Wednesday

The end...is only the beginning

I have some big news: this blog is no more.

Before you reach for the Kleenex, however, here’s the good news: I am now blogging at Crikey, more often than ever, for my brand spankin’ new online repository: Cinetology.

I’ll be blogging about all things cinema with reviews, interviews, giveaway competitions and miscellaneous move-related rants.

Please head on over and bookmark it. Thanks for supporting this blog and I look forward to having you as regular readers of Cinetology. I have already begun taking t-shirt orders.

Friday

Hold onto your hats...

Big news about the future of this blog next week. There's a reason I've been light on posts lately, and it's not because I'm a lazy bugger. Stay tuned.

Thursday

Radio review - Knowing

Me on radio 2HD again, reviewing Knowing. Have a listen right 'ere

Tuesday

Radio review - Love the Beast

You can listen to my review of Love the Beast on radio 2HD here.

Sunday

Trailer Watch: Imagine That



Once upon a midnight dreary something very bad happened to Eddie Murphy. The formerly irreverent high-powered comedian found Jesus, fell out of love with the bottle, ditched cocaine, racked up windfalls of debt, got an attack of moral conscience or simply went mad from flashing too many of his face contorting smiles. How else to explain the delirious dreck that now characterises his career? Murphy’s reputation has been solidified and homogenised in a prolific array of pay check performances and creative duds - many of them sequels - including Nutty Professor 2 (2000), Dr Dolittle 2 (2001), The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), Daddy Day Care (2003), The Haunted Mansion (2003), Norbit (2007), Meet Dave (2008) and a bunch of Shrek sequels and spin-offs: Shrek 2, 3, 4; Shrek 4-D (made for theme parks and DVD) and Shrek the Halls (made for TV). His Oscar nominated performance in Dreamgirls (2006), which seems barely believable in hindsight, proved that for Eddie critically greener pastures are only a couple of paddocks (and a decent script choice) away.

Every actor is allowed a rotten egg from time to time but Murphy is way, way over his quota and the trailer for Imagine That (from Over the Hedge director Karey Kirkpatrick) suggests he isn’t wizening up or scaling back on schmaltz any time soon. In it Murphy plays Evan, a struggling advertising executive who revives his career not by working harder or better but by embracing his young daughter’s imaginary world and somehow using it to enhance his work. The voiceover man shamelessly announces that “he’s about to get some help from the last person he ever imagined” (sigh) and the premise appears to kick into gear once Evan submits documents to his boss that have been defaced with doodles from his daughter, replete with predictions that certain companies are “going to get married.” Instead of showing him the door, Evan’s boss incredibly asks “how did you know about this impending marriage? Where are you getting this information?” Evidently Evan’s daughter’s imaginary friend is also a prophetic corporate insider. Evidently corporate mergers are now known as “marriages.”

The voiceover man continues his saccharine salesmanship ramble with “imagine that the magic you’ve been looking for is right before your eyes!” while Everlasting Love jingles on the soundtrack and, pe-eww, the audience are given a mounting list of reasons to stay away from Imagine That – including scenes depicting Murphy falling over in various assumedly hilarious ways, i.e. on a ice skating rink (no points for originality) and out of a window and onto a trampoline. Movie trailers have always been more about selling a product than enabling the public to make educated decisions, but in its defence this trailer (watch it below) does provide education of sorts. The lesson reads, in very large letters, BUYER BEWARE.


Thursday

Poster watch: Where the Wild Things Are

It’s not every day the movie blogging world lights up in response to a new poster but hey - the one-sheet for Where the Wild Things Are, director Spike Jonze's long anticipated adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book, is very cool.

Check out this picture from the book:



Now check out the film poster:



Going by what we can see of the huge furry creature, it looks like Ludo from Labyrinth. Evidently he/she/it is a little too large for a Happy Meal tie-in: as rumour has it, McDonalds scotched a huge marketing deal after the filmmakers demanded the creature should be at least the size of a regular thickshake.

Remember you read it here first people. And for a very good reason: I made it up.

Fiscal fury: Sam Raimi joins the economic commentariat in Drag Me to Hell



With three Spider-Man movies under his belt – and a fourth on the way – director Sam Raimi revisits his horror roots for Drag Me to Hell, an old school ‘curse’ movie about a pretty loan manager who finds herself on the wrong side of a geriatric woman with a bung eye, a bad temper and a direct line to hell.

The trailer is now online (see Youtube clip below) and suggests this may be Raimi’s rather caricatural commentary on the banks: protagonist Christine (Alison Lohman) badly wants a promotion but needs to prove to her bank manager that she’s “perfectly capable of making the tough decisions.” So Christine knocks back a loan extension application from a desperate elderly lady, who responds not by complaining to the ombudsman but by placing a curse on her: a demon will come and torment Christine for three days and then escort her downstairs to burn in hell for eternity. If I had these kind of powers, I’d curse all the people who stymie the flow of traffic on escalators by standing still on the right-hand side (it’s keep left unless overtaking, you jerks). Impressively, Drag Me to Hell looks like it could conceivably be a worse movie than Spider-Man 3 – though admittedly that seems unlikely – but kudos to the trailer editors (and the filmmakers) for segueing so audaciously from sterile bank offices to full-blown supernatural slosh. Given one of the commonly identified causes of the global financial downturn is the approval of bad loans, Raimi's latest is sure to offer some fascinating commentary.




Sunday

Perverse polemics and voluminous violence - a Turkey that aint no turkey (film review: Turkey Shoot)



On the weekend I finally caught up with the classic Ozploitation movie Turkey Shoot. It was made in '82 by cult director Brian Trenchard-Smith, whose credits include Dead-End Drive In, The Man From Hong Kong and BMX Bandits. Turkey Shoot has a reputation for being one of Australian cinema's most ferociously deranged cult films, so naturally I had to see it. The verdict: thumbs up. Read my review over at In Film Australia.

Friday

Who watches the Watchmen? We do. (film review: Watchmen)

Watchmen is set in an alternate universe where Nixon won Vietnam and secured a third term as President, and where Americans are so perturbed by the prospect of nuclear warfare that they have constructed the Doomsday Clock - a symbolic clock that ‘measures’ the number of minutes left to midnight; midnight signifying nuclear fallout. The idea was inspired by one of Bob Dylan’s great songs, Desolation Row, which was sampled by writer Alan Moore in the graphic novel upon which Snyder’s spectacular movie is based. Moore quoted only five words - “at midnight all the agents…” - but the song lasts 11 and a half minutes - a long, hallucinogenic ride through a nightmarish landscape of mythology and popular culture. The next words are: “and the super-human crew, come and round up everyone who knows more than they do.” There is infinite scope for interpretation of the lyrics and how they fit into the construction of Watchmen. Dylan fans may notice something familiar about the head-bangin’ track Snyder plays over the movie's end credits: it sounds like the only contemporary song on the soundtrack, which consists of cherry-picked retro tunes from artists like Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Jimi Hendrix, but it is in fact a cover of Desolation Row - another nod to the songs ponderable influence on Watchmen.

By coincidence, perhaps, it is another of Dylan’s songs that overlays the best scene in this big, ballsy, bombastic adaptation of Moore’s hitherto ‘un-filmable’ source. We watch a zippy montage of superheroes – members of the ‘Minutemen’ and later ‘Watchmen’ – entwined with footage of historical events; we observe who killed JFK, we watch the blue-skinned Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) on the moon filming Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind; we see glimpses of Andy Warhol, Fidel Castro and Richard Nixon, all the while Dylan’s Times They Are a-Changin' poeticises the soundtrack. It’s an inspired stretch of film. Bad news is, the scene occurs at the beginning of the movie – it is in fact the opening credits reel. Good news is, there are plenty of other compelling moments in Watchmen, an audacious, visionary experience, speckled with greatness and sharing Moore’s gutty aspiration to tell the superhero story to end all superhero stories. Actually, we’ve seen the same basic plot rehashed in recent years in a box office hit with a decidedly different target audience: Pixar’s The Incredibles, also about superheroes coming out of retirement to fight in an ever-changing world.


When assessing Moore’s novel, which I read a few years ago around the same time I gorged on Frank Miller and a fab post apocalyptic series called Y Last Man, it’s hard not to think of words like “epic,” “post-modern” and, in lieu of its most strikingly visual character, “blue genitalia.” When you put it down, the book’s mighty scope and wearying impact makes it nigh-on impossible to entertain the thought of immediately picking up another comic. Similarly, after watching Snyder’s faithful and structurally dense movie version, which refuses point-blank to dumb the material down or fundamentally rework its many-pronged narrative, it is also hard to imagine sauntering out a session of Watchmen then cruising into the latest Spiderman or X-Men movie.


Fans are likely to be greatly satisfied and anybody who digs the book will almost certainly dig the film. A common grumble from the critical community is an obvious one: the script’s histrionic, hammy dialogue (i.e. “what happened to us? What happened to the American dream?” and “we were supposed to make the world a better place”) but this criticism will fly right over the heads of comic book enthusiasts, who view the lines as par for the course and even a key element of their beloved medium’s appeal. There’s not much room in comic book speech bubbles for elegant dialogue, and certainly not wordy dialogue, so writers need to get to the point quickly and colourfully. It’s surprising how seemingly easy Watchmen gets away with po-faced delivery of such lines. It’s interesting too that Rorschach’s voice, which narrates the story, is just as guttural and 20-a-day, maybe 25-a-day as Christian Bale’s Batman but, unlike Bale’s, not at all infuriating. Fans and detractors should agree on one point: Watchmen the movie captures the tone of the book, and this is no simple feat.


The ending waffles on a little long, retreating to the conventional comic book grounds of evil lairs and world destruction and KA-POW! fisticuffs, all too familiar predicaments that feel shamefully redundant in lieu of the largesse surrounding them. Performances from the cast are pretty good: Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan steal the show as Rorschach and The Comedian, the two most hard-nosed, ferociously violent and
masochistic heroes, the later tipping almost completing into ‘villain’ status. Haley looks like an adult Ginger Meggs, grown up and gone wrong. Malin Akerman, playing Spectre II, flexes the kind of figure bound to make Catholic choir boys garble hysteric confessions to their priests for decades, and hot damn she looks good in that yellow and black jumpsuit. Akerman stars in Watchmen’s centrepiece sex scene (yes there is more than one), set on a spacey flying craft with Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), and for Nite Owl II or anyone fantasying about being in his place, Snyder’s choice of music couldn’t be more appropriate: it’s Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah.

Watchmen geeks who have been nervously anticipating this movie for years – watching it pass through the hands of capable directors like Terry Gilliam, who confirmed one by one that mounting this movie was the comic book equivalent of adapting the Bible – are likely to reiterate that same triumphant H word as they line up to see it again. For the average punter, 163 minutes of jaded superheroes will be more than enough. Me, I’m already looking forward to seeing this sensationally sprawling movie again. If I'm in a hurry, just the opening credits will do.

Thursday

Reviewing Dubya on da radio

Every Thursday morning I review a film on radio 2HD. This morning I reviewed W.; you can listen online here.

Tuesday

Don't diss the Dylan



Over at
Noise Pollution blogger Stephen Walker wrote a silly post today accusing Bob Dylan of selling out, in relation to his infrequent appearances in commercials for products including lingerie and a Cadillac. It’s the sort of post that seems to have been written not to make a point but to evoke outrage-fuelled responses from readers. In which case, well, it worked. Here is my (rushed) response, published in the comments section.

It’s a bit much to accuse Dylan of selling out on the evidence of two or three commercial appearances in a career that’s chalked up nearly half a century in the public limelight. Take a look at just about any other big name star, many of whom are decades his junior, are you’ll get dozens upon dozens of commercial gigs, so many you could never fit them into a blog post. Remember this is a man who ‘demanded’ a few years ago when coming to Melbourne that his hotel room be equipped with ashtrays, hot and cold running water and windows that open and close. Not exactly J-Lo.

And here is a much better response from somebody else - 'Patrick Bateman' nonetheless - which, the last sentence in particular, had me literally nodding in agreement.

Some people will never get it when it comes to Dylan. He's not a god, he's not a leader, he's not your personal political/philosophical consultant, he's not a martyr or a hero - and he's been telling you this all along, if only you'd listen.

He has consistently made choices which are designed to communicate the above to you, to all of us, as clearly as possible. Going electric, going reggae, going gospel, disappearing, reappearing, being wilfully obtuse and then shockingly open, abandoning his folk roots then returning to them when no-one thought he would.

It may also shock you to think that he might actually be (or have been) a beer drinking, womanising, cadillac driving kind of guy - but he has never tried to hide it. There are plenty of Dylan songs with car references, girl references, alcohol references... see for example 'Summer Days' from the album Love & Theft: "well I'm drivin' on the flats in a Cadillac car, the girls all say "you're a worn out star" - my pockets are loaded and I'm spending every dime...

Perhaps you should actually listen to Bob's radio show - he lets a lot more of his personality out than you might expect. Bob's been telling people not to have expectations of him for 40 years now, but some of you are still asking him to be the young man from 1963. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he has been doing these commercial precisely BECAUSE they go against the image that many people have of him, an image which is far more of a projection than anything that was ever a reality.

Monday

Controversial Combination



A story broke yesterday about Greater Union's decision to withdraw The Combination from cinemas in Sydney following alleged violent outbursts at screenings in the city’s west. Shortly after, ABC News reported the possibility of GU reneging on their decision but by then the story had already crossed oceans, picked up by international outlets including The Herald Tribune, Asiaone News and BBC News. On the same day Andrew Bolt chimed in to do what he loves doing best - defending John Howard’s legacy and attacking anybody even slightly relegated to the political left, in this case critic David Stratton.

Phew. A busy day for keeping track of The Combination. Assuming the old adage is true and all publicity is good publicity – which is almost always the case – we can only hope this hoo-ha translates into good box office receipts for director David Field’s edgy, powerful and interesting film.

In the ABC report the screenwriter and lead actor, George Basha, was quoting saying “this film doesn't glorify violence, doesn't glorify gangs; it's actually the opposite.” Well, that’s not entirely correct. While it’s true that the overarching message of The Combination is to steer clear of guns and violence, the film’s uneasy ending manages to badly muddle its messages, giving a thumbs up to vigilante violence under the proviso that it’s driven by fists instead of guns. In this way Field and Basha are having their cake and eating it too, by telling us that violence isn’t OK except in the circumstances in which it is - in this case, when it's used to delivered moral comeuppance to the bad guy. In my review I wrote: “there is something uneasy and unexpected about the final destination Basha and Field arrive at (if you think you have the story pegged, wait until the last 15 minutes) which is an opaque commentary on vigilante justice that just doesn’t sit right.”

Of course, none of this is a reason to pull the film, and the response by Greater Union appears to be knee-jerk. That said, I wouldn’t want to be in the audience if a brawl broke out afterwards.

Early box office reports suggest The Combination made more money in its opening day than the entire box office collections of last year’s heartbreaking drama Ten Empty.

image: abc.net.au
thanks to syms covington for the Tweets

Wednesday

Woot woot - feedback on my review of The Combination

From time to time us film writers garner some amusing responses to our reviews. My personal favourites are a) Germaine Greer calling me courageous in relation to my review of Australia and b) the first assistant camera operator of Superman Returns calling me "a brain juice lacking monkey typewriter." Both were wonderfully weird to receive and came right out of the blue. This next one made me laugh and I had to share it with you. It's not a commentary on myself or my review, but simply one reader's response to reading my critique of The Combination, which was published on In Film Australia. This was submitted as a comment to be published below my review; I didn't approve it but you can read it right here, word for (misspelt) word. I stress that I have not edited this in any way. Here it is:

wadda madd mOviie bro i swear i cant wait to go see it mann;; it aint good its phucken hectik i swear it will do ghood here and then go to america man;; wooot woo bro;; i swear good job man for a good movie this good hehehe;; madd movie i swear i aplord who ever made this moviee = ] mwah xoxox

I sincerely hope this person wasn't for real. Or should that be: phucken woo yeAh, I h0pE yooos R noot 4 reeel, phook tha sheet ma niz! xoxo

Tuesday

Oscars: quick thoughts on the winners

Below are some of my thoughts on this year's Oscar winners. For a full list head over to the official Oscars website.

Best Director, Danny Boyle (pictured, right) – No surprises here. Boyle directed the film (Slumdog Millionaire) very precisely. Chris Nolan should have been nominated for The Dark knight.

Best Supporting Actor, Heath Ledger – Everybody knew it was going to happen and it would have been a travesty if it hadn’t. Ledger posthumously picked up a best supporting actor gong for his diabolically-charged and devilishly charismatic performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight, a performance destined to set tongues wagging for decades. If Ledger had chimed in a lesser turn, you could have argued the Academy’s selection was driven by sentiment – but his performance was better than that, and it’s easily superior to Ledger’s only comparable performance as Ennis Del Mar in Brokebank Mountain, for which he was also nominated.

Best Supporting Actress, Penelope Cruz – Criminally, perhaps, I still haven’t watched Vicky Cristina Barcelona. But I will. Oh yes I will.

Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire – Yeah, I like it: the story is convincing and the performances are pinch-your-skin real, but the central Who Wants to be a Millionaire framing device left me cold. Of the nominated films (Slumdog, The Curious Case of Bejamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk and The Reader) I would give it to Frost/Nixon, though I suspect many critics wouldn’t.

Best Actor, Sean Penn – Sean Penn’s impersonation of gay rights activist/politician Harvey Milk was the best thing about Gus Van Sant’s well paced but unchallenging biopic, which moved briskly between pivots in Milk’s political life but lacked the fire and heart that must have fumed inside the real man. Penn is a terrific actor but this isn’t his best film or his best performance and shame, shame, shame on the Academy for not choosing Mickey Rourke. Rourke’s blisteringly gutsy, all-in performance in The Wrestler felt truly like a once in an a lifetime affair; you could sense Rourke was putting everything he had into it. I’m legitimately shocked that he didn’t win and suspect the vote was very close. Sean Penn, however, is not the worst actor in the world to have two gold medals.

Best Adapted Screenplay, Slumdog Millionaire – I would have preferred the award to have gone to one of the two stage plays that were nominated (Doubt or Frost/Nixon). Both would have been deserving.

Best Costume Design, The Duchess – All I have to say is thank god Baz Luhrman’s Australia didn’t win it. Tt’s bad enough that the film has ‘Oscar nominated’ to its name, let alone ‘Oscar winning...’

Monday

Don't Tell Me About It, I don't Want to Hear It (paranoia and the Academy Awards)

To celebrate/commemorate/exacerbate Oscar’s Day (it should be an official international day of holiday for film lovers) here is a piece I wrote in 2007 about the paranoia that comes with the event, at least for me. Short commentaries on the winners soon....

Once a year while Hollywood basks in the immediate aftermath of the Academy Awards I spend an afternoon in paranoia, avoiding media broadcasts like the plague. Radio, TV, internet spells danger, danger, danger. If I hear the radio I block my ears. If I see a TV switched on I run for the hills. I don't visit web sites; I don't open Outlook. I approach people warily, ready to leap away like a frog from a dynamite pond if conversation happens to steer in the wrong direction.

It's not really paranoia if the whole world is trying to tell you who won the Oscars.

Essentially a protracted mishmash of mooshy acceptance speeches, expensively dressed celebrities and well rehearsed autocue puns, the Academy Awards never really passes for great entertainment. It is however a good conversation starter, a fine wager-maker and - like a splash of MSG in your noodles - an enticing additive for film fans worldwide. Ultimately the ceremony survives off one essential thrill, which is (duh) discovering who won.

If you live in America, a live feed reveals the results to everyone simultaneously. But if you're watching from a country like Australia, where the telecast usually begins well after the ceremony has concluded, keeping the results unknown for the day can feel like a hopelessly redundant battle - like going to the pub on grand final night and deciding you don't want to know who won the game.

The Oscars ceremony usually begins at 7pm LA time (approx. 10am EST) which means media outlets in Australia have all day to break the story. Unsurprisingly Channel 9 like to wait until prime time hours and this year they began televising red carpet arrivals at 7:30pm EST. Only at quarter to eight I felt comfortable enough to turn on the tube and plonk myself down for the long haul. After a nervy day playing duck and weave with the media, I could finally relax under the blanket of 9's telecast. Or so I thought.

It's understandable that rival networks have no qualms about declaring Oscar results before the telecast; that's an old philosophy called "we didn't get the rights so screw 'em." This year however I was mortified to discover that Channel 9 themselves were the perpetrators of an unforgivable cat-out-of-the-bag blunder. During an Oscars ad break a Channel 9 news update featuring newsreader Peter Kitchener gave Oscar viewers an all too timely report, showing footage of a chuffed Martin Scorsese brandishing a shiny golden statuette. Gee, I wonder who scored best director?

Luckily I didn't see the footage msyelf. As soon as I saw Hitchener and heard the word "Oscars" I bolted like a bat out of hell towards the door, my arms flailing madly, my mouth sputtering hysterical gibberish to block out the audio. In the future - when I'm jaded, Howard Hughes anal and on the cusp of senility - that's the kind of shock that could give my ticker a very bad jolt. How would you like cardiac arrest on your conscience, Mr. Hitchener? Mental note: poporn and beer might not be enough for the future. Stock up on popcorn, beer, defibrillator.

Soon after the telecast returned I received the following SMS from a disgruntled friend: "How's Peter Kitchener's form, giving stuff away on the newsbreak? Clowns!" Poor old Peter might just be a talking head, but surely he could have done something. Block the transmission. Pull the plug. Disregard the autocue and move onto another story. Something. Anything. Hitchener may have been doing his job, but now he's got at least two people in the country more than happy to fork out for a voodoo doll with his face on it. Mental note: if John Safron can arrange a fatwa for Rove McManus, surely I can tee one up for Hitchener and his producers...

Because revealing award night results during the actual telecast in any way, shape or form is a sick thing to do - it would be like interrupting a broadcast of The Sixth Sense with a special news bulletin proclaiming that Bruce Willis's character was dead all along, or cutting from The Crying Game to a Hitchener announcement that the leading lady is actually the leading man. It would be like going to the cinema to see The Empire Strikes Back during its original theatrical run only to have to listen to a newspaper vendor - hired by management - cry out in the middle of it "Extra! Extra! Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father!"

A little sensitivity, please, for those who appreciate the element of surprise. So next Oscars day, if you happen to learn the results before the television broadcast, spare a thought for the terrorized movie geek who may not want to know. If you're listening to the radio, wind your window up at the traffic lights. If you're watching TV, keep it down to a dull roar. If you're on the internet, don't announce the results to the rest of world. And if your name is Peter Hitchener, don't, whatever you do, follow the autocue.

Friday

A confronting combination



I’ve briefly blogged before about David Field’s The Combination, an upcoming Australian film centered around racial relations and underworld dealings in lower/middle class Sydney. Its poster reads ‘Come and see the real Australia.’ Unsurprisingly, Field’s film wasn’t supported by the Australian Tourism Industry (they must have misplaced the funding application) and, with its confronting tale of misspent youth and wrong-side-of-the-tracks hooliganism, it sure provides a healthy contrast to Bazz Luhrman’s recent work...

The Combination will be released nationally on February 26; to read my review head over to In Film Australia.





image: thecombination.com.au

Wednesday

Joaquin gets mean – are you f*ckin serious?



A fascinatingly awkward interview took place last week between David Letterman and Joaquin Phoenix, who arrived at The Late Show with black shades and metre-think facial hair, looking eerily like Dr. John’s long lost brother. It was a totally bizarre appearance, during which Phoenix looks nervous and hostile, doesn’t want a bar of any of Letterman’s tomfoolery and refuses to follow any of his comedic cues. It’s a classic interview that will be fondly loaded on Youtube for years to come. To watch it check out the video below.

Phoenix’s response to Letterman’s opening question “how’s the beard” sets the tone for the rest of the interview, which moves quickly from awkward to downright embarrassing to mystifyingly weird. Instead of jokingly observing that he looks a little different these days - cue self-deprecating quip, perhaps - Phoenix responses defensively (“Is there something wrong? You’re making me feel weird about it”) and things get worse therein.

On many occasions Phoenix, who I assume was absolutely wasted at the time (if not he has a lot of explaining to do) tries to get through it by delivering one word responses, and reticence on a program like The Late Show never works. Letterman’s conversations are comprised largely of zingers, comments that lead to zingers and comments that may or may not lead to zingers, so you have to be prepared to shoot the breeze and, as the British say, ‘ave a laf.’ Everybody knows that but Phoenix isn’t at all interested in playing the game. He places the onus for conversation almost entirely on Letterman, who senses the dog is bleeding and hones in for the kill. Things get particularly awkward when Paul Schaffer chimes in by chuckling into the mic, which Phoenix quickly describes as “maniacal laughter” after swivelling around to say “are you f*ckin serious?” Watching the reruns later, I’m sure, after banging his head against the wall for a bit, that he’ll be asking himself the same question...

Sunday

Macabre mayhem in the third dimension (film review: My Bloody Valentine 3D)

The effects in 3D movies have always been designed to induce simple visceral reactions - the jolts, swerves, gawks and gapes one expects from a trip to Timezone, an amusement park, a Teppanyaki restaurant or somewhere every-dimensionally horrific, like Parliament House. This tradition is faithfully and fetishistically maintained in director Patrick Lussier’s My Bloody Valentine 3D, because human responses don’t get a great deal more visceral than swerving to avoid a rusty pickaxe that’s being flung repeatedly towards your face.

Lussier’s film is a stodgy but grimly satisfying genre outing that follows a miner-gear-clad serial killer who hunts for victims in a town comprised of hot young bods and a couple of stiff Seen It All Before geezers, who swear, promise, cross their hearts, that the real killer was buried years ago and couldn’t possibly return, irrespective of the dead bodies and dismembered limbs piling up around them. My Bloody Valentine isn’t so much about finding your true love as it is finding the best way to introduce him or her to the pickaxe’s penetrative powers.

The story kicks off in a bout of intense grotesquery as Harry Warden, the sole survivor of a terrible mining accident, awakens from a coma on Valentine’s Day and starts carving up the residents of a town ironically named Harmony. A bunch of fresh looking youngsters and, basically, anything that moves are his targets but the mine collapses, the rubble burying Warden. In the great tradition of silly stalker films, his body is never recovered. Fast forward ten years and Alex (Kerr Smith), who is married to Sarah (Jaime King) is the sheriff of this ‘ere town, though his morality is questioned early on via his adultery with a young supermarket check-out chick. This is pittance, however, in comparison to the macabre mayhem unfolding around him as one by one new victims get stalked and slashed…

The revised digital-friendly 3D glasses are new to many audiences and new to the slasher genre (this is the first horror film to utilize them). They are, as one would expect, streets ahead of their red and blue ancestors, notwithstanding their fare share of kinks. Sadly these black plastic glasses are nowhere near as kitsch as the old ones, and, more importantly, they lack clarity: people are fuzzy, the backgrounds are blurry and images lack definition.

But there is no denying the extra kick the 3D elements give, even they look, and are closer technically, to 2D pictures layered on top of each other. Lussier undoubtedly achieves what he set out to do, assuming he set out more or less to make audiences squirm. On these terms My Bloody Valentine is a modest success, perfect for cheap thrills on a weekend night, for hooting crowds to relish the film’s occasionally striking effects - like a rifle that scans the audience and a bullet fired right at us (cheap thrills, for sure, but thrills nonetheless). 3D’s pop-out effect ensures that Harry’s pickaxe will jump ominously close to our popcorn and cokes, even if most people will argue that the real horror lies in how much they forked out for them at the candy bar.

Marrying horror movies with 3D glasses is a good fit. Both are geared at least partly towards gut reactions, and combining them is nothing new: I saw House of Wax and Dial M for Murder in red-and-blue 3D years ago. Neither film, however, had the visual properties to capitalise on the 3D effects: Hitchcock’s film in particular had way too much yakking, with too many concurrent dialogue-based scenes and too many layers of carefully manoeuvred suspense - in other words the film was much too good.

This is not the case with My Bloody Valentine. The plot is marred by the dramatic impotence and logic circuit breakers that are par for the course in the bumpy slasher genre, with scary movie clichés abound, and slightly tweaked, mildly rehashed conventions packaged with a gnarly knowledge of what the target audience craves. The obligatory twist and ‘it was me all along’ speech at the end is a cheeky, really cheeky, story sleight, bound to upset the few people who actually thought this movie had the decency to follow its own logic, but what the hey. Mozart it aint.

Lussier has the good sense to throw in a sex scene in 3D but bizarrely, sadly, seemed to go out of his way to ensure no body parts were amplified by the technology, which feels a little like dangling candy in front of baby. This scene, easily the funniest in the film, may leave portions of the audience hungry for a little more from the adult section of their video libraries, but buyer beware: I can’t help but think that a Johnny Holmes movie, in 3D, could cause unprecedented, irreparable damage to the mental health of heterosexual male audiences. Some porn director is out there right now, mind dancing, mouth salivating, at the thought of all the wonderful possibilities...


Thursday

Sheer devastation



The heart of every compassionate Australian surely goes out to the people who have lost their lives, health, belongings, properties and communities as a result of the devastating fires that have wreaked carnage across country Victoria. Our hearts and thoughts also go out to the friends and families of the deceased who now must undergo the painful process of grief and bereavement.

Tragedies like this test and strengthen our collective morality. When I talk with people about the fires I see the unselfish concern on their faces; I hear the compassion in their voices. Perhaps at times like this the best we can do is to try and become more empathetic people, thus salvaging some kind of light from the darkness of death and despair.

I will be shopping tomorrow (Friday) at Coles, along with a lot of other people (so expect to wait in line for a while). Coles are contributing all their profits for the day to the bushfire appeal. This is a simple way of helping out by really doing nothing at all – just purchasing your groceries.

image: theage.com.au

Wednesday

Woozy, blurry, sickening cinema – ah, memories (film review: The Blair Witch Project)



This week’s old-but-new-to-the-blog film review is of The Blair Witch Project. How long can I keep this recycled review thing up for? A long, long time (trust me). I haven’t watched this film since I saw it in ’99 but I assume it’s still scary – and it’s scarier still that I wrote this review almost ten years ago now (it's unchanged, too, so forgive me if it's a little rough around the edges). My, my, my, how time flies. The years, they surely run like rabbits. And on that note...


Running. Screaming. It’s dark. Blurred. Cold. Movement, there’s always movement, will the screen ever stop moving? A sense of fear, of urgency, if somebody slips out of frame for too long it’s danger zone, time to panic, oh my god we’re all going to die! Escape the forest! Run down the aisle! Don’t complain about the cheap fear or how you pissed your pants because of it, and if you didn’t, sit down and whine about it, complain about how you’ve been manipulated by the hype and proceed down corridor one to buy the Blair Witch T-shirt for a mere five bucks. What began as a cheap independent mock-documentary soon became an international success story, automatically losing part of its effectiveness as a spooky tale that aspires to feel totally genuine. No wide screen format, no special effects, not even any damn tripods to prevent the screen from jerking - a new kind of untidy but disciplined filmmaking sporting a jagged kinetic energy.

Pity it was never meant to be like this. Blair Witch directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick would no doubt be pleased with the odd $200 + million the film made by the time it hit Australian shores, but I got the sense that it was never supposed to have T-shirt sales before and after the film, that perhaps it would have felt more alive at a tiny dirty little cinema on the outskirts of nowhere, where a few stray cinema goers would watch this no-name film and feel fear, or be surprised, or dream up thoughts that perhaps this is real, it certainly looks real, because remember, it is "real," and whether or not you like to call it an industry parody or a film that tries to be really really scary, it remains a film that captures its environment with uncomfortable realism - it’s a fidgety, uncomfortable movie, perhaps more of an experience than a story, an awkward way to spend a couple of hours and a few dollars, with or without the shirt.

The other day on television I was watching Judge Judy, and if you’re familiar with the show you’ll know that after every ruling by the 'judge,' the people in which the case involved share their comments about the ruling to the camera. I was surprised when a middle aged Greek woman, a little chubby, hard to miss, spoke the closing comment of the show: "If you don’t listen to me, listen to Judge Judy!" she said and laughed. Whilst not of great comedic talent, the woman had a good sense of where she was, I thought; she knew that the surroundings around her were fraud, but she was alert, she was in on the joke, she separated herself from the countless bickering American wankers who don’t realize that all they are doing is spitting on their integrity, recently diminished.

The Blair Witch Project is a film that is ‘in on the joke,’ regardless of whether it takes every minute of its running time seriously or not. Every stage in its development has been executed with a solid knowledge of timing, industry, as well as hype and originality, unless the entire thing was a big-profit fluke, in which case it’s still good enough to warrant such sensational luck. It’s a film that has pulled all the right strings to get where it’s at, and serves as a gigantic reminder that the internet can be one heck of a marketing tool for those who know how to manipulate it. Manipulation, in the case of The Blair Witch Project, is like honey to a bee, a tame metaphor but it’ll do - we’ve been manipulated by the internet, the hype, the desire to be a little scared and intrigued, the desire to see something that is "real" and "authentic" even though the story might be fictional. They’re clever, those bastards, to make the film feel so genuine. It takes discipline to rob audiences of the "money shots" commonly associated with the horror genre: those quick "RRAAA" moments, when we might jump in surprise, but is this all the fear that cinema can generate?

The Blair Witch Project reminds us that no, it is not, but note that I didn’t find the film very scary, mainly because I’m never really scared in the cinema, as "masculine" as that sounds. I found it more unsettling than anything else, quietly eerie rather than blatantly scary. It’s about how people react to fear rather than what is scaring them. It’s more of a character study than a horror movie, meanwhile working with a supernatural theme in the background, constantly looming over the proceedings, waiting to strike or waiting for a moment of immediate danger. That moment never arrives, at least not in the typically extravagant American manner. Gosh darn it, one of the most successful films of the year has subtlety.

Monday

Everybody knows that it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth...



I went to see Leonard Cohen at Rod Laver Arena last Thursday and I’ve been delaying writing about it since, fearing, perhaps, that my choice of words would paint me as the giddy fan boy I almost certainly am. In the past couple of months my appreciation of Cohen has steadily increased as I delved into more and more of his work, and I still have much delving to do.

Last year Cohen, now 74, came out of a 15 year retirement after his manager allegedly pilfered his retirement funds. The impression Cohen leaves in his interviews and his art is often of a man who places little emphasis on wealth or possessions. His music was never commercial; his words were written with laborious perfectionism (it's legend that Cohen would spend weeks or months working on a single line); his poetry often spiritual. In 1996 he was ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk, and I remember one interview where he said happiness arrived in his life when he “stopped expecting to win.”

Bummer about his manager, but I’m chuffed that Cohen came out of retirement because the show was just extraordinary – I’m tempting to spray this sentence with superlatives, but it’s probably enough just to say, on the record, that this is the best concert I’ve ever attended. Cohen played all his well known songs, though only one of them, Hallelujah, ever reached widespread international fame, even if there are many other greats – including The Future, Everybody Knows (currently featuring on anti smoking ads), Tower of Song, Democracy, First We Take Manhattan, I’m Your Man and Dance Me to the End of Love. They’re all terrific songs and I recommend curious parties check ‘em out on Youtube or better yet get your hands on a copy of The Essential Leonard Cohen, a superb double CD compilation of much of his work.

Cohen’s hoarse, velvety voice was sublime. He's 74 but it’s hard to believe it’s ever been better. His banter with the audience was great too: at one stage Cohen reflected on when he was 60 years old (“back then I was just a kid with a crazy dream”) and noted that he’s always been interested in religion “but cheerfulness kept creeping in.” He was sweet, endearing, carefully spoken and a consummate performer. I’ve never seen a show quite like it. For an idea of what his voice sounds like nowadays, check out this Youtube video of a rendition of Tower of Song with U2 (for those who don’t like U2, just focus on Cohen). It was filmed last year and is from the documentary I’m Your Man.

For those who’ve never read a Leonard Cohen poem, hows about popping your cherry by reading the piece below - it’s a typically self-deprecating Cohen poem that reflects on his title as a poet, a singer and a ladies’ man. Enjoy.

I had the title Poet
and maybe I was one
for a while
Also the title Singer
was kindly accorded me
even though
I could barely carry a tune
For many years
I was known as a Monk
I shaved my head and wore robes
and got up very early
I hated everyone
and no one found me out
My reputation
as a Ladies’ Man was a joke
It caused me to laugh bitterly
through the ten thousand nights
I spent alone
From a third-storey window
above the Parc du Portugal
I’ve watched the snow
come down all day
As usual
there’s no one here
There never is
Mercifully
the inner conversation
is cancelled
by the white noise of winter…

Sunday

Bale the baleful

I’m a little late on this one but today I got around to listening to Christian Bale’s deplorable hissy fit - actually it’s more like pure, unbridled bastardry – hurled at DOP Shane Hurlbut on the set of Terminator 4 – Terminator Salvation. Evidently, Hurlbut wandered into Bale’s field of vision during a take and some clever pumpkin surreptitiously recorded Bale’s subsequent, cantankerous diatribe. It made the rounds last week, with hundreds of thousands of curious listeners tuning into this 'ere internet to hear it. If you haven’t had the privilege yet, check out the Youtube clip inserted below.

It goes without saying that this real life horror performance is wholly inexcusable, and it’s especially disappointing that Bale's inevitable apology arrived when the clip became popular, which was many months after the actual incident. “I ask everybody to sit down and ask themselves, have they ever had a bad day and have they ever lost their temper and really regretted it,” he said.

If the question is “have I ever had a really bad day and then taken it out on somebody who didn’t deserve it in the form of unrelenting verbal abuse” then the answer is actually no, I haven’t. Most of us have seen something similar to this kind of unjustified anger – for example when you’re waiting in line at, say, the bakery, and a customer in a tetchy mood decides to let it out by berating a staff member over something trivial like the number of blueberries in their muffins. Every time I resist the temptation to point out that perhaps, just perhaps, the muffin or muffin equiverlant probably isn’t the root of their problems...

During my university years I worked at a video store that offered very cheap rentals (all new releases were $2.50) and had a system in place whereby customers couldn’t rent anything until they paid their fines. I remember during one shift a man, probably in his early 30s, got very shirty when I politely explained that he would have to pay a $2.50 penalty before he could take any more movies, and the conversation culminated with him threatening to punch me in the face before walking off in a huff and banging the security sensor with his fist on the way out. Two days later he returned and apologised, sheepishly explaining that he’d had a very bad day; apology accepted, of course, but I naturally viewed him in a different light from that day forth, and maybe some people will do the same with Christian Bale.

These kinds of nasty incidents can't define somebody as a 'bad' person, but they can provide some kind of window into their personality. Hollywood actors, when you get down to it, have a pretty sweet gig, with people like Bale and other friends of fury (like Dennis Hopper) getting paid huge sums of cash to do something they supposedly love. They aint exactly spending day after day at the coal mine, so what's there to complain about?

In Bale's apology he also said “I'm not comfortable with this notion of being a movie star. I'm an actor.” When I envision passionate actors I often picture people in grungy theatres doing pro bono performances for the love of the craft – in other words, not the kind of people who abuse somebody for walking into their field of vision. No - hissy fits and movie stars make much more comfortable bedfellows.

But the top prize in these scabrous stakes doesn't go to a movie star. The nastiest celebrity hissy fit/torrent of abuse in recent years has to go to Michael Richards's racist response to hecklers during a stand up comedy performance in late 2006. Boy, that was intense.

Listen to Christian Bale the baleful below.




Thursday

Letting it all hang out



Indeed.

I wrote a story for today's Age about letting it all hang out. More specifically, the story is about nude beaches in Melbourne. Head over to The Age to have a read.

image: theage.com.au

Monday

Laughs and dismembered limbs in the classroom - gotta go back, back, back to school again...



Just for a bit of fun, thevine.com.au have compiled their top ten ‘worst schools from movie and TV land.’ It isn’t clear precisely what their criteria is, but the words ‘depravity’ and ‘chaos’ appear in the intro, so the selected shows and movies can be pretty much divvied into horror (i.e. Woodsboro High in Scream and Erinsborough High in Neighbours - oh, the horror! the horror!) and comedy (i.e. South park Elementary and Springfield Elementary).

If the list had taken a less flippant approach, you could bet your buck on a guernsey for the schools from Dangerous Minds (making Mr. Tambourine Man educational!), Lean On Me (Morgan Freeman as principal!), Half Nelson (drug addicted teachers!) or Dead Poets Society (boarding school twats!). The latter features Robin Williams as a teacher, thus fulfilling the criteria for comedy and horror - standing on top of your desk might be fun, sure, but imagine rocking up to class with a hangover and having to deal with all that unrelentingly high octane cheerfulness...

image: thevine.com.au

Thursday

Gettin’ old the Young way – Neil comes to Melbourne



I saw the gruff, shaggy looking man pictured above last night at Sydney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne. For those who don’t know (shame! shame!) his name is Neil Young and he’s an Old Man with a Heart of Gold, he’s seen The Needle and the Damage Done and he likes - no, loves - to keep on Rockin’ In The Free World. Going by his performance last night, he also loves to Keep Rockin’ In The Free World To The Point At Which You’re Damn Sure The Song Has Ended But Oh No No No It Hasn’t Because Then He Rumbles Through Yet Another Rendition Of the Chorus And The Crowd Keeps Diggin it. It was a varied set, very smoothly delivered, and some of the most famous songs played were The Needle And The Damage Done, Get Back To The Country, Rockin’ In The Free World and A Day In The Life.

Young’s first album was released in 1969 and four decades later he still has that wholesome lilt in his voice; the soothing, earthy twang for which he is known and loved. There is something clean and crisp about his lyrics too – often elegant, even eloquent, but the clear and uncluttered prose of a poet who deeply understands his words and doesn’t mince them. They're not all great songs, but most of them are very good, and when he hits the nail on its head Young summons considerable power and emotion out of unspectacular arrangements. I recall one interviewee in a Bob Dylan documentary I watched a few years back saying that Dylan’s early songs appealed to the people of the streets by using the language of the streets, and the same can be said about a lot of Young’s work.

Note the simplicity of the lyrics of The Needle And The Damage Done:

I caught you knockin' at my cellar door
I love you, baby, can I have some more
Ooh, ooh, the damage done.

I hit the city and I lost my band
I watched the needle take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.

I sing the song because I love the man
I know that some of you don't understand
Milk-blood to keep from running out.

I've seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie's like a settin' sun.

That’s the entire song. It’s very short and I’ve always thought it missed something that might have been able to elevate it from greatness to brilliance – maybe a chorus, maybe another couple of verses. But this says something of Young’s approach: in his best work there is no filler, no beating around the bush; he says what he feels he needs to and that’s that.

My favourite Neil Young performance will always be his amphetamine-caressed rendition of Helpless during the final concert of The Band in 1976. It was captured in Martin Scorcese’s brilliant concert documentary The Last Waltz, and caused a few problems in the editing room: Young had a large blob of cocaine hanging from his nose (dubbed the ‘cocaine goober’) which was removed in post-production.

Check out the Youtube video below. He may be wasted (observe the jaw clenching!) but he sings like an angel.




Tuesday

Gaytimes are still Gaytimes and thank golly goodness for that (disclaimer: this post may contain traces of nuts)



The weekend before last I chowed down on the first Golden Gaytime I’d had in years. It was everything I remembered these toothsome treats to be: smooth, creamy, nutty, delicious. But the thing I appreciate most about Golden Gaytimes is simply that they are still called Golden Gaytimes.

Over the years many things have fallen victim to political correctness. My favourite Agatha Christie book was originally titled Ten Little Niggers; it was later changed to the slightly less offensive Ten Little Indians and, finally, to the completely inoffensive And Then There Were None. This is probably for the best, but like every work of art the book is a product of its times, and in Christie’s defence it's obvious that she intended nothing untoward. And Then There Were None depicts oodles of bad and bloody behaviour - it's one of the best high-octane murder fests you will ever read, period - but overtly racist it is not.

A picture of an American Indian apeared on the wrappers of Redskins lolly bars until (according to Wikipedia) the late 90's. He no longer fraternises with the confectionary crowd; it seems the Chief has returned to his village and again, this is probably for the best. Sections of the community would be livid if a coconut bar called Albinos hit the market, and rightfully so.

But I am still rueing the day that Fags – the once über cool cigarette candies that came complete with a red tipped ‘lit’ end – were renamed, quite unforgivebly, to Fads. I understand the derogatory implications the word 'fag' can carry, but plenty of smokers still use it as slang for cigarettes, and when they say “I’m popping out for a fag” it's clear they're not talking about homosexual liaisons. If anybody out there still has an original packet, my advice is to hold onto it. It’s gotta be worth something.

Golden Gaytimes are still Golden Gaytimes, which is good news for liberal thinking ice cream munchers, but it could easily have gone the other way: if a concerted effort from a lobby group had rallied Streets successfully, perhaps they would have been renamed to something even lamer than Gaytime - like Happytime, Funtime, or, worse still, Smiletime. So take a deep, nutty, creamy breath, fans of ye old Golden Gaytimes, because it seems our beloved ice creams are safe, at least for now.

This is Luke Buckmaster, over and out, reporting on the Things That Truly Matter. Next up: why Hyper Colour t-shirts are all kinds of awesome.

Saturday

Trying to grill Aussie politicians with a match instead of a barbie – they’re online and still, so they say, keeping the bastards honest...



The Australian Democrats are back...in website form. After the 2007 federal election all but vanquished the Democrats, out casting them to the godforsaken wilderness of Australian politics, the party have launched a new website at http://www.blogger.com/www.bastardwatch.com.au.

The site has a mildly amusing game and is peppered with their familiar ‘keeping the bastards honest’ rhetoric, which basically asserts that everybody in Canberra are back flipping a-holes and - for an undisclosed reason - the Democrats are not.

The site claims Kevin Rudd is a ‘climate change bastard’ because he set a 5% emissions reduction target after announcing in a speech in 2007 that climate change “is the great moral, economic and environmental challenge of our time.” Peter Garrett scores ‘environmental bastard status’ because he approved the Gunns Pulp Mill after saying “the task is of reconfiguring our economy to harness instead of degrading nature.”

Sadly, it offers no exploration of any of the complexities involved with making these kinds of decisions and, even worse, doesn’t explain what it is that the Democrats would do differently. It’s easy (and fun, from the looks things) to oppose government decisions, or decisions from the opposition, but without in some way articulating an alternate approach - a suggested better way of doing things - the criticism rings pretty hollow.

It feels like opposition for opposition’s sake, and we get enough of that from Malcolm Turnbull and the Libs. It's sad because buried beneath their hell-raising slogans the Democrats probably have a point. We all hate hypocrites and Canberra has more than its fair share, but most of us also undertstand that politics is tricky business and thus we afford (however grudgingly) our politicans a little latitude. I sense a bit of a missed opportunity with this website but hey - it's young, so we’ll wait and see if and when the bastard watchers come up with something more substantial.

“Bastards never sleep and neither do we,” grumbles the text on the site's header images. If the Democrats are the hard-working watchdogs they claim to be, then good on ‘em, but at the moment I think a slightly different approach is necessary. If they're staying up all night working on new ways to forge a path back into the prickly mainland of Aussie politics, the Democrats would be better advised to spend a little less time sloganeering and a little more time dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s.

Thursday

Just another drop in a sea of Obama plaudits



Well, it finally happened. Barack Obama is President of the great U.S. of A and Dubya is back in Texas drinking whiskey and stroking a shotgun on a porch 'round back. Quality photographs of the inauguration have been circulating through cyberland including awe-inspiring pictures such as the one above. CNN have created a very cool 3D album using Microsoft's Photosynth technology.

There’s been so much hype surrounding Obama's inauguration that it’s hard to know where to begin. A story published on Tuesday on theage.com.au about the online frenzy caused by Obamania claimed the event was “shaping up to be the biggest new media event ever,” which I think overstepped the mark a little and was more than a shade hyperbolic...

But hey, my scepticism stops there.

I’m not going to dissect Obama’s inauguration with a critical scalpel because the truth is that I’m excited too – hopeful for America and hopeful for the world. This is a time of, well, hope. You can smell its powerful scent all the way from Australia; you can taste its spirit.

Under the (unrepentant) reign of Dubya and his cronies America gives the impression of having plummeted to a new nadir: the economic crisis, the mess in Iraq, a badly tarnished international reputation, their health and social policies that have been worn and torn to buggery...My hope, our hope, the world’s hope, is that Obama can somehow help lift America out of the quagmire and restore its reputation as a credible if not great nation, and thus impart a positive ripple effect on the rest of the world.

That's best case scenario, and of course it's a task well beyond the reach of one person. No doubt Obama is well aware of the dangers of directly or indirectly fostering a ‘Messiah complex’ but on the other hand the common consensus is that things couldn’t get much worse for the U.S.A. This probably doesn’t provide much solace for Obama, who must feel, as his head hits the pillow at night, that he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and you can hardly blame him. There have been lots of words covering the Obama phenomenon, many of them far better than any I could sling together (including this terrific piece by Guy Rundle), so I won’t yabber on about new president’s great capacity for positive change.

But I will mention his great capacity for zingers. It didn’t come across in the inauguration speech, which was unsurprisingly bereft of gags and one-liners (a shame considering Dubya and co. make such great target practice) but the youtube video below – of a speech Obama gave at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner last October – demonstrates the President in full flight zinger mode.

"Contrary to the rumours that you’ve heard I was not born in a manger," he says. "I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor El to save the planet Earth.”

Classic.

Monday

Obama on the big screen: Will Smith has the ears for it, but are there any other contenders?



Talk has been floating around for a while now about Will Smith potentially playing Barack Obama in an upcoming movie about his life. This is jumping the gun big time, since no such movie has even been rumoured to exist (let alone confirmed) but the buzz was started by Obama himself, who made a comment a while back when he selected Smith as the person most suitable to play him - “because he has the ears”.

Smith is the obvious choice. He’s famous, relatively close to Obama in the looks department and has moved away from the lightheaded roles that characterised his earlier work in TV’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air and movies like Independence Day and Men in Black. This got me thinking: is Will Smith the only famous African American who could feasibly take the role, and if they auditioned for it, which other Hollywood celebs might contend? Martin Lawrence? Nah - too diminutive; too capricious. Morgan Freeman? Too old. Bernie Mac? Too absolutely hilarious. Michael Clarke Duncan? Too big. Eddie Murphy? Too busy making crappy kids movies. Denzel Washington? Again, too old. Michael Jackson? OK, I'm being silly now.

Aside from Smith the most suitable person I can think of is…drum roll…Chris Rock. Hear me out: he’s a gamble, sure, especially considering we’ve seen no evidence that he can act dramatically - unless Rock has under his belt some weepie verite performance in an obscure festival film I don’t know about, which let’s face it is highly unlikely - but every comedic actor is entitled to at least try a meaty role on for size, and you never know - he just might come through with the goods. Hell, Chris Rock isn’t such an outrageous choice considering Will Smith was once viewed as a frivolous lightweight celeb himself, and it wasn’t until 2001 that he started developing serious cred, when his role in Michael Mann’s Ali (2001) set this new career phase in motion. Chris Rock’s upcoming performance in Obama (or Yes We Can: The Barack Obama Story) could provide the necessary springboard to an Oscar-honoured, comedy-to-drama, laughs-to-lauds, critically acclaimed career. He’d have to ditch the stand up routine and the yappy voice, at least temporarily, but them’s the brakes. Get Michael Mann onboard and we got ourselves a movie.

Imagine Rock sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office in a schmick suit in a tie, looking all statesman like, preparing for an address to the nation, and maybe you can see where I’m coming from.

Of course, if Chris Rock is destined to star in a movie about Obama, he is, at it stands, much more likely to feature in one of a different nature (think Half Baked or The Pineapple Express) This upcoming nonexistent Obamapic could derive its title from one of Obama’s classic quips, delivered after he was asked whether had had tried marijuana and if so, whether he inhaled. Thus the movie could be titled ‘I inhaled. That was the point.’

Ah, memories: deluded fantasy, bad satay, screaming children and ho ho horrible high jinx (film review: Unaccompanied Minors)

Once a week for the next couple of months I’ll be reaching into the history vaults and cherry picking some of my old film reviews to publish on The Buck Stops ‘ere. These will be reviews I find particularly humorous, quirky, interesting, or, for some arcane reason that isn’t immediately obvious – perhaps I’ll allude to it in my preamble, perhaps not – reviews I want to salvage from the dusty shelves of my internal library to repackage for you, the reader, without whom my painstaking work crafting new zingers and slaving over the hot coals of film criticism would be purely for my own (admittedly insatiable) self gratification. So without further ado here is a review I wrote in November 2006 of Unaccompanied Minors, a Hollywood festive season high jinx caper about a bunch of naughty little shits who run rampant through an airport that’s been closed due to poor weather conditions. Enjoy.

Disenchanted, disorientated, disinterested - armed only with spittle and fingertips I tried valiantly to scrub away a bad satay spill on my jeans while my movie going companion snored softly from the seat next to me, his head and elbow swaying ominously close to the cliff of his arm rest. As I envisioned the comedic potential for his head to suddenly fall I almost heard the crack of his jaw, almost saw the trickle of blood trailing from his gums - and that's about when it dawned on me that the Hollywood Christmas high jinx movie gallivanting on the screen in front of us, the ho-ho-horrible Unaccompanied Minors, was very far indeed from enticing us into the season of jolliness and merriment. Every year Hollywood's dream factory gives the world a run of nightmare festive season fallacies, the proverbial lumps of coal for adults naughty enough to take their children along to a communal school holiday lobotomy.

Brett Kelly, the fat kid from Terry Zwigoff's sensational Bad Santa, returns to the Christmas movie genre and it's hard to imagine a greater discrepancy in tone and quality. In Unaccompanied Minors Kelly goes by the slimming nickname of "Beef" and is one of six or so restless little shits who run amok inside an airport that's been closed due to bad weather. Hot on their trail is the "doggone kids!" Passenger Relations Manager (Lewis Black), who grows increasingly beetroot as the kids outsmart him at every turn. He's the sort of character guaranteed to have some kind of sticky substance dripping off him by the time the credits roll.

After hours shenanigans inside a closed airport is a potentially funny backdrop for a kids movie, but in the hands of director Paul Feig and screenwriters Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark (it took two people to write this??) the premise leads to a howlingly unfunny collection of lame slapstick and forced comedy routines slung together with the slimmest of plotlines. The characters - if you can call them that - hover aimlessly among the high jinx, floating about in their comfortable caricatures (rich snob, bookworm etc) waiting for the next opportunity for punch-in-the-nads, football-in-the-groin humour. Like many movies that lean on a locational concept, Unaccompanied Minors leans too far, and the impression I got was that we're supposed to find it funny just because it's based (haha) in an airport - even though the setting truly fails to come to life. Unintentionally Feig creates a soberingly realistic commentary: perhaps being stuck at an airport all by yourself really isn't that much fun. Still, I like to think I'd have more fun than this.

Disenchanted, disorientated, disinterested - I nudged my snoozing companion, whose subconscious was clearly reluctant to pry itself away from somewhere invariably nicer than the holiday season hogwash unfolding in front of us. Moments later we marched out, feeling like proud warriors for having endured as much as we did, and outside the cinema a camera crew were setting up for a vox pop and a man in a suit asked me if the show had finished. "Nope," I replied. "And that movie is absolute torture." He laughed and suggested that perhaps I wasn't part of the intended demographic, and that logic is true only to a point - the next morning I woke up and hurried off to Charlotte's Web and I certainly don't have the heart to nail that sweet film with a bad review despite its sugary undertones and young target audience.

The challenge for a family movie director is to bring out the little kid in all us, without purveying a sense of being overtly transparent or condescending. Unaccompanied Minors isn't especially the latter but rather seems to be unusually unaware of itself, even as a piece of genre filmmaking. The movie is like a bogus present from an un-savvy relative who for some inexplicable reason believes that socks and hankies will bring joy to a young recipient. It's a terminally daggy movie, a denim-on-denim outfit for audiences too young to register disdain, and while some kids may dig it - they're often not the fussiest of connoisseurs - its limp pace and lacklustre action scenes guarantee to have nobody jumping up and down in the aisles, except perhaps out of boredom. The escorting adults fronting up cash for tickets are likely to feel snared by another Hollywood festive season dupe. One mild saving grace is that this one at least doesn't have Tim Allen in it.

Thursday

Yes, yes and yes again - a.k.a. The Yes Experiment (road testing Yes, Man)

Yes. Yes. Yes. In a world convoluted by incessant questioning and the complications that arise from way too many choices (does Coles really need to stock 14 versions of vanilla ice-cream?) answering a simple “yes” to everything irrespective of the question and its consequences has a beautiful, rudimentary appeal, especially to those like me who are tired of the constant badgering. No, we don’t have Fly Buys, we’re not interested in a two-for-five-dollars Red Bull combo, we don’t want to talk about reducing our energy bills and we absolutely do not want fries with that.

Answering yes to everything is not an intellectually demanding exercise, but Jim Carrey and co. make a big deal of it in Yes, Man, a flimsy, empty-headed Hollywood comedy/morality fable about a bank loan analyst who, exasperated by the rigors of day-to-day, hustle bustle, can’t-do-it-call-back-later corporate life, joins a cult of people with a fetish for saying “yes.” No, the film doesn’t make any sense at all, and by that I mean yes – it’s nonsense, but the story does present one intriguing antidote to the poisons of modern decision-making. Liar Liar, it’s smarter, slicker, funnier cousin, was about something very difficult: telling the truth. But doing this yes thing is surely a cinch, right? To road test just how easy it is to answer “yes” to everything I decided to put the theory to test. One day. 24 hours. Can do. Absolutely. Mmm-hmmm. In other words: yes.

My morning gets off to an uneventful start as I stand in the kitchen in tartan boxer shorts and a black wife-beater, sipping instant coffee and rueing my budgetary decision not to say “yes” to a latté machine at the Boxing Day sales. My housemate emerges from the funk of his bedroom and kindly asks if I want to have the first shower, to which I response with an over zealous “yes!” – but it’s too early in the day for that sort of enthusiasm, so he reacts like a bucket of ice cold water just hit him on the face and promptly ushers himself back to bed. As I soap and shampoo I feel the hot water start to run out, which makes me feel a shade guilty considering it’s my second shower this morning – but every war has its casualties and the battle of Hollywood high concepts versus the general populace is no exception.

I ask myself if I want another coffee and I say yes to Mr Moccona one more time and just as I walk out the door I hear shrieks coming from the bathroom, my housemate discovering the ice cold water for real. Walking to the supermarket, I get intercepted by a man in a tatty Hawaiian shirt, incongruously matched with camouflage-patterned cargo pants and white sneakers splattered with brown paint. He says “‘scuse me buddy, do ya have a spare dollar or two?”

“Yes,” I reply cautiously, recalling the scene in Yes, Man when a bum takes advantage of Carrey’s new found positivity by scoring a lift, using his mobile and taking his money. I open my wallet to discover I only have a tenner. “I don’t have any change,” I say. “If I give you a ten dollar note could you give me eight back?” He says yes but asks me if he could give back seven instead; I say yes, then he asks if he could give six; I say yes to six and then yes to five; then I hand over the ten dollar note and he turns and runs away, bolting down the footpath with the tails of his torn Hawaiian shirt flapping in the breeze behind him.

The check-out chick at the supermarket asks “do you have fly buys?” and, nervously anticipating what lay past the edge of conversational existence - the great unknown for an extremely infrequent flyer like me - I say yes (for those who haven’t crossed this threshold, let me tell you right now: it changes a man). After further questioning I claim I misheard her, mumbling something about being deaf in one ear and, incredibly, she hears me, asks if I wear a hearing aid and I say “yes” and then carefully walk towards the exit, taking precautions not to let her catch a glimpse of the back of my head. I bump into a security guard, who glares at me menacingly.

I spend the remainder of the day in a blur of positivity and can-do-ness.

I have a conversation with a telemarketer and say yes to a better deal for my mobile phone service provider.

I say yes to a SPAM email asking whether I'm interested in recovering the vast fortunate apparently left by a distant relative who died on the tax-free Island of Seychelles.

I say yes to participating in a pump aerobics class with my mum.

I'm too afraid to go out in the evening – envisioning a safer night spent curled in a ball of fear on the couch - so I call an old pal and have a long yak about my day and this 'ere crazy experiment. Had it made life any easier? Well no, it hadn’t, and (especially in lieu of the pump class) let me tell you right now that life is more intense when you give the thumbs-up to everything. You don’t have to deal with the gripes that come with knocking people back, sure, but that's not adequate compensation. I tell my friend about the shower, the ten dollar thief, the supermarket, the Island of Seychelles. The bastard responds by asking me if he can borrow 50 bucks. I say yes. Then conversation drifts back to Yes, Man – remember, that Hollywood movie starring the elastic-faced semi-washed up comedian? - and my buddy says “I can’t remember when Jim Carrey stopped being funny. I was thinking about seeing that movie last weekend but nah, thought it looked a bit crap. But maybe I was wrong. Is it funny? Was is it any good?”

I pause for a moment. It'd been a long day. This low-brained high concept movie and the experiment that followed it had successfully done my head in. The response I give – a two letter word I have come to appreciate as one of the most unfailingly beautiful creations in the English language - marks the end of my day as a yes man.

Wednesday

Farewell Dubya - and thanks for all the laughs



Pity about the other stuff - the wars, the recession, the gaffes, the never-ending Tim Tam packet of problematic policies, the slow building disquiet that comes from watching a nincompoop bumble his way through the Presidency. Yeah. Pity about a lot of things.

On the bright side, Dubya has given his final press conference, which took place Monday morning (U.S. time). You can see the video or read the transcript over at Crikey. Watching a little of it, my impression was of a desperate man grasping at straws, hungry for a better write-up in the history books.

A part of me will miss him – the part of me devoted to great comedy despite its sometimes harrowing ramifications. In years, even decades from now, I’m convinced we will look back and reflect on Dubya’s presidency with a kind of deranged back-handed fondness: “remember when that moron was the President? Man that guy was a classic. " Bush followed by Obama makes one hell of a contrast: the goofiest President followed by someone who, in oratorical terms at least, is a knock-out performer.

Boris Johnson (the mayor of London) wrote a good piece about Dubya in today’s Age, incorporating some of my favourite Bush-isms. These include pearlers such as “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and, my personal all-time favourite, “rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?"

Fare thee well, George. I would say something along the lines of ‘see you in the funny pages’ but hey - we both know you’ve been there enough already.

image: timesonline.co.uk

Apple has a new spokesperson: David Lynch



David Lynch films are typically dark, enigmatic, indecipherable mind-benders seemingly tailored for audiences on LCD - or at the very least those riding the waves of excessive cough syrup or cacti consumption. Eraserhead, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive – great pics, fer sure – are cases in point.

Lynch demonstrates an insatiable, Dexter-esque addiction for doing the viewers’ head in. If he doesn’t get his fix every few years a reliable source informs me that Lynch suffers savage withdrawal symptoms: he itches, scratches, breaks out in shivers, sings Spanish renditions of Roy Orbison songs in the shower, listens to binaural beats and watches TV fuzz for hours on end, then spends the witching hours of the night beating his chest and howling by the cold light of the moon. In other words, David Lynch keeps himself sane by making crazily ambiguous films.

In front of the camera, however, he is a very different man. In television interviews Lynch isn’t at all esoteric or unclear and he doesn’t beat around the bush – he's a fearless, no holes barred, bullet-in-the-head straight shooter. Recently he's been recruited by Apple for a new series of ads devoted to highlighting the benefits of watching movies on the iphone. Well, sort of. Judge for yourself.




image: smh.com.au