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Revisiting “The Maltese Falcon”

star_icons25 star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25 They really do not make movies like this any more!  I watched it again on Saturday night.

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— You aren’t exactly the sort of a person you pretend to be, are you?

— Why, I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean.

— The schoolgirl manner. You know, blushing, stammering and all that.

— I haven’t lived a good life. I’ve been bad. Worse than you could know.

— Good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be…we’d never get anywhere.

— I won’t be innocent.

— Good. By the way, I saw Joel Cairo tonight. Do you know him?

— Only slightly.

— You’re good. You’re very good.

Cracker of a script. Great direction. Great acting.

 

First July reviews – mainly comic

star30a Dante’s Cove 2 (2007 DVD)

I watched just 15 minutes of this heap of crap. If one was drunk or drugged and with friends it may work. Fortunately my copy was free, thanks to Surry Hills Library.

star30 star30star30star30a Julian Halls, The Museum, Hobart, Knocklofty Press 2008.museum-cover240

This gets two rather dismissive lines on SameSame.com.

Halls’s strength as a comic author lies in his sharp, crisp and snappy lines. Unfortunately, the novel sounds like a guidebook in places, and a boring one at that. This probably explains why the Tasmanian government gave the project its support.

I agree about the “sharp, crisp and snappy lines” but was certainly not bored. In fact I found the novel hilarious.

It is indeed “old-fashioned”, as the publisher says.

This is a most unfashionable book: it’s funny, it’s well written and constructed — and it has a happy ending.

It’s that rarest of things in an increasingly sad and troubled world: a comic novel, a genre which has almost disappeared under the weight of political correctness, post-modernist claptrap and the self-regarding seriousness of far too many authors.

Julian Halls has created an unlikely assortment of oddball characters — and they’re all people we’ve met or close to it — and placed them in and around a mouldering, half-forgotten regional museum in Tasmania.

The complex main plot concerns the relationships between two same-sex couples, one male, one female, and the whole thing is set in motion by a blowfly; it gets even more bizarre after that, although it’s never incredible—just like real life. Several curious sub-plots emerge and they are skillfully woven into a surprising conclusion…

The museum itself reminded me of the Australian Museum in Sydney in the 1950s, even down to the enormous whale skeleton in the entrance hall. Its sudden descent begins the series of crazy events. You can tell Halls cut his teeth in theatre – the novel is nothing if not a farce, but a pungent one.

The artist Benjamin Duterrau (1767-1851) is an important element in the plot.

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Duterrau, “The Conciliation” 1840. Click on pic for more.

I liked this book.

star30star30star30star30star30a J G Ballard, Millennium People, London, Flamingo 2003

Ballard’s Empire of the Sun is one of my favourite books, and the 1987-8 Spielberg movie of it one of my favourite movies. Millennium People is a dark comedy whose targets include the romanticism of revolution, the mindless violence of events such as 9/11, and the sacred cows of the middle class on England – though there may well be a degree of endorsement of the latter.

One could also add, with this very perceptive profile in a source I don’t often agree with, that another target is the reader who, given Ballard’s profile, is probably in that same middle class. Joane McNeill writes:

In Ballard’s slapstick satire Millennium People (2003), the bourgeois residents of a gated community commit terrorist acts. They riot, clash with police, and bomb upper-middle-class establishments such as the Royal Albert Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum. What are they protesting? “Double yellow lines, school fees, maintenance charges…cheap holidays, over-priced housing, educations that no longer buy security.” They are rebelling against, in one character’s words, “the barriers set out by the system. Try getting drunk at a school speech day, or making a mildly racist joke at a charity dinner. Try letting your garden grow and not painting your house for a few weeks.”

Like most of Ballard’s fiction from the last 20 years, Millennium People uses the framework of a middlebrow English novel as a way to parody the reader. For Ballard, as he explained to Salon in 1997, the novel is “the greatest enemy of truth and honesty that was ever invented. It’s a vast, sentimentalizing structure that reassures the reader and at every point offers the comfort of secure moral frameworks and recognizable characters. This whole notion was advanced by Mary McCarthy and many others years ago, that the main function of the novel was to carry out a kind of moral criticism of life. But the writer has no business making moral judgments or trying to set himself up as a one-man or one-woman magistrate’s court. I think it’s far better, as Burroughs did and I’ve tried to do in my small way, to tell the truth.”

I have his last book, Miracles of Life (2008), in line for reading. Millennium People joins my 2009 top reads.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2009 in Australia and Australian, Best read of 2009, dvd, Fiction, film and dvd, movies, reading, satire, Top read

 

June review catch-up 3 — “Sylvia” (2004)

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star30 star30star30star30star30a  I watched this partly out of HSC-related duty, but also out of interest. I have to say I was very impressed by its accuracy and fairness. The lead review (at the moment) on IMDb pretty much sums up my reaction.

In 1998, "Hilary and Jackie" explored alleged episodes in the short life of cellist Jacqueline Du Pre and her pianist, now also conductor, husband, Daniel Barenboim. Despite very very good acting the film was largely a descent into the basement of scurrilous storytelling by relatives of the dead musician. Whatever the truth of the claim that she bedded her sister’s husband, the movie said nothing about the couple’s meteorically brilliant early careers. It was slanted voyeurism writ large.

Director Christine Wells has taken a very different and insightful tack in exploring the life of poet Sylvia Plath and her marriage to Ted Hughes, a poet with laurels garnered while Ms. Plath was still starting up a not very steady ladder to recognition.

Plath, an American, met Hughes in England. A short courtship was followed by marriage and then two children. The relationship was tumultuous and eventually it foundered because of Sylvia’s underlying emotional instability followed by her husband’s desertion to another woman…

Wells takes a sympathetic view of Ted and Sylvia, not joining in the political debate over feminism and Sylvia’s supposed maltreatment by Ted. Sylvia in this film is brilliant but also terribly brittle and her inner demons are not caused by a brutish or callous husband. As Platrow portrays her, I believe accurately, Sylvia was seriously and chronically depressed with life events worsening but in no regard initiating a downward spiral. Today she would probably thrive and be both prolific as a poet and happy as a person if successfully maintained on an effective anti-depressant.

Ted, played by Daniel Craig, is a bit transparent – loving but somewhat distanced by his own quest for fame. He hectors Sylvia to write more, annoyed that she bakes instead of composing verse while on a seaside vacation. He’s supportive but also blind to the deepening reality that he is dealing with a woman who needs help, not critical comments about non-productivity.

The supporting cast is fine but this is Paltrow and Craig’s film. She has a strong affinity for England and its culture (I believe she has moved there) and she gives the role deep conviction and understanding. It happens that she somewhat resembles Sylvia but the true recognition is internal and intellectual. And emotional, let’s not omit that…

"Sylvia" sets the record straight as Paltrow acts the part of a woman – mother as well as poet – who slowly loses control of her life while her husband reacts first with confusion and later with the self-protective armor of withdrawal.

Hughes went on to publish many fine poems and he became poet laureate of England, a post he definitely wanted and enjoyed (Hughes was one of the very few modern and relatively young intellectuals who was a convinced monarchist).

Not long before succumbing to cancer, Hughes published "Birthday Letters," an attempt to show through years of verse the nature of his relationship with Sylvia. Whether viewed as an apologia or a last record – and chance – to give his side, it’s an impressive work. And "Ariel’s Gift" by Erica Wagner is must reading for those who want more than a film and sometimes potted articles can provide. It analyzes the poets’ relationship through the prism of Hughes’s writings, most unpublished before "Birthday Letters." A recent book, "Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, Portrait of a Marriage," by Diane Middlebrook, is also recommended…

The movie is M15+ in Australia.

 
 

June review catch-up 2

Some quickies.

star30 star30star30  1. Ed Gaffney, Enemy Combatant (2008)

A good courtroom drama with a strong post 9/11 twist. It may be improbable, but not so improbable as to not make you wonder “What if?” See also Thoughts On "Enemy Combatant" by Ed Gaffney.

star30star30star30star30  2. Susanna Gregory, To Kill or Cure (2007)

I haven’t read many in the Medieval Whodunnit genre. This one is sufficiently entertaining and informative. See also Euro Crime.

star30star30star30star30star30 3. 1945: The Year That Changed the World (DVD 2008)

This series (2 DVDs) is excellent. There are contributions from first-rate historians, one of whom, Ian Nish, taught me Japanese and Chinese history in 1962! Yes he is rather older now. If you check YouTube you will find it well represented.

star30star30star30star30 4. Frontier: Worse than Slavery Itself (DVD 1997)

Famous so-called “Black Armband” presentation of Indigenous Australia and European settlement 1830 – 1860, based on the work of Henry Reynolds. I was particularly struck, of course, by the NSW material which focussed on the Dangar family of the Hunter/New England areas, and on some of the better documented massacres of those years. The series still stands up well despite the reaction to aspects of it from the likes of Keith Windschuttle. It really is good on the role of evangelical thought as a conscience of the times.

It is interesting to compare the more recent SBS series First Australians (2008). Its episode dealing with NSW in the early to mid 19th century drew attention to another settler family, the Suttors of Brucedale, whose relations with the Aboriginal people were comparatively enlightened.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2009 in best viewing 2009, book reviews, Crime and/or crime fiction, dvd, Fiction, film and dvd, History, Indigenous Australians, reading, Thriller

 

Bits

1. Pumping up a scandal

So much depends, it seems, on the clapped-out second-hand ute that Kevin Rudd has used as a mobile office in his own electorate. A supporter, a local car dealer, lent it to him for the purpose. Now the Opposition seem to think they have found Watergate. See what the car dealer says.

Much more serious, perhaps, are (on the surface) examples of bureaucratic idiocy in the form of infrastructure stimulus money manifesting itself on the ground in school buildings the schools neither need nor want. It does seem there hasn’t been enough needs analysis in the hurry to roll out the stimulation.

2. “End of an era”

Freestyle (Surry Hills Shopping Village) and Freestyle 2 (Elizabeth Street Surry Hills) are having closing down sales. They sell remainder books, DVDs and CDs. I snaffled Tony Judt, Appraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (2008) and Tariq Ali, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008).

Books are still good trade, the store owner said, but anything on disk has gone down the tube – YouTube, file sharing, iPods and downloading, that is. So, he said, it’s the end of an era.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, dvd, film and dvd, Kevin Rudd, Malcolm Turnbull, politics, reading, Surry Hills

 

Parzania (2007) – definitely worth seeing

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I borrowed this DVD on spec from Surry Hills Library, not having heard of the movie before.

Cynical, intelligent and lost, an American by the name of Allan Webbings arrives in Ahmedabad city. For the longest time, Allan has been searching for answers, praying to find internal peace and understand the world and his troubled life. Allan has chosen India as his school, and Gandhi as his subject. It’s here that he meets Cyrus, the local projectionist, and his loving family.

Cyrus and his family are Parsi, followers of a rarely practiced religion that is both small in number and neutral to religious politics. They are a middle-class family and live happily in a housing development, which is mostly Muslim. Cyrus has a beautiful wife named Shernaz. Strong and practical at times, it is only her inner strength that keeps the family going. Parzan is their imaginative 10-year old boy and Dilshad is his younger sister.

Parzania is the imaginary perfect world created by Parzan, where the buildings are made of chocolate, the mountains of ice cream and all you do is play cricket throughout the day. It is a world that only he and his eight year old little sister Dilshad can truly understand.

Through Cyrus’s family, and the teachings of an old Indian scholar, Allan starts to find peace of mind, right before the rest of the country loses its sanity. One morning, the beauty and peace in India is stirred beyond measure, as a fire erupts in a train killing 58 Hindus.

Within 24 hours, 100,000 citizens storm into Ahmedabad and slaughter thousands of Muslims, making that day one of the largest acts of communal violence the country has ever seen. And in the midst of the terror and violence, Parzan disappears.

While Cyrus fights for his own sanity and searches for his child, Alan battles to uncover the truth behind the riots and any possible meaning to the insanity he has witnessed. People start to question the explanations they are given and a Human Rights Commission is formed. But will the truth finally be out? Does any of it matter to a distraught family that just wants to find their little boy?

That’s the DVD box summary, also found on Bollywood Hungama, where there is much more information about the movie. See also Wikipedia.

Made on a low budget (US$700,000) Parzania has one or two rough patches, but the second half is absolutely gripping, a terrible reminder of those years earlier in this decade when Indofascists were to the fore. Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika in the lead roles are quite brilliant.

A blog taking a critical view: My Take On Parzania. Even so, the blogger, Amrit Hallan, admits the movie has power:

If you have been at the receiving end of a state sponsored riot you can relate to the views expressed in Parzania. In the movie the policemen laugh while the Hindu mobs butcher defenseless civilians and set on fire pregnant women. If it sounds inconceivable, it isn’t…

Despite a one-sided portrayal of the situation, it’s a good movie to see. A world ahead of those overrated and silly Ram Gopal Verma and Karan Johar flicks and in fact they should learn something from the makers of Parzania.

Sarika has acted exceptionally well in the movie and she deserved the award she got for this movie. The script is very tight and the story moves fast. Sometimes it makes you cry. It makes you cry because beautiful, blissful lives are ruined due to some distant follies of others. It makes you ashamed of your country…

star30 star30star30star30 A film of great humanity.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2009 in best viewing 2009, dvd, human rights, movies, South Asian

 

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Overdue DVD reviews

The reviews, that is, not the DVDs, though I do plan to return them to Surry Hills Library today. It’s been a while since I watched them, so the reviews will be briefer than I first planned.

1. For Whom the Bell Tolls 1943 star30 star30star30star30

2. December Boys 2007 star30star30star30star30a

3. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown 1988 star30star30star30star30star30 Best viewing 2009

4. The Piano 1993 star30star30star30star30star30a Best viewing 2009

Quite a good batch this time, all of them well worth the time spent. I did find the classic For Whom the Bell Tolls showing its age, and despite many excellences it is just a touch confusing at times. December Boys is rather cloying, but very well acted. Young “Harry Potter” is good as an Australian! Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is just as funny and inventive as it seemed when I saw it in Paddington in 1988. The Piano is a beautiful movie still. Hard to believe it is now 16 years since it was made!

I did say brief!

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2009 in best viewing 2009, dvd, movies