Monthly Archives: April 2004


Utterly bizarre, yet compelling film about the Australian self-styled psycho criminal folk hero Mark “Chopper” Read. The contrast between Chopper’s callous, casual violence and his matey ebullience is striking. He’s a hair-trigger nutcase who just wants to be loved. Eric Bana turns in a wonderfully natural performance, portraying him as a man who bounces between boundless self-confidence and utter confusion about why his friends (and the rest of the world) treat him like they do. Off-beat and quirky in a quintessentially Australian way.

Taking Lives

Bog standard serial killer thriller. It has one (1) jump out of your seat moment and one (1) twist in the tail, but otherwise nothing else of special note. The fact that it’s set in Montréal is nice, but apart from the pretty city scenes, utterly irrelevant. I’m sure that the novel the film is based on gave the city a loving treatment, and provided a splendid backdrop for complex characters, but any richness that might have been present in the book completely fails to translate into film. I’m sure there must be some originality left in the psycho serial killer genre, but it sure ain’t here.

Also, why do I keep getting Angelina Jolie and Ashley Judd mixed up?


Sumptuous medieval-Japanese sword opera…with tap-dancing. The often grim and brutal tone of the film is lightened with frequent touches of slapstick humour, scenic beauty, and Stomp-like rhythmic pieces. The swordplay is lightning fast, gracefully precise, and bloody. The characterisation is minimal, and relying heavily on archetypes and classic thematic building blocks to evoke empathy. It doesn’t always succeed, but the fundamental conflict of the film is really one between forces of nature than between human characters. Highly watchable and engrossing.

The Italian Job (2003)

This “re-imagining” (yeah, whatever) of the 1969 film is the exact inverse of the original. On the one hand, it doesn’t have the same set of timeless quotes that every movie buff will still be referencing in thirty years’ time. The set pieces are intricate and clever, but they aren’t iconic. On the other hand, it works much better as a film. The revenge-based plot is strong and nicely paced. Mark Wahlberg as Charlie Croker isn’t a patch on Michael Caine, but the peripheral characters are all well-developed and highly entertaining, turning the gang into a true ensemble. It’s not a classic, but I have no doubt which version I would rather watch again.

The Italian Job (1969)

A truly outstanding collection of classic set-pieces, stylish scenes, and memorable quotes, but the film as a whole is rubbish. The story is poor, the pacing is all over the place, and the acting is literally farcical. Michael Caine delivers a workmanlike cheeky chappie performance, but the rest of the cast cringe, whimper, fawn, whine, pomp and strut like they’re over-emoting on stage for an audience that doesn’t have close-ups. It’s easy to see why the film is considered a classic, but it’s equally easy to see why it’s more talked about than actually watched.

The Mussel Inn, Rose St., Edinburgh

Close, cramped atmosphere, and relatively slow service–at least when we were there. (It was a busy Saturday afternoon.) The chowder was no more than competent, and the shellfish linguine was floury and bland. It makes a change from the standard pub grub elsewhere on Rose St., but there is much better seafood to be had elsewhere in Edinburgh, and without even going to a dedicated seafood restaurant.

Maroon 5 – Songs About Jane

After having heard only the single “Harder To Breathe,” I was surprised by the rest of the album. The rock is a lot more funky than I had expected, with some of the wacka-wacka guitar effects harking way back to the late 70s. It’s still an overwhelmingly pop disc, though: in overall feel it’s a bit like Savage Garden with a touch of recent Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Harder To Breathe” is one of the highlights, but there are a few other glorious songs on here, too: “Must Get Out” is a sweet, energizing, sing-along ballad, and “Sunday Morning” is four minutes of pure sunshine. It has its fair share of blandness, but the album makes for a pleasant, undemanding listen nevertheless.

Kill Bill, Vol 2

Vol. 2 is a very strong film, but not as immediately arresting as Vol. 1. The first thing that sets it apart from its predecessor is that it’s not an action film. It contains action sequences, but Vol. 2 is all about exploring the characters it presents–and then ending them in a burst of savage violence. In this regard, however, it is also a very unbalanced film, because the main character revelations come in the last half hour. Taking the two films as a whole, the pacing makes sense: strong build-up followed by a measure of reflection, and concluded with a twisty flourish. Yet however much sense it made for Tarantino to split the film where he did, and regardless of the emotion sting in the tail, this structure inevitably leads to Vol. 2 being the weaker of the two. Having said that, it is a beautifully shot and acted film, filled with the quirky directorial touches for which Tarantino is justly famous. It is crammed with in-jokes, cinematic references, and loving parodies. The core family dilemma that Bill and the Bride have to confront is not original, but Tarantino’s brutal treatment of it is unique and powerful.

Update: Upon reflection, I think this deserves an upgrade to 4.5 stars.

Peter F. Hamilton – Misspent Youth

After spending some quality time with space opera, Peter F Hamilton returns to the near future for Misspent Youth. It’s 2027, and the bio-sciences have advanced to the point where it’s possible to completely rejuvenate someone–but only one person, and at enormous expense. Jeff Baker is the 80-year old scientist chosen to undergo the pioneering treatment. He spends eighteen months unconscious as his body is rebuilt cell by cell, and awakens as a young man. Hamilton builds on this premise by giving Jeff a wife, Sue, forty years his junior, and a son, Tim, who at eighteen is only a few years younger than Jeff’s new biological age. In addition to the personal issues Jeff has to face, he also has to deal with being a celebrity and a figurehead for the policies of a prime minister with ambitions to become president of Europe.

I found Misspent Youth a suprisingly bleak novel. The personal story deals with a broken family that never gets fixed, and with the inevitable victory of base human impulses over rational thought. The future society Hamilton paints is filled with glorious technological advances, but also with desperately unhappy and fearful people. Domestic political violence and terrorism is rife. Europe has pulled away from an insular and impoverished USA, but despite increasingly close political ties, European cultural and fraternal unity is further away than ever. The book ends with twin climaxes that resolve superficial crises, but signal no more than a temporary ceasefire on the battlefield of the underlying political and personal issues. It’s an interesting read, but far from an uplifting or inspirational one.

Peter Pan (2003)

This is a glorious rendition of J.M. Barrie’s classic. It’s a visual feast of colours and scenery, with character portrayals that are believable and engrossing. On the one hand, it plays out as a classic make-belief adventure story, and on the other hand it exploits every metaphorical subtext the Peter Pan story provides: the hardships of growing up, the struggle between age and innocence, the blossoming of first love, jealousy and friendship. The strongest theme, though, is that of the complex relationship between a teenage girl and her father. This is treated beautifully by letting Jason Isaacs play both the uptight, nervous Mr. Darling (Wendy’s father) and a splendidly debauched Captain Hook.

(If you’re into in-jokes, look out for the nod to Jurassic Park late on in the film, with the parrot taking the role of one of the raptors. Hilarious.)