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41 out of 58 people found the following review useful:
A little Aussie marvel, 5 November 2015

Today I had the absolute pleasure of seeing a film I've been waiting about a decade for. 'The Dressmaker' is adapted from Rosalie Ham's bestselling Australian book which first came out in 2000, and I studied in high school about that long ago too. Ms Ham actually came and spoke at my school, and I can still remember her telling us that she was currently writing a screenplay of the book – but that she wasn't sure if the American production company would want the movie to be set in Australia or adapted to the bible-belt/deep south of America.

Well. It's the year 2015 and 'The Dressmaker' is here – and it's spectacular and spectacularly Aussie. Indeed, I couldn't have pictured a film adaptation that took the Australia out of this country-Gothic dark comedy tale, and watching the film (shot around Victoria in Horsham, Little River and Yarraville) I got tingles when I saw the town of Dungatar on the screen – bought so precisely to life. The lonely white gum trees and rocky-red dust bowl look, the rusted tin-roofs and sagging clapboard buildings. The distinctly Australian setting becomes a character unto itself, and a stark background to Tilly Dunnage's unfolding tale of style and secrets …

I absolutely loved the book when I studied it in school, and I'm thrilled to report that the film is equally fantastic and one of the best adaptations I've seen. Kate Winslet is Tilly who returns home to look after her ailing mother (and town outcast) "mad" Molly … but she's also returned home to discover the truth of why she was sent away as a child. The town of Dungatar is sure that Tilly murdered a boy, and Tilly is half-convinced of the rumor too, and sure it's why she's now cursed. But she also knows that Dungatar never had any love for her and Molly growing up, and if she wants to get close to the truth she'll have to use everything in her arsenal to pry it out of them.

Tilly's arsenal happens to be fashion. Haute-couture, to be more precise. Since running away from a Melbourne boarding school as a girl, she traveled from London to Milan and Paris, studying under the greats (Balenciaga!) and when she returns to Dungatar she's a veritable fashion powerhouse – using her Singer sewing machine to create Dior-inspired and Tilly-originals to coax the vile women of Dungatar into a false sense of individuality and specialness …

The cast in this film is fantastic. Kate Winslet and Judy Davis clearly have a ball playing contentious mother/daughter pair Tilly and Molly, and there's a beautiful balance of the absurd and heartbreaking between them. Liam Hemsworth as one of the few kind Dungatar townspeople who pursues Tilly romantically, despite her dire warnings of a curse, is at his charming best here – the role of Teddy McSwiney isn't much of a stretch for him, but it's lovely to see and hear a Hemsworth in a little Aussie role that suits him to a tee (and, look, at school my fellow classmates were dead-set on the likes of Beau Brady from 'Home and Away' playing Teddy so – Liam's wonderful!).

The film is choc-a-block with Aussie stars playing dastardly villains or defeated characters in the town of Dungatar – Shane Jacobson, Barry Otto, Shane Bourne and Alison Whyte among them. Some of these minor roles clearly got a bit jumbled in the editing; there's a wayward flirtation between Rebecca Gibney and a shop-keep that just sort of goes nowhere … but then there's Hugo Weaving as the kindly cross-dressing Sergeant Farrat, making up for mistakes in the past by befriending Tilly and coming to her and Molly's defense – Weaving shines in the role and clearly had a ball.

Another stand-out was Sarah Snook as Gertrude 'Trudy' Pratt, an old classmate of Tilly's who becomes one of her main clotheshorses. Snook is in everything at the moment (coming off 'The Secret River' adaptation, now in 'The Beautiful Lie') and she's just wonderful. In this film when the clothes are also characters as much as the setting, Snook is breathtaking in Tilly's Dior and Balenciaga. The film is set in the 1950s so it's vintage Dior and Balenciaga, darling – everyone looks like a Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn throwback, and it especially suits Snook with her luminous, luminous skin and enviable hourglass figure.

Kate Winslet is truly superb – of course she nails the accent, that's one of her great strengths (remember 1994's 'Heavenly Creatures'?) – and she's absolutely stunning in all of the vintage couture. But she really does justice to Tilly, a complex and fragile character beneath all those breathtaking outfits like suits of armor.

I t was great fun to see this story I've long loved come to life. Director Jocelyn Moorhouse has made a sumptuous film that frames the stark town of Dungatar as beautifully as she does the actresses swanning in the stunning gowns. The adaptation is one of the best I've ever seen, but then again Rosalie Ham had some great material on offer in her country-Gothic tale of ball gowns and small-town brutality. I couldn't believe how hard I cried in some parts, even as I vividly remembered having the wind knocked out of me when I first read the twists and turns in Ham's book all those years ago … 'The Dressmaker' is a little Aussie marvel.

7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
I fell into obsession..., 25 April 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My new obsession is Australian ABC3 teen drama, 'Dance Academy'. To be fair, I am jumping on this band-wagon way too late. The first season aired in Australia in 2010, followed by a year-long gap when the show's creators didn't know if it would be picked up for a second season . . . which it (thankfully) was, airing this year between March and April. There are 26 episodes in a season, and the last one for 2012 aired on April 24. And, yes, a third season has been commissioned (no word on whether or not there will be another year-long gap between season 2 and 3, making for a 2014 release?).

The show follows fifteen-year-old country ballerina, Tara Webster (Xenia Goodwin) whose love of dance stems from a dream of flying. Tara gets one step closer to her dream when she is accepted into Sydney's prestigious National Dance Academy. . . but it doesn't take long before Tara realizes that loving dance isn't the same as being a good dancer.

Tara's technique is not where it needs to be, and her fellow students at the Academy are cut-throat, with their eye on becoming principal dancers by the end of their three years. In her first week at the Academy, Tara is given the nickname 'training bra' by scholarship kid Christian Reed (Jordan Rodrigues) after an embarrassing changing-room incident with the beautiful Ethan Karamakov (Tim Pocock) who happens to be the half-son of an infamous Australian prima-ballerina and choreographer. Tara's roommate is Abigail Armstrong (Dena Kaplan) the best and most ruthless first year dancer at the academy, and the one with the biggest grudge against 'country bumpkin', Tara.

Tara is ranked lowest in all of her dance classes and her teacher, the cold-blooded Miss Raine (Tara Morice) lets her know that she has a long way to go. . . But Tara got into the Academy because she has something that no dancer can learn - she puts her heart and soul into every pointe and pirouette. She dances from the heart.

There are bright spots in Tara's new life. Like Ethan's half-sister, Kat Karamakov (Alicia Banit) a bubbly, bright and begrudgingly good dancer who struggles to be one of the 'betty bunheads'. Kat's best friend is Samuel 'Sammy' Lieberman (Tom Green) string-bean with a heart of gold, who is attending the Academy without his father's support.

Season one of 'Dance Academy' follows Tara and her friends through the highs and lows of first year. Second season shows the gang return for second year, and adds goofball Ben Tickle (Thomas Lacey) to the crew, as well as new prima mean-girl in Grace Whitney (Issi Durant).

'Dance Academy' is phenomenal. Created by Samantha Strauss and Joanna Werner, it is a fantastic series that combines a coming-of-age story with all the requisite heartbreak, love triangles and hiccups, with the backdrop of a competitive creative environment.

The show is shot in the heart of Sydney, literally. The National Dance Academy is situated near Circular Quay, while the boarding school lies in The Rocks (the most beautiful and expensive area of the city).

I also love the show because it has a great, diverse cast. When so many Australian shows are lacking ethnic diversity in their casts, 'Dance Academy' shows a far truer Australian melting-pot and is more interesting for it. But the diversity is also in the story lines explored - the show had a wonderful plot about Sammy being attracted to his male roommate, Christian . . . this plot, in particular, was handled beautifully with no over-dramatizing; it was treated as the coming-of- age it was, grounded in reality and with little flamboyance some shows sometimes want to give the 'coming out' storyline.

Other heavy issues have been touched on - such as eating disorders and bullying (in the form of teacher/student, to make for an especially interesting change). And, of course, the complications of love and relationships are also consistently touched on. From liking your best friend's brother, to liking your best friend's ex. First season has a mini love-triangle between Tara, Christian and Ethan while second season changes shape to explore a Kat/Christian/Tara love complication. The romantic up's and down's of these characters are a real draw-card for fans, and the writers do a brilliant job of spreading the drama out across 26, half-hour episodes. But my favourite couplings have been Sammy's - the character with the most interesting and diverse love background, I have most enjoyed his romantic story lines.

I can't go past a review of 'Dance Academy' without at least touching on the dancing in the show (even though I must confess, I have the dance skills of a one-legged robot). The choreography is beautiful, and tells a story in itself. From Tara's obsession with 'The Red Shoes', to Sammy's explosively heartbreaking season two solo, performed to the Jezabel's 'She's So Hard'. The actors do a remarkable job, and the choreography is so good that while watching an episode I do find my feet pointing and hips shaking. God, I wish I could dance.

I fell into obsession watching the first season of 'Dance Academy', but it was really the second season that cemented this show as something truly remarkable for me. The second season storyline takes a dramatic and heart-wrenching twist towards the end. I refuse to give anything away, but save to say the writers outdid themselves and the actors broke my heart while watching a breathtakingly sad story unfold.

'Dance Academy' is one of the best Australian shows I have had the pleasure of watching in recent years. It's a little bit 'Centre Stage' crossed with 'Heartbreak High', and with stories and dialogue that would do Aussie YA proud.

"Skins" (2011)
21 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
This could have been some kind of wonderful... emphasis on 'could', 3 February 2011

I hope the American creators of 'Skins' realise how much potential has been wasted on their remake.

The British E4 'Skins', created by Jamie Brittain and Bryan Elsley is fantastic. And what makes the show so great is its versatility. Currently the UK version is in its fifth season with its third remodelled cast.

The American version is a remake of its Pommie counterpart . . . sometimes word-for-word, or shot-for-shot. Heck, they've even recreated the promo photo shoots down to the 'pile-on' cast shot. Yawn. 'Skins' is a show about teenagers. Not your 'Gossip Girl', '90210' and 'O.C.' privileged darlings where fans watch to live vicariously and glimpse the high-life. 'Skins' is all about the relatable. Typical teenagers in typical towns doing typical (if hair-raising) things. The UK version is set in Bristol (the 'meat and potatoes' town of England) while the US version is set in Baltimore (and equally unimpressive slice of suburbia). The brilliance of the show lies in the fact that the teenage characters get up to wicked stunts and tangled loves regardless of their dull surroundings. Because, teenagers will be teenagers no matter where they live. It's no shock that teens living and loving in New York will have some wild adventures. What 'Skins' shows is that teens even in backwoods Noweheresville will get up to the same sorts of shenanigans . . . and often with more significant and profound experiences.

And that's what makes Jamie Brittain and Bryan Elsley's 'Skins' framework so adaptable. You don't need the same characters to tell these stories. All you need is teenagers. Teenagers are the portal through which these tales are told. All the US makers had to do was choose a suitably unremarkable setting (Baltimore – check) and use typical teen stereotypes to base their show around. And Lord knows that the Americans have enough clichés thanks to John Hughes movies – the jock, the princess, the freak, the nerd. . .

Unfortunately MTV wimped out. They took the easy route and, effectively, decided to copy off someone else's homework. For shame!

They have replicated entire episodes. They have taken British characters and changed their names (Sid – Stanley) and tried to fit square pegs into round holes. For shame! And it's even worse because there is every evidence that if MTV had made 'Skins' their own – created their own characters and story lines and used the bare framework of 'teenagers' (hardly worth the copyright!) then this series could have succeeded. Case in point, Tea.

The best thing about the US version is the one character that they made themselves; 'Tea' is played by Sofia Black-D'Elia and she's fabulous. She's a warped cliché – an American cheerleader, but with the twist of also being a lesbian. She is a replacement character from the UK version, 'Tea' as a stand in for the male homosexual character of Maxxie (Mitch Hewer).

Tea's episode was the second one of the season and it was fantastic. Tea as a cheerleader lesbian who is 'out' at school, perhaps even the token homosexual amongst her friends. But at home she keeps her sexuality under-wraps from her Jewish family. Tea's episode had such American flavour – as Tea hangs out at a lesbian Rockabilly dance hall to pick up chicks – it was a flavourful mix of old Americana with a modern twist. The writers even added layers of complications to Tea's already hectic life by introducing an uneasy attraction between her and the show's playboy Lothario, Tony (James Newman). This 'romance' is doomed to be one-sided, though Tony looks to be in determined pursuit of the unattainable.

Tea's second episode was exactly what I wanted from the American version of Skins. I wanted the Yanks to make this show their own. Alas, the third episode, 'Chris', was back to the unoriginal 'been-there-seen- that' of the UK version.

The first season of Skins USA is a dismal failure. But the character of 'Tea' and her Americana-meets-L-Word episode is proof positive that the Yanks can do it! They just have to take a chance – think outside the (British) square, infuse some originality into their version and trust in their writers to come up with something as equally smashing as their Pommie counterparts.

8 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Yikes, 31 May 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Indiana Jones is back and up to his old ways. In his fourth adventure Indy is off to Peru to locate a Mayan crystal skull before some psychic scientist soviets can get their hands on it..... and it's all down hill from that iffy storyline.

It is a sad, sad day when internet gossip and speculation about a much anticipated and, by all means highly secretive, Spielberg/Lucas film turns out to all be pretty much right on the money. Mut Williams (Shia LaBeouf) 'wild one' Marlon Brando wannabe (or just victim of a lazy wardrobe) is indeed Indy and Marion Ravenwood's (Karen Allen) son. Mac McHale (Ray Winstone) is a double-agent for the Soviets. And no low expectations will be proved wrong regarding the quality of revisited, much beloved film franchises.

The plot is too confusing, especially since the film starts right in the thick of the action, you never quite catch up. The acting, even from beloved Aussie and Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, is hammy at best - not helped by the appalling dialogue and absurd story. I feel sorriest for Shia LaBeouf – after a successful turn in Michael Bay's 'Transformers' he was generally regarded as 'the next big thing', and you can hardly blame the kid for not turning down a Spielberg/Lucas film, despite the awful script. But I am afraid that after his role as Mutt many will choose only to remember him in the biggest letdown of their movie-going experience.

Is it all bad? Well, I did illicit a few chuckles (playing on Indiana's fear of snakes is always a guarantee) and I was a little impressed by a certain car chase/sword fight until it went on for too long and included a Tarzan spin-off and Wicked Witch of the West "fly my pretty's!" moment. Oh boy.

In the end though, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which looks like it was stuffed with tin-foil), did little more than solidify my feelings that the best days of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are now far behind them. Now it seems their mission in life is to flog a dead horse and ruin the franchises that once represented their glory days. It is time for those two favorite sons of Hollywood to retire quietly before their flops eclipse their successes. Sad, but after seeing Crystal Skull, very true!

You know that all is lost when the scariest thing in an Indiana Jones film are some ants.... well, the ants and the plot/acting/dialogue/CGI....

"Dexter" (2006)
7 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Grey is best, 18 February 2008

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a conundrum wrapped in contradiction. By day, he is a blood splatter expert working for the Miami police whose adoptive father, Harry (James Remar) was one of the cities finest and whose sister, Deborah (Jennifer Carpenter) is also a detective in the force. Dexter is also the dutifully understanding boyfriend of Rita (Julie Benz) and father-figure to her two children whose dad is a heroin addict wife-beater doing time. But come night time, Dexter is a serial killer. To his credit he only ever kills those who deserve it – 'monsters' like himself. Dexter admits however, through insightful and often chilling voice-over, that he is most certainly no super-hero. He is a self-aware socio-path who does not dream, feel guilt, love and who has an insatiable urge to kill with precision. The only reason he kills those who deserve his brutality is because of his adoptive father, Harry (Remar) and a code that he was taught. Recognizing Dexter's impulses at an early age, Harry impressed upon his adoptive son the lessons of a hardened cop whose seen too much – the unfortunate truth that the 'system' to which he dedicated his life, didn't always work. Most of the time bad people got away with doing bad things, and sometimes there just isn't any justice in the world. Enter Dexter. Harry taught him to wear a mask for the world – a mask of normalcy to hide his true psychopathic tendencies which are only to be unleashed upon those the system wrongly lets free.

The first season of Dexter pivots around the Miami police department's search for a serial killer, nicknamed the 'ice-truck killer' for the way he transports mutilated and drained bodies, leaving them in unusual places around the city for the police to find. A warped present. Even more warped is that the mysterious killer appears to be speaking directly to Dexter. With each twisted crime scene a new stone upturns for Dexter as he finds himself a new 'play-friend' – someone who is just like he is, but who doesn't appear to hide his impulses from the world the same way Dexter does, as Harry taught him to.

'Dexter' is at once a 12-part crime thriller, with each new episode the puzzle of the ice-truck killer becomes more involved. But more than a tantalizing whodunnit, 'Dexter' is a gruesomely intriguing glimpse into the mind and everyday life of a socio-path masquerading as an average joe. The character of Dexter Morgan is following in the same footsteps as Tony Soprano ("The Sopranos"), and to a less commercially successful extent, Joss Whedon's Captain Mal ("Serenity"). Dexter can be classed in the same league as that mob boss and small-time space thief because like them, the character is not the classic 'good' guy. He is bad. Sure, he goes around giving just deserts to fellow serial killers, rapists, paedophiles and all other manner of pond scum – but he is still intrinsically 'bad'. And he even admits it – he enjoys torturing and killing these people, he does not do it because they deserve to die, there is no real justice to his killings – he just needs to kill and as Harry instructed him, if he's going to do it anyway, he may as well kill those who deserve to die. And that's why Dexter is the best sort of protagonist. Finding yourself rooting for Dex, being on his side is all together strange and unnerving – that as an audience you side with the serial killer. Its very odd. But these days audiences like their protagonists to be all about the shades of grey – the morally ambiguous are so much more interesting than those on the straight and narrow.

And adding to the appeal of Dexter is Michael C. Hall. No stranger to the quirky and successful television series, Hall comes from good stock having had main role on the successful 'Six Feet Under'. From morgue to murder, Hall is enthralling – altogether sinister, likable, intimidating and sometimes appearing heroic. Dexter is no easy characterization – he has two completely opposite sides to him, both of which have to be believable for the other to hold up for the audience – a family man and a frightening serial killer. Hall is the best kind of leading man – altogether likable yet chillingly intimidating.

Its pretty much a universally acknowledged fact that television is where the real talent lies these days. TV is taking more chances than the box-office ruled films being produced, and cable means that networks are able to expand their viewer-ship and create a little more outside the box than was previously allowed on commercial television for the masses, so to speak. 'Dexter' is a testament to that truth. A gutsy, confronting, sometimes unsettling but completely satisfying and intense show that should not be missed.

Jumper (2008)
2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A good idea poorly executed, 18 February 2008

Based on the 1992 novel by Steven Gould, 'Jumper' is a story of 'Jumpers' - genetic oddities. Human-beings with the ability to somehow cause a rip through space and time and 'jump' to any destination in the world. Their only restrictions are that they have to be able to visualize their destination – so either they have to have been there before, or seen pictures of the place.

The jumper protagonist of Doug Liman's (The Bourne Identity) movie is David Rice (Hayden Christensen) who discovered his genetic talents as a teenager and promptly left home to live it up robbing banks and traipsing all over the world in his down time. Eight years later from when we first see David realize his potential and leave behind his hopeless single-parent father, a mysterious man by the name of Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) is hot on his trail and seems to know about his abilities. Armed with tricky gadgetry and a holier-than-though attitude toward Jumpers like David, Roland explains that he is a Paladin, from an organization that track down and kill Jumpers for the good of the Universe, implying that their jumping has some adverse affects on the natural world? Now on the run from these Paladin's, David returns to his home town and to his childhood sweetheart, Millie (Rachel Bilson) whom he whisks away to Rome for some inexplicable reason. While on the run from the Paladin's David meets Griffin (Jamie Bell), a fellow jumper who has a personal vendetta against all Paladins.

The premise was interesting. The trailer was okay. The film was based on a fairly well- received science fiction book. So how bad could this big blockbuster flick be?


What you see in the trailer is the best of the film. You can't really pin-point the faults to one specific area. Yes, the writing is bad. Not awful, but tweaks were definitely needed – dialogue was flat and there was little to no characterization. The cast don't quite work. Hayden Christensen, widely despised by Star Wars fans everywhere seems to be a supporting actor in a leading mans clothes. He just doesn't have the charisma, likability, that 'it' factor to carry such a role. Rachel Bilson – presumably cast for being Rachel Bilson – seems to be thrown into the mix as a love interest after-thought and her presence throughout is puzzling. She is bland, but you can't really blame her (well you could... she is just playing a slightly less Californian version of Summer Roberts), her character really was just thrown into the film for the seeming romantic hell of it? Samuel L. Jackson isn't really making any stretches with the role of ambiguous bad guy. Jamie Bell was underused and underdeveloped.

Mostly it's all a bit too all over the place (literally and figuratively).

The 'jumps' are pretty cool. An impressive special effect that looks almost like a mini- hurricane when the characters jump. The locations are incredible – the Colosseum, Egypt, Big Ben. But the actual plot is all over the place. Why did David return to his home town? Why did he come back for Millie after eight years of letting people think he was dead? Who are the Paladins, apart from an organization who hate jumpers? What is it that allows these jumpers to jump? How many jumpers are there in the world? How did Griffin get out of that sticky situation?

Part of the faults of the plot are to do with the fact that so much is left wide open for a sequel. So many unanswered questions intended to keep us guessing until the second movie just leave great big gaping holes in the film that irritate. In the end the movie is utterly dissatisfying, verging on frustrating.

This is most definitely one of the worst movie's of 2008. And it's only February. Watch out for this one come Razzie time.

15 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Articulating self-discovery, 13 January 2008

In 2005 Brook Silva-Braga put his seemingly idyllic life on hold to back-pack around the world. A successful television producer living in New York, Braga explains in a diary-entry type video confessional that now in his late twenties he sees himself heading down the same typical path as all his friends: success, marriage, children etc, etc. Seeing a small window of opportunity he tells work that he's taking a year off for a solo trip around the world, packs up his apartment and prepares for a journey that he documents with a hand-held camera.

Starting in Australia then travelling up through Asia, Europe and culminating in Brazil – Braga's documented journey is an exposè on the backpacking lifestyle. Backpacking is a fairly new phenomenon that has come about thanks to Globalization – easy travel, the global village, cheap airfares and an entirely new tourism industry that feeds and feeds off of backpackers. As Braga experiences different emotions, frustrations and makes some small self-discoveries he finds that his experiences are pretty much shared by all who decide to carry their lives on their backs. When he finds himself feeling lonely in his first few days in Sydney, Australia his feelings are articulated by the many fellow backpackers he turns his camera on to interview. All explain a similar feeling of depression in the first few days away from home and the loneliness of seeing beautiful landmarks by yourself, with no-one to share them with. But eventually all Braga's backpackers agree that a decision to make the most of a unique situation sees them making easy friendships with those they share a Hostel with – and this is a subject touched upon many times in 'A Map for Saturday' – the friendships that are made and broken in maybe a few hours, or a few days. Braga muses at one point that as a backpacker he has become very good at saying goodbye, not quite sure if this is a good or bad thing? A fellow American backpacker Braga meets in London feels the short-lived friendships are a blessing and special if only because unlike 'normal' friends who drift apart over a period of time, when backpacking it is easy to mark where a friendship began and ended. It is a bond made over a very short period of time, remembered in association with a place in the world.

In the second half of Braga's documentary, and at the tail-end of his year-long journey, he makes the interesting observation that while travelling he has only met two fellow American backpackers. Braga admits that in America, living the American dream means working all year long to make enough money to go away for two weeks on a luxury holiday. Where other cultures seem to have a high respect for self-discovery and soul-searching travel (he notes that the majority of backpackers he has met are proud Canadians) in America ad campaigns for travel aren't focused on 'roughing it' but rather, 'lapping it up'.

In the last half of his final episode Braga is clearly world-weary and maybe even a little tired of the backpacking lifestyle. Every fellow backpacker he interviews admit that eventually 'the five questions' they are constantly being asked begin to annoy ("where have you been? where are you from?", etc) and as one Irish backpacker admits, even the sights begin to bore "oh, another waterfall" he dead-pans. An English woman admits to being fed-up with living out of a backpack from day to day, and having to repack every day. And finally as if the universe is telling him personally that enough is enough, Braga is mugged in Rio De Janeiro – it's time to go home. And here Braga's final musings concern the backpacker when they return home. How hard it is for those who traveled solo, to not have anyone to share their experiences with completely – and it seems true enough, how to explain to someone who has been working behind a desk all year what a trip around the world was like?

Never having backpacked myself – watching Braga's documentary made me want to give it a go. I only wish there had been a bit more practicality to his backpacking doco, a few helpful hints as opposed to purely focusing on the emotional journey of the individual backpacker. Braga's documentary is uplifting, funny and sincere – I also just wish it had been made into a 6 part series as opposed to two hour-long episodes. There must have been a lot of editing of his year-long journey – so much has obviously been condensed down. Perhaps a longer series would have allowed more observation of the various cultures and countries and more even handedness between the physical journey and the spiritual one, because Braga is a producer and does have an eye for scenery – some of the shots he's captured are absolutely beautiful, it's just a shame that there isn't much focus on the various countries so much as the personal journey he is on. Still, that journey is an important one and fascinating to watch - particularly Braga's time spent in Thailand so soon after the Tsunami, or his daring travel to Nepal during a time of civil unrest. HIs time in these two places is perhaps the most fascinating because there is lengthy observation of the cultures and current political climate as well as how the countries impact upon him personally.

Still, 'A Map for Saturday' is a must-see series. Braga has explored a fascinating lifestyle that few dare to experience, and he has found a way to communicate and relate those unique experiences through funny and observing commentaries. I particularly liked his explanation of how it felt to be going home after a year abroad, after a year of travelling and discovering: "it's like breaking up with someone you love, like quitting a job".

Atonement (2007)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Impressive artistic endeavor, 14 October 2007

'Atonement' tells the story of a series of unfortunate events, misinterpretations and consequences as 13 year old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) accuses her childhood friend, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) of a terrible crime he did not commit. Opening in 1935, the story moves forward five years to show the repercussions of Briony's mistake on both Robbie and Briony's sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley), who abandons her family to stick by Robbie and wait for him, first to return from prison and then from war. 'Atonement' is an adaptation of Ian McEwan's hugely successful 2001 novel of the same name. Adapted by Christopher Hampton ('The Quiet American') and directed by Joe Wright ('Pride and Prejudice'), it is a sweeping saga of love and war, class consciousness, guilt and redemption.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed McEwan's novel, I had high-hopes for this film – further fueled by my reading only the most glowing reviews after it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year. But after watching the film, I've got to say I don't really see what all the fuss is about.

The buzz is that Keira Knightley will receive another Oscar nod for her performance as the loyal lady in waiting, Cecilia Tallis as will James McAvoy for his role as the wrongly-accused Robbie Turner. I am a big fan of both Knightley and McAvoy. Knightley for her kudos-earning role as Elizabeth Bennett and McAvoy because he is just lovely, Scottish and has been on my radar since the British TV show 'Shameless'. However, both actors deliver fairly stoic performances by my reckoning. It's not entirely their fault, they are playing very class- conscious British characters who have to remember their social standing. And it is hard to play character's who have to say a lot without saying anything at all with regards to burgeoning romantic feelings. Neither are bad, but I wouldn't have said 'Oscar-worthy'.

The rumor-mill is also predicting a Best Director gong for Joe Wright and Best Picture for the film. Well, I can't really wrong the pre-emptive Best Director for Wright. Perhaps its because 'Atonement' sees him coupled with his muse, Ms. Knightley – but it's more likely that Wright is just a very talented director with an eye for atmosphere and understated beauty. A particularly breath-taking scene shows a panoramic view of desolate Dunkirk, over-run by soldiers waiting to go home, it is grandiose, detailed and absolutely magnificent.

The film as a whole however, will be a love/hate affair for many. I personally enjoyed the film, partly because it was a worthy adaptation of a beloved book – but I can admit that it was a little slow. True, outer turmoil is portrayed quite clearly by the war that Wright impressively recreates in London in 1940 and Dunkirk (not through battle scenes however), but so much of the story has to do with internal turmoil that it is sometimes hard to hold interest. However, Wright has to be applauded again for his managing to create suspense in certain scenes I thought would be very tricky to communicate to the audience – in particular, a certain letter writing scene.

The fall-backs of the film may lie in the fact that McEwan's novel is not adaptation friendly. That's not to say it isn't a good book – it is, brilliant even. However, the novel is narrated by an omniscient third person who is able to explain the inner-workings of each character, their motivations and interpretations of events. The narration is an important element to the book since the entire plot revolves around young Briony misinterpreting moments between Robbie and Cecilia. In the film however, Wright tries to position the audience in different frames of mind by showing the same scenes twice. One particular scene is first shown from Briony's perspective – through a window, silently seeing the tail-end of a seemingly heated exchange between her sister and childhood friend, Robbie which she perceives as malicious on Robbie's part. We then see the same scene more intimately and in its entirety, between Cecilia and Robbie and realize the sexual undertones and frustration of feelings unspoken between the characters.

I think my slight disappointment in the film comes from the fact that I did get my hopes up. It is a good film, Oscar-worthy? Only time will tell. I think it will be appreciated more as an artistic endeavor than a drama or love story, and will no doubt earn Joe Wright more critical acclaim and cachets as a director to watch, and rightly so.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Worth a watch, 22 September 2007

'2 days in Paris' tells the story of a couple two years into their relationship and two days away from breaking up during the last leg of their romantic European vacation. Having visited Venice, Marion (Julie Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) decide to spend two days with Marion's parents in her childhood home in Paris before heading home to New York. The film portrays the slow unraveling of Jack and Marion's relationship which, as Marion reveals through her sometime narration, has started to show a few cracks before the events that unfurl in Paris. Jack is a neurotic hypochondriac and very competitive; his insistence on being chief photographer during the holiday gets on Marion's nerves, since she is a professional photographer. But the couple's real problems lie in Jack's jealous streak and Marion's white lies regarding her past relationships which come back to haunt her as Jack is introduced to old friends, old lovers and what he perceives to be Marion's very European and bizarre Laissez-faire attitude toward sex and relationships.

'2 days in Paris' is not breaking any conventions or stepping too far outside of any boxes. To call it a typical romantic comedy set in Paris is a little cheapening though; since the film has many admirable qualities. It is a great voyeuristic look into a relationship meltdown and a fantastic exploration of culture clashing as Jack sometimes panders to the American in Paris cliché and deals with Marion's 'European' approach to sex, claiming that she puts many of her odd character traits down to being 'French'. Though the film does have many admirable qualities, lots of its easy charm comes from the fact that it borrows from a collection of tried-and-tested formula's. A dash of 'the out of towner's' (1970) a compressed, European version of the 2006 hit 'the break-up' and in the cinematography especially, the film that made a Hollywood star of of Delpy, 'Before Sunrise' (1995). Adam Goldberg's Jack also reeks of Woody Allen inspired comedy, and it definitely feels like you are sometimes watching Alvy Singer struggle through a Paris vacation, and all the conflict that that entails. That 'Annie Hall' (1977) comparison being said, the best thing about '2 days in Paris' is Goldberg. Having had fairly minor roles in great films such as 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'A Beautiful Mind', 2 days shows that Goldberg is definitely leading man material. Playing a very frustrating, neurotic character did not diminish Goldberg's likability and Woody Allen inspired it may be, Goldberg does a great job with the comedy. Delpy is a little bland and typical in the role, it's not as though its a real stretch for her – but the chemistry between her and real life ex boyfriend, Goldberg is genuine and although its clear Marion and Jack are a train wreck, you cant help but root for them. German heart-throb Daniel Bruhl also stars for a worthless few minutes, which is such a shame (and in keeping with his 'Bourne Ultimatum' blink and you'll miss appearance too!).

This is a good film. Unfortunately the fact that it has subtitles and is another one of those romantic comedies in Paris featuring a neurotic American means the movie-goers who should watch this, and would find the funny in the 'oh so true' comedy, probably won't bother with it. Which is a shame. Though its nothing terribly original '2 days in Paris' is worth a watch, if only for Adam Goldberg's great performance.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
No insights or revelations, just rumor and speculation, 15 July 2007

George Hickenlooper 2006 film 'Factory Girl' tells the story of socialite turned Andy Warhol darling, Edie Sedgwick – specifically the film concentrates on Sedgwick dropping out of college in 1965 and journeying to New York where she gets swept up in Warhol's factory life. Sedgwick (Sienna Miller), a magnetic sweetheart with chandelier earrings, panda eyes and a definite air of old money about her has Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce) completely enchanted and for a little while he concentrates all of his artistic pursuits around her. While in 'the factory' – Warhol's cool art space loft, Sedgwick tries to keep up with the assortment of crazy factory characters and their drug-taking escapades. At the height of his obsession with her however, Warhol is crushed to see Sedgwick begin to fall in love with up and coming musician Billy Quinn (Hayden Christensen) and their odd relationship takes a turn for the worst, with Sedgwick suffering the consequences of Warhol's jealous scorn.

Hickenlooper's film attempts to flesh out the bewildering and enchanting Edie Sedgwick – a woman whose celebrity lives on long after her 1971 death. Sedgwick has been cropping up quite a lot lately in current popular culture, at a time when fashion is once again all about the vintage and retro, fashionistas have been looking back to one of the original Manhattan socialites whose style could even rival that of beloved Carrie Bradshaw. Tights and over-sized jumpers, caked on black eyeliner, big earrings – it was all Edie's doing. Comparisons have been drawn between Edie and a few current celebrities, such as Paris Hilton. Both being old money socialites who became famous for doing, nothing much really. Of course Edie appeared in numerous Andy Warhol films and photograph's, but it was her beauty that captivated him. And Paris Hilton.... well, all she has to do is strike a pose (or drive without a license) and she makes the cover of a magazine.

All of this current fascination with the enigmatic figure of Edie Sedgwick has led to this film being made – and you can understand Hickenlooper's thinking that Edie is an interesting enough character that a film about her life will draw audiences in. However, watching 'Factory Girl' you realize how difficult it is to actually create a film about Miss Sedgwick, since so little is known about her, she really was a mystery. The film concentrates on her meeting Andy Warhol, being swept up in the factory life and her brief romance with Bob Dylan (a not so clever pseudonym of 'Billy Quinn' in the film, as per Bob Dylan's request – which is entirely fruitless and very uncool, IMO). The film could not be a rigid biography, since as I said, so little is known about Sedgwick – instead the story is created from Andy Warhol quotes about his muse and public rumor and speculation about her romance with Bob Dylan (the song 'leopard skin pill box hat' is supposedly about Edie). And it shows that the film has no real rock foundation. Edie's history with her father who sexually abused her as a young girl is repeatedly mentioned, but never explored in depth. Warhol's jealousy about her relationship with Bob Dylan is presented as being the reason for his dismissal of her, and in turn the beginning of her downward spiral in facing a life without Warhol – but this explanation seems inadequate.

Sienna Miller does a competent job as the interesting 'it' girl – which mustn't have been too much of a stretch for Miller, since she herself became an 'it' girl when she started dating actor Jude Law and suddenly her outfits were in every women's magazine. She has the voice and gestures of Edie down-pat, and by God she does have an eerie resemblance to her – but the performance is nothing spectacular, thanks in large part to a script that skims over the top of any emotional exploration of Edie's persona. Guy Pearce as Andy Warhol is magnificent. Warhol actually has a lot more depth than Edie in the film, it's a small thing, but much is made of his skin problem and the idea he has of himself as 'ugly' and therefore unlovable. Pearce has Warhol down to a tee, and his performance is fascinating. Hayden Christensen isn't worth much, once again because of poor character development, but in the end I just really could not stand his character. The filmmakers tried to soften up Bob Dylan a little bit, for one thing they had Edie and Dylan break up before she finds out about his secret wedding (which it is implied took place shortly after their break up, not while they were dating) but this minor change does nothing to make the character of Billy Quinn any more likable.

All in all the film's pitfall is that it offers us nothing new about Edie. It is nothing but the basic facts of her life that at this point, most people know about. It is based on rumor and speculation and does not go any further into her life. In fact, the film highlights its own pitfall – that it tells the story of a period in Edie's life that has lost interest for people because they have already heard or read so much about it already. At the end of the film, a small caption tells us that Edie married one Michael Post in 1971, a fellow rehab patient, and died that same year at the age of 28. That would have made for a more interesting film. I doubt many people know of that marriage or what happened in the last year of her life to finally drive her to suicide, accidental or otherwise.

Basically, 'Factory Girl' is a forgettable film about a fascinating celebrity.

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