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Archive for January, 2013

Buckets of Blood – Django Unchained

Django Unchained – Film Review

django-unchained-tarantino

REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

11 am Hoyts for Django Unchained with a pretty blokey 30 or so viewers.

A new homewares ad and an appealingly funny one for being sane when one’s friends are drunk. A few previews – Hansel and Gretel: WItchhunters looks as stupid as one can imagine a film to be that is  based on a revenge theme, an unlikely buddy pairing and dialogue a couple of centuries wrong.  Then there was Zero Dark Thirty (dealing with Osama Bin Laden, for revenge) and, bizarrely, The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, anachronistic music, a spot of iconoclasm).  Would we be seeing a movie that involved a good deal of revenge but also featured unlikely buddies and a spot of time-shifting in attitudes and speech?

Of course we were!  All up something north of three hours of it.

The unlikely pairing is Schultz; a bounty hunter masquerading as a travelling dentist (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx); a slave whom he liberates from a chain gang being marched across some of the less hospitable bits of Texas in 1858.  Schultz is German, so can get away with accented irony and a killer raised eyebrow.  They seek out and kill some routine criminals for reward* and then set out to rescue Mrs. Broomhilda Django (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of crazy Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio**), his Uncle Tom of a butler, Stephen (Samuel L Jackson***) and a number of supporting actors.  That’s pretty much it.

Stylish?  Certainly, though some of the music was bizarre and the casual dialogue from the 1970s.  The credits and the theme music were a genuflection to spaghetti westerns with a great deal of violence.  Violence of every sort – considered, unconsidered, generic and personal –  much of it in extreme and visceral detail****.   There is lots of swearing and a great deal of (presumably accurate in 1858) use of a despicable term for black people.  Did I mention the violence?

django-unchained-2012

An Oz cameo towards the end by John Jarratt, and one by Tarantino using an accent that sounded like Dick van Dyke’s Mary Poppins cockney coached by a Korean who’s trying to sound South African.  A genuinely hilarious intervention by a forerunner of the Ku Klux Klan.  Oh, and the violence.

Did it mean anything apart from the obvious?  The obvious being that slavery is a Very Bad Thing, an appalling infliction of indignity and the cruel subjection to the whims of another because of the happenstance of race.  Not a contentious proposition. There’s an attempt to shoehorn meaning in by telling a truncated version of the German Brunnhilde story.  I was looking for a more contemporary political message to go with the dialogue but couldn’t really see much to support it.

Four flat whites.  I don’t think my stomach could keep a pastry down.  And real blokes don’t do sweet stuff anyway.

 

FPB

 

* – Schultz takes a pragmatic view of the “wanted: dead or alive” concept.  Dead men, presumably, challenge no warrants.  Plus they don’t try to escape and they don’t need to be fed.  They would, I suppose, start to smell after a day or so but most people stank in those days.  Django just seems to like shooting white people and it’s a bonus to be paid.

** – This is a really weird role and Di Caprio plays it straight.  Candie is simply an appalling human being of limited intellect and some beliefs that could be called eccentric.

*** – There are not many actors who could play Stephen and bring any subtlety to the role, but Jackson does so.  Some of his lines were painful for an ageing liberal white person to hear.

**** – Yes, it’s over the top in quantity and its graphic depiction.  Yes, it’s probably clever and ironic, Tarantino being one of the few cinematic geniuses.  But, if someone does not view realistic depictions of pain, humiliation and violence with equanimity, it’s probably a film better avoided.

 

Pi In The Sea – Film Review

Life of Pie – Film Review

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REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

 

10:15 am, Life of Pi (3D).  About 20 present.

 

We were spared the usual ads for Kmart and local baseball because someone was trying to get the technology right.  For the same reason, we were spared previews, one of which would probably have been Jack Reacher, so we should be grateful for small mercies.  But it meant that we had no hints of what the great minds who run cinemas thought might appeal to people there to attend Life of Pi.

I had been in some doubt about whether this film could be made to work.  Yann Martel’s book, though quite slender, has some subtlety to it and modern cinema and subtlety tend to get on as well as a porn festival in Teheran.  Ang Lee does better with the material than many would have managed, and even sets out the dilemma at the core of the book without hammering any particular answer.  To do this, he creates a framework, not reflecting the book, where a frustrated author spends time with Pi* and hears his remarkable story of survival.

Unvarnished, the scenario is that Pi and family leave India on a freighter accompanied by the animals from their zoo, heading for Canada.  A storm claims the ship and months later, the survivor (Pi) and his lifeboat come ashore in Mexico.  Beyond that, there is a contest of beliefs in different versions, paralleling the contest between religions that Pi has experienced.  Does one prefer a probable but ugly truth or a claimed truth so remarkable it would be difficult to invent?

 Life-of-Pi-Richard-Parker

As would be expected from the previews, the film is a visual treat.  Some elements have obviously been added to distinguish and use the 3D format to advantage and it is probably worth a few extra bucks to see the 3D version.  A great performance by the novice star, Shuraj Sharma and general quiet competence all around the cast**.

It has “award winning” all over it.

Four flat whites.

FPB

 

* – originally Piscine Molitor Patel, born in Pondicherry and an enthusiast for several religions simultaneously.

** – even Gerard Depardieu.

 

 

PARKES ELVIS FESTIVAL

Oooh-oooh-oooh we all felt our temperatures rising, as the thermometer soared to 42 degrees last weekend but fans flocked to central NSW to share their burning love for the King of Rock and Roll. A sea of Elvis’s flooded the streets and a feverish carnival of enduring love for a rock god engulfed this country town.

Damien Mullin was the show-stopping impersonation performance of the festival. I managed to catch him twice at the Parkes Leagues Club (once in a copy of the 1968 Comeback Special black leather jumpsuit, the other where he sweltered in skin-tight polyester). He planted kisses on the squealing sexagenarians in the front row, bestowed sweat-soaked scarves on the giddy fans and belted out tunes that caused rockabilly riots on the dance floor.

The five-day festival is a major boon to local tourism. A local man working at the Coachman Motel in town, said “With this Elvis thing gEstelle Pigot_ Two Flat Whitesetting bigger and bigger, Parkes has changed a fair bit in the last 5 years.” With evident pride, he added, “A lot of country towns in NSW are drying up but not us – there’s heaps going for Parkes right now.”

Established 21 years ago and held every year in the second week of January to coincide with Elvis’ birthday, the event is booming. It attracts a bigger and weirder crowd of grey nomads, die-hard fans, boot-scooters, bikies, queer rockabillies and everything in-between, each year. But Bogan Elvis – the prevailing look of choice for attendees – reigns supreme at Parkes, putting a distinctly Aussie spin on the quintessential son of the US of A. He and his companions strut and stumble down the main street, too skinny to fill out his jumpsuit adequately, cigarette in hand, his synthetic black wig slipping over one eye, seeking out chicken devil wings to soak up that bellyful of beer.

The town takes Elvis very seriously with one known resident so ardent a fan of Presley who, with APN ONLINE PARKES ELVIS FESTIVALhis mother’s permission, changed his name to Elvis by deed poll. Formerly known as Neville, he travelled to Gracelands and returned with 6 suitcases of memorabilia which is displayed during the festival. Other highlights included look-alike and impersonator contests, the unbelievable street parade, wedding vow renewals presided over by the King himself and over 150 other whacky events.

It seemed disrespectful not to visit The Dish while in town, where we copped our dose of nerdy science history while slurping on our ‘Mercury Milkshakes’ and tucking into ‘Eggs Benedish’ served by teenagers sporting beehives and Hawaiian skirts.

If the aliens invaded Parkes during festival week it would be at the empassioned beckoning of the statue of Sir Henry Parkes. Revellers mock his dramatic stance, turning it into an Elvis-style move; bedecking him in oversized gold sunnies and drape a satin cape across his shoulders. Nobody would notice extra-terrestrials as this quirky jamboree takes place  – they would fit right in.

henry parkes aliens

Mentally Friendly – Mental

Mental – Film Review

Mental

REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

Ejected from my house by a tiler who needed to remove asbestos, where else to turn but the Dendy?  9:30 am, Cinema One, seven people (their very breaths echoing before the thing started).  Mental.

Lots of ads for coffee and coffee-appropriate food.  No fewer than four jewellers (including one touting a range of Paralympic promotional material) and an expensive menswear shop. If they spoke to anyone, it was not me.  I had already bathed in coffee, wear only Rivers clothes and (having been dumped*) have no need for jewellery.  The previews included the seriously woeful-looking Pitch Perfect. Also, Parental Guidance has Meryl Streep and Billy Crystal as an old-but-new couple trying to interact with her daughter and family.   Bring your own Quick-Eze and maybe a bucket.

The feature spends a bit of time cannibalising the soundtrack of The Sound of Music and the deeply affecting imagery of Lost in Space.  Setting is Dolphin Point somewhere on the northern NSW coast but maybe with bits elsewhere.  It’s the age old story of a father who is a small town king with no time for his family.  If his put-upon wife, her sanity leaking at the edges, had wanted fidelity she’d have bought a new sound system.  They live among the anally-tidy and repressed, and the poor mother is mocked wherever she goes.  The happy couple has five daughters, all of whom imagine themselves insane.  It is, of course, All Dad’s Fault.  Mum goes away for a while (we all know it’s not really to Wollongong) after a pretty good meltdown and Dad recruits a feral hitchhiker to care for his daughters so he can continue to neglect them. mental2

Meanwhile, the eldest daughter is falling for a surfie-dude who writes songs and plays them on an acoustic guitar and works at the same cheesy funpark she does.  The daughter has just been sent to work in the shark exhibit with a Steve Irwin-gone-gruff bloke called Trevor Blundell**.  Anyhow, we all know where things are going as the wacky outsider leads a pack of self-described losers.

I read that the story had some personal elements for PJ Hogan, the director.  Apart from the main story, there is a social inclusion theme, a hiss at McMansion world and some dredging of past pain.  There’s also a few outings for a previously taboo four letter word*** that would probably cause discomfort to some older folk.

It’s quite funny in parts, and it raises some serious issues.  But there’s not enough of either.

FPB

 

* – see previous reviews for earlier whines about this.

** – Liev Schreiber, doing a wonderful job with the Oz accent.  Really, he could say that a dingo took his baby and sound way more credible than La Streep.

*** – though I understand some feminists may see its use in general speech as a sign of empowerment or something.

USEFUL THINGS THE HOLIDAY SEASON HAS TAUGHT US

cheeseonWhile Sydney braced itself for the heatwave of a century, Lora-Dana DiRuffio (still hungover from the season’s revelries) and Mavis Daze (also hungover… scrap that, still drunk) were trying to procure the last known, legal cheese-on-a-stick in the Eastern Suburbs.

“How could this essential food stuff be outlawed? Do these people have no hearts?” cried Lora-Dana as she furiously typed search terms such as ‘Cheese-on-stick Bondi’ ‘specialty deep-fried foods’ into her iPad.

“Probably not,” Mav replied, “Those lobbyists who pushed the ban through are probably all sitting on waiting lists for transplants. It’s always those who have indulged the most who deny rest of us” she opined through a fug of cigarette smoke.

“But I’m dying, Mav, ddddyyyyyyyyiiiiinnnnngg.” Lora-Dana threw down the handful of Panadeine Osteo capsules passed to her. “You know that nothing soothes my New Year’s hangover but cheese-on-a-stick. Hey, you don’t suppose you could call that Easter Show carnie you once had that little encounter behind the Gravitron with?”

“Don’t even think of it, LD.”

“Goddammit.” She slumped into her antelope kid lounge and squinted from behind her over-sized Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses at the sparkling panorama of sea before them. “Life is putrid,” she sobbed.

Mavis took pity on her fragile friend and proposed an activity that she promised would be such a lark that the mother of all headaches would be forgotten. She suggested they begin 2013 wisely, by listing the most important lessons they had learnt over the silly season.

With some coaxing, Lora-Dana produced the list, thus,

USEFUL THINGS THE HOLIDAY SEASON HAS TAUGHT US

  1. In which, party shots are not for you. ‘Tis not the season to become the only idiot you know who actually tried a vodka eyeball but missed your eye, only to end up with an unsavoury ear infection.
  2. Whereby, you are not a bad person if you hate the Moonlight Cinema. You might be, though, if you attend Moonlight Cinema sessions a little on the sloshy side and locate the projector so that you can contribute to the onscreen action with your shadow puppetry.
  3. In which drunk dialling should be avoided at all costs when you are too blind to correctly distinguish between ‘Sexy Jake’, ‘Study Jake’ and ‘Cousin Jake’
  4.  Beware the rum pig. Dark spirits will bring out the dark spirit.
  5. Whereby, inebriated eBay shopping will yield surprise packages over the Christmas season. Being your own eSanta can be cause for confusion in the bright day of sobriety. 42 cases of Mylanta could be seen as excessive, along with the numerous vintage wedding dresses, however acquiring enough abmachines to fill a gym might come in handy for next year’s corporate (re)gifting. As for acquiring someone’s virginity, only to discover that it was your own, posted the night before after the work Christmas party failed to yield any successful sexual conquests …victimless crime.

 

Amore, Alessi – To Rome With Love Review

To Rome With Love – Film Review

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REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

Saturday evening at Dendy Cinema 5 for To Rome with Love. Lots of people, a date-related crowd rather than film buffs.

The usual aspirational Dendy ads: expensive menswear, coffee, restaurants, jewellery, designer homewares and salsa lessons.  Previews for The Sessions (a couple of repetitions of this one, especially William H Macy and I’m moving to a probable).  Less likely for The Hobbit (aka NZ’s desperate grab for tourism relevance, Mark IV*).  CGI and Martin Freeman, which is much the same thing.

Having watched Margaret and David do the soft-shoe-shuffle-with-Blunnies on it, I held out great hopes of being able to heap scorn on To Rome with Love.  And it deserves some chastisement for lack of imagination and for dispersing what imagination and energy there was over a couple too many story themes.  From the third row**, it looked an awful lot like tourism-by-the-numbers with Rome’s friendly citizens and well-managed traffic suggesting something less than complete objectivity.  A roundup of the usual ancient ruin suspects, plus Woody Allen. But there was a bit more wit and maybe even some love in the nods to Cinecitta, the 50’s and 60’s, the bookending with Volare, the opinions of knowing local narrators and the collection of short stories exploring some common theme.

The core plots of each explored the possibility of transformation over a brief time through experience in a place of ferment.  The ageing American opera director*** who cannot let go, and his spiky wife; their daughter and her fiancé; the fiancé’s parents, especially his talented but content father.  The older architect**** and the student, his girlfriend and the girlfriend’s best friend; the anonymous clerk who briefly becomes someone; the young honeymooning couple with a Penelope Cruz-shaped explosion in the midst of the straight-laced relatives. To-Rome-With-Love_11

Some of this stuff could have been lost without any effect on the major narrative and maybe that would have allowed a little more depth.  On the other hand, that might have created a little less room to move the action and distract the viewer from seeing where the fabric was frayed or badly joined.  There are apparently poor people and ugly buildings in Rome but not in this version of it.

But the film’s Rome is beautiful and the movie will do no harm to any but the most sensitive of souls.  Yes, it’s safe for my mother or yours.

On to the Tongue and Groove for a Grolsch.  Then home before the young people started to take over Civic.

FPB

 

* – after the Lord of the Rings exercises in grandiosity.  No-one ever goes to the places where they filmed Once Were Warriors.  I wonder why.

** – I said there were lots of people.  Most of them seemed to be enjoying it immensely and at a considerable volume.

*** – Woody Allen, showing his remarkable dramatic range by playing an opinionated neurotic, a character he has tried only about a hundred times.  If he’s going to act, he should resume the style of his old, funny movies.

**** – Alec Baldwin, doing a fair job as a sort of Greek chorus though his support team just seems to disappear, raising a question of why they were there in the first place.

 

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