Tag Archives: Review

Review: Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut

I’ll try to keep this to under 10 minutes. Life is hectic, can’t blog too long.

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Director: Ridley Scott

I actually saw the short version at the cinemas 5 or so years ago. At the time, I truly disliked the movie for its audacity in mutilating history, and pidgeon-holing the events into the classic hollywood epic flick formula. Good guy (Orlando Bloom) has to protect the treasure (Jerusalem) and the girl (the Queen) from the bad guy (the muslim Saladin).

This is not the case in the director’s cut. Ridley Scott actually wanted to make a movie that was not formulaic but loosely based on historical events, and accurately portraying both sides of the siege of Jerusalem some 1000 years ago. Though I was not there, nor am I a historian, the director’s cut seemed very well balanced, many of the Christians were still mostly fanatical and war crazed, but that can be expected. The more moderate christians and the muslims were given far more screen time in the director’s cut, a good thing, and another good outcome was that Orlando Bloom’s screentime was reduced. There’s still the obligatory super soft core sex scene, but in the scheme of things, it’s not so bad, especially as he doesn’t appear for about half of the second part of the movie.

The director’s cut is 40 minutes longer than the original, and was intended to be released in cinemas but was cut by the studio. The film flopped at the cinemas.

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Review: The English Patient (Novel)

Author: Michael Ondaatje
Publisher: Bloomsbury

This actually won the booker prize in 1992. I have a habit of picking up and reading booker prize winners. Suffice to say my opinion of the booker prize has decreased ever so slightly with this… this… bitter fruit of tender skin.

The story focuses on a nurse in the Italian villa de Girolamo who cares for a burnt up man they call the English Patient. He is a genius and they are joined by a Caravaggio, a thief, and Singh, an Indian sapper, who is also a genius. The primary dramatic questions are ‘who is the english patient?’, and ‘how have they suffered during the war?’ and ‘how will they deal with the ghosts of that suffering?’

Where to start. You read the book and you are bewildered by the language. All the phrases, sentences, paragraphs are put together like a contemporary sculpture, like graceful conflicts of curves and lines, circles and squares and triangles and tetrahedrons. It’s at once beautiful and f***ing confusing. You set your eyes to the sentence, and it flows but comes to an abrupt stop before anything and he’s already on the next thought, and instead of being straightforward about it he has to express the second or third layer of emotion. So you’re constantly fighting the author, trying to figure out what’s going on. Worse is, this doesn’t just happen on the micro level, it also happens on the many macro levels. The story is told in a series of flash backs, and some of the most important stuff is left to the end. I’m not stupid, so I did figure out what was going on, but it took a lot of effort. And I don’t like it when books take too much effort, it saps the enjoyment!

And if you’re not going to read for enjoyment? Then what are you going to read for. (To write a hit novel… but that’s another story)

One positive is that the book is well researched, just flip to the acknowledgements at the end and you’ll notice that Mr. Ondaatje spent some time in the archives of the London geographical society and did other research of arcana related to desert exploration. I am unconvinced this proved very useful for the reader, unless he is a genius like  2 of the 4 main characters in the book… except that it makes the reading experience more authentic, though slightly harder. Parts of the Sahara are particularly harsh on the metaphorical tongue.

Plotwise, it’s actually quite weak. The main thrust, or the primary love story they pontificate about in the blurb actually unfolds in the last sixth of the book in the form of a flash back, unravelling the genesis of the burnt up English Patient. Up until then, it’s flash backs on the history of the other characters, some mild love scenes between the most unlikely characters (hardly believable). However these are clearly secondary to the bulk of the content which is Mr. Ondaatje’s forte, the description of moments of fleeting beauty, sadness, lacrimae, or what have you in graceful yet discordant English prose; they’re meant to serve a purpose, and I suppose if you had the time to really meditate on these little morsels of prose which are almost self-sufficient, and littered liberally in any which order, then by all means I recommend this book to you. Otherwise, think twice.

Rating: 5.5/10

Sound boring? Read the movie, it has a good cast (Ralph Feinnes? Collin Firth?), and won something like 8 academy awards including best picture and best actor.

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Review: Hotel Rwanda

Director: Terry George

Perhaps it’s my dark nature but I’m very drawn to massacres and media dealing with massacres. Schindler’s list, The pianist, Primo Levi, Vonnegut, I watch and read with the attention I do not give to others, such as Jane Austen.

Hotel Rwanda is the story of the Hotelier Paul Ruvasagina who is a Hutu Hotelier in the employ of a Belgium hotel and who saves a thousand or so Tutsi’s by allowing them to take refuge in the hotel and trying to ensure their safe passage through bribery and solicitation of the UN peace keepers.

In reality the Rwandan massacre was a most unfortunate event in human history where over a million people were killed in 100 days on the basis that they were tsutsis, probably worse than killing jews because the tsutsis were for most purposes no different to the hutus, the division being arbitrarily made by Belgium colonialists – a point made quite clear in the film when Joaquin Phoenix (of gladiator fame) asks one lady which they are and they say ‘hutu’ and then asks her firend and the reply is ‘tsutsi’.

The plotline is somewhat constrained by the fact that the film is based on real life events, so the director would be really in for it if he were to say, wrap a cape around Paul the hotelier and have him take up an angry sub-machine gun in with unlimited ammunition to all the hutus. The usual eye for an eye moral code would have been very enjoyable, far more than the faithful truth where Paul is only a hotelier with limited means.

I think the only liberty with the truth that the director has taken is to include a lousy, but requisite, love story between Paul and his wife. Love within wedlock is cute, but not titillating. At least, it is thankful that Paul isn’t portrayed as an absolute saint because he is a man with his priorities right – family first, and he is driven by fear, vanity etc. I’m not denying the existence of love, but merely saying it wasn’t quite like that right?

In a nutshell the movie is simply a character study of the hotelier man, he begins arrogant, he see’s some  bad stuff, he acts instinctively to do the humane thing, he suffers, he gets angry, he gets battered, but he weathers it and he survives and is a hero. Everyone else may as well be made from cardboard because they don’t really get a look in, the UN colonel, the wife, the brother, the sister, the wife, the humanitarian worker, the cameramen; there’s not enough screen time for their backgrounds to be fleshed out, or even for Paul’s childhood to be decried. It is thankful in this case that Don Cheadle does such a good job playing him, though it was alarming to find later that night that he plays the guy in War Machine in Iron man 2 – but who will check us in at the hotel Michelin in Kigali? Of special mention for worst acting is the UN colonel, I know his directions from the director must’ve been to “look as though you’re hiding something” but, surely, such an obvious throwaway that he’s hiding something does not do any good for the suspense factor.

The director tries throughout to permeate the film with the notion of impending violence or suspense he does not quite get there. The acts shown on screen are not cruel enough, not enough relatives die on screen, I wasn’t really made to care for them, the lead up was not happy enough. Thus, if you’re after some excitement (shame on you…) then I suggest the Killing Fields about the Cambodian massacres. But if you want to learn a little about what happened in Rwanda, and finally tell the difference between Hutu’s and Tsutsi’s then Hotel Rwanda is a good way to spend two hours doing that. Because you’re bound to spend far longer arguing with someone about whether it was the Hutus who killed the Tsutsi’s or the Tsutsi’s who killed the Hutu’s with someone argumentative (like me) somewhere down the track.

Arbitrary Rating: 6.5/10

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Review: Aida by Verdi

Date: 17 July 2012
Venue: Sydney Opera House
Director: Graeme Murphy

I was, again, invited by my colleague whom we shall call “A” to a night at the opera last night. Opera Australia’s Aida was on. I believe tickets are in the region of $100 – $300. Enough with the details.

Aida is an Ethiopian princess in the servitude of the Pharaoh’s daughter. She loves Rademes, an egyptian general who leads the Egyptian armies against the Ethiopian army. Rademes loves her. The pharaoh’s daughter love’s Ramones. And so on, you can probably guess what happens.

As with all opera they sing their words. These were sung in Italian, better than singing in English, but always slightly unnerving, still.

The production was grand and lavish, liberal lashings of gold and silver with clever use of the opera projectors to really sell the Egyptian theme of the day. Indeed, the chorus was made up of over 50 people with numerous costume changes from courtier, to soldier, to slave. There were professional ballet dancers for the dancing sections which were probably the best part. The dancing made up for the cardboard set, this has got to do with finances, the limitations of the drama theatre of the opera house, or the Australian identification with practicality above all. In any case, the quality of some of the cardboard was questionable, and suspension of disbelief very valuable; at times I felt like I was at a school production. Further I could not stand the loose plastic film on the moat, but I was sitting in an inconvenient seat where inconvenience begets nagging. My final nag therefore was that the chorus thought they could hide amongst each other, and they put in weak dramatic performances.

The singing performances were polished. The soprano (Aida) was best, clear and powerful, her voice like forceful thrusts of the sabre. The weakest was the mezzo-soprano, though she had the lower range she had some difficulty overcoming the accompaniment. However, if it is of any consolation, she was beautiful, as an Egyptian princess should be. The baritone and Tenor earn a pass from me.

At the beginning of the third act a ballet dancer swims along the Nile, she is partly nude, you can see her breasts. I thought you would like to know that. You could see them for the full 3 minutes she was dancing. They were small, but well tensed – as could be expected of a lithe dancer. It didn’t distract from the cardboard palm tree with bananas, but good effort Mr. Murphy.

One could go on about the tiny flaws in the production like Styrofoam angels wings and plastic capes but we can just put that down to the age and place we live in. The important thing is the scale and intent of the production was grand, and to a fair degree this was achieved. When the chorus launched into “Glory to Egypt” I certainly did feel something, like this was as good as it was going to get, and it was. But it was good enough. The rest of the opera was Verdi wrapping wrapping wrapping it up by making star crossed lovers do their thing, in another 1.2 hours plus 20 minute interval. You could almost hear the tedium in the voices. Oh how I bemoan the need for closure sometimes! But surviving is its own achievement.

Rating: 7.5/10

On a closing note, my friend A sat next to Jonathan Biggins of Travesties fame and neglected to even say hi to the dear gentleman and his daughter.

And to the two pretty ladies in row C near the left a most warm hello and if we ever do meet again, I shall let you know.

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