Review: The Program

It's Not About The BikeThere are few stories more abjectly fascinating than those surrounding Lance Armstrong’s triumph over a cancer he was given infinitesimally small chance of surviving and his subsequent seven Tour de France (AKA Tour de Lance) victories.

Consequently, there are few stories more assumptions-shattering than the revelation that Armstrong had, in fact, been using drugs to aid his wins all along.

The Program, so named to describe the doping program Armstrong (played convincingly by Ben Foster) and his teammates followed, answers the questions we’ve been wondering for years: How did he do it? And how did he manage to get away with it for so long?

The film’s opening scene features a solitary cyclist climbing a mountain. The only sounds we hear are the wind, the rider’s breath, and the sound of a helicopter hovering overhead. It is, presumably, Armstrong out in front of the peloton in the Tour de France. Or it’s simply an arresting visual of a rider alone with their thoughts, battling the elements as they work to ascend a mountain.

The Tour de France features 180 riders, 20 stages, and just one—highly prized—yellow jersey. Armstrong won the event a record seven times, and he did so after overcoming a debilitating cancer no one should have overcome. It’s unsurprising his wins took on mythic proportions in our minds.

Armstrong would likely have remained a legendary figure had it not been for sports writer David Walsh (played by Chris O’Dowd). He was the only journalist who doubted Armstrong’s triumphant physical makeover (Armstrong was built for one-day cycling events, not three-week tours that involved mountainous range) and the only person to doggedly work to uncover the doping truth.

‘He’s a man transformed,’ Walsh says at one point. ‘He recovered from cancer and turned into bloody Superman.’

And: ‘I have no interest in going up a mountain to watch chemists compete.’

To be fair, Armstrong decided to dope because everyone else was already doing it. I know, I know, that doesn’t make it even remotely alright. And yes, the ‘if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?’ example springs to mind. Armstrong wasn’t and isn’t a sheep. He’s a ruthless competitor who knew what he was doing.

But as one friend and avid cyclist said to me when the news of Armstrong’s doping finally broke, he might have been taking performance-enhancing drugs, but he still consistently beat a field of guys who were likely also doping. Was he simply levelling the playing field?

I don’t know. With Armstrong’s story, we’re knee deep in murky ethics. And consciences weighing heavy.

‘I just told them what they wanted to hear,’ he tells his future wife after he delivers an inspiring speech about beating cancer. Which is arguably true. We wanted to believe in Armstrong’s story just as much as he wanted us to believe it.

And there were arguably some benefits to his profile and success, however false. He raised millions of dollars for cancer research. He inspired people experiencing cancer to fight to live.

I’m not condoning what Armstrong did. Like everyone else, I got teary when he stood up on the podium time and again. And I felt foolish and frustrated I’d been duped.

I’d even read and loved his two ghost-written memoirs, It’s Not About The Bike: My Journey Back to Life and Every Second Counts, rabbiting on about how incredible it was he’d beat the odds and how hard he’d worked for his victories.

So I was particularly annoyed they turned out to be if not entirely false, then at least playing loose with facts. It’s well-documented—and slightly bemusing—that people shifted those titles from the non-fiction to fiction sections in bookshops.

Even though Armstrong’s actions were wholly wrong, The Program gives us the most insightful and nuanced examination of Armstrong and his motivations to date.

That’s not to say the film’s perfect. Plenty is skimmed over, not least Armstrong’s battle with cancer and his marriages and relationships. Seriously, the audience kind of chuckled in surprise at how the film cut from Armstrong asking a woman in a hallway if she liked Italian food to—literally—them emerging from a church married. We never saw her again and at one stage his three children, who had not been mentioned or appeared prior to that, joined him on the podium.

But that’s also a sign the film stayed true to its intent: depicting the doping program Armstrong and his teammates underwent in order to win.

Based on detailed legal documents and reports surrounding his exposure and the stripping of his titles, The Program is the closest thing we’ve got to date about how the doping was carried out. It’s fictional and Armstrong obviously hasn’t condoned it, but I’d like to think the film offers the rest of us some insight into the hows and the whys. It’s certainly closer to the truth than Armstrong’s two books. For those reasons, I’d recommend we watch it.

Review: Mockingjay 2 Film

The Hunger GamesI had the ‘I should have re-watched the last film before seeing this film’ feeling about a minute in to Mockingjay 2, the final film instalment of The Hunger Games trilogy. (The last book of which has, confusingly, filmicly been split into two to make the trilogy a kind of quadrilogy.) For I couldn’t remember where the last film had finished and this one, logically, picked up shortly after where the other one left off.

My guess, based on the neck brace and bruising Katniss has in the opening moments and the damage she has to her vocal cords, is related to Peeta’s lunging at her to choke her to death. I vaguely think that’s the cliffhanger the previous film finished on (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). Even if I don’t remember exact details, what I can immediately tell is that things are extremely bleak—for everyone.

Katniss, of course, is completely traumatised from her experiences in not one but two hunger games and the horrors that have occurred beyond it. Compounding that is that Peeta, her in-game and post-game rock, seems to have been brainwashed slash lost his mind.

For his part, as Peeta continues to be shackled to a hospital bed for security reasons, he finds out his family hasn’t come to visit him because they didn’t survive the Capitol’s District 12 bombardment.

Meanwhile everyone around them is reeling from the ongoing war against antagonist Snow and tense about what is yet to come. Which is, clearly, going to be war-to-end-all-wars bad.

The culmination of the trilogy’s build-up, Part 2 is desolate in an appropriate sort of way. Perhaps more so given the bleakness surrounding us in the world. The Paris attacks took place just days prior to its release, but there’s also been (and continues to be) the relentless run-up of violence and war in places such as Syria, Beirut, and more. I’ll not deny there were moments in the film, such as when planes overhead and launched bombs that killed children, that I thought this was a little too close to reality right now.

Which is apt given that author Suzanne Collins’ aim is not to sugarcoat or lionise war or people’s actions during war. The Hunger Games’ point is that this is the stuff of horror and even good people are confronted with difficult, no-win decisions. Katniss is the protagonist, but she’s far from perfect or even likeable at times, and she grapples with her choices and her complicity in the violence. Peeta becomes unrecognisable as he loses all that makes him him. And no one around them—on their side or against them—can entirely be trusted.

As a side note, there are a lot of hospital scenes in this film, warranted by the sheer amount of violence being inflicted on the characters. I respect the realism, or the near-realism, of it all. Because no one gets through physically or emotionally unscathed.

I have to confess I thought the final book lost the plot a bit (the first two had been utterly outstanding). Or maybe I lost the plot. I don’t know. What I do know is I didn’t understand the pods and their aftermath as they were explained in the book. And I didn’t understand how it all hung together as Katniss and co. worked their way towards the city.

Seeing this aspect of the books realised on screen was what I was most looking forward to with Mockingjay 2. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was truly terrifying and gut-wrenching. And claustrophobic. As someone more than a little afraid of enclosed spaces, there was an extended sequence that left me so tense for so long I considered leaving the theatre until it had passed.

The film, like the books, made me pause at the stellarly insightful phrases—too numerous here to list or even remember, but that on their own could be grand statements summarising the tale’s messages. For example, Coin at one stage says that there is no sacrifice too great to make. ‘It just goes around and around…I am done being a piece in his game,’ Katniss says of Snow, that regardless of which side they’re on, they’re all Snow’s slaves and he’s the only one who ever wins.

There were better remarks than those. I just can’t recall them right now because my in-the-dark note-taking was on fleek, which is to say it really wasn’t. I’m sure I pencilled down some wisdom-filled gems, but they’re lost in illegible handwriting or, worse, illegible handwriting written over the top of other illegible handwriting. I really need to learn how to write clearly in the dark. And in a straight line.

Some reviewers have claimed the film starts slow, but I have to admit I didn’t find it that way at all. I’d argue Mockingjay 2 is pensive, not slow, as it tries to avoid drowning the books’ sombre messages in pyrotechnics and 3-D show.

If nothing else, the film, more so than the books, cemented for me that it was right for Katniss to end up with Peeta. (I wasn’t convinced reading the books and thought it was still all up in the air.) And despite the film’s required darkness, it still fit in some trademark black humour, including when we hear: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games.’

Essentially, I’m giving this rendition of beloved books a thumbs up. I’d like nothing more now than to curl up and re-read the trilogy to compare notes on what was included, what was skipped or altered, and to tackle those scenes with the pods now I have a clear visual representation of what they are and how they played out.

Film Review: Samba

sambaa4posterThe benefit of reviewing a film later than usual (I could not for the life of me make it to any of the Samba media screenings, so Think Tank Communications provided me with a double pass to see it once the film was out) is that you get to hear what other reviewers think about it.

I have to say, though, while other reviewers’ consensus was that Samba wasn’t as great as they’d hoped, I found it rather great. Put another way: As a follow-up to The Intouchables, it falls a little short. But as a standalone film, it holds its own just fine.

Although Samba isn’t precisely the sequel to The Intouchables, it was weighed down by the weight of sequel-like expectation. This was contributed to by the fact that the writing-directing duo Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache reunited for the film, along with star Omar Sy.

In Samba, Sy stars as protagonist Samba (‘like the dance’), who winningly portrays an illegal alien trying to stay in France at all costs. After 10 years eking out a living in Paris working odd, lowly paid, and entirely insecure jobs (such as a construction worker, dishwasher, window washer, garbage sorter, and security guard), he’s picked up by the authorities on the Tube.

It’s in the lock-up that he encounters Alice, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, a neurotic woman volunteering to help illegal immigrants while on sick leave from her executive job due to burnout.

Both Samba and Alice are in their own ways displaced and trapped. Samba’s willing to do whatever it takes to get working papers; Alice, a refugee from the corporate world, is trying to determine how to reset her life, while concurrently medicating to try to counter her anxiety and stress-related insomnia.

Don’t give them your number, she’s told by the more experienced volunteer. Don’t get personally involved. Of course, Sy’s Samba is warm and affable and Alice can’t help but be drawn to him.

The film is a social dramedy slash cross-cultural romance, with France’s immigration hurdles providing the high-stakes context. For me, the levity of the production was its strength. The Sisyphean existence Samba and his peers are forced to live, grappling daily for short-term gigs all the while sandwiched between worrying about getting caught and the pressure their families back home are placing on them to send money, is bone-wearyingly relentless. As Samba yells during a scene of particularly heightened emotions, even the mailman is freaking him out.

There are some incredibly touching moments in the film—and simple too. A conversation in a service station is one. A post-party group conversation around a table is another. Witty, bittersweet dialogue flows, written brilliantly and delivered with timing and panache that make it insightful and touching. There were also some tension-breaking humorous moments—one of the best involved a conversation about a piece of red paper.

While the Alice character was colder and more two-dimensional than Sy’s Samba, Gainsbourg handled the role decently well and found some ways to if not spark with Sy, then at least humanise her character and make her believable. My greater concern was that the film was ever so slightly too long. But I was still incredibly moved by it.

For for me, the film is part of a larger conversation of poverty-, war-, and desperation-led immigration around the world, and the lack of acceptance people often receive when they arrive in foreign countries. Australia—a country described as having tiny hearts and balls of steel for its treatment of people seeking asylum—is not so dissimilar to the France in which Samba is set. And that’s not something to be proud of.

So, while Samba mightn’t be as successful as The Intouchables, but it nevertheless warrants a watch and its issues warrant wider consideration. I’m breaking with review consensus to say: check it out.

Fifty Shades of Grey Film Review

Fifty Shades of GreyWarning: While not overly explicit, this blog does acknowledge the existence of, and briefly discuss, sex. If you’re not keen to read a blog about such things, I suggest you temporarily avert your eyes.

I couldn’t attend the Fifty Shades of Grey preview, so fronted up for the 10am session on the day of the film’s release. I felt slightly dirty doing so, until I discovered the theatre was three quarters full. Seems I wasn’t the only who had the idea.

I’m not sure what weirded me out most about attending that session. That a girl was there watching it with her mother (no, really), the 70-year-old women who were absolutely creasing themselves with laughter towards the end of the film (I’m still kicking myself for not asking them about it once the film was over), or the older gentleman I saw there who gave his wife a playful smack on the bottom on the way out (I’m not going to lie: it repulsed me).

Also, the previews were bemusingly unsubtle and geared towards the largely straight lady audience. That is, hot guys and fairytale romance in the forms of Cinderella and Channing Tatum.

Although I saw the film as soon as I could, I’ve held off on posting my review for a few days, because I’ve been a little unsure my take was wide of the mark compared with most other reviews. You see, I didn’t think the film was terrible. I thought it was relatively fine. Ok. Watchable.

Thankfully, Helen Razer sort of said as much. So I now know I wasn’t the only one who thought that way. A long-time and rabid Fitty Shades hater, she was looking forward to tearing the film apart. Instead she termed it ‘disappointingly tolerable’.

Fifty Shades of Grey is the trilogy, and now film, people love to hate. Especially if they’ve neither read the books nor seen the film. The film itself attracted much debate before anyone had even seen a single trailer.

Which made me wonder if the film would be—is being—assessed fairly. My thinking is it should be assessed in relation to the books on which is it based. And, arguably, the books on which those books are based.

The books were terribly addicitive terrible fan fiction of terribly addictive terrible books. If that’s the measure, then I think the film did a decent job. They turned a sow’s ear of a book into a not-too-terrible film.

For starters, they reigned in the massive corniness, toned down the farcical, unbelievable stuff. These include Christian’s (Jamie Dornan) obsession with having Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) eat, and the annoyingly ridiculously large number of times Anastasia either bites her lip or says (more like a 50-year-old author than a Gen Y) ‘oh my’, or both.

Neither the director nor the actors had a lot to work with, and yet they did a better job of making Anna and Christian believable and relatable than Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson did before them.

I wasn’t familiar with either actor prior to this film so I was neutral on the skills they would or wouldn’t bring to the table. I felt both were less wooden than K-Pat and gave more nuanced performances than the script easily allowed.

The sex scenes were vanilla, yes. But so were the ones in the book. (Did I mention this film should be assessed in relation to the book?) As they would be with an unfolding relationship with a girl taking first forays into sex.

I find that more realistic than if they’d gone from zero to S&M contortions. That’s even before you consider the challenges of portraying sex on screen in a film that still needs to jump through censors’ hoops in order to gain mainstream and worldwide cinema release.

Also worth noting is that although there are plenty of issues with the film (and the books that precede it), it’s not quite the domestic violence symphony hysterical critics are claiming it to be.

For starters, both characters are slightly more believable. Christian is shown to be a little more damaged and a little less BDSM-obsessed two-dimensional. And, as this BuzzFeed article notes, the film went at least part way to giving Anastasia more agency and self-awareness than the books:

Christian famously presents Ana with a contract he wants her to sign that would establish the boundaries of their relationship. Which she won’t sign! She leaves him in the end. So I’m flummoxed […] Why are people fretting over Fifty Shades of Grey more than other movies where couples fall into bed and don’t have these sorts of conversations?

‘I put a spell on you, because you’re mine’ are the lyrics overlaying the opening scenes. We don’t see Grey’s face, reminiscent of a dentist’s ad. He’s exercising, getting ready for work, selecting a grey tie from his vast collection. When we first see Anastasia she looks uncannily similar to, and is even dressed like, Bella from Twilight. This is surely deliberate.

I’m not going to lie. The opening kind of set the tone for what’s an ok-ish film. Or at least a visually arresting one as the limits of the text didn’t limit the cinematography.

There were, of course, some moments even decent acting and cinematography couldn’t save. Anastasia’s fall into Christian’s office was terrible. I don’t know how many takes they did of that, but I find it hard to believe that was the best one. Or rather, I’d hate to have seen the ones that didn’t make the cut.

But there was a lot less emailing or texting than in the books, which was refreshing, because the books got bogged down in them. Or maybe that’s coming in the second book/film…

I got some LOLs from reading around the film, especially from BuzzFeed’s 141 Thoughts I Had While Watching “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I truly think I had the same 141 the author did. And yes, ‘I will launder this item’ is the best line of the film.

So, while I don’t want to get bogged down in the furore surrounding the books and the film (led largely by those who’ve read or watched neither), I will say the film is ok enough to watch. Or, at the very least, read the books and watch the film and draw your own conclusions.

Gloria

GloriaIt’s a peculiar and depressing phenomenon that women—far more than men—who have moved past youthful attraction and procreating age tend to become invisible. So a film featuring a 58-year-old female divorcee is something of an anomaly (you can watch the trailer here).

Trend-bucking protagonist Gloria (who lends the film its name) refuses to be typecast. Her now-grown children have left home and are having children of their own. Her ex-husband has moved on. She would like to move on too.

Attempting to defy loneliness, disconnection, and old age, Gloria ventures out to singles parties. This is where we meet her in the subtitled Chilean film’s opening scenes, swallowing a drink and plucking up the courage to enter the dancing and dating fray.

But her prospective beaus bring a lifetime of baggage and bad habits, and Gloria finds her flings brief and unfulfilling. Adult courting is, it seems, just as awkward and excruciating as when you’re in your teens.

Then Gloria meets Rodolfo, a former naval officer now fun-park owner seven years her senior and with whom she can actually imagine a future. Yet the relationship’s not without its quirks and challenges, and it’s these difficulties and how they infer to the rest of Gloria’s life that provide the film with its main narrative drive.

Without giving too much away, we gain insight into Gloria through these events and incidents and how she handles herself throughout them. She is a fascinatingly complex, strong woman we come to admire and respect.

Gloria is an understated lead and the film itself is quietly, thoughtfully unveiled. Which makes it sound, on paper, as though it’s slow and boring and lacks the makings of a hit, but it’s the antithesis: subtle, surprising, compelling.

Gloria is someone who could be our mother. She’s someone I’m conscious I might grow up to be (and yes, that realisation was rather like having to face my own mortality).

Because here’s what most impressed me about this film and for which I can’t take credit for thinking up because it’s in the director’s notes (although it made complete sense when I read it and decided I must have known it subconsciously):

The film, which is told from Gloria’s point of view, contains not a single frame in which her body isn’t present. Every scene ekes out information about how she’s feeling about life and how and where she fits in with the rest of the world.

Here’s the zinger: Gloria plays a supporting role in the lives of those around her, yet Gloria has managed to turn a supporting role into a leading one.

‘Gloria is the study of character that we all know in real life, but we have never seen in a movie before,’ producer Pablo Larrain says, ‘and that’s a major achievement.’

The story is mature, nuanced. Gloria is an unobtrusive character, more observer than at the centre of the action. Her vision is failing and her over-sized, almost Coke-bottle-thick glasses dominate her face. She scrambles with putting them on, adjusting them, and occasionally taking them off throughout the film—they’re an aid as much as a hamper.

Perhaps most surprising and haunting is that Gloria’s is a story that’s everyday, yet we’ve never noticed or considered it before. Gloria offers us a new lens through which to look—I’m now looking around me with a new perspective and clarity.

Chilean actor Paulina Garcia, normally a theatre actor and now, like Gloria, playing her first leading feature film role, inhabits Gloria magnificently. Her actions are strong yet mild, grief-stricken yet stoic. She’s determined to find a place for herself—and to find love—in a world that overlooks her for both.

Garcia was awarded the Best Actress award at the 2013 Berlinale film festival; the film won Best Film at the same event. The jury reportedly commended the film ‘for its refreshing and contagious plea that life is a celebration to which we are all invited, regardless of age or condition, and that its complexities only add to the challenge to live it in full’.

I agree with that sentiment. Gloria surprised me—I’ll admit I paused momentarily when I was offered its review. I wondered: What insight could I possibly gain from the film or offer on its verdict? Would I even be able to maintain interest for its entirety?

The answer is a simple yes. The film’s not slow, it’s thoughtful. Gloria is not definitively sad, she’s ultimately extremely optimistic and resilient. The story’s not ordinary, it’s utterly important and relatable. Next time I hear a love song come on the radio in my car, I’ll be smiling and singing along and thinking of Gloria and women like her (which may include me).

Which begs the question: If there are few (or I’ve missed) films featuring ordinary women not traditionally put in leading roles, I’ve missed books that do similarly. If I were to try to expand my reading oeuvre accordingly, which book(s) would you recommend I start with?

Thanks to Rialto Distribution for the Gloria review opportunity. Gloria is now open at selected cinemas nationally.

A true book to digest, discuss and deliberate upon by a writer like no other.

9780091953799Review – Night Film

Marisha Pessl burst onto the literary scene in 2006 with the unforgettably titled Special Topics In Calamity Physics. Comparisons to Donna Tartt abounded and unlike many others Pessl lived up to the comparisons but also carved out her own wonderfully distinct style. I adored the book and it was a very pleasant surprise to find her new novel suddenly pop up on the release schedule.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away in this review because a huge part of this book is experiencing it. Pessl immerses you in a world where fact and fiction blur, the magical and the explained co-exist and the truth is not necessarily the answer to the questions asked.

Central to the story is the Cordova family. The patriarch of the family is a reclusive and revered film maker whose life and art is shrouded in mystery, most of which he has created himself. His films have created their own mythology that he uses to hide behind. Journalist Scott McGrath believes something more sinister lies beneath this veneer but has been unable to dig up anything concrete without his own reputation being severely burned.

Night Film is a wild ride of a novel and I was amazed by the interactivity built into the story. Apparently there is also an app coming that enables the reader to engage even more, all of which only immerses you as a reader into a world that already blurs fact and fiction and is dotted with clues hidden and dangled in front of your eyes.

Pessl deftly takes you on a journey that ebbs and flows from the rational and analytical to the disbelieving and magical until eventually breaking down your walls of resistance which only helps shroud everything in a more deeper mystery. Pessl confirms the deep talent she has and delivers a novel that you will first debate with yourself before engaging others to see what they thought. A true book to digest, discuss and deliberate upon by a writer like no other.

Buy the book here…

The Iron Maiden/Lady

I saw Iron Lady (I’ve had to continually check myself to make sure I don’t accidentally type Iron Maiden) on opening night so I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to blog about it. Actually, I kind of do. I thought the biopic of Margaret Thatcher so brilliant I didn’t know how to describe it without slipping into those breathless, gushy clichés that Meryl Streep is magnificent as the whisky-swilling, pearl-wearing, tea-pouring former first lady of Britain (and when I say ‘first lady’ I mean first by democratically elected power and not by marriage).

You know, the ones where you follow every other reviewer’s lead and discuss the hair, the make-up, and the mannerisms that were nailed perfectly. The ones where you talk about how she’s ‘an actor’s actor’ and how she ‘inhabits’ a character so fully you can’t possibly imagine anyone ever reprising that role, ever. Not even the original, flesh-and-blood person themselves.

After all, Streep (and the hair and make-up artists who worked on her) subtly but exceptionally nailed the hair, the make-up, the teeth, the mouth, and the expressions right down to the nuances. Even the way the prosthetic slippage late in the film (eerily) mirrored the way a face shifts and sags with age.

The other reason I haven’t blogged about this film is that I don’t actually feel authoritative enough to comment on it—these events unfolded largely in and around the year I was born. I’m not trying to say that I’m ‘too young’, but I am saying that I viewed this film, its events, and its context with a detached, sort of insider–outsider perspective plus an I-should-know-more-about-this shame. Unlike most of the baby-boomer audience members around me, I had no prior opinions of Thatcher or her reign.

My main understanding of her—and that the ‘iron’ in the title alludes to—was her steely, unflinching, vice-like grip on the nation. So I thought it an interesting and deliberately softening choice of a framing device to show not the woman people they thought they knew, but the woman we definitely didn’t; or rather, given her enigmatic nature, the woman we know even less than the woman we don’t know.

The film opens with an aged but still-proud Thatcher buying a pint of milk and wincing at the cost of it. Things have changed. She’s ignored at the counter by an iPod-brandishing youth whose music’s so loud it escapes his headphones and works as the scene’s tinny, poor-manners-highlighting soundtrack. It’s an unusual but effective wedge into the story and cements it in a modern setting while showing us the film will most definitely be looking back. It also shows Thatcher as elderly, frail, slightly confused, and largely out of her comfort zone. In essence, that small, mundane moment simply but powerfully sets the scene for the rest of the film.

Her slightly muddled flashbacks to past events, both personal and political, show not a woman completely guilt-free or comfortable with all of her decisions, but one who was torn then and who remains so. Her long-dead husband’s periodic appearances make her question her sanity and recollections, and she and we try to determine which parts of the tale are true. That too is clever, as the technique shows hole-picking cynics there’s no one truth and that perspective and accuracy are often a matter of memory and perspective.

I was surprised by both the relative absence of stock footage in the film (you’d have thunk there’d be a bunch) and the large number of cameos of high-calibre actors. Iron Lady was apparently a small-budget film (small by Hollywood blockbuster standards, at least), but anyone who was anyone walked on screen, especially male actors, who played her cabinet ministers and foes.

I also felt fairly sorry for Thatcher. She was imperfect and an occasional bully, no doubt, but I also think she was a career woman in a time when high-powered careers for women weren’t the norm. She was both Britain’s longest-serving prime minister and its first female one, and I was struck by how momentous this was when I realised we in Australia only achieved that 18 months ago, some 30 years later.

Thatcher was also (I’d argue through societal pressures) sidetracked into being a mother. It was a role she never quite fit and the fallout with her daughter was painful to watch. Iron Lady might be a fictionalised account of Thatcher’s life, but it is based on real events, and I find it hard to believe that the real-life woman was devoid of any maternal instinct. I think she was instead an early victim to the belief that women can have it all.

But I digress. This blog is a lot of words long considering I didn’t know what to write to say that Iron Lady is a well-wrought film in which Streep delivers a stellar performance. Here’s hoping that in writing this I steered marginally clear of all the usual clichés.

The Devil Reads Vogue?

The Devil Wears PradaI’ve never understood the obsession with and reverence to Vogue. Frankly, I’ve always found there to be too many ads and not enough coherently-strung-together words. That and the ‘fashion’ contained within the pages is so preposterous, expensive, and un-wearable I’ve never been convinced that they’re not taking the p&%s.

I did, however, surprisingly enjoy both the book and the film adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada—guilty, simple-carbohydrate reading and viewing pleasures that both appealed to my sense of Vogue’s over-the-top ridiculousness and indulged my abject, albeit disconnected, fascination with magazines in general.

This impression was probably helped by the fact that I was at the time having my own devil-wears-Prada moment in an all-consuming, high-pressure work situation that I thankfully extricated myself from some months later.

But even I couldn’t resist gaining some insight into the arctic Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour courtesy of The September Issue. I mean, who doesn’t want to know if she’s really as influential and as scary as they make out?

It took me until this Friday night just past to get round to watching the fly-on-the-wall documentary, and I was desperate to know how close The Devil Wears Prada was to the ‘real’ story of Wintour. And I say ‘real’, because you never can know how much the camera got to see or how much the documentary shows.

What struck me first was how the positioning of Wintour’s desk was identical. Small stuff, yes, but striking for me nonetheless. I quickly realised what a Vogue rookie I was, though—the September issue is not just one of 12 they do a year; it’s a full-blown, highly anticipated magazine extravaganza.

Fans and media alike salivate over the ultimate annual issue, which grows in size and scale each year and which one designer quipped would soon be a ‘phone book’. I kind of think that’s not an entirely bad thing and that the breathless excitement that surrounds it is not dissimilar to that that accompanies the release of a Harry Potter (or similarly popular installation of a long-running series).

I was also amazed that despite Wintour getting all the press, she was far from the most talented or even the star of the show. That mantle is held by Grace Coddington, the creative genius behind the best of Vogue and whose brilliant work Wintour seemingly regularly threw out. Was it just me, or did you start to doubt Wintour’s taste watching the film? Did you start to wonder just how good the magazine could be were Coddington at the helm?

What also amazed me was that despite my meh-ness about Vogue (seriously, they won’t ever attract me as a reader unless they ditch some ads and couture and deliver some intelligent, world-changing content) was how caught up I got in the work that goes into the making of the publication. It’s something I’m a part of daily, but the amount of work that goes into something that appears small or seamless and that in coming together often in the nick of time continues to blow my mind.

I was also reminded that my jury’s still out when it comes to magazine reading. I see it as a secret (and secretively-carried-out) indulgence that’s slotted in ever so occasionally between reading ‘serious’ non-fiction tomes that skewer the world’s problems and that often simultaneously depress and inspire me.

But I’m wondering if that view is misguided or misplaced? We all enjoy a good mag (even if Vogue isn’t my first or ever choice) and I perhaps shouldn’t consider such reading devilish. After all, any reading is good reading, isn’t it? Can we have our books and mags and read them too?