Colin James, noted Sydney community architect, passes away

February 27, 2013

Colin James, a noted community architect and long-time lecturer at the University of Sydney, has passed away at age 76.

The Sydney Morning Herald featured a major obituary on James earlier this week.  From the early 1970s, Colin was active in a large number of community housing and residents action activities.  This included involvement in the “Green Bans” movement, where he was friends with many of the major community activist players.

I first met Colin in 1982 when I was a town planner working for the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils.  He seemed to own two houses in inner Sydney:  a small, compact and delightful cottage in Darlinghurst, as well as a much larger warehouse very close to the University of Sydney’s main campus, where he was already teaching.

At heart, Colin was one of the most radical people I have met:  throughout his life, he lived, breathed and stayed committed to community justice, community control and community housing.  He was well-regarded within Sydney’s Aboriginal communities, but rarely sought the limelight, content to work steadily on projects both small and large with little requirement for ego stroking.  At one time or another, he worked closely with almost every major inner Sydney community advocate.  He was soft-spoken but firm, friendly and warm.

You can see an example of James’ approach to low cost housing with his 2004 “cardboard house” submission to the ABC Television show The New Inventors.

I last saw him about eight years ago in Nowra, on the south coast of New South Wales, where I ran into him while we were both on holiday.  He shared with me some news about colleagues coming to work at the University of Sydney.

This Saturday, 2 March 2013, there will be a “celebration” of his life, starting at 11.30am from Shepherd Street and Abercrombie Streets, Darlington, with a public procession following the funeral hearse to the “Block” in Eveleigh Street, Redfern.  For more details, go to the “Health Habitat” blog.

Oscar predictions: How Right Was I?

February 25, 2013

Two days ago, I posted my Oscar predictions.  So how right was I?  Look at the table below and see.
The result:  I got eight out of ten correct, with the other two as possibilities.  Not bad.

Category Should win (my vote) Probably will win (prediction) Did win
Best film Life of Pi Argo Argo
Best director Ang Lee Ang Lee Ang Lee
Best actor Daniel Day-Lewis Daniel Day-Lewis Daniel Day-Lewis
Best supporting actor Christoph Waltz Tommy Lee Jones Christoph Waltz
Best actress Jessica Chastain Jennifer Lawrence Jennifer Lawrence
Best supporting actress Anne Hathaway Anne Hathaway Anne Hathaway
Best cinema-tography Life of Pi Life of Pi Life of Pi
Best adapted screenplay Lincoln Argo Argo
Best original screenplay Zero Dark Thirty Zero Dark Thirty Django Unchained
Best foreign film (did not choose) Amour Amour

Oscar image


Oscar predictions: The best of the best

February 23, 2013

On Sunday evening 24 February 2013 (Monday early afternoon, Sydney time), the annual Oscars ceremony takes place. I asked three film experts for their views on which films should win and probably will win in each the main categories.  Their answers (along with my own) are listed below.  Just to re-cap the nominees:

Best Picture (nominees)



Beast of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Les Miserables

Life of Pi


Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty

Best Director

Michael Haneke (Amour)

Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Actor in a Leading Role

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)

Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

Denzel Washington (Flight)

Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin (Argo)

Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)

Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)

Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Actress in a Leading Role

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams (The Master)

Sally Field (Lincoln)

Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Helen Hunt (The Sessions)

Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)


Anna Karenina (Seamus McGarvey)

Django Unchained (Robert Richardson)

Life of Pi (Claudio Miranda)

Lincoln (Janusz Kaminski)

Skyfall (Roger Deakins)

Adapted Screenplay

Argo (Chris Terrio)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Luch Alibar & Benh Zeitlin)

Life of Pi (David Magee)

Lincoln (Tony Kushner)

Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)

Original Screenplay

Amour (Michael Haneke)

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)

Flight (John Gatins)

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola)

Zero Dark Thirty (Mark Boal)

So have a look at our picks below.  Some are consistent – but remarkably few, and in fact I don’t think that there is even one category we four all agree on.  That means we may still have some excitement and uncertainty on the awards night itself.


Don Perlgut’s picks

(Don Perlgut is a film critic and media analyst living in Sydney, Australia.)

Category Should win Probably will win Comments
Best film Life of Pi Argo It was a strong year for films, but I can’t believe that Argo will win.  The betting says it will.  A nice film, but probably something of a “revenge fantasy” about Americans and Iran – or perhaps I am not being generous.  Both the Directors Guild and the Producers Guild have selected it.  Lincoln is strong, but not one of Spielberg’s best efforts, also too talky and too full of dark, smoky rooms).  Django certainly was the most entertaining film of the year, but not the best.  Zero Dark Thirty is superbly well-done, and in another year might have grabbed the votes; however the controversy over representation of torture surely has hurt it with some more left-leaning Academy voters.
Best director Ang Lee Ang Lee For my money, Life of Pi was truly the most accomplished film of the year, and Ang Lee should win best director.  He might – or may get pipped by Spielberg.  Ironically neither Ben Affleck (Argo) nor Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) were nominated; both would have been strong contenders.
Best actor Daniel Day-Lewis Daniel Day-Lewis There is no doubt on this one.  It’s a memorable performance.  The others are good, but simply not in this league.  And in this year of Obama – who so models himself on Lincoln – a Lincoln winner seems poetically right.  The New York Times calls Day-Lewis “the male Meryl Streep, synonymous with exemplary acting.”
Best supporting actor Christoph Waltz Tommy Lee Jones Don’t get me wrong:  I love Tommy Lee Jones’ performance in Lincoln, but the most unusual and engaging performance of these five is surely Christoph Waltz (Django).  The problem is his role was not really a supporting role:  his screen time was almost as much as his co-star Jamie Foxx, and surely he had more actual dialogue than most of the “best actor” nominees.
Best actress Jennifer Lawrence Jessica Chastain I liked Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, a lot.  But there was a stillness and a self of strong emotional core to Chastain’s character which made it so memorable.  She could still win, but the betting seems against her – perhaps fall-out from the torture controversies.
Best supporting actress Anne Hathaway Anne Hathaway No contest here. Adams and Field were strong (Hunt and Weaver not really contenders in my view), but not close.  Only problem:  Hathaway should have had lots more screen time, but that’s the way the role was written.
Best cinema-tography Life of Pi Life of Pi Many people may be confused between the truly delightful special effects in Life of Pi and the actual cinematography, but the seamless blending of the two of them just shows how good that cinematography actually is.  The Los Angeles Times agrees with me.
Best adapted screenplay Argo Lincoln Chris Terrio won the Writers Guild award; surely he will win the Oscar. It’s a good screenplay, but Lincoln (despite its wordiness) was the unusual achievement.
Best original screenplay Zero Dark Thirty Zero Dark Thirty Django Unchained has a possibility here, but it’s a mess in the final third.  All of the nominees are fascinating.  Zero Dark Thirty may run the risk of the torture controversy mentioned above.  Moonrise Kingdom was delightful but too small.  Amour is very good, but not beloved enough by Academy voters to win.  (By the way, the Los Angeles Times disagrees with me on this last point and believes Haneke will win for Amour, given its five nominations.)

Life of Pi

Mark Lazarus picks

(Mark is a jaded film producer, transplanted from the USA to Australia by love. He currently works at Screen Australia helping to make dreams come true.)

Category Should win Probably will win Comments
Best film Beasts of the Southern Wild Argo Everyone’s stunned Affleck has a brain in his head.  Responding to discovery with too much enthusiasm.
Best director Michael Haneke Steven Spielberg Finally he gets one.  Haneke is a genius.
Best actor Bradley Cooper Daniel Day-Lewis Awesome bearding.
Best supporting actor Robert De Niro Robert De Niro When he cries, you’re like, “where the hell’s he been for the last ten years?”
Best actress Jennifer Lawrence Jennifer Lawrence Jessica too new, Quvenzhane too young, Naomi in too cloying a pic about rich people.
Best cinema-tography Django Unchained Lincoln Looks like a civil war photo… or a Ken Burns doc… or one of those pics you take with a costume at a theme park…
Best adapted screenplay Silver Linings Playbook Silver Linings Playbook J. Law dancing in a midriff top is great writing in MY book…
Best original screenplay Amour Moonrise Kingdom Wes Anderson finally plucks the heartstrings.

Zero Dark Thirty

Tal Kra-Oz

(Tal Kra-Oz is a writer and law student living in Jerusalem.)

Category Should win Probably will win Comments
Best film Lincoln Lincoln This has been a remarkably solid year. At least half of the films could have easily taken the Oscar if the others weren’t as strong. I think Lincoln is head and shoulders above the rest, though.
Best director Steven Spielberg Steven Spielberg An Ang Lee coup wouldn’t surprise me, though.
Best actor Daniel Day-Lewis Daniel Day-Lewis No real dilemma here.
Best supporting actor Philip Seymour Hoffman Christoph Waltz, or possibly Tommy Lee Jones This category is pretty wide open, but I think Academy members will go the way of the HFPA and honour Waltz.
Best actress Quvenzhane Wallis Jennifer Lawrence or Jessica Chastain Wallis is too young to win, but her performance was definitely this year’s most remarkable.
Best supporting actress Anne Hathaway Anne Hathaway Probably the only win one can be completely sure of.
Best cinema-tography Life of Pi Life of Pi
Best adapted screenplay Lincoln Lincoln
Best original screenplay Moonrise Kingdom Django Unchained ZD30 is a remarkable piece of writing, but its controversial depiction of torture will probably doom it.
Best Document-ary Searching for Sugar Man Searching for Sugar Man The two Israeli contenders (The Gatekeepers and Five Broken Cameras) are both really powerful and important. But Searching for Sugar Man is the better movie.

Les Miserables

Rod Freedman

(Rod Freedman is an independent director, producer and executive producer whose documentaries have won many Australian and international awards and screened in dozens of film festivals. Rod and his partner, Lesley Seebold, run Change Focus Media – producing television documentaries and educational programs. Rod is particularly interested in stories about people and their life’s journeys.)

Category Should win Probably will win
Best film Lincoln Zero Dark Thirty
Best director Ang Lee Steven Spielberg
Best actor Daniel Day-Lewis Daniel Day-Lewis
Best supporting actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman Christoph Waltz
Best actress Quvenzhane Wallis Jessica Chastain
Best supporting actress Helen Hunt Anne Hathaway
Best cinematography Kaminski (Lincoln) Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi)
Best adapted screenplay Luch Alibar & Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
Best original screenplay Quentin Tarantino(Django Unchained) Quentin Tarantino(Django Unchained)

Django Unchained Foxx and Waltz

A number of people have also asked me, “What about the nominees for best foreign language film?”  Good question, I say.  The problem with those predictions is that only two of those nominees (Amour and A Royal Affair) have opened or even previewed here in Australia, so I cannot analyse the “who should win”.  My prediction there:  “Amour” will win, even though my heart is longing for Kon-Tiki.  (And what happened to the French film The Intouchables?  Amazing that film has missed out on being in the final shortlist.)

Final note on Oscar predictions:  If you are interested in the statistical analysis of who will win by noted American political pollster ( Nate Silver, go to his 22 February 2013 post in the New York Times here.  This is the guy who correctly predicts almost every US Federal election in the last five years, and kept telling us that Obama was going to win, when the rest of the world doubted that.  He gives his predictions (based on his usual statistical and objective analysis) in a straightforward and most convincing way.

Interested in how successful my picks were?  Click here to see the results.

Oscar Watch: Rachel Shukert Channels Billy Crystal

February 23, 2013

The Sunday night (USA; Monday mid-day here in Sydney) Oscar ceremony is always great.  Want to read (and listen to) a fabulous ode to how Billy Crystal used to do his Oscar medley?

Click on Rachel Shukert’s article – and downloadable song with lyrics attached (February 22nd, in the online Jewish Tablet magazine) – making fun of the ten movies up for “best picture” at this year’s Oscars.  Great fun.  But one warning:  Shukert includes a number of plot spoilers.

What makes Americans Americans, and why I love them

February 17, 2013

David Denby, one of The New Yorker‘s film critics, does what a good critic should:  he writes reviews that transcend their subjects.

In the January 28, 2013 edition of The New Yorker (p. 81), he reviewed Michael Apted’s 56 Up, and commented thus about the British subjects of Apted’s astonishing historical “follow them through life” documentary series”:

In all, these men and women don’t seem to have the seething ambitions and the restlessness of so many Americans.  They don’t expect to get rich, somehow, next year.  They may be happier than we are but they’re also less colorful.

Three sentences.  A very good summary of the American character, particularly from the viewpoint of this American expatriate living in Sydney, Australia.  Well, most of the Americans I know definitely do NOT seem very happy (at least compared to Australians), but they sure are more colourful.  (Different spelling of “colourful” this time purposeful.)

Indigenous Australian film-makers feature in AACTA winners

February 14, 2013

The second awards ceremony of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts – known as the AACTAs – was held here in Sydney on 30 January and broadcast on Channel Ten.

Host Russell Crowe and AACTA President, Geoffrey Rush, were joined on stage by Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman to honour the year’s best achievements in Australian film and television.

The big story of the night was the virtual awards sweep by the film The Sapphires.  Based on a true story, this film tells the tale of four lively young Aboriginal women who form a musical troupe and travel to Vietnam in 1968 to entertain American troops.  It has been described as “toe tapping”, “uplifting”, “energetic” and “feel-good”, and achieved an astonishing 93 percent positive rating by film reviewers, according to the Rotten Tomatoes aggregation website.

The Sapphires took home a total of eleven AACTA awards, including best film (producers Rosemary Blight and Kylie du Fresne), best direction (Wayne Blair), best adapted screenplay (Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs), best lead actor (Chris O’Dowd), best lead actress (Deborah Mailman) best supporting actress (Jessica Mauboy), and best cinematography (Warwick Thornton).

Of these, Blair, Briggs, Mailman, Mauboy and Thornton are all Indigenous – five major awards won by Indigenous people.  (The Sapphires also won AACTA Awards for Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Production Design and Best Costume Design.)

Indigenous screen stories almost swept the drama awards that night.  In the television drama category, the ABC Aboriginal series Redfern Now won two AACTAs – for Best Screenplay in Television – Aboriginal writer Steven McGregor – and best actress in a Television Drama – Aboriginal actress Leah Purcell.

Thus a total of seven Indigenous screen award winners this year.  Is this an Australian record?  I think so.

The Sapphires

The Guilt Trip film review

February 1, 2013

This film review of “The Guilt Trip” appeared in the Australian Jewish News on 31 January 2013

Directed by Anne Fletcher

Written by Dan Fogelman

Starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen

The film’s producers have hidden it well.  There is not one Yiddish phrase, not one mention of the word “Jew”, no characters wearing Stars of David on gold or silver chains around their necks and no mentions of Chanukah, Passover or Yom Kippur.  Their last name is “Brewster”, a good Anglo-American name if there ever was one.  But at its heart, the new film “The Guilt Trip” knows what it really is:  a story about an over-bearing, over-concerned and over-communicative Jewish mother (Barbra Streisand as “Joyce Brewster”) and her struggling-to-find-himself adult son (Seth Rogen as “Andy Brewster”).  These two Jewish acting stars – Streisand still going strong at age 70 and Rogen one of the new “Jewish brat pack” – anchor this film, together in almost every scene.

Joyce Brewster still lives in New Jersey when son Andy flies in from Los Angeles to visit her as part of a quest to market his special biologically sustainable (and even drinkable with “FDA approval!”) cleaning fluid that he has invented but is unable to sell.  In a moment of concern, Andy invites his widowed mother to join him on a cross-country trip to visit distributors and outlets – thus the film’s tag-line:  “3000 miles, 8 days, 1 mother of a road trip”.  But Andy’s real goal is to bring his mother back in contact with her first love, a man now living in San Francisco, and thus re-spark her interest in romance.

After years of frequently playing the romantic Jewish female lead with goyish guys (think of Robert Redford, Kris Kristofferson, Ryan O’Neal, Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte) – her last starring role was in “The Mirror Has Two Faces” in 1996 – she moved to a supporting role as Ben Stiller’s mother (and Dustin Hoffman’s wife) in “Meet the Fockers”.  And now “The Guilt Trip” brings her back centre stage; it’s her movie, and she milks it for all she can, complete with her New York-inflected Jewish accent, Jewish maternal emotionality and love of eating.  (In fact, the funniest scene in the film has Streisand’s character eating more than two kilos of steak at a Texas restaurant.)

With such star power, it’s a shame “The Guilt Trip” does not deliver more humour and entertainment.  Director Anne Fletcher specialises in middle-brow romantic comedies (“27 Dresses”, “The Proposal”), but is working with an under-developed script by Jewish writer Dan Fogelman.  New Jersey-born Fogelman reportedly based the story (originally entitled “My Mother’s Curse”) on a real-life road trip that he took with his mother Joyce (to whom the film is dedicated).  But real life does not always translate well to the screen, and Rogen – who is truly one of America’s hottest new comic actors – seems strangely subdued on screen, frequently angry with his over-expressive mother but lacking some of his patented hilariously comic riffs.

Rogen and Streisand in NJ kitchen

“The Guilt Trip” arrives with a number of other Jewish pedigrees:  British-Jewish actress Miriam Margolyes appears in an early scene playing one of Joyce Brewster’s friends.  And all three producers are Jewish:  John Goldwyn is a son of the famed Hollywood film producer Samuel Goldwyn; Lorne Michaels is the Israeli-born creator of “Saturday Night Live”; and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad”, “Pineapple Express”) is a frequent comedy partner of Seth Rogen.