Category Archives: film and dvd

Top viewing last night: Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (2007) *****

This is a wonderful documentary from Australian film maker Scott Hicks.

Not everyone agrees with me, to judge by some comments on the International Movie Database, but more do agree. I was struck by this one:

I am not a fan of documentaries and having no idea who Philip Glass was nor where to find the cinema I arrived unprejudiced and just on time at the theatre.

Scott Hicks’ ability to capture very emotional moments (“what is your computer password?…it’s FRANKIE”) and to bond film with music (“bababababababa”) combined with superb editing left a full house stunned with impressions at the end of the movie. The movie, like a mosaic, became more and more compelling with every act and piece of information added. Personally, the message that was most moving was the thought of a musical genius, flamboyant and eccentric at times, loving and caring at heart, unable to communicate deeper emotions to his loved ones, somewhat isolated through his talent in a 21st century environment…

Thank you Mr. Hicks for creating an outstanding movie that inspires people to think!

I did have some idea who he is, but after watching the documentary I will in future pay much more attention than I have.

Our own ABC cinema critics Margaret and David gave it **** and *** respectively. Once more I find myself with Margaret, but even more so, as you’ll have seen. I was enthralled.

On ABC commercial free, thank God. Long may Auntie reign!

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Posted by on January 27, 2009 in America, Australia and Australian, best viewing 2009, film and dvd, movies, music, Pomo, TV


The Blood of My Brother: A Story of Death in Iraq (2005) ****

This amazing documentary begins a new category series “Best viewing 2009,” keeping in mind I rarely go to the movies and mostly watch DVDs borrowed free from Surry Hills Library. The category will also mark notable TV. The Blood of my Brother is one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen. To quote the Internet Movie Database, linked at the head of this paragraph:

THE BLOOD OF MY BROTHER goes behind the scenes of one Iraqi family’s struggle to survive amidst the carnage of the growing Shia insurgency. Nineteen-year-old Ibrahim dreams of revenge when his brother is shot and killed by an American patrol. With scenes of fighting and death on the streets of Baghdad, this is the closest most viewers will ever come to being in Iraq; kneeling in prayer amidst a thousand Muslim worshipers, feeling the roar of low-flying Apaches, riding atop a sixty-ton tank, driving with masked resistance fighters to attack American positions, fleeing the threat of an overwhelming response, the blood in the street, a tank on fire, or the cold, distant stare of a dead Iraqi fighter. Written by Andrew Berends

That’s the director, and the movie’s own website is here. 

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For anyone who was there, whether as a US or other soldier or as an Iraqi on the ground, the film may well be quite traumatic, as even this trailer indicates.

For those of us who, like me, have merely seen much about the war in the news or on other documentaries, it is a salutary experience. It is as near as you could possibly get to being there. What I admire most is that no-one is demonised. There are sympathetic sequences of the US soldier’s viewpoint, but of course the principal viewpoint, as the summary indicates, is a Shia Iraqi family’s. And this is in the thick of the worst part of the worst part of the war.

One witnesses, without the film maker intruding his commentary, the full range of emotions. One is a fly on the wall in al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. One is left very conscious of the culture behind that, and of how alien it must have been to the US soldiers confronting it, but one gets deeper into what it is like to inhabit that world and that world-view than one could possibly get from the seconds of footage one normally sees, and yes it is very strange (to me) and very frightening, but such is the genius of this documentary that it really remains human. As I said, no-one is demonised – not by the film maker anyway.

This reviewer raises some interesting questions about the film; I would give it a higher rating.

One over-riding question that arises while watching Andrew Berends‘ 2005 Iraq-set documentary The Blood of My Brother is, how did an American filmmaker get access to all of this, short of joining Sayid Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army himself? Several reviewers have already commented that much of the footage here puts Western media coverage to shame, and it certainly does. We see inside a mosque during prayer time with hundreds of men lined up shoulder to shoulder; we watch Shia insurgents get charged up and then battle an American tank and an Apache helicopter (feeling oddly mundane compared to scenes from Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down); and we view badly wounded civilians inside an Iraqi hospital, including young children and elderly men. It seems clear that Berends has a viewpoint he wants to get across, although his goal appears to be more humanitarian than political…

That last point is I think the great strength of this film.

One can’t help thinking, however, about how superficial the success of the whole affair, so far as it is even remotely successful, will prove to be. Possibly much the same will prove true of Afghanistan.

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Posted by on December 28, 2008 in America, best viewing 2009, dvd, film and dvd, Iraq, Islam, terrorism, USA


That much hyped movie “Australia”

I have niggled and grumbled already about this, but mostly on the comments I attach to the posts I highlight on my picks from other blogs in Google Reader. Thomas has reacted viscerally to all the hype, and I share that to a degree. While it is silly either way to review a movie I haven’t seen, I can say that I would be prepared for its being a good cinematic experience and will probably see it at some time, either in the cinema soon, or later on DVD. The cinema will no doubt be the best way to see it.

At the same time, anything so blatantly hyped does tend to raise suspicion. Big, gorgeous, expensive, even popular or Box Office do not quality make, not in the rather Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance sense that I still am old-fashioned enough to subscribe to. How Leavisite of me! In the 1930s Edgar Wallace, to stray into other arts, was far more popular than Scott Fitzgerald or D H Lawrence, but who reads Edgar Wallace now? Who reads Ethel M Dell now, even though her works were hugely popular in the 1920s and 30s, and she made a lot of money per annum from them? But they were crap… Not that reading crap is intrinsically evil…

David Stratton gives Australia 3.5 stars.

…Initially, this gets the director’s long-awaited epic, Australia, off to a shaky start. As the characters are introduced, there’s a forced jocularity and a theatricality with which some of the actors visibly struggle. Fortunately, at about the 20-minute mark, the film settles down into what it should have been from the start: a romantic melodrama set in 1939-41 against breathtaking backdrops and a homage to the golden age of Hollywood.

The director’s aims aren’t entirely frivolous, however; there’s a serious agenda, as revealed in the opening titles, which describe in frankly superficial terms, presumably with an eye to an uninitiated overseas audience, the meaning of the Stolen Generations…

With considerable help from computer-generated material, Luhrmann creates a genuinely spectacular saga with this often impressive film; a cattle stampede towards a precipice and a Japanese bombing attack on Darwin are among the highlights. Still, given the status of his distinguished collaborators on the film’s screenplay — Ronald Harwood, Richard Flanagan and Stuart Beattie — it’s surprising so many cliches have found their way into the story. Given Luhrmann’s fondness for old movies and popular songs, it’s not surprising he manages to make frequent reference to The Wizard of Oz (which was released in 1939) and its famous song, Over the Rainbow, unlikely as this channelling may seem at first.

Given the considerable budget supplied by 20th Century Fox, it’s no real surprise that all too often Australia seems aimed not at Australian audiences but at international, especially American, ones. Native flora and fauna are used in ways that once used to bring a chuckle or two in local cinemas and Australian slang is employed rather too insistently. The character of the all-powerful cattle baron, well played by a rascally Brown, is straight from any number of Hollywood westerns and the romance between the fish-out-of-water heroine and her dashing employee is also familiar from movie classics of the past.

Yet for all its flaws — and Australia is not the masterpiece we hoped it might be — the film is easy to take. This is partly because it looks so magnificent, partly because Luhrmann’s vision is so stimulating and partly because the actors are, for the most part, so engaging in their roles.

The supporting cast is a rollcall of Australian acting talent…

I would take that to mean it is worth seeing.


Dean Ashenden has a good article on the subject in The Weekend Australian.

Australia (2008) and The Overlanders (1946) are set in the same moment (Japanese invasion threatening), the same place (the far north) and the same milieu (among cattle). They have similar story-lines (romance and a cattle drive) and celebrate a remote, mythic landscape.
The Overlanders was by far the biggest Australian film of its time, an ambition Luhrmann seems to share for Australia. Both films are preoccupied with Australianness which, given the setting, crucially includes "us and the Aborigines". They might almost have been designed as a laboratory test: have our ways of depicting these things changed all that much in six decades?

The Overlanders is the work of British director Harry Watt. He was sent to Australia early in 1944 by Ealing Studios at the request of the Australian government. Canberra had in mind a film that would lift hearts in a country at war and show its allies a gallant little battler on the other side of the world.

Watt was soon smitten by the piercing light and otherworldly splendour of the north. When he heard that early in the war thousands of cattle had been driven across the continent to keep them out of Japanese hands, he had his time, place and story: exotic, yet emblematic of the kind of Australia and Australians he’d been hired to portray.

Except for one small blemish: the Aborigines. They could hardly be left out of such a film, but how to include them without subverting the message? The problem was particularly acute for Watt. He saw with the eyes of an outsider, a lefty, and a man who had made his name in social realist documentaries.

Watt opted to tell a simple story in a simple way. His film opens with a fiendish Japanese soldier looming above a map of Australia as a high-intensity voice-over declaims: "The vast herds of Australia must be saved!" The camera closes in on the isolated port of Wyndham, where we see quintessential Australian bloke Chips Rafferty as Dan, a drover who has decided to drove a big herd across country to safety in far-off Brisbane rather than shoot them…

The Overlanders expropriated the land in our imaginations as surely as Corky and Dan planned to do in reality. The premiere was several times interrupted by applause for its depiction of the glorious country, while the triumphant arrival of the drovers in Brisbane is an allegory of our just triumph over the Japanese. The Overlanders showed Australians that Australianness was in the land, our struggles with it, and our defence of it.

Luhrmann seems to have been drawn to The Overlanders idea of Australia by the film’s combination of the exotic and the familiar archetype, and he thereby inherited Watt’s problem, although in very different circumstances. Aboriginal people have long since refused the place given them by The Overlanders, and the story of their relations with Europeans, scarcely known in the 1940s, has been recovered with vivid fidelity. These transformations make Luhrmann’s task both easier and harder.

It’s not hard these days to bring Aboriginal characters to front of stage. But just as Watt in a racist Australia got stuck with being patronising, Luhrmann in a self-consciously post-racist Australia could easily be condescending too. Will his Aborigines be goodies, victims or exotica? Symbols of Australia’s uniqueness?

Telling the story of them and us, which apparently Luhrmann, to his credit, is keen to do, is harder. It’s a difficult story to tell in any circumstances because relationships between black and white were so complicated both in form and morality. It’s probably impossible to tell it faithfully in the way Luhrmann seems set to try, as a subplot to our story…

I have seen The Overlanders several times, and it is a good product for its time and place, even if arguably a British film, but it is also a museum piece now. Perhaps Lurhmann is between a rock and a hard place when he revisits that territory?

Just trivia: Simon H’s father knew Chips Rafferty quite well; I recall a fascinating conversation on the subject many years ago now…

As for Australia? Yes, I do think I will see it, and may even enjoy it at some levels at least. Just wish the hype machine hadn’t gone into overdrive quite as much.

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Posted by on November 22, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, film and dvd, immigration, Indigenous Australians, movies, multicultural Australia


DVD time

Thanks to Sirdan I have been able to see the 2007 movie There Will Be Blood directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, who is just superb. It is beautifully done but more than a tad melodramatic. The religious elements were, I thought, ham-fisted. See what others thought on the IMDB site. The DVD includes a fascinating documentary on the US oil industry — made in 1923.


The other DVD came from Surry Hills Library, and a very peculiar movie it is: Pulse (2006), directed by Jim Sonzero, but one of the writers is the famous Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street).


It had its moments, but I don’t regard either my computer or my mobile phone at all differently after the experience… 😉 It is apparently a remake of a 2001 Japanese movie: see DVD Pick: “Pulse” and Pulse has dark images and an original scary concept.


The first comment below led me to Rock Haven – Coming Out and Being Saved, about a movie I had never heard of, and a blog of interest:

My name is Jon-paul. I live in Oakland, California with my partner Gary. I was born on the island of Guam.  I enjoy traveling, writing, film and meeting interesting people.


Posted by on September 7, 2008 in film and dvd, movies, other blogs


The Making of the Mahatma (1996)

198614 The Making of the Mahatma (1996) is one of my current crop of DVDs from Surry Hills Library, and sad to say the most notable thing about it is that it is very, very long. It could quite easily have been one hour shorter with very little loss, and possibly much gain.

One of two feuding Mohammedan cousins living in Britain but of Indian origin seek the assistance of an Indian Barrister to travel to Britain and settle their matter in a court of law. The Barrister travels to Britain, and finds that all Asians are treated as coolies, and their status is worse than of servants. Despite of being dressed in a suit and a tie, he is thrown out of a first class train compartment; is asked to remove his cap in a court of law; asked to ride with the driver of the coach; and even shoved out on the footpath for daring to walk close to a bureaucrat’s premises; beaten, and abused with no recourse to any justice. His attempts to grieve these issues is met with strong governmental and bureaucratic disapproval and opposition. Notwithstanding this, he settles the dispute between the two cousins out of court, and sets about trying to organize the local Asians to assert their rights, and even represents some of them in Court. Then he journeys to Durban, South Africa, where yet another struggle is taking place against the native Africans and the emigrant Asian community. This is where this young man summons his wife, and three children, and this is where he decides to garner support of the oppressed community to improve the lot of all people, and this is where he will find that though the laws are on his side – the people who interpret them, and legislators are opposed to any kind of fair or equal treatment that this young Barrister was asking for. The young Barrister will then re-locate to India to continue his struggle against the British – and he will soon be known and acknowledged by the world as — Mahatma Gandhi. — from the IMDB database.

It is a curiosity, a South Africa/India coproduction. There are plenty of good moments, one outstanding one being an early scene where Gandhi is thrown off the train to Pretoria — at the station — because he as a “coolie” dared to ride in the compartment for which he had purchased a ticket. It also fleshes out part of Gandhi’s life that was rushed over when I studied Indian History; we were told something or other in South Africa, but the truth is he was there for 21 years and that experience was crucial. So I am glad I saw the movie. On the other hand, they must have suffered some budget constraints, I suspect; some parts seemed amateurish, given the stature of some of those involved in making the movie.

It is a good supplement to the better known epic Gandhi.

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Posted by on August 7, 2008 in Africa, film and dvd, History, movies, South Asian



Too many DVDs

One of the eccentric pleasures I derive from relying on Surry Hills Library for free DVDs — the best kind — is that I see some things I never would if I had to pay.

For example, I watched a bit of war-time hokum called Secret Mission (1942). As one site notes:

Four British officers are sent into occupied France to reconnoitre the German defences. Okay-ish drama, more interesting for being filmed during the war rather than in the 50s during the war film boom, but not terribly memorable.

Script: Anatole de Grunwald, Captain Sir Basil Bartlett Director: Harold French Players: Hugh Williams, Michael Wilding, Roland Culver, James Mason, Carla Lehmann, Nancy Price, Percy Walsh, Anita Gombault, David Page, Betty Warren, Nicholas Stuart, Brefni O’Rourke, Karel Stepanek, Herbert Lom, John Salew, Beatrice Varley, F.R. Wendhausen, Yvonne André, Stewart Granger, Oscar Ebelsbacher.

A few names there, so it had its moments. Childish though; Casablanca it ain’t…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 9, 2008 in dvd, film and dvd, movies


For every history there are alternative histories…

That is one theme to emerge from two of the DVDs from Surry Hills Library I viewed in the past few days.

First was Carthage: The Roman Holocaust from Channel Four. There were thinly veiled references throughout to our current mythologising as we saw how an empire that lasted for eight centuries finally went down to a ruthless superpower who then blithely rewrote its history, traducing and expunging as they went, so that the patriotic soap opera, utterly spurious as history, so elegantly phrased in Virgil’s Aeneid became the remembered version, and the fanatical terrorist Cato became an ongoing folk hero for conservatives. Good as a dose of salts, a bit patchy in production, but well worth watching.

Second was Ridley Scott’s 1992 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on May 5, 2008 in dvd, film and dvd, historiography, History