Thursday, July 29, 2010

Coming Soon: 5 must-see movies on a screen near you

I am addicted to watching movie trailers. My friends always joke about this time we were going to the movies, and I may or may not have been driving slightly over the speed limit just so I could get there in time to see all the trailers. And now I have the internet enabling my addiction by having trailers up as soon as they are released. It’s a vicious circle. 

Here’s just a few I’m excited about.

The Social Network
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Rashida Jones

With Facebook recently reaching its 500 millionth user, and founder Mark Zuckerberg becoming the youngest billionaire in history – now comes the story of how the whole crazy thing began. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fear and Loathing in Oz: The asylum seeker question

As Australia waits to head to the polls and elect our government on August 21, we could be forgiven for feeling like we’ve woken up in 2001. Indeed, the raging debate of this election, where we choose between the left-leaning Labor, led by Julia Gillard, and the right-leaning Liberals, led by Tony Abbott, is something of a déjà vu for Australian voters. The main election issues are not schools, or hospitals, or even the environment and roads. Rather, we’re back to asylum seekers and immigration.

“Stop the boats!” they cry, announcing policies that would make anyone struggle to tell the difference between the two parties. This sort of pandering to the anxiety of Aussies really bugs me. It used to bug me when I was a radio journalist, and essentially (whether consciously or not) took part in the fear-mongering, and it still bugs me today. It frustrates me like those 6.30pm current affairs programs, seemingly intent on upsetting and incensing viewers who’ve worked hard all day, come home for dinner and the news, and are confronted at 6.30 with stories about people who are “different” from them, who don’t appreciate good Aussie values and traditions. Just last night, I saw an advertisement for a story to air about Muslim's holidaying on the Gold Coast. Accompanied as it was by ominous music, I waited for the point of the story, which as far as I can tell, is that indeed, Muslims are holidaying on the Gold Coast. Chilling. The pandering is obvious and embarrassing, and yet the stories are ratings winners. Why you’d want to be irate and offended while your food digests is beyond me.

And so now, almost 9 years after the Children Overboard Affair, Australia sits on the precipice of another election where it’s been decided the ol’ immigration and refugee issue is our most pressing concern.  
A boat is intercepted
Let’s look at some facts. This year Australia will provide 6,000 places to refugees, under the United Nations' refugee agency, and 7,750 people under our special humanitarian program. The queue jumping myth is just that, a myth. People who arrive in Australia on boats are not queue jumpers. They can’t be. The UN agency makes a list of those claiming refugee status, but our own government sets the intake, and has complete discretion as to who we’ll accept. Arriving by rickety boat from a war-torn country in no way guarantees you’ll be chosen over anyone else claiming to be a refugee. The government, in this instance, already has the power.

It seems like there are more and more boats arriving on our shores these days than ever before. This is true, and not. It’s important to ask why, and looking at the facts, the increase in boat people has little to do with a lack of hard line “stop the boats” policies. In 2001, before the American-led invasion of Afghanistan , there was a peak in boat arrivals: 43 boats and 5,516 people. Most of these people were escaping the Taliban. After the invasion, the numbers dropped again, as the Taliban’s position was weakened. This year, we’re up to almost 3,000 arrivals by boat. The defeat of the Tamil Tigers by the Sri Lankan government has caused many Tamils to flee here, to Australia. Simply, increases in asylum seekers are usually due to violence in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Sri Lanka, and have little to do with political policy. Read more on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website here.

Afghan asylum seekers off the coast of WA
So, the argument is not that we don’t need border security. We do. We need a deterrent for the people smugglers, preying on the vulnerability and desperation of asylum seekers. But what lacks, in all the fear-mongering and lowest-common denominator appeal, is a sense of basic humanity. Aussies have often seemed anxious by the arrival of “others”, from the time of the gold rush, right until now. It’s not just the refugees: Tony Abbott is promising to cut net annual migration to 170,000 people a year. That’ll get them voting! As much as their plight may not personally affect us, it’s our duty as human beings to ask ourselves who these “boat people” are. How terribly unbearable must your life be, the persecution and horror you must be faced with, if you see spending weeks (or months) in a leaky, unstable boat heading to a country thousands of kilometres from your own under appalling conditions, as your only means of escape? Then once you arrive: detention, behind razor wire. I’m lucky. I was born in a free, democratic country, where I can go about my life unharmed and without persecution. I count my blessings every day for this, because it could have so easily been the other way around. Perhaps our future and current leaders might think about that, and employ a little perspective before scaring up the emotions of their constituents.

Article 14.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 states, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Even if they arrived on a boat.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Masterchef: The Final Wash-up

The juggernaut that is Masterchef has come to end. I’m not gonna lie, as I write this I’m already feeling slightly depressed about my future winter evenings. What am I going to watch on TV tonight? It’s pathetic but true. Perhaps I will actually give my partner some attention now.
(Image: Channel 10)

Firstly, congrats to Adam Liaw – Masterchef for 2010. He really is a fantastic cook, and appears to be an extremely intelligent and worthy guy. In the end, after three rounds, he took out the title. He’d been ahead for most of the night anyway. BUT…

I have to admit I am a bit disappointed. While neither guy was really my favourite, (Marion, oh Marion I know you have a line of sauces – but I miss you) I was backing Callum heading into last night’s finale. I think it might have been the underdog factor. I like a good underdog.

Just a few weeks ago Callum was effing things up left, right and centre. He was loosing his cool and panicking during challenges, and he was riding on the efforts of his team mates to avoid eliminations. Props to Callum though, he scraped himself up off the kitchen floor and got on with it – and look where he is now.

Really, Adam might have won the title, the money and the book deal, but Callum got offered a job and scholarship from George. In my opinion, that’s probably just as good – if not better. Callum will be on the way to fulfill his dream of being a chef and he’ll be working several of George Colombaris’ amazing restaurants while he does it.

You have to admit, this show will be missed. As I write this now, I’m watching Channel 9’s Today Show do a segment on the finale. That’s how big this show has become. One network talking about a rival network’s show in a positive or promotional way used to be a cardinal sin of TV. Not anymore. The positivity of Masterchef’s show is infecting the whole of Television Land. What other reality show can you think of where both people in the final win an amazing career kick-start? Not to mention all the eliminated contestants who have scored other fantastic opportunities in the food industry?

And then there are the ratings. Masterchef has been kicking goals for Channel 10 all season, but last night’s average audience was just shy of 4 million viewers, the third highest ratings ever since OzTAM started counting back in 2001. It was beaten only by the 2005 Australian Open final between Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin (4.045 million) and the 2003 Rugby World Cup final (4.016 million). Read more about that here.

And so, with a tear (would it be a Masterchef post if I didn’t cry?) I farewell thee Masterchef. I will miss you, but my waistline won’t. Hopefully Junior Masterchef will kick off in a few weeks and keep me sane!

So what did you think of the finale? Did Adam deserve the win or were you backing Callum? Or did you just lament for Marion, Jimmy or Jonathan?

And…what would your signature dish be if you scored an audition for Masterchef???

Please let me know and help me keep the Masterchef buzz alive for just a few more days…

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pop Culture Smackdown!! The Battle for the Boy Who Lived

So much of popular culture these days is recycled. Books are made into movies; movies are remade into newer movies; then the updated movies end up having four sequels before someone decides to turn the whole concept into a TV show and then write a novelisation based on the TV series.

Are there any original ideas left? With all these differing versions of the same thing, I’m throwing down the gauntlet and declaring a Pop Culture Smackdown!!

Which version is better? Who will ultimately prevail? 

In today’s bout we have the cultural juggernaut that is Harry Potter. In the red corner – the book series that started it all; in the blue corner – the world-wide multi-million dollar movie franchise.

The problem in translating book to film is that you have to deal with those that loved the book, and baulk at the thought of any changes. Nobody wants to incur the wrath of those that will potentially come and watch the adaptation, but sometimes changing things is necessary, especially for a new medium where sub-plots vie for attention and the moviemakers have to also think about pleasing the audience ignorant of the book. Unfortunately for fans these differences can make or break their enjoyment. What many fans consider to be key scenes in the books are sometimes marginalised or completely ignored in the film.

With the movies finally coming to an end (if you haven’t already watched the trailer for The Deathly HallowsDO IT!!) it’s time to finally declare a winner in the actualisation of JK Rowling’s Wizarding World. Do the movies live up to the hype of the book series?? Or do they surpass the expectations of the millions of rabid fans?

Masterchef: The Wash-up

And then there were two.

The highly anticipated ‘Grand Finale’ of Mastechef this Sunday night will be a battle of the boys, after Melbourne lawyer, and sometimes ice-queen, Clare Winton Burn made her exit last night on overcooked lamb and late served main dishes.

Apart from the fact the tag ‘grand final’ doesn’t seem to be spectacular enough to describe the final episode, the show does look like it will live up to the hype generated by the tousle over the 7.30pm time slot with the televised federal election debate, and break ratings records for Channel 10.

Although I didn’t expect the emotion of the Marion Elimination (yes, I cried in mourning for Marion), I have to admit I did feel a little sorry for Claire. She herself has admitted she doesn’t like the tearful admissions, which have plagued the show ALL season; she likes to keep her emotions to herself. But what we saw last night at the business end of the show, was a very upset Claire, lamenting how close she came to making ‘the cut’ (as Gary put it) for the grand finale. And while we’re talking emotion – I have to say (and I will be struck down for admitting this) that I might have missed Jimmy ‘The Curry King’ Seervai a little last night. None of the three remaining contestants stirred dislike or emotion the way Jimmy used to. No one caused me to scream at the TV screen – ‘but all you cook is curry!!!’

So what’s next for Claire? No, she won’t be bringing out her own line of sauces. (Thank you Claire, the world can only handle so much sauce). She says she’s not sure if she can make a viable living out of cooking just yet, but her practicing certificate expired last month – so it seems law is not a career option at the moment. She says she still wants to eventually open her own pub/restaurant and cook Sunday lunches in people's homes. WTF? I heard Courtney mention this one too. Is it just me? Or is this a weird business goal? I get the idea of building a reputation etc etc but it sounds a bit odd to me. I guess I would pay to have my favourite Masterchef contestant cook in my kitchen, but I might be a bit embarrassed about the fact that my kitchen is the size of a linen cupboard.

The response on Twitter last night was mixed in the minutes after Claire was sent packing – some tweets were pretty harsh, probably in the wake of Claire being labelled a ‘home wrecker’ (what does that have to do with her cooking??) and an ice-queen. But most of the tweets were about Adam or Callum and who they thought should take out the title.

Perhaps the big question of the night was not, ‘did Claire deserve to go?’ But ‘did the GG actually eat something?’ I think comedian and Channel 10 personality Dave Hughes (@DHughsey) summed it perfectly when he tweeted:

Must have been a lot of pressure cooking for the Governor General. She looked like she'd been waiting 5 years for a meal.

So who is your money on – Adam or Callum??

Do you think Callum has fudged his way through or is the skilled and worldly Adam the most deserving?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When is too much TV not enough? Top 10 Most Addictive TV Shows

The question on everyone’s lips at water coolers all over the country this week has not been ‘so – who will be the next Australian Prime Minister’? But – ‘who do you think will win Masterchef’?

Am I ashamed to live in a country where a televised federal election debate gets moved around for the final of a reality TV show? Certainly not. And I actually find politics interesting, like any news junkie worth their salt does. BUT I WILL NOT BE TORN AWAY FROM MASTERCHEF.

If I had to choose, I would certainly rather watch Masterchef than watch Julia “I’m an atheist and proud of it’ Gillard and Tony “Budgies” Abbott go at it on live TV.

As it turns out – it’s win/win. I get to watch the debate first and then Masterchef. I can be a concerned citizen and TV junkie all without the guilt.

But it’s not just Masterchef I’m obsessed with. There are certain TV shows out there, that I watch or have watched religiously, to the point of obsession – and I know I am not the only one. Yes, you know who you are. What did we do with our time before TV shows came out on DVD???

My obsession started when I commuted an hour to work and my fabulous friend with impeccable taste, Amy, introduced me to HBO. It wasn’t long before I was dreaming about Tony Soprano hunting me down and wondering every day – ‘What would Carrie do in this situation??’

So here is my list of the Top Ten Most Addictive TV shows

1. True Blood – the story of Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic southern waitress who falls in love with vampire Bill Compton. Add lots of blood, sex, hot vampires, werewolves and shape-shifters into the mix and you’ll be addicted in no time!

2. Six Feet Under – a dark and emotional look at a family in the funeral business struggling after the death of their less than perfect father. Human mortality is a big theme, but also family conflict and sexuality, coupled with some amazing acting.

3. The Wirethis series focuses on the city of Baltimore and the conflict within the city’s many facets; the illegal drug trade, the port system, the government, the school system and the media. Heavy stuff, but tackles some amazing socio-political themes.

4. Sex and the City – the lives and loves of four New York City gals; Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte. Groundbreaking with its frank discussion about sex and love.

5. The Sopranos – the crime, cavorts and Italian traditions of the New Jersey mafia. It centres on mobster Tony Soprano and the conflict between his criminal life and family responsibilities.

6. Masterchef – amateur cooks battle it out on TV. Who would have thought it would be so addictive??

7. Big Lovea fundamentalist Mormon and his three wives live secretly as polygamists in Utah. It’s three times the family drama!

8. Lostfollows the survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island...nothing is as it seems in this series. Just when you think you have it worked out – damn it! Another twist!

9. The Tudors – the life and wives of England’s King Henry VIII. It’s a graphic look at the King and his famously lavish royal lifestyle. There’s nothing refined about the sexy and often violent story of the Tudor dynasty.

10. Dexter – focuses on Dexter, Miami police blood splatter analyst by day, serial killer by night. The show revolves around Dexter and his efforts to hide his dark, dark secret.

So, I may be weeping next Monday night when Masterchef is over and done with for another ratings period – but never fear – Farmer Wants a Wife is back soon my friends!

Which TV shows can’t you live without? Which ones make you yell at the TV screen for ‘just one more episode’? What would make your Top 10 Most Addictive? Comment away!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top 15 Emotional Movie Moments

Hi, my name’s Amy and I am a big fat cry baby. I don’t cry at anything and everything, but the stuff that has me weepy is sometimes surprising, always varied, and often kind of strange. But by far the most tear-inducing entity for me is movies.

As Toy Story 3 has grown men bawling in the aisles, I share now my Top 15 Emotional Movie Moments (with links!), in no particular order:

Gene Kelly sings in the rain Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

This one is kind of a no-brainer when you’re giant musical nerd, like me. This moment, more than any other in film history (I do declare), is. Just. So. Freaking. PERFECT. It’s a moment featuring everything a good musical should aspire to – Gene Kelly’s character, Don, is so in love with Debbie Reynolds' Kathy, that he just has to sing and dance about it. There’s simply no other way to express his love. This is what musicals are all about: emotions so overwhelming that there is nothing left to do but sing. Bring on the tissues.

Elliot flies with ET on his bikeET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

This one has a special place in my heart – ET is the first movie I really remember watching as a kid. I watched it with my Mum, and most of it went well over my head (I was confused and scared by the scientists), but in that very same sense, you can’t deny the genius of Spielberg. Go ahead, watch ET again. It’s from the perspective of a child, even filmed at their lower eyeline, with adults not making a whole lot of sense. Amazing. And this moment, accompanied so beautifully by another brilliant, swelling, John Williams score, is enough to put a lump in the throat.

Paikea's speech for her grandfather - Whale Rider (2002)

This is how much little Pai’s (Keisha Castle-Hughes) speech in Whale Rider gets me weepy – I just cried watching about 5 seconds of the clip on YouTube. This extraordinarily touching New Zealand film, about a 12-year-old girl struggling to become the chief of her Maori tribe, contains some of the most honest and raw acting I’ve ever witnessed on screen. There are many weepy moments (not least of which is Pai actually riding the whale near the end of the film), but this one, as Pai speaks of her deep respect for her grandfather who has not shown up for her school concert, gets me every time.

Jenny dies - Forrest Gump (1994)

There were several moments from Forrest Gump I could have picked here too – Bubba dying, or Lieutenant Dan diving in the ocean as he makes his peace with losing his legs, for example. But Jenny (Robin Wright) passing away, leaving Forrest with little Forrest, is a powerhouse of great understated Tom Hanks acting (in a movie where, let’s be honest, understatement is not the name of the game). *tear*

Why didn’t you write me? - The Notebook (2004)

The one chick flick that everyone agrees on, there are many moments from The Notebook that could get the tears flowing (the ending!). But this scene, with terrific performances from Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling (it’s easy to see how the pair was a real-life couple after filming this), is sexy, heartbreaking, and uplifting. Finally, Noah and Allie admit their love and can be together. What a payoff.

One Hand, One Heart - West Side Story (1960)

One Hand, One Heart is my favourite musical song, and conveniently features in my favourite musical, West Side Story. Tinged as it is with humour and sadness, as though Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) are all too aware of their fate, this is the last happy moment the pair will truly share. Maria and Tony’s “wedding”, accompanied by that gorgeous Bernstein and Sondheim score, has me in a ball of tears. “Only death will part us now...”

The end - United 93 (2006)

It’s hard to believe sometimes that Paul Greengrass pulled off this harrowingly realistic (we imagine) portrayal of the events onboard United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. But he did, and there’s never been a film quite like it. Featuring a docu-drama approach, some “characters” playing themselves, and overlapping, realistic dialogue, this final scene of the passengers trying to take down the highjackers, had me crying more than I ever had at the movies. Heartbreaking.

Juno and her dad at the hospital Juno (2007)

Sometimes I think moments in films make us emotional simply because they’re so true. Juno has a sparky, Oscar-winning script showcasing terrific dialogue from Diablo Cody, and a remarkable breakthrough performance from Ellen Page. But it’s this moment, without any clever or knowing dialogue, that breaks my heart. Juno’s behaviour and chilled, charming demeanour as she navigates the very adult world of pregnancy, divorce, and adoption makes her a true original, but the immeasurable drain of her experiences are perfectly captured when she lets her dad (J K Simmons) be just that.

The opening montage Manhattan (1979)

Manhattan has the most perfect beginning of any film, in my completely biased NYC-loving opinion. Aside from a voice-over from Woody Allen’s writer Isaac Davis, the opening sequence has little bearing on what follows. It’s simply about a love for the Big Apple. Set to the rousing perfection of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, Allen undercuts flawlessly with iconic images of the city he adores so much. Cue chills up my spin.

The horse Artax dies in the Swamps of Sadness - The NeverEnding Story (1984)

This one had me bawling as a kid. I remember my poor parents having
to explain to my sister and I that in fact, the horse was just an actor, and that it hadn’t really died. Still. “He has to give me a new name. He's already chosen it. He just has to call it out.”

Tears turn to laughter - Steel Magnolias (1984)

Steel Magnolias is a big fat emotional chick flick, and I love it. It gives several female powerhouses, including Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah, and Olympia Dukakis, the chance to shine. And none more so than in the scene following Shelby’s (Roberts) funeral. As Sally Field’s M’Lynn runs the gamut of emotions over the death of her beloved daughter, a perfect comic break involving the testy Ouiser (MacLaine) will have your tears turn to laughter, just like the ladies onscreen. Sublime.

Thomas J’s funeral - My Girl (1991)

There are a few character deaths on this list, and nothing guarantees tears like a funeral. Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin) is allergic to bees. You can guess how he dies. One of the screens most emotional goodbyes as Vada (Anna Chlumsky) rushes up to Thomas J’s casket, her childlike denial as heartbreaking as her friend’s death.

The water comes on - Schindler’s List (1993)

Harrowing. Schindler’s List, the second Spielberg film to make my list, serves up the emotion and horror of the Holocaust thick and fast. But no moment stays in my mind as much as when the train carrying the Jewish women is accidentally redirected to Auschwitz. The women are taken to what they believe to be the gas chambers; only to weep with joy when water falls from the showers instead. We weep right along with them.

Dumbo visits his mother Dumbo (1941)

Another perfect Disney moment, this one about mums. Dumbo’s mother gets angry when her son is being picked on by a group of boys for his big ears, and is declared mad when she goes on the (elephant) defensive. She is locked up, and poor Dumbo is shunned. His new pal, Timothy Q. Mouse, takes Dumbo to visit his mother, and although she’s locked up, she manages to rock her baby with her trunk as “Baby Mine” plays. A perfect, tender moment.

The execution scene - Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Dancer in the Dark is a sad story before it's sadder ending: Selma (Bjork) is a Czechoslovakian immigrant, a single mother working in a factory in rural America in the '60s. Her salvation is her passion for classic Hollywood musicals. Selma is losing her eyesight, and her son Gene stands to suffer the same fate if she can't put away enough money to secure him an operation. When a desperate neighbor falsely accuses Selma of stealing his savings, the drama of her life escalates to this tragic finale. The Hollywood-musical breaks aren't enough to save Lars von Trier's film from my list, or from its truly distressing conclusion.

So that's my list for now! What are your Top Emotional Movie Moments? I've left plenty out so we'd love to hear what you think! Get commenting!