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A Caribbean Mystery

22 Jan

julia

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.

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Greetings from Tim Buckley

20 Jan

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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.

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.

Better Man

20 Nov

Better_Man Powerfully moving and with a strong message about capital punishment, this four-part Australian miniseries is based on the true story of Van Nguyen, a 25-year-old Vietnamese-Australian who was given the death penalty after smuggling drugs to pay off his brother’s debts. Directed by Khoa Do (Footy Legends) we follow Van’s story from his decision to smuggle the drugs, to his arrest at Singapore Airport, his trial and pleas for clemency. 

Driven by strong performances, especially Remy Hii in the role of the desperate Van, this is a gut-wrenching tale of a family’s fight to save the life of a condemned young man. We are introduced to Van through scenes showing us his home life in Melbourne and his relationship with his twin brother Khoa (Jordan Rodrigues), and mother Kim (Hien Nguyen, the real-life mother of director Khoa Do and comedian Anh Do). 

Better_Man_pic When his brother is unable to pay back his court case debts, Van agrees to smuggle drugs from Cambodia to Australia, making a fateful transit in Singapore where the hidden packages of heroin are detected. The excellent support cast includes David Wenham as Melbourne lawyer Julian McMahon who teams up with barrister Lex Lasry (Bryan Brown) in a bid to help save Van from the death penalty. 

 The airing of Better Man on SBS earlier this year was controversial, with Van’s mother Kim Nguyen calling for it to be halted as the drama was traumatising to her family. However others have since claimed it is must-see viewing, portraying the shocking travesty of justice as Singaporean authorities failed to take important evidence into account during the trial. Chilling and upsetting extremely powerful viewing.

The Great Gatsby

20 Nov

great_gatsby_cover Baz Luhrmann indulges his love of glitter in this glitzy rendering of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel about the American Dream. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the titular protagonist, an enigmatic, exquisitely tailored gent who throws decadent parties at his Long Island mansion in a desperate bid to engineer a reunion with his long-lost love, Daisy Buchanan.

Daisy, played with sylph-like fragility by Hollywood “it” girl Carey Mulligan, is trapped in an unhappy marriage to brawny millionaire Tom (Joel Edgerton). As Gatsby grows increasingly determined to reconnect with Daisy, the tangled love story is narrated by Daisy’s cousin, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man), Gatsby’s next-door neighbour who becomes swept up in the man’s quixotic quest. Delving into themes of class snobbery, organised crime and the fragility of dreams, the film reveals the glittering facade of the Jazz Age failing to disguise the sordid reality of life.

Australian director Luhrmann is famous for his brash, MTV-style approach, which worked brilliantly in his first two films; 1992’s Strictly Ballroom and 1996’s Romeo + Juliet (less so in 2001’s Moulin Rouge, and let’s not even talk about the monstrosity that was 2008’s Australia). However the juxtaposition of period costumes and pop culture references is less successful here, and tunes from the likes of rapper Jay-Z (also the film’s executive producer) snatch the viewer out of the sumptuous world created by costume and production set designer Catherine Martin.

great_gatsbyIf you can get over the soundtrack, the acting is superb. Australian export Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) lends a swaggering menace to the blue-blooded Tom; offering security to Daisy while inflicting pain on her with his philandering. There’s plenty of other homegrown talent on offer, including Elizabeth Debicki (A Few Best Men) as Nick’s stylish love interest Jordan Baker, Isla Fisher as Tom’s working-class mistress and cameos by Steve Bisley and Vince Colosimo.

Wild party scenes are Luhrmann’s forte, and the bacchanalian revelries at Gatsby’s waterside palace are a visual feast. But just as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel has polarised readers for decades, Luhrmann’s dazzling interpretation will delight those who can enjoy the spectacle, and disappoint those who feel it could have been so much more.

 

Mr and Mrs Murder

23 Jul

mrandmrsmurder Murder is a messy business, but after the cops have collected the clues, who cleans it all up? Enter Charlie and Nicola Buchanan (Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart) crime scene cleaners in blue coveralls who mop up the blood, tidy up the furniture and have a good old snoop to try to solve the crime themselves.

Set in Melbourne, this 13-part series locates the crimes in imaginative spots including an art gallery, a theatre, a heritage bathing box, a cabaret and a zoo.

mrandmrsmurder_pic Micallef draws on his comedic skills as the quirky, affectionate Charlie, while Stewart (Offspring) sparkles as his wife Nicola, whose irrepressible nosiness and empathy allows her to wriggle her way into suspects’ confidence. Jonny Pasvolsky (Cops LAC) stars as homicide detective Peter Vinetti, while Gen-Y is represented by the Buchanan’s  niece Jess (Lucy Honigman), who is dragged in to participate in elaborate murder scene re-enactments.

Created by Micallef and Jason Stephens (Newstopia) this charming whodunit features a host of well-known guest stars including Vince Colosimo, Home & Away‘s Kate Ritchie, comedian Merrick Watts and The Slap’s Anthony Hayes. As cosy as a Miss Marple mystery with an Aussie accent, Mr & Mrs Murder is a treat for any armchair detective.

2013, M, FremantleMedia, 780 mins

Parade’s End

23 Jul

paradesend One is obliged when discussing a post-Edwardian costume drama to compare it with Downton Abbey, so let’s get that over with. Yes, this five-part British miniseries is staged against the backdrop of the Great War, teems with pretty dresses and simmers with romantic tension, but there the comparison ends. Where Downton sallies into schmaltzy soap opera territory (in a highly addictive way, let’s admit), Parade’s End remains stark, cold and brutal.

Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as priggish aristocrat Christopher Tietjens, a brilliant government statistician desperately clinging to conservative Edwardian values as his beloved Britain is rocked by war and social upheaval.

paradesend_pic Frustrated by his moral rectitude, his charmingly flippant wife Sylvia (Rebecca Hall, pictured with Cumberbatch), a stunning Catholic socialite, torments him by boasting about her many lurid love affairs. He endures her infidelity with a stiff upper lip but his own feelings are thrown into conflict when he meets Valentine Wannop (Australian actor Adelaide Clemens, Love My Way), a feisty young suffragette with cropped blonde hair and a passion for social change.

Based on the novels by Ford Madox Ford and adapted by Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love), Parade’s End depicts the end of an era, sweeping us from glorious British landscapes and aristocratic drawing rooms into the mud and blood-spattered trenches of France, as Christopher wrestles with his sense of duty both to his country and his marriage. The upper classes depicted here may not make any attempts to befriend their butlers, but impeccable period details and a stellar cast led by the inimitable Cumberbatch make this a highly watchable and thoughtful alternative to Downton‘s frothy fare.

M, 2013, 360 minutes, BBC/HBO