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  • Re-heating the popcorn: The 10 movies I loved most in 2014

    According to Hollywood Reporter, [Ellen's] "the star-packed shot tops Twitter's list of most-tweeted entertainment moments with nearly 255,000 tweets per minute. With more than 3.3 million retweets It was also the most-retweeted post on the social network this year. " (image via @TheEllenShow/Twitter)
    According to Hollywood Reporter, [Ellen’s] “the star-packed shot tops Twitter’s list of most-tweeted entertainment moments with nearly 255,000 tweets per minute. With more than 3.3 million retweets It was also the most-retweeted post on the social network this year. ” (image via @TheEllenShow/Twitter)

    2014 was a phenomenal year to be a movie lover.

    It seemed like every time you turned around, taking great care not to spill your oversized jumbo pack of popcorn or smear your choctop onto the blouse of the lady next to you, there was another engaging indie drama, entertainingly clever animated film or fun-filled blockbuster that didn’t suck your brain out of the back of your head.

    The reason it felt like that was not just because this was a big year numerically for movies with some 650+ being released overall – but because so many of them were such well-crafted love letters to cinema’s power to entrance, move, envelop and utterly capture your attention.

    Here then are the 10 films that meant the most to me, with an additional 21 runner-up films in alphabetical order.

    * Please note that I have picked movies that came out in Australia this year which is why Nebraska for instance made the cut despite its 2013 release stateside.




    (image via impawards)
    (image via impawards)


    It wasn’t simply the elegant starkness of the black and white filmography that captured my attention to such a degree that I felt like I didn’t breathe through the whole movie.

    What is so arresting about Nebraska is Alexander Payne’s willingness to talk about life as it really is with precious few heartwarming bells and whistles.

    Life is hard, and people make mistakes, and you can see the effects of all that flawed living in the faces of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), who is obsessed with getting to Nebraska to pick up non-existent lottery winnings, his last chance he believes to make something of his life, his fed-up wife Kate (June Squibb) and their son David (Will Forte), who bravely sets out with his him on this decidedly quixotic road trip to seemingly nowhere.

    Nebraska, I noted, “never delves into cheap and easy accessed answers or emotions, it’s happy ending of sorts rooted quite firmly in the bleakness and monochromatic nature of life, where every victory or sweet moment is hard fought for, and all the more worthwhile for that.”

    Here is my full review of Nebraska.





    (image via
    (image via


    Oddly it took me a few films to fully warm to Wes Anderson’s gorgeously retro style but once I did there was no turning back, with The Grand Budapest Hotel the latest, and I would venture to say, the most complete fulfilment of his vision to create stories that don’t just speak to the human condition but do it in a way that is quirky, funny, meaningful, visually stunning and populated by characters so charming, madcap and verbally delightful that you can’t help but like them, or at least be intrigued by them.

    The Grand Budapest Hotel, which focuses on world class concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) determined though whimsical efforts to clear his name after he is wrongly accused of the murder of one of his favourite customers and occasional lovers Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis (Tilda Swinton), with the help of his resourceful protege Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori), is a delight from start to finish with nary a visual effect, joke, or insightful observation out of place.

    As I noted in my review, the film sparkles with a “candy coated lunacy that suffuses the whole undertaking, a darkly-filled confection of slapstick comedy, artfully constructed yet wholly delightful and accessible wordplay and fantastical flights of fancy that somehow manage to co-exist quite happily within a reasonably linear and thoroughly entertaining narrative.”

    Here is my full review of The Grand Budapest Hotel.





    (image via Impawards)
    (image via Impawards)


    Calvary is grim, desperately grim in so many ways and yet for all its wringing of hands about the human condition, watching it is a transcendent experience, thanks to a mesmerising performance by Brendan Gleeson who invests his central character of Father James Lavelle with a world-weary but moving humanity that is never less than utterly engrossing to watch in action.

    Fallible though he is, Father Lavelle is a “good priest”, a man that doggedly keeps tending to his flock of broken, almost fatally-flawed parishioners, despite the fact that one of them, via the anonymity of the confessional, has vowed to kill him in a week’s time.

    The film’s great value lies, I observed in my review, “in its willingness to ask the big questions, and answer them with an well-considered and far from glib affirmation that though there may be evil in this world, there is also goodness and hope (embodied in people like Gleeson’s majestically-rendered Father Lavelle), that though imperfectly expressed, is worth holding onto even if it costs you more than you could have ever expected.”

    Here is my full review of Calvary.





    (image via IMP Awards)
    (image via IMP Awards)


    Boyhood is a remarkable achievement.

    Filmed over 12 years by writer/director Richard Linklater, and using the same group of actors who gave up a couple of weeks each year to pick up where they left off the year before, it tells the story of Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) journey “from video games and daydreaming into the early stages of manhood and college in real time”.

    The story itself may not be so remarkable, a reasonably by-the-numbers recounting of the usual ups and downs of life as viewed by a young man just starting to make his way in the world but with Linklater’s deft direction, a smart, literate script, and a host of talented actors including Ethan Hawke, and Patricia Arquette, Boyhood is an unforgettable experience, a home movie without parallel that offers a unique commentary on growing up.

    Here is my full review of Boyhood.





    (image via Impawards)
    (image via Impawards (c) Marvel)


    I will be honest – I am not a massive fan of comic book-sourced superhero movies, even though I have found a number of them such the Iron Man franchise and the Avengers film to be wholly entertaining, far more substantial than first appearances might suggest viewing experiences.

    But there was something about Guardians of the Galaxy which grabbed me from the opening scene and never let me go, that had me grinning my long lost 12 year old inner self after he’d just seen Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time in 1977.

    It’s greatest asset was its ability to be both a comic book superhero flick and an affectionate send up of one at the same time, very much channelling the irreverent spirit of The Princess Bride, a film that took the best of Marvels’ undoubted gift for crafting intelligent blockbuster movies and added in all manner of sly wit, verbal slapstick, deep, touching humanity and space bound thrills-and-spills to devastatingly entertaining effect.

    Here is my full review of Guardians of the Galaxy.





    (image via
    (image via


    You may not think there is much a story to be told about a woman going door to door over the course of one weekend to convince 9 of her 16 workmates to vote for her continued employment at the solar panels factory where they all work, over a sizeable bonus they all need, but in the hands of director brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and with the towering presence of Marion Cotillard inhabiting the role of factory worker Sandra, it is richly dramatic tale that is impossible to ignore.

    Barely recovered from an emotional breakdown, Sandra is just hanging in there, held aloft only by the unwavering love and support of her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) and close friend Juliette (Catherine Salée), her fight to keep her job, an “up hill and down dale fight of emotionally-epic proportions, the great gravity of which is only enhanced by the sheer suburban ordinariness of her surroundings, the day to day reality of peoples’ hanging-on-by-a-thread lives forming the backdrop to her David and Goliath fight for job survival.”

    This is drama writ large in the most ordinary of settings and all the more powerful and impacting for it.

    Here is my full review of Two Days, One Night.





    (image via Movie Posters Shop)
    (image via Movie Posters Shop)


    Reaching For the Moon is one of those movies that reminds how passionate, how intense, how all-encompassing true love can be, and how it can all go so horribly wrong in the hands of people ill-eqipped to be loved so purely and so well.

    Anchored by superb, moving performances by Australian actress Miranda Otto and Brazilian actress Glória Pires, the film recounts the love story of “brilliant American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and the visionary mind behind Rio de Janeiro’s Flamengo park (which contains the moon-like lights from which the movie partly takes its name), Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires).”

    It is a beautiful, immersively moving film that can’t help but have a profound impact on you.

    As I noted in my review:

    Reaching For the Moon is that rare creation of modern filmmaking, possessing a literate script, subtle nuanced directing, and performances so across-the-board impressive  – Treat Williams is also noteworthy as poet Robert Lowell while Luciana Souza sparkles with acerbic wit as Joana – that if there is not talk of awards for both Otto and Pires, and healthy audience numbers throughout the film’s run, then we will have definitive proof that the modern world has profoundly and chillingly fallen out of love not just just with good stories well told but with, I think, love itself.”

    Here is my full review of Reaching For the Moon.





    (image via Impawards)
    (image via Impawards)


    Another film rendered in black and white, Ida is a quiet, contemplative cinematic outing, a movie that relies every bit as much on the endlessly malleable facial expressions of first time actor Agata Trzebuchowska as it does on the sparsely-worded dialogue that punctuates the long, beautifully shot scenes of near silence.

    Ida, which tells the story of a Polish novice nun in 1962, one week away from taking her vows who is forced to meet up with an aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), she didn’t know she had only to find out she is not the person she thought she was, is all about choices – what happens when life turns out to be an entirely proposition that you once thought it to be?

    Do you dump everything you are and embrace the new you with gusto or quietly and rhythmically observe it, live a little and then go on as you originally meant to?

    The genius of Ida, a breathtakingly beautiful film in every way, is that you’re never quite sure which way this remarkably introspective young woman will go.

    Here’s my full review of Ida.





    (image via
    (image via


    I have been a LEGO fan ever since I was old enough to successfully click one brightly coloured Danish plastic brick into another but even I, thrilled though I was at the prospect of a movie all about my favourite childhood toy, was a dubious about how good a movie this would be.

    After all, as The Transformers franchise has shown all too clearly, nostalgia and a robust fan base do not always an enjoyable movie make.

    Here’s to expectations defied!

    “A deliriously happy grin-inducing concoction, The LEGO Movie manages to channel the endlessly imaginative possibilities that anyone who has ever played with the legendary Danish blocks will easily recall, surrounding them with witty, well-rounded characters, gags aplenty and a much needed reminder that life can indeed be mind-blowingly fun and yes, of course, awesome.”

    Here’s my full review of The LEGO Movie.





    (image via Film Affinity)
    (image via Film Affinity)


    There is an arresting poetic beauty and authenticity to Charlie’s Country, Rolf de Heer’s latest feature film with legendary actor David Gulpilil, that is starkly evident from the silent second to opening shot of the movie in which an introspective Charlie sits in his humpy, lost in mumbling introspection, a tattered photograph held tightly in one hand.

    You can help but be touched by this thoughtfully-introspective, sometimes mischievous man who for all his much-reduced circumstances and advanced age, decides that he will be better off “in country” than he is in the small, poverty-stricken township of Ramingining in the Northern Territory of Australia.

    As I noted in my review:

    “It is this constant resilient drive to return to the country from he was literally birthed, and which sustains him still even when he is far away from it, both spiritually and physically, that lends this deeply-affecting, haunting and and richly-rewarding tale so much of its lasting impact and meaning and which stays with you long after Charlie’s final knowing gaze has disappeared from the screen.”

    Here’s my full review of Charlie’s Country.



    And behold the more than worthy runners-up …























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  • Deck the halls with pop culture icons: Merry Christmas everyone!

    Deck the halls with lights and Woodstock ... (image via USA Today)
    Deck the halls with lights and Woodstock … (image via USA Today)


    Another year over …

    Hard to believe another 365 days of movie and TV and song and book-filled wonder has passed and we’re here once again greeting Santa Claus with cookies and milk (and likely a zombie, a twerker and faulty stars too).

    Given it is almost the end of the year, it seems like just the right time to thank everyone who reads this blog, shares its contents and otherwise supports me for adding to the creative joy I get from bringing my blog to life 10 times a week, and to wish you all manner of great and wonderful things.

    May there be music in your life and not just at Christmas time … but well, especially at Christmas time



    May you spend time with friends and family … and hey even Christmas light-tangled enemies …


    (image via Woodwark)
    Doctor Who (image via Woodmark)


    And galaxy guarding friends …


    Deck the Galaxy with Guardians looking festive (image by TheLostWinchester via Screenrant)
    Deck the Galaxy with Guardians looking festive (image by TheLostWinchester via Screenrant)


    May there be food and drink a-plenty and people you love to eat and drink it with …


    (image via Mind the Ink)
    The Muppets (image via Mind the Ink)


    May there be time to watch all those Christmas TV specials and movies we all love so much … “It’s a Wonderful Life” anyone?


    Community (image via New (c) NBC)
    Community (image via New (c) NBC)


    And presents without number, full of things you will treasure and love (and that won’t kill you or topple your dynasty) …


    Game of Thrones (via @GRRMspeaking)
    Game of Thrones (via @GRRMspeaking)


    Beautiful decorations … and a talking raccoon and goodhearted giant (Christmas) tree thrown in for good measure …


    "I am (Christmas) Groot" (image via Boing Boing)
    “I am (Christmas) Groot” (image via Boing Boing)


    And may you have not only a Merry Christmas but an enormously Happy New Year …


    ABBA (image via The Music Still Goes On and On and On ABBA fan page on Facebook / photo montage design by Even (c) Steinar Ormbostad)
    ABBA (image via The Music Still Goes On and On and On ABBA fan page on Facebook / photo montage design by Even (c) Steinar Ormbostad)


    Now let’s dance (via Laughing Squid)



    Oh and Tom Hiddleston and his dog, and Hiddleston’s co-star Rodney Crowell from the Hank Williams Sr biopic I Saw the Light would like to wish a very Merry Christmas indeed (via Digital Spy)


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  • On the 12 day of Christmas … I decorated my tree with pop culture icons

    nettsu via photopin cc
    nettsu via photopin cc


    When I bought my first Christmas tree as an adult in 1992 – I was technically an adult for about a decade before that but it took some money and a mindset change before I got around to acquiring my own tree; for years, in my mind at least, the only valid tree was the one at my parents’ place – I grabbed a demure 4 foot tall plastic pine tree (we love artificial trees here in Australia), some cheap colourful pieces of tinsel, a smattering of baubles and  4 or 5 Hallmark ornaments.

    None of them were particularly pop culture-oriented but that was OK with me – I was happy just to have a tree up and decorated in my own apartment, just like a real grown up.

    But as time went on, and I acquired more and more ornaments (and more and more and more ornaments …. you get the idea), I began to oh so subtlely and then with quite deliberate intent, buy ornaments that reflected my interests which were, and are, heavily weighted to TV, movies, books and music.

    That’s not to say I didn’t start without any pop culture ornaments – Ernie and Bert, Big Bird and Grover were there from the word go, and remain with me still – but the collection increasingly came to be dominated by ornaments that featured characters from cartoons I watched growing up (lots of Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera characters) and movies and TV shows I watched now, and it felt like a natural evolution even if it didn’t divulge from the look and feel of a traditional Christmas tree.

    Once I got over the fact that it wasn’t going ever to be a traditional tree largely because I am not, in most respects, a traditional person – save for my sentimental attachment to Christmas, the devotion to which knows no bounds – I became obsessed with tracking down Star Wars and The Muppets and Peanuts ornaments, Sesame Street tree toppers and stocking holders and Christmas plush toys from a host of retro and up to the minute cartoons.

    I expected no one but myself to really enjoy the direction my tree decorating had taken but to my surprise people who visited my apartment during the festive period, which often included a New Year’s Eve party, loved the concept, partly due to nostalgia I suppose but also because the tree just looked like an immense amount of insanely-colourful fun.

    Now I have in all actuality, decorated the tree long before this – as soon as my birthday is celebrated in late November, it’s time to “Deck the Halls, the tree, anything that moves and doesn’t” – but as in previous years, I thought I’d feature five of the ornaments and talk about why I love them, why the characters matter to me and how they came to be on the tree.


    Ernie and Bert (from my collection)
    Ernie and Bert (from my collection)



    One of the first shows I ever watched on my return to Australia in mid-1970 – I came back from Bangladesh, where my parents had been stationed as missionaries, at the age of 4 1/2 and had no idea what TV even was; I was even, believe or not, scared of it at first! – was Sesame Street, a then-relatively brand new educational show for children, having only broadcast its first show on November 10, 1969.

    Ernie and Bert actually pre-date the public launch of the show, having appeared in the pilot episode of the show in July 1969, which didn’t test well with audiences save for the cheeky rapport between the two best friends and housemates who naturally enough stayed for the first official episode and never left.

    While I always felt a little sad for poor Bert who could never catch a break, and had a unnatural attachment to his pigeons, I couldn’t help but laugh at Ernie’s cheeky, blissfully unaware of the consequences antics, probably because my personality, though hemmed in at the time by the demands of being a Baptist minister’s son (trust me even then my true personality was curtailed!), very much matched his exuberant persona.

    They were in fact one of the first characters to make their way onto my tree, or at least near it, after I discovered a delightful stocking holder of the pair sitting on a sleigh; but they found their own special place on the tree itself when I discovered these Grolier ornaments via Ebay which perfectly encapsulated the personalities and instructive mishaps of the hilarious twosome.

    Thanks to the sheer number of ornaments I own, not every ornament makes it onto the tree every year; the exception, along with some other special characters, are these two which make it onto my tree year after year without fail.


    Snoopy aka Joe Cool (from my collection)
    Joe Cool aka Snoopy (from my collection)



    Snoopy is a bona fide legend.

    One of the stars of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip, which began publication on October 2, 1950 – it had its origins in an earlier panel strip called L’il Folks in the 1940s which featured a prototype of Snoopy and multiple anonymous characters called Charlie Brown depending on the day – he pretty much stole the show on many occasions with his refusal to act like a garden variety, everyday dog.

    Gifted in 1952, after being silent for the first two years in the comic strip, with the ability to think and “verbalise” his thoughts – he never spoke out loud but everyone seemed to know what he was thinking and saying – he soon took on all manner of eccentric, anthropomorphic qualities including a vividly imaginative fantasy life where he embodied characters like a World War 1 Flying Ace forever battling the Red Baron, a “World Famous” writer (“It was a dark and stormy night …”), grocery clerk and Olympic figure skater, and of course, Joe Cool.

    I loved pretty much every persona that Snoopy adopted – Charles Schulz noted in a 1997 interview with Comics Journal that he took on these fanciful identities due to the fact that “He has to retreat into his fanciful world in order to survive. Otherwise, he leads kind of a dull, miserable life. I don’t envy dogs the lives they have to live.” – but one of my great favourites, apart from the writer one naturally, was Joe Cool.

    Oh to have his confidence, his cool factor, his ability to be the centre of attention and not feel the least bit self-conscious (by contrast, living in the goldfish bowl of pastoral life, I was acutely self-aware every minute of my existence) – oh how I envied him!

    So there was no discussion to be entered into when Hallmark came out with a Joe Cool ornament in 2012.

    He might have been too cool to sit chemistry exams as hung around the Student Union but he looks perfectly at home on my tree.


    Fozzie Bear (from my collection)
    Fozzie Bear (from my collection)



    I cannot express how I love the child-like joyful goofiness of Fozzie Bear.

    There are many members of The Muppets of whom I am most fond – Animal, Gonzo, Kermit and Beaker to name a very few – but somehow I keep coming back to Fozzie (created and developed by the legendary Jim Henson and Frank Oz), would be Vaudevillian stand-up comedian and goofball supreme, who first appeared on the debut season of The Muppet Show in 1976, instantly winning hearts everywhere with his folk-ish charm, and sweet enthusiasm for his chosen profession, even if truth be told he wasn’t really that good at it.

    No one cared really, beyond Statler and Waldorf, how funny he was or wasn’t when he performed his routine since he was, hands down, one of the sweetest, most likeable, loyal and endlessly optimistic characters that Jim Henson and his amazingly talented crew ever produced.

    Having him on the tree was a non-negotiable but finding just the right ornament took some time until one day on Ebay, a collection of The Muppets characters appeared – no maker noted nor box supplied so to this day I have no idea how to track down more of the series – including Animal and Gonzo (who I also snapped up), and my beloved Fozzie.

    As per usual when these one-of-a-kind opportunities present themselves I didn’t have a lot of spare cash but there was no way this ornament, which channels the joyful can-do spirit of Fozzie better than any other I have seen, wasn’t going on my tree.


    Rocky and Bullwinkle (from my collection)
    Rocky and Bullwinkle (from my collection)



    Among my most cherished childhood memories are the visits my family used to make once or twice a year to visit my grandparents who lived about 11-12 hours away from us (we were in Alstonville NSW, a small town 20 minutes south of Byron Bay), first in Sydney and the on the Central Coast.

    While the drive getting there wasn’t a whole lot of fun – I am a destination kind of person, not so much a lover of the journey to get there – the idyllic ten days or so we would spend there would be filled with BBQ fish, chips (fries) and salad, Sara Lee Cheesecakes, long swims at the beach … and early morning cartoons starting at 6am that included The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-1964).

    The brainchild of Jay Ward Productions, it featured a cast of delightfully offbeat, one-liner rich characters such as Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody and Sherman (“Peabody’s Improbable History”), and of course the titular protagonists Rocky the squirrel and Bullwinkle the moose who were forever being unsuccessfully chased by Eastern European-esque spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale.

    The animation was brisk and colourful, the humour insanely clever and all it was all I could do not to laugh out loud when my sister and I were watching the show, especially when well-meaning but a tad clueless Bullwinkle was having to be saved yet again by the more astute and capable Rocky.

    My delight then in finding that Carlton Cards had released a Rocky and Bullwinkle ornament – this was way back in 1997 which seems so long ago now – was thus beyond measure.

    The only problem was that I was in Australia and the ornaments were in Canada in an era before e-commerce had really taken off so I did what any self-repsecting Christmas obsessive would do and I flew to Vancouver for a holiday.

    Kidding. I was going anyway but getting this ornament was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.


    The Jetsons (from my collection)
    The Jetsons (from my collection)



    Back when I was a kid, everyone still fully believed that by the then far-off year of 2014, we would be living in futuristic towers, have robots at our beck and call, and travel everywhere by rocket pack or fast-as-lightning spaceships.

    Sadly this didn’t come to pass in all its retro-futuristic glory but I always soothed my disappointment with the idea that I could always watch Hanna-Barbera’s The Jetsons (1962-63, 1985-87), the original series of which was composed of just 24 episodes (although another 51 were made in the ’80s) and imagine what might have been.

    Watching George and Jane Jetson, their kids Elroy and Judy, dog Astro and Rosie the Robot living an unimaginably exotic life in the far future was a fun way to escape the fact that I still have to walk everywhere, didn’t have a hoverboard to my name and had to wait for the food to be cooked rather simply have it pop out of a machine (oh the indignities!).

    And even though the future may not have arrived in quite the form I had expected it to, there was no reason I couldn’t have it just as Hanna-Barbera had imagined it by picking up the ornament Hallmark produced in its honour in 1996 (I later acquired Rosie the Robot too making the set complete), and so I did.

    Now if I could just get the tree to decorate itself … kidding again … there is no way I would forgo decorating the tree, one of the highlights of any year, which has become not simply a way to mark “the most wonderful time of the year” but to celebrate all the joy and happiness that all these pop culture have brought my way.




    12th day of Christmas Merry Christmas

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  • Timely Christmas message: Sir Ian McKellen and Cookie Monster learn how to resist

    Sir Ian McKellen and Cookie Monster learning how to resist (image via YouTube (c) Sesame Street / Children's Television Workshop)
    Sir Ian McKellen and Cookie Monster learning how to resist (image via YouTube (c) Sesame Street / Children’s Television Workshop)


    If ever there was a word with which we all need to be familiar at this time of the year, it’s “Resist”.

    But like Cookie Monster, who doesn’t quite get the concept, the idea of it evades many of us as we saunter off for another bathtub of eggnog, or our 10th serving of turkey and all the fixings.

    Which is why we, and our seasonally expanding waistlines, should be eternally glad that Sir Ian McKellen decided to pop by and explain what the word “Resist” means, which he defines as controlling yourself and stopping yourself from doing something you really want to do.

    Like eat your entire body weight in Santa-shaped chocolate.

    Not that I ever be remotely tempted to do that of course #YESyesIhave

    After failing to get the concept across to Cookie Monster using a “precioussssss” gold ring – wherever did he get the idea for that one from I wonder? Hmmm – he has more success with a cookie, something with which Cookie Monster is naturally quite familiar and the eating of which he really, REALLY, wants to do.

    Of course while the meaning of “Resist” now rings crystal clear, that doesn’t mean that Cookie Monster, who admits the cookie is “calling me name” is a big fan of the word, clearly regretting opting to help out on this particular segment.

    And yep you guessed it, the cookie gets it in the end.

    Pretty much like my mother’s delicious, sumptuous Christmas buffet.

    I may try to start resisting all that food sometime around January 2 I think …


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  • On the 11th day of Christmas … I watched “The Grimm Who Stole Christmas”

    Rosalee (Bree Turner) and Juliette (Bitsie Lee Tulloch) do their best to stop the Kallikantzaroi from getting anywhere near Monroe's (Silas Weir Mitchell) precious 1935 train set (image via official Grimm site (c) NBC)
    Rosalee (Bree Turner) and Juliette (Bitsie Lee Tulloch) do their best to stop the Kallikantzaroi from getting anywhere near Monroe’s (Silas Weir Mitchell) precious 1935 train set (image via official Grimm site (c) NBC)



    “I have but to swallow this, and be for the rest of my days persecuted by a legion of goblins, all of my own creation. Humbug, I tell you; humbug.”

    Christmas is without a doubt a most magical time of the year.

    Of course if you’re Nick Grimm (David Giuntoli, his girlfriend Juliette (Bitsie Lee Tulloch), friends Monroe (Silar Weir Mitchell) and Rosalee (Bree Calvert) or police partner Hank (Russell Hornsby), you could well argue that life is pretty magical every single day of the year, such are their Wesen-fuelled less than ordinary lives.

    Or nightmarish; you know, same same.

    In the case of “The Grimm Who Stole Christmas”, it’s a bit of both with some eggnog-soaked odd and tinsel-garlanded strange thrown in, as what appear to be goblins romp their way through the gaily-decorated homes of Portland, smashing giant decorative candy canes here, pushing over immaculately-festooned Christmas trees there, and even roughing up one of the inhabitants who was unfortunate to get in their over-exuberant, naughty way ( no prizes for guessing which list Santa has these mischief makers on, assuming he has any idea what they are).

    With one man in hospital from his injuries, and some very traumatised home owners on their hands, it’s up to Nick and Hank, and by extension Monroe, Rosalee and Juliette to figure out what they’re dealing with, and put a stop to it before any morning festively-decorated homes end up looking like  a post-Christmas decorations bargain sale.

    Given the world they work and live in, the first assumption is that they are Wesen but neither Monroe nor Rosalee recall seeing these small bauble-crushers before, ruling out them being part of some as yet un-encountered species.


    Kallikantzaroi on the rampage and no amount of clever thinking, trapping or determined chasing seems to bring them to heel until someone discovers that fruitcake is their greatest weakness (image via official Grimm site (c) NBC)
    Foul-smelling Kallikantzaroi on the rampage and no amount of clever thinking, trapping or determined chasing seems to bring them to heel until someone discovers that fruitcake is their greatest weakness (image via official Grimm site (c) NBC)


    This leaves the unsettling idea that they are non-Wesen creatures of myth, the likes of which Nick has come across before – think La Llorona and Volcanalis (season 2), or Krampus (season 3, whose origin was not definitively proven) – but some time at the trailer rules this out too, leaving them scratching their heads until a further trawl through the treasure trove of Grimm manuscripts uncovers references to Kallikantzaroi, goblin-like beings which appear for the 12 days of Christmas before disappearing never to be seen again.

    So now there’s a name for them, an explanation for why they are running rampantly destructive in a circular pattern around an old Greek church in the centre of Portland and even a pointer to the Wesen from which they spring, Greek-originated Indole Gentile, a species who Monroe remarks have to be one of the nicest Wesen species around but whose pubescent children can, in a small number of cases, turn into monstrously mischievous beings over the Christmas season.

    While they prove almost impossible to capture, track down or keep in a cage, they do have one achilles heel – a fondness for fruitcake so great that they can’t resist going after it wherever it might lie, in this case a whole van full of it (yes Portland has fruitcake vans; well if they don’t in real life, they should get one, seriously).

    This then is how Nick, Hank and the others capture the three Wesen pubescent terrors, end their 12 days of Christmas terrorising of good decoration-loving citizens everywhere and promote the virtues of fruitcakes, as reviled a festive food as any you can think of (but nowhere near as bad as people seem to think, trust me).


    Everywhere you turn there are Christmas decorations in abundance, making "The Grimm Who Stole Christmas", an absolute dream for anyone who is in love with going ALL OUT to decorate for the season (image via official Grimm site (c) NBC)
    Everywhere you turn there are Christmas decorations in abundance, making “The Grimm Who Stole Christmas”, an absolute dream for anyone who is in love with going ALL OUT to decorate for the season (image via official Grimm site (c) NBC)


    What makes this light-and-frothy decidedly festive episode so charming, even if it is not as robust a story as last year’s “Twelve Days of Krampus” (season 3), is the way the producers of Grimm seem to have gone all out to create the kind of over the top Christmas wonderland, the goblin-ish crime notwithstanding, many of us would love to indulge in if only we had the time, money and a house big enough to do it justice.

    It’s not only Monroe that is getting into the spirit of things this year, although as always he has pulled out all the stops, his endearing and infectious love of the season also now having spread to new wife Rosalee who admits to Juliette that Monroe’s given her the childhood she never really had; Nick and Juliette’s home is tinseled up as as are all the houses the goblins drop messily in on.

    It seems Christmas is everywhere – even the goblins aren’t truly evil; just very naughty, hormonally charged boys with hygiene issues – as are all manner of narrative arc-advancing sub-plots.

    Juliette may or may not be pregnant, Monroe and Rosalee are still being hounded by the the Secundum Naturae Ordinem Wesen, who object to the couple’s mixed-species marriage, something Trubel (Jacqueline Toboni) and newly-arrived in Portland friend Josh (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) find objectionable and do their best to stop but alas not before departing permanently to Philadelphia, and Sergeant Wu (Reggie Lee) is increasingly suspicious about the unexplained creatures he keeps seeing, making it clear to Nick via less-than-veiled comments that he knows something is up (“strange is your speciality”).

    That’s a lot of moving of the narrative chess pieces, meaning that “The Grimm Who Stole Christmas”, which on balance was mainly a whole lot of fun and frothy silliness, just what the festive doctor ordered in fact, also functioned as a way of positioning the show for its final episode of the year “Chupacabra”, which frankly would be best eaten with some fruitcake.

    No seriously, would like me to get you some?


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  • Movie review: The Captive

    (image via Teaser Trailer)
    (image via Teaser Trailer)


    If there is one thing that can be said for Atom Egoyan’s movies of late, it is that he has not surrendered the immersive visual or narrative style that made his name with movies like Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997).

    His latest film, The Captive, starring Ryan Reynolds as Matthew, a devoted dad who finds his world completely upended when his 9 year old daughter Cass (Peyton Kennedy/Alexia Fast) is abducted from his truck outside a diner while he’s buying a pie for dinner, retains all the hallmarks of his singularly engaging look.

    It has the usual chopped-up and randomly-scattered narrative, which sees events and information parcelled out in non-chronological order to pleasing, if occasionally confusing effect, and a lush, chilled, both atmospherically and literally, sheen courtesy of cinematographer Paul Sarossy, which together create a sense that something terrible this way comes.

    It is doom spelled out in snowdrifts and icily-exchanged conversations, tension as a constant state of being, suspicion as a default way of dealing with those around you, and it all looks and feels impressively epic and yet suffocatingly intimate all at the same time.

    As a means of examining what happens to Matthew and his wife Tina (Mireille Enos) in the aftermath of their daughter’s disappearance, the sundering of their once-close bond as the police in charge of the investigation, Nicole (Rosario Dawson) and Jeffrey (Scott Speedman) who are part of a taskforce formed to hunt down pedophiles online, indirectly point the finger of blame at Matthew, it is damn near perfect.

    You can almost see Matthew’s shutdown persona, his obsession with driving the same road over and over hoping to spot Cass, mirrored in the icy terrain, his locked away but fragile and jumbled emotions represented by the stop, start and back again narrative that clues you in something, often before it’s happened.

    Style-wise then you can hardly fault The Captive which draws you in and doesn’t let go.



    Substance-wise however it is a whole different story.

    Initially Egoyan, who penned the script, does a fine job of showing people coming apart at the seams, trying to keep their day to day lives going even as the lynchpin of it, the bright, effervescent Cass, who is alive and an unwilling now-teenage accomplice to her Mozart-loving captive Mika (Kevin Durand) who moves and talks like a wax dummy come grudgingly to life, remains obdurately missing.

    Tina particularly, who blames Matthew almost immediately for the loss of Cass, is being systematically undone by the leaving of items from Cass’s childhood, including a trophy from her ice skating days and a brush she used to love, in the hotel rooms she cleans.

    She is unaware she is watched in some sort of macabre, sick game by Mika, who seems to gain some sort of twisted pleasure from the physical imprisonment of Cass and the emotional torture of her mother, which he watches on a series of cameras mounted in air-conditioning vents.

    It is all deeply unsettling and utterly perverse and it’s hard to know which is more distressing – Tina’s gradual descent into a form of madness or Mika’s calm, unruffled observance of it, his reactions no different than if he was watching a wildlife documentary.

    As an exercise in what happens when people are pushed to the edges of their ability to cope, and an insight into the monsters who gain pleasure, however muted, from watching it happen, it is beyond compare, gripping filmmaking which takes a long, hard look at the human condition and finds it a fragile creature indeed.



    As a thriller however, which it reputedly is, it fails to generate any real tension or emotional engagement.

    Its pleasing stylistic flourishes come at the expense of any sense of what many of the characters are thinking, of any deep exploration of what they’re feeling and going through, with only Matthew emerging with any sort of beating heart.

    You can intellectually sense that Tina must be distraught beyond the ability to cope, and that Nicole and Jeffery are heavily invested in the work they do – the B plot which sees Nicole abducted at one point by Mika is a distraction and ultimately fails to go anywhere meaningful – but there is no real investment in what anyone is going through, which is profoundly odd given what is at stake here.

    It is only the scenes involving Matthew, rendered with a brittle but determined sensibility by Reynolds in likely the finest performance of his career, who really gives us a window in how traumatic this entire event is for everyone involved.

    The problem seems to be one of style triumphing over substance, of look and feel taking precedence over what could have been a searing look into the dark underbelly of society where people indulge their twisted desires, seemingly one step ahead of the authorities who seem to be scrambling to play catch up.

    All the tension, the fear, the mourning of what has been lost is leached out of The Captive by its moody, distance-inducing persona, a real pity because somewhere beneath the impressively glossy sheen is a real, engrossing story just waiting to fully express itself.

    It is unfortunately, for all the movie’s plus points, never quite given the chance.


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  • On the 10th day of Christmas … I listened to Idina Menzel’s Holiday Wishes

    On the 10th day of Christmas Idina Menzel Holiday Wishes


    There’s no doubting the sheer awe-inspiring talent of the voice of Frozen, Tony Award-winning Broadway veteran Idina Menzel.

    She has a voice straight from the gods, one that combines fearsome power and delicate beauty, the sort of stage presence money cannot buy, and the kind of vibrant personality that has you believing you and she will be best friends forever, even if the only time you ever see her is on stage or via a television appearance.

    That is a lot going on in her favour but is it enough to successfully carry off a Christmas album, a musical undertaking that demands not simply impressive amounts of talent and vibrant joie de vivre but the ability to capture and bottle that most elusive of commodities – Christmas-ness?

    It’s not enough to be technically proficient when you’re recording and handing a Christmas album to the festive-loving masses; you have to also somehow infuse it with that magical sense of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Currier and Ives scenes of rustic, heartwarming family bonhomie, snow falling gently to the ground outside, that intangible sense that you are in an otherworldly place known as an Idealised Christmas.

    We all know deep down such a place doesn’t exist except in Hallmark movies, carol sing-a-longs and our own reality-escaping imaginations and yet we all want to be there, if only for the month of December, which is why it is incumbent on an artist recording an album of festive fare to make sure their recording conjures this sense of Yuletide bliss.

    It’s an almost Sisyphean task granted but Idina Menzel is one of the lucky souls who somehow manages to pull it off, her album Holiday Wishes drawing us into this idealised place almost immediately with the dulcet tones of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, one of the most evocative songs festive songs ever written, somewhat ironically by writer Noël Regney and composer Gloria Shayne, against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Written as a plea for peace, Menzel grants it the hushed, almost irreverent tone we have come to associate with the song, although at times, her bigger-than-Ben Hur vocals do threaten to swamp the song a little.



    Mostly though she stays true to the spirit of the original, without being a slavish copier of versions past, a tribute to the effort both she and producer Walter Afanaseiff put into making the album sound as “Christmassy” as possible without simply evoking a thousand Christmas albums past (of which they would be painfully cognisant there would be no point).

    Songs like “Silent Night”, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (a duet with Michael Bublé) and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” all succeed in sounding just the way we like them and yet fresh and different all at the same time, thanks largely to Menzel’s gift for investing pretty much everything she sings both her distinctive musical personality but also with near raw-palpable emotion, the sense that this really matters to her, that these songs are coming from the heart.

    It’s the mark of a truly great singer of course to not simply technically hit the notes but to give the songs a life all their own, and here Menzel succeeds admirably, as you would pretty much expect she would.

    What may surprise some people is the effort given over to re-making songs like “White Christmas”, which is given a melancholic, dream-like quality that brings to the fore the deep longing in the lyrics, and modern classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (co-written by Afanasieff), a playful, jaunty air, the reflection she told TIME of her producer wanting to do something a little different to Mariah Carey’s justifiably iconic version:

    “I was [nervous], actually, because I grew up listening to Mariah’s version. But the thing is, Walter Afanaseiff is my producer — he wrote that song with her. It was fun for me to say, ‘Let’s do your song.’ There was an arrangement he always had in his head that he didn’t do that he thought would be really cool.”

    These two songs alone make it clear this was no paint-by-numbers recording by Menzel.

    Capture the spirit of a perfectly-imagined Christmas yes, but don’t do it at the expense of some creativity too, seems to be the guiding principle at work throughout.

    That Menzel has been able to both evoke that mystical sense of the ghost of Christmases Ideal and have some fun interpreting the songs her way makes Holiday Wishes one of those rare festive albums that warms the soul, delights the heart, and impresses with sheer boundless talent and creative zest.


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  • What does it all mean?” The trailer for Sundance documentary The Visit

    Humanity does not look amused; not a great sign when the first alien visitor arrives on Earth (image via Twitch)
    Humanity does not look amused; not a great sign when the first alien visitor arrives on Earth (image via Twitch)


    An alien encounter. A hypothetical visitor arrives from Outer Space. The authorities are immediately alerted – the military, defence and communication advisors, and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. How to deal with this unprecedented event? How to reassure Earth’s inhabitants, who are prone to panic, when you have no previous experience to draw upon?” The Visit is directed by Michael Madsen (not the actor), of the films Celestial Night: A Film on Visibility and Into Eternity: A Film for the Future. The Visit will premiere at Sundance 2015 in January in the World Cinema Documentary Competition category. (synopsis via First Showing)

    Ah humanity!

    For all our great achievements, advances social and technological and our willingness to help our fellow man in times of trouble, there are still a lot of things we don’t do very well.

    Like how to handle an alien visit, or “invasion” as members of the more rabid tabloid elements in the media would be want to call it.

    The odds are very good, skittish creatures that we are, that things would start out with the best of intentions but at the first sign of trouble would deteriorate rather quickly and messily and frankly if I was an alien come on a peaceful visit, I wouldn’t want to be standing in the way.

    Still until it actually happens, who can say for sure how the people of the world would react, a great big unknown that provides plenty of room for Michael Madsen’s documentary The Visit to manoeuvre in.

    Would be take it all on face value? Grill them? Welcome them? Put on a PR show? Lay all our angels and demons on the table? Or act like it’s the extraterrestrial version of a first date and only put our best foot forward?

    Whatever we’d do, The Visit looks like it will examine every single angle in an intelligent, atmospheric and engaging way, with the trailer promising a documentary that is, at its core, an unflinching examination of the human condition.

    It looks absolutely fascinating and I can only hope that it makes its way to Australia after it is done undoutbtedlty wowing everyone at Sundance in January 2015.


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  • On the 9th day of Christmas … I read Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book

    On the 9th day of Christmas I read Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little
    (image (c) Golden Books/Random House)


    If there is one thing I learnt very early on in life, it’s that Little Golden Books have a lot to teach a person.

    It doesn’t matter what the circumstance may be, the simple life lessons of these gloriously-drawn, perfectly-worded books provide all the instructions you need to make a success of life.

    That’s true of any time of the year of course but as Diane Muldrow’s latest instalment in her New York Times bestselling series Everything I Need to Know About … I learned From a Little Golden Book makes abundantly clear, never more so than at Christmas when as, an excerpt from  The Happy Family, “there’s just so much to do”.

    Now, you can run around like a festive chook with your head cut off, frantically scribbling cards here, throwing decorations on a tree there, cards and presents and baubles orbiting in a chaotic cloud around you, or, and I think Diane would agree with me here, you can quietly sit down with a nice cup of eggnog, her exquisitely-presented book (the cover alone is worth its purchase) and discover how Mr Hedgehog or Frosty the Snowman navigate this most wonderful but busy time of the year and come out smiling on the other side.


    On the 9th day of Christmas I read Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From pic 2
    (image (c) Golden Books/Random House)


    To start with of course, you need to remember just what a lovely time of the year it is.

    It may look like a mountainous pile of obligations and stressful To Do Lists but you should never, ever forget to “Enjoy the season” (I am a Bunny).

    Still the obligations are there, and cleverly Muldrow begins her delightful book by acknowledging them head on.

    She accepts that Christmas is a time of “snarled holiday traffic” (The Taxi That Hurried), “marauding relatives” (Baby Looks) and “the hassles of holiday travel” (The Taxi That Hurried).

    Not to mention “The excess!” (Rupert the Rhinoceros), “The Expense!” (5 Pennies to Spend), or as someone whose loving mother delights in providing an endless supply of never-knocked-back fruit mince pies, cashew nuts and turkey stuffing knows only too well, “the weight gain”.

    There’s a lot going on and a lot to deal with! How do we make it through the season at all?


    (image (c) Golden Books/Random House)
    (image (c) Golden Books/Random House)


    Ah, there’s the thing!

    Muldrow, fresh from showing she understands it’s not all Christmas lights and festive get-togethers, then balances it all out with a delectable rundown of all the best parts of the season, beginning with writing lists for Santa (Poky Little Puppy, one of my all time favourites), Christmas dinner menu planning (The Goose That Stuffer Herself) and the delights of caroling out in the snow (The Animals’ Merry Christmas) … or the heat if you, like me, are in the southern hemisphere.

    But none of this would mean as much if you didn’t “make time for family and friends” (My Little Golden Christmas Book), make decorations together (Trim the Christmas Tree) or anticipates all the wonders and joys of Christmas with those you love (The Night Before Christmas).

    The key, of course, to retaining your sanity when all you want to do is run out into the street, tangled Christmas lights snagged around your ankles is to take some breaks, have some fun, and even blow a trumpet! (Christmas Carols).

    And most importantly to remember that the Christmas is less about what you get than what you give (The Goose That Stuffed Herself, Mr. Hedgehog’s Christmas Present, The Kitten’s Surprise), and the One who gave everything for us so we could enjoy moments like this.

    The real joy of Muldrow’s astutely-selected excerpts from A Little Golden Book’s vast treasure of books is that she weaves a narrative through them all that presents Christmas in all its stresses and strains, its joys and pleasures, and ultimately its immense rewards.

    While many of the books that she draws from are decades old, many decades old in fact, the fundamental truths they contain are on full display (as are the gorgeous illustrations, chief among them the whimsical work of my favourite Richard Scarry), a reminder that whatever the time of year but especially at Christmas, that you need go no further than A Little Golden Book to remember how to make the most out of life and the special occasions that define it.


    (image (c) Golden Books/Random House)
    (image (c) Golden Books/Random House)
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  • Weekend festive pop art: Santa Claus is coming to a movie poster you love!

    (image (c) Alessandro Minoggi / Expedia Denmark via Mashable)
    (image (c) Alessandro Minoggi / Expedia Denmark via Mashable)


    Ever get the feeling that Santa Claus is EVERYWHERE?

    It’s a sensation not helped by songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, which incidentally is the most played Christmas song of the past 100 years, which has lyrics like:

    “He sees you when you’re sleeping
    He knows when you’re awake
    He knows if you’ve been bad or good
    So be good for goodness sake!”

    and the jolly red-suited man’s appearance on every street corner, department store and shopping mall Christmas grotto.

    But for many of us that is barely enough Santa which is why Expedia Denmark decided to commission artist Alessandro Minoggi to imagine what it would be like if a whole slew of movie classics were suddenly holiday films featuring everyone’s favourite toy-making, elf-employing, reindeer-driven jolly old man?

    The results as you can imagine are really rather quite magical and make you wish Santa could find the time to escape the North Pole more often and make more films for us to enjoy when we’re in a festive kind of mood, which let’s face it for some of us, well, okay me, is year round.


    (image (c) Alessandro Minoggi / Expedia Denmark via Mashable)
    (image (c) Alessandro Minoggi / Expedia Denmark via Mashable)


    (image (c) Alessandro Minoggi / Expedia Denmark via Mashable)
    (image (c) Alessandro Minoggi / Expedia Denmark via Mashable)


    (image (c) Alessandro Minoggi / Expedia Denmark via Mashable)
    (image (c) Alessandro Minoggi / Expedia Denmark via Mashable)


    (image (c) Alessandro Minoggi / Expedia Denmark via Mashable)
    (image (c) Alessandro Minoggi / Expedia Denmark via Mashable)
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