Posts Tagged ‘The All Knowing I’

Me, Mickey and The All Knowing I…

May 28, 2012

In less than two weeks I shall be in the air heading to Florida for a three week holiday. A bit different to the trip I took to China the same time last year, but one I am looking forward to just as much. The All Knowing I and I are off to celebrate our birthdays and we intend to do it with the same enthusiasm that 14year old boys do (rather than the 40 year olds that we will be, well he is turning 40 while we are there and I will be 41).

People always seem to ask me if we will be going down to the Keys or Miami Beach, let me be very clear about this, NO WE WILL NOT. We shall not have enough time after all there are too many theme parks and water parks to go to and they are generally rather BIG.

Disneyworld itself is circa 27 square miles and has its own motorways and infrastructure separate from rest of Central Florida. It’s made up of 4 main theme parks, 3 water parks, a great big entertainment area called Downtown Disney (shops, restaurants, cinema, shows, etc) and loads of other smaller things with sports facilities, golf courses, and every type of resort you could imagine basically.

We have made sure that we are staying about 15 mins drive away from everything!

And here is a little synopsis of some of the parks we will be visiting:

The Magic Kingdom: This is what people imagine when they think of Disney, it has the castle in the middle. It’s the most like Disneyland in California (but much bigger) and has a lot of the stuff you associate with Disney parks such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and all the fairy-tale rides.

EPCOT: Always a favourite, the name stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow and was intended by Walt (as in THE Walt Disney) to be a sort of permanent World’s Fair demonstrating technology, education, and innovation. What it turned into is the biggest of the parks, you need at least 2 days to see it all. It’s divided into 2 distinct halves; there is the Future World and World Showcase.

Future World is a bunch of rides and attractions based around science and it’s a series of huge pavilions devoted to different elements, each containing rides, shows and attractions. Hard to describe, but the pavilions are things like Universe of Energy (all about different energy sources), The Land (all about agriculture), The Living Seas (all about the oceans), The  Body (all about the human body), so educational and fun all at the same time. It also includes a big ride where you get to simulate what it would be like to be a crash-test dummy (Test Track) and the big-ticket ride which is a simulation of a space launch (Mission Space).

World Showcase is 11 pavilions arranged around a massive lake. Each pavilion is operated by a different country and contains shops / buildings / architecture / restaurants / shows / film presentations that represent that country. So you get to go through France, Germany, Morocco, Japan, China, Canada, etc, etc all in the same day. Also some of the pavilions have rides so cultural and fun at the same time.

Oh and not forgetting Epcot has a celebrated night-time firework show, called Illuminations which is a must-see.

The Disney Studios: This place is really good fun, it has loads of adult rides here (and seeing as we will be sans kids this is a plus), lots of white-knuckle stuff, all based on movies, such as the beloved Star Wars, Toy Story and Indiana Jones. The one I am most excited about and also most frightened of doing is The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, I get nervous just thinking about it.

There are also loads of shows and interactive stuff and a good studio tour, special FX demos.

The Animal Kingdom: The newest park and it is HUGE.  It is a sort of cross between a zoo and a theme park. Amazing state of the art animal exhibits, centrepiece being Kilimanjaro Safari, which is a complete replica of an African safari which you go around in an open-top vehicle through huge savannah, all plants from Africa, like the real thing (honest).

Oh and did I mention there are also some huge rides here, the biggest roller-coaster in Disney which I have yet to go on, getting nervous again.

And all that is just from Disney, outside of Disney, the main competitor is Universal Orland. This theme park is much bigger than Universal in LA. It’s made up of 2 big parks, there is Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure.

Universal is more grown-up than Disney, with wilder rides generally and it’s a bit more savvy and pop-culture-y. There are great rides such as huge coasters (nervous), great 3D simulators and amazing technology.

The studios, instead of being a tour like in LA is a series of separate rides devoted to big Universal movies (Jaws, ET, The Simpsons, The Mummy, Men in Black, Terminator, all the greats) all in a working movie backlot (you never know I might be spotted as the new talent on the block, I have done a spot of acting after all).

The Islands of Adventure park is VERY big (are you getting the idea that things are big there yet?). This park is basically a series of separate islands round a huge lake, each devoted to a different themed world. One being Jurassic Park (and it’s like going to Jurassic Park!) and one is devoted to Marvel Superheros and one is Dr Seuss stuff all with big rides in each. The hot ticket here is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which will be new to me. It is the most visited park in the USA and apparently astonishing.

We will also be visiting Sea World, Busch Gardens, Aquatica and Busch Gardens.  Oh and we might squeeze in a spot of shopping while we are at it, I need some new trainers, jeans and hell why not get some more t-shirts while I am at it…..

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Going Organic

June 16, 2010

People chose organic foods for a variety of reasons, and apparently the aspect of feeling that you are “benefiting nutritionally” is the most common. However, that was not why I chose to go organic, mine was based on something The All Knowing I said that really struck a cord with me.

He had just been to see the movie Food Inc and we were discussing the content and my natural cynicism made me ask the question “it is all well and good people making these films about the corporatisation of the world, but what can we do as individuals, apart from feel guilty post seeing the movies because there is little or nothing we can do?”

Ok, I know that was almost more of a statement really than a question.

Anyway, his argument was that we don’t need to make grand gestures but instead we can make small yet significant choices that culminate in making a difference. His first small gesture was to only buy organic milk. You don’t have to suddenly only buy everything organic, if you did the price of your weekly grocery shop would certainly go up and the comparison may put you off committing to shopping organic in the future. Not only that, but it’s actually bloody hard (in Australia) to buy only organic, so start with a few items and build from there.

My first step in going organic was to make sure all the ingredients I used for baking my first ever cake were organic: https://macarthursmutterings.wordpress.com/2010/04/28/baked-by-me-honest/

Next on my list was fruit, now the kiwis I got were not as green as the non-organic variety, but my god they have more taste, and yes organic apples are a bit smaller than non-organic but my god they actually taste of something and maybe organic bananas don’t stay as yellow for as long as the non variety but again they have more taste (and smell) than the others.

I am spending a ‘little’ bit more than I might have done buying non organic, but it’s a small price difference for what ultimately might make a big difference. If retailers see a demand they will deliver to it, as consumers, here in Australia at least, we have been a little lax in demonstrating that demand.

So next time you are shopping, be it for milk, fruit, veg or even cake making ingredients, take a moment to consider organic.

Some other good reasons to go organic:

  • Buying organic is better for the environment.
  • Organic foods are generally grown without pesticides, artificial fertilisers, hormones or antibiotics.
  • Organic farmers utilise techniques that promote environmentally sustainable farming and animal welfare is also regarded as a high priority.
  • It is a well known fact that vegetables grown in season taste better and most organic foods are grown in season.
  • Apparently some people choose organic food because it makes them feel good, emotionally. Now I don’t have any of those so I can’t comment on that.

By Colin MacArthur

Baked by me… Honest

April 28, 2010

Well as it turns out we  did not have a food  processor, but hey how  hard can it be without  one? Well, put it this  way next time, if there is  a next time, if it says to  use a food processor I  shall go out and buy one  or better still make a    different cake.  Oh, and  those almonds I got were not blanched, and it said to use “soft brown sugar” how was I supposed to know that demerara was not the same!!!! The All Knowing I assured me it would be ok to use this instead. I know I said I was meant to be doing this all by myself with no help but a little advice on ingredients for my first attempt is ok is it not? Oh and I also had to be shown how to turn the oven on, not having actually done that since moving in almost a year ago….

Oh and did I mention that one of my taste test dummies who shall remain nameless (Keith) agreed to come round for some cake, but upon realising that I was actually going to bake it myself suddenly remembered he had alternative lunch plans, thanks for the vote of confidence.

So, firstly I got all my different ingredients weighed out and in little bowls, placed in order of when they are to be added to the mixing bowl, that’s right the mixing bowl remember there is no food processor. The almonds needed to be grounded, so I lay them out on a chopping board, put a tea-towel over them and beat the hell out of them for bout 15 minutes till they were “nicely ground”.  Once this was done I could start putting things into the bowl and mix them, the instructions said to add them to the food processor one by one and “give it a quick whiz” till the mixture was nice and smooth…. Jesus it took me about an hour of mixing it with a wooden spoon till I got it nice and smooth, and by then my arm had gone numb with the best bicep workout it had had in years.

With the mixture all done and the oven nice and warm it was time to pop it in the oven, cross my fingers and hope it all worked out ok. Now it said to bake it at 160c for 20 minutes then stick a fork in the middle to test it.  A little bit of mixture on the fork would be ok, but it should not be too wobbly. 20 minutes latter armed with my fork I open the oven and give it a little test, the fork comes out covered in mixture, and its so wobbly it looks like an earthquake is taking place in the centre of my cake. I surprised myself by staying calm and popping it back in for another 5 minutes (as suggested by Jamie Oliver). 5 minutes later and it is still the same, at this point my taste test dummy has arrived and I start to panic…. What should I do, take it out and hope for the best, or stick it back in and whack up the temperature? I’m too flustered to make a decision so thank god The All Knowing I was there to make it for me. It went in for another ten minutes and after that all seemed fine. 20 minutes my arse Jamie….

I allowed it to cool for 5 minutes then served it with French vanilla ice cream. I thought it was ok, but the almonds could maybe have done with a tad more pounding.

The All Knowing I’s verdict: “Really moist but not gooey. Not too sweet, especially considering the ingredients. You could taste the chocolate was very good quality (I used Green and Black). Would go down very well as a dessert at a dinner party. An impressive first baking effort”

I can live with that.

Decided on the cake…

April 27, 2010

Ok, after some more research, which meant me eating more cake, I decided to finally make a decision about what I was going to make for my first baking attempt.  By the way if you just happen to need to do some similar research might I suggest a trip to Bourke Street Bakery, which is where I did mine. A strawberry brulee tart and amazing flourless chocolate cake, both divine and both too hard for me to try making.  I was given Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food book for Christmas by some good friends so thought it a good idea to pick something from that. Oh and it was Christmas last year, or was it the year before that I got the book? See I told you I did not cook.

I thought it best not to spend too much time reading all the recopies as I knew I would just read and read and not make a decision as I would find something in each of them that I would use as an excuse not to make the cake. So my criteria for selection was “what would I want to eat” and the picture of the “Mega Chocolate Fudge Cake” looked very yummy, and besides the name sounds great as well. Of course the trick is mine needs to live up to the name and be yummy!!! I think I might have to get some taste test dummies over to evaluate my efforts.

I had a day off today, so thought why not get it done today, lets not put it off any longer. I got out a pen and paper and wrote down the ingredients, one of the them was “blanched almonds” no idea what that might mean as I have only ever eaten roasted and covered in salt almonds but am sure I will get them in the almond isle in the store. Having got my list written down I then decided to go for a swim and spend some time with a friend catching up and chatting, about the cake I was going to bake… Ok so that took me up till 1pm, time to get to the supermarket. I was heading straight there, honest, but then I decided to have a coffee and cake with a friend on the way. I had a very disappointing orange and poppy seed cake, nowhere near as good as the one the chap in the café near my house makes. Actually I really like that, maybe that is what I should be making for my first attempt… nope I have my shopping list so off I go.

On the way I passed an organic health food shop and thought I would pop in and see if they had any of the bits I needed. Well as it turns out they had all but one ingredient I needed, fudge. Oh and no “blanched” almonds so I just got plain old almonds. All this only cost me a mere $52, WHAT THE HELL…… Do you know how many cakes I could buy for that?

Anyway, all I needed now was the fudge so off to Woolworths I went, but no fudge there, went to Coles, none there either!!!! I know Jamie’s book is English but surely fudge is something that the Australians eat as well? Went to a few convenience stores that sell confectionary but no joy then had a brainwave and went to the English sweet shop in Kings Cross. They sold it, in single little blocks at $1 each, so had to get ten to make sure I had the required 100g.

Anyway, got home unpacked my shopping, invited some friends to come and be my taste test dummies and thought I would peruse the instructions, and bugger me the first thing it says is… “this cake is best made using a food processor” now what the hell is one of those and do I have one!? I’ll have to wait till the All Knowing I comes home to check on that one.

By: Colin MacArthur

Cake Challenge…

April 16, 2010

I have been eating a lot of cake lately, well more than  normal and am starting to think I might even bake a  cake. Shock horror….

Anyone who knows me will know that kitchens and I  do not mix well together. I have these moments where  I think “I can do that” but really I ought to know better  by now.

However, here is my challenge to myself, I am going  to bake a cake that I will be happy to serve to friends  by the end of May (2010). Baking this cake is going to  be my Everest, I consider making beans on toast  cooking, and even that is a struggle for me.

The last two times I have attempted this feat I have  failed. I seem completely unable to get the timing right of the toast popping up in the toaster and the beans nicely bubbling in the saucepan together. My toast pops too early so down it goes again and then by the time the beans are done the toast has turned into something resembling coal. So that gets thrown out and more bread goes down in the toaster but then by the time that pops my beans have turned to mush and stuck to the pan….

That should give you an idea of the challenge I face ahead, those of you that follow my blog will know that I have successfully baked some scones in the past (with the assistance of The All Knowing I), as written about here: https://macarthursmutterings.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/me-bakingyes/

This time I promise I shall take on the task all by myself, you have no idea how nervous that make me. I am putting this down in my blog to force myself into taking on this challenge, and you can help out by suggesting cakes for me to consider baking, you never know I may even invite you to come and eat it with me….

By: Colin MacArthur

Film Review: Julie & Julia

November 6, 2009

M streep

Main Ingredients: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Nora Ephron

 Method:

First separate Streep and Adams into two separate storylines. Use Ephron to stir both carefully and evenly, taking care to alternate between the two to prevent either mixture from becoming too sticky. Add a pinch of Tucci to the Streep mixture at regular intervals to ensure it retains dryness. Midway through, whisk Adams more vigorously until she reaches soft peaks. Season liberally with humour to ensure it doesn’t become over-sweet. Finally, combine both mixtures in a flashback-structure and bake for 123 minutes. Serve immediately to a warm audience.

Yep, it’s the cooking movie that everyone is talking about. You probably know the back-story already – Julie Powell, stuck in a dead-end administrative job in New York, decides to spend a year cooking every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s legendary cookbook, Mastering the art of French Cooking. A frustrated writer, she documents the experience on a blog which becomes phenomenally popular. The real-life Powell went on to publish her story and it became an enormous bestseller.

Rather than a straightforward adaptation of this book, Nora Ephron’s clever screenplay combines the Powell story with Julia Child’s own account of her life in France during the 1940s and 50s, starting with her initial forays into cookery and following the difficult process of putting together her infamous cookbook, for many years the equivalent of a culinary bible.

The film cuts backwards and forwards between France fifty years ago and Powell in present day New York but this doesn’t unbalance the movie. Instead, the viewer is frequently struck by the similarities between these two women. Both are hugely likable, both embark on a seemingly crazy project and both are backed up by an adoring husband. It’s refreshing to see a story of triumph over adversity where so much attention is given to the supportive partners in the background. Look beyond the food and the women and this is significantly a film about two marriages which remain rock-solid under considerable pressure.

It skirts perilously close to cliché at several points, but Ephron skilfully keeps things smart and fast-paced. She’s a screenwriter whose reputation suffers from association with her softer rom-coms – You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. But remember – this is the woman who also wrote Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally. Whether you like all her output or not, she’s clearly a sharp lady when she wants to be and she’s absolutely in her element here.

The cast is as good as you know they are going to be. Amy Adams has been undeniably cute and perky for the last couple of years, swiftly adopting the role of supporting actress du jour, but she really holds her own here. La Streep is clearly going to pull in the crowds, but her young co-star has slightly more screentime than the 15-time Oscar nominee, and to this reviewer, it is Adams who carries the real heart of the film.

Meryl is, of course, great value. Hilarious, slightly grotesque, unapologetically outspoken and ever so slightly drag-queen in her characterisation – this is a really big performance. But it doesn’t hinder the film – in fact, it probably lifts it to another level. Just like with Prada, this is a seemingly conventional mainstream movie that is elevated to something a bit special by Streep’s presence. The rest of the cast are also terrific. The husbands are both really appealing and warranting special mention is a delicious appearance by the ubiquitous Jane Lynch as Child’s sister. It’s the sort of role Joan Cusack used to play in her heyday – laugh-out-loud funny and just a bit crazy.

Production design is very strong, especially in the portions of the film set in France and the costume designers employ some very clever tricks to enhance Streep’s height, the real Julia Child having been famously very tall. We’re not quite in Hagrid territory, but her size is cleverly portrayed in several ‘how did they do that?’ scenes.

And it’s impossible to talk about this film without mentioning the food on display. Even if you’re someone who can’t boil an egg, it will have you itching to have a bash at some of the recipes or at the very least, it’ll make your mouth water – see this on an empty stomach and you’ll be ravenous by the end.

Overall, this is a tasty dish indeed. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s hugely engaging throughout and there are some welcome moments of real poignancy. The term ‘feel-good’ is often used pejoratively to denote a film that lacks substance and isn’t dripping with cool cynicism. But this will make you grin, it really does make you feel good and as such, it will be a deserved crowd-pleaser. 

Bon appetit!

 Reviewed by: The All Knowing I

It looks like a cock…

November 3, 2009

cckWhy not to buy this book…. 

The title alone means that this book will be thumbed through by plenty of curious punters. Published by Bloomsbury and presumably aimed at the upcoming Christmas market, this is a pocket-sized hardback stocking-filler. You know the sort of thing – usually piled up near the checkout in bookshops, often surrounded by other titles for people who don’t actually read books. The Little Book of Calm, anyone?

For those of you who are still curious, what you get this time is a bunch of photographs of different things that supposedly look like cocks. Clouds, Fungus, icebergs, fruit, a beluga whale, etc, etc, each with a little bit of text and a percentage rating of how much it resembles an actual penis.

There’s a disclaimer stating that none of the pics have been touched up or ‘fiddled with’ (that’s what passes for a ‘joke’ here), but frankly, you’d be hard pressed to care. Admittedly, a couple of the pictures really do look like dicks, but some don’t bear any resemblance to anything you will have ever seen attached to any man.

To put it bluntly, this silly little tome is utter rubbish. You’ll grin as you reach for it, but the smile will fade pretty rapidly. Some might think the idea is cute and, yes, many of us love looking at rude pictures, but these aren’t rude – just really, really stupid. 25 bucks for 42 vaguely phallic images that even sniggering schoolkids wouldn’t look at twice?

It’s a waste of paper, a waste of every resource that went into its production, a waste of money and a waste of your time. If you have the dollars to throw away, I urge you to give them to your local Big Issue salesperson, or buy a proper book, or even a book of pictures of real cocks. But not this. It’s cheap crap that is designed to titillate and which will no doubt be hoping to swallow up our pink dollars, but which will ultimately end up perched on bookcases everywhere, not opened since the day it was received.

I’ll admit I smiled once. And that was when I turned it over to read the blurb on the back from Simon Pegg – “please don’t attach my name to this shit.” Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Reviewed by: The All Knowing I

Film Review: Moon

October 20, 2009

moon

Filmed in 33 days on a budget of $5 million, this debut film has been described by its director, Duncan Jones, as ‘indie science-fiction’. Thumbing his nose at current sci-fi genre trappings (action, space ships, aliens), he has purposefully returned to the tone of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, seeking to tell a ‘human story in a future environment’ – think Silent Runnings or Blade Runner, not Star Wars.

It is the near future and astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is living on the far side of the moon, approaching the end of a three year contract mining Earth’s primary energy source, Helium-3. Alone on the planet with satellite communication with his family disrupted, his sole source of company is the lunar base’s computer, Gerty, dryly voiced by Kevin Spacey.

Sam’s health starts to deteriorate and he begins to hallucinate, leading to an almost fatal accident in a lunar rover. As he recovers back at the base, his reality is challenged by an enigmatic visitor who looks somewhat familiar.

This curious little film is one that requires patience, but if you are in the right mood for an intriguing conundrum with existential overtones, then step right up. Director Jones poses a big question – if you met in person, would you like yourself? – and is overall successful at engaging his audience throughout a series of mind-bending scenes that are played completely straight instead of for laughs.

Rockwell is onscreen for pretty much the entire running time and impresses in a role that could have been too clever for its own good. Is it just me, or is there something a bit sexy about this strangely likeable actor? He’s alternately grimy and healthy here and doesn’t overdo it with the crazy tics. It’s a brave, potentially exposing performance with no other actors to interact with, and frankly, it’s what makes the film work. Without the goodwill Rockwell engenders, much of the audience would probably be alienated by the detached air that prevails during early scenes – we need a hook to drag us into this film, and he is it.

The screenplay is smart and economical. You’ll need to watch and listen carefully if you don’t want to lose your way, but if you run with this, the latter parts of the film manage to conjure up quite a bit of emotion from what initially seems to be a chilly little brain-teaser. One scene in particular will have you clutching at your pearls as a painful truth is revealed to our protagonist.

The production design is pleasingly old-school. The interior of the space station has the same white chunky décor as the original Alien and the exterior scenes and model-work feel pleasingly retro compared to the CGI vistas we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years. Special effects are used throughout the film, but they are often the invisible kind, as opposed to a look-at-me spectacle. The sound design is effective and the music is just right. There’s a strange tension here, ratcheted up as the film progresses. This is not quite sustained in the final stretch, but it’s still an unnerving experience, leaving the audience feeling distinctly uneasy at times.

To say more would be to reveal too much – part of the fun is found in unravelling the mystery here. And I’m not quite sure that everyone will buy into the central twist. We’re not in Shyamalan territory, but suspension of disbelief is definitely required at times.

So this is by no means the best film you’ll see this year, or even this month, but it is refreshingly different and it does manage to intrigue for most of its 97 minutes.

Reviewed by: The All Knowing I

Film Review: Blessed

October 6, 2009

In recent months, Aussie film pundits have been talking up 2009 as a vintage year for local product. Samson and Delilah, My Year Without Sex, Beautiful Kate – not just high quality, these were home-grown films that punters were actually going to see. The latest addition to the field, Blessed, is a surefire contender for the strongest Australian film of the year, but – here’s the catch – one which may struggle to find its audience.

 

Directed by Ana Kokkinos, helmer of the highly acclaimed 1998 feature Head On, this film started life as a play in Melbourne – Who’s Afraid of The Working Class? Don’t let the theatrical origins put you off. The screenwriter has done a great job of transferring this story from a dialogue-based medium into a celluloid world where powerful imagery and moments of silence are as impressive and emotional as the gritty script.

 

It’s deceptively simple. The first half of the film, titled ‘The Children’, follows the different exploits of seven children over the course of 24 hours. We wander with them through various situations, gradually beginning to understand the motives for their behaviour as backgrounds and family ties are revealed.

 

Midway through, the film switches perspective and we are presented with ‘The Mothers’, seeing the same situations through the eyes of the five mothers of these kids, each with their own story that provides vital context for the viewer.

 

Each half of the movie stands alone as a portrait of disenfranchised working class families struggling to keep their heads above water – in emotional terms as well as financially. But seen together, the cumulative impact is enormous, creating a hugely moving whole that will resonate strongly with anyone who has experienced complex familial entanglements (that’s all of us, right?).

 

Performances are terrific. The kids are naturalistic and convincing – equal parts obnoxious and endearing with not a sniff of a stage-school brat among them. Of the mothers, my money is on Frances O’Connor receiving most of the plaudits in her against-type role as a welfare-reliant single mother who neglects her kids, smokes while pregnant and seeks solace in a series of failed relationships with unsuitable men. Deborra-Lee Furness and Miranda Otto also shine, injecting some real warmth into two potentially unsympathetic characters.

 

Handheld camerawork forces the viewer onto intimate terms with these people and the unglamorous Melbourne locations further contribute to a strong sense of realism.

 

The score is quite beautiful, reminiscent of Decoder Ring’s Somersault soundtrack and used brilliantly to underpin some of the quietly emotional moments.

 

Since Head On played at gay film festivals around the globe, SameSame readers won’t be surprised to hear that there is a queer strand to this web of interconnected lives. We aren’t given, and we don’t need, the full background to share the confused isolation of gay teen Arthur, known by his family as Roo.

 

The scene where he takes part in an amateur porn film might be confronting for some audiences, but it’s an astonishing sequence – depressingly real and ultimately heartbreaking. You’ll just wanted to reach into the screen and rescue this kid.

 

Okay, so this is not straightforward easy entertainment, but it is soulful and rewarding and easily worth 17 bucks and 112 minutes of your time.

 

Blessed has a lot to say about ordinary people leading ordinary lives and despite the overwhelming tragedy of the closing section, this is not a misery-fest – there are real moments of warmth and poignancy here, if you look for them.

 

See it with someone you love – you’ll appreciate a big reassuring hug afterwards.

Reviewed by : The All Knowing I

Film Review: The Taking of Pelham 123

September 8, 2009

pelham

I won’t beat around the bush – this is pretty bad. If you’ve been anywhere near a mainstream cinema lately, you’ll probably have seen the trailer. Sad to report, you don’t need to see any more than that…

It’s the third filmed version of this story, following a well regarded 1974 version and a little-seen TV-movie from 1998 and it’s easy to see why director Tony Scott decided to revisit the material. On paper it sounds like a lean, mean action machine: bad guy hijacks subway train; passengers will die if his ransom demands are not met within one hour; heroic New York City transit employee comes to the rescue. Cast John Travolta and Denzel Washington as the bad guy and the hero respectively and you can’t go wrong, right?

Wrong. In my opinion, the film was woeful on almost every level…

Tony Scott employs his usual flashy style, with a sudden zoom or a jump-cut every ten seconds or so. Yes, it’s kinetic and colourful and some clever sound-design is employed to amp up the sense of urgency. Scott tries really hard to inject as much action as he can above-ground, with car crashes and swooping helicopters and lots of men in uniform running around. But you can’t hide the fact that for much of its running time, this is basically a filmed conversation between a man having a bad day at work and an angry person on an underground train.

The performances are very ordinary. Travolta does bring some weight to his role – about 50 kilos worth by my estimation. He’s been veering towards chunky in recent years, but this really shows that there was less padding under the Edna Turnblad costume than we thought. The crazy schtick he employs here is strictly off-the-shelf – a mixture of softly-spoken menace and sudden shouting, plus a neck tattoo for extra edginess.

And honestly, is there a duller actor working today than Denzel Washington? I know we like it when he plays bad guys, but presumably this is because we’re shocked he isn’t playing the same old world-weary everyman whose lips quiver to indicate each ‘dramatic moment’. He’s ordinary here to the point of being invisible and frankly, it’s tough to care whether he succeeds or not in his endeavours to save the day.

And whose idea was it to cast James Gandolfini as an obsequious Mayor coming to the end of his tenure? We all know he’s more than just Tony Soprano, but I really don’t think anyone buys this guy as weak and nervy.

I love movies and I’ll always find something positive to say about a film whenever I can. In this case, I’ll allow that the credits are interesting and the gunplay is pleasingly brutal.

I’m not being snobbish and I enjoy a popcorn no-brainer as much as the next person, but if you’re in the mood for that kind of entertainment, approach with caution. You’d be wiser staying in and watching an episode of CSI – it’s half as long and twice as well-made.

Review by: The All Knowing I

Movie Review: The Fox and The Child

July 16, 2009

fox_and_the_child

‘Eagerly anticipated’ doesn’t come close to describing how much I was looking forward to this film. I’m an absolute sucker for an animal documentary, plus this English-language version is narrated by Kate Winslet, who never seems to put a foot wrong. By the twenty-minute mark, however, I was ready to gnaw off my own fingers.

Jacquet has apparently based the story on his own experiences as a young boy and it’s clear we are in the hands of someone who is fascinated by wildlife. The footage of the various critters featured in the film is always impressive, sometimes remarkable and the French Alpine scenery is stunning. The canine star is super-cute, with an uncanny range of facial expressions and a winning personality that prompted sighs of pleasure from members of the audience.

We are treated to plenty of other furry friends, including a perilous encounter with a pack of wolves and the one genuinely exciting sequence in the film, when the fox is pursued by a hungry lynx. It shouldn’t matter that the story and excitement are slight – after all, we are here to marvel at the animals, right?

So why is so much attention paid to the kid? She doesn’t do anything particularly interesting, but we spend a lot of time with her, as she skips merrily through leafy glades giggling to herself. She is obviously meant to be our window into this world, but it’s hard to resist the urge to shove her off the side of the mountain and just focus on the fox.

It isn’t the fault of the young actress – she’s naturalistic and appealing; a Bjork-like pixie who clearly has a tremendous bond with her four-legged co-stars. It’s just that we don’t need her to be there and ultimately, the focus on her detracts from our appreciation of the animal action.

Even worse, the tone of this is all wrong. It’s a queasy mix of forced humour and knowing narration, not unlike the sort of thing that Disney churned out in the 1960s. For a present-day audience, accustomed to an Attenborough’s-eye view of the animal kingdom, this is dreadfully clunky and laboured.

Some of this would be forgivable if the film’s message was resonant enough to brush aside any concerns about the delivery. But the final portion of the film, as the fox finds increasing danger in human company, is pretty risible and I suspect will disturb younger members of the audience. We are offered a happy ending of sorts, but the means by which we reach it leave a nasty aftertaste – the credits assure us that no animals were harmed during the making of the picture, but the fox’s distress in the latter part of the film is worryingly convincing.

At times just plain tedious, it’s hard to understand who this film is for. I suspect it’s the kind of thing parents will think their kids should see and in a kiddie-film marketplace that is crowded with noisy animated flicks or Zac Efron offering glimpses of his terrifying abs, I was hoping to recommend this as something a little bit different. And it is different, just in a bad way.

Reviews by The All Knowing I

Movie Review: Is Anybody There?

June 1, 2009

anyone there

Picture the scene: Michael Caine comes striding out of a screening of Venus, the 2007 movie that earned Peter O’Toole an Oscar nomination for his touching performance as an older English gent living it up at the end of his life. Caine heads straight to the office of his agent, thumps his fist on the desk and snarls “I want me some of that! Find me a Venus that I can make my own!”. 

Okay, this is probably not what has led to Is Anybody There? landing in cinemas this month, but the strong similarities with Venus are hard to ignore and this new film suffers a great deal by comparison.

It’s the 1980s in a drab English seaside town. Ten year old Edward lives with his parents in the struggling retirement home they run together. Quiet and insular, Edward is obsessed with the supernatural, in particular the afterlife, and he constantly listens to tape-recordings he has made of dead or dying residents, desperately hoping to find some clue as to what awaits us after we die.

The newest resident is Clarence (Caine), a crusty old widower and retired magician who doesn’t want to be there. Clarence and Edward initially antagonise one another, but following a suicide attempt by Clarence, the two develop a burgeoning friendship which leads to a series of life-lessons for the young boy, a bit of tutoring in the art of magic tricks and – oh, yes! – a gradual softening of the older gent’s flinty heart.

Yes, we’re veering perilously close to cliché territory in this faintly queasy mash-up of numerous odd-couple scenarios that have been done much better before.

The performances are variable. Edward is played very cutely by Bill Milner, but is an exact carbon copy of the character we saw from him in last year’s Son of Rambow – downtrodden, sad-eyed, earnest, hopeful. His father, played by David Morrissey, is an unremarkable performance bar a mullet and some terrifying 80s clothes. And an extremely likeable Anne-Marie Duff (from TV’s Shameless) easily outshines the rest of the cast in all of her scenes as Edward’s mother.

The residents of the home are played by a veritable who’s-who of elderly English actors, sadly reduced to serving up their best loveable-but-batty shtick in the pursuit of some weak jokes. This is the kind of film where we are expected to laugh because the oldies say ‘fuck’, or because the one with the plastic leg keeps asking the gents to dance.

But what of the presumed main draw, Mr Michael Caine? Once again, he does a good job of playing Michael Caine (only this time with white hair and watery eyes). Honestly, is there a more over-rated actor in the history of cinema? Sure, his was an iconic face back in the day and we see various pictures of Clarence in his youth which confirm this. Yep, Caine was indeed a hottie back in the Sixties. But it seems he has turned into one of those actors who now gets applause just for showing up. Personally, I think he is only ever as strong as the material he is working with and what we are faced with here amounts to a flat performance in a pretty dreary little film.

On the plus side, there are some nice moments. The interplay between Edward and Clarence is at times pleasingly awkward and touching. And there is a smashing scene at a birthday party where Clarence performs a series of tricks for an eager audience and we get a glimpse of the real sparkle that presumably once fired up this grumpy old man.

As the film progresses and Clarence’s senility comes to the fore, the screenplay doesn’t pull any punches and there are some surprisingly offbeat scenes, especially a brief back-seat kiss between two of the characters which is sweet and plausible and very sad.

Production design is good and the cinematographer conjures up the right sort of grainy seediness. This is a world of greys and browns where people and buildings are all in a similar state of disrepair.

But is it worth ninety minutes of your time and fifteen bucks? I can see that this will pull in the Sunday afternoon punters down at Opera Quays, and at the screening I attended people chuckled in all the right places. It is pleasant enough and relatively engaging for much of its duration. But it ultimately seems too small for the big screen, like we’re watching a drab little TV drama that has accidentally found its way into a movie theatre. In the end, this is not a bad picture, just a very ordinary one.

Reviewed by The All Knowing I

Movie Review: Quiet Chaos

May 22, 2009

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If you don’t express suffering, does this mean that you aren’t feeling any pain? This is one of the questions faced by the viewer by low-key but occasionally startling film, Quiet Chaos, by Antonello Grimaldi.

A big critical and commercial success in its native Italy and based on a bestselling novel by Sandro Veronesi, on paper it sounds like hard work. Pietro Paladini (Nanni Moretti) is a successful business executive, happily married with a 10-year old daughter, Claudia. In the opening scene, he and his brother rescue two women who are drowning in the sea. This dramatic saving of lives is juxtaposed almost immediately with death – the two men arrive home only to find Pietro’s wife lying dead in the garden. Her sudden death is never explained and barely discussed, but the ramifications of this event shape the rest of this unusual study of the mourning process.

Pietro takes his daughter back to school after the funeral and spontaneously promises her that instead of going to work, he will wait outside until her classes are over.
He continues to do this day after day, gradually building a number of small, mostly wordless connections with other regular visitors to the grassy spot – a dog-walker; a young boy with Down’s syndrome; a café owner.

His behaviour leads to a sort of notoriety and he is joined by his bosses, fellow workers and family members – his brother Carlo and his eccentric actress sister-in-law (Valeria Golino, playing slightly mad very prettily). In their attempts to console him, they instead reveal their own pain and insecurities in the face of his seeming calmness.

With very little incident across close to two hours, this film would only ever succeed on the strength of its performances and fortunately the cast is uniformly strong. Moretti appears in almost every scene but never outstays his welcome. We feel such sympathy for his character, despite the fact that he doesn’t go out of his way to cultivate this. There is something in this man’s story that invites compassion without the film-makers ever resulting to histrionics or emotional manipulation.

It becomes almost uncomfortable at times as the viewer anticipates, and is even eager for, a sense of catharsis. But we only see Pietro let down his emotional guard once, very suddenly, and the impact of this is much greater for being so isolated and brief. An uncharacteristically raw and explicit sexual encounter is similarly powerful for being at odds with the composure that is so prevalent throughout the rest of the film.

The music occasionally threatens to intrude on the naturalistic feeling of the film, with some overly saccharine piano motifs and typically glum Radiohead tunes. But this is only a minor mis-step in what is otherwise an odd little gem of a picture which manages to remain light as a feather in spite of its potentially downbeat subject matter.

But is this a fair representation of how grief really is? I’m not sure, but it is certainly very different to the Sally Field-style hand-wringing we’ve become programmed to expect from entertainment. It feels slightly oddball but genuine, with a sense of stillness and normality I suspect the audience can relate to more than any amount of dramatic wailing.

Reviewed by: The All Knowing I

Review of Angels & Demons

May 17, 2009

A&D

It’s been three years since the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code stormed the multiplexes of the world and earned its stripes as what publicists like to call a ‘global phenomenon’. Sure, some found it lumbering and laughable, but it took more than $750 million worldwide (it’s the 26th most successful film of all time!) and the novels of author Dan Brown have hovered near the top of bestseller lists for much of the last three years.

So it makes financial sense at least for the original production team, led by Ron Howard, to return to Brown’s material. Clearly hoping that the world’s cinema audiences will be back for more as they endeavour to unravel the main conundrum raised by the first film – does it all make sense if you haven’t read the book?

This time we’re in Rome. The pope has died suddenly and the ancient ritual of Conclave is under way, the process by which a new Holy Father is elected. The favoured candidates, the Preferiti, are kidnapped by a secret society called the Illuminati who threaten to kill one Cardinal each hour before igniting a bomb in the Vatican.

Who could possibly avert such a crisis? Step forward Robert Langdon, Harvard symbologist extraordinaire, who is whisked directly to Rome and into a whirlwind of intrigue that catapults him between famous landmarks across the city. He is joined by Vittoria Vetra, played by gorgeous Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer, a Eurobabe-cum-nuclear scientist whose work may hold the answer to one of science and religion’s greatest puzzles (drumroll here) – “the moment of Creation itself!”.

Langdon is again played by Tom Hanks, looking surprisingly fresh and buff in an early swimming scene, but who then proceeds to stumble about on autopilot, pointing at statues and delivering a stream of sanctimonious exposition. This is the type of movie where people don’t have real conversations; they shout plot detail at each other and decipher clues as they run up stairs and down passageways.

As in The Da Vinci Code, we are in the realm where theology is notionally pitted against science. But everything that is potentially interesting about this conflict is quickly sidelined as the audience is plunged into the only story Dan Brown seems able to tell – a race against time peppered with Famous Five-style clues, all wrapped up in a Scooby Doo quality whodunit.

Many important questions are left unanswered. How does Vetra’s hair stay so clean? Would a scientist really be so squeamish when faced with a human eyeball? And when will Ewan McGregor learn that he should only be in musicals? The production design is admittedly impressive, especially the replicas of well-known Roman landmarks, built nearly to scale in Los Angeles. And Hans Zimmer provides a fittingly tense and pounding score, maxing out on choral effects for the big scenes.

Ron Howard works really hard to keep us engaged in his increasingly improbable story. Cars screech and race through busy streets; cameras swoop over the wings of carved angels to reveal enormous crowd scenes. But there’s only so much of this we can take and one soon hungers for the insight and economy of Howard’s last film, the much smaller but infinitely more gripping Frost/Nixon.

Ultimately, this is a loud, long, confused muddle of a movie which swaps sense for a sense of excitement, but that probably won’t stop it from finding a large audience desperate for a Dan Brown fix until his new novel release in September 2009.

Maybe Angels and Demons will be more thrilling and just make more sense to someone who has read the original novel. I suspect it’s definitely a case of preaching to the converted.

Reviewed By: The All Knowing I

Me Baking….Yes

January 15, 2009

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Now anyone who knows me will also know that me and kitchens’ do not go well together, in fact I have card on my desk at work which says on it “I have a kitchen only because it came with the house”, how true that is. I have lived in one place for a good 6mths before I even turned on the oven, actually I didn’t turn it on a friend came round to cook me dinner and when she got there no light would come on when she turned any of those knobs on the thing. She opened the oven door and found all the “stuff” inside was still in it’s wrappings and it had not even been plugged in. We ended up getting take-out that night, something to do with the fact that you have ‘burn off’ something or other before you use it, whatever.

 

A good friend of mine also made me some portions of his famous spag bowl to keep in my freezer and gave me simple instructions on how to re-heat them. One night after work I decided I was going to cook (yes I do consider warming something up in a saucepan cooking), so I came in put the saucepan on the hob and stuck the spag bowl in the pan.  I went off to get changed then went on the net to check some emails and before long there was this god awful smell, one that might out last religion (as Kenny would say) and I went running to the kitchen, and there in the pan was the mess that was meant to be my dinner – the one key thing I had forgotten to do was take the spag bowl out of the plastic freezer bag that it was in!!!!!

 

So when I tell you that I made scones last night you should appreciate just what a feat this was for me, I did it all on my own, well I asked The All Knowing I a few questions, like just what exactly is a pastry brush and do we have one? Which of these symbols on the knob is the oven? (I would have guessed that one wrong), and finally do these look done to you? And what got me to be baking in the first place you may ask? Well I blame The Girls who bought me Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food http://www.jamieoliver.com/jme/books/info/ministry-of-food-signed-edition/100011.html

 

Now I am not a big fan of watching him on the TV, he annoys me a bit, but the book is fantastic, I read it thinking “I could do that” and indeed I could, making scones was a lot easier than I thought. And my team at work made lots of appreciative noises when they were eating them and I am happy to report that they are all still alive and well.

 

I wonder what I might cook next….