• Finally, a movie that’s realistic!

    ‘Passion trumps all’ is a pretty typical movie trope.

    So while watching Teacher of the Year, a 2014 indie film, I was pretty confident I knew how it would end. T agreed, and he is a MASTER of film and TV (he called the twist in The Prestige about 10 minutes in, which really bummed me out.)

    SPOILERS FOLLOW!

    Mitch Carter is the titular character, a well loved English teacher at a wacky charter school (his fellow faculty are disturbingly hilarious and provide pretty much all the humour). Then he gets a stupidly lucrative job offer to become a lobbyist for an educational organisation. Tough choice, right? He loves teaching and loves his students … but  on the other hand, $$$! As in, more than double!

    Why can’t I keep doing this and make that kind of money? he wonders to a another teacher in the staffroom. You can’t. Take the job is her response. Otherwise, he’ll be in the exact same position in 10 years, not making much more, and with all the same frustrations.

    It reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague at a previous job shortly before I left. Knowing we probably made fairly similar salaries, she asked, “How do you manage?” I told her I didn’t have a student loan to repay, and was pretty frugal, and she seemed to accept that. And you know what, it WAS fine at the time. It’s one thing to be a journalist in your early 20s. But the older you get, well, the older the whole shebang gets. If you want a family, a home, to sleep on nice sheets, splurge on good food sometimes, take occasional holidays, or have even hobbies (especially sporting ones) … journalism is probably not going to support that.

    Everything in the film, IMO, seems to be pointing towards Mitch staking his ground on the passion/mission side and remaining an educator. Everyone at the school, teachers and students alike, love him. His wife fears that the required travel will take a toll on their family, especially their young daughter. But they have another baby on the way, her job sucks, and he doesn’t want to see her ‘killing herself’. Maybe this way, she won’t even have to work at all. This all really resonated with me – how much more squeezed-middle-class can you get?

    “This could change my life,” he says. “I’m just trying to decide whether or not my life needs changing.”

    It does. In the end, he decides to try for it all. The high paying job AND the perfect family. Maybe he won’t get to see the difference he makes to those high school kids every single day … but eventually you need to put your own family and their needs first.

    God, I sympathise. Is a perfect balance possible? No, I don’t think so. But I want to try anyway. Earn more. Love my work. Cultivate my marriage. Have a family.

    What was the last movie you saw that surprised you?

  • Let me introduce you to my favourite romantic films of all time


    best romance movies before midnight 2013
    I have a problem with commitment. 

    I also have a problem with choosing favourites. I’ve never been able to choose a favourite dish, book, band … name it and I will probably freeze up in trying to come up with an answer.

    Take books. Look at my Goodreads bookshelf and you’ll find a somewhat jumbled collection of five star rated titles. The Book Thief (had me in rivers of tears, is the film any good?!), We Need To Talk About Kevin, Mystic River, the Jessica Darling books, almost anything by Isaac Asimov and basically anything ever written by Caitlin Moran.

    (Speaking of books, I am kind of emotionally drained after recently finishing A Pale View of Hills … an incredibly affecting and creepy but ultimately ambiguous book that really needed a stronger editor. Anyone else up to discussing it?)

    But over the Christmas break, I found what is undoubtedly my favourite movie of all time: Before Sunset. In fact, I gorged on the entire Before series – Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight –  not just the most romantic movies ever, but the best movie trilogy ever made.

    Before Sunrise is romantic in a smart way – intelligent and articulate, the sort of love story that someone who adores Gilmore Girls (me!) would be enthralled by. But it’s decidedly un-Hollywood. There’s pauses, slightly awkward glances, silences, as we wind our way through the streets of Vienna alongside Celine and Jesse, almost in real time.

    I loved Before Sunset even more, tinged as it is with the passage of time, ageing, regrets … there is not a single superfluous moment in the sequel. Utter perfection.

    I wasn’t sure Before Midnight could top that, but I was wrong. WRONG. While I prefer Before Sunset as a film, purely on artistic merit, I love Midnight even more for its unflinching willingness to dive into the heart of a relationship. When you give that much of yourself to another person, you also open yourself up to a world of hurt – and even people who love each other claw and scratch and take blows at one another from time to time.

    I fucked up my whole life because of the way you sing.

    I am giving you my whole life, okay? I got nothing larger to give, I’m not giving it to anybody else. If you’re looking for permission to disqualify me, I’m not gonna give it to you. Okay? I love you. And I’m not in conflict about it. Okay? But if what you want is like a laundry list of all the things that piss me off, I can give it to you.

    You are the fucking mayor of Crazytown, do you know that?

    Somehow, Before Midnight also manages to be the funniest of the three films.

    Who wants to be Joan of Arc? Forget France, she was burnt at the stake and a virgin, okay. Nothing I aspired to. What a great achievement.

    One of the perks of being over 35 is that you don’t get raped as much.

    Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke swear they have no spark in real life, though it’s a pleasure to watch them bounce off each other in interviews. Yet onscreen they have such incredible chemistry (I even found him somewhat sexy and I normally can’t stand the sight of him) and the dialogue is just so fucking real. I am in love with how they swear, talk about sex, fight and make up. It scared me how much of my own relationship I saw in there. Before Midnight seriously screwed me up, but not in a bad way. Not at all.

    [SEMI SPOILER]

    Ultimately, I find Before Midnight even more romantic because they’ve chosen each other, and I mean REALLY chosen each other, flaws and all, knowing each other as much as any two people can – at least this time around.

    [END SPOILER]

    Director Richard Linklater says they break all the rules of screenwriting, and how magnificently so. I could watch all these films over and over and over again.

    What is your favourite fictional romance?

  • Hollywood comes to Albany

    Initially, it was just a slightly irritating book title which mixed tenses. Tomorrow, When the War Began.

    Then I took the time to read through it, and the sequel, and the one after that and the one after that, all the way up until the seventh. I even read the first instalment of the second series it spawned, but I gave up at that point. Let’s just pretend it was only ever a trilogy, as the original vision went.

    So when news of the NZ premiere started trickling in, I entered every competition I could. And wonder of wonders, last week I got an email – I’d won a double pass.

    I’ve been to many movie previews before. But I’ve never been to a full on premiere like this, and considering it’s an Australian film, I guess this was almost the equivalent of, say, a London or New York premiere. There were quasi celebs, cameras, interviews. And while I guess it is, as others say, a “kidult” film, at least half of the audience was well out of their teens. These are some well-loved books. (And for some, prescribed high school English novels.)

    I won’t talk about how we got there at 7, when the screening was meant to start. Or how we stood and waited for the stars to arrive. Or how our phones were all confiscated. How it was quarter to 8 by the time we were seated inside, or 8 when the lights finally darkened. Or how when it was all over, everyone stampeded to the front of the theatre to scoop up the rest of the unclaimed goodie bags. Some people have no shame.

    Instead, I’ll just say that despite the wait, it was a worthy adaptation. The acting, the cinematography, and scenery were all spot on. They knew there was a lot riding on their shoulders, and acknowledged it in an ironic little line about book-to-film conversions- a nice touch.

    I don’t recall all the nuances of the first book, but I think the film captured the essence of the novel very well. Basically, it tells the story of seven teenagers who go away on a camping trip and upon their return find that a foreign army has invaded their home and imprisoned their families. Broadly speaking, the first part focuses on characterisation, while the second half of the movie illustrates their fight to survive, and their fight back. Trust me when I say the action scenes are up there with anything American-made.

    Minor annoyances – the score, some of the painfully predictable dialogue, and Robyn’s characterisation – it was humorous, yes, but bordering on farcical. And the familiarity of the cast! T immediately recognised Kevin from Home and Away (and so did all the screaming teenage girls); Ellie resembled a darker Emma Watson, Lee was a dead ringer for Heroes‘ Ando, Homer reminded me of Sayid from Lost, and I’m still trying to figure out who Fi’s doppelganger is.

    I hope they do well, because the second and third movies would be beyond awesome. And yes, the Australian accents are beyond annoying, but on a global scale, they’re probably easier to understand than ours.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to the library and track down the books so I can reread them.

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  • A film I’m actually psyched to see

    I am officially swearing off going to the city cinema on cheap Tuesdays. Odds are, you’re not going to get a seat, because everything fills up so fast. And the lines are insane. And you’re likely to have a breakdown halfway down the queue because the show you wanted to go to is now blinking FULL, as is the one after it and the one after it. And you will be allocated seats in the very front row, making for a very uncomfortable two hours. Instead, we’re going to the Newmarket branch instead, which is just up the road. The branch that we had planned to go to, had the car not randomly died on the street and forced us to bus to the city instead for a later screening.

    But I digress. (Iron Man 2 was pretty good, by the way). Among the trailers was a teaser for Tomorrow, When the War Began!!!!!!!!!

    Yes, this news deserves multiple exclamation marks. I’m totally excited for this. And, surprisingly, so is the boy. (He’s not a reader AT ALL, and this is one of the few books he’s actually finished.)

    For those who don’t know what I’m on about, Tomorrow is the first of a seven-book series. It was originally meant to be a trilogy – and you can tell; the third is so long and jam packed with action, it had me tensed up from start to finish – then the next four books kind of drift downhill. In it, John Marsden tells the story of a group of teenagers who go out camping (I think? Don’t quote me on that) and while they’re out in the bush, some unnamed enemy invades their country. It takes all their wits and resources to stay on the run and elude capture, and even more so when they get all guerilla soldier like and start fighting back. It’s not the most realistic of plots, but I tell you, these books were a bloody good read back in the day.

    Who is John Marsden, you ask? He was (is?) an Australian author who wrote a lot of young adult fiction. Personally, I think Marden’s best work was Letters from the Inside – a tale of two penpals, one of whomturns out not to be quite who she says she is. It ends on the most heartwrenching, cliffhangerly note. I’ve never forgotten it.

    Anyway. Australian accents aside, this should be a ripper! I can’t wait. According to IMDB, it’s due out in September and stars that achingly beautiful girl who played Wendy in Peter Pan.


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  • An American classic

    When I saw Lord of the Rings 3 at the cinema, the audience (me included) went to get up several times towards the end, thinking it had finally ended. Upon realising there was more to come, we sat our numb asses back down, sighing at the sheer length of the movie, but not wanting to miss the final scenes. I thought that was an epic film, but jeez, Gone With The Wind is right up there alongside it.

    gone with the wind

    My thoughts on the movie, in no particular order:

    • It bugged me just how noble and prestigious the war was made out to be (“But don’t you believe in the cause?”) and how the death of the “old south” was mourned (Rhett: “You’re witnessing a moment in history.”) For crying out loud, you guys were fighting for slavery! To keep your black servants – no matter how well you might have treated them, how can you justify this as a cause? OTOH, often war ceases to be about ideology and ends up just being about, well, winning… and destruction. Something  which I think also came across in the movie.
    • Corsets and pantalettes aside, I almost wish I could swan around in ridiculous gowns and wear frilly hats and gloves all day. There’s something so sassy, so graceful, so elegant about the fashions of the time. (Can’t say the same for the old ladies and their smelling salts). I bet all those layers got mighty hot and heavy in the southern summer, though.
    • I despise moustaches. But Clark Gable was actually kind of hot, he must be using fancy beard oils to get that result. Makes me want to run out and marry a rich Southern rogue. (Now I feel dirty for typing that.)  Also, I want Vivien Leigh’s cheekbones.
    • I simply could not believe Scarlett’s pining for the wimpy Ashley.  I couldn’t believe that stayed in love with him for so many years and treated Rhett so badly – it was painful to watch sometimes.
    • But I was so impressed by her grit and how she was prepared to do whatever it took to get what she wanted. It was sad that she had to marry not for love but to save her home, but women didn’t have much of a choice back then, did they? Normally, these kinds of stories bore me to death – but there was just something gripping about all these characters. Now I completely understand why it’s a classic.
  • Review: Alice in Wonderland

    Rating: * * * *
    Good fun, but lacking that magical touch.

    What can I say? This is Tim Burton. And as always, he delivers a visual extravaganza. Depp’s Mad Hatter tucking Alice safely into a teapot for hiding. Alice riding a bloodhound on her way to save the Hatter. The White Queen concocting a potion made of buttered fingers, among other things.

    Some of the original elements are still here: the shrinking potion and the growing cake, the Cheshire Cat and the caterpillar, the flamingo croquet and the mad tea partiers. But it’s not a remake: it’s a retelling, based on the original but set in the future on her second visit to Underland. A visit that turns out to have a very important purpose – restoring the White Queen to her rightful throne.

    And that’s where it gets a little boring. After all, that”s not exactly an original storyline. Cute lines like “Sometimes I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast” help break the monotonous charge towards the grand finale, but not enough to stop us fidgeting a little more than should be expected.

    Helena Bonham Carter as the bulbous-headed Red Queen is the standout – a lonely, insecure dictator who wrestles with the question: Is it better to be loved, or feared? Surrounded by a fawning court – all of whom wear prosthetics in order to avoid upstaging her – she gets a giggle out of her two “fat boys” (Tweedledee and Tweedledum), shouting (what else?) “Off with their heads!” and her Jabberwocky.

    There’s also plenty of humour peppered throughout – a lot of which centres around the unfortunate ginger lord with  food allergies who proposes to Alice and sparks her escape to Underland. Personally, I think she should have stayed there.

    Although we paid the extra to watch this in 3D, neither of us were impressed. I wouldn’t recommend it; it’s unnecessary and even a little distracting. It certainly doesn’t add anything to a movie like this – especially when there’s movement on screen which only ends up looking out of focus.

    In short, Burton’s Wonderland isn’t as mindblowing as I might have hoped, but it was an enjoyable, if not entirely wild, ride. Now I have to go and rent the original to enjoy all over again.

  • Movie roundup

    Serendipity asked me what I was gonna do on my long weekend without the boy around. The answer? Not a hell of a lot. The weather was awful, and I didn’t end up going to the seafood festival – which apparently, wasn’t all that great. The most exciting it got was going down to the pub with a couple of friends to watch the Aussie Open final (and we didn’t get to see the men’s final, as the weather meant it kept getting pushed back). And all that freaking about my imminent death didn’t help.

    What I DID do: I watched a hell of a lot of movies and more TV than I can ever remember!

    Jersey Girl – possibly Ben Affleck’s best movie ever.

    Shopgirl – a bittersweet, too-true slice of life and love. Could have done without the voiceover, though.

    The Graduate – ugh. Ugh. UGH.

    Cider House Rules – a touching story, but man, that ‘princes of Maine’ line was SO overdone.

    The Notebook – bawlworthy. I think the version I watched had a different ending than the one you saw, Red

    Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid – I thought it would be terrible, but it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t see the end, though, so I can’t say for sure. A not half-bad blockbuster.

    Gone with the Wind – well, I watched about half of it before falling asleep, seeing as it came on sometime after midnight. You know what? I thought I’d hate it. Scarlett was a spoilt, selfish little brat, and yet I was hooked. The skirts! The hair! (And the butt-ugly hats!) I fell asleep sometime after she decided to stay and help Melanie give birth; the next day I went on Wiki and found out exactly what happened after. Which didn’t sound all that great, but I’m sorry to have missed “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”. Also, that moustache did Clark Gable NO favours. And I was slightly perturbed by the portrayal of the war, and of the slaves. But let’s not get started on that.

  • Should I or shouldn’t I?

    I’m thinking about signing up to Fatso. I’ve signed up with them before (had 2 free two-week trials) but always cancelled my membership before the grace period ended. I guess I just never rented enough movies/TV series to warrant it.

    But now my evenings and weekends are mine, all mine, and I have soooo many movies to catch up on – hopefully I can remember them all – as well as more Buffy, Mad Men (only seen two episodes), True Blood (none) Dexter (a couple) and maybe at some point when I’m REALLY bored, Gilmore Girls, because I definitely missed a lot of episodes towards the end.

    One of the things I hate most about borrowing DVDs  is late fees. We’re usually pretty good with returning DVDs (although, I wish video rentals were more like libraries – you can return books to any branch library, not just the one where you checked out the book!).

    But among T’s family, passing around movies is like a sacred tradition. He’ll get a DVD out, watch it, gush about it, and share it with his mother, sister, brother, whoever. And when money’s at stake, you just can’t rely on others.

    For example, his sister racked up a $42 fine on our tab (an overnight movie, returned a WEEK later), his uncle another $24 or so, and once a friend of his “forgot” that he had a game they hired  from Video Ezy – bam, $30 fine.

    So…I still have a bit of a fear of commitment, but it’s not like a contract; I can cancel at any time. So that just leaves me with the question: which plan?

    I don’t know how much I’m actually going to watch. I’m looking at four choices:

    • 2 DVDs a month for $9.95 (one at a time),
    • 4 DVDs a month for $15.95 (two at a time),
    • 6 DVDs a month for $21.95 (three at a time)
    • or unlimited for $27.95 (two at a time).

    There are two more unlimited packages which let you borrow even more at a time, but I KNOW that’s way overkill.

    Thoughts?

  • Thoughts about…Transformers 2

    I liked the movie, I did. The transformers were super freaking awesome (I think inside me lurks a seven year old boy trying to get out). And for the rest of the day, I looked askance at every car, van, truck and crane I passed, half expecting it to whizz and whirr and contort itself into a giant transformer. (I know, overactive imagination).

    But it really was super mysogynistic. Megan Fox. Every single scene. And she wore more clothing in the desert than she did in her greasy car workshop. What was up with that? And the robot bitch trying to seduce Sam, and the skanky ho in Astronomy class who, uh, picked up the sleazy professor’s strategically dropped, half eaten apple.

    I feel the urge to devolve into some sort of feministing rant. But I’ll restrain myself. I’ll just say that Megan Fox seems like an intelligent person. She was happy, according to interviews, to be shot in tiny shorts and play the sex symbol. It lowers expectations of her. And most of all, it makes her insane amounts of $$$.

    Fair enough. At some point it became cool to admit to wanting to make lots of money, no matter what. But how are women ever going to get decent roles in movies, to not be thrown off the heap at the age of thirty, to play leads instead of just support, to stop being the “hot” one and get to perform, legitimately, on their own merit at this rate?

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (some spoilers)

    Finally rented the movie on DVD.untitled

    Loved it. 4.5/5.

    Cate Blanchett was absolutely sumptuous. Her glowing skin, her gleaming red hair…what a siren! And the makeup was amazing. They got that papery, powdery, thin texture just right – her ageing face was done so well. I wasn’t a fan of her mannerisms though, in particular her voice, and her way of speaking. Her accent drove me nuts!

    I have a newfound respect for Brad Pitt. I think he’s gotten better with age. It broke my heart when he said “I feel like there’s this whole life I can’t remember”. Other memorable lines: “Will you still love me when I have acne?”

    Didn’t like: the hummingbird. The Katrina tie-in (or really, the whole retelling from the hospital bed, but it was needed because Benjamin couldn’t have retold his own demise now, could he?). And that irritating narrative sequence in Paris. And overall it was a tad long – scenes like the “pygmy” excursion could have been cut.

    I wasn’t surprised to find the Forrest Gump writer also wrote this script. There were so many parallels.

    Thoughts?