Archive | July, 2013

The Sapphires

23 Jul

sapphires

The year is 1968, the dresses are sparkly and the hair bouffant. Inspired by a true story, this film follows four indigenous women: sisters Julie (Jessica Mauboy), Gail (Deborah Mailman) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), who with half-Irish cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) are plucked from the outback by talent scout (Chris O’Dowd) and sent to entertain the troops in Vietnam. It’s the trip of a lifetime, but along the way they are confronted with issues such as racism, the legacy of the Stolen Generation and the horrors of war. Director Wayne Blair, however, ensures that the grittier themes are touched on only lightly as we kick on to the next upbeat tune or romantic plot point.

Mauboy dazzles as passionate frontwoman Julie, belting out soul hits with feeling as the girls perform on stage for raucous army audiences. Newcomers Sebbens and Tapsell enliven the screen with their humour and sass, while Irish funnyman O’Dowd (The IT Crowd) meets his match in a bristling Mailman as protective older sister Gail.

sapphires_pic2While the sentimental writing occasionally hits a bum note, the sheer exuberance of the cast keeps things humming, while the spine-tingling soundtrack, including hits such as What a Man and I Heard it on the Grapevine, suits the girls’ voices perfectly.

Australian films of late seem to have rejected the ocker comedies such as Crocodile Dundee and Muriel’s Wedding, plumbing darker territory such as Snowtown’s grim bodies-in-the-barrels murders, Beautiful Kate’s incest theme, and Samson and Delilah, which while hauntingly beautiful, starkly drove home the plight of petrol sniffers. While these films have a lot to recommend them, it’s occasionally a relief to watch an Australian film that celebrates life. Filled with laugh-out-loud moments, standout scenes include the high-energy concert performances and the humorous montage as O’Dowd tries to transform the girls from awkward country singers into sultry soul stars. This feelgood film is sure to endure as a classic with wide appeal.

2012, 103 mins, PG, Hopscotch Films

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

23 Jul

sherlock Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous literary detective is yanked out of his armchair in Baker Street for a second action-packed adventure by director Guy Ritchie. This time around, sidekick Dr Watson (Jude Law) is about to wed fiancee Mary (Kelly Reilly), and Holmes is despondent over the impending break-up of their sleuthing partnership.

However there is no time to dwell on this, as Holmes suspects that his evil nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), has masterminded a spate of crimes around Europe. When Moriarty targets Watson as his next victim, Holmes hijacks the newlyweds’ honeymoon and drags Watson away to help him solve an international intrigue.

sherlock_picThe duo’s escapades take them to exotic locations in Paris, Germany and Switzerland, as they enlist the help of mysterious gypsy Simza (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Simza’s missing brother Rene is embroiled in Moriarty’s scheme, and the detectives discover that their foe is plotting to spark a war.

Sherlock traditionalists may complain that the thoughtful deduction of the books has given way to dramatic action sequences and plenty of banter, but there is plenty of joy to be had in Guy Ritchie’s super slo-mo fight scenes. The repartee between Holmes and Watson is the other enjoyable part of Ritchie’s film, and the demure, moustachioed Law is the perfect match for Downey’s eccentric Holmes.

The gorgeous Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler departs the proceedings early on, but Stephen Fry adds a welcome touch of British humour as Holmes’ pompous brother Mycroft, especially in one scene when he walks around completely nude, to the discomfort of Watson’s wife, Mary. Meanwhile, Mary, who dared to disrupt Holmes’ happiness by marrying his sidekick, is literally knocked out of the film by Holmes in a particularly hilarious cross-dressing scene on a steam train.

With plenty of slapstick humour, a rip-roaring pace and lush Victorian atmosphere, it may not be the deerstalker-and-pipe Holmes of yore, but it makes for a delicious romp.

M, 2012, 129 mins, Warner Bros

The Adventures of Tintin

22 Jul

tintin_series The red-headed reporter with a nose for trouble may have received a 3D Hollywood makeover in 2011 thanks to Steven Spielberg, but many of us still fondly recall Tintin’s humble comic book beginnings, brought to life here in this animated DVD series.

Created by Belgian comic book artist and writer Herge between 1929 until his death in 1983, Tintin’s adventure stories took eager young readers into the ancient tombs of Egypt, the snowy peaks of Tibet, in search of pirate treasure, and even on a rocket to the Moon. By Tintin’s side was his trusty terrier Snowy, who, let’s face it, was often more astute than Tintin at sensing danger and getting the pair out of scrapes. Tintin’s cantankerous seafaring pal Captain Haddock was always ready to join Tintin on his missions, and the team often found themselves having to rescue their absent-minded scientist friend Professor Calculus, while hapless twin detectives Thompson and Thomson were never far behind.

For kids, growing up with the Tintin stories was a fascinating way to learn about foreign countries and ways of life, and while some of Herge’s depictions were later deemed culturally insensitive or outright racist, behind every story is a genuine interest in broadening the reader’s horizons.

tintin_series_picSeveral live action adaptations of Tintin’s adventures have been made over the years, with varying success, but there is something comfortingly familiar about the bright colours of Herge’s original drawings, which are faithfully animated in this series. Spread over five discs, 21 of Tintin’s classic escapades are brought to life, including The Secret of the Unicorn, The Calculus Affair and Cigars of the Pharaoh.

There’s no doubt the most recent big-screen version will be far more exciting and eye-popping than these old-fashioned cartoons. However, if Spielberg’s uncannily lifelike rendering of the eponymous hero makes you a little nostalgic for the original, this series is for you.

G, 1991, 39 x 30 min episodes, Madman

Poh’s Kitchen: On the Road

22 Jul

pohkitchen_road Welcome to the decade of food worship! With the celebrity chefs storming our TV screens and the sexification of food production, the ability to wield a ladle has taken on an almost God-like status. Amid all the breathless hype and name-dropping, Malaysian-born artist-turned-chef Poh Ling Yeow emerges as refreshing as sorbet.

In this entertaining and educational series, MasterChef Australia alumna Poh hits the road to mix with chefs, foodies and farmers in fabulous locations around Australia and overseas.

Poh’s adventures include an expedition with an abalone diver in South Australia, cooking with beer in the Australian Alps, learning how to bake sourdough with an artisan baker in Tasmania, and exploring the thrilling food scenes in Singapore and Thailand.

pohkitchen_road_picPoh whips up a dizzying array of dishes in this series, but don’t worry, her recipes can be perused at leisure on her website, along with tips and techniques.

What makes Poh’s Kitchen so enjoyable to watch is her natural exuberance and zeal for cooking, and her willingness to try anything; whether she’s jumping on a horse in Western Australia’s remote East Kimberley or swallowing a Coffin Bay oyster fresh out of the ocean, she does it with her trademark wide grin.

Fresh and fun, this series is highly recommended for foodies and amateur cooks keen to dive into new things.

Twentysomething – Series 1

22 Jul

twentysomething Jess (Jess Harris) and Josh (Josh Schmidt) are best mates in their 20s living a crazy life together in Melbourne. While their friends are busy studying, climbing the corporate ladder and settling down to have kids, Jess and Josh only live to party.

After the pair are kicked out of their sharehouse they embark on a series of harebrained schemes to try to stay afloat – including taking backpackers on “alternative” tours of Melbourne, running an erotic house-cleaning service and finding lost dogs for reward money.

Shy Josh is occasionally reluctant to throw himself behind Jess’s kooky plans, but her sheer force of personality drags him into the most ludicrous of situations, with occasional help from ditzy friend Abby (Leah de Niese, Offspring).

twentysomething_picThere’s a lot to like about Jess and Josh – Josh’s sweet humility is the perfect foil to Jess’s brash vivacity. Hamish Blake is adorably scruffy as Jess’s old flame Billy, who returns from a trip abroad to try to woo her back. Simon Russell is spot on as Josh’s snobbish older brother Nick, who pesters Josh to get a “proper” job and invest in property.

While Jess and Josh portray unreliable kids to whom the idea of commitment is anathema, in real life, this series grew out of years of dedication and hard work to bring their ideas to fruition. Written by Jess Harris, the series began as a low-budget, one-cameraman affair on Channel 31. Luckily the ABC, as it has done before with shows such as The Marngrook Footy Show, recognised the pair’s talent and invited them to remake the show with a bigger budget.

The DVD extras reveal that the bond between Jess and Josh is real: the pair have been friends since they were 14, while Jess picked Hamish Blake for the role of Billy as they are also good mates. Extras also feature deleted scenes, a drinking game and a peek at the original Channel 31 version.

With sparkling dialogue and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, this six-part series reflects a universal phenomenon that any young person who has ever dreaded the question, “What are you doing with your life?”, can relate to.

M, ABC, 198 mins

Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides

22 Jul

pirates_stranger The fourth chapter of this swashbuckling franchise opens with cannon blazing as the protagonists set sail for the Fountain of Youth.  

While the story is loosely based on a 1987 historical fantasy novel by Tim Powers, like its predecessors, the plot takes a back seat to Johnny Depp’s strutting eccentricity, tropical backdrops and comically choreographed swordfighting scenes. Jack Sparrow (Depp) is ordered by King George (Richard Griffiths) to guide a ship helmed by Jack’s old enemy, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to seize the Fountain of Youth before their archrivals, the Spanish. Jack dexterously escapes his duties, but winds up kidnapped by jilted ex-lover Angelica (Penelope Cruz), daughter of Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane) who forces Jack on board Blackbeard’s supernaturally evil vessel, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, to help them find the fountain.

The competing parties discover that their quest is not that simple – first they have to find two silver chalices on a dead Spanish explorer’s ship, get hold of a mermaid and extract a tear from her, so that when both chalices are filled with magic fountain water, the person who drinks the chalice containing a mermaid’s tear will obtain the life of the other drinker. Complicated, yes, but it does give us an excuse to go mermaid hunting, in a frankly hilarious scene in which the siren-like temptresses (led by Australian Gemma Ward) lure the sailors into a lovesick trance, before erupting in a frenzied cross between sharks and supermodels. When a beautiful, less homicidal mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) is netted, it is a race to the finish line amid a whole lot of swordplay, double-crossing and pauses for pirate puns.

As always, Johnny Depp oozes charisma, and the feisty Penelope Cruz is a welcome replacement for the aloof former Pirates heroine Keira Knightley, and the chemistry and badinage with Jack is far more convincing and fun to watch. Pirates regular Orlando Bloom is also absent, but the presence of superbly sardonic McShane (Deadwood) more than fills the void. Directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago), this adventure romp is as thrilling and frothy as the theme park ride that inspired the series.

M, 2011, Disney, 136 mins

QI – Complete series 1-3

22 Jul

Image What Caravaggio did on a tennis court? What would you do with a pencil and a lesser anteater? If you just can’t get enough of this zany quiz show hosted by the absurdly intelligent Stephen Fry, this DVD comprising the first three seasons is guaranteed to tantalise the grey matter and tickle the funny bone.

Points are awarded to panellists who give correct or interesting answers, while points are deducted from those who give incorrect or pathetically obvious answers. Which generally means that regular sidekick Alan Davies racks up about minus forty points during each episode, with his impish inability to restrain himself from blurting out the wrong answer, or as Fry describes it: “rushes headlong like a puppy into the wall of ignorance.”

Drawing on some of the world’s most interesting comedians and personalities, the variety of witty panellists who grapple with the tricky questions include Bill Bailey, Hugh Laurie, Rob Brydon, Top Gear‘s Jeremy Clarkson and Australian comedian Julia Morris. Each episode has a theme and while the panellists often embark on rambling tangents, quizmaster Fry always brings the conversation back on topic with a wry remark and a sardonically raised eyebrow.