Monday, 29 June 2009

HOT: NGV Members Lounge, NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Benefits of unemployment #15: the opportunity to go meander through an art gallery when the crowds are at work.

Or if you're an NGV Member, skip the gallery all together and head straight for the Members Lounge. My new membership has practically saved me money as I've imbibed numerous mugs of complimentary peppermint tea (saved $3), chewed on a stale biscuit (saved $1), read the day's Age, Herald Sun, Australian and Financial Review (saved $6.80) and the leisurely flicked through a pristine copy of the latest issue of Vogue (saved $7.95). All this in calm surroundings overlooking the bustle of the Federation Square atrium. I regularly go and hide in the Members Lounge of NGV International too - I'm the one in the corner hogging all the fashion mags.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

NOT: Exhibition 12, C3 Contemporary Arts Space, Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers St, Abbotsford

C3 Contemporary Arts Space is a non-profit exhibition space located in the basement of peaceful Abbotsford Convent, now converted into an arts, culture and education precinct.

The three rooms house rotating temporary exhibits, and its latest show is simply called 'Exhibit 12' so there doesn't appear to be any unifying theme.

The postcard looked so promising but I really disliked this exhibition. If I say any more I may be in danger of being strung up for defamation, yet I don't want to compromise my reviewing integrity by giving false praise for glad wrap snakes and plastic milk crates. I think my meaning is pretty clear anyway.

Friday, 26 June 2009

HOT: Four of a Kind, Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St, Carlton

Four of a Kind is a rarity - an Australian film that features four richly-drawn female lead roles and a complex interwoven storyline that had me intrigued and engaged the whole time.

The story starts with a police interview, where a police officer Gina (Leverne McDonnell) is questioning Anne (Louise Seversen), a rich surgeon's wife, in relation to a murder investigation. As the questions unfold, the truth is slowly revealed - not just about the murder, but about the relationship between the wilfully ignorant Anne and her unfaithful husband. We then follow Gina as she visits her psychiatrist Glenda (Gail Watson), who interprets Gina's dreams to unravel a dark secret from her past. Glenda leaves the session emotionally exhausted and meets up with her best friend Susan (Nina Landis) for dinner. However, the tension and drama escalates when Glenda confronts Susan with evidence that Susan was having an affair with Susan's much younger lover, Michael. The loop is closed in the fourth act where another police interview is taking place - this time Susan is being questioned by Gina in relation to the murder of Michael.

As the last scene fades, you're left wondering whether Susan really is a murderer, or merely a blackmailer? Is Gina protecting Glenda because of her own secret, and her belief that some people deserve to die and some murderers do not deserve to be punished? Most importantly, what is the nature and value of truth - and is omitting the truth the same as lying?

It is very hard to keep an audience engaged for two hours watching a film which basically features two talking heads at a time and which is clearly an adaptation of a four act play. I think the director Fiona Cochrane has done a credible job to maintain momentum by using numerous flashback scenes for visual effect and by inserting an intermission after each act with the bluesy music of Joe Camilleri and the Black Sorrows.

Four of a Kind is the kind of adult, complex film that I enjoy watching, and it's a shame that it is only on limited release at Cinema Nova in Melbourne. See it soon.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

HOT: Collection Tour, NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank

I had originally planned to attend a Henry Purcell lecture at NGV International, but when it was cancelled at the last minute I decided to take a collection tour instead. I've never actually explored the permanent exhibition spaces of the NGV and the free tours are a good way to get a taste of what's on offer.

First stop was the huge stained glass ceiling by Leonard French. I had always assumed that the patterns were abstract, but my guide pointed out that the design actually contained symbols representing different belief systems such as the Celtic cross, doves of peace, a turtle and a snake or rainbow serpent.

I'd also never realised that the emanciated figures lining up behind the water wall were made by Antony Gormley, one of my favourite sculptors.

In an hour we covered many different eras and styles of art. We cantered through medieval paintings and religious triptych, two Rembrandts from his early and late periods, Van Dyck's aristocratic portraits, Flemish landscapes, Dutch portraiture, counter-reformation Carravagesque paintings and the famous Tiepolo painting of The Banquet of Cleopatra.

Once outside in the sculpture garden I was immediately captivated by the stunning bamboo sculpture by Tetsunori Kawana, a master of ikebana. It is a shame that Five Elements - Water is only on display until 26 July (and then probably mulched!). It's a dramatic and beautiful work which captures the awesome power and rhythm of crashing surf, even down to the sprays of foam. The sculpture was particularly remarkable given that the flowing waves have been constructed using thick and relatively inflexible sticks of bamboo.

The sculpture garden also contained a seated woman by Henry Moore, another one of my favourite sculptors and a bronze cast of Rodin's haughty and windswept Balzac.

I've barely scratched the surface of the the surprisingly broad collection, so it's my aim to return to the NGV to take as many tours as I can while I have the time.

Monday, 22 June 2009

NOT: Tony the Tailor, 313 Smith St, Fitzroy

Tony the Tailor is one of the few old-school shopfronts remaining on increasingly gentrified Smith Street. The signage is chipped, the windows are dusty and overall it presents an indifferent attitude to the hipsters.

When RM's pants needed mending, it was an opportune time to support a local long-standing business. I thought that despite the dingy exterior, the business must have survived for a good reason.

Sadly, Tony the Tailor was a disappointment. When I first entered, Tony was extremely crotchety. It may have been his bad back giving him trouble, but I was a bit put off by his cranky attitude, like I was disturbing him from his important work (he appears to make police uniforms) and when I tried to pin down a pickup time, he just told me that I should just come by and they might be ready. Secondly, all that was needed was a sewn patch. When I came to retrieve the trousers a few days later, I was told the week after. Then again, the week after that. Tony's attitude didn't improve over the three weeks, and when the pants were finally ready to pickup, he handed the garment to me with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

I don't care if the repair only cost $25, and I should support a one-man band running his own business. I just don't want to wait three weeks for a simple repair, nor do I want my clothes polluted with cigarette smoke. I'm going elsewhere next time.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

HOT: Palomino, 236 High St, Northcote

The design brief for Palomino seems to have been 'stylish kitsch'. Look around and there's tacky porcelain ornaments randomly resting on the ledges and dotted around the boxed wooden shelving. The backdrop though is a stylish royal blue feature wall, fern wallpaper and hanging round orbs of soft light over the bar.

Only Anita tried the food and hot chocolate, but Palomino is the kind of low-key cafe that I'd like to hang out in all the time. It seems that Northcote residents and visitors feel the same way, as there was constant traffic in and out of its cosy warmth on a Sunday afternoon.

HOT: Northern Exposure, High St, Northcote

Anita and I met on a windy, chilly Sunday afternoon for a stroll around Northern Exposure, Northcote's visual arts festival. The exhibitions included traditional hangings in galleries such as Kick and the grand dame Northcote Town Hall, combined with displays in High Street shopfronts.

I have to admit that I wasn't too excited by much of the art on display but I did think the delicate wrought iron hanging in the bay window of Palomino (Freya Pitt) was particularly eyecatching. Mostly though, the festival gets a HOT from me because I want to applaud the business and creative community of High St Northcote for their ability to work together to organise festivals for my enjoyment!

HOT: How to Become a Human Lightning Calculator, Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson St, Carlton

It's Sunday morning. I lumber bleary-eyed out of bed, grab the papers in my slippers, maybe flip some pancakes and don't leave the house until the afternoon.

Nope. It's Sunday morning and I'm off to the learn how to be a human lightning calculator.

Melbourne Museum, in conjunction with the Mathematical Association of Victoria, are conducting a monthly series of free lectures by the Maths Masters, a pair of gambolling mathematicians who aim to show kids and adults alike that maths can be fun. So the packed multi-age turnout spent the hour with Dr Burkard Polster, an engaging and slightly giggly mathematician with a Dr Evil accent, to learn all sorts of mathematical tricks.

Multiply by 11! Calculate the original square root! Name the day of the week of any date! Easy peasy. Impressed?

Saturday, 20 June 2009

NOT: Cho Gao Restaurant & Bar, Level 3, Melbourne Central, Melbourne

I had suggested Cho Gao for Saturday lunch with my long-lost high school friend, despite my misgivings about its shopping centre locale, because I had heard about its expansive view of the State Library. Unfortunately, it was too cold and cacophonous (protests about the Northern Territory intervention) for us to sit on the balcony for a pleasant catch up, so we picked a corner table indoors in the dim oriental wood styled dining room.

We each selected a roti wrap from the express lunch menu - beef for me, pork for Emily, plus a soft drink each. My wrap was extremely unappetising, containing the sort of nasty shredded corned beef that you find in sub-standard sandwich bars and slathered with gloops of processed mayonnaise. Emily declared her roast pork wrap with spiced apple compote delicious - or maybe she was just being polite as I had picked the restaurant.

On the basis of my meal, I don't think Cho Gao will ever be able to fill its cavernous dining room, and during our lunch there was only one other lonely pair of diners. The silver lining to lunch was that the damage to my wallet was limited to $10.

Friday, 19 June 2009

HOT: Sonsa, 152 Smith St, Collingwood

When Tranzie moved to Islington, they were so excited to discover their local Turkish grocery store that they insisted I should be introduced to Mr and Mrs Yassar when I landed in London.

Now that they're in Collingwood, they must be really excited about Sonsa - Yassar's on a larger scale. The family business lives in the shadow of the behemoth Woolworths on Smith St, so I always try to buy my produce there to support a small business. Currently the bargains in their pavement display are ginger ($7.95 a kilo) and navel oranges ($2.99 for 3 kilos). In the plain flourescent-lit interior you'll also find nuts, pulses, grains, spices and dips. I can vouch for their Turkish bread, delicious with homemade hommus and Tranzie tell me that their carrot dip is also fantastic.

HOT: Macro Wholefoods, 153 Bridge Road, Richmond

Ladies and Gentlemen, witness the demise of Victoria's largest natural and organic store.

Macro Wholefoods opened in Richmond with much fanfare in 2005. However, it seems that even the chi-chi, health-aware foodies of Melbourne don't shop there, so it's holding a closing down sale until 21 June.

To be honest, I'm not surprised. Firstly, I've noticed that Australia seems to be quite behind the UK and Europe in terms of the availability of and demand for organic food. The widest range of organic produce in Melbourne is available at Queen Victoria Market, which contains only three organic produce stalls and one organic butcher. Walk into any supermarket in the UK and you'll find an organic version of pretty much every fresh product. Further, on my return from London, I was shocked to discover that in Australia the prices for organic food are regularly double or even triple the prices of non-organic food. Sadly, that means I can't afford to buy organic meat anymore (opting for free range and hoping for the best) and I rarely buy organic fruit and vegetables unless they are wildly fresh and are to be eaten solo ie I wouldn't use organic potatoes to thicken a soup.

The added difficulty with Macro's business model was that its products (not all of it organic) were generally even more expensive than the stalls at the fresh food markets, the health stores, the bulk food co-ops and the national supermarkets.

However, a week before closing, it was Everything Must Go! I snaffled:
Two days before closing the shelves had been stripped absolutely bare except for a few lonely bulk items on trestle table. I loaded my panniers with walnuts (walnut meringe cake), cashews (stir fry), almonds (couscous), linseeds (muesli) and pine nuts (pasta). We will be eating a lot of nuts in the next few months!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

HOT: Strangers Corridor, Parliament House, Spring Street, Melbourne

Continued unemployment means that every day is a potential duvet day. I have ample opportunity slump around the house in tracksuit pants and a food-splattered fleece, so any excuse to dress up and get out of the house is always welcome.

On Tuesday I decided to take my ladylike self to high tea at the Strangers Corridor. I donned a spotted silk dress, slipped on a pair of demure heels, pulled on my embroidered gloves and then topped my outfit with a plastic bike helmet to cycle in an elegant manner to Parliament House.

The restaurant isn’t as it sounds, like some dark windswept outpost in the back corners of the building. In fact, it’s a cosy wood panelled room filled with padded chairs and delightful little alcoves, perfect for whiling away an afternoon sipping tea and leisurely scanning the newspapers.

The quality of the food was equal to any of the delights served by the Windsor Hotel high tea, without the high cost. The large platter contained two bumptious sandwiches (smoked salmon and cucumber), an enormous featherlight scone served with homemade jam and thick double cream, various small quiches and three mini cakes ($27.50). In addition, the personal service was exemplary; from the moment I was escorted from the Parliament front desk to my chair by name, to the regular enquiries about whether I wanted more tea and then an offer to join a Parliament tour and to visit the back balcony.

It’s a shame that the restaurant is only open to the public during Parliament’s non-sitting weeks and only during weekdays, as it’s such a wonderfully soothing and refined experience that I’d love to return again and again.

Monday, 15 June 2009

NOT: What Just Happened, Palace Kino, 45 Collins St, Melbourne

What Just Happened is another one of those moderately funny comedies that Robert De Niro seems to be churning out lately - except that this film isn't even moderately funny. It's not like sitting through its 100 minutes makes you think that life in the outside world is passing you by, but it's not so great that I would have paid to see it (thanks MIFF for the free tickets).

The film has a big-name cast including De Niro, Sean Penn and Bruce Willis (with a Grizzly Adams beard and large gut) and it is based on a book by Art Linson (subtitled 'Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line') which exposes the inside workings of producing movies in Hollywood - the banter, backbiting and handholding. So all the elements are there for a crackling, biting comedy about the pressures of working in a glamorous but vacuous industry. Sadly the film never really delivers but pootles along at a middling pace with a string of weak storylines.

NOT: 2009 Duldig Lecture on Sculpture: Soft Sculpture, Clemenger BBDO Auditorium, NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Southbank

The Duldig lecture on sculpture is an annual talk jointly held by the NGV and Duldig Studio - the Glen Iris residence, sculpture garden and studio of the renowned sculptor Karl Duldig.

This year's lecture was given by Elliott H King, an American art historian specialising in DalĂ­ and Surrealism, and entitled Soft Sculptures. I have to admit that a lot of his talk went over my head and it seemed several members of the audience felt the same, as they slipped out or snoozed next to me. I could only catch a few glimmers of understanding during the hour - something about Camembert, the form of melted vs melting clocks, the theory of relativity and a precursor to the discovery of DNA. Let's hope the exhibition itself is more enlightening.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

HOT: Fanboys, ACMI Cinemas, Alfred Deakin Building, Federation Square Flinders St, Melbourne

One romantic night I serenaded RM with my rendition of "Star Trekkin'"

"Star Trekkin' across the universe,
On the Starship Enterprise under Captain Kirk.
Star Trekkin' across the universe,
Only going forward 'cause we can't find reverse."

He looked at me in bewilderment - not only had he never heard of the song before (here it is on YouTube, dear) but I'd made a basic beginner's error, mixing up Star Trek and Star Wars. So really, there was no chance that I'd understand 80% of the quips and quotes in Fanboys.

Four teenage friends and later one tagalong girl take a rickety van (decked up like one of the Star Wars spaceships apparently) and drive across the country to fulfili a scheme they devised in fifth grade - to break into Skywalker Ranch and steal a copy of the yet-to-be-released Star Wars Episode 1. Along the way, they battle some Trekkies, secretly meet William Shatner in Las Vegas and get treated by Carrie Fisher in hospital. There's constant references to Star Wars scenes and dialogue which makes their antics seem even more ridiculous, and RM guffawed his way through most of it. Nevertheless, the rollicking road movie was highly enjoyable even for this non-Star Wars fan.

HOT: Melbourne Design Market, Federation Square, Melbourne

I adore markets, whereas RM isn't so much of a fan of the hustle and bustle (unless it's a book market, but there's not normally a noisy scrum of people at those). However, I did manage to drag him to one of my favourite Melbourne events - the biannual Melbourne Design Market at Federation Square - as it's full of cool stuff and cool people.
This year, our favourite finds included the ingenious stick-on photo display system from The Curator Company; the adorable and environmentally friendly KeepCup; racks of heavily discounted slinky dance-inspired clothing from well-known Melbourne label Body; the funky bowlboard, a wooden chopping board with four white bowls fitted into recesses, from Ute; and delicate pastel scarves from Ella Sanders.

HOT: The Searchers, 93 Smith St, Fitzroy

In a bid to save money, RM has been valianting attempting to curb his book-buying habit. I think this is a worthy goal given that at great cost we have recently packed, shipped and unpacked twenty boxes containing our combined book collection, and when we move again I don't fancy packing and moving forty boxes of books. Plus, we have a library 5 minutes walk from our house, with more books than we could ever read in our lifetime.

But I don't want to be known as the no-fun-fiancee. So when RM turned his big sad puppy eyes at me, I couldn't bear to deny him a little look inside The Searchers. The airy, well-organised and well-stocked shop is the antithesis of the dusty higgledy-piggledy mess of your usual secondhand bookstore (they also sell vinyl records) and I'll admit it's a pleasant place to browse. But naturally RM couldn't just browse - he came away with The Road by Cormac McCarthy (even though he warned me from against this supposedly unreadable book to my book club!) and The Art of Travel DVD by Alain de Botton.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

HOT: August: Osage County, Playhouse Theatre, Southbank

Every single one of my London theatre buddies went to see the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's multi-award winning August: Osage County at the National Theatre, so I was excited to discover that I wouldn't miss out after all as it was included in the 2009 repertory of the Melbourne Theatre Company.

Tracy Lett's darkly funny story has been called 'a Great American Play' in the vein of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. It certainly doesn't hide from confrontational issues, including suicide, drug addiction, infidelity, paedophilia and child abuse. The multi-generational sprawl of storylines is heightened by the impressive three-level set, a cross-section of what you'd imagine to be a typical American family home. For over three hours, the members of the dysfunctional Weston family climb, stumble, destroy and storm out of the house as they live out their petty dramas, screaming confrontations, tender moments and the gradual unveiling of family skeletons.

The cast are uniformly excellent and create memorable characters. Robin Nevin is incredible as the stumbling, drug-addled matriach Violet, who has basically given up on keeping any semblance of holding it together. Her riveting stage presence is impressivly supported by Jane Menelaus as one of the Violet's daughters, Barbara, who looks like she will fall into her mother's path of savagery and drug dependance. The only false note is the oddly superfluous character of Johnna, the Native American hired help who goes about her housekeeping with a distant serenity - perhaps she is supposed to represent the calm eye in the familial storm.

August: Osage County is a dramatic and biting play which makes for an exciting night of theatre - go and see it.

HOT: Collingwood Children's Farm Farmers' Market, End of St Heliers St, Abbotsford

Every second Saturday of the month, the delightful Old McDonald playground, otherwise known as the Collingwood Children's Farm, hosts a farmers' market.

If you have kids, the $2 market entry fee is good value as it also permits entry to the farm, compared to the usual $8 adult and $4 kids entrance fee. If you don't have kids, strolling around the damp field and poking your nose into fresh fruit and vegetable stalls is still a refreshing and stimulating experience if you like to eat and cook.

This week, my shopping basket included:
- brightly coloured radicchio
- tight heads of broccoli
- smooth-skinned butternut pumpkin
- dusky red d'anjou pears - I'm addicted
- fragrant young leeks
- and my favourite: a grow your own mushrooms kit with a mix of portabello and white mushrooms - ready to harvest in 3 weeks!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

HOT: Art Chat with Murray Walker, NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

An art gallery (granted, the major gallery) in a city of only 3 million people can afford to open late one night a week, and people will actually turn up. These facts make me appreciate living in Melbourne, a city with what I believe is a disproportionally high level of interest and creativity activity in the arts.

Late Night Thursdays @ NGV Australia is currently offering a series of talks and performances relating to the John Brack exhibition. For the talk I attended, the personable artist Murray Walker chatted of his time teaching with John Brack at the National Gallery School. He said that Brack was generous of his time and pocket, sometimes paying students' fees without their knowledge as there was no scholarship to the school. His affection for Brack was also evident when he reminisced about chatting and eating in the Yugoslav steak houses and Italian restaurants around Melbourne, and drinking whisky in Brack's library while discussing detective stories and poetry. He said that Brack could have been many things, as he was a learned fellow, a leader of men yet modest and slightly embarrassed about his success. About the art, Walker said that one of his favourite works was Collins St 5pm as it reminded him of a procession of pilgrims as depicted in Northern Gothic art.

On a side note, I wish there was another space where they could hold these sessions, as the talk was frequently disrupted by chattering visitors crossing in front of the stage to reach the exhibition entrance.

HOT: KK Exports: 12 Years of Posters & Other Communication, Guildford Lane Gallery, Guildford Lane, Melbourne

Having lived in Melbourne for several years, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about what was hidden in its mysterious laneways. Not so - I only found out about Guildford Lane today, and discovered that it is the resident of a fabulous (but freezing) warehouse-style art space called the Guildford Lane Gallery.

The gallery is currently hosting a poster exhibition from the famous Amsterdam-based media agency, KesselsKramer. Kesselskramer is probably most famous for its colour saturated and ironic campaigns for Diesel clothing, and most infamous for the disarming honesty and punk aesthetic of their ads for the worst hotel in the world, the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel. One of the partners, Johan Kramer, also conceived and organised a soccer match between the two lowest-ranked countries, Montserrat and Bhutan, on the same day as the World Cup final in Japan, and produced a charming documentary called The Other Final.

The posters in this exhibition all demonstrate a irreverant and mischevious spirit, often with people with slightly stupefied expressions doing something silly. It's only on for a short time, so you should get in quick to spend a couple of very enjoyable hours laughing out loud at Kesselskramer's shocking cleverness.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

HOT: Gomorrah, Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St, Carlton

Gomorrah has been termed the best mob movie since The Godfather, but I think with one difference. The Godfather, while based on reality, was clearly a work of fiction and the film had a sleek cinematic look to it. On the other hand, the jerky handheld documentary style camera work of Gomorrah and the very realistic, flawed characters, each with their own agenda, makes it hard to distinguish between what is real and what is fiction. No wonder that Roberto Saviano, the author of the book on which the film is based, had to go into hiding after threats of assassination.

Matteo Garrone's portrayal of the alliances, loyalties and fear engendered by the Camorra, the mafia in Naples, is gripping and explosive. The casual disregard for human life shared by the five storyline threads and the swaggering machismo of the mafia machine makes for a violent and bloody film - because there's no choice for the residents of the drug-infested, dilapidated, concrete monoliths - you're either with them or you're against them.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

HOT: Dressed to Rule, NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank

The second half of my very informative (and one-on-one) fashion-focused tour with the NGV guide was to the Dressed to Rule exhibition.

I never knew that the NGV had such a well-preserved collection of Chinese imperial robes, and this exhibition includes robes worn by members of the imperial court and even the Emperor, as well as various accessories such as queasy little shoes for bound feet.

Each of the robes is laden with magnificient, jewel-coloured embroidery, with each design containing some special meaning. You can be overwhelmed with all the symbolic commentary on the display plaques, so I think a guide, who can point out the various features on the garments as they talk, is a better way of absorbing their beauty. My favourite robes were the summer robes featuring embroidery on delicate gauze, as the filmy material revealed a further embroidered robe in a contrasting colour underneath.

HOT: Persuasion, NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank

I’m a keen devotee of BBC costume dramas and I’ve just finished a marathon screening of the delightful Lost in Austen - so I was pretty sure that Persuasion: Fashion in the Age of Jane Austen would be right up my alley.

The free exhibition is a small and well-curated examination of the fashion cycles that dominated during Austen’s life. The focus is mainly on women’s fashions, with its vagaries of waistlines up, waistlines down, military styling here, slashed sleeves there. There are a few instances of men’s fashions on display, including the tour de force – Colin Firth’s tight wool jacket, breeches, leather boots and top hat for his role as Mr Darcy in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Yes swooning ladies, the one where he comes striding out of the duck pond, wet shirt and britches clinging to his manly muscular physique.

What impressed me most about the exhibition was the clothes’ extremely well-preserved condition. The fine Indian muslins were still snowy white, the burnished satin pelisse still held a polished sheen and the delicate handiwork in some of the embroidery looked freshly pressed and ready to be worn.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

HOT: Sunshine Cleaning, Classic Cinema, 9 Gordon St, Elsternwick

It's hardly a surprise that perenially sunny Amy Adams is the star of the movie called Sunshine Cleaning. But it's not all singalongs and pastel cupcakes - the film is about a former high school cheerleader, now single mum Rose (Adams) who teams up with her flaky, dope-smoking sister Norah (Emily Blunt with a very convincing American accent) to start an unusual business - a crime scene clean-up service. The movie is not so much about cleaning as it is about Rose's down-at-heel life, complete with dead-end affair with her former high school sweetheart, and the sisters loving and sometimes fractitious relationship. It's a funny, kooky and heartwarming film and I think everyone will relate a little to the dysfunctional Lorkowski family.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

HOT: Two Lovers, Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St, Carlton

In Two Lovers, Joaquin Phoenix plays Leonrard, an awkward, lumpish and directionless bachelor who lives with his parents in Brooklyn. He falls in love with his wild, needy and self-centred neighbour Michelle, while on the other hand conforming to his familial duty to propose to Sandra, the stable daughter of his father's business associate.

I've never been much of a fan of the icy regal Gwyneth Paltrow, but for the first time for me she was able to display a warmer side which was believable and endeared me to her bad-news character. Vinessa Shaw added some depth to Sandra who could have easily been the cardboard cutout of the perfect Jewish princess daughter-in-law. As for Joaquin Phoenix, he announced recently that Two Lovers would be his last film as he was going to concentrate on his career as a rapper (!). A shame really, as he is pretty good at the acting game. I can acknowledge this fact even though since his turn as Emperor Commodus in Gladiator, I've not been able to watch his sneering upper lip on screen without my skin crawling.

HOT: Peter Watson, 113 St David St, Fitzroy

Peter Watson supply their ‘seriously good food’ spices, sauces, marinades, oils and condiments to hotels and restaurants around Australia. You can also buy their sleek, black-labelled goods from the small neat store which adjoins their kitchen factory off Smith St. I’m still in the midst of the stocking up my new pantry, and I confess sometimes I’m easily distracted from the essentials: flour, sugar and salt, to digress into Cuban Abado, Barbados Bajan Seasoning, Asian Dry Marinade and Quince and Chocolate Jam (at 50% off!).

Update 15 June 2009: With winter soup season starting, I've been needing a lot of chicken stock lately. So RM and I have partaken in two roast chickens in as many weeks and we agree that the Cuban Abado and Barbados Bajan Seasoning, rubbed into the skins with olive oil and lemon juice, have been superb.