Category Archives: Movies

For those who say ‘Movies are not real life, you know.’

popcornFor me, a great movie is one that holds a mirror to my face and forces me think about my own life. I appreciate a film where the lesson resonates deeply and sticks with me through time, repeating and repeating as needed so I remember that I am not alone when life gets extreme.

Now I can find meaning and reflection in just about any film and am addicted to the potential each new story offers. When I enter the cinema I have expectations of inspiration. As the opening credits roll, I will the film to have the power to sweep me up in its mission, to captivate me in its layers and make me fall hard in love with its characters.

I love the penny-drop moments that come mid-experience at the movies and those that arrive later. I love to wrestle with and talk through the themes and ideas contained in each piece. I love to take sides and try the emotion on for size, then swap sides and see how that feels for a while. I love to have a physical reaction to a story – a gripping anxiety, a teary tug of joy, chest-crushing fear or disappointment so thick and cloying it makes me want to spit.

I love how film can change my views on the world, sometimes totally demolishing long held perspectives and filling the space with new, exciting and challenging ideals. I love watching a film at one age, then re-watching that film some years down the track to see if my reaction to the event is newly coloured by my age and stage and matured impressions.

In the past few weeks I’ve seen a lot of films and have taken something from each and stored them away in my mental self-help guide for future reference.

Movies are not real life, you know. But they sure can make life more real.

How much do you love films?


Movie Review – Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Last July I saw Cate Blanchett at the movies. That day she was in the audience with her kids and I was there with mine. We approached the cinema at the same time and had to wait a few minutes – just inches from each other – until the doors were opened. And though I tried to be cool, I just couldn’t stop staring – and I wasn’t the only one.  You see even on a day off as she tried to blend in with her kids, star struck patrons approached to remind her ‘Wow! You’re Cate Blanchett!’ Just in case she had forgotten. Because even dressed down in a suburban shopping centre Cate Blanchett was not like all the other parents. She had a natural elegance and striking stature that made her stand out from the crowd. Call it a presence, star quality or X factor, from what I could see Cate Blanchett has plenty of it.

Today I saw Cate Blanchett at the movies, but this time she was onscreen starring in Woody Allen’s latest release Blue Jasmine.  Blanchett plays Jasmine Francis, a stylish New York socialite who is forced to move in with her sister in San Francisco when her life of wealth and privilege suddenly comes crashing down.

We piece together Jasmine’s story, gaining insight into who she has become and why through flashbacks of her former life. Seemly and unseemly behaviour are intertwined with a series of events that are very believable in a post-GFC world. Jasmine is a very practised persona, who really does herself no favours as a selectively naïve wife choosing not to acknowledge all the evidence of deceit as it piles up around her. Yet, even when she is broken and everything seems lost including her sanity, Jasmine maintains a certain grace and mystique that whether genetic or hard-earned, are certainly palpable and compelling both to the audience and many of the characters.

Blue Jasmine is confronting and captivating. It is less whimsical than many of Woody Allen’s films. There is still a good dose of neuroses, but in this story the reasons for their existence are more clearly defined.

Blanchett’s performance and Allen’s screenplay are perfectly matched. I have no doubt that Cate Blanchett did Woody Allen very proud in Blue Jasmine and that she should enjoy all the accolades that I’m sure will come her way for this exceptional performance. There is also little doubt that Allen knew exactly what he was doing in casting Blanchett for this role. Because even in a role that is not always beautiful to watch, Cate Blanchett is not like all the other actresses. She is reliably strong, intelligent and refined which makes her stand out from the rest.

Even though my real life interaction with Cate Blanchett was very short and distant, I suspect she may empathise with her character Jasmine Francis. Because just like enormous wealth, enormous fame must sometimes come at a cost and some days things are just too good to be true.

Have you seen Blue Jasmine? What was your reaction? What is your favourite Woody Allen film?


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Movie Review – Before Midnight

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight

Do you love it or loathe it when art imitates life? I love, love, love it and can’t get enough of it. Which is perhaps why I have been so drawn to the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) on their great adventure of coupledom in the three Before movies, directed by Richard Linklater. I’m not going to call them a trilogy, because I hope there will be more.

When Jesse and Celine met for the first time on the train in Before Sunrise in 1995, I was at an age when I was eagerly welcoming chance into my own life. I was 21, had dutifully finished school and university and was old enough to have discovered the hard way that you can only control so much of life and it doesn’t always go to plan. The upside being that I was also learning to recognise and appreciate that it is the random, unplanned events that can have the most lasting impact on life’s path. Every meeting or new person or unfamiliar occurrence was ripe and dripping with possibility. Every fresh day felt like my real life as a grown up was almost about to start. Every week was an intoxicating mix of adventure and misadventure. I had the luxury of saying yes to everything, trying choices on for size, racking up consequences and rationalising mistakes.

I had travelled and loved and dreamed massive dreams. I was unknowingly about to meet my own love of my life. At this time, Jesse and Celine’s rambling musings about life and promise reflected my own thoughts and conversations. We were old enough to sense that life could be enormous, but still too young to make giant decisions that might start narrowing the funnel of ‘what ifs?’. It was definitely still too soon to start answering life’s big questions.

I watched Before Sunset (2004) almost a decade later once huge long term decisions had been made and – like Jesse – I was married with a son. For Jesse, Celine and I, enough time had passed that real grown up experience had either lived up to its promise or not. The scourge of maturity is a growing sense of dissatisfaction – cognitive dissonance of choices made and a sense of confusion that this life you are left with might be as good as it is going to get. Jesse and Celine chose to change course – to re-open a door they once thought was closed. They left their lives behind and chose to be together. This is where our stories differed – but I understood their doubt and admired their willingness to risk it all just when society expected us to be settling down.

And now in 2013 as I watched Before Midnight I was reminded of our shared experiences to date and eager to use their most recent chapter as a barometer for my own life at this time. Jesse and Celine, now parents to twins as well as to Jesse’s son from his previous marriage, take a precious moment to stop and reflect while on a holiday in Greece. But as many of us know, reflection can be dangerous as inevitably both the good and the bad of life are considered. We watch this couple debate their choices and question their sense of satisfaction. How did they get where they are and is it enough?

I now also have three kids and a burgeoning bank of experience about relationships and life. My husband and I have survived and thrived against a series of unstoppable, joyous, challenging and weird instances and incidents each day, week and year that we never could have imagined happening – not even in the movies.

In Before Midnight I felt relieved to see Jesse and Celine having discussions just like I have had with my husband over the past decade. These are the honest and very real discussions between two characters in the midst of very real life situations.

When they are given a kid-free evening, Celine struggles with leaving her children even just for one night, perhaps intuitively sensing that when there is space to challenge the status quo, there are no guarantees of a happy ending for anyone involved.

They wrestle with balancing what is right for their kids without losing a sense of themselves – even with full knowledge that they have frequently made choices that put themselves and their needs ahead of their offspring’s. I have found it is often very easy to rationalise a case either way to justify such decisions and assuage any surrounding guilt. ‘If I am happy my children will also be happy’, sounds very similar to ‘If my children are happy then I am also happy’ but the two ideals are very different indeed, particularly once you try to put them into practice.

Had I been in Greece with Jesse and Celine and joined their lengthy discussion of our place in life at this age and stage, I would hope to have articulated my view that the biggest issue for the middle class masses is having too many choices rather than too few. Should I work full time or stay home to raise the children? Should we stay living where we are or move across the world to be closer to family? Red wine or white? Eat in or out? Such first world problems seem so important in the course of our day to day lives – and worse – each option sounds so tempting that when you choose one over the other, it feels like you are making such a huge sacrifice in forgoing the unchosen one.  It is so easy to focus on that thing you could have had but didn’t, instead of being grateful for the thing you did have that became part of your story.

You see we are really so lucky to have such wonderful options in the first place. The world is smaller and more connected so the avenues for getting what you want are endless. But just don’t hope for enough – because nothing will ever be enough. Just as you are reaching a point of satisfaction, another better option will fill the void and your longing for enough will continue and compound. Enough money, enough time, enough kids, enough things – we need to be comfortable with the fact that maybe there will never be enough. Or perhaps we already have it?

In the end, despite all the emotion and doubt circling the responsibilities of life, sometimes you just need to stop and to forget all the  drama and choices and to live for a moment. To take respite and breathe for a little while to steady yourself before you dive back into your everyday world and continue the next chapter of your story. There are no right answers to legitimise your life. You’ve just got to get in and live it.

In Greece, just before midnight, Jesse and Celine have the chance to do just this and – just like in real life – their story will continue.

I hope Linklater, Hawke and Delpy get busy soon on the next instalment from Jesse and Celine as I look forward to seeing how our paths converge and take the chance to hold a mirror up to my own experience – to remind myself of the power of chance, that it is never too late to change course and that enough needs to be enough. All of this adds up to a memorable and meaningful life story.

Have you seen any of these films? What did you think? Did they help you reflect on your own life?

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This Great Gatsby

“Anyhow he gives large parties…and I like large parties. They’re so intimate.” As said by Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby

This is just how I felt watching Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. You can always rely on Baz to give us something large, to make us feel like we are actually at his big party and to dare us to have a very personal, intimate response to the story and its characters. And I like it.

I have read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel a handful of times and seen Mia Farrow’s Daisy captivate Robert Redford’s Gatsby on screen many times.

Compared to the 1974 film, Luhrmann’s version fills in more of the blanks in the story, perhaps making it more accessible to a global audience and to those who may not have read the book. For example the use of sweeping panoramic shots travelling across bays and landscapes helps us to locate and understand the distances between Long Island and New York City, while dramatic historical flashback scenes flesh out this Gatsby’s story.

The acting wasn’t without fault, but I haven’t been a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio since his last film with Baz, Romeo + Juliet. Leo’s baby face has always made it hard for me to take him seriously in adult roles, yet in this film he looks much older that the character’s 32 years.

For the most part Carey Mulligan is appropriately vapid as Daisy, a Venus and a vixen who manipulates and is manipulated at every turn. Poor Daisy can’t win, but she is hardly an innocent and certainly not a ‘beautiful little fool’.

I loved Tobey Maguire and thought he had just enough quirk to suit what is a Nick Carraway with a greater sense of depth and mirth than I ever imagined was present in the text. Some of his scenes – such as the afternoon tea where Jay and Daisy meet – have the comedy amped up so high that they verge on slapstick.

A movie for the hat lovers amongst us.

A movie for the hat lovers amongst us.

The design and costumes were impeccable as expected. I know I take Catherine Martin’s skill for granted, so I want to recognise her epic effort and attention to detail. I’ve always been obsessed with cloche hats. Yes, I am aware this is strange addiction, but a girl can’t control what tickles her fancy. I certainly got my fill of fabulous headwear in this film.

Gorgeous Tiffany & Co. gems were gratuitously flaunted as a key element of the glamorous depiction of flapper fashion, but this was also indicative of the huge marketing machine shadowing this production. I mean we have been talking about this film for a couple of years now, ogling over leaked photos from the Sydney set during filming, being disappointed by a delayed release date and now-at last-it is here for our amusement. As a case study on how to promote a movie, this one has certainly set a lofty benchmark.

I loved the use of modern music magically blended to suit the 1920s styling and I highly recommend the soundtrack – which I am playing as I write this. There are some great surprises (like Beyoncé singing Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black) and memorable melodies (Lana Del Ray’s Young and Beautiful) from some of the greatest contemporary artists. Special mention to Gotye’s Heart’s a Mess which perfectly suits the subject matter and is inventive in its sound.

Watching this new Gatsby made me wish I could experience the story for the first time all over again through Baz’s eyes. Yet this is a film I’m sure I will view over and over again, always seeing something new in this tale filled with glitz and grit, where the going is good and life is grand – until the rot sets in.

Loved your party, Baz. Thanks for the invitation.

Have you seen The Great Gatsby? What did you think?

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Movie Review – First Position

first positionKids that are Meant for Ballet

Today I spent a lovely morning in Carlton indulging in some of my favourite things. First, book hunting in Readings… for over 20 minutes …without kids or complaints. Then I moved on for coffee and a pastry at Brunetti (What? It’s not a fasting day!). Then it was time to join the impeccably groomed retired ladies for a bit of a flick at Cinema Nova.

I love going to the movies, especially something a bit less commercial, viewed in one of the tiny cinemas right down the end of one of Nova’s rambling corridors. So I turned left, then right, then left, then right and right again and found said cinema with only one other occupant – practically a private screening.

Now I am a fan of a good doco film.  I read a glowing review about First Position some weeks ago. I was hopeful this piece would be packed with the wonderfully insightful and honest moments and engaging characters that we have come to expect from the very best modern verite style documentary films. I wasn’t disappointed.

This award winning film, by first time director Bess Kargman, follows the story of seven aspiring ballet dancers and their families as they prepare to compete in the prestigious ballet competition, the Youth America Grand Prix.

Surely this Director could not believe her luck? How could she have possibly predicted that the four girls and three boys she cast would have such gruelling and compelling journeys? Yet these scarily skilled children and teens were clearly on the verge of stardom. Despite their young ages, each had already been working at their craft for many years, displaying unswerving dedication and commitment at the expense of many other childhood activities, just to be offered a chance to train at one of the elite ballet schools and ultimately work in one of the world renowned ballet companies. These kids were meant for ballet.

It is a really wonderful film and it still makes me happy to think about the experience.  I was excited before I even saw it and was immediately and totally engrossed in the stories.

I particularly learned a lot from watching the parents’ behaviour as devoted custodians of their talented offspring. It was fascinating to get a sense of the immense support it takes to guide and boost a child in a world where nothing less than perfection is permitted. I’m still not sure if it would be a blessing or a curse – probably both in equal measure.

Please try to catch First Position at the cinema or grab the DVD once released. If you are keen to show older children exactly what it can take to reach success in a chosen sport or activity, First Position is certainly family friendly, but kids under 10 might get a bit wriggly.

Ballet and Me

Me at about 10 years old. Not exactly Prima Ballerina material.

Me at about 10 years old. Not exactly Prima Ballerina material.

Of course this film caused me to reflect on my own stellar ballet career. From an early age I begged my mother to let me have ballet lessons. For years Mum resisted, citing something she heard on the radio once that stated for a fact that girls should not start ballet until at least nine years of age. Something about girls’ bodies needing to develop and the alarming risk of deformed feet, permanent injury, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Now I have no reason to doubt my mother on these points, but her theory sounds very much like some of the ‘loose truths’ I  kinda sorta use with my  kids when they are really into something, but I am really not. For example, ‘No kids, the Lolly Shop is closed on Saturdays’ or ‘Sorry kids, the park is being mowed at the moment’. See – just harmless little twists of logic that are a convenient quick fix for a moment and will surely have no lasting impact on my children?

Anyway, as soon as I turned nine I hotfooted it down to The Ashgrove School of Dance. For the next four years I tried valiantly to bring my mother’s vision of mangled tootsies to life in pursuit of the perfect pointe. I wore acres of tulle and eons of blue eyeshadow. I stretched and strained and imagined myself as the personification of gracefulness. I loved ballet – most of the time.

But then as high school approached and ballet lessons encroached upon every weekday afternoon, my father made a decision. He cut me off. No more ballet.

Now I’m sure he had his reasons. I’m sure the demands on my time – and his back pocket – meant that sacrifices had to be made. But all I heard at the time – and the thing that stays with me today – was one specific comment from my father. It was a thinly veiled reality check, intended certainly to lessen the hurt and numb the disappointment. ‘Leah’, he said. ‘You are simply growing too tall to ever be a prima ballerina.’ Way to let me down easy, Dad.

Funny thing was at 12 years old I was 5 foot, 2 & 3/4 inches – the exact same height I am today. But I’m sure it seemed like logical reasoning at the time.

So I guess my mother was right and ballet had indeed halted my development and stunted my growth. I guess the use of parental ‘loose truths’ is genetic. And I guess I thought ballet was meant for me, but – in the end – I was not meant for ballet.

What about you? Have you seen First Position? What did you think?

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