Radio review - Love the Beast

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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