quality of a sci-fi film is generally directly proportional to how cool the bad guy is.

There's some cheesy moments, some in-jokes for the fans, lots of action, a clever explanation of how this franchise reboot fits in to the original series, and at least one frustrating plot hole (see Spoilers section). The flim runs for just over two hours, but it keeps up a breathless pace through it all. I'd actually have preferred it if there were a few less punch-ups and a bit more characterisation. But even taken as it is, it's a good bit of sci-fi action fun.

Spoiler Bit )
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We're just back from the preview screening of Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.

And it was great. Maybe not as mind-blowingly awesome as I was hoping. But it's got giant monsters, elf princesses, Hellboy being sarcastic, an astonishing troll market, and a gothed-up Selma Blair.

The film wears its influences on its sleeve: The Lord of the Rings, Princess Mononoke, the works of Neil Gaiman, even the PlayStation game Shadow of the Colossus. But a gleefully twisted humour runs through it all that's pure Del Toro.

Not all of it works. There's a romance subplot that never really catches fire. I blame the actress playing Nuala, the elf princess. She may have the cheekbones and the English accent, but she just doesn't have the personality. (I kept thinking Cassie from Skins would have been much better casting, and [profile] andricongirl agreed with me.)

Afterwards there was a phone Q&A session with the director, Guillermo Del Toro.

The q&a was a bit chaotic - Del Toro was in Berlin, he was answering live audience questions from a simultaneous screening in Sydney, and the Melbourne audience got to write down questions which were then sent up to Sydney to be asked by the host.

Still, Del Toro carried it off. He's extremely intelligent and incredibly friendly, and he gave profound answers about subversive fairytales, the symbolism of clockwork, and why the only character in the movie with a strong moral stance is the bad guy.

My question was "What do you think fantasy films can say about real life that realistic films can't?"

It was the last question asked before they wrapped up, although the host combined it with another question about why Del Toro empathises with monsters. His answer was beautiful and in depth and too long to write down, but these quotes struck me:

"It has always been the highest human endeavour to create things that do not exist."

"Monsters are part of the essential bestiary of humanity, because we use them as tools to explain not only the universe outside, but the universe within us."

"Monsters," he concluded, "are one of the most intimate creations of the human soul."

Big Red

Aug. 13th, 2008 10:53 am
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Dear World --

Could you please stop being so fucking awesome? It's sending me broke.

Hellboy 2 Preview Sceening, followed by phone Q&A with Guillermo Del Toro
Monday 18th August, 9pm, Cinema Nova in Carlton.
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We scored free tickets to a preview screening of EASTERN PROMISES last night.

It's the new David Cronenberg picture. About a London midwife who gets caught up with the Russian mafia when she tries to locate the family of a 14 year old prostitute who dies giving birth.

Cronenberg started out making weird underground horror films like Scanners and Videodrome, moved on to adapting William S. Burrough's Naked Lunch and J. G. Ballard's Crash, before reaching critical success with A History of Violence. So a thriller about the vori v zakone is almost mainstream fare, for him.

It's a brooding thriller, dark and emotionless on the surface, then exploding into extremely graphic violence. The streets are grey. The plot moves slowly. The actors are photographed to look like slabs of meat left at the butcher's for a week. There's nothing glamorous or sentimental about this movie. And it is riveting.

The screenplay was written by Steve Knight, who also wrote the organ-harvesting thriller Dirty Pretty Things.

Naomi Watts plays the midwife, Anna. She's a nice mix of determination and terror, frailty and heart.

Vincent Cassel plays the drunken son of the Russian crime boss. Although the plot pivots around his character, he doesn't get a great deal to do. So it's a credit to Cassel's skill that he brings such charisma to the role.

But the film is stolen by Viggo Mortensen as the suave, ice-cold driver trying to be accepted into the crime gang's ranks. He's lean and deadly, with an incredible physique. Watch for the scene where he's naked, covered in prison tattoos, and fighting for his life.

It's not a nice movie. It's bleak and cold and violent like the gangsters it depicts. But it's also not gratuitous. The acts of violence are explicit, but only to show how horrific they are.

A great movie.

Afterwards, A. agreed. "That was really good. But can we go and see Stardust again, to cheer ourselves up?


Oct. 3rd, 2007 10:27 pm
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We saw Stardust last night.

Romantic fairytale. Funny. Sweet. Occasionally a bit wet. Much as you'd expect from something based on a Neil Gaiman book.

It's got skyships, evil witches, a somewhat dorky young man on a quest, sword fights, murder, ghosts, boob jokes, and a very blonde Claire Danes as a fallen star.

Claire Danes is amazingly beautiful. And like many amazingly beautiful women, she can actually look quite ugly. Especially when her eyebrows are bleached platinum, and she spends most of the movie scowling. Still... Claire Danes. Blonde. In a corset.

Charlie Cox plays the somewhat dorky young man on the quest. He's more pretty than beautiful. But he's very, very pretty.

Michelle Pfeiffer - who's not exactly a slouch in the looks department either - has a ball as the evil witch Lamia. She's fantastic.

There's a lot of other actors, many of them who are fairly attractive. But I've gone on enough about the prettiness of the cast. You'll start to think I'm shallow.

To be honest, it took me a while to actually click with this film. The start is very choppy. Which kicked in the analytical part of my brain --"What's wrong here? Has this been edited badly? Was that really the best way to write that scene?"

Half the film was over before I managed to shut that part of my brain up and enjoy the rousing ending of the movie.

So I think I have to see the movie again. Just to judge it properly.

And not to perve at Claire Danes. Not at all.


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