Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Miss Potter

Posted by lea at 9:54 AM 1 comments Links to this post

The tagline of this movie is ‘Beatrix Potter’s life was the most enchanted story of all’ but I left the cinema scratching my head, wondering what on earth that meant. What made them think her life was even movie-worthy let alone enchanted? If by ‘enchanted’ they mean ‘odd’ then I concede, yes, she was odd. She talked to her drawings and had no other friends. Miss Potter indeed – Miss Potty, more like!

They seemed to be saying that her life was enchanted simply because, against the custom of her day, she was quite happy never to be married and only wanted to write and draw for the rest of her life. Of course she DOES fall in love, then there’s tragedy but because of her literary success she’s able to buy a farm in the country and move there to continue writing for the rest of her life.

Overall, it was quite an unspectacular movie…. to be honest, very dull. The events of her life (her success, making a friend, falling in love) could have been dramatised, but they weren’t. The movie flatlined early on and never picked up. Emotions were never engaged, curiosity never aroused, and the plot never actually climaxed.

We all know that Renee Zellweger can carry a British accent (Bridget Jones’s Diary), and we know that she and Ewan McGregor can create on-screen chemistry (Down With Love), but neither of those factors were able to lift this movie off the ground. Becoming Jane, about the life of Jane Austen, is soon to be released, and I really, really, really hope that’s not botched up like this one.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Deja Vu

Posted by lea at 3:53 PM 0 comments Links to this post

(I watched this around 2-3 week ago but forgot to write about it, so it’s not quite fresh in my mind.)

Denzel Washington plays the usual hero-cop in a time-twisting thriller that’s only as full of as many plot holes as most other time-travel movies. One of America’s many secret services has a machine that enables them to fold time back on itself to witness events three (?) days past in a continuous, parallel thread to solve criminal cases etc. Denzel Washington risks his life to travel back and save a beautiful black woman (who can blame him?) whose death is the key to a major explosion killing a boat full of innocent people. The ending is a bit too convenient (the disposal of his second, time-travelling self) and a bit abrupt. When the girl is saved and meets the original Denzel (the one who hasn’t travelled back in time and has no idea that he’s done that), she doesn’t seem all that surprised even though I don’t recall the second Denzel telling her that he’s come from the future.

Highlights:
Jim Caviezel (who shall forever be known as Jesus) playing a dangerous psychopath – he’s such a great, intense actor.
Val Kilmer, who’s great as always, if a little bloated and aged.
The very pretty heroine who plays (of course) Denzel Washington’s love interest.

Lowlights:
The pace was a bit off – it took too long to get to the important bits and was a bit predictable at times.

Overall, it was a decent movie and while I wouldn’t pay to watch it again, it’s worth watching when you have a spare 2 hours and nothing important to do.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

On Happiness

Posted by lea at 3:08 PM 2 comments Links to this post
I recently read that a study on human happiness discovered that the level of our happiness is not determined by our actual wealth or possessions, but rather by the comparative wealth and possessions of those around us. So, according to this study, my joy at buying a new car would last only as long as it took for my neighbour to buy a better car.

Added to this is the idea of perfectionism, perpetrated by the media, which says that the only way to be happy is to have this or buy that, or look like this.

The solution, apparently, was found in a study of nuns that discovered that optimistic nuns live an average of 10 years longer than pessimistic nuns (doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron?). So what made those nuns happy?

1. Gratitude for the things they had, rather than focusing on what they didn’t have.
2. Tolerance for imperfection – not just accepting it, but embracing it.

Okay, I added that bit about embracing imperfection. But it makes sense right? One of my favourite movies is Beautiful People, which is a gorgeous little film that intertwines the lives of lots of different people in London. The idea is simple: life is not perfect, but it can be beautiful. It just depends on what you’re looking at.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Anastasia series by Lois Lowry

Posted by lea at 1:01 PM 2 comments Links to this post
Anastasia Krupnik is the central character in a series of children's books by Lois Lowry. Over the last two days I re-read Anastasia Again!, Anastasia On Her Own and Anastasia at this Address (that's the good thing about kids' books) and I just LOVE this series! I always have, and spent $17 in delivery alone on ebay to buy as many of them as possible already (admittedly, the books actually only cost me 99c!).

The characters are fantastic, funny and flawed. Anastasia's adventures as she grows up are hilarious and true to life, and the interactions of her family - father Myron, English professor at Harvard, mother Katherine, artist and stay at home mum, and little brother Sam - are some of the best I've ever read. Especially her brother Sam, who is a child prodigy and absolutely adorable. She loves Frank (her fish), her wallpaper, her turret-bedroom and writing.

The series goes through Anastasia's life as she moves suburbs, makes friends, has a girl-crush on her gym teacher, semi-falls in love with Steve Harvey, tries to find a career... a lot happens to her as she grows up, but this is unlike other growing-up-in-the-burbs books. Through it all you see her excellent sense of humour, intelligence dotted with moments of far-flung scatterbraininess, and overall it leaves you with a sense that the world is really a good place.

And we could really do with more of that, couldn't we?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Secret Life of Yokels

Posted by lea at 9:04 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Driving along Liverpool Road this morning, I was rudely cut off by a car entering onto the main road from a side street. In order to miss the car, I not only had to slam on the brakes, but also swerve into the next lane (fortunately it was empty).

'Watch it, you-' I started, and glancing over I registered the messy-haired, topless white guy who looked like he'd gotten into his ancient dusty brown Ford after chasing a chicken around his trailer. I finished my sentence, '-yokel!'

Yokel? I thought, where did that come from? Then immediately the song started playing in my head, 'Some folk'll never lose a toe, but then again some folk'll, like Cletus the slack-jawed yokel' [insert banjo flourish]

I met a real life yokel! In Sydney - Strathfield, in fact, of all places! I drove beside him for a while, curious as to where he was going, under-attired as he was. What had got him in such a hurry?

Sure enough, there it stood before us. The golden arches. With the same urgency with which he'd nearly crashed into me, he turned into the McDonalds driveway and left me with this new insight, so THAT'S where yokels go when everyone else goes to work...

yo·kel /ˈyoʊkəl/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[yoh-kuhl] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun
a rustic; a country bumpkin.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The things that nerds get up to

Posted by lea at 2:29 PM 2 comments Links to this post
I just loving hearing about stuff that nerds do! They take curiosity to another level. Take this example of experiments using just Diet Coke and Mentos mints by these two guys Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe (are they nerds? just check out the goggles). Might be a little old to some of you cos they've already gotten a lot of media coverage, but I sure got a blast out of it - pun unintended!

I’ve heard the video takes too long to load for some, so I’ve replaced it with the link. Check it out – definitely worth the wait!

Coke & Mentos experiment

Monday, January 15, 2007

Apocalypto

Posted by lea at 2:43 PM 1 comments Links to this post

If you can stomach a lot of violence, then you may enjoy this movie. If, however, you prefer your movies with minimal decapitation and disembowelling, you may end up watching most of this movie with your head buried in the shoulder of the person next to you. Need I explain which of these two camps I fell into?

Even just remembering scenes from the movie to write this entry is causing my stomach to churn with the memory of lunch. There’s so much sadism in this film, from the pillaging of a peaceful Mayan tribe to the human sacrifices that abound later in the movie, that you simply either turn away or switch off the feeling part of your brain so you can follow the rest of the film.

Jaguar Paw, the hero of Apocalypto, receives a premonition, a prophecy and becomes prey as he runs for his life from his captors (who wish to catch him, skin him and make him watch as they wear it) to save his pregnant wife and child. He’s a compelling hero who rises to the challenge and in the meantime, gives the audience one of the most incredible foot chases ever seen on celluloid.

The cinematography is awesome, but I felt that the sudden close ups and slo-mos gave the film a bit of a B-grade feel at times, which was rescued by the Yucatan dialogue (think of the horrific accents in Memoirs of a Geisha and you’ll understand what I mean).

I felt that the movie was very primitive, not only in content, but also in approach. If you’re planning to set a movie in a specific and mysterious culture, shouldn’t you incorporate something about that culture (apart from the grisly side)? I wanted to know more about the Mayans than their relish in gore, and felt that the film failed to show what distinguished them from any other similar culture.

The b/f, however, enjoyed the movie immensely – blood and guts and all – and was nice enough to lend me his shoulder throughout (although he did try to hold my lips together whenever I cried out, ‘Why are they DOING that? That’s so DISGUSTING!’).

He believes the movie is about civilisation and pecking order and the bloody bits just show realistically what it was like for people in those times. He maintains that it was not the aim of the film to provide a discourse on the Mayan culture, but I say, if it’s going to borrow from them for sensationalism, shouldn’t it do them some justice? I mean other than making them look like blood-hungry Neanderthals.

If I'd known more accurately what the film was about, I probably wouldn't have watched it. But now that I have, I'm busy trying to forget it, not because it's a bad film, but because it was so gory - much of which I felt wasn't justified in the plot.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Snack Thief, by Andrea Camilleri

Posted by lea at 12:18 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Book 3 of the Inspector Montalbano series, The Snack Thief is a mystery set in an Italian town where people ride an elevator with a dead body to save themselves from using the stairs, retired men hire a beautiful young Tunisian cleaning woman for her ‘extra services’ rather than her cleaning expertise, and a young boy steals food in order to survive after his mother (the aforementioned cleaning woman) mysteriously disappears.

The main protagonist, Inspector Montalbano, is great at his job. He loves solving crimes and isn’t averse to using tough (and sometimes unethical) means to find out what he wants. Professionally, he’s totally switched on - a man whose hunches always hit target and has a nose for digging out the truth. However, personally he’s stereotypically shut down and finds it difficult coming to terms with (or even just admitting) his own emotional needs.

Camilleri shows his weaknesses with as much transparency as his strengths, and as a result, Montalbano is a character you grudgingly respect rather than enthusiastically like.

It’s the first book of the series that I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed most of it – especially the Inspector’s digressions into and obvious keen enjoyment of food. It was only towards the end that I felt it lost its zing.

Where did it go wrong? The pace was good, the plot kept me hooked and the writing was precise and brisk.

However, it takes a turn at the end after the mystery is solved. Montalbano takes a break to the seaside and gets in touch with his emotions. It’s ironic that this is the bit that turned me off, because I imagine that for avid followers of this series, this is the moment they’d been waiting for - when he’s finally able to commit to his long-term girlfriend, visit his sick father and show some emotional maturity.

Perhaps it’s partly because I haven’t read the previous novels, but I really think it’s because after the remarkable lack of character development throughout the book, his sudden emotional growth was not very believable. After the smooth ride of the rest of the book, this bit was jarring and seemed out of character.

Having said that, though, I would gladly go back and read the first two books. It was a surprisingly good find in my local library and I’m pleased to add another good author to my list.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Marie Antoinette

Posted by lea at 1:33 PM 5 comments Links to this post

This entry could just as easily be called 'Why Sofia Coppola Shouldn't Make More Movies (at least until she figures out how to do it properly)'. Marie Antoinette was, to use a cliche, a visual feast: beautiful costumes, lush settings and long lingering cinematography. But in every other way it was starved - no plot, hardly a script and nothing new even in the 'wow look at me I'm different' factor of using modern dialogue and music. Been there, done that. If you're going to do that again, use it to some effect, woman!

Why bother with the medium of film if you're basically going to produce a nice-looking picture book? The movie rambled on interminably with little tidbits of excitement (like when she meets that dashing fellow whose name I've forgotten) that never actually go anywhere. Much like the rest of the movie. Only for hardcore Sofia Coppola or Kirsten Dunst fans.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Blood Diamond

Posted by lea at 4:15 PM 3 comments Links to this post

Either my expectations were too low, or this move is really quite a decent flick. Apologies for sounding surprised, but I was a little turned off by its intensity and didn't expect Leonardo Di Caprio to bring credibility to another 'rape of Africa' movie. It has a plot (somewhat of a bonus these days - can you tell I just watched Marie Antoinette?), character development (a little obvious and clunky at times but at least it tried), a decent script, just enough romance without being corny, good action and it actually has a message (once again a counterpoint to Marie Antoinette). Although it's been criticised for being too didactic, I didn't find the movie too preachy. Having said that, will I ever buy a diamond? No. But not just because of this movie, I just can't see the big deal. Bling bling. So what?

At the end of the day, laissez-faire means we can buy anything we want from anywhere we want, but Blood Diamond aims to screw with our social consciences by showing what a little sparkle on our rich Western selves means to someone in Africa. There's a very poignant scene (yes it was calculated but which poignant scenes aren't?) where Solomon Vandy, a victim of the diamond bloodbath, stands outside a jeweller's shop window in London looking at a diamond necklace with the certain knowledge that entire villages of his people died so that some rich woman could wear this around her neck.

A friend pointed out: what makes conflict diamonds any different to sweatshop Nikes or ipods? Almost everything we wear or buy that comes from any poor country is guaranteed to have the sweat of an underpaid, third-world child marking it somehow. I guess the main difference is that they weren't killed for their labour. Treated unfairly? Yes. Paid dismally? Yes. But enslaved and killed? No. At least I bloody well hope not.

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, Alexander McCall Smith

Posted by lea at 2:34 PM 3 comments Links to this post

What an absolute charmer of a book! Having read and loved the first in the series, The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, I was predisposed to enjoy In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, but had no idea just how much I would love it. I fell headlong once again into the world of Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful ‘traditionally built’ heroine, Precious Ramotswe, with her solid wisdom, love of Botswana, quirky monologues and insight into human nature. It’s one of those books that remind you why the written word is so wonderful, and that regardless of how the onslaught of television sight and sound might overwhelm your senses, nothing compares to curling up in your favourite armchair and losing yourself in the pages of a good book. McCall Smith’s masterful writing (so simple yet so rich) takes you straight to the arid and beautiful land of Botswana and the amazing heart of the woman who manages to unravel the murkiest of mysteries with her simple sense. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies is simply gorgeous.

Beginning to blog

Posted by lea at 1:11 PM 2 comments Links to this post
so i've finally joined the rest of my generation who clutters up cyberspace with, as my friend June puts it, 'internet pollution'. my grand plan (which really is not so grand) is to write reviews on books i've read, movies i've watched and generally throw my little voice out into the big wide web. all this from the simple original thought of buying a little notebook to jot down book titles to help keep track of my reading. hmmm. has technology really come so far? well, i now have a personal reading diary that i can never lose. woo hoo!
 

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