Dragons enjoying new-found belief

Digging in: Dragons forward Jack De Belin against Wests Tigers in round one. Photo: Christopher Chan
Nanjing Night Net

Digging in: Dragons forward Jack De Belin against Wests Tigers in round one. Photo: Christopher Chan

Digging in: Dragons forward Jack De Belin against Wests Tigers in round one. Photo: Christopher Chan

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Belief is the buzz word within the St George Illawarra camp. The Dragons, flying high with three consecutive wins, have shocked most league pundits following their Charity Shield disaster.

Just moments after their heavy pre-season loss to the Rabbitohs, coach Steve Price ripped in with a few home truths to his playing group.

“Pricey told us to go and have a good hard think about our performance and to come to training ready to face the music,” prop Jack De Belin said. “He wasn’t beating around the bush. If you didn’t do your job he’d let you know.”

From the outside looking in, the penny seemed to have dropped for the Dragons sometime after that final siren at the Charity Shield and the kick-off to round one against the Tigers. But insiders within the Dragons camp knew they were building strongly well before that.

Gone were the old heads in Nathan Fien, Matt Cooper and Michael Weyman who had served the club with distinction, highlighted by the 2010 premiership. They were replaced with youthfulness and a pre-season where combinations were able to gel and places for spots were competitive with the bulk of the squad featuring in every training session.

“There weren’t people who were injured and everyone was ripping in,” De Belin said. “We were training hard and everyone was on the paddock. It wasn’t easy.”

The coach is now angling for a fourth consecutive win for the first time in his career against Brisbane on Friday night.

Price was under pressure heading into this season. The attention grew following the Charity Shield.

“Everyone talks about that game,” Price said. “It’s a trial and you don’t get two points for a trial. I wasn’t concerned one bit. We were in a high phase of training. People were tired leading into the game. I had the upmost confidence in the boys being able to rebound.

“It’s been great to have virtually our full squad in the pre-season who were nearly able to do every session. We structured our pre-season a lot different to what we have done in previous years. We changed how we go about our offence and different skill sets used on different days. We did a hell of a lot more collision-based training.”

The Wayne Bennett era is well and truly behind the Dragons now with only four players; Brett Morris, Jason Nightingale, Ben Creagh and Trent Merrin having played in the 2010 premiership win. While De Belin made his NRL debut under Bennett, he didn’t find his feet in the top grade until Price took over.

Having missed the round-two clash with injury, De Belin is yet to win three consecutive NRL games in a season despite nudging the 50-match mark. He said his NRL initiation had been “tough”.

“It’s a great feel in the place at the moment,” De Belin said. “There is a real calmness in the joint that hasn’t been there in previous years. It’s refreshing.

“When you’re so young you don’t see the bigger picture and you’re just focused on the individual performances. As you get older it’s more than just yourself and the team. It was really hard there for a while.”

While they sit at the top of the ladder, Price’s future is far from secured. He is off-contract at the end of this year, with the club having an option in their favour to extend his time at the helm.

“It’s all about the team,” Price said. “I was focused on nailing the pre-season and creating an environment where everyone wanted to have a crack and enjoy themselves. That’s the standard as a coach that I set myself.

“I want players to believe in themselves and back themselves.  There is a good feel around the place. There is a good confidence and good belief amongst the playing group. The boys have been playing some good footy.”

De Belin said Price had maintained calmness despite the constant pressure.

“He knows how to coach,” De Belin said. “At times it was definitely tough with the media scrutiny. He was one of the top candidates to lose his job, but it’s a credit to him because he has stuck solid and never backed down.

“Pricey would never show or let us know that he was under the hammer. He is very good like that. He keeps it together very well.”

The Dragons will face the Broncos without Josh Dugan at WIN Stadium after Price confirmed the fullback was close to returning from a knee injury but is at least another week away.

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Melbourne film listings

New releases
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HALF OF A YELLOW SUN (111 minutes) M★★★★

In the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70, starvation was used as a weapon against the Biafrans. The images that reached Australia were horrible. Half of a Yellow Sun uses real TV news reports to background political events, but sparingly and threateningly. While Kainene (Anika Noni) takes over the family business, her twin sister, Olanna (Thandie Newton), goes north from Lagos to teach sociology at the university town of Nsukka, where she has fallen in love with Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a radical professor. By delaying the intrusion of politics, the film establishes a sense of what is about to be lost, and how easily things can go bad. The turmoil closes in on the characters almost without their noticing. We see almost no films from this part of the world. This is a UK-Nigerian co-production filmed in the country, with a rare degree of passion and commitment. It is a superb piece of work. PBSelected release

MR PEABODY AND SHERMAN(97 minutes) PG★☆

There is nothing wrong with children’s entertainment having an agenda, but big-screen Hollywood animation seems to be getting too sophisticated in the worst ways. Take Mr Peabody and Sherman, directed by Rob Minkoff from a script by Craig Wright, known for middlebrow soap operas such as Six Feet Under. Wright has been encouraged to stay true to himself as an artist, with tiresome results: there are jokes about Philip Glass and the Oedipus myth, dialogues sodden with subtext, and a story that serves as a barely veiled allegory about the struggle of non-traditional families to win acceptance. The film appears to be marketed mostly at parents, for few children are likely to recognise the central characters, who first appeared half a century ago in sketches on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Peabody, voiced by Ty Burrell from Modern Family, is a gifted dog whose inventions include a time machine that allows him to tour the hot spots of history with his young protege, Sherman (Max Charles). Good intentions aside, Mr Peabody and Sherman is a chore to sit through. The jokes are bad, whether or not they are supposed to be, and the time-travel plot has a pointless intricacy that recalls Disney’s forgettable Meet The Robinsons. JWGeneral release

THE RAID 2(148 minutes) R★★★☆

In plot terms The Raid 2 has little more than a nominal connection to its predecessor, but the fight choreographer Iko Uwais makes a return appearance as the hero Rama, an unassuming yet exceedingly agile Jakarta cop. This time he goes undercover in jail, where he befriends Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of the mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). After his release, Rama starts working for Bangun, while striving to keep a rein on Ucok, a hothead keen to stir up trouble with the gang’s Japanese competition. The dialogue scenes have an exaggerated stillness and stiffness, with lots of symmetrical head-on shots; when chaotic violence breaks out, the camera too goes crazy, flailing to keep up. For some viewers, it will all be too much. There are times when the phrase ”the pornography of violence” applies rather too literally, such as the bloodcurdling scene in which Ucok casually slaughters a row of bound prisoners. Yet even these sadistic touches are mandated by genre convention: it is doubtful that Evans himself has anything whatever to say. At most, he seems to comment on his own blankness. JWSelected release

ROMEO AND JULIET(113 minutes) M★

This new Romeo and Juliet is supposedly a traditional adaptation, but something feels amiss right from the opening, set at a jousting tournament found nowhere in Shakespeare. Shooting on location in Verona and elsewhere, Italian director Carlo Carlei supplies swaggering youths, candlelit revelry, and a gloppy score (by Abel Korzeniowski) ladelled indiscriminately over the images. Douglas Booth as Romeo is bland, and Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet, who was so effective in the Coen brothers’ True Grit, strikes moony poses and rattles off her speeches as if she is afraid that slowing down might make her forget them. Of local interest is the fact that Romeo’s sidekick, Benvolio, is played by Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee, who has grown up considerably since his child-star period, but not even he can do anything to redeem the embarrassing ending. Never was there a tale of more woe. JWSelected releaseThis story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Russell Crowe gets wet and wild for Noah

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There is something appropriately biblical about my introduction to Russell Crowe on the set of Noah. Arriving at a New York State park just outside Long Island’s Oyster Bay close to midnight, I reach a clearing where a heavy fog miraculously lifts to suddenly reveal the bushy-bearded Crowe waving at me from high on top of a massive ark, built, in fact, to the actual specifications listed in the Bible – 300 cubits long, by 75 cubits wide, by 45 cubits high.

Dressed in a short-sleeved leather tunic over brown shirt and pants, Crowe is filming multiple takes of a scene in which he’s watching his son, Shem (Douglas Booth), and daughter, Ila (Emma Watson), make their way back to the ark while being chased by an angry mob of men with spears and hatchets.

When he finally gets a break from the incessant rainfall, delivered by sprinklers strung high above the massive set, Crowe comes down to dispel the archetypal expectations of his new role (and there’s no sign of a God complex). ”Darren [Aronofsky, the director] promised me two things when he pitched me the film,” Crowe recounts. ”One, I will not be required to wear sandals, and two, there will not be a scene with me on the bow of the boat flanked by an elephant and a giraffe! Once he said that, I said, ‘Let’s start talking’.”

Noah is the latest cinematic retelling of the Genesis story in the Bible of a man who is given a mission from God to build an ark and collect two of every specimen, as well as his own family, to save creation from a coming apocalyptic flood. ”People ask me about the spiritual connection between Noah and God, and it’s like, ‘Well, you can’t really be that certain he has been talked to by God’,” Crowe volunteers matter-of-factly. ”I think the basis of Noah’s relationship with the Creator is one of simplicity, but it gets more complex when he starts hearing voices and ideas start coming to him. So for a good portion of time he’s probably feeling like he is going crazy.”

Hollywood has long had a fascination with stories from the Bible, and the tale of Noah’s Ark has already been tackled three times, the first dating back to the 1928 version written by movie mogul Daryl F. Zanuck. This version, from the Oscar-nominated director of Black Swan, gets a $US130 million budget to not only build the entire ark from scratch, but to also digitally insert all the animals and help deliver a flood that looks as though it really could wipe out the entire population. Of course, there’s plenty of real water, as three large trucks parked nearby with ”Rain for rent” plastered on the sides will testify. Crowe says one take alone required more than 25,000 gallons (113,500 litres) of water, and he proudly breaks it down to ”eight football fields full of rain – one of the largest rainfalls for a movie, even bigger than Perfect Storm.”

That all this rain is landing on the Oscar-winning actor isn’t something Crowe likes to complain about.

”It’s a little bit of the old Chinese water torture now, being stuck in it night after night,” he says with a shrug, ”but the thing that I do before every take is just look out, watch the water come out of those sprinklers like watery fireworks and accept the beauty of that.”

Crowe was also full of praise for the beauty of Iceland, where he filmed exterior shots for four weeks. ”We shot on everything from glaciers to volcanic plains to mountains to beaches,” he says. ”There is a scene where I jump in the water and it’s 39.6 Fahrenheit [4.2C]. That night we were talking about it in this little cafe and this guy says, ‘Where are you shooting?’. I told him where and he said, ‘It’s the most dangerous beach in Iceland – every day four or five people get swept to their death’, and I was like, ‘Excuse me?’.”

While there is already controversy about whether the movie is biblical enough to get the support of the Christian movie-going audience (the film studio Paramount was forced to add a disclaimer it was only ”inspired” by the biblical story), but not too religious for the action movie crowd, Aronofsky says he hopes to bridge the gap between the two. ”This is a movie about miracles,” he insists. ”There is a mythology to the movie that we are being truthful to. Yes, we did create our own rules, but only to make an audience understand. This is like our Lord of the Rings and so there is room for miracles to happen.”

Noah

Genre Drama

Buzz The story about the second-most famous boat in history (behind the Titanic) could deliver on its hype of sink like the other vessel. The verdict is still not in.

Stars Russel Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson

Director Darren Aronofsky

Released Out now, rated M

Welcome to Holy-wood

From Moses to Monty Python’s naughty boy, Tinseltown has long had a soft spot for the good book, writes Jenny Cooney Carrillo.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1965)

The most famous of five movie versions, directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Charlton Heston as Moses, the Egyptian prince who turns his back on his royal heritage to lead his people out of bondage, er, slavery.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1973)

Featuring one of the great rock opera soundtracks of all time, Norman Jewison’s film version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical starred Ted Neeley as Jesus and Yvonne Elliman as his squeeze, Mary Magdalene. However, it’s a fair bet that whatever version of the crucifixion you learnt at Sunday school didn’t include fighter jets, army tanks and King Herod dancing in silver hot pants.

MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (1979)

Under the direction of Terry Jones, the Python lads delivered an outrageous religious farce that followed Brian (Graham Chapman, pictured), a man who is mistaken for Jesus but turns out to be not the Messiah, just “a very naughty boy”. It also features one of the more memorable closing scenes in film, with Eric Idle, nailed up on the cross, leading a chorus of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Cue whistle.

DOGMA (1999)

Kevin Smith’s irreverent take on Catholic dogma follows two fallen angels, Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon), who are attempting to make their way back to heaven via Wisconsin. Rude, crude and slightly mad, it also stars Alan Rickman as the voice of God and singer Alanis Morrissette as actual God (yep, he is a she).

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004)

Director Mel Gibson’s serious, bloody and controversial Aramaic-language take on the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, played by Jim Caviezel, earned the wrath of critics but three Oscar nominations and a record-breaking $US611million worldwide.

with Louise Rugendyke

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The Raid 2: The raider of the lost art

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In 2011, two of the most intriguing independent features on the festival circuit were unexpected genre films by young British directors. Gareth Edwards made the eerie science-fiction thriller Monsters, while Gareth Evans put together the brutal Indonesian action flick The Raid. Both films took styles that had become formulaic in the mainstream and recharged them, and both filmmakers were feted.

Three years later, however, they’ve taken opposing paths. The Englishman, Edwards, is putting the finishing touches on May’s Godzilla reboot, a Hollywood blockbuster. The Welshman, Evans, has stuck with his Indonesian crew and colleagues to make a sequel to The Raid. The former spent $US160 million ($175 million) on his new movie, the latter $US4.5 million, and Evans couldn’t be happier with his decision.

“The Raid 2 was always the project I really wanted to make, and it had been in my head for three years at that point,” Evans says. “If I’d gone off to pursue something elsewhere I would have had to cast it aside, and I would have regretted that forever. This was my one-time opportunity to make it happen.”

An amiable cinema buff happiest when enthusing about framing mass brawls or how the right sound mix can make the audience wince when a character is punched on the screen, Evans is calling from Jakarta, his home of seven years now. He lives there with wife and fellow producer Rangga Maya Barack-Evans and their young daughter, and is happy to spend his days quietly studying the everyday world around him, wondering how he could destroy it.

“I can’t go to a restaurant or a hotel now without looking at the architecture and wondering how it would look if a character jumped off something – or crashed through it,” Evans says. “It actually impinges on my day-to-day lifestyle now.”

The Raid was set in a single Jakarta slum building, where a young police officer, Rama (Iko Uwais), had to survive an unsanctioned mission and literally fight his way to freedom through increasingly bloody confrontations. The Raid 2 takes the same plucky character into the outside world, where he goes undercover to infiltrate a crime syndicate. Evans’ intricate, elegant set-pieces are now divided by reams of plot and classic gangster-movie elements.

“With the first one I just wanted to make a film; nothing else mattered,” he says. “For this one I wanted to add more substance to it. Many of the characters, for example, have problematic relationships with their father.”

Evans, who has introduced the Indonesian martial art pencak silat to action-film devotees worldwide, writes, directs and edits his films, along with collaborating on the highly specific fight choreography. He knows each shot he wants, and how they will fit together, before he begins production. Most action films have been overwhelmed by rapid-fire editing and a lack of spatial awareness; they’re deliberately meant to be a blur.

Evans, by contrast, frames his sequences to provide visual information, while actors who are also pencak silat experts means involved shots that don’t require stunt doubles or excessive cutting. His fight scenes are technically exciting and physically exhausting to watch, even if Evans himself is humble about his work.

“I really don’t think we’re that innovative,” he insists. “The way we shoot action, for example, is to use what worked on something like The Wild Bunch, a film that hasn’t aged in 45 years. The action sequences are so clear and so detailed, you feel the whole thing. We’re not doing anything new – we just take what people like [Sam] Peckinpah pioneered and someone like John Woo mastered and stick to that.”

While comparatively small, Evans got impressive value for his budget in Indonesia, while bringing in new collaborators such as respected Hong Kong car stunt director Bruce Law. The pair fashioned a car chase sequence short on digital effects and long on physical momentum and mayhem. They had seven cars available to them, and happily destroyed them all.

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