Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trespass interview with Miles Roston

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Music producer, documentary filmmaker and author, some people can just do it all and American Miles Roston is one of them. Currently residing in the Netherlands, Miles has travelled to many regions in the world, looking at issues such as HIV/AIDS, the impact of the religious Right in America and interreligious co-operation in Sierra Leone. With a long-term commitment to AIDs orphans, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa, Mile’s films include, 14 Million Dream and Make it Real to Me.

Miles’ first book, Kevin’s Questions follows the experiences of a Kenyan AIDs orphan, Kevin Sumba, whom Miles met in Kisumu whilst making a documentary. In his second book Making a World of Difference, Miles has travelled around the world, speaking to people involved in community and grassroots organisations to find out how and why these people have chosen to help others. From a teacher, Suri, in Thailand, who organises home visits for poor students, to a couple, Wil and Flor, in Amsterdam, who run a children’s farm in one of the poorest suburbs, Miles’ book shows how people the world over have discovered the benefits of giving.

Miles was kind enough to have a chat with me during his recent visit to Australia about his latest book and what he’d learnt from his travels.

Your new book focuses on unsung heroes (some of whom are featured throughout this article), who have no similar backgrounds religiously, economically or culturally, what common traits did you find they had?

They would really look to see what the problem was, as opposed to assuming it. They would listen to what people themselves wanted, instead of assuming what people wanted. They all could use whatever skills they had, whether they were an architect, an event planner, or whether it was dentistry.

They were all can do people, social entrepreneurs to a certain extent. They had seen something and wanted to change it- to change the way things are in the world.


Ronni Kahn an Event Planner who founded Oz Harvest in Sydney in 2004. This charity rescues excess food from events and redistributes it amongst charities.

Why do people look to help others outside their own community or even their own country?

People exposed to needs or crisis outside their community, by witnessing something you can’t turn back. That happened to me with HIV/AID epidemic, I saw it, I had access that a lot of people don’t have, I couldn’t just stay home.

What were the biggest lessons you learnt from the people in the book?

This will sound silly- Life’s okay. Actually it is all okay. Suri talks about this thing- ‘the contentment of giving’.
Paul Pholeros, the Australian Architect, said ‘just giving it a go’.

Going out and making a difference and helping people, you actually get a lot back. It makes your life a lot better- I actually suspected that, but it turned out to be true. They are all really happy extraordinary people, who enjoy life in every different way. People in extraordinary situations do amazing things.

Mel Young, co-founder and President of the Homeless World Cup

Your book is very pro- Grassroot, community-lead projects, and seemingly anti- governments…

I have certainly seen governments not take care of their people. Take Kenya, where the ministers seem more concerned about their travel budget. There are real needs in certain places, but the politicians don’t seem very concerned what the people’s needs are.

If they are very concerned, the governments don’t have the best techniques to help the people. The reality is that I think people know what is best for them, themselves. There are certain things governments are stuck with. By nature they are bureaucratic, they want more power. The nature of any organisation is based on survival first.

Smaller organisations, the more grassroots, the faster they are able to adapt. They see what is really happening on the ground, because they are on the ground themselves.

You can see more of a difference when you do it yourselves, when you work with a grassroots organisation. You can feel the difference. You can see the impact you are making in people’s lives directly. That is also the inspiring part. Sometimes people who work for the UN or work for the government, they want the best, but they can’t see the affect of their work directly, so they get disheartened.

Sébastien Marot, founder of Friends International a charity based in Cambodia, that works with urban children and youth.

Why has the issue of HIV/AIDS become so important to you?

Because I got to see what it was like for children not to have parents. Their parents to have something that stigmatises them. In these communities it’s your own fault if you get HIV, you must have done something wrong. When the truth is, it is a disease.

The children have to grow up and they can’t understand why their parents died. And there are millions and millions and millions of them. I vowed, vowing is one of those big words, I kinda made a promise to talk about it, write the book, which I did with Kevin’s Questions, then a feature film, Make it Real to Me. I guess I just have to.


Chung To from the Chi Heng Foundation, a charity that helps AIDs orphans in China.

You’ve witnessed some of the best of mankind, but you must have seen some of the worst, how do you personally cope witnessing suffering?

Sometime you get a lot of sleep, sometimes it is actually really upsetting, you cry, which is probably the best thing to do. But then saying this I’ve seen the other side as well, amazing things, it’s that balance. I guess the highs are higher and the lows are lower. The more highs you see then the more lows you see, but you kinda get used to that.

You are often telling people’s stories for them, what responsibility does this put on you as a filmmaker or as an author?

First of all I have to get it right, and not impose. I have to please them, and I have to please myself. I have to make sure I don’t hurt people while helping them. So if there are details in the story that might get someone into trouble, legal trouble, I make sure they don’t get into legal trouble. That’s my responsibility.

I certainly can’t expose them then say thank you and walk off- I have to stay in touch with them. That’s a great thing; I get to be friends with all these people. I get a bigger and bigger family around the world, that’s nice to have actually.


Miles with Kevin Sumba, who is now studying as Monash University in Victoria.

What do you think your work has brought to your own life?

Now when anyone tells me something is impossible, I don’t believe them. I’ve had these amazing experiences where people will go to the ends of the earth to make things happen. Gandhi said “Don’t ask, Don’t get” he’s kinda right- if you can imagine it, then it’s possible, that’s true of fiction, that’s true of reality. Life gets more and more interesting and more exciting.

If someone was reading this interview, and they wanted to get involved and make a difference - where should they start and what should they do?

They should start right at home. First of all just start doing things a bit differently. Just a smile, if you’re in a situation when you’d normally get angry, don’t get angry, just smile, see what happens.

Research on the internet, take a look around, once you start opening the door and looking at the issues there is a lot of interesting stuff right under your noses. It’ll lead you down one track, to another track, to another track. It’s funny how one thing leads to another.

Check out the interview on Trespass where we are giving away 3 copies of Miles Roston's book, Making a World of Difference.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Adapting a much read and loved book to film is tricky. While you have a ready made audience waiting to buy tickets, you also have to deal with everyone’s expectations for their beloved book. The Millennium Trilogy, a Swedish crime/thriller series has been adapted into three Swedish films, shot concurrently. There is no real mystery to the film interest in Stieg Larsson’s books. They have been on the bestseller lists since 2008, and with their gritty criminal investigations and intriguing central characters, they have occupied the bedside tables of many of us.

This film adaptation is very close to the original, only pulling back fractionally on the book’s violence. The central storyline that follows an investigation into a 40 year mystery, the murder of 16 yr old Harriet Vanger (Julia Sporre) on the remote Hedeby Island, is maintained with all of the plot intricacies. For those unfamiliar with the book, the film might lack the bang for your buck you expect from big screen crime film. For those inducted into Larsson’s Sweden there will be mixed responses as to whether any of the flavour of the piece has been lost in the transfer from page to screen.

Where this first film is most impressive is in establishing the two main characters, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, As it is in Heaven). Rapace fully realises this unique literary character pulling off both the physical resemblance and the character’s personality traits. Rapace’s commitment to the role went beyond getting her motorbike licence, she also had all the facial piercing done for real. Nyqvist is also brilliant as Blomkvist, the fearless investigative journalist, bringing the character’s trademark charisma and likeability to the screen.

Read my full review at Trespass

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cop Out


What Kevin Smith seems to have forgotten in his latest film, Cop Out, is that good parodies are far more than a series of winks and nods to the audience. Touted as a comedic homage to 80s buddy cop films, Cop Out feels more outdated and tired than the films it’s looking to send up. A successful homage only works if your film is as good, if not better than the films you parody. Cop Out isn’t even close. Lacking originality, structure, focus, humour- simply put the film is so bad even Adam Brody (the O.C.’s geek chic) looks embarrassed to be acting in it.

Read my review at IGN.com


Monday, March 15, 2010

Green Filmmaking

Another piece for Trespass' Green Week. After a bit of research into how the film industry is approaching environmental challenges, I got tired of reading countless policy documents and decided to instead look at some examples of good practice in action.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

The second film in the Wachowski Brother’s Matrix trilogy took a novel approach to set dismantling. 97% of the material used in the sets was recycled at the end of the shoot. As well as having an environmental impact, this action also had a significant social impact in Mexico, where tonnes of wood from the film was sent to build 100 low-income family homes.

Native Energy


Syriana (2005)/ Inconvenient Truth (2006)/ No Country for Old Men (2007)

What do George Clooney’s film about political corruption, Al Gore’s thesis on the environment and the Coen Brother’s Oscar winning film have in common? They all worked with
NativeEnergy to calculate their films’ CO² production, including filming, air travel, rental car and truck emissions, hotel energy, generators on location, emission from shipping and office and warehouse energy use and then purchased renewable energy credits to offset their environmental impact. These credits went towards projects in Native American and Alaskan communities, helping to create sustainable economies for communities in need.

The Nativity Story

The Nativity Story’s director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) and producer Marty Bowen donated $USD15,000 of their own money to off-set the environmental impact of their production.
"I consider myself pretty conservative, especially by Hollywood's standards. I don't hug trees. I like my creature comforts. But that doesn't mean I don't have a responsibility to clean up my own mess."- Marty Bowen

Evan Almighty (2007)


This Steve Carrell comedy was film studio Universal’s first attempts at an eco-friendly production. Director Tom Shadyac implemented practical on-set measures like recycling sets and bikes for crew members and using solar power and diesel fuels. Universal also had the film’s carbon emissions calculated and then offset them by donating 2000 trees to The Conservation Fund.

Love the Beast (2009)


It is kind of ironic that Eric Bana’s documentary, which is a love-letter of sorts to the gas-guzzling car, joins the list of environmentally friendly films. ‘The Beast’ of the film’s title being Bana’s beloved 1973 Ford Falcon Coupe. Featuring car enthusiasts like Jeremy Clarkson (Top Gear) and Dr. Phil, the film doesn’t seem to have sustainability as its focus. Bana’s company, Pick Up Trucks Pictures, got in touch with Climate Positive, a not-for profit Australian company, and together they calculated the film’s emissions. Love the Beast’s carbon footprint was then off-set by a range of renewable energy projects.

Roland Emmerich- Director

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)/ 2012 (2009)

Which one is actor Kenneth Walsh?

Emmerich’s disaster films about environmental apocalypses are designed to show the potential devastation that will be caused by climate change. Emmerich is obviously a man who practices what he preaches. He cast Kenneth Walsh as the American Vice-President- an actor who bares an uncanny resemblance to Dick Cheney in The Day After Tomorrow; an undoubtedly a criticism of Bush’s failure to adopt the Kyoto Protocol. Emmerich also used $USD200,000 of his own money to offset the film’s carbon emissions. This money went towards planting trees and renewable energy sources. With 2012 Emmerich went a step further to mitigate his film’s carbon footprint, not only were carbon offsets purchased, he used biofuel for the film’s generators, and all the sets were either recycled or donated to Habitat for Humanity.

Natalie Portman


As well as being a beautiful and talented actress Portman (Leon, Garden State, Closer) is also an eco warrior. Portman, along with fellow actresses Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer) and Chloe Sevigny (Big Love), has fronted campaigns to get Americans to switch to energy efficient, compact fluorescent light-bulbs. She has travelled to Rwanda to learn about the plight of Mountain Gorillas there, making an Animal Planet documentary Saving a Species: Gorillas on The Brink. Portman has worked with Shoes4Africa, lending her voice and face to their campaign, and keeping with the shoe theme she launched her own line of 100% vegan shoes in 2008 (unfortunately the chain that stocked them went out of business during the credit crunch).

Leonardo DiCaprio


Child actor extraordinaire turned Scorsese muse, DiCaprio (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Aviator, Shutter Island) is a committed environmentalist. Well known for his hybrid car, DiCaprio has been vocal about his environmental concerns establishing The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998. Its aim is to expand global awareness of environmental issues by promoting current Green campaigns. In 2007 DiCaprio’s documentary 11th Hour came out, which he wrote, produced and narrated. With a strong message about changing our environmental behaviour, a website 11thHourAction was launched to help individuals and communities work towards sustainable goals.

Robert Redford

A Greenie from way-back, Redford has served on the board of
Natural Resources Defense Council for over 30 years. Redford has been promoting the benefits of solar energy since the 70s, producing a short film The Solar Film (1979) about solar energy that was nominated for an Academy Award. Redford has used his film festival Sundance to spread his environmental message fighting to preserve the Utah wilderness that houses the iconic festival and introducing eco-programming to the Sundance Channel.

Edward Norton


Norton best known for his roles in Primal Fear and Fight Club is also a social and environmental activist. Norton negotiated the Solar Neighbors Program with British Petroleum, which sees BP donate a free solar power system to low-income families in LA, every time one is purchased by a celebrity. Norton has lent his star power to environmental issues, hosting the award-winning National Geographic program, Strange Days on Planet Earth, which looked at global environmental issues. Norton helped raise over $USD750,000 last year for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, when he ran the 2009 New York City Marathon with a team of Maasai warriors and celebrities.

The full article can be found at Trespass

Friday, March 12, 2010

Remember Me


This is definitely a memorable film, but for all the wrong reasons. Remember Me has some pretty serious flaws, but most problematic is its outrageously inappropriate use of 9/11. Whilst the filmmakers probably thought this would be poignant and evocative, it is really distasteful. Although this is the film’s biggest mistake, you can’t overlook the awful dialogue, terrible scripting and pedestrian acting in this Robert Pattinson vehicle.

Pattinson plays the central character, Tyler Hawkins, as well as acting as Executive Producer. Channelling the tortured soul persona, Tyler is a troubled rich kid, with an out-of-touch father (Pierce Brosnan) and a useless mother (Lena Olin). The only people he cares about are his best friend/flatmate (Tate Ellington) and his younger sister (Ruby Jerins). When Tyler gets into a fist-fight and ends up in jail, it turns out the man who arrested him (Chris Cooper), has a daughter in his global politics class. Egged on by his BFF, he asks out Ally (Emilie de Ravin) to get back at her father, BUT shock-horror the pair fall hopelessly in love.

This film is without direction, confused as to what or who to focus on and which story to tell. The relationship between Tyler and Ally is strangely detached as Pattinson seems oddly unable to meet de Ravin’s eyes. His comic relief BFF is dispatched as soon as everything turns serious and unfortunately takes the only bit of joy with him. Chris Cooper and Pierce Brosnan are shipwrecked in this film, with each actor taking on one emotion for the whole movie. Cooper got anguish, and Brosnan got arrogance, and evidently they weren’t allowed to share.

Twilight fans are probably very keen to see Pattinson in a love-scene, but unfortunately it is not only his skin that isn’t sparkling in this film, his performance is cold and unengaging. Remember Me claims to explore themes of love and loss through tragic events; but director Allen Coulter’s assertion that his film is a love-letter to New York is very mistaken. His careless use of New York’s greatest tragedy, 9/11, is more like an anthrax-ridden parcel.



An abridged version of this review was published in The Brag 08/03/10

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Somewhere Near Tapachula

There is something very heart-warming about this documentary’s simplistic and unflinching approach. Made by surfing enthusiasts and filmmakers, Stefan Hunt and Jonno Durrant (Surfing 50 States), Somewhere Near Tapachula shows how much can be achieved through human kindness and the curative power of surfing.

The film introduces Australian couple Pam and Alan Skuse, who went to Mexico in 2000 to volunteer for 12 months and ended up setting up their own orphanage. The Skuses’ original placement ended up closing 6 months after their arrival, and faced with the rehousing of the 7 children in their care, they decided to stay on and Misión México was born.

This refuge in Tapachula, Chiapas now homes 54 children and young adults all coming from troubled backgrounds. Tapachula is close to the Guatemalan border and is a gateway for drugs and people-smuggling from Central and South America. The documentary offers us some of the older children’s stories which they share with stark and moving honesty.


Read the full review at Trespass

Monday, March 8, 2010

Top 10 Films Man vs Nature

It’s GREEN WEEK at Trespass and I imagine we will be looking at the many ways Man is destroying the Natural World. For the film section’s first Green piece, I didn’t want to victimize Nature, so I picked ten films where Nature fights back. Now I am in no way suggesting that animals and the environment started it, obviously Nature is just on the defensive, letting Man know every so often that they can bite back, literally.

10. JAWS (1975)


Jaws is a suspense classic that sees a giant killer shark terrorising the community of the fictional Amity Island. After reports of a prowling great white shark, the powers-that-be, reliant on summer tourist trade, refuse to close the beach on the season’s busiest weekend with tragic results. Martin Brody (Roy Scheider, Naked Lunch), the land-loving Police Chief, goes to great lengths to stop the man-eating fish. The film also stars Robert Shaw as a hunter with a very personal reason for hating sharks, and Richard Dreyfuss as an easy-going marine biologist.

Jaws was the first summer blockbuster film, grossing over $100 million at the US box office. Unfortunately the film’s success also imprinted on the public conscious a very negative view of sharks, creating a sense of hysteria and paranoia about them that has never really gone away. The author and screenwriter of Jaws, Peter Benchley became an active shark conservationist after seeing the film’s impact.


This spoof B-movie has had many spin-offs including the memorable 1990s animated series of the same name (well I remember it from my childhood). The film follows the exploits of homicidal tomatoes, and the specialist team put together to stop them. Whilst this cult film doesn’t really have any ecological lessons, I like to think you can ascribe an underlying message about tampering with fruit and vegetables (as the tomatoes are controlled by the evil US Press Secretary) and that organic farming is best.

8. DANTE’S PEAK (1997)/ VOLCANO (1997)

Released within two month of each other, Dante’s Peak and Volcano are both (not surprisingly) concerned with the potential pandemonium of a volcanic eruption on mainland America.

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Dante’s Peak was the first to be released and is generally considered to be the better of the two. Centred round a fictional town called Dante’s Peak in Washington, the film follows the build-up to an eruption as authority figures refuse to acknowledge the impending danger (I sense a theme here). Starring Linda Hamilton (Terminator 1 & 2) and Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye) the film’s tagline reads The Pressure is Building. Personally I think Volcano’s has a little more pizzazz with- The Coast is Toast.

Volcano stars Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive, In The Valley of Elah) as the head of the Office of Emergency Management in LA, who really should have known something terrible was going to happen when his 13 yr old daughter turns up. This is a disaster film and tragedy always strikes on parental visitation weekends. Ramping up the potential death-toll by placing a volcano smack- bang in the centre of Los Angeles, the film also stars Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) and Anne Heche (Six Days Seven Nights).

The message of these films is loud and clear, when Mother Nature is ready to explode, you get out of the way.


Adapted from Michael Crichton’s science fiction novel of the same name, Spielberg’s action blockbuster looks at the consequences of meddling with Nature. Multi-billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, Brighton Rock) sets up a theme-park with real life dinosaurs on a small island off Costa Rica. The dinosaurs have been brought back from extinction by genetic engineering. When the park has a few teething problems, Hammond brings in palaeontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill, The Piano), palaeobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, Wild at Heart) and chaos theorist (a rather worrying inclusion) Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, The Fly) to help reassure investors.

The arrogance of human behaviour is highlighted by the park’s production of carnivorous dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptors, who go on to prey on the park’s human residents. Despite the park’s best laid plans to only produce female dinosaurs, nature always finds a way- and the dinosaurs start reproducing on their own, just like this film which produced many sequels.


Disaster movie maestro, Roland Emmerich, takes it to the nth-degree with his end- of- the- world flick. Speeding up the results of climate change, the film sees a series of extreme weather conditions bring on a new ice age. With Dennis Quaid (Innerspace) as Jack Hall, a paleoclimatologist, and Ian Holm (From Hell) as a climate research scientist, who together work out that the polar ice caps are melting. Hurricanes, tidal waves and freezing weather ensue with many Americans (ironically) being forced to illegally cross into Mexico. Whilst most of the North Hemisphere is wiped out, as is common practice in disaster film, the plot focuses on families and follows Hall’s attempt to get to his son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko) who is in New York.


The original film, made in just two days, is a classic B-grade film. Set in a florist, the black comedy revolves around a weedy shop assistant called Seymour and a pot plant with a taste for blood. The Venus Fly-Trap plant bred by Seymour and named after his co-worker Audrey, grows increasingly big on a diet of Seymour’s blood, and starts attracting customers to the failing shop. The plant also grows in intelligence and appetite and demands more food from an anaemic Seymour, who finds himself inadvertently killing people and then feeding them to his plant (as you do).

This story of horticulturalism gone mad was turned into a Broadway musical in 1982, which was then turned into a film in 1986. This incarnation has proved far more successful than the original film. Directed by Frank Oz and with a superb comedic cast including Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, John Candy, Bill Murray and Christopher Guest, the musical version changed elements of the original film’s plot, making the murderous pot plant, a self-labelled ‘Mean Green Mother from Outer Space’ planning to take over the world as it buds.

4. LONG WEEKEND (1978)

The only Aussie film in the list, Long Weekend was made during the Ozploitation period in Australian filmmaking, when genre films ruled. The film’s tagline- pretty much sums up the premise of this movie- ‘Their crime was against nature...Nature found them guilty’.

The film sees a bickering suburban couple, Peter and Marcia, go for a weekend camping trip to the coast with their pet dog. But when the couple transgress against Nature by littering and killing a dugong (amongst other things), Nature decides to teach them a lesson, and they find themselves being attacked by all manner of animal and plant life.

A 2008 remake titled Nature’s Grave stars James Caviezel (The Passion of Christ) and Claudia Karvan (Love My Way) as the selfish couple who go on vacation to try and rekindle their faltering relationship. Unlike some other films on this list, you are much better sticking with the original film than the critically disparaged Jamie Blanks’ version.

3. THE BIRDS (1963)

Alfred Hitchcock’s avian horror movie is set in Bodega Bay, California. The film depicts increasingly violent attacks by birds on the residents, with Tippi Hedren (Marnie, I Heart Huckabees) and Australian, Rod Taylor (The Mercenaries, Inglourious Basterds) in the central roles. Hitchcock had thousands of seagulls, crows and ravens trained for the film as well as using mechanical and animated birds. Whilst the original story takes place in the UK where seagulls are as big as terriers, the birds in the film are still pretty damn scary. In the final scenes the harassed couple drive away from the seaside village with thousands of birds watching. Unlike many of the animal vs. man genre films, The Birds is one of the few where wildlife truly triumphs in the end.

Hitchcock’s movie never offers any explanation for the birds’ aggression; readings of the film tend to interpret a Freudian message as opposed to any moral about human’s treatment of animals. Personally I think the opening scenes where the central characters purchase caged birds, might have ticked the wild ones off!


This film is a second example of evil plants from Out-of-Space in this list, and the third case of murderous vegetation. There is obviously something in the human psyche that fears a botanical take-over.

Day of the Triffids is an English film, based on a novel of the same name by John Wyndham. Although the film takes certain liberties with the original text, the basic premise of human versus mutated plants stays the same. When a meteorite shower, blinds 99% of the population, spored space creatures of the humongous plant variety take the opportunity to attack. The film has been derided for its ridiculous ending, but this didn’t stop M. Night Shyamalan using it for the climax of Signs.

The 1981 British/Australian TV series version is considered to be a far superior adaptation of the book and was recently remade by the BBC in 2009. In the TV series, the Triffids are carnivorous plants, which humans farm for oil. These later versions are crammed with social commentary and say far more about human nature than the potential cruelty of the natural world.

1. ORCA (1977)


With a genius tagline that read –The Killer Whale, this story of an animal taking revenge against a human, was heavily influenced by Jaws and Moby Dick. Set in Canada the film follows an Irish fisherman, Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) who tries to capture a killer whale, and in doing so kills a pregnant female in front of her male partner. This sparks a series of revenge attacks on the boat’s crew, and Nolan turns to whale expert Dr. Bedford (Charlotte Rampling) and Native American Jacob Umilak (Will Sampson) to help him subdue the vigilante whale.

This eco-horror film feels rather topical given recent Sea World events, surely the message we should take from both is that whales should not be kept in captivity and woe-betide anyone that tries.

Check out Green Week at Trespass

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Men that Stare at Goats

When you hear the words; Jeff Bridges, George Clooney and comedic military exposé to describe a film, you get excited, especially when the film is based on an excellent non-fiction book by one of your favourite journalists. And when you hear the director is Grant Heslov, who co-wrote and produced Good Night, and Good Luck with Clooney, the cake seems to be icing itself. Sadly the joy of what could have been disappears once the film starts, and you have to witness the ludicrous linear narrative that has been tacked together, leaving Jon Ronson’s original work bloody and tattered on the floor.

Jon Ronson’s book is an investigation into a secretive American military unit that was sent up in 1979, called the First Earth Battalion. This unit was designed to create ‘Warrior Monks’ who focused on non-lethal weapons as well as harnessing techniques like invisibility and killing (goats) with their minds. Ronson links these unusual pursuits to current US tactics, like blasting Barney the Dinosaur’s theme tune at prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.


It isn’t really surprising that transposing a brilliant piece of British journalism into an American ‘buddy’ film would create something very average. Ewan McGregor plays the central character, Bob Wilton, an American journalist. This is ironic because like the journalist in the book, McGregor is British. Part of the success of the book is the fish out of water element of a Brit interviewing American military personnel- the nationality relocating proves to be a substantial loss to the flavour of the piece.

click here to read the full review at Trespass

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Blind Side

The Blind Side has achieved something rather amazing; it has completely marginalised the central character in his own story. Based on the real life of Michael Oher, who went from being a homeless teenager to a highly sort after NFL player, the film chooses to focuses instead on Sandra Bullock’s character, Leigh Anne Tuohy the rich, White, Republican woman who ‘saved’ him.

The Blind Side is a meant to be a heart-warming story. Unfortunately the story’s sweetness is overshadowed by its unsettling paternalism. Set in Memphis, Tennessee, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) is a large Black teenager with a drug-addicted mother and an unstable home-life. Oher’s potential athletic abilities convince a suburban Baptist school to give him a scholarship. But Oher’s turbulent living arrangements look set to disturb his improved educational situation, until the Tuohy family intervene. When Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw) pass a dejected Oher, clothed only in shorts and a t-shirt despite the wintry conditions, the wealthy family take him in.

The real Tuohy family were obviously kind people who seeing someone in trouble went above what is expected. Unfortunately the film is not so nice. When all the Black people in a film are poor drug-users and gang-bangers, and all the White people are friendly Christians who just love helping people and watching American football, the disproportion in representation is alarming. Starting from the film’s poster, the message, consciously or not, is that Black talent is best realised in a White world.

The fact that Oher is nearly mute in a film about his life, speaks volumes as to the film’s perspective. Director John Lee Hancock has made Bullock the main attraction as a ‘motherly saint’, and sidelined Oher as a ‘gentle giant’. This is lazy filmmaking, allowing the film to rely on quasi- racial stereotypes, that are enough to make you want to choke on your popcorn.



Published in The Brag 01/03/10

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton’s
reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass is fun and visually spectacular, weaving together live and animated action. Taking inspiration from Carroll’s plots and incorporating his magical characters, the film is well suited to its 3D format. Burton’s storyline differs from the source material, with a teenage Alice, returning to act as Wonderland’s heroine.

We meet 19 yr old Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska, Defiance, Amelia) on the cusp of womanhood, confined by stuffy Victorian society. Alice only remembers her childhood visit to Wonderland as a recurring dream. But during a garden party, where she is to be engaged, once again Alice is tempted back down the rabbit-hole by the White Rabbit, (voiced by Michael Sheen, Frost/Nixon, New Moon). Returning to Wonderland, Alice is reunited with comfortingly familiar Carroll creations such as Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas, Little Britain), Absolem (voiced by Alan Rickman) and The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd, Public Enemies).

It is nice to see a central female character who isn’t passive. Alice is ready to speak her mind and defend her friends. Australian actress, Wasikowska is delightful in this starring part. Walking the line between childhood and adulthood, she gives Alice a lovely determinedness as well as a wide-eyed innocence.

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But as frequently happens, especially in Burton films, the characters with a bit of menace are the most compelling to watch on screen. Helena Bonham-Carter (Wings of a Dove, Fight Club) revels in her role as the temperamental Red Queen. With a fabulously exaggerated bulbous head, the Queen’s murderous vanity sees her courtiers wearing similarly enormous prosthetic body parts. With a penchant for cutting off the heads of those who displease her, the Red Queen rules by terror with the gangly Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover) by her side.


Special mention has to go to the exquisite costuming from two-time Academy-award winner, Colleen Atwood (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha). Atwood, who has collaborated with Burton before, truly completes the characters with her wardrobe choices. Alice wears so many beautiful dresses with Atwood working magic on the tricky problem of Alice’s continuous growing and shrinking.

To read my full review and for a chance to get your hands on double passes for Alice in Wonderland head over to Trespass