Archive | January, 2014

A Caribbean Mystery

22 Jan


Agatha Christie’s elderly sleuth gets to kick off her sensible shoes and enjoy some sun and sand before plunging into this dark mystery in the West Indies isle of St Honore.

While holidaying in the Caribbean, Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) is politely listening as Major Palgrave (Oliver Ford Davies) bores the hotel guests at dinner with another long story about his life, boasting that he has in his possession a photograph of a serial killer. As he goes to show the photo, he suddenly looks up, sees somebody and stops. The next day, he is found dead, apparently of natural causes.

Miss Marple smells a rat, and recruits wheelchair-bound tycoon Jason Rafiel (Antony Sher) as a reluctant sidekick to help her find out who on the idyllic island would want the Major dead. As they probe a web of voodoo enchantments, philandering couples and ancient grudges, the death toll begins to mount and they must race against time to unveil the murderer before more lives are lost.

Filmed in the beautiful beachside locale of Cape Town, South Africa, this gorgeous adaptation features several well-known British actors such as Peep Show‘s Robert Webb as hotelier Tim Kendall, and The Fast Show‘s Charlie Higson, who also wrote the screenplay, in a cameo as ornithologist James Bond who inspired the name of Ian Fleming’s famous spy. A must-see for Marple fans.

Greetings from Tim Buckley

20 Jan


Jeff Buckley fans will rejoice or despair while watching this movie, depending on whether they found Gossip Girl actor Penn Badgley’s portrayal of the famous musician as faithful or flawed.

As an avid Jeff Buckley devotee I had serious misgivings: how could a mere actor embody the legendary 1990s singer-songwriter who touched so many people’s hearts before his untimely death at the age of 30? However, I will grudgingly admit that tousle-haired Badgley makes a passable Jeff, if you squint a little, with his curly dark locks and elegant features, the actor has an uncanny resemblance to the singer with the soaring voice of an angel.

Set in 1991, the film focuses on Jeff’s relationship with his father, folk singer Tim Buckley, who died of an overdose at 28 and rarely saw Jeff during his life. A troubled young Jeff is invited to participate in a tribute concert in New York for his father, and in doing so, launches his own musical career and embarks on a romantic relationship with an enigmatic young woman, Allie (Imogen Poots). As Jeff struggles with his feelings while preparing for the concert, we flash back to scenes featuring his father heading off to play a gig in 1966, giving us an insight into the character of Tim Buckley (Ben Rosenfield).

For fans it may be something of a bittersweet experience to have Jeff resurrected, especially as Badgley has imbued him with a cocky and self-assured swagger that becomes a little irritating at times. However he redeems himself with his singing and guitar-playing, even managing an admirable rendition of Buckley’s famous falsetto. One scene in a record shop, when Jeff entertains Allie with some impromptu warbling, is a standout.

In making the film, director Daniel Algrant consulted those who worked at the pivotal 1991 concert, including Gary Lucas who later collaborated with Jeff. The final concert scenes are emotional but not saccharine, and it is with a touching simplicity that Jeff is able to embrace his father’s legacy.

For viewers today, the joy of seeing the singer unleash his own astounding musical style is tempered by the grim knowledge that in six years’ time he would drown in a Memphis river. A beautiful, restrained portrait of two musical legends who both died tragically young.

Time to call a truce in the generational war

10 Jan

Recently I wrote an opinion piece defending the younger generation against some ill-informed allegations by teacher and writer Christopher Bantick, who claimed that we young people were a bunch of so-and-sos who didn’t know our Mahler from our elbow. This kind of rant pops up from time to time, usually penned by a greying baby boomer whose own generation was once the forefront of all that was innovative and radical, defying their own elders by embracing free love, dabbling with drugs and rocking out to controversial bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

These rants irritate me when, like Bantick’s, they are poorly written and lack a coherent argument. But for the most part, they make me sigh, and think, really? Do today’s youth really need to keep defending ourselves in this bitter generational war, just because we have different musical tastes and wear our hair differently? Can’t we all be friends?

So I think it’s time we laid this tired topic to rest and forged a new path of peace and harmony (don’t laugh) between the generations, recognising our differences as being both valid and valuable. It is important I practise what I preach so I will start by declaring what I love about old people.

Old people are awesome. I love hanging out with them. I prefer to think of them as “people rich in life experience”. It’s great. They haven’t quite got the hang of Google yet so instead of looking up the answer to something, they will discuss it among themselves, exploring tangents, probing buried memories, and often emerging with a deeper and more valuable solution to the original problem.

OK sometimes it’s wrong and it can often take half the day to get there, but I have a warm nostalgia for the time when we used to sit around muttering “What’s that actor’s name? You know, the one with the hair. And the eyes. He was in that movie, you know, the one with explosions. It’s on the tip of my tongue …”

These days we just jump on IMDB on our smartphones and the debate is over in 10 seconds. Boring!

Older folks are also fantastic because they know everything. You name it, they’ve probably done it. OK maybe not skydiving in Rio de Janeiro in a microbikini, but those kinds of activities weren’t on the bucket list of your average teen back in the old days. But hey, most of us youngsters have never lived through a world war, held a grandchild or shared half a century with a loving partner, so maybe we don’t know everything after all. 
In fact the best relationship advice I have ever received was from my grandma, who turns 90 this year. I know her words are worth listening to because she was so smitten with my grandfather that even after 70 years and four children together, she still gazed at him like a lovestruck girl right up until his passing at 91. Compared to her, I acknowledge that I am a mere amoeba in the ways of love.
So there, older folk, please accept my pledge of friendship. But if I’m really going to put down my weapons and accept a truce with the other generations, I should also extend a hand to the teens. Teens. Oh god. Teens are terrifying. Whenever I see them I cross to the other side of the road and keep my head down. They scare me more than a pack of slavering rottweilers. Look at them, with their piercings and their dyed hair, glued to their iPhones, hell, they don’t even know how to spell any more!
Then again, if you are having a technical problem with your laptop or smartphone, who are you going to call? That’s right, a young person. They have their uses after all. These youngsters are growing up in the middle of an exciting digital revolution, while we are still trying to figure out how to change the ringtone on our phones, they are dreaming up new ways of communicating with people on the other side of the globe. While ordering a pizza on their iPhone.
They’re easy to hate, those spoilt kids with the world at their fingertips (we didn’t have mobile phones in my day!) and no sense of gratitude for how easy their lives are. Except for the depression. And the eating disorders. And their inability to one day entering the housing market. Hmm.
So let’s cut them a bit of slack too, I reckon they’re not too bad once you get to know them.
Martin Luther King once had a beautiful dream that one day little black boys and little white girls could play without racial divides. I dream too, that one day the younger and older generations can sit down and have a cup of coffee and laugh about the absurdities of life without secretly thinking that the other knows nothing at all.

Keating: The Interviews

10 Jan

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Paul Keating is one of Australia’s most charismatic and fascinating political leaders. In this candid, four-part interview series, the former prime minister reveals intimate details about his childhood, his early passion for politics and the highs and lows of his 40-year political career.

From his childhood growing up in the working-class suburb of Bankstown, to taking on the top job between 1991 and 1996, Keating reveals an early fascination with power and the ability to use it to effect great change. While Keating’s love of Mahler and fine Italian suits is well documented, here we are given a fascinating insight into other facets of his life, such as his early years managing rock band The Ramrods and his close relationship with his grandmother.

Veteran journalist Kerry O’Brien is a master interviewer whose thought-provoking questions help to uncover the underlying motivations of this great man. Keating, who turns 70 this year, is as thoughtful and acerbic as ever, his famous talent for scathing ripostes still evident as he describes his tumultuous relationship with Bob Hawke.

While many voters today are switching off from the political debate amid insipid leadership, it’s inspiring to hear Keating speak with passion for economic and social reform and painting a bigger picture for Australia. Labor fans in particular will love this exploration of one of Australia’s most intriguing political characters.

Hey Teacher! Leave them kids alone

7 Jan


In the words of Pink Floyd: “Hey teacher! Leave them kids alone!”

Christopher Bantick quoted those words as he waged war on the cultural sins of the younger generation – but perhaps he should try applying them to himself. Decrying young people’s waning interest in “high culture”, Bantick blames schools for failing to instil in teens a deep and unshakeable love of fine art and classical music.

In a tone of stern disapproval, reminiscent of something written in 1964 admonishing screaming teens for flocking to see the Beatles, Bantick chooses some odd targets to crucify in his crusade against the vapid and the self-obsessed.

Taiwanese-born filmmaker Ang Lee cops the first spray, the 59-year-old Oscar-winning director being labelled self-centred for admitting he makes films to “understand about himself”.

While many of Lee’s powerful dramas have autobiographical elements, some such as his enduring adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility obviously do not.

Ironically, given Bantick’s argument, Lee’s early films such as Pushing Hands (1992), Wedding Banquet (1993) and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) explore conflicts that arise as older, traditional generations are forced to accept change.

Sydney singer-songwriter Josh Pyke (pictured above) also faces the brunt of Bantick’s rage against Gen Y, (or possibly Gen X, or maybe just anyone who isn’t smoking a pipe and listening to Mahler on a gramophone while fingering an 18th-century engraving by William Hogarth).

Pyke is slammed for saying that at the age of 36 he has learnt to sing. Instead of being lauded for his humility in admitting that he spent three decades learning his craft, Bantick derides him as “crass”.

It seems odd that Bantick would ignore more deserving pop culture targets such as Justin Bieber who, apart from jettisoning monkeys in German airports, recently announced his retirement at the age of 19.

More painful still is that Bantick seems unaware that Pyke devotes much of his spare time to raising funds for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, helping indigenous children learn to read and thus enjoy the culture Bantick laments children are missing out on.

Bantick’s chief irritation seems to be that young people are not attending “concert[s] of searching classical music” or fine art shows to the extent that “grey hairs and blue rinses” are.

But worthy art and thought-provoking culture are not found only in the hallowed walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and Hamer Hall. Music, art, writing, theatre and much more are being dreamt up and hammered out in bars and cafes, countless lounge rooms and garages, studios, galleries and online, inspiring young minds to think about and challenge the world they live in.

While classical music was once the only type of music on offer, now it is merely one of countless genres. With so many artists emerging every day, is it any wonder that classical music has lost favour among young people? As a member of Gen Y, I have a selection of classical music on my iPod which I play when doing something that needs no distractions. But when I’m going for a jog, I’m probably going to choose Daft Punk over Debussy.

I am concerned that Bantick is equating “older” with “better”. For example, Banksy is “bad” because he is an artist making social commentary today, whereas William Hogarth is admirable because his social satire harks from the 18th century.

Rock icons such as Kurt Cobain who deliver pithy statements “out of an inarticulate, drug-fuelled haze” are deemed unworthy compared with those such as Romantic poet John Keats, whose opium-loving mates Byron and Coleridge wrote a good deal of their oeuvre in a drug-fuelled haze.

I agree with Bantick that elitism is still a dirty word in many pockets of society. As Australia stumbles along the slow road to independence, carving out its cultural niche away from England’s stifling embrace, it is easy to scorn high art as being entwined with English snobbery and old-fashioned, stuffy values.

Maybe when we are mature enough as a nation to stand on our own feet – without needing a portrait of the Queen in the prime minister’s office – we will be able to earnestly rediscover high culture without its problematic overtones.

Bantick’s allegations against today’s youth hurt me most when I think of my intelligent, enthusiastic and generous peers, such as my sister’s a cappella group who compose four-part harmonies inspired by the Andrews Sisters of yesteryear, and who recently organised a Christmas fund-raiser for an asylum seeker resource centre.

Or another friend whose love of writing inspired her to start a publishing company and whose latest endeavour was a heartfelt collection of refugee tales.

Next time Bantick shakes his head in disgust at a teenager pouting into a smartphone, maybe he should look around at the wonderful ways in which art is evolving, and realise that the kids really are all right.

This article first appeared on The Age online.