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Mighty Boosh director Paul King leads Paddington Bear’s trip to the big screen

Mrs Brown (Sally Hawkins) finds a small bear from Darkest Peru at Paddington Station. Mrs Brown (Sally Hawkins) finds a small bear from Darkest Peru at Paddington Station.
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Nicole Kidman as evil museum taxidermist Millicent in Paddington, after knocking out two Tube security guards in the control room.

Michael Bond the author of Paddington Bear stories at the Menzies Hotels in Sydney today on the 27 August 1979.

Mrs Brown (Sally Hawkins) finds a small bear from Darkest Peru at Paddington Station.

Mrs Brown (Sally Hawkins) finds a small bear from Darkest Peru at Paddington Station.

Director Paul King, actor Sally Hawkins and author Michael Bond on the set of Paddington.

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For British director Paul King, the most exciting thing about making Paddington, the first feature film to tell the story of the small bear from Darkest Peru with a fondness for marmalade, was shooting at London’s grand Paddington Station.

“It took about a year of planning because, obviously, the trains still need to run. They had to reprogram a ridiculous amount of the national rail network to make it all happen, because they’re complicated things, railways, but they were so kind and so brilliant. Everyone at Paddington Station was just amazing,” says King.

It proved to him the power of Paddington. Not only was the bear given access to one of the busiest railway stations in England, but he was also allowed to run wild through the halls of London’s august Natural History Museum.

The character helped King snag a shiny line-up of Britain’s finest actors too, including Hugh Downton Abbey Bonneville and Sally Hawkins from Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky as Mr and Mrs Brown, Julie Walters as their eccentric housekeeper Mrs Bird, Peter Capaldi as deranged, pink-eyed neighbour Mr Curry, Little Britain’s Matt Lucas as a gobby cab driver, and Geoffrey Palmer in a small role with large whiskers. That’s just the live-action cast. On the animated side, thespian heavies Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton are the voices of Paddington’s aunt and uncle, while Ben Whishaw, known for playing a speccy Q in the last James Bond film, Skyfall, is Paddington.

Then there is Nicole Kidman as the evil, snakeskin-wearing, knife-edged, blond-bobbed taxidermist trying to get her hands on Paddington for her ultimate specimen. When King tentatively suggested her for the role, his casting director thought it highly unlikely she would be interested. Kidman’s agent also thought she’d turn it down but her response was an instant yes, having loved the books as a child. She is not alone; the Paddington series has been translated into 40 languages and sold more than 35 million copies since A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond was first published in 1958.

If you pay attention to the film, in one of the early London scenes, as Paddington rides in his first cab, a distinguished older gentleman raises a glass to him from a pavement table. This is Bond, who invented the character while living in Notting Hill in the 1950s, and was closely consulted during the making of the film.

As well as directing, King wrote the script, which brings the story into the present day and introduces some new key characters, including Kidman’s malevolent Millicent.

Many other writers helped whip the story into shape, and Bond provided suggestions on the different drafts. Knowing his bear so well, the older writer helped keep the tone of the film faithful to his stories. The Browns are loosely based on his own parents – if they had come across Paddington, Bond told King, his mother would have wanted to give him a bath and his father would have worried about the paperwork. King consequently wrote a scene where Mr Brown goes to the authorities about Paddington, but Bond felt it wasn’t quite right. King ended up agreeing.

Something else wasn’t quite right. For the voice of Paddington, King’s first choice was another British star, Colin Firth, whose speech reminded him of the narrator of the first animated Paddington television series, Michael Hordern. It was this version that introduced King to Paddington as a child, before he learnt to read and devoured the books.

As Bond pointed out to him, Hordern was the voice of the narrator, not Paddington, but it took months of working with Firth until King admitted defeat: he wasn’t the one.

“Colin’s got too mature and manly and chocolate-y a voice,” he says. “It’s a gorgeous voice, but it just didn’t feel quite right for the character.”

Telling him must have been … awkward?

“It was a little difficult,” King says, but the actor had come to the same conclusion. “We had a very funny conversation where he said, ‘Don’t worry Paul, this isn’t like splitting up with your girlfriend, it’s fine.’ If he was going to be out of work, I’d have worried, but I think Colin Firth will be fine.”

Bringing the animated bear to life, says King, “was oddly like giving birth”. In fact the gestation took twice as long – about 18 months from the first drawings of Paddington to the first on-screen test when he spoke and had fur added. This animated version is based on Peggy Fortnum’s drawings in the first book. “They felt like the most bear-y bear that had been drawn, and it was the original and most useful for us,” says King. “When it first came to life, especially when we found Ben’s voice, I was in pieces. It was just incredibly beautiful and you go, ‘I think this film’s going to work because I believe in that bear’.”

King has only directed one feature film before this, the darkly wacky and really quite obscure Bunny and the Bull in 2009. He is best known for directing The Mighty Boosh, the trippy cult television comedy series with a small but very loyal (some might say fanatical) legion of fans. Boosh-sters will recognise some of Paddington’s more offbeat humour, such as the old-school explorer sequence that begins the film, or Kidman picking up a stuffed ferret instead of the phone.

The question that clearly must be asked is how King ended up directing a film like this, with an enormous budget and star-studded cast, adapting one of the most iconic children’s characters ever written.

King laughs good-naturedly. “That’s a very good question.”

The answer is that David Heyman, the film’s producer, thought he was the man for the job. Heyman, who produced Gravity, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and all the Harry Potter films, was struck by Bunny and the Bull, particularly its abstract, line-drawn sets that looked like the original Paddington television series.

King “wangled” a meeting with him and found they had the same ideas about how the film should be done.

“You can imagine the not-very-good Hollywood version of it: Paddington is suddenly in a bomber jacket and a back-to-front baseball cap and he’s rapping about marmalade,” King says. “I wanted to do something faithful but I also thought there was really something beautiful we could do with London.”

Paddington is set in the present day, as the Paddington books were set in the time they were written. King’s London is Kodachrome-colourful, a heightened reality where jaunty calypso bands play on street corners and snow still buckets down at Christmas. The Brown house is a vintage-inspired fantasy any child would love to inhabit, let alone a furry young South American seeking refuge.

“I wanted a London where a bear would not feel utterly ridiculous walking down the street,” King says.

His favourite films, which he wanted Paddington to emulate, are those that transport viewers, creating a world they don’t quite recognise. “There’s something amazingly visually beguiling about that,” he says.

He has also created one of those rare and lovely creatures, a film that appeals equally to children and adults.

King thought a lot about why he responded to Paddington as a child, and came to the conclusion it was his outsider status.

“There’s actually quite a big universal story here about somebody who has travelled round the world and tried to make a new home and is an outsider in a big scary universe. I think that’s something lots of people connect to. There’s a lot more to Paddington than you may immediately remember.”

 

After Birdman and St Vincent, Naomi Watts says she may tread the boards with Cate Blanchett

Paired: Naomi Watts with Sean Penn in 21 Grams.
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Naomi Watts: In St. VIncent.

Paired: Naomi Watts with Sean Penn in 21 Grams.

Paired: Naomi Watts with Sean Penn in 21 Grams.

In the middle: Naomi Watts in Birdman.

Quirky comedy: St Vincent.

Sitting out: A scene from St Vincent.

Paired: Naomi Watts with Sean Penn in 21 Grams.

More on St VincentMore on BirdmanMovie session timesFull movies coverage

“Now you’ve had a Bill Murray moment too,” Naomi Watts chuckles conspiratorially about our recent encounter. The Aussie actress had been set to talk to me before Bill Murray, her co-star in the new film St. Vincent, took the cast on an impromptu adventure, leaving the media waiting for hours during the Toronto Film Festival.

“I’d got this message that he wanted to take us all to breakfast and I figured it would be in the hotel restaurant during a break in our press interviews,” Watts recalls when she finally returns three hours later, looking like a breath of fresh air in a sleeveless ruffled dress swirling with pinks, blues and purples. “The next thing we were all getting into a car with him and driving 20 minutes to his friend’s house and we were all like, ‘aren’t we supposed to be back in 10 minutes?’

“The thing with Bill is you just go with it,because he’s got such an incredible sense of adventure and never gets in any trouble for any of it. There’s always a party trailing behind him, just waiting for a Bill moment.”

Coming off her Oscar nomination for the heart-wrenching 2012 drama The Impossible, the 46-year-old has bounced back from last year’s critical drubbing for her role in the royal biopic Diana to appear in two highly touted supporting roles in very different films: the quirky comedy St Vincent (out on Boxing Day), in which she plays a pregnant Russian stripper in a relationship with a misanthropic widower played by Murray; and the darkly comic Birdman (out on January 15), in which she plays a theatre actress sleeping with her egotistical co-star, played by Edward Norton.

Both films have great pedigrees: Birdman is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who guided Watts to her first Oscar nomination in 21 Grams (2003) and also stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor mounting a theatre production in a bid to reclaim his past glory. St. Vincent, from first-time director Theodore Melfi, boasts two comedy stars, Murray and Melissa McCarthy, the latter in the more subdued role as Vincent’s neighbour and concerned mother of a boy who befriends him.

“Coming off The Impossible, I definitely found myself actively searching for light fare to exercise my comedic chops, if they’re there at all,” Watts volunteers. “But I’m used to everybody thinking of me for the serious roles so when I got this script, I assumed the part Melissa plays was ‘the Naomi role’ and I was thrilled to discover they were thinking of me for the other role instead.”

Watts has brought her cute white yorkie dog Bob into the Toronto hotel suite for a last cuddle before reluctantly handing him offto her publicist. “He got kicked in the head by a donkey last week at a friend’s farmso he’s a bit shaky and needs some extra attention.”

In person, Watts is very funny, wickedly playful and disarmingly self-deprecating. The first time we see her in St. Vincent, she’s sitting astride Murray on a bed, ordering him to “giddyup, cowboy”, so, not surprisingly, she says it was “seriously scary” acting opposite Murray as a bossy stripper who hangs out with his Vincent.

“I’d also heard stories that Bill doesn’t warm to everyone right away, and I worried, ‘what if he just thinks I am rubbish?'” Watts confides as she nurses a cup of coffee and settles into an overstuffed couch. “So I tried not to break character on this one, to be in his face and mischievous non-stop, and she was such an extreme character it was easy to have fun with him.”

Birdman was a very different challenge, she acknowledges, since the film is presented as one seemingly long continuous take, following actors in and out of rooms, corridors and scenes.

“When Alejandro told me the process of how this was going to work, it was intriguing to me but excruciating as well,” she says. “He would often say after being 12 hours into the day that he had nothing usable for the film, and that’s a very frightening experience, because there were a few times I had only a couple of lines at the end of a very long scene and I knew if I messed up, I would be letting the entire team down.”

In November, Watts calls for a follow-up chat.She has just returned from a five-day Thanksgiving break to resume filming the indie drama Three Generations and is excited about the coming holiday season she’s spending at home in New York with her partner, Liev Schreiber, and their two boys; Sasha, 7, and Kai, 6.

“I’m a bit of a sucker for Christmas and all the imaginary stuff, like the elf on the shelf,” she says. Wait – the elf on the what? “Oh, it’s an American thing I think, but it’s this little elf that is like a desk toy and you put it on the shelf in the kids’ room and it’s a great discipline tool when you can say, ‘The elf has seen you and noticed you didn’t clean up your room yesterday because he hasn’t moved since last night!'”

If you look at Watts’ page on IMDB, she appears to be working non-stop: three films in 2014, four films to be released next year and three more in pre-production. But she insists family comes first. “Birdman was a maximum of like 16 days spread out, so it is doable. I know it feels like, ‘Oh my God, she never stops’ but there is breathing room and there is a lot of time with the kids, like this movie I’m working on right now that shoots three blocks from my house.

“I was able to drop them off last week every single day at school, even though I worked four days in that week, and I’m there for mealtimes or putting them to bed. I’ve turned down a lot of films that took me away for too long or didn’t work with Liev’s show [TV drama Ray Donovan, which films almost half the year in Los Angeles].”

Watts and Schreiber met in 2005 at a gala connected to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art: she saw him leaving and asked if he wanted her phone number (“it was a lot more ballsy than I would ever normally be”, she told Allure magazine). They’ve been engaged for eight years, so she’s not surprised when asked if marriage plans are finally in the works now that holdouts like George Clooney and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have capitulated.

“We don’t have a plan yet,” she says. “But we also don’t have a plan not to. We have a great family and it feels like we’re married. We just haven’t done that official blessing or walk down the aisle because it hasn’t been a big need for either of us.”

Next year, the adventurous star wants to dip her toe into untested water. “Theatre is the one thing that I need to make room for that I haven’t really done yet,” she says. “Cate Blanchett and I have been talking about it for a while and I’d love to do a play in Australia, so she’s been encouraging me and maybe that’s something that will happen in the not-so-distant future.”

St Vincent is released in cinemas on December 26; Birdman on January 15.

NAOMI’S BEST FIVE MOVIE ROLES

With 61 credits on her resume, Watts has done something for everyone.

Mulholland Drive (2001) David Lynch directed this surreal noir thriller, which launched Watts’ career in Hollywood as she played aspiring actress Betty Elms. Few actresses could pull off such a deranged character arc.

The Ring(2002) In Watts’ first major hit, she plays a journalist who investigates a mysterious videotape that causes the death of everyone who watches it. The horror movie, budgeted at $US48 million ($57 million), grossed $US249m ($300 million)  worldwide and led to a hit 2005 sequel, The Ring Two.

21 Grams (2003) Watts deservedly earned her first Oscar nomination with a stunning performance opposite Sean Penn in the tragic story of a freak accident that brings together a critically ill mathematician, a grieving mother and a born-again ex-con.

King Kong (2005) Filmmaker Peter Jackson hand-picked the up-and-coming Aussie to play the role inhabited by Fay Wray (1933) and Jessica Lange (1976) in previous versions of the classic story of the giant ape who becomes smitten with an actress. The film got a mixed critical reception, but grossed more than  $US550 million ($662 million) worldwide and put Watts on the map.

The Impossible(2013) The true story  of a tourist family caught in the destruction and chaos of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami showcased Watts’ amazing ability to tap into an emotional truth that leaves the audience raw. Many felt she was robbed of an Oscar that year after being nominated for a second time.

Billy Corgan slams Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Courtney Love on Howard Stern show

‘I just don’t think Pearl Jam have the songs’ says Corgan. Photo: Paul Rovere Foo Fighters ‘just haven’t evolved’, says Corgan. Photo: Paul Rovere
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Billy Corgan has dissed a handful of rockstar peers in a tell-all interview with shock radio jockey Howard Stern.

Chatting for almost an hour, the Smashing Pumpkins lead singer didn’t hold back in critiquing his rock ‘n’ roll contemporaries.

Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters and ex-girlfriend Courtney Love were all caught in the firing line.

Agreeing with Stern when he said that Pearl Jam were “derivative”, Corgan pinned himself and Kurt Cobain as the top rock acts of the ’90s. According to Corgan, Pearl Jam “didn’t come close”.

“If you listen to the band’s work, and I know they have a tremendous fanbase and they should, they’re a great band,” says Corgan. “I just don’t think Pearl Jam have the songs.”

“If you stack my songs up, Cobain’s songs up and that band’s songs up, they don’t have the songs.”

Corgan then exclaimed that he had written the band’s hit single 1979 in 20 minutes.

Later addressing the Foo Fighters, Corgan was quick to claim that Dave Grohl had barely evolved  as an artist.

“Dave [Grohl] is a great musician, a great songwriter and has done the work. But to me, my criticism of the Foo Fighters, if I’m being a music critic, is that they just haven’t evolved and … , [are] making the same music,” he said.

Stern also quizzed Corgan about ex-girlfriend Courtney Love. In response Corgan stated “back in the day she was smokin’ hot”, their sex life was “mythical” and that she is the “least loyal person I’ve ever known in my life.”

Addressing the fallout following the interview, Corgan  posted on Twitter that he was simply answering “honestly”. If @HowardStern asks me a question I answer it honestly out of respect to him because: he is a music fan first, and has always encouraged me — Billy Corgan (@Billy) December 10, 2014

Auburn, South Australia: Travel guide and things to do

Auburn, Clare Valley, SA. Auburn, Clare Valley, SA.
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Auburn, Clare Valley, SA.

Auburn, Clare Valley, SA.

Located 110 km from Adelaide, Auburn is the southern gateway to the rich vineyards of the Clare Valley and a once important town where bullock teams and miners stopped on their way from Port Wakefield to the copper mines around Burra.

By the late 1830s farmers were grazing sheep and cattle in the district after it had been explored by John Eyre. It was originally known as Tateham’s Waterhole after a local settler, William ‘Billy’ Tateham. The land upon which the town grew was granted to Thomas Henry Williams in 1849.By 1856 he had cut it into land lots and called it Auburn after a town in Ireland. The timing was perfect. Copper had been discovered at Burra and the bullock drays bringing the copper to the coast all passed through Auburn. At its peak there were as many as 100 bullock drays a day passing through the town which meant it grew quickly although in 1857 the town’s function as a stopover point ceased when the railway connected Burra to Gawler. Surprisingly this had little effect on the town which continued to grow through the 1860s and 1870s. It was around this time that Joseph Meller, a stonemason, moved into the area. His work characterises much of the historic charm of the town which today is regarded as a fine example of an historic town with well preserved stone buildings – both public and private. Things to see

Historic Buildings There is an excellent National Trust brochure titled ‘Walk With History at Auburn’ which provides a map and lists 24 places of historic interest in the town. The most interesting include:

Auburn Institute & Town Hall Located on the Main North Road at the northern end of town, the Auburn Institute and Town Hall was built in 1866 by a group of private individuals. The southern facade was completed in 1884. It is a fine example of Joseph Meller’s stonemasonry skills.

Site of Auburn Hotel The Auburn Hotel, originally located on the north side of the North Street and Main North Road corner, has gone but it is an important part of Australian folk history. It was here that James Dennis, a retired sea captain, ran the pub from 1865-77 and it was here that his son C.J. Dennis (one of Australia’s most beloved vernacular poets – he created the character of ‘the sentimental bloke’ a quintessential Australian innocent) was born. There is a delightful and unusual memorial to Dennis outside the Senior Citizens Club. It is a metal model of the old Auburn Hotel. The real hotel was demolished in 1969.

Court House & Police Station Museum Built in (1859) and located in St Vincent Street, both the Court House and the Police Station are National Trust buildings. They have been used to house a history of the local area. They can be opened on request Tel: (08) 8849 2075.

Rising Sun Hotel Located on the corner of St Vincent Street and Main North Road, the Rising Sun Hotel dates from 1851 and was the first commercial building in the town. The present hotel dates from the early 1900s but the stables and part of the hotel were built in 1850. The loft is famous as the first place where a telegraph message was received on 3 June, 1862.

Joseph Meller’s Historic Buildings Located at the eastern end of King Street (in Curling Street) this stone Lutheran church was built by Joseph Meller in 1869; Meller also built the former Corn Mart (on the Main North Road) in 1878. It was purchased by the CWA in 1949; he was also responsible for the Catholic Church at the southern end of Elder Street which was built for the Methodists in 1866 and sold to the Catholics in 1915; the Uniting Church which was built by Meller in 1861 and stands at the southern end of the town; and St John’s Anglican Church (1862) features some of Meller’s stonework above the altar.

Riesling Trail This is a truly fascinating recent tourist attraction. The old railway line between Auburn and Clare has been carefully covered over with easy-to-walk-on gravel and opened up as the Riesling Trail. The idea is that people can walk or cycle up the Clare Valley away from the main road. They can experience the quiet beauty of the area and, eventually, there will be numerous sideways off the main Trail which will encourage visitors to divert to wineries and craft shops. At the moment it is just a very charming and pleasant walkway/cycleway. Bicycles can be hired in Clare.

Wineries in the AreaGrosset Wines Located in King Street, Auburn this small, high quality winery was established in 1981 and specialises in red and white table wines derived from cabernet sauvignon, riesling, cabernet franc and Merlot grapes grown in both the Adelaide Hills and the Clare Valley. It is open only during the selling season after September. For more details contact (08) 8849 2175.

Taylors Wines Located on Mintaro Road at the southern entrance to the Clare Valley this is the largest winery in the valley and was established in 1972. It specialises in red and white table wines derived from cabernet sauvignon, riesling, crouchen, pinot noir, shiraz and chardonnay grapes grown on the estate’s 500 hectare vineyard. It is open seven days a week for tastings and sales. For more details contact (08) 8849 2008.

Tourist information

Tourist Information Centre The Post Office St Vincent St Auburn SA 5451 Telephone: (08) 8849 2020

‘Smart bra’: Australian engineers develop bionic bra with intelligent fabric

Smart bra: Professor Julie Steele (left) from the Biomechanics Research Laboratory, Professor Gordon Wallace and Dr Sheridan Gho at the Innovation Campus at the University of Wollongong.Big and small-busted women the world over can rejoice. Australian engineers are developing a bra that tightens automatically when the wearer moves and relaxes when she is sitting or standing still.
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The “bionic bra” will be shaped like a traditional over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder, but will contain sensors that detect breast movement. When breast bouncing becomes too extreme, artificial muscles integrated into the bra will kick in and restrict movement.

When the wearer is standing still or not moving much, the bra will revert to its normal, more comfortable, structure.

Co-inventor Gordon Wallace said present sports bras that provided support to restrict movement were often uncomfortable, especially for large-breasted women.

“And those [bras] that are comfortable don’t provide the support when women need it,” said Professor Wallace, the director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, based at the University of Wollongong (UOW).

The bra’s  artificial muscles are made of tightly coiled nylon fibres, known as “smart yarns”.

When coiled in a certain way, the nylon acts like a muscle and contracts.

“They shrink and provide constriction in response to too much movement,” Professor Wallace Professor Wallace said.

Another team member, biomechanist Julie Steele, said incorrect breast support could cause long-term injuries, including back and neck pain.

Breast Research Australia, a centre also based at UOW and which Professor Steele directs, found that 85 per cent of women wore bras that did not fit or support their breasts correctly.

The team are working with industrial designers and fashion experts to finalise their prototype.

“Although we have made substantial progress, we still have a way to go before the bionic bra can be taken from the bench top to the washing machine. However, when finished, the bionic bra will transform bra design,” Professor Steele said.

Professor Wallace presented their bionic bra developments at the ninth  Australasian Biomechanics Conference at the University of Wollongong this week.