Archive for February, 2012

Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady has a wealth of marvellous dialogue. Some of it is hilarious, some poignant and some painful; it is consistently well imagined, realistic and crafted with care.

On Isabel’s first encounter with her white whale, Gilbert Osmond, the gentleman makes a bold claim. This is his first major offensive attack (ch. XXIV):


A woman’s natural mission is to be where she is most appreciated.’


Isabel, charmed to the point of being affected, throws a gauntlet at her interlocutor’s feet…

The point is to find out where that is.’



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As I pulled the Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude from the fridge I have to admit to a certain hesitancy…


Exterior (of bottle): Double-headed (mirror) image of a green T-Rex

Interior: Promises drinking experience akin to consuming ashtray full of cig butts

Premature conclusion of this individual: Horrible gimmick


Nevertheless, the unspoken respect of the bearded twenty-something behind the counter served to urge me onwards. Reaching in with consummate confidence I sealed our wobbly friendship: “really nice to meet you”, the bottle shop attendant farewelled as I left with said bottle in tow.

Smoked beers have been in production well beyond our current craft-beer market boom. German brewing house Bambergs Spezial has been concocting its own version for over two centuries now. A good friend still loudly sings the praises of their smoked weissbier.

Rex Attitude is a big example of this style of brewing – a 10% monster! At this juncture in my story it is worth mentioning that I had been duly warned. Naive beer drinkers who consume a Rex Attitude (unbeknowst to its contents), journal a starkly unpleasant oral aftertaste the morning after. But I had a reputation to uphold with my bearded acquaintance. So,  I dipped the toe in. And tonight I look forward to the next exchange with my new friend. I even have a script prepared for the event: “My old friend, I loved it; let’s drink beer together forever.”



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The first girl I was ever gaga for went by the name of Pauline; we met when I was in my late teens. I had never met anyone quite like her before. She was a writer and I was a mathematics undergrad.

Pauline was an intriguing lady – tiny (under five feet tall), opinionated to a fault, perhaps a little sex-obsessed and not so sympathetic towards the Christian faith. But even with our obvious out-of-synch-ness, I was seriously keen.

Pauline wrote for The New Yorker as their resident film critic at arguably the pinnacle of American cinema (1968-1991). Boy could she write! I felt her words physically; reading Pauline was like being flirted with. During the eighties her endless attack on mainstream movies was pretty entertaining to read, even when you disagreed (Blood Simple, Blade Runner, Aliens). But it was from the moment I read her pan of Frank Capra’s classic Christmas film, It’s a Wonderful Life, I felt something irresistible about her writing, her wit, her hatred of film sentimentality.

Pauline Kael consistently divided readers and film industry folk with her trenchancy. George Lucas named one of his villains General Kael (in Willow), after Pauline panned both Star Wars and Return of the Jedi.  Many people who discovered her writing in The New Yorker found her reviews unsympathetic and unreliable. But somehow her inability to be swayed by others’ opinions just made her all the more alluring.

Two pieces will I remember from the giant review omnibus which resided beside my bed. Her canny critiques of A Clockwork Orange and The Exorcist; they were like atom bombs. Neither films, nor their respective directors, got away unscathed – these reviews were like raw Hollywood tabloids for intellectuals. But it is her deep love and affection for cinema which speaks loudest and most beautifully. She adored The Godfather parts and II, Martin Scorsese films from the 70s, anything by Jean Luc Goddard and most screwball comedies.  And to read her moving reminiscence on Vittorio de Sica’s Shoeshine is a work of art in itself.

Pauline’s writing and personality have changed me; life has a different hue because of her. But she is gone  – it has been 11 years since her death. Nevertheless, her words still speak of the rich possibilities of life in the here and now. In some ways that just serves to heighten the feeling of bitterness over her death. At these times I remember I miss her keenly.


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Kicking and Screaming is a movie from New York filmmaker Noah Baumbach, best known for his writing work on Wes Anderson pictures (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr Fox). Major critical success came with his fourth work – the poignant and wise The Squid and the Whale (2005). Kicking, his debut feature, has many of the same qualities seen there (lit talk, relational pessimism), but somehow it got lost among the untold number of nineties Gen-X flicks. Further, it appears to have lacked a distributor here in Australia.

Kicking and Screaming is the inverse of those horrific American frat-comedies which flooded the market towards the end of the last millenia and into the early noughties (Old School, American Pie, Scary Movies). Sexual misdemeanours are kept to a minimum here (or at least alluded to rather than visually reproduced). Kicking is mainly concerned with university students in the grip of ennui and paralysis upon the completion of their studies. Girlfriends leave for Prague, friends realise how unsuited they are for one another, possibilities which require change are rejected.

There is so much to love about Kicking and Screaming. It completely understands these people; their sense of uncertainty and anxiety. These alienated post-adolescents sit around at the completion of their tertiary study unable to move on with their lives. Where romance beckons, future unknowns take the rich potential of their desires hostage. Fear becomes the motivation for stasis.

Kicking and Screaming is a sadder and less idealistic version of my personal favourite film, Metropolitan. However, whole sections of Baumbach’s film feel limp and a lot less funny than they should be. Which is such a shame, given Kicking crafts several scenes which resonate far more strongly. I couldn’t help feel that by the sad ending my life as a twenty-something, my paralysis wrought by fear, was unmasked and questioned. And, for me, it leaves a poignant moment almost too unbearably sad: “I just wish we were an old couple”.



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The mysteries of John 18

The account given by the apostle John of Jesus’ arrest presents a number of intriguing features.

Throughout his biography, Jesus speaks in singular ways; he is frequently both oblique and insistent (sometimes in stark contrast with the Synoptic accounts). Without the grand narrative given in John’s prologue, it would almost be appropriate to characterise the Messiah as both a pedant and self-obsessed to the point of narcissism. However, in chapter 18, before Pilate, Jesus speaks with clarity and simplicity – he answers the governor plainly. As a reader, I am struck by this dramatic change.

What does this new picture demonstrate?

All one can do in a preliminary investigation is present some possibilities as to the apostle’s purpose. John certainly intends to present a new quality or character in Jesus’ discourse when we arrive at this point in his narrative.

The humanity of Jesus appears to be given centre-stage. No longer does the hero speak loftily and strangely of his god-ness and importance; he has already fully demonstrated the extent to which he is of one being with the Father. Rather, now, he is seen to be the representative human who will sacrificially die in sinful man’s place. Secondly, the revelation of the mystery which has pervaded his overall ministry and purpose is in the process of being unmasked. We are at the cusp of something final and perversely surprising. The god-man will die for the sake of a sick and unrepentant world. The kingdom will not come as it was assumed it would. It will come with the Messiah’s death.


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Two films released last year focus their gaze squarely on the silent era of cinema and remind us of how charmingly beautiful those days were. One is a child fantasy (Hugo), the other a genre defying work spanning comedy, drama and romance (The Artist).

The directors of both, Scorsese and Hazanavicius, are enamoured with the past, to the extent that one is a homage to film history, while the other to film itself. The Artist feels like the more successful accomplishment given the genuine warmth and giddyness it engenders; I walked home from the cinema tonight with a clownish smile on my face. I can’t recall the last time a film made me feel such happiness. This is due in large part to the exceptionally charismatic work of French actor Jean Dujardin in the lead role.

Meanwhile, the performances in Hugo largely detract from its core message. Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick Ass, 500 Days of Summer) provides some winning moments and Sasha Baron Cohen, silly comic hijinks, but these are not enough to carry the film. Scorsese’s camera roams the screen thirstily, but the whole production feels strangely static. This is surprising given his genuine mastery of movement in films like Taxi Driver and Mean Streets.

But it is the last five minutes of The Artist which are the pinnacle of film as homage; here ecstatic beauty radiates. It is hard to think of any film moment during 2011 which comes close. An utterly winning coda which leaps off the screen.



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