Survival of the Fittest – “Animal Kingdom”

An incredible Australian film about the criminal underworld of Melbourne. Absolutely riveting and powerful……

Animal Kingdom tells of the ties that bind in an Australian gangland family in Melbourne. The old adage is that you dont choose your family rings true in this absolutely brilliant film. When 17 year Josh (James Frecheville) is left as an orphan right at the beginning of the film, he moves into his maternal grandmother’s home. This would be a pretty straight forward move but the only issue happens to be that the grandmother also is the head of Melbourne’s most wanted and violent criminal family.

The viewer is then taken on a roller coaster ride of emotions as you see Josh torn between following the straight and narrow or being loyal to his blood ties of his relatives whom he barely knows properly. Jackie Weaver deserved her oscar nomination with the amazing performance as the head of the family. Initially, she is seen as loving and warm to the new addition to her clan but as the police close in and the body count rises, she rapidly transforms into the ‘lioness’ out to protect her territory and loved ones at all costs.

This is a excellent little indie piece and offers a great insight into the mindset of members of a family who may not see eye to eye but stay together for the sake of survival. Another great performance from Guy Pearce who coincidently has starred in two Oscar best pictures in a row (Hurt Locker and The King’s Speech).

The film has now been turned into a successful TV series….

Definitely a must see………….

Roman History in Action – “THE EAGLE” and “CENTURION”

Two mega budget films dealing with the true story of the Roman Ninth Legion which disappeared into thin air………..

Roman history, in all its swash buckling pomp and glamour, is returning to the big screens. The legendary true story of the Roman Ninth Legion, which simply vanished into thin air, is coming in the form of two, yes two mega budget films. The Ninth legion were battled hardened and combat ready veterans who numbered roughly 5000 strong. According to legend, in AD117, they marched into Caledonia (Scotland) to confront the northern tribes (Picts) and were never seen again. As no one truly knows what happened to this infamous legion, the films are purely fictional but are guaranteed to be entertaining if not historically accurate.  

“THE EAGLE”

Starring Jamie Bell and Channing Tatum

The first, “The Eagle” stars Jamie Bell and Channing Tatum and features Tatum as a young centurion in ancient Britain trying to solve the mystery of the Ninth Legion which was lead by his father. Haunted by the uncertainty and hoping to redeem his fathers name, he journeys into the northern territories (known as “The edge of the world”) to confront his own fears and his past. Jamie Bell stars as his slave / guide to lead him on his quest. Cue betrayal and chaos as Tatum attempts to recapture “The Eagle”, the emblem of the Ninth Legion.

“CENTURION”

Starring Dominic West and Michael Fassbender

Starring Dominic West, Michael Fassbender and Olga Kurylenko, this version deals with the actual fate of the Ninth legion and from all accounts is an ultra violent action packed revenge and chase film. Fassbender’s role is of Centurion Quintus Dias, the sole survivor of a Pict assault; he is installed to lead the ninth legion back up north to destroy the northern tribes. They are lead by a mute guide, whom shock! Horror! is secretly a Pict warrior who, unsurprisingly, betrays them and is seeking revenge as, again unsurprisingly, those nasty Romans killed her entire family. Cue chaos and a frenetic chase sequence as survivors from the carnage try to reach the safety of Hadrian’s Wall.  

Probably best not to expect historical accuracy on both accounts…..!

“I’m Living It” – A Film that Explores Hong Kong’s Growing Homelessness Issue

“I’m Living It” explores the ‘hidden’ side of Hong Kong, far away from the bustling financial hub which people globally are familiar. The film examines Hong Kong’s inhabitants, who simply try and survive day by day, in one of the most expensive cities in the world and who have fallen below the poverty line in a place which has one of the largest income gaps in the entire world.

The world of “I’m Living it’ follows several characters as they make a un-named fast food restaurant their unofficial home and after their day’s endeavours, etch out an existence, return to the venue to sleep and rest.

The main characters are Bowen (Aaron Kwok) who once was a high flying business star but whose greed got the better of him and he ‘fell’ from grace and now lives both ashamed and without any means to rebuild his life. Other characters include a down on her luck mother (Cya Liu) with her positive and street wise daughter, a broken man (Alex Man) who is haunted by his past, a young and lost runaway (Zeno Koo) and a world weary singer (Miriam Yeung) who tries to unite all these lost souls as an unconventional family.

The title, “I’m living it” is a play on words of the famous McDonald’s slogan “I’m Loving it” and shows how the different characters are trying to survive on the margins of society in a world, often shown to be rich and prosperous.

The film does a decent job of showing the struggles of its main characters though can veer to the overly dramatic in an effort to tug at the heart strings. An intriguing look at the side of Hong Kong which visibly exists in Hong Kong and is not as hidden as it seems.

“Monsoon” – Searching for a Sense of Belonging

The new film “Monsoon” features Henry Golding and discusses the themes of identity and longing for a sense of belonging.

The story features, Kit, a British Vietnamese man, who returns to Saigon, Vietnam for the first time in over 30 years, after fleeing during the vietnam war.

Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie Returns…

The updated version of “Death on the Nile” has returned with Kenneth Branagh again playing the lead role of the beloved fictional character, Hercule Poirot. This classic tale remains one of mystery, suspense and intrigue.

The film is also an update on the 1978 version of this longstanding story.

Chadwick Boseman in ’42’ – Portraying a Groundbreaking Athlete

The tragic death of Chadwick Boseman is heart breaking and the world has lost a great talent. Boseman gained international acclaim in “Black Panther” though also gained great acclaim for his portrayal of ground breaking African American athlete, Jackie Robinson in the film ’42’.

The film was directed by Brian Helgeland and starred Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie and Lucas Black and shows the huge struggles and odds, Jackie Robinson had to overcome to gain his status as one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Boseman, in the title role of Robinson, exudes calm, maturity, spirit as well as the loneliness Robinson must have felt at times as he simply tried to play the game he loved. ’42’ is a fitting tribute to both……

Film Review: “Invictus” – The Story of Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup

Tag-line “His people needed a leader. He gave them a champion”

“François, thank you for what you have done for our country.” – Nelson Mandela as he handed over the 1995 Rugby World Cup to SA captain Francois Pienaar

“No, Mr. President. Thank you for what you have done.” – Pienaar

After the fall of apartheid, how did Nelson Mandela seek to build bridges between all his people? How significant was South Africa’s 1995 Rugby World Cup win?

To some, rugby and the Springboks (team nickname) were seen as the symbol of apartheid. How did the 1995 South African (now SA) rugby team win over the hearts of the normally soccer mad Black majority?

Always more than mere games, globally, sports can be a powerful force for good and change. The historical 1995 Rugby World Cup is a great example of this. For decades (until the early 1990’s), apartheid meant that the Blacks were often treated as second class citizens. Apartheid was rigidly enforced as a means to enforce white minority control over the SA’s economic and social systems. Policies meant Blacks were disadvantaged in many different areas of society, ranging from education, jobs to areas where they could live.

Rugby and Springbok Symbolism

Rugby has a long history in SA. The game was first brought to the nation by the British. After the Boer war, the game was taken up with greater enthusiasm by the Afrikaners (Dutch speaking settlers). To beat the British at their own game was seen as a way of getting ‘revenge’. A passion soon became a near religion but also a symbol of oppression and as South Africa became more isolated due to international sanctions, its sporting teams reached near pariah status. Throughout apartheid, Blacks in SA loathed the Springboks and all they stood for. In the early nineties, apartheid began to crumble:

* Mandela was released from prison after 27 years

* The ANC (African National Congress) swept into power after democratic free elections.

* Mandela was elected president in 1994.

Long-standing problems still persisted; resentment from both blacks for decades of unfair treatment and violent incidences (Soweto uprising against the use of Afrikaans, the murder of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko and the assassination of political figurehead Chris Hani), whites adjusting to their sudden loss of status and the fear of right wing armed uprising. All this, with the eyes of the world watching….

The Film – ONE NATION, ONE TEAM

The Rugby World Cup was scheduled to be hosted in SA in 1995. This was the moment, sports mad Mandela saw the perfect opportunity to unite his new nation as one ‘Rainbow’ nation. Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman. Directed by Clint Eastwood) seized this chance. But how would he bring the soccer mad Blacks to cheer for the Springboks, an all White team (expect for Chester Williams) they had been brought up to dislike. Ever the diplomat, Mandela invited then team captain, François Pienaar (Matt Damon) to have tea with him. There, Mandela shared his hopes and dreams and stressed that the Springboks were integral to his vision for a new South Africa. He pictured Blacks and Whites cheering for one team as one nation. Pienaar passed on Mandela’s important message to his team mates. The Springboks were to be a driving force for social change. Other measures were taken to promote unity:

The new national flag grew in importance.

The new national anthem “Nkosi Sikelele Afrika” (God Bless Africa) which incorporated the old anthem “Die Stem”, was proudly sung at all SA matches for the first time. 

But the question remained, would the Black majority support the team?

As the tournament progressed, all doubts were forgotten as the entire nation cheered on the team as they progressed to the final. Fear gave way to a sense of collective community. On June 24, 1995 (Johannesburg), before the final against New Zealand; in a powerful scene, Mandela (wearing a green Springbok jersey) went to shake the hands of the Springboks and even more symbolically, the Springboks belted out the new anthem with great vigour.

The dream was achieved after SA defeated the mighty “All Blacks” in a tense final. At the end, the predominately White stadium crowd chanted “Nelson…Nelson”. On this historical day, the ‘Rainbow’ nation was born. A nation which of course faced many problems (and still does) but at least the foundations were laid for a brighter future.

Next year, another chapter of South African sporting history will be written. The 2010 FIFA World Cup will be held in South Africa. The world’s most popular game is coming to Africa for the first time. If the SA team do well then expect the nation to unite behind Bafana Bafana (The Boys) and to build on their own historical 1996 African Cup of Nations win. SA still has many social problems but with each sporting success, it seems the country ‘heals’ both emotionally / spiritually and apartheid fades further into the past. Sport IS a powerful force for change. Nelson Mandela was aware of this and for a magical moment in 1995, he and the SA team truly united their country for the first time.

You Must Watch…’MoneyBall’ – A Film which combines Sports and Business

Brad Pitt’s latest film “Moneyball” focuses on the financial divide which exists in professional sports; in this instance, baseball. The film (from the excellent book by M. Lewis) covers the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics (Major League baseball), their then general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and how he revolutionized the game after being faced with relentless budget constraints.

The unwritten but well-known rule is, the wealthier the team, the greater their success. Financial clout is the difference maker and it is very difficult to have a level playing field when another team has a USD 100 million budget greater than your own. The respective US draft systems attempt to offer a greater sense of fairness but ultimately the richer teams, like the NY Yankees, will always win through. Sky high budgets means greater wages and hence, ‘better’ quality players which translates to on field success. This is a given and harsh reality of capitalism and the free market economy.

The 2002 A’s lost three of their best players to wealthier teams; their limited budget meant they could not replace them with players of an equal standard because they simply could not afford too.

Beane then sought to use economics and maths concepts to find players whom had fallen off the scouting radar; players who were undervalued but whom still were considered excellent players. Initially, the ideas were of course scorned as people are often afraid of change and traditionalists refused to adhere to this revolutionary new line of thinking.

The A’s hired MBA graduates and economic majors and built up a complex system where they could further utilize data and graphs to measure how good players were. The system is known as saber-metrics and went beyond looking at stats such as batting averages and stolen bases and reviewed  other aspects such as on base percentages and a whole host of other stats which could keep even the most avid of fans google-eyed in amazement. The ideas worked for the A’s and they became a greater competitive force and unknown players picked up from the minor leagues, high school and college suddenly were thrust into the big leagues and holding their own.

Such was the impact of the concepts and theories branded around in the book “Moneyball” that other professional sports teams have began to use the same techniques to differing success.

Such is the financial gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in the professional sports that any little advantage, no matter how small, will be reviewed and analyzed by the ‘smaller’ teams who are looking to punch above their weight. The sports field has always been the great leveler but occasionally brains does win out over brawn……..

“Moneyball” is a great modern day sports film and well worth watching!

You Must Watch….”Dirty Pretty Things” with Amelie Tautou – The “Other” London………

London is a bustling cosmopolitan city with over ten million people in both the City of London and Greater London. It is a hive of ceaseless activity with an incredible diversity of people from all around the world. It is this cultural tapestry and blend of people which gives it such energy, hustle and bustle. 

Given the nature of the city, there are many different world’s within this great metropolis which are as far away from the tourist postcard friendly view of the city than could possibly be.

‘Dirty Pretty Things’, directed by Stephen Frears, tells of the other London, the underside of London of illegal workers and migrants. London is percieved as the land of milk and honey for people from developing nations hoping to build better lives for themselves. The percieved reality is always different from the fantasy that can be presented sometimes with tragic consequences.

The film portrays a society that many do not know exist or are even aware of. The London of this film does not show any of the normal London sights and not a single ‘native’ Londoner is seen in the film until the last few scenes. This London is gritty and unforgiving and full of people desperate to work, adapt to a new culture and get by while at the same time trying to become established legitimate citizens while at the same time not being deported. 

‘Dirty Pretty Things’ stars Amelie Tautou, Chiwetel Ejiofer, Benedict Wong and Sergi Lopez. It paints a very sympathetic view of migrant (illegal or otherwise) life in the UK and  People often forget that many migrants and asylum seekers have legitimate claims to move to a new country; their lives are in danger or extreme poverty forces them to risk life and limb for a better life for themselves and their children. DPT shows the story of several characters from all around the world whose lives intersect for a brief period as they plan the next stage of their lives.

‘Dirty Pretty Things’ is a very human story with characters, with simple dreams, you truly feel for as they try make their dreams a reality in a world that does not fully accept them and their plight.

The trailer is not very good and portrays the film as a thriller….!

You Must Watch “The Town” and Gone Baby Gone” – Journey into the Soul of Boston with Ben Affleck

Home is truly where the heart is…where a person is born and raised are quintessentially key to a person’s character, development and attitude.  The streets you walk in your youth fundamentally shape your life perception as is company you keep and the enclosed community with whom you bond. A sense of belonging and experiences in a city or town is what can instantly draw strangers together. For better or worse, it made you who you are…….

Ben Affleck often plays homage to his hometown of Boston in the films he has both written, directed and starred in. Affleck constantly veers away from the tourist friendly ‘postcard’ view of his beloved city and portrays the gritty underbelly of everyday working society simply just trying to get by. His films are often ‘love letters’ to his hometown and the greatest star of each piece, the city itself and the unique characteristics which defines it. 

Through Affleck’s vision, people’s morality, actions and judgments are often questionable but never truly clear cut; survival is key and communities close ranks against outsiders in the first sign of trouble. In this world, the line between the straight and narrow and crime blurs into one……

“GONE BABY GONE”

Affleck directed and co-wrote “Gone Baby Gone” which starred his younger brother Casey Affleck. Based on the Dennis Lehane novel, the story follows two world weary cops in a race against time to find a kidnapped girl. The story weaves an intriguing web of characters all of whom have different motives to solve the case and of course, not everyone is who they seem…..

“THE TOWN”

Another crime drama with Ben Affleck in a leading role. “The Town” tells of a member of a gang of bank robbers who falls in love with a female bank manager of one of the organizations they target. It ultimately is a story of redemption and trying to break the communal tribal and blood bonds which can hold a person back in life. Sometimes to be successful, a person has to leave their past behind in order to excel………

Of course, you can never forget “Good Will Hunting”, the film which launched him to super-stardom and “Mystic River” by Clint Eastwood and again based on a novel by Dennis Lehane. Both again have a grittiness permeating throughout.