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

Monday

The money’s on Ledger but the payoff aint so great

I’ve never been much of a gambling man. I’m not much of a ‘lottery man’ either (if such a moniker exists) and I’ll testify right now, on the record, off the QT and hand on Bible (if I had one), that I find something perverse and borderline extortionate about the way lotteries work. Companies like Tattersall's generate waterfalls of cash from a core business strategy which consists more or less of selling small pieces of paper that, if their clients are very, very, very lucky, can be traded in for a fortune. In most industries these pieces of paper are called ‘receipts’ but in the lottery industry a receipt is, with very few exceptions, the product itself.

That said, I do understand gambling’s remarkable propensity to make certain things – namely sporting events – a lot more interesting. When I was in Tokyo a few years back a friend and I had good fun watching the Sumos, but we had great fun when we started putting money on which swirling blob of human flesh was going to out-blob the other.

Like a lot of film lovers, it’s a ritual of mine to watch the Oscars every March, and every year - due to the Australian telecast delay and some very inconsiderate bozos in the media - I spend a traumatic day desperately trying to avoid learning any of the results. This is easier said than done. I don’t check my email; I don’t watch TV until the ceremony begins; I try not to visit websites. Last year for the first time I had a crack at putting some money on the Oscars and was happy to discover that - just like the Sumos - gambling made it more interesting. I put money on Tom Wilkinson to win Best Supporting Actor for Michael Clayton, because the odds were very long (thus a good payout) and his part in the film marked a terrific, career-high performance, so I figured he had a decent shot at it (Javier Bardem, the favourite, ended up winning - quite deservedly – for No Country for Old Men). I also put a couple of bucks on Tilda Swinton to snag Best Supporting Actress (again for Michael Clayton) and, despite very long odds, she got it - I can’t remember what the odds were, but from a $2 bet I pocked about $30, which meant overall breaking even plus a modest, Paddle Pop surplus.

Craving a repeat of my success in ’08, and this year shooting for at least a Gaytime, I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon early this year (in the pre-nomination-announcement days) and headed over to centrebet.com.au to sniff the sitch out. The only category open for betting was Best Supporting Actor and the only selection available was a YES or NO for Heath Ledger. I’m aware of the hype surrounding his performance, but surprised to see the YES payout was $1.15, which, in case you were wondering what sort of chances the late Australian actor has at snaring a posthumous gong, indicates he is not just the obvious favourite but – according to centrebet - a hands-on, you-betcha, sure-fire, stake-yer-house on it favourite. Today when I checked the site they’d taken the option to bet on him away. Strange. Maybe too many people were investing in a Ledger victory...

But then again the payoff isn’t great. If you bet a grand on YES for Ledger at $1.15 – and this is not a recommendation, just for the record - you will pocket only $150 bucks, so in other words centrebet is pretty damn sure about it. According to a centrebet blog post the company collected more than $25,000 of bets in one day late last year, and Neil Evans - who I assume is a company rep or a big shot in the bet factory - said in December:

"Even a long way from final nominations, we saw significant bets coming from people who work in the big screen world, entertainment writers and spruikers, and hundreds and hundreds of punters putting their sentiment where their wallet is.”


Centrebet understand all too well that sentiment isn’t a great foundation for any investment, and that the phrase ‘money is where the heart is’ never existed, and will never exist, for a very good reason. So there you have it: Ledger apparently is a shoe-in to win. He’ll have to get past some tough competition – Frank Langella should be nominated for his portrayal of Nixon in Frost/Nixon and Josh Brolin has generated some very good press in relation to Milk – but it does look like the stars are aligning for a Ledger win. This is good news: Ledger's reinterpretation of The Joker is a brilliantly creepy characterisation, far unlike anything else on his resume, and while nothing can escalate audience hype and expectation quite like the death of a famous actor, Ledger nonetheless delivered, from the grave, in spades. From a betting perspective – not that I’m much of a gambling man, in case you haven't gathered that by now – it will be more interesting to put a punt on the all-important Best Film category, which doesn’t have a clear favourite. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon and yes – The Dark Knight – should all be considered serious contenders, and while my initial hunch goes with Slumdog, it’s anyone’s game. Well, not anyone’s – Big Stan, Rob Schneider’s comedy about prison rape, will almost certainly be overlooked by the Academy (those snobs!). If one could put money on Big Stan to win Best Film, the odds would have to be long enough to transform a fifty cent bet into at least half a mill. From Paddle Pops to Ferraris - now that is some sweet action.


Friday

Palling around with super heroes: Obama meets Spider-Man



Can we believe that Barack Obama's taste in popular culture is possibly the coolest in U.S. Presidential history? Yes we can.

From what I’ve read about his taste in music, movies and literature, it appears that Barack and I have some similarities: he loves The Godfather I and II but the third “not so much;” he cites Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks as one of his favourite albums and he owns a collection of Spider-Man comic books. I’ve got some great Spidey comics – carefully filed away in plastic pocket sleeves and stored at my mum’s place – but unfortunately, though not unpredictably, I've never met Spider-Man or even shared with him a few measly frames in one of his comics. This is where Barack and I differ (that and the whole Leader of the Free World thing) because the world’s favourite apostle for change is yes-we-canning his way into the Marvel playground. Marvel recently announced that Obama and Spider-Man will meet in the Amazing Spider-Man issue 583, which will feature two covers, one of them of Spidey and the President-elect. Check it out:




The Obama/Spidey story won’t be a full edition but rather a five pager about Spider-Man defeating the villainous Chameleon, who attempts to scupper Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. After whacking Chameleon in the face Spider-Man reportedly says “ya hear that, Chameleon? The president-elect here just appointed me ... secretary of shuttin' you up.” Nice. But looks like the best line comes a little later when Spidey says “"this is your day, after all, and I know it wouldn't look good to be seen palling around with me.” That’s a playful reference to a ludicrous pre-election comment made by Sarah Palin (point taken - there were many) about Obama’s association with Bill Ayers. Double nice.

No word yet on an Australian release date for the comic; if anybody stumbles upon one please drop me a line. It would make a nice addition to my Spider-Man collection, though I must confess the last time I added to it was about the same time hyper colour t-shirts were all the rage.

Rumour has it that George W Bush may be appearing in an upcoming edition of Ducktales. Remember that you read it here first.

images: guardian.co.uk and latimes.com

Thursday

Howard sleeping in Obama's bed? Who would have thunk it...



A story made the rounds yesterday about how John Howard unintentionally stymied the Obama family’s request to stay at a government guest house before they move into the Whitehouse later this month. Even the staunchest Howard hater couldn’t really pin this one on rotten old Johnny, because silly old George W invited him to stay there, but I did find something a little eerie about Howard's appearance in Washington at this significant point in time - a changing of the U.S. guards if ever there was one.

Howard represents ‘the old way’ and his presence in this story reminded me of a line from The Times Are A’Changin: “get out of the new road if you can’t lend a hand.” But of course Johnny is there to pick up his medal, awarded to him by - let's talk straight - the most despised U.S. President this side of Richard Nixon, and easily one of the most ridiculed. Even Nixon’s detractors acknowledge he was one clever bastard – ruthless and cunning, yes, and with about the same moral integrity as a baby-munching Rottweiler, but certainly very cluey.

Howard played the part of George W’s lap dog with relish, and his subservience towards Bush’s administration was deeply embarrassing for Australians. But the most disgraceful of Howard’s many kiss-George’s-ass moments occurred in early 2007 when he prattled off the following unforgivable diatribe to the Nine Network’s Sunday program:

"If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.”

Such an astonishing comment should have sent chills down the spine of every politically-minded Australian. Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot and George W. Bush had said last year that if he were a terrorist, he would put a circle around November ’07 and pray for a victory for Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party. Imagine how incensed we would be. Even Republicans in America stepped in to criticise Howard’s disgraceful comments.

Kevin Rudd maintains a nice guy image - a refreshing contrast to Howard’s tyrannical, my-way-or-da-highway style. But like every Prime Minister, Rudd is also capable of blasting his opponents with cartridges of verbose and scathing language. One of my favourite clips of Rudd in Question Time is not the ear wax thing but his stinging rebuke of Howard’s comments about Obama. It is meticulously argued on logical, moral and political grounds. For those who think K-Rudd aint got no bite, check out the Youtube video below.

image: smh.com.au

Is Tintin gay? (not that there's anything wrong with that...)

It had never occurred to me before but now it kind of makes sense. In an entertaining feature at Times Online Hugo Rifkind convincingly puts his case forward that Tintin, everybody’s favourite comic book investigative journalist (who never did anything but investigate) is, was, shall always be, homosexual. Not that (thank you Seinfeld) there’s anything wrong with that. This isn’t the first time the Tintin phenomenon has encountered controversy: it is a well-known criticism that Hergé's depictions of some of the cameo characters are ultra-stereotypical and borderline racist.

So what makes this Rifkind fella so convinced that Tintin is gay? For starters, Tintin surrounds himself with men, lives with a middle aged sailor, never had a girlfriend and he loves a young boy (though Rifkind doesn’t quite have the gumption to call him a paedophile). No doubt Tintin’s sexuality will be something the upcoming Spielberg-directed, Peter Jackson-produced movie adaptation will choose not to explore. Damn.

BTW, this weekend Tintin celebrates his 80th birthday. Acknowledging that he looks pretty darn good for his age, Rifkind suggests this is probably because he moisturizes regularly.

Friday

A career built on shifting sands



Most of us have built a sand castle or two in our time, probably during family expeditions to the beach when we were children. Some lucky devils not only keep up the habit in adult life, they actually get paid to do it – and not nickels and dimes but enough to earn a living. In Melbourne at the Frankston Waterfront, a sand sculpting exhibition called DinoStory will be open until April 26, and I recommend checking it out: the sculptures are massive, intricately designed pieces of art with impressive attention to detail.

I wrote a story about DinoStory and Perth-based sand sculptor Kevin Crawford; to read it head over to theage.com.au.

image: theage.com.au