Another UK Cult Classic?

I’m a bit of a fan of Simon Pegg. The star of Shaun of the Dead is one of the legends of UK cult classics. This was an easy selection from the video store…

Run Fatboy Run

More charming UK rom-com and less cult classic

This is the story of boy meets girl, boy leaves girl knocked-up at the altar, girl hates boy. Actually, that’s just the set-up. But don’t think it’s a gritty, black comedy. Although it’s About A Boy crossed with Rocky, it’s more the former than the latter.

Simon Pegg is both a writer for and the lead actor in this film. However, his co-writer from Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright, is not a co-writer this time. And it is David Schwimmer’s film directing debut. All of which might explain the lack of edginess.

However, it’s still a lot of fun. Pegg’s character Dennis is a hopeless buffoon and an endearing athlete. The rest of the cast is excellent also. I laughed a lot. And you can’t ask for more than that, really.

My rating: 3.5 stars

The Knights who say

Director Christopher Nolan is a long, long way from Monty Python. There’s hardly a laugh at all (for the audience) in the latest Batman film. And whether you think it’s a metaphor for George W Bush’s war on terror, or a vehicle for delivering the second only post-humous Oscar for an actor, it’s still a film worth seeing.

The Dark Knight

Less epic but more angsty than the previous one.

When Christian Bale burst onto the screen as the latest incarnation of the Batman franchise in Batman Begins, I was impressed. The film was awesome, moody and epic. This sequel, bringing in Heath Ledger as The Joker is actually pretty good, as sequels go.

Probably the most disappointing thing is that it tries to pack too much in. The film is a little long, or could have been two films. It probably should have been, as some scenes felt like they’d been cut a little short, but the film still comes in at 2 1/2 hours long.

Unlike the first film, which was rich in character, this one is rich in philosophy. There are moral quandries, issues of duty, principle, and the greater good. This is the sort of stuff a character like The Joker is brilliant at kicking up, and every opportunity is taken to do so. I enjoyed that, but it was at the expense of a sense of epic-ness that the first film had in spades.

My rating: 4.0 stars

Flash-back to Grade 10

I was introduced to this book back in highschool, where my English Literature teacher (who was an American) used this as one of our set texts. Despite this, I really enjoyed it, and now, near 20 years later, I picked it up in some second hand book shop for $1.50 and got engrossed in it all over again.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Both a wry observation of 19th century America and a classic adventure tale.

Mark Twain (not his real name) sailed the Mississippi river as a riverboat pilot early in his career, and the truth of his depiction of people and way of life in this novel shines through, despite the fanciful nature of the adventure. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the crazy tale of Huck Finn, hopeless trouble-magnet that he is, as he struggles to get free of his troubles with the less-than-helpful assistance of a large cast of characters.

The language is a joy to read. The characters are fun to follow. And although the plot isn’t the most complex, the characters themselves do a fabulous job of making the simple into convoluted mayhem. Several times I had to laugh out loud at the absurdity.

Even though I picked this book up cheap, it’s well worth hanging onto. I can easily see myself re-reading this again – hopefully before another 20 years pass!

My rating: 4.5 stars

Ev’rybody was Kung-fu fighting…

China is everywhere at the moment. Resources boom in the newspapers; Olympic games teasters on the TV; and Chinese animal martial arts films at the movies.

Kung Fu Panda

A light-hearted, animated film about violent animals

Jack Black plays an animated panda that practices martial arts. What more do I need to say? It’s a little bit frightening.

But it’s mostly good fun. Think of a mix between Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master and Disney’s Mulan – it belongs to the tradition of martial arts films where the hero has a great weakness that becomes a martial arts technique. However all the characters are animated animals.

And the animation is well done. In particular the fight sequences are great to watch and the Chinese landscapes are amazing.

My rating: 3.5 stars

Another trip to Narnia

It was time to see a movie again. And the last movie I’d seen was on a plane, so it didn’t count. Friday night had arrived, and we were after something light-hearted, so what better than the latest childrens’ fantasy blockbuster?

Prince Caspian

Like “Lord of the Rings” but without the elvish

It’s really a bit unfair. If only Weta Workshop hadn’t gone and done Lord of the Rings first, then C S Lewis’ childrens’ epic wouldn’t look quite so derivative. It’s a bit like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court crossed with Fellowship of the Ring. British schoolkids transported into a land where there are dwarves and they must complete a quest to save Narnia, the country within Lewis’ fantasy land.

Unlike Tolkien’s fantasy land, this one has strong Anglican overtones, and English is the language everyone knows. It’s actually quite fun to spot the Christian references through the plot, but the whole work is done with such class that you can easily suspend disbelief and get caught up in the tale. The child actors from the previous Narnia film are back, and the whole cast is excellent. Peter Dinklage is particularly good.

If you’re a fan of fantasy, and the Narnia books in particular, this should be an enjoyable film. There is a fair amount of violence (like Lord of the Rings) so don’t expect a happy, Disney, bunny-rabbit of a film. But, it’s not very challenging, which is why is was the perfect choice for us that evening.

My rating: 3.0 stars

Oils Aint Oils

I hadn’t heard much about this film prior to seeing it. It sounded like it might give me an insight into the American oil boom and the life of wildcatters. Yes, I got that much, but I think I would’ve been better off reading about it in a book.

There Will Be Blood

Promises blood and delivers malevolence.

This film is beautiful. This film is well acted. It is a piece of art, but one I couldn’t manage to enjoy. Although I wanted to, as it had an interesting topic (the early days of the American oil boom and how prospectors built their empires), interesting themes (such as asking what is the price of ambition, and how do commerce and faith work together), and good actors (Daniel Day-Lewis was particularly brilliant).

However, there wasn’t a single important character that I could like, the sound track was mostly irritating, and the film seemed unnecessarily long. In fact, the film could have stopped around 20 minutes earlier and been a better work, I think.

So, I was clearly disappointed. The malevolent character Daniel Plainview, played by Day-Lewis, was so nasty and brutal that it is difficult to believe such a person would have existed and been so successful, casting doubt on the otherwise amazing historical authenticity of the movie. Just not the film for me, I guess.

My rating: 2.0 stars

Too cute for words. Almost.

Every year, the book club I’m in takes a month out to watch a movie instead. Last year we went to see Babel, also known as the most bleak movie ever made. So, this year we wanted to see something a little more perky. Wish granted!


A very cute coming-of-age movie.

Canadian director Jason Reitman made the great mockumentary Thank You for Smoking, and has followed it up with this cute Canadian tale of a sassy teenager who is dealing with a personal issue. Ok, it’s not telling you anything you don’t find out within seconds of the credits finishing, but the personal issue is that she’s pregnant.

Fellow Canadian Ellen Philpotts-Page plays the eponymous heroine, part of a stellar cast who can do no wrong. They take Juno’s situation and spin it into a cute and quirky tale that explores the question of who makes a good parent. It is sensitive and witty, and the dialogue sparkles.

And did I mention it was cute?

My rating: 3.5 stars

Quite enchanted

To get out of the oppressive heat, the other night Kate and I went to the movies. At the flip of a coin, we chose to see this film (the other option was National Treasure, if you really must know). Afterwards, I would’ve been happy to go back in, and see it again, and not just because of the air conditioning!

Ironic Fairy-tale romance with a dash of New York humour

It is a little tricky to describe this movie as it twists the genres a bit. Perhaps I can say it is like The Princess Bride crossed with Stuart Little. Or maybe I can say it’s like King Kong crossed with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I’m going to fail either way.

Well, I will say that never since Julie Andrews played a singing nun in The Sound of Music have I seen a character as joyful and naive beyond all reason as the heroine of this film, Giselle. And the fact that Julie Andrews lends her voice to this film as the narrator is just poetry. Giselle is not quite singing as the Nazis invade, but her singing is also catchy and yet clueless.

I suspect that a fair few audience members were not there to see Giselle but the character played by Patrick Dempsey of Grey’s Anatomy fame. Their loss – he is perfect with the stunned and tortured expressions he made famous in Grey’s, but he doesn’t have a taxing role here.

The contrast of fairy-tale plot logic with real-world New York grit is simply fabulous. It shows up quite how much disbelief we suspend when watching the typical Disney cartoon. However, it’s a Disney film regardless, and I had to love it. And left the cinema singing the songs.

My rating: 4.0 stars

Book Club Homework: complete!

A couple of hours ago I finished reading the last book for our book-club this year. It surprised me. For a literary novel – a genre which typically doesn’t excite me – it turned out to be enjoyable. Lucky, because the book-club only picked it on a re-count. And given the truculent and debate-hardened members of the book-club, it’s a wonder we managed to get someone to change their vote at all!

Anyway, before I discuss this with anyone else, or check out the publisher’s official book-club website, I thought I’d jot down my thoughts while I can claim that they are still mine.

The History of Love
A tangled history that I loved being caught up in.

This is a book about the intertwined histories of a number of quirky characters, all with Jewish ancestry, around New York, and their relationship to a book called The History of Love. It’s the second novel by Nicole Krauss, and I would not be surprised if she drew upon her own family’s history of Jewish culture and migration. Certainly, those details had the feeling of accuracy throughout the book.

Strangely, one thing didn’t quite ring true for me: the male voice of the character Leo Gursky, who we are introduced to through his narration in the first chapter. I must confess that I like to play a game when reading articles in the newspaper, trying to guess the gender of the author from their style, and usually it’s not too hard. However, finding out that Leo was male was a little unexpected. I assumed he was a Leonore or something. And once I’d identified that the male characterisation didn’t gel for me, I noticed that other male characters weren’t as well realised as the female characters. But it was a minor thing, really, and a little strange.

Something far more impressive was how Krauss maintained the half-a-dozen storylines through the book. To be honest, I was confused for most of the way along about which stories were “real”. And the stop-start manner of my reading this book didn’t help given the concentration required to keep track of what had happened and when. But perseverance paid off, and by the end I was thoroughly enjoying how it was all coming together. Not the sort of book I would’ve normally picked off the shelf to read, but glad that I did.

My rating: 4.0 stars

A timely warning about health care

Kate’s out of town, and as part of the decadent, bachelor lifestyle that I’ve adopted while she’s away, I went out to the movies. Ok, it doesn’t sound particularly decadent, but maybe it does when you realise that I bought a chili-chocolate choc-top icecream at the cinema. Alright, maybe not. Anyway, the movie’s what I really wanted to write about.


Michael Moore’s most polished doco yet, again showing America is a scary place.

Yes, he’s done it again. Another documentary examining the United States, hoping to affect the political debate over there. This time the theme is universal healthcare and the effects of turning the hospital system over to the private sector. The title, rather than referring to patients, appears to refer more to the system itself.

Moore looks around his own country, then heads around the globe to look at some other Western countries. The intent is to ask “if they can do universal healthcare, why can’t we?” But, while he effectively (and amusingly) shows that people there are making good use of their health systems, he fails to identify the cost of universal healthcare or whether those countries are trending towards a more American model.

Certainly here in Australia we are well on our way towards the scary situation he documents in America. Moore has developed a more balanced technique here, as he moves between American examples and foreign examples, and although he shows us emotional moments, he doesn’t linger on them as much as in previous films.

All up, it’s Moore at his most effective. I enjoyed the soundtrack, got sucked into the story, and left with concern for our own country’s future (and America’s present).

My rating: 3.5 stars