Sunday, 28 January 2007

Swimming, Running, Biking and Beer (Lauren)

Yesterday, I completed a triathlon. Yay!

Although I've done triathlons before, yesterday's was by far the hardest. I admit that I may only think that it was the hardest because it was only yesterday and the pain is so very very fresh. The first one that Mum and I did together in Palmy in early '04 was hard work, as was the one we did in Wellington last year that had such bad weather the swim was cancelled. The one yesterday was especially challenging though as the bike was hillier than usual, and the run longer. I signed up a few months ago, assuming that I would kill my lazy demons and train really really hard. Unfortunately, my "training" generally consisted of carrying around my gym bag but rarely actually using it.

Me, almost finished ...

During the swim, it occurred to me that I was doing a better impression of the Kursk than a dolphin. During the hilly bike ride, I cursed the hills with all my might. And during the run, I wondered if anyone would notice me having a sleep in the grass. It was all worth it though when I ran, exhausted, under the "finish" sign.


I did the triathlon with Louise after convincing her that they were great. Tane and Richard (Louise's boyfriend) enjoyed themselves as well, especially once they discovered the on site bar. They did a great job of both supporting us and fitting in going the bar while we were out biking. I suspect that they took this photo to taunt us.

The supportive boyfriends, supporting us ... and the bar

Today it feels like someone has replaced my legs with planks of wood. My mid-section is so sore I wonder if someone came and jumped on my stomach in the middle of the night. There is something extremely exhilarating though about pushing your limits, and competing in an event designed to empower women. I am already looking forward to next time. And Mum, I intend to nag you until you sign up for the next one with me!

Tane's Reviews: Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond

You may or may not remember the crisis in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. It was one of that endless stream of African horror stories, a little after Rwanda and Somalia, a little before Darfur.
There were a few particularly ghastly things about Sierra Leone. The rebels had the habit of abducting children, brainwashing them, feeding them drugs and giving them guns. They were also fans of chopping off limbs.
Still, as a jaded journalist in this movie says, “Same old story. Government bad, rebels worse. Nobody gives a fu*k.”
Which pretty much summed up the attitude of most people in the West – except the politicians, the activists - and gem merchants. For Sierra Leone has diamonds. A lot of diamonds.
Blood Diamond is the story of the civil war in Sierra Leone and how one particular stone affects the lives of a local fisherman (Djimon Honsou) desperate to find his family, an American war journalist (Jennifer Connelly), a Zimbabwean smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a large number of ruthless men.
If Blood Diamond really were a gem, it would be a valuable but flawed one. It is well shot on gorgeous locations and tells a powerful story. But it is too earnest and, at times, over-the-top. It could have made its points better if it told it with more subtlety and restraint.
But there’s much more that’s good in it than bad. Honsou has a deep, humble nobility in him – if anyone’s read Aphra Behn’s ‘Orinookoo’, he’d be the perfect person to play the prince. While DiCaprio gives an even better performance than he did in The Departed. As the uncaring anti-hero he is both appealing and appalling. And, like Honsou, he delivers one great speech. It is these that probably clinched them their Oscar nominations. My only criticism of DiCaprio is that his accent seems a bit forced, but my South African-born friend Sarah (whose comment follows this review) tells me he did it well.
To sum Blood Diamond up, it is a somewhat overwrought but also very moving film. A lesser jewel, but well worth seeing.


Monday, 22 January 2007

Wellington Anniversary Weekend Pics (Lauren)

I love Wellington Anniversary weekend. It is a three day weekend right when you are getting sick of work again after the Christmas break, and as it's not nationwide I usually forget about it until a little bit beforehand so it comes as nice surprise. I like it so much, I don't even care that I have no idea whatsoever what the anniversary is actually supposed to be of.

This Anniversary weekend, Tane and I did the Eastern Walkway. The walkway took a couple of hours, and goes along the hills overlooking the Wellington Harbour. It was great - fantastic views of the Harbour, seeing lots of sunbathing skinks, and walking a windy hilly path called "Branda's Pass" that Tane thought should belong in the Lord of the Rings. I think he was even a little disapointed that we did not get ambushed by bandits, as he thought the name would suggest.

The highlight of the day, though, was the Ataturk Memorial at the beginning of the walk.
The Ataturk Memorial is a pretty impressive memorial commermorating Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. At the memorial you can find lots of quotes about how highly Ataturk thought of the ANZAC troops at Gallipoli. Also, a plaque that reads:
"Beneath this star is placed a container of soil from Anzac cove, Gallipoli, Turkey"

Before going to the memorial, I had no idea that you could visit Turkish soil without leaving Wellington. The wind was a constant reminder however that we were not, alas, in Turkey. Not that I have been to Turkey (yet), but am sure that the wind doesn't blow so hard I feel like my hair is going to poke out my eyes.

Tane and the South Coast on a typical sneaky Wellington day. It looks great, but that's because you can't see the wind!

Something else that deserves a mention from this weekend was James Moir's 30th. The theme was the ghetto, and his backyard was transformed into da hood with a beat up old cop car (1970s style), a retro dance floor, and a wall for spray painting.

Tane, dressed as a ghetto pimp,tests out his tagging skills.

I learnt at that party, however, that I will never have a career as a ghetto ho. The spray painting was much too hard, and my "Lauren Was Here" looked more like a paintball had hit than actual words. If it wasn't for being able to wear my 80s jacket, it would have been a sad day indeed.

The moment I realised I would never be a ghetto ho. That jacket, though, even makes Tane look like he has an hourglass figure.

Me with James. I know it's not a good photo, but it seemed wrong not to publish a pic of James in his gold sweat suit.

Other highlights of the weekend were board games with Sarah and Grisham, sleeping in three days in a row, shopping with Philippa and Erin at Queensgate Mall, and bonding with my cat Max. Isn't he cute?

Max after Stephen had a play with photoshop.

Oh, and my other highlight: writing my blog while procrastinating from doing both housework and my Teaching English course. Sigh.

Tane's Reviews: Dreamgirls

I’ll come clean right at the start. I don’t like ‘serious’ musicals.
Not that I have a problems with all musicals – I’m a fan of both Chicago and the South Park movie – but there’s a certain ridiculousness that such a movie needs to work. Because if you’re not silly to begin with, when characters start communicating through song, you’re certainly going to get silly pretty fast.
So, as Dreamgirls is a serious film, when the characters start singing their lines, I have to suppress a shudder.
Of course, plenty of people love this and if you’re one of them you will enjoy Dreamgirls more than me.
And it’s not as if I didn’t like it a lot. This is one of the movies (with The Departed, The Queen, Little Miss Sunshine, The Sands of Iwo Jima, United 93 and Babel) leading the pack in the various award ceremonies, and it’s easy to see why.
Dreamgirls is the screen version of a musical loosely based on the career of famous American girl group The Supremes.
The film opens with three young black women with a stack of talent and a stack of naivety trying to get a break into the big time. They are the Dreamettes: giggly Lorrell and beautiful Deena (Beyonce Knowles, in a clever piece of casting) and the star turn - Effie (Jennifer Hudson), the one with the big personality, big body and titanic voice. Dreamgirls traces the career of these women, which is heavily influenced by their ambitious manager Cecil Taylor (Jamie Foxx) and sleazy, charismatic soul singer Jimmy ‘Thunder’ Early (Eddie Murphy).
Dreamgirls does not always flow well, with some choppy shifts between scenes, and tilts into melodrama towards the end. But, that aside, it’s a well-made film. The editing and costumes are exceptional, as are the performances from Hudson and Murphy. Murphy crackles with energy and shows he can portray emotional complexity too, while Hudson (a failed American Idol finalist) is a revelation as the proud and passionate Effie. It helps that she has a voice that could make a waterfall stop to listen. Kudos too to Knowles, who shows she is more than just a lovely face and voice.
Best of all, Dreamgirls is packed from wall to wall with great music. After hearing it, it’s hard to suppress the urge to go out and buy the CD. The soundtrack, if not the movie itself, really is great.


Sunday, 14 January 2007

Tane's Reviews: Happy Feet

If March of the Penguins has not already done it, Happy Feet would do for emperor penguins what Finding Nemo did for clownfish – make them stars of the animal world.
Singing, dancing stars at that.
It’s mating season in Antarctica and love is in the air. Their eyes meeting across a crowded ice floe, Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman in Marilyn Monroe mode) and Memphis (Hugh Jackman doing an Elvis impersonation) make beautiful music together – literally, as it’s how penguins court. Heartbreak Hotel meets You Don’t Have to be Rich.
If you can’t sing, you’re not much of a penguin. Problem is, when Norma Jean and Memphis have a chick, Mumble (Elijah Wood) what comes out of his throat is a throttled squawk. But boy, can he move his feet.
Tap dancing isn’t enough to cut it in Emperor Penguin land though, so Mumble wanders off to hang out with a smaller species of penguin and falls in with a group of Latino playboys called The Amigos, led by Raul (Robin Williams). Together the lads go and see Lovelace (Williams again), the overweight guru who holds the key to the mystery of why the fish supply is drying up.
I do love a good animated movie. They’re so much damn fun, and a delight to look at. The ending is a bit corny, Mumble is not the most compelling hero in the history of fiction and the female characters are push-overs, but Happy Feet is still great. The animation is another benchmark for this sort of film, with scenes such an avalanche, a chase involving a leopard seal and killer whales playing around at an abandoned whaling station particularly stunning.
Williams and the Amigos are hilarious, and the songs are will get you going too. I particularly liked a soaring version of Queen’s Somebody to Love performed by Brittany Murphy.
By the way, don’t be fooled into thinking this is all cutesy penguins and perky songs. There’s some intense scenes where Mumble flees the jaws of predators, and a quite disturbing scene towards the end.


Saturday, 13 January 2007

Tane's Reviews: Apocalypto

Say what you like about Mel Gibson – and you might well say that he’s a fundamentalist bigot – but you can’t say that he doesn’t know how to create a world you can believe in.
As he did in Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, in Apocalypto Gibson drowns you in the gorgeousness, grime and gore of the distant past. This time it’s the jungles and massive stone temples of the era of the Mayans, whose pre-European civilization dominated what is now the Yucatan Peninsula/Guatemala area in Central America.
Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is a young husband and father in a hunter-gatherer tribe living in the jungle. It’s a good life – his wife is hot, his son is cute, dad is of the Wise Old Warrior school, there’s plenty of practical jokes going around, and the jungle is beautiful and full of food. Then one day a strange, bedraggled group of strangers passes through. They are fleeing something terrible.
Soon that terror arrives, in the form of Mayan raiders who rape, murder or enslave almost all the adults in the village.
The surviving tribesmen are hauled away by the fearsome Zero Wolf and his sadistic sidekick Snake Ink to a Mayan capital, a city festered with decadence and cruelty.
Apocalypto features a strong score and charismatic performances from Youngblood and the rest of the cast, but what is really extraordinary is how it looks. The cinematography is the best I’ve seen since House of Flying Daggers, with at least two simply jaw-dropping bits of camerawork during the last half-hour. Then there’s the fantastic piercings, tattoos, armour, weapons and jewelry. A helmet made from a jaguar skull. A chain of beads running from ear to ear through the nose. A knife with an obsidian blade and carved bone handle.
As Lauren said afterwards, this film is a feast for the senses.
However, it’s not a feast for the mind, despite Gibson’s effort to load it with meaning. He opens the film with a quote about how great civilisations decay from within before they are destroyed, but this is a load of old cobblers. Not all empires fall apart within before being overwhelmed from without and besides, as an accurate depiction of Mayan culture and history, Apocalypto makes Braveheart look like a historian’s doctoral thesis.
Elements of Mayan civilization that were separated by many centuries are meshed together, and their achievements in art, astronomy and mathematics are ignored in turning them into degenerate monsters. He also appears to have confused them with Aztecs, which is rather like confusing Greeks with Germans. Nor did hunter-gatherers like Jaguar Paw’s tribe lived near such Mayan cities.
But, aside from history geeks, who cares. Granted, Gibson should have made it clearer that this was closer to fiction than fact, but a movie is entertainment, not a documentary. Apocalypto will get a lot of people interested in the Mayans (it certainly had Lauren and I checking out Wikipedia) and is a thrilling action movie.
But, even given that it is something for adrenaline junkies, Apocalypto is excessively violent. As he showed in The Passion, Gibson has a disturbing taste for blood. He drenches Apocalypto in it. For me only two moments were truly in-your-face disgusting, but those with more sensitive tastes will find much more of it hard to watch. And, for all the inventiveness of the carnage, it gets a bit repetitive.
Still, despite its flaws this is an exciting film set in a vivid and fascinating world, with images that will linger for a long time. If you think you’ve got the stomach for it, do see it on the big screen.


Lauren's bite-sized movie blurbs.

As it is Oscar season (Hurrah! Yipee!), Tane and I have been going nuts with movie watching. We have seen five in the last 10 days, and I am starting to feel that Reading Cinemas in Wellington is my second home. I became aware of just how extreme our movie watching has been recently when I went to buy my pre- movie sorbet (my current food rut, or "frut") this evening and realised that I have eaten all of the flavours within the last week. Hmmmm.

Anyway, I wanted to write my very own movie blurb. I am sorry these aren't as long or as good as Tane's, but quite frankly, I am too lazy. I am too lazy even to think up an excuse to hide my laziness. So, here you go, my bite sized reviews:

The Prestige

I’m not going to say much about this film because I don’t want to spoil the plot in any way. But - I loved The Prestige because of its moral ambiguity, the twisty plot, and the fact that I have never seen a movie quite like it before. I saw it days ago and am still pestering Tane with my theories about why certain things happened. I haven’t had a movie get that much under my skin for a long time.


Happy Feet

Happy Feet was great. It had it all – singing, Robin Williams, great gags, and dancing penguins. Happy Feet is one of those movies that you will leave with a smile. Unless, of course, unless you are the Grinch who stole movie joy.

As the credits rolled, I noticed a little girl sitting along from me squirming in her seat. She was beaming, and soon got up to dance in the aisle. By the end of the credits, her and two other little kids were dancing up in front of the screen. I think that says it all about Happy Feet and how infectious it was.



I know that some of you will want to instantly dismiss this movie as being both historically inaccurate and part of a great right-wing conspiracy lead by Mel Gibson. I, however, enjoyed this movie. It was a feast for the senses, with fantastic costumes, music (a very Braveheart-esque soundtrack by James Horner), and scenery. It was great to hear Mayan spoken throughout the movie, and after seeing Apocalypto I have started to fantasise about backpacking around the Mayan ruins in Central America. I have been reading about Mayan culture since seeing the movie, and while the movie was historically inaccurate it has made me more interested in a part of the world that I hadn’t given too much thought before.

My only criticism of Apocalypto was that it was way too violent. It was so violent at one point I seriously considered hiding under my coat. My sister Ngaire summed up the violence really well when we were discussing the Snifters (her movie "frut") that she had bought to eat during the movie. "You know" she said. "I really didn't eat as many Snifters during the movie as I usually do".


Casino Royale

I liked this movie, but didn’t love it. The portrayal of Bond intrigued me, and I loved the action scenes. I couldn’t shake the feeling though that I don’t have enough testosterone to see the full appeal of this film. Although, I did have enough oestrogen to fully appreciate the little blue shorts.


The Queen

This movie was really good, and I was impressed with how it managed to be simultaneously sympathetic to both the Queen and Tony Blair. Helen Mirren was spectacular as Queen Elizabeth, and if she does not get the Oscar for Best Actress I will be very disappointed in the Academy. They, after all, owe it to the world to show some common sense after the Best Picture debacle of 2006.



Babel was a great movie. Well made with excellent scenery and an intricate plot, Babel is a must-see. If Babel gets Best Picture, which it may well do, I will nod with approval rather than want to throw things at the TV.


Tane's reviews: The Prestige

Any decent magician knows that when you give away the secret of how the trick is done, the magic goes. So it is with the plot of The Prestige – much of the pleasure of the movie is in seeing the story unfold. Which means I won’t say much about the plot, other than that it is about the bitter, destructive rivalry of two stage magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) in late 19th Century London, and is one of the most intriguing stories I’ve seen.

As well as the plot, The Prestige features a richly detailed setting, the charms of Scarlett Johanssen and class of Michael Caine, and two of the most watchable stars around in Bale and Jackman. There’s small but memorable performances by Andy Serkis and David Bowie too.

Director Christopher Nolan was the man behind Memento, and has produced a similar film here, all fractured time and mystery. Like Memento, the more you think about it the more is revealed, with little clues and moments of foreshadowing slotting into place.

Also like Memento, you realise there’s a few logical loopholes – but nothing to detract much from the film. What is a major flaw is the lack of pace, with the film almost running out of steam about two-thirds of the way through. It picks up again for the finale, but by then its grip has loosened somewhat.

I came out of it wanting to give it 7/10, but The Prestige is such a fascinating tale it lingers with you more than films that had more of an immediate impact. It’s a tale you will be arguing about days later, which says a lot for its quality.


Friday, 12 January 2007

Tane's reviews: Babel

“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”

- The King James Bible

Two boys are guarding goats in the arid mountains of Morocco. Seeking to test the range of their dad's expensive new rifle, they take a pot shot at a bus. And hit a tourist.
So begins a series of events that takes in the boys and their dirt-poor family, an American couple (Kate Blanchett and Brad Pitt) trying to get over the death of a baby, a Mexican nanny (Adriana Barazza) desperate to get across the border to her son’s wedding and a deaf-mute teenage Japanese girl (Rinko Kikuchi). They are linked by that single shot and by common themes.
Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu helmed similar films in 21 Grams and Amores Perros, which I have not seen but were heavily praised. This is the third in that ‘trilogy’, a grim and powerful film veined with moments of beauty such as the magnificent desolation of Morocco, the exuberance at a Mexican wedding and the glittering Tokyo cityscape.
Plaudits go to Blanchett and Pitt, who, along with Latino superstar Gael Garcia Bernal, deliver strong performances. It is the lesser-known actors, however, who deliver the most memorable acting - those playing the Moroccan family, Barazza and most heartrending of all, Kikuchi.
With its fractured plot interweaving the lives of large multiracial cast, Babel resembles Crash. However, it’s a considerably better film, as it is not as tiresomely repetitive and simplistic as last year’s “Best Picture”. Indeed, Babel may edge out The Departed, Tsotsi, Little Miss Sunshine, United 93 and The Queen as the best film I’ve seen in the last 12 months.


Tane's Reviews: The Queen

It was, with September 11, one of the two JFK shooting days of our generation. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news.
I was in Paul Brown’s car being driven from Opotiki back to university in Hamilton when the radio told us Princess Diana had been in a car crash, and her partner Dodi Al-Fayed had been killed. What if she died, we said. Whoa, that’d be big.
Then we got back to Student Village, someone told us she had.
The Queen is set around the time of Diana death, and focuses on its impact on the Royal Family. In particular, it looks at how Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) deals with an event which came closer than any other in centuries to turning Britain into a republic.
You may remember the bollocking the Royals got at the time, for failing to fly a flag at half mast above Buckingham Palace (it was against tradition) and for not publicly acknowledging the life of the Princess or the near-hysterical grief that swept Britain and much of the world. Instead, they stayed in their retreat in the Scottish Highlands, hunting and walking the dogs, comforting the young princes, while the outrage grew.
The only one who really seems to grasp the situation is the new Prime Minister, the bright, shiny, media savvy Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). However, the hidebound Royals treat him with a mixture of suspicion and contempt.
The Queen paints a tense, believable view of events. Save for Blair’s smarmy spin-doctor Alastair Campbell and the crusty Prince Phillip (James Cromwell), director Stephen Frears is sympathetic to his characters. The Royals are caught between maintaining centuries of tradition - the stiff upper lip and all that protocol - and having to put on a show of mourning for a woman who had waged a public relations war with them for years.
While it takes a little while get over the odd sensation of seeing still-prominent public figures played by actors in a serious film, the performances in The Queen are outstanding. Sheen is perhaps a bit too fresh-faced and humble as Blair, but it should be remembered that this was a time when he was seen as the best thing in the UK since The Beatles, before his image as a shallow, slick poodle of George Bush became established. He’s something of a hero here.
While Blair – and his wife Cherie (Helen McCrory) – are prominent in the film, it is Mirren who dominates it. Her performance has been showered with praise and awards, and justly so. She puts a warm and likeable face to a woman whose image is anything but, while does not stint on showing Elizabeth’s flaws, such as how out of touch with reality she was. This is Her Majesty behind the polite smile and little wave, who doubts, fears and even makes jokes.
With that superb performance, a witty and penetrating script and clever use of news footage, The Queen manages the difficult task of showing contemporary events without sensation or sentimentality, but still keeping them filled with emotion. Wonder of wonders, it even made this avowed republican feel a bit fond of the old dinosaur on our $20 note.


Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Holiday pictures! Bush, boulders and belly ache (Lauren)

I have just had a great holiday. So much so, I am going to subject you to a short summer blurb, Christmas blurb, stomach bug OF DOOM blurb, then blurb about the coolest places Tane and I visited.

This year we had to leave Wellington to find some sun - apparently it was the coldest December Wellington had for over 70 years. It was well worth it though after spending a week in Auckland and Opotiki becoming re-acquainted with my sandals, shorts, and little tops from the House of G. They had been feeling a bit sad and neglected at the back of my closet. I think that my summer clothes really enjoyed going to the beach, on walks, and spending ages sitting in the sun while I read.

Christmas was the best I've had in years. I enjoyed good food at both Mum’s and Dad’s, as well as hanging with the whanau and playing poker after being inspired by ‘Casino Royale’. Although, I do have a long way to go in learning how to be good enough to play a villain that cries tears. A first step would be learning to hide a gleeful smile when dealt a good hand. Sigh. This bluffing business is hard work.

Seeing in the New Year was slightly less fun. Tane and I were in Auckland with Mum, which was lovely and relaxing…until the bug OF DOOM hit me in the middle of the night. Only capital letters can express just how ‘of doom’ the bug was. Both Tane and I spent some of the holiday very very sick. I was so sick, even the thought of drinking coke made me shudder. The Bug OF DOOM had no mercy, and timed itself perfectly for the night before a long car trip. Ug. Lucky that the rest of the holiday was so good that being as sick as a dog didn’t really matter.

Sick with Mouse the Cat. Who actually has cancer
so I really shouldn't complain.

The highlight of the holiday was Whirinaki Forest in the Urewera National Park. Tane, Tane's Dad and I went there for a day walk last Sunday. It was simply amazing - the air was so fresh and the bush so rich that there is nothing that I could say about it that wouldn't sound corny. We went for a lovely walk to a waterfall, and another to a canyon. There is nothing better than being in the middle of nowhere where the sound of birds are all around you and the sound of cars far away.

Tane and his Dad in the forest

Tane and I also had a fabulous explore of the bush out the back of Opotiki while on holiday, in search of some boulders that were supposed to be very cool. A few hours was added to the trip as we got lost, and instead of boulders found a very creepy area in the middle of the bush where, it appeared, old cars went to die. We eventually found the boulders after much walking around windy gravel roads. The joy in finding them came second however to the joy of realising that we were no longer lost and not going to be shot at by Opotiki’s equivalent of Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel for snooping around his car cemetery.

Finally at the boulders. Yay!

I did leave the festive season thinking one thing though: who writes the jokes in Christmas crackers? In my cracker this Christmas I got a large tacky paperclip and a joke about Cinderella going to the photo shop to get her "Prints". It makes me wonder who writes those jokes. Are there a group of people sitting around in a room thinking about them, slapping each other on the back with glee when one realises that "prints" sounds like "prince" so it can be the subject of a joke? If you happen to know anyone who has this job, please slap them for me. Hard.

For info on Whirinaki: