Automata

Automata Poster

Automata (2014)

Directed by Gabe Ibanez. Written by Igor Legarreta, Javier Sanchez Donate and Gabe Ibanez.

On paper, this film should be really, really good. It has a strong cast, the cinematography is equal to many contemporary films, and the overall production design is really excellent, albeit a little too reminiscent at times of some other, better known films. The narrative premise (again, nothing new) is solid and offers the promise of a deeper interrogation of questions of value, the nature of life and so on.

So why doesn’t work?

By the end of the first act I found myself wondering why I was watching yet another dystopian sci-fi, with a jaded but essentially goodhearted male anti-hero at its core. Antonio Banderas is in the hot seat this time, just trying to do the right thing by everyone – the company he works for, his heavily pregnant wife and increasingly, a sex robot named Cleo and her group of fellow robots trying to escape human interference across an irradiated wasteland. Yeah, I know, I don’t get it either.

This sombre piece uses a faded colour palette, and often overbearing score, the age-old cinematic tropes around femininity and motherhood and some very clunky dialogue to hammer home its message of human frailty in the face of self-aware machines. All in all it’s incredibly heavy-handed and should have been much more fun.

Automata is available to watch in Australia on Netflix, but I’d suggest revisiting Blade Runner (1982) or Mad Max (1979) for better quality dystopian sci-fi.

The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth Poster

The Wandering Earth (2019)

Directed by Frant Gwo.

This 2019 Chinese science-fiction film is loosely based on a novella of the same name from 2000 by Liu Cixin. Made for a relatively modest US$50 million, this made US$700 million world wide, making it the third highest grossing Chinese production of all time.

Narratively, it’s messy with too many side plots, but essentially, the sun is dying and in an audacious move, a newly formed world government decides to turn the earth into a spaceship, using multiple propulsion engines around the planet. The remaining inhabitants are sheltered deep underground in specially built bunkers, only returning to the now frozen surface to carry out maintenance activities. Leading the earth on its 2500 year voyage is a massive rotating space station, complete with a HAL-like computer, all eerily reminiscent of 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968). As the station and Earth pass by Jupiter things start to come unstuck and shenanigans ensue.

Directed by Frant Gwo, this is a big movie with big ideas and big themes. Everything about this film is over the top, with spectacular special effects, bombastic performances and frenetic pacing throughout. At times, it was really hard to keep up with the action and in many respects, it reminded me of an anime or manga.

Unfortunately, this was only ever released in the west on the streaming platform Netflix and I think it could have gained much from a cinematic release outside of China. Also, the science is frankly preposterous, and that did take me out of the action at times. Nevertheless, I had fun with this film and for all its flaws, found it quite enjoyable.

The Wandering Earth is available in Australia on Netflix in the original Mandarin with English subtitles, English closed caption or dubbed.

2020: The Year of Topsy-Turvy

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Nectarine blossom September 2020

Well, if nothing else this year has proven to be always eventful, challenging and more recently, downright overwhelming.

It seems a lifetime ago now that I was hoping to fill my days in isolation with gardening, watching films, reading, music and writing. That was back in March.

Since then, I’ve had to sit quietly and watch while the world changed irrevocably. There have been illnesses, deaths, joys and triumphs – but above all things, hundreds of films to keep me going.

In June, I decided to take the plunge and sign up for a postgraduate course at my alma mater, Griffith University. I could do it part-time, fully online and there was enough interest from Screen Studies academics on staff to make me feel confident in my choices and less like an imposter.

Then in July my ex-husband died. This unleashed a torrent of conflicting emotions which I won’t go into here, but suffice it to say it was a very difficult time.

A few weeks ago, I started to notice unusual and frequent pain in my hands and fingers. I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, so put it down to a Spring flare up. (Those of you with autoimmune and/or arthritic conditions will understand!) But it didn’t get any better, and by last week I couldn’t type, hold heavy objects or really do anything that required strength in my fingers. I was devastated.

Yesterday I went to my GP and I’ve started new anti-inflammatory drugs. Today I had x-rays taken of my hands and I started wearing compression gloves. Tomorrow it’s blood tests to determine if I have rheumatoid arthritis, which both my parents suffered from. Currently, the smart money is on psoriatic arthritis but we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I do what I can to keep everything moving, including some gardening, household/urban farming chores and patting the cat – who is purring next to me at the moment. I am eternally grateful for the support I have here at home, I really am a very lucky woman!

I’ve also made an investment in my future and bought voice recognition software – and that’s how I’m typing (or rather not typing) this post.

Hopefully, this will enable me to fulfil my uni requirements without causing undue pain and encourage me to write/dictate more blog posts, training this new software along the way.

I think I’ll call him Jarvis 🙂

Out of Blue

 

Patricia Clarkson in Out of Blue (2018)

Out of Blue (2018) Written and directed by Carol Morley.

To the best of my knowledge, this existential neo noir never got a full cinema release in Australia, but I heard a very positive review by British critic Mark Kermode and had been listening to the excellent Clint Mansell soundtrack since it was released to streaming services. It seems to have divided audiences and critics, with some finding it boring and pointless, while others (like me) find it a satisfyingly open-ended examination of memory, belonging and our place in the universe that happens to be woven around a straightforward crime narrative.

I watched this last night and now (the following morning) I just want to watch it again! Like so many films that defy standard conventions, I think there’s a lot of subtext to be found on repeat viewing and this is one of those movies that’s really got under my skin.

British filmmaker Carol Morley loosely based her screenplay on the 1997 novel ‘Night Train’ by Martin Amis (a book I haven’t read) and from all accounts, turned the narrative on its head in order to bring this singularly thoughtful film to the screen.

At its core is the excellent performance of Patricia Clarkson as the troubled detective Mike Hoolihan. The stillness that Clarkson brings to this role provides a solid central point that makes it work so well for me. The fine cinematography by Conrad W. Hall and production design by Jane Levick bring tremendous atmosphere to the movie and the continued use of a red and blue colour palette work beautifully.

I can see that some viewers would be confused by what appears to be a standard crime thriller turning into a visual essay on metaphysics but I like films that challenge as well as entertain. Despite some critics finding this confusing or messy, I really enjoyed it. If you’re in the mood for something a little more abstract in narrative cinema, seek this out.

Out of Blue is available on YouTube Movies or Google Play to rent or buy.

Jacinda Ardern: A New Kind of Leader – Book Review

A much shorter post today!

One of the things I did manage to get done during Neko’s recovery was read Madeleine Chapman’s new biography of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and I enjoyed it. Chapman writes in an engaging style and it’s a good introduction to the woman, her background and the New Zealand political system.

I’ve started doing occasional reviews for the Tasmanian Times, an independent digital news platform that draws on contributors from across the state and my full review can be found here.

I’d love to know what you think about my review, Ardern or New Zealand in general – it’s a place that fascinates me and is on my bucket list to visit once the Covid-19 shenanigans are over. I’d particularly appreciate input from anyone else who’s read the book.

Take care all, wherever you are ❤

The Worst Month of the Year (So Far…)

This is a long post, for which I make no apologies.

I’ve been very absent from this blog the last few weeks – apologies to regular readers! With the current shenanigans surrounding CV-19 I’d planned to write a regular blog at least four times a week to cover what’s going on in this part of the world (southern Tasmania/Hobart region).

Unfortunately there was a big spanner thrown in the works by the cat that’s been with us a year. We named him Nekomata for one of the Japanese cat demons (good choice!) and being Australians who shorten everything, just call him Neko. You can read about how he came to own us here.

Neko was nowhere to be found one afternoon when we went down to feed him and the rest of the menagerie. I eventually found him perched on a pile of straw mulch that he likes to sun himself on – and he looked terrible. We gently picked him up and took him inside where we examined him quite thoroughly for visible wounds, gently massaged legs, hips, spine and shoulders but nothing seemed out of place or damaged. But he wouldn’t eat and barely made eye contact with us. We put it down to shock.

The next morning we knew something was seriously wrong. Ever since he came into the household, we’ve been slowly encouraging Neko to become an indoor cat and considering he’s 8 years old, we think it’s been a big success to get him to overnight indoors. This means a regular dawn alarm clock of cat opera (often on the pillow, right next to an ear!) but it’s worth it for his improved well being – not to mention the health of the local wildlife! But this morning there was no chorus of “Mother I’m starving, feed me now!”to start the day. I eventually found him under the bed, looking even worse than the previous evening.

His food hadn’t been touched and his litter tray unused, which meant a trip to the vet immediately. As is always the way with these emergencies, this was Easter Sunday and our only option for treatment the after hours clinic. Yes, incredibly expensive but a brilliant service we’d used in the past for sick rabbits. They were run off their feet and with Covid-19 lockdown orders in place, no owners were allowed into the facility with their pets and only one person could hand the animal over to a masked vet nurse in the outdoor car park area.

It was a long wait.

Neko had a lump under his tongue and the vet had given him a shot of antibiotics but it would require further investigation after a course of tablets to ensure no infection. It might be a wound, it might be a cancerous growth but the vet simply couldn’t tell without further testing. In the meantime, we had to give him water via a syringe feeder which he couldn’t swallow – so there was no way we could get him to take the tablets. Again he wouldn’t eat or use his litter box.

Poor Neko was obviously becoming severely dehydrated (a surprisingly rapid path to death for small animals) so it was back to the after hours vet on Easter Monday. This time we insisted he be given hydration via a drip to at least ensure he survived the next couple of days. He seemed a little brighter but still didn’t eat, wasn’t cleaning himself and was obviously losing condition very rapidly.

Finally the following day, we got in to see our regular vet, Dr Moira at The Cat Clinic in Hobart. We came home with emergency care food, some serious feline painkillers, liquid antibiotics and a very stoned and tripped out cat! It seems Neko had been in a fight, and taken a claw in the mouth that ripped gum away from bone along one side of his lower jaw. He was down to 4.2 kg, a loss of around 800 g. She could see no indications of a cancerous lump but there was a possibility that he’d need corrective surgery to reattach the gum. Given his poor condition, we needed to get him through the course of antibiotics and get his condition back up or he wouldn’t survive the trauma of surgery.

It was slow going to start with and various setbacks but the moment we knew we’d turned the corner was when he started to eat and purr again, even if he did drool out of one side of his face in the process. The other big positive was when he began grooming himself again – Neko really was starting to smell like an old man cat and I think even he found it offensive!

Two more visits to Dr Moira and the gum had reattached, so no need for surgery – hooray! His weight is still under 5 kg but only just and he’s back to eating everything that’s put in front of him and demanding more five minutes later. We have to go for another weigh in soon and I’m confident we can have him back up to his optimal weight by then. The other thing that’s been gratifying is that he’s now only outside with me in the mornings, while I feed the other animals and potter around the yard.

Neko’s become a very smoochy house cat who’s trained the humans into looking after him 24/7 and taught them to treasure the love of a little stray cat. I think he chose his humans pretty well, though I don’t want a month like the last one if it’s all the same to you.

And I don’t know if I’ll ever develop a taste for cat opera!

Skinny but on the road to recovery

The Dawns Here Are Quiet – Iso-Posts #8

I’ve been very overtired and surprisingly busy the last couple of days and, rather than ramble on a daily basis, decided to wait until I could form coherent sentences again. There’s been sadness too, with friends in hospital and another sadly dying – I can only presume from COVID-19 complications. Such is life.

It makes this Soviet-era movie all the more relevant, though the title is perfect – the dawns here in Hobart really are very quiet at the moment, and it’s a pleasant change from the usual early morning traffic noise! Hope you’re all well ❤

A zori zdes tikhie (1972)

The Dawns Here Are Quiet (1972)

Written and directed by Stanislav Rostotsky. Based on the novel by Boris Vasilyev.

This is a movie that I’ve been meaning to watch for ages but for one reason or another, just didn’t get to until it popped up on MUBI a few weeks ago. Despite being in self-isolation for weeks, I’ve actually found it hard to settle into a long movie. My concentration starts wandering after a mere 90 minutes and internet drop-outs have been causing more headaches than I could reasonably deal with. Here, the running time of 158 minutes was an issue and I decided to take the filmmaker’s advice and watch it in two parts over a couple of days.

As Russia’s nominee for what was then Best Foreign Language Film at the 1973 Academy Awards, this really is quite a remarkable work. Set in WWII, the story concerns a group of young women who are training to be an anti-aircraft unit, stationed at a remote outpost in Karelia near the Finnish border. Their leader (and the only significant male character in the film) Vaskov helps them adjust to their new lives and the first half of the film deals with them getting to know and appreciate each other as fellow soldiers and as friends. While I know it’s important character building, I did feel this section dragged a little for me. But his cameraderie comes into full play in the second half of the film, when one of the girls sneaks off to a nearby village to visit her mother and spots two German paratroopers. From there it becomes quite a well-paced drama, very Russian and at times, very dour.

Rostotsky was a protege of Sergei Eisenstein and here, it shows. The framing (particularly of the outdoor scenes) is glorious and mention must be made of the cinematography by Vyacheslav Shumsky. Also, great use is made of colour, with the day-to-day life of WWII being in drab (but at times atmospheric) black and white and the girls’ dream-like memories presented in full colour.

Some of the narrative rationale is a little on the nose in 2020, most notably that many of the girls’ dreams center around traditional heteronormative themes (they’re nothing without a good man who’ll look after them) and at times descends into a patriotic sentimentality that falls flat for me. But considering this was made in 1972 under Soviet control and the original book in the late 60s, I imagine it would’ve been considered quite radical at that time.

Filmically however, this is really worth watching if only for the beautifully framed shots around the lake. I understand the original theatrical release is just over three hours long but this cut has 30 minutes removed from its run time and is available on DVD. It was also remade as a feature film in 2015 and then extended to a four-part television series in 2016. This is currently playing on Amazon Prime AU but I haven’t seen this version so can’t comment. The unedited original movie is available on YouTube, Part 1 and Part 2 both with English subtitles.

Look it up and let me know what you think.

 

Overtired – The Iso-Posts #7

A very brief post today from me. I slept poorly last night and we’ve had an almost day-long internet outage and a couple of power outages too. Consequently, I’ve managed to do very little today and found it hard to concentrate on reading or sticking at any task.

Part of the reason I’m sure is a very interrupted night, considerable tossing and turning on my part – and Neko.

I love this little cat more than I ever thought I would or could but he’s like an alarm clock that reliably goes off every morning, but it’s impossible to change the time! It’s pretty amazing to think it’s less than a year since we first had him inside the house. It took him no time to toilet train and we’re able to easily keep him indoors from dusk until dawn now – much to the relief I’m sure of the local wildlife and other cats in the neighbourhood!

Neko’s a very affectionate little chap and although he’s had a lot of anxiety issues, he’s become an intrinsic part of the household, I honestly can’t imagine life without him now. It’s like a cross between having a toddler and a teenager in the house. Apart from food, he loves nothing better than climbing onto the bed at dawn and purring so much, he drools on me – what a great alarm clock!!!

It’s a full moon tonight so I’m heading off to bed early to beat the early alarm. I’ll leave you with him resting after a busy morning, demanding to be let out, demanding to be fed, eating, following me around the garden while I fed everyone else, getting bored and then falling asleep on a bale of straw among my empty pots ❤

 

 

Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary – The Iso-Posts #6

Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary (2019)

A movie review today because, let’s face it, I’ve been watching an awful lot of movies lately!

Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary (2019)

Directed by Jack Bennett

I find it difficult to believe that it’s 21 years since Galaxy Quest (1999) was released. Although I was living in the bush at the time and going to the cinema was approximately a 280 km round trip (almost 174 miles), I do remember watching this on video and being instantly taken back to my childhood and youth.

The whole movie was a love letter to people like me, who were the nerdy sci-fi aficionados, who literally grew up with Lost In Space (1965-1968) and Star Trek (1966-1969) as the Friday night prime time viewing options and went on to love shows like Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, and later Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) and my personal favourite, Babylon 5 (1993-1998). Rather than talk down to the fans, Galaxy Quest celebrated them – and this documentary in turn celebrates the film and the profound effect it still has on audiences everywhere.

Many of the cast were interviewed for this and it was particularly lovely when they spoke about the late, great Alan Rickman. Other highlights for me were the interview with Sam Rockwell, who was a relative unknown when he played Guy Fleegman and interviews with Brent Spiner and Wil Wheaton who were in Star Trek: TNG. It’s a very positive watch, which is a good thing right now in my opinion, and makes no apologies for any shortcomings one might find in the movie – also fine in my book!

I watched this delightful documentary last night. Because of the current situation with COVID-19, it’s gone straight to streaming rather than the promised cinema release. Here in Australia, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

Office Tetris – The Iso-Posts #5

The simplest of dinners – sourdough rye, home grown salad and fresh home made sausages

As promised in yesterday’s post, here’s a pic of the finished meal and it was delicious. I was really pleased with the sausages – flavour and texture were perfect!

Today has been a day of choices, discoveries and some sadness.

I’d only realised last week I was out of seed of my favourite endive “Bionda a curore pieno” and ordered a packet online from The Italian Gardener along with Lettuce Leaf Basil for next spring/summer. That prompted me to check stocks of other seed and do a top up with my local suppliers, Seed Freaks. They specialise in open-pollinated and heirloom varieties and I’ve had tremendous success with their seeds.

Anyway, after my morning feeding of the beasts and chili/basil check, I was picking veggies for tonight’s dinner and weeding the silverbeet. There I discovered a clump of self seeded endives pushing up through the straw and I imagine there’s a few Bionda in there. This is one of my favourites – it’s tangy flavour and great texture add so much depth to winter salads. The extra seeds coming in the post won’t go astray, I’ll just plant a few more 🙂

Later in the morning, I decided to tackle the shoe-box that is my office. It’s served as my music rehearsal space and teaching area, sewing room, writing den and main library for over a decade – effectively three rooms crammed into a tiny space barely big enough to swing a cat! It was high time to rearrange things so I can add more bookcases and start making some hard choices about how to both make the best use of the space and discard bits and pieces I’ve had boxed up in there for what seems like forever.

I found photographs of friends, some of whom are no longer alive, cables (so many cables!), old guitar strings, jars of beads that I meant to restring, demo recordings, little cards from my son when he was small and festival programs going back years. I started to feel a sadness that life is never really going to be the same again, and uncertain about what the future might hold for people like me in the creative industries.

It was more that a little overwhelming. But I also acknowledge there’s nothing at all I can do about it but reorganise my space – internally and externally – keep going and make the best of what I have and what I’m capable of doing. It was wonderful to fit in the new/old bookcase, and realising I could fit a box of my fabric stash on top was a bonus. Certainly like playing Tetris, moving things from one room to another, but incredibly satisfying that it fitted (just!) and made me feel like I’d achieved something important by getting it all to work.

From the crammed shelves of my main film library to the wide open spaces of that empty bookshelf – with a box of fabric for good measure!

Despite my generally upbeat nature, I think it’s important and healthy to acknowledge when I feel down or sad. Sometimes in the past I’ve repressed those feelings with spectacularly awful results – I think it’s like that for most of us. So please don’t be afraid to talk about your fears or sadness with people who matter – and I believe we all matter!

It’s definitely colder today but I’ll leave you with this little image, one I see every morning – the silhouette of a small, grey cat who likes to sun himself on our east-facing doorstep while I’m getting ready to feed him breakfast ❤

 

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