Accepting the inevitable wrath that comes with critiquing the hometown team, as Orica-GreenEDGE frantically search for an Australian who can one day challenge for a Grand Tour podium, Anthony Tan wonders whether too much pressure is being placed on the young shoulders of Cameron Meyer, and suggests a solution that may require a degree of humility.
Cameron Meyer is easy to like and hard to hate.
In fact, he’s hard to dislike even just a little. Courteous to all; exceptionally diligent with an incredible work ethic; clearly talented but never big-notes himself or his team; and yes, rides for Orica-GreenEDGE but seems to go out of his way to make sure he’s not perceived to be ‘one of the boys’.
And now, with his team missing out on signing Richie Porte, who has chosen to stay at Sky Procycling – “We would have liked Richie to come onboard,” team owner Gerry Ryan told the Sydney Morning Herald last month – it seems the 25-year-old has the weight of the country’s expectations on his skinny shoulders.
Another week, another set of great Australian results from the latest MTB World Cup round in Val di Sole Italy.
In previous years a blasé statement like this would be purely reserved for the gravity disciplines of 4-Cross or Downhill (DH) in which Australia has been very successful.
And while Dean Lucas pulled off a nail biting win in the Junior Men's DH at Val di Sole, the headlines have instead been focussed on two names, Rebecca Henderson and Dan McConnell.
They're lycra bandits, whippets, they ride XCO (Olympic format cross country) a discipline that largely fell off the radar for the average cycling fan ever since Cadel slipped on one of those hideous Mapei jerseys and rode off to make history over a decade ago.
Do the conversations surrounding the character traits of Snowden and Assange detract from the real issues at hand?
Edward Snowden, the now famous/infamous NSA whistleblower, made an interesting comment during a brief online Q&A hosted by The Guardian on Monday.
“Unfortunately,” he wrote from Hong Kong, “The mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.”
Of all the many contentious things Snowden may have claimed since outing himself as the NSA leaker, this comment was instructive about how sections of the media have played his revelations. Rather than the issue, Snowden’s personality and background became the target.
Debate rages about the worthiness of the winner but the Sydney Film Festival's official competition is growing up.
Leave aside the contentious winner of the official competition, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, of which I missed all but 30 minutes. Judging by the nine out of 12 competing films I saw, 2013 was a highly stimulating competition featuring titles of an overall impressive standard, though we could spend hours arguing over how many strictly lived up to the official criteria of being "courageous, audacious and cutting-edge".
One of the most important breakthroughs this year was the inclusion for the first time of two documentaries, Sarah Polley’s exceptionally well-crafted family secrets film, Stories We Tell, and Joshua Oppenheimer’s film about Indonesia’s 1965 homicidal pogroms, Act of Killing, something for which I strongly argued last year on the grounds that non-fiction and “hybrid” films (ie. blending documentary and fictional elements) are currently one of the most creatively fertile areas in world filmmaking; a place where you are most likely to witness formal invention, where ground rules are still up for revision.
Last year SFF director Nashen Moodley dipped his toe into this area with his competition selection of the Taviani brothers’ Caesar Must Die, with its rehearsals and performances of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that on closer examination turned out to be staged for the cameras, though with some genuine documentary footage at the finale. Oppenheimer’s film pushes the notion of hybridity much further, both in form and but perhaps it didn’t matter so much that despite this extraordinary boldness it failed to win the Sydney Film Prize. It has a long string of international awards to its name already, having added two more this weekend alone, and its impact at SFF (it will also have screenings at Melbourne’s film festival) will serve as an effective launching pad, helping to ensure an otherwise obscure, difficult-sounding title reaches the audience it deserves.
I feel a little un-Australian admitting this, but here it is: I’m not a big fan of yum cha. There, I said it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the food: pillowy-soft buns stuffed with barbecue pork; gelatinous dumplings full of prawns and mushrooms; and steamer baskets holding untold culinary delights, but it’s the atmosphere of borderline chaos that gets to me. I’m not a huge one for crowds, so the mayhem of a full-blown, Sunday morning yum cha extravaganza tends to fill me with fear rather than excitement. So, this month’s cover story on how to make yum cha classics at home is perfect – food I love in the quiet and comfort of my own kitchen. What more could a barbecue-pork lover want?
Given it was just Mr Ed and I at home, I decided to limit myself to two of the yum cha recipes – rather than recreate the full banquet. (However, having tasted the prawn toasts with spicy mayo when we photographed them, I’d happily eat an entire batch by myself.) I decided on the spring onion pancakes so I could try the technique of rolling out the dough into a round, then rolling it into a spring onion-filled sausage and then rolling it flat again – aka playing with your food as a grown up. I also made the char siu pork belly. Because it’s pork belly, obviously.
The pancakes are just flour and water – what could be easier? When it comes to kneading, I think I’ve been short-changing some of my recent doughs, so this time around I set my timer for six minutes. The result was soft, silky dough that then rested for an hour in an oil bath. Or, rather, rested for 19 hours in an oil bath, as Mr Ed suddenly developed a raging case of cabin fever and we had to leave the house immediately instead of enjoying a delicious homemade yum cha spread. All was well and that gave the pork plenty of time to marinate. Another great thing about these dishes was that I already had all the ingredients in the pantry.
Get used to it – cycling is in the Era of the Power Meter. The sport is now, more than ever, a numbers game. And, according to one performance expert, numbers don’t lie, writes Anthony Tan.
The way things work nowadays, I’m spending less and less time out in the field covering sporting events and an increasing amount doing what many of you do in your spare time, which is watch said events live and couch-side, with preferred communication device at arm’s length.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Living out of a suitcase for more than two hundred days a year wears thin after a certain while, though it took me five masochistic years to realise it.
It’s far from glamorous; sometimes lonely (unless you like that kind of thing), other times stressful because you are more or less on your own; and with athletes mollycoddled and media-managed beyond recognition, that promised one-hour interview has now being reduced to ten minutes max – that’s if you’re lucky enough to get a one-on-one interview – and with few exceptions, is comprised of stock-standard responses in plethora, generally because there’s only enough time to ask stock-standard questions. Besides the basics, I don’t really feel I know many of the athletes these days. Or rather, I know them as athletes but not as people, which is generally what piques my interest most. For mine, results are secondary; I want to know what makes them tick – and what gets them ticked off.
The Bling Ring did its thing, Michel Gondry was kooky as always, while Oh Boy was a breath of fresh air.
Now we’re more than mid-way through Sydney Film Festival, it’s clear the behaviour of a small minority of anti-social audience members can be a real distraction. I’ve had to ask two people to stop scrolling through their brightly lit iPhone screens while the film is playing. I also overheard the following classic exchange in the Laos-set The Rocket as the main characters approach the base of what is obvious a very large dam. Older woman in loud voice: “What’s that?” Silence. “What’s that?” Older male voice: “A dam.” I am not lying.
Two hot-ticket new films from major directors drew mostly younger sell-out crowds mid-week. The slender tale of Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, about well-off LA teens breaking into celebrity’s homes to steal their clothes, felt rolling-pinned to fill out the running time – perhaps not surprising given it’s based on a magazine article. There really isn’t much more to the narrative beyond the kids’ repeated breaking into houses and frolicking in blingy clothes and shoes, followed by their flagged-from-the-start arrests. But if the dialogue is – oh my God! - clichéd and the characters sunnily vacuous, that is exactly the point. There’s little here that’s surprising, but as a tartly satirical statement on the emptiness of today’s narcissistic celebrity culture, it entertainingly hits the mark.
For all its self-indulgence and flagrant lack of discipline, I enjoyed immensely the first two thirds of Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo for its gumbo stew of extraordinarily wild invention and delightful sight gags, but then I wanted it to stop. It didn't. Gondry packs three films’ worth of visual pranks and wittily conceived gadgets into his La bohème-style tale of ultimately tragic love, with Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou as the appealing lovers. I loved the oven-baked cookies served up on a tray in miniature ovens, one of seemingly 100s of blink-and-you-missed it comic moments – but Gondry needs to install an edit button or at least work with a producer happy to periodically kick his backside rather than indulge his every whim.
Tim Burton has reportedly agreed to make a movie about artist couple Margaret and Walter Keane.
When did Tim Burton last make a Tim Burton film? His version of Alice in Wonderland appeared to be overwhelmed by the vast array of digital effects, while Dark Shadows was limp and barely engaged viewers. But the filmmaker who gave us the distinctive aesthetic and offbeat worldview of Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow is getting back to basics with Big Eyes, a comparatively low-budget story of creative expression and personal vindication that will recreate the marriage and work of Margaret and Walter Keane, who became celebrities in 1950s America with their mass-produced prints of children with big eyes, which sold in service stations and hardware stores.
Walter publicly took the credit, but the pieces were actually created by the initially shy Margaret, and when conflict arising from the ruse broke them up their divorce turned into a public battle to claim authorship of the works. Burton has cast everyone’s new favourite Austrian actor, Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained) as Walter, with Amy Adams (The Master, the forthcoming Man of Steel) as Margaret, with the screwball comic presence Krysten Ritter (Confessions of a Shopaholic) just added as Margaret’s best friend. If the scale and the themes suggest one of Burton’s best films, 1994’s Ed Wood, it’s not coincidental – screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote both scripts.
I’m a bit disappointed in my broccoli. In only the second year of having a garden at Fat Pig Farm, the broccoli plants are big and blousy. The broccoli heads are fat and tight. And I’m not happy.
Why? Because they look just like the picture on the pack. Never before have our brassicas looked so much like the commercial varieties. Rarely does anything we grow resemble what you might find on a supermarket shelf. But, and it’s partly our fault because we’re growing a classic-looking variety, this year our broccoli harvest, most of it, is virtually indistinguishable from the mainstream.
Until you eat it that is. I am finding it almost impossible not to overcook the stuff. It’s got a great flavour, it is incredibly tender, and we know there’s not a thing been used on it that I would count as poison. Maybe the work we did on our soil last year has paid off. Maybe we just got it in early enough, or the season has been that little bit more forgiving. Or maybe it’s a sign that if you can find the right balance between the breeds you grow, the soil you nurture and the time you harvest, then your crop can be big and showy and still have all the micronutrients that properly grown vegetables should have.
A string of strong films have made the first few days of the festival some of the best in years.
In the 25 or so years I’ve been attending the Sydney Film Festival, this has been one of the strongest opening weekends I can recall. Whether by accident or design, the scheduling team has front-loaded the 2013 festival’s opening few days with a few knockout punches, so far making for a memorable 60th anniversary. Not to mention that on the organisational level everything seems to have gone swimmingly. Every session I’ve attended has started bang on time, and queues have been efficiently wrangled and short-lived. Can this last? One can hope.
After Thursday night’s extraordinary The Act of Killing, which I reported on a few days ago, the competition continued in impressive vein with two strong debut films about rebellious children: the Saudi Arabian drama Wadjda, and Laos-set The Rocket (more on the latter in a moment). Also screening were powerful documentaries about music and public affairs. Muscle Shoals, about the legendary Alabama soul studio (or two rival studios, as it turned out) was full of gutsy music and fascinating stories and will be worth buying on DVD, even if it did open with Bono going on about the Alabama mud as if he was born there and spend too much time at the end on Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer, which one blogger has perceptively discussed in relation to Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, was inspiring in the way three powerless young women have refused to be cowed by the might of the interlocking Russian political, legal and religious system, but also scary in its implications.
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