Archive | reviews RSS feed for this section

Australian Wildlife Up Close

21 Sep

The week before I flew back to the states in June, my boyfriend and I had one last road trip from Mackay to Cape Tribulation where the Daintree, the world’s oldest rainforest, and the Great Barrier Reef meet. We stopped at quirky tourist attractions along the way: ordering mango shakes at the Big Mango, stopping for free cheese and yogurt tastings at the Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy, strolling along the Mamu Rainforest canopy walkway and running as fast as we could to see the train as it passed through the Barron Gorge in the Kuranda rainforest village.

My favorite detour, however, was the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary in Townsville. I was leaving Australia and hadn’t seen a koala yet so I begged my boyfriend to pull over when we saw the giant billboard indicating that the sanctuary was only a few kilometers away. He wasn’t interested in going because growing up in Australia provided him with countless run-ins with kangaroos, crocodiles, koalas, dingoes, cassowaries and other exotic birds, so while he had a ‘lay down’ in the van, I ventured into the park, giddy as a schoolgirl, with my camera in tow and some change to buy animal feed.

Once inside I rushed to catch the last few minutes of the croc show and was shocked to find kangaroos wandering everywhere! Not only were there mamas, papas and joeys all around me, but they were incredibly social and persistent. I would stop to feed one kangaroo and then four would surround me, stand on their back legs and shove their way through.

At one point I had three roos eating out of my hand and my heart completely dropped. Time stood still. I’d been in Australia for three months and admired these animals from afar and just as I was about to leave the country I was face to face with them, locked in a cathartic farewell.

I meditated on the experience. I read all the educational signs, I watched the croc, bird and snake shows. I stood in the background as families got their pictures taken with koalas, living vicariously through them. I took videos of my conversations with birds and practically laid on the ground to film a joey making his way out of his mama’s pouch.

On principle I don’t really like going to zoos. It depresses me to see caged wild animals and the thousands of tourists that keep their captivity in demand. But the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary is not a zoo. It comprises 25 acres of bushland, is a certified advanced ecotourism destination and is not overrun by tourists. In the center of the park is a lake, which the birds love to fly over, and the animals, with the exception of the wallabies, kangaroos and ducks who roam free, are kept in spacious, fairly open habitats.

The wildlife sanctuary feels like just that – a sanctuary, and you can easily get lost in the experience of connecting with these animals while spending the day learning about them. If you want to experience Australian wildlife up close, I suggest skipping the overpriced and limiting zoos and spending the day at a sanctuary instead.

For more information on the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary in Townsville, visit their website here.

Essay Review: Slouching Towards Bethlehem

28 Oct

During spring of 1967, just before the Summer of Love, thousands of Americans flocked to San Francisco, the epicenter of the hippie movement that challenged everything that was understood about the world.

Psychoactive drugs, creative expression, revolutionary music and political ideals swept the nation. Long-haired flower children spoke of free love, peace and the necessity of exploring realms of consciousness. People questioned the policies of the generations before them and demanded change.

It was during this time that award-winning journalist Joan Didion stepped onto the scene. Embracing the changing landscape herself, Didion wrote about her experiences in what was called the “New Journalism” style, of articulating facts through narrative storytelling, which was popularized by Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson and Truman Copote.

Didion spent months in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco not knowing exactly what she wanted to find out, but made friends “where the social hemorrhaging was showing up… where the missing children were gathering and calling themselves hippies.”

In her 1968 essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” Didion draws upon her observations of Haight-Ashbury and removes the romanticized veil that has come to represent the hippie movement.

She bears witness to the social phenomena of the late ‘60s and communicates her experiences as an observer rather than a participant.

The title for the essay and the book of the same name, is taken from the last line of William Butler Yeat’s poem The Second Coming (1919) and shares the same apocalyptic vision.

During Didion’s time in Haight-Ashbury, she meets a 5-year-old on lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) who explains that her mother had been giving her drugs for the past year and that many of her fellow classmates “turn on,” too.

Didion, who was in her 30s at the time, describes her work Slouching Towards Bethlehem as the “first time I dealt directly and flatly with the evidence of atomization, the proof that all things fall apart.”

Throughout the essay, Didion encounters runaways who left their stable lives behind to live in the “Golden Land” of California, a place they believed promised freedom, love and acceptance, but instead found themselves homeless, hungry and looking for their next drug fix.

Didion is told to offer these vagabonds hamburgers and Coca Colas in exchange for interviews and comes to the conclusion that their lives are now filled with aimless endeavors where the past no longer matters and the future can’t be planned.

“We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum… we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it,” Didion writes.

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” acts as a time capsule into the ‘60s with Didion reporting on the intrinsic pitfalls of the counterculture and allowing readers to catch an intimate glimpse into the lives of those entrenched in the hippie movement. Her essay portrays a darker, more removed account of 1967 than could be expected from the versions of her subjects.

Originally published at The Daily Titan

Film Review: Let Me In

7 Oct

Let Me In, the Americanized remake of 2008’s critically acclaimed Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In, opened in theaters nationwide Oct. 1.

Before you start rolling your eyes at the thought of yet another romantic vampire film, know that this is not like your little sister’s dreamy Twilight saga. Let Me In is more like the cult classics the goth crowd (who dressed like vampires before they were cool) would watch.

This dark indie thriller is filled with gore, violence and scenes that will make you tense up and hold your breath. But it also has a tenderness to it that makes its story very human.

Written and directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), this intense film is the story of 12-year-old vampiress Abby (Chloe Moretz from Kick Ass), who moves into a small New Mexican town in 1978 and befriends her recluse neighbor Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee from The Road).

Contrary to its slasher-like film portrayal in advertisements, Let Me In is a coming-of-age drama about a young boy who is bullied at school, caught in the middle of his parent’s crumbling marriage and yearning for companionship. The plot revolves around the growing relationship between the two adolescent outcasts and Owen’s discovery of his unusual new friend’s true identity.

Let the Right One In is based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s best-selling Swedish novel of the same name and is the story of Lindqvist’s childhood, minus the vampire. Reeves said he initially didn’t think the film should be remade “because it was fantastic,” but later decided to rewrite the film in an American context because he related so much to Owen’s character. He also felt he and Lindqvist shared the same story in the same era, but in different parts of the world.

Reeves said he intentionally shot many of the scenes in soft focus and through barriers like glass to give the film a sort of voyeuristic, intimate quality.

“The orginal film has a kind of Skandinavian remove,” Reeves said. “I wanted the world to look the way it would to Kodi’s character. That’s why you don’t see the mother’s face – because it’s all sort of the emotional state that he’s in and the distance that he feels.”

Reeves, who is a big Alfred Hitchcock fan, said that the genius of Hitchcock (known as the “Master of Suspense”) was that he was able to make his audience identify with the killer, which he did with his own characters in Let Me In.

“I was trying to come up with a method that you would meet a character who was doing reprehensible things and you would meet them in the scariest of possible ways,” Reeves said. “…The film was a process of tearing those layers down and starting to sort of feel for him.”

Let Me In is the vampire film that girls who can’t get enough of the fad can finally take their boyfriends to (without wondering whether he’s starting to resent their taste in movies). Despite some moments of unconvincing computer-generated imagery effects, this low-budget thriller is skillfully filmed and has enough blood, love and insight into the human experience that it successfully appeals to even the most avid boycotter of vampire movies.

Originally published at The Daily Titan

Film Review: The Kids Are All Right

20 Aug

“The Kids Are All Right” is the type of film whose refreshing honesty reminds viewers of what movies are capable of. In “Kids,” writer/director Lisa Cholodenko (“High Art” and “Laurel Canyon”) puts politics aside to make one of the most controversial family arrangements of our time (a married lesbian couple raise two children with the help of an anonymous sperm donor) look relatively normal.

The lives of Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are reminiscent of most middle-aged couples trying to raise two teenagers in Southern California, until their world is turned upside down when 16-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson) prompts his older sister, Joni (Mia Wasikowska), to use her newly acquired 18-year-old legal status to find their biological father.

In their quest for identity, they meet Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a motorcycle-riding college dropout who owns an organic foods restaurant in Los Angeles. Laser and Mia try to keep their meeting with Paul secret until an interrogation involving Laser and the moms’ guy-on-guy porn stash inadvertently leads to a confession of the clandestine encounter.

Nic, the breadwinner and patriarchal figure of the same-sex twosome, and Jules, the flighty stay-at-home mom who’s never had a substantial career, decide that they need to meet the man who is infiltrating their children’s lives, so they insist that Paul come over for lunch.

As the layers of the movie unfold, the pseudo-father completely disrupts the dynamics of his makeshift family, forever changing the relationship between the kids and their mothers, and eventually the relationship between Nic and Jules. Despite the uniqueness of this alternative family and the tribulations they face, the concepts are so universal that the viewer effortlessly relates to the raw emotions and frankness of the scenes.

What could have been another unrecognized art-house film became one of the most talked about movies at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg beautifully illustrate what it means to be a family and, through their witty dialogue, open our minds without being preachy.

“Kids” seems to be filled with just the right amount of comic relief throughout the profound and often uncomfortable scenes, that the viewer is able to take in these heavy themes with an air of lightness. It’s rare that a movie will seamlessly turn you on, crack you up, make you squirm and shed a tear. These are the elements many viewers look for in a movie, so most will probably think the kids are more than all right.

%d bloggers like this: