Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pat and Joel Save Christmas (by Reviewing Movies)

TWO years ago our good-ish friends Pat and Joel disappeared after a krump battle was interupted by an ominous plastic Santa.

ONE year ago their erstwhile colleague Peekaboo similarly vanished (along with Jesus, who may or may not have been involved in the initial disappearance).

TODAY the freakish child-mannequin duo is back to review some Boxing Day cinematic fare.

You have your questions:

Where has this plucky plastic pair been for the past two years?

Is Peekaboo ok? (Probably not a question at the top of anyone's list).

Where is Born Dancin'?

To these questions we must resign ourselves to an uneasy ignorance for, as the wise man once said:

"Allez hop! un matin/Une louloute est venue chez-moi/Poupee de cellophane, cheveux chinois/un sparadrap, une gueule de bois/a bu ma biere dans un grand verre en caoutchouc/Oooo-ooo-ooo-ooo!/Comme un indien dans son igloo."

Which roughly translates as:

"Allez-oop! One morning a darling came to my home, a cellophane puppet with Chinese hair, a plaster, a hangover, drank my beer in a large rubber glass. Oooo-ooo-ooo-ooo! like an Indian in his igloo."

The wise man in question was the enigmatic - if clean-shaven - Plastic Bertrand, the 80s synth-punk one-hit wonder who would later go on to become a high-profile champion of the rights of many underacknowledged and oppressed victims of late industrial Western society - victims such as cellophane puppets, non-hermaphroditic cats, and corners.

Were he alive today, he would surely answer your various questions with an obtuse tip of his head and some gallic-accented non sequiters:

"Your Pat and Joel are not real, vous comprenez? And neither is your Peekaboo. Mssr Dancin', he is real in some ways, bien sur, but holiday fare, an epileptic chat and too leetle time render him unavailable."

All of this is true, except for the championing of corners, which tells us one thing: Plastic Bertrand is still not to be trusted, these many decades later.

The Missing Years of Pat and Joel will be revealed in good time. For now, we must content ourselves with their holiday film reviews.

Pat and Joel Save Christmas (by Reviewing Movies)


THE GOLDEN COMPASS



Pat.

Joel.

Comfy?

Settled.

Is your phone off?

If you ask me that again I'll put your head through the mincer.

This film has been the subject of much controversy. Apparently the novel it’s sourced from is pretty heavy in its condemnation of Christianity and, specifically, Catholicism. Kind of like the anti-Narnia.

Then again, riling up Christians is a piece of piss. I’m often doing that without even trying. Simply because I’m a sentient vocal child mannequin who doesn’t play by anybody’s rules, I guess.

Shoosh, here we go.

So we’ve got some blunt exposition giving us the setting – some kind of alternate universe where everyone’s soul is separate from their body, existing in the form of an animal called a daemon. I guess that’s a bit wack if you’re a god-botherer.

And you’ve got a bunch of no-good kids tearing up hell in the cloisters of Cambridge, by the looks of it. All pretty Enid Blyton so far.

And here’s James Bond with some big cat as his daemon buddy.

And our little leading lady Lyra, some brat destined to save the world (not our world, the other godless alternate universe one).

I like that this film cast the new James Bond alongside his co-star in the last James Bond film. That’s nice, efficient casting.

And now Nicole Kidman is turning up as Lyra’s evil aunt or something. As a plastic-faced figure with no discernible expression, I can relate to her in this role. Even if I am slightly less evil.

Lyra has to get to the North Pole or some rubbish to save the kids who’ve been kidnapped by Nicole, right? And there are witches and extras from Pirates of the Caribbean giving her a hand. And some dudes trying to capture her?

I think that’s what we’ve got so far.

So where does this polar bear come in?

It’s an ice bear, you dolt. Polar bears are protected by copyright. Ice bears have no relation.

Ok. So this ice bear is Lyra’s friend now and he’ll probably chew someone’s face off soon, but since he’s voiced by Ian McKellen I’m frankly cool with that. He has a nice voice. Worldly and rich, but with the gentle undertones of a kind uncle. The kind of uncle who’d chew your face off, admittedly.

Great airship action here. And Nicole’s daemon is a pretty natty monkey, which is sweet.

Some good creepy bug action, some ice bear rampaging and a kid with no soul. This is keeping me interested.

And now – woah. That’s a bit much. I thought this was a family movie. I wouldn’t want my kids watching that ice bear smackdown. That’s some serious gore. I hope the rest of our viewing program isn’t so nasty.

And a nice neat wrap-up that seems a bit hasty and meaningless.

Like my continued existence. And yet, here I am.

Save it.

This was a pretty pleasant experience overall. Not the best family film out there, given my expectations, but worth a look-see.

So what would you say the best family flick would be?

Let me think.


NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN



This is the shooting movie.

Oh right, I remember. From the trailers at least.

Yes, from the trailers it seems as though a lot of people get shot in this movie.

An awful lot.

Yes.

I do hope there are some good wound-cleaning scenes though. People bemoan the amount of shooting in movies these days, but I think you can justify excessive gunplay if you include a hearty bullet extraction/wound cleaning scene, because that is educational if you do ever happen to get shot.

This is true.

Shut your trap, it’s starting.

Well, we’re right down to business aren’t we? That’s quite an impressive body count and I haven’t even unwrapped my choc top. I’m trying to do it silently so as to not bother other patrons with unnecessary rustling.

That Javier Bardem is pretty bad-ass. He’s a shoe-in for some awards here, apparently. Shoo-in? Shoe-in?

I don’t know. I figure his performance comes down to two things: his haircut and his weapon of choice. I spent my formative years with a floppy hairdo that screamed “I’ll never be taken seriously in anything I do” and I don’t seem the Academy gagging to toss gold statues at me.

This is a pretty decent setup now. Some hunter or tracker type fellow has happened upon a bunch of dead bodies and some drugs and also a few million dollars out on the prairies and has nicked off with the booty.

I don’t know if that’s technically a prairie.

But of course people are going to miss the money, so now he’s on the run. That would suck. He’s sending wifey to stay with her mother as is standard in these situations but how hard is it going to be to track her down? And even if he didn’t send her off to momma’s, the bad guys could pretty easily find mum and use her as bait. He has two million dollars. I’d like it if this guy worked out the math, and determined that two million would be enough to uproot all of his loved ones and move to some quiet island in the Carib or something. I reckon I could Fedex most of my friends and family to some sweet villa where we’d never be found for that kind of moulah.

It was more of a mesa than a prairie, isn’t it? Or maybe a gentle canyon.

I don’t think the topography matters. It’s the desert-like landscape of the human soul we’re surveying here.

Hang on, it’s a pass. Definitely a pass.

It doesn’t matter. Oh wait up, it does! We’re back in the landscape.

With a dog! Wow, this dog bit is really tense.

It sure is.

Really really tense.

A great performance from the dog here.

One of the best chases ever.

The Coens do good dog chases.

Some good buttes abutting a nice meander in a lowland river, that’s what I’m seeing and enjoying.

And the dog. Good dog.

Moving on, I’m hoping hunter/tracker man will get his shit together and take a quiet convoy to Rio with all of his nearest and dearest.

No, floppy hair Bardem is in on the game now. Looks like everyone wants that money back. Hunter/Tracker dude is really getting to know the hotel and motel scene around the Texas-Mexico area.

True. I’m not sure I can remember ever seeing so many hotels and motels in one film.

Another first for the Coens.

More shooty bits. The tracking device is nice.

Lots more shooty bits really. OK, this is a pretty violent movie. It’s pretty much like my Christmas lunch. But without Woody Harrelson. Oh wait, there he is.

Hey this whole sequence about the tracking device and a sort-of showdown is probably the tensest thing I’ve seen in years. It’s like this movie was calculated to bring on migraines and insomnia. It’s more like my Christmas lunch that way.

My dentist would be rubbing his hands in glee (if I had one).

How did you just bracket that oral comment?

I don’t know, I just did. Huh. Whaddya know?

Gee, I’m glad we managed to avoid discussing that very tense scene through a sweet bit of metanarrative.

Bardem is pretty memorable in all this, floppy hair and weapon of choice aside. Beside? Aside.

There are a few plot holes I think. This whole Woody area doesn’t really make a lot of sense, when you think about it.

I’m trying not to.

Ok, let’s move on.

YES! There’s our wound-cleaning and shrapnel-removing scene. Why is everyone in the cinema wincing more at this than at the various shelling out of said shrapnel via bullet-spitting devices of sundry sorts? This is surely the community-service part of the film. That’s some very informative and hygienic cleaning of bloody holes, there.

We’re coming towards the end, I can feel it in my plastic.

Tommy Lee Jones is really good here, did I mention that?

I don’t think we’ve even mentioned that he’s in the house. I do concur though, good work Tommy. I’m also impressed by the guy who plays “Man Who Hires Wells” and the guy in the minor but well-played part of “Strangled Deputy”.

So, in summing up, this is a damn fine piece of thriller that has your teeth curled back in a rictus for the most part and might cause a few sleepless nights. It’s pretty dang violent but, interestingly, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve probably seen almost all of the blood-letting you need fear.

What an odd bit of phrasing.


ENCHANTED



Ah, I’ve heard about this one. This is the movie that honestly addresses that old doozy: “what if you were an animated fairytale princess transported to a contemporary fleshy New York featuring Patrick Dempsey?”

Goes right back to Aeschylus, doesn’t that?

Hush my sweet, it begins.

Hey this is just great. They’ve really recreated the Golden Age of Disney with the beautiful animation and the extreme baroque setting and the whole sly reworking of the classic Disney-adapted fairytales (with a heavy slant on Disney’s Snow White/Sleeping Beauty conflation).

Not to mention the presence of a chorus of woodland critters helping out our heroine in her quest for true love.

I’ve often thought that my own romantic escapades would have been immeasurably more successful if I’d had bunch of forest creatures playing wingmen. This would-be princess has all her bases covered.

And there’s her Prince Charming – appropriately chisel-jawed and sword-waving, good, good.

He’s doing a bit of a number on that menacing giant troll there. Is he vanquishing it?

I’m not sure. I don’t think so.

Princes Charming are pretty good at vanquishing.

I don’t think he’s vanquishing, he’s just tying it up and tripping it over and stuff. I think vanquishing requires more valiance and probably speechifying.

I see. So is anyone doing any vanquishing in Iraq?

Heavens no, vanquishing suggests a permanence and finality to one’s actions, surely. When you vanquish a foe, there’s no nasty loose ends to deal with.

I guess the whole vanquishing idea is pretty much restricted to fairy tales then.

I believe so. Wernher von Braun said that “nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation.”

This was the guy who developed the V-2 rocket for the SS then defected to the US and eventually became the godfather of NASA’s space program, right?

I did not mean to make any connections between this film and Walt’s own legacy of timeless and fantastical family movies. Of the sort frequently featuring Julie Andrews. Whose narratorial voice bookends Enchanted.

Just like von Braun’s voice whispered in the ear of Walt Disney throughout the 1950s, when the animator called on the engineer to provide technical know-how for three space-related television movies. Von Braun even appeared on camera-

Woooo! An evil stepmother just sent our would-be Princess flying down a bottomless well! That’s what I paid to see!

You paid?

And now we’re in modern day New York! I can’t wait to see what hijinx ensue.

This Amy Adams is doing a great job as the real, fleshy princess. She’s barreling around NY in a fairytale dress knocking people over and acting like a Disney heroine given corporeal form.

She’s also pushing a pretty scary ideological agenda, though. She’s essentially saying that a long-term relationship built on mutual trust and understanding can’t really hold up to a baseless infatuation with the first good-looking stranger willing to give you the time of day. She also seems to be promoting the idea that beautiful would-be princesses are all about making dresses out of curtains and cleaning up Mr Princess’ house while he’s asleep.

The conservative romance angle isn’t really what’s getting me here. What’s more worrying is the way this film seems to be seriously pushing the myth of the artificially animated person attaining a “real” life. This is clearly close to my heart, since I’ve tried many times to become a “real” person and have been burnt time and time again.

I know someone who became a real person, actually.

No?

Well, friend of a friend.

This musical number is an unqualified success. It should be called Central Park: The Musical! It’s great. I’m going to copyright that title and concept, by the way.

Hey, chipmunk crucifixion!

Holy Moses, that’s a bit much. Is this for real?

And now Princess is fondling the chest-hair of Patrick Dempsey.

Prompting an “ewwwww” from a young child somewhere in the theatre. I hear your pain, little one.

I’m feeling a bit woozy. I may swoon.

Totally uncalled-for consumerist shopping spree!

I’m defribulating.

Hang in there. We’re getting to the climax.

Dancing, dragon, King Kong nod, chipmunk resurrection, voluntarily passive heroine rising to save the day and throwing swords in a very reckless manner. This is all ridiculously redeeming itself, I think.

Yes, it might be deeply suspect on an ideological level but I’m having tremendous fun here.

True. And maybe that’s all Walt really wants.



ATONEMENT




That was quite good.

Yes, very good.

Would it have been improved by the inclusion of aliens and/or Predator? Probably not.

Keira Knightley does an hilarious Predator impression. True fact.

Well, I’ll be darned.

Mind your language.






THE DARJEELING LTD



You know what was a rad film? I’ve worked it out - The Goonies. That number had it all.

This isn’t The Goonies, this is The Darajeeling Limited.

That doesn’t change the fact that The Goonies was great. Remember Chunk? Whatever happened to Chunk?

This is the new film from Wes Anderson. He’s carved a name for himself as a purveyor of stylistically distinctive, overly mannered “indie” films featuring a regular stable of quirky performers.

I heard Chunk became an entertainment lawyer. I don’t know how I feel about that.

Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic. He’s a “love him or hate him” kind of director.

Apparently director Hal Hartley told Born Dancin’ that old chestnut – that he started making films because nobody else was making the films he wanted to see. Watching Anderson’s films, I get the feeling that he started making the Hartley films that people actually did want to see. Same acting style, but with some kind of flair. And more Bill Murray.

Can’t fault him there.

So what’s going on? We’ve totally missed the opening short film featuring Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman in a prologue to the main attraction.

It was in fact one of the best bits of the thing. You should learn to moderate your prattle.

I think someone should make a film starring only similarly named actors. Portman, Schwartzman, Mortensen, Gary Oldman as the Old Man, Ernest Borgnine, filmed in Portland, Oregon. Set in Dortmund.

We’re following three brothers as they travel across India in the eponymous train, the Darjeeling Limited. They’re mixed nuts, on a quest for some kind of access to a world beyond their own limited experience, but it’s clear from the outset that what they really need to find is some connection with each other. This first half is full of quirky fun based around their own idiosyncracies.

Much like The Goonies, I have to confess.

Now there’s death and it’s not so funny.

And not so much like – hey, I’m starting to really get this, to be honest.

It’s a lot like The Life Aquatic – if you felt the central drama of that film, you’ll get the point of this one. Anderson’s flicks are all about family and the problems of familial ties, really. Underneath all the trappings.

But if you can’t really feel for the characters due to the excessively zany set and costume design of the dude’s films, you might be a bit pissed off here, too.

He’s not so much of a plotter as a setter. But I think his heart is in the right place. And there’s some great comic stuff. Also: I feel like some Indian food.

That wasn’t my feeling after seeing The Goonies, admittedly. Man, I hope they play that at the Rooftop Cinema next year. As they will.




ALIENS VS PREDATOR: REQUIEM



I can’t believe I’m watching this film. I have to start rethinking the choices I’ve made in my life which have led me to this.

I can’t believe someone thought the whole concept of Aliens fighting Predators warranted not one but two movies.

Doesn’t look like they’ve gone beyond that basic concept here, either. I never saw the first one but I’m guessing it concerned Aliens fighting Predators on earth. The tagline was “whoever wins, we lose.” That’s not a bad tagline.

This one should have the tagline “We made another one!” Because that’s all I’m getting here. It’s like they just found some random jottings on a napkin and used it as the basis for this movie.

Yeah. Ok, we have some Aliens coming to earth and crashing in some woods near a small hick town in the mountains called Crested Butte. Now the Aliens are doing their thing, just sticking to people’s faces and bursting out of their chests.

Hey, I am impressed that they do it to a cute little boy so early on in the film.

Yes, that is a surprisingly vicious touch.

And we seem to have some kind of alien who burst out of a Predator and is now like an Alien/Predator cocktail. I think. I can’t really get a good view of him.

And there’s a Predator getting a phone call or something on his home planet and revving up the ol’ Dodge to come clean up the aliens on earth. I don’t know why. But then, asking such questions is probably pretty fruitless when you’re watching a movie called Aliens vs Predator.

I still can’t get a good view of the Predatalien thing. It’s prowling around the sewers eating homeless people and seriously, there really does seem to be an inordinate number of homeless people living in this sewer, given that the town looks like it has about 500 people in it. It’s like they’re holding some kind of bum convention down there.

You know, you’re very right about the lack of visibility in this film. I have no idea what I’m looking at half the time. If your film focuses on the age-old conflict between Aliens and Predator, I want to be able to tell which one I’m looking at. It’s just a blur of darkness punctuated with other similar, but slightly different blurs of darkness. I get enough of that in my real life.

I reckon whoever directed this was drunk when they did it. That or it’s one of those movies created purely as a tax dodge by some shady sorts.

Notice how all of the Aliens and Predator scenes are punctuated with the introduction of about 40 main characters. We know that they’re main characters because they’re each given about two lines of dialogue which they manage to completely non-impress us with. It’s not that I don’t care about these people, it’s that I’m not even sure who they are, what they do, why they’re here or whether they just wandered into shot after Boozy McDirector accidentally hit the “record” button on the camera.

They’re actually spending valuable screen time showing the hot chick getting something from her car, just as a pretext to have some footage of her bending over in a tight skirt.

I think that counts as character development in this movie.

And her local pizza delivery boy has a thing for her, and he also has a brother just out of jail, which easily makes him this film’s complex emotional core. And hot chick’s boyfriend just wiped pizza boy’s ass all over the floor and threw his keys down into the sewer. Which was pretty mean.

But pizza boy did make a pretty funny crack about the boyfriend being the guy who ordered the “sausage lover’s pizza”. That’s straight out of Dorothy Parker’s big book of homophobic wit.

There’s pizza boy and his brother going down into the sewer to find the keys. I like that the ex-con is complaining that he’ll get shit all over him if he goes down there. Since when was the Big House conducive to excessive attention to cleanliness?

The keys are proving rather hard to locate. They’re likely mystified as to where Hobotown’s subterranean thousands have scampered off to, as well.

Pizza boy just spotted one of the little alien goobers that pop out of your chest! Pretty sure he just added to the amount of shit down in the sewer. OCD bro doesn’t believe him, of course.

Have we taken a wrong turn in assuming these are our main characters? We seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time checking in on other people. There’s the army woman and her husband and daughter (she even gives the little one some night-vision goggles as a loving gift). And there’s the Spanish-American cop. Here’s a diner waitress who seems important. Oh no, she just spilled hamburger meat all over herself, except it was the hamburger meat from inside of her body and it was an alien who spilled it.

And now there are heaps of aliens popping up all over town killing people randomly. And Predator is still wandering around doing window shopping and checking his messages and killing aliens and sometimes people. I’m still not sure of his motivations in this whole caper.

As you’d expect, everyone we’ve met so far – and this film is a veritable Magna Carta – are running around getting killed in blurry, darkened environments. I feel pretty bad when these folks are getting torn apart and I can’t actually work out who they were in the movie so far. I guess that’s a statement about modern warfare and the desensitising effect of on-screen violence. That or the director just had another round.

Great, the town’s electricity supply just got blown up and now we’re in even more darkness.

There go those crazy aliens taking over the hospital and making more of their evil breed.

And some government types are going to nuke the whole town, which is par for the course in these films.

All of our survivors are heading off to the hospital to fly away in a helicopter. Well, all of the ones who aren’t going to the town centre to get themselves killed.

Which they do in due course.

Which they do, yes.

And our last remaining non-characters are ambling through the hospital and getting killed themselves along the way. I’ll admit, this film has no problem dispensing with its leads despite their importance to the story. As we’re in the home stretch here, I’m excited that many of those still alive have thus far been peripheral characters. I’m pretty sure some still count as non-speaking parts.

And there we go, it’s all wrapping up, and we’re given a dramatic final shot of one of our survivors, a tough type who made it through the living hell that was Aliens vs Predator and somehow made it out alive. I don’t know if we ever knew her name or anything about her whatsoever, but I’m really too stunned to care.

And roll credits, thank the lord. Hey, whaddya know, it was directed by brothers.

It took two people to make this thing?

I can just imagine each day on set. Brother one turns up and says “hey bro, I’m gonna need you to do the directing today! I’ve just been on a bender and I’m still drunk!” And brother two laughs “You too?”

Either way, whoever directs: we lose.


NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS



I hope this is as good as National Treasure’s European Vacation.

Nic Cage isn’t a patch on Chevy Chase, though.

This is confusing: why is this zany comedy prefacing itself with some scene about the assassination of Abe Lincoln and a centuries old conspiracy?

Go with it, we’ll be rolling in the aisles soon enough. I bet an older person will fall over.

And now we’re in the present day and some academics are arguing over a scrap from some dude’s notebook from hundreds of years ago.

This is a wonderfully unexciting film. It’s like porn for historians and prozac for everyone else. Cage and his dad Jon Voigt are trying to clear the name of an ancestor who was implicated in the Lincoln assassination. They’re going to do this by deciphering some codes, looking through some desks and hanging out in a library.

Wait up! This isn’t the Chevy Chase franchise, it’s the sequel to the first National Treasure!

Oh right!

If I remember correctly, that film was characterised by a wonderful lack of action scenes or violence. We seem to be treading similar ground here.

(transcription unintelligible for some time)

Now that was a fun flick.

Fans of scenes involving people pushing stone blocks will be well rewarded here.

Also people who like rickety wooden platforms, rope ladders and dark rocky crevices you have to put your hand into in order to pull some kind of hidden lever.

It’s like The Goonies for grown-ups. Underground caverns, absurd conspiracies and a few bugs. If this got more than a G-rating I’ll be surprised. But I really enjoyed it, which is more startling.

Me too. Especially all those bits where people push stone blocks.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Always Believe in Gold



I have been seeing a lot of teeth-grindingly awful theatre lately. I say this not to elicit sympathy or recommendations for good dentists – though both are welcome, incidentally – but to put to rest the idea that seeing a lot of theatre takes courage. The fact is, even the most painful theatre is probably not as bad as most things causing actual hurty pain. It would be far more courageous if I was to attend each theatrical event wearing pyjamas under my real clothes. Which is another rumour I would like to put to rest.

I’ve also been seeing some excellent and thumbs-up-giving stuff, stuff that virtually begs you make eye contact with the strange players during curtain call and raise your eyebrows with a grin, as if to say “you did it!” Which you would do, if it weren’t for that strange nervous anxiety you’ve felt hovering around the fringes of consciousness since you were in your teens, and which you suspect will prevent you ever achieving a position in local government, a regular spot on radio or television, or being referred to by casual acquaintances as “that guy/girl!”

You must let that nervousness go.

The theatre I’ve been seeing has mostly been part of the Short and Sweet festival at the Arts Centre. As I said (wrote) it’s been a mix of the great and the terrible – in fact, I’ve been surprised just how great and how terrible. Being me, I’ve found the terrible just as educational and productive as the great, even while simultaneously wanting to dig around in one nostril with a pen on the off chance that I’ll sneeze and suddenly find the biro tip obliterating the part of my brain responsible for storing away memories of what I’m seeing. But bad theatre at least puts to the test one’s long-held and infrequently considered beliefs about the medium.

I don’t have a lot of firm beliefs. I believed my primary school friend when he told me that fingernails are made of aggregated hate, amassed and slowly congealed over the years. This would explain both the one and two-finger salute, to indicate the extent of one’s hatred, as well as the older insult of biting one’s thumb at an enemy. As in, my nails are growing so fast because of you, check it out, we need some serious chewing to keep on top of the hatred here. I also believed in Santa, my dormant ability to fly, and a future as some kind of success in some kind of field.

I’m pretty open when it comes to theatre, now. I don’t have strong beliefs as to what works and what doesn’t because I’ve had those beliefs shattered again and again. Even my one remaining demand – that aural windscapes are never a good thing – has been challenged a few times.

But watching every performance in Short and Sweet’s ten-minute play festival so far – I’ll be hitting sixty works by Saturday – a number of thoughts have crossed my mind.

Don’t raise the lights in the auditorium – as if to say “take a look at yourselves! Are you not complicit in these crimes?” – unless you really, really have to. Which you probably don’t.

If someone dies after we’ve known them for less than ten minutes, we may not find it in ourselves to care as much as we probably should. Would that make us a cynic? No. It would make us something else, but I’ll be polite and not use the term here.

Some things can be better said in one minute than ten. If you want to pad out the running time, why not add an epilogue featuring a Romanian ballerina on rollerskates? It might have nothing to do with your piece but hey, rollerskates.

If your idea of drama has – secretly, subliminally – been developed via an unhealthy addiction to daytime TV, know now that you are probably not playing to the audience who will likely turn up at your show. I’m just saying, is all.

Casting is everything. Direction is important, but a good cast won’t just follow your ingenious commands. A good cast will disobey your shitty ones.

Life may be easy if you have great bone structure, but it doesn’t automatically mean you’re a better actor. It might be easier to fake it though, I dunno. I’m looking for positives here.

You may be planning on revolutionising the system with your play, but I once planned on revolutionising the system with my pirate radio station. In practice, this ended up with me just pointing my speakers out of my bedroom window and hoping the sound would carry. There is a lesson here.

You may be an artist, but don’t waste valuable time in a major theatre mercilessly satirising ordinary, non-artistic types. They are probably your audience. Saints and angels appear to bank managers, too.

You may have crafted a beautiful, glistening creation which has moved your audience and will stay with some of them for a long time. I hope so. If not, that’s ok too. You may have taught the rest of us a lesson, and learnt one along the way.

Again, I’ve been surprised by the quality of this year’s showings. If you’re local and you have the chance, there are a few performances left and at least some are worth a look – even requiring it. The others? Well, they’re short.




Thursday, December 06, 2007

Not A Review: Brindabella


I'm really hesitant to write about Balletlab's new show Brindabella here. Not for any particularly complicated reason. Mostly because I don't want to send anyone along with any preconceptions about the work. If I were to say, for instance, that it was the best piece of dance I've seen all year, I'd be setting up some lofty expectations. If I were to expand that to say that it's among the most sublime, affecting and flat-out jaw-dropping pieces I can ever remember seeing, well, those expectations would skyrocket. And if I were to add that it's in the tiny handful of works that remind me, once every long, long while, why I do what I do... anyway, I won't say those things. Even if they might be true.

But sometimes a person must stand up for what they believe in. Too often, of late, I have returned home from a performance and neglected to write it up here - distracted by domestic matters, such as the never-ending expansions being carried out on the East Wing of my cliff-hugging coastal retreat (work which seems to be spiralling out into infinity, both spatially and temporally, well beyond the logical possibilities of the house itself, as if the very idea of expansion is what is being renovated here, load-bearing walls and uncovered crawl-spaces giving way to an elsewhere which has always been present but never accessible...) or the preparations for my weekly sermons to the rude and superstitious local townsfolk - a people not mentioned on any census and violently protective of their insular community - on such regionally relevant topics as The Likely Causes of Yesterday's So-Named "Vacuum Torrent"; Upon the Chanting Heard in the Walls of Squire Bickerstaff's Lodge; Ruminations on the Impossibility of a Town Map; and What Really Happened to Marigold the Cow. Then there are the matters of the whip-poor-will spread, the difficulties I am having retaining staff, and - of course - the wild brumbies which nightly gather at the north end of the long paddock, standing still in the moonlight, hooves hidden in a sea of mist, staring blind-eyed and silent toward the house as if waiting for something. It's all I can do, upon arriving home, not to give up on everything and simply retreat to the rooftop conservatory where I tend to the breeding of my elusive black orchid.

In short, no time for reviewing.

Brindabella is something else, though. It's a little bit - damn it, it's exactly like falling in love, in the way I fell in love with dance years ago and have spent those years trying to convince people that it's not just a bunch of kids with asymmetrical fringes playing patty cake with each other. I can still name the few shows which have done it - had my skin prickle and my small heart try to leap out of its cavity and which have forced me to remind myself to breathe. During the opening last night I was confused, dazzled, constantly surprised, unsteady, sometimes ecstatic. Leaving, I was both speechless and gushing and not just for the dramatic effect this might have in the foyer. I was completely in love with the thing and wanted to have its babies (not medically possible for various reasons).

Others might hate it, though. I wouldn't be surprised. But if you go along - and there's no other show I can more highly recommend this year - and have a reaction somewhere in between, I'll explain laboriously why You Are Wrong. I can even draw diagrams. Nothing comes close to Brindabella, for me, and it and it and it -

I have however seen a lot of shows in the past week - Eleventh Hour's Othello, Lipson's Antechamber, With a Bullet, Spamalot, the SITI workshop showing at Black Box. All great works, in fact. I'll try to get to these in a bit. But put into relief... Screw it, just go see Brindabella and we'll talk from there. It's on at the Malthouse till the weekend.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Review: Election 07




One of my life-mottos (or mantras) is “credit where credit’s due” and so I have a lot of credit cards, and money due. But I also think people should be given recognition for their work, especially when that work involves the victory of federal election candidates and those people are me.

I don’t claim legal ownership of Channel 7’s groundbreaking “Tower of Power” graphic last night, or the cartoon cartwheeling Kevin Rudd, or Jeff Kennett’s moustache. Do I feel a certain moral responsibility for these things? Perhaps I do. But more importantly, for you at least, is just how much I contributed to Mr Rudd’s landslide win.

The term “Ruddslide”? One of mine. I put it to the ALP campaigners way back, noting that it connoted both an overwhelming victory and a potential Wobbies-World-style adventure ride. The perfect combination.

And when I vetoed Rudd’s planned “nerny nerny” speech in favour of a gracious address to the country, I think I pricked up a few ears.

But the real kicker came when I told Rudd to accept his inevitable victory to the sounds of a rockin’ tune with a 70s bassline and some mad wailing licks. As per my decree, this tune will now be heard any time our new Prime Minister appears in any public or televised situation. As it should be. I was minorly disappointed that my further suggestion – Solid Gold dancers introducing the track, feathered arms windmilling to suddenly reveal Rudd in gold-lame hotpants windmilling wildly before dropping into a “whatever!” frozen pose – was dismissed like a Whitlam government, but I guess that’s democracy for you.

In any case, when Kev hit the stand it was done to a tune that would have done Hendrix proud (or at least Cat Empire) and if he wasn’t exactly air-guitaring, at least the rest of Australia was.

Here’s some bonus inside goss: if you’re wondering why it took so long for Howard to show up and concede the big boot-print his behind had just acquired, it’s simple. 11 years in The Lodge and not once – NOT ONCE – had he done any cleaning. If you thought the mad scramble to fix up your crappy student rental property when an inspection was announced was kinda manic, you should have seen John when he saw the election results sitting on his torn, crusty Kirribilli house couch. He looked around at the remnants of Downer’s regular keg-parties, the deep furrows Costello had left in the parquetry every time he dragged his coffin full of maggots down the hall, and Jeanette’s jelly bath, and uttered a deep sigh. And then, of course, remembered the toilet. 11 years without a simple wipe-down or swish of the Toilet Duck ™ is bad enough, but do you know what an exclusive diet of ham milkshakes and human baby jaffles does to a PM’s digestive system?



Oh, you do? Well there you go.

Howard hadn’t really expected to lose. He’d spent most of election night sitting on his crusty couch drawing a picture of Rudd on his clenched fist in a way that made the gap between his thumb and curled forefinger appear to be a mouth, a biro-penned set of glasses at the first knuckle completing the impression. This allowed him to feel very cultural (and was in fact the only element of the Libs 2007 arts policy) as well as providing him the opportunity to engage in imaginary debates with the then-opposition leader. He would scrunch up his nose as he made “Fist-Rudd” squeak out placating phrases like:

“My glasses are smaller than yours!”

Or

“Gillard is a big girl, it’s true!”

Or

“I love you Lenin I want to have your babies!”

There was a tense moment when Jeanette walked in to find her husband gently, absent-mindedly running the soft, talcumed hand along the length of his cheek and whispering, as if to himself, “but I really DO acknowledge your superiority, esteemed leader” but Howard quickly defused the situation by tearing the fleshy face from his hand with the teeth he had cautiously sharpened earlier in the evening using a small nail-file and spitting the bloody pulp onto the floor. Whew! (When cartoon Kevin choose to do a cartwheel across his plasma screen at just that moment, well, it was weird, sure.)

And when Jeanette came in and told him that the nation was waiting on his admission of defeat, and that the pike-mounted goats’ heads and virgin-blood pentacles in the bedroom weren’t going to clean themselves up, and that after the good times they’d had it really was their responsibility to leave in a dignified fashion, all he could do was blurt “Screw my ‘responsibility’! Screw my ‘nation’! Screw everything!”

Poor Jeanette. In her quiet, understated way, it was heartening to hear her mutter “You’ve spent 11 years doing that, John. It’s time to go. Our people await us.”

And so they set about stuffing their pockets with stationery and free toiletries.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Review: Motortown

It's probably pretty rare that a play about the horrific effects of war will trigger post-traumatic stress in people who were never actually involved in one. There are certainly a couple of scenes in Red Stitch's new play Motortown that will probably have me waking in a cold sweat for nights to come, or else freaking out small children with my hollow thousand-yard stare. But I'm not going to get all "you wouldn't understand cos you weren't THERE dammit" on you readers because when you enlisted you couldn't have known that you wouldn't see combat, but would instead be stuck in front of your computer screen reading about my exploits at the front line. It could just as easily have been the other way round. I strapped up and took everything this one could shell out because I know you would have done the same for me.

When Danny comes home to his crappy hometown in Essex, he's really got nothing bad to say about his whole tour of duty in Basra. The way he puts it, Iraq was mostly ginger beer and shennanigans with the lads. Of course, he does seem a little haunted and sometimes goes quiet and intense for no apparent reason and is also sort of obsessed with a girl he'd been dating briefly before he went off to war. And when he finds out that she's not interested any more and sets about getting a gun from some dodgy London types, I began to wonder if Danny hadn't maybe left a little bit of himself back in Basra, if you smell what I'm cooking, and perhaps everyone else should start practicing their zig-zag running skills because young Daniel was about to bring the War on Terror back home. Then I thought: nah, you're reading too much into things. After all, it's not like we've ever come across a story about a veteran who can't escape the memories of what he was forced to do and ends up perpetuating the cycle of violence modern war is founded upon.

OK, so this tale might just be a noughties update of the post-Vietnam drama that taught us that sometimes war had its downside and we might want to think twice about sending our impressionable young kids off to another one. There's a good whiff of the classic film Coming Home here, grafted onto a self-conscious homage to Taxi Driver and even a bit of Rambo: First Blood. Luckily, even though I felt like I'd seen a lot of this stuff before, I didn't really get much of a chance to rest my peepers because the level of tension along with the A-grade performances the Stitchers deliver is shock and awe stuff.

From the measured build-up which tracks Danny's complex mental state to the honestly surprising climax (equally surprising since it sort of happens in the middle) to the scenes which follow and give some depth to the piece, there's not much to fault this production. The script is possessed of sparkling dialogue and the cast get their teeth into it without overplaying at all, but I can't help but feel that there's not much underneath it all that we don't already know, and it's even perhaps prurient to actually play out the horror when we do know this stuff.

At the same time, this is a production worth catching just for those fantastic performances and the superbly drawn characters, Brett Cousins as Danny on stage for nearly the entire show and only ever less than compelling when sharing the space with Dion Mills' hypnotically watchable Lee. It's a hard show to stomach and it's not even the kind of play I normally like, but nobody shirks in their duties here and the audience is left to patch up their wounds the best they can. Some leaflets in the foyer suggesting places we could seek therapy might have helped, but I guess that's better than when your government sends you off to war and then turns its back on you after you bring your shattered soul back home. It's that trickle-down effect.

Oh and there's an election tomorrow, too. Hope that all goes swimmingly.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review: The Madwoman of Chaillot


Sacred Blue. It all starts off with a whole bunch of Jacques Tati-style business that wastes no time in confusing its audience. You’ve got a bunch of dastardly capitalists (Nazis in the original) front and centre, hatching a plan – I hesitate to use the word ‘plot’ in any connection to this show – surrounding oil wells in Paris and the obliteration of the quaint culture that surrounds them in favour of industry, unfettered speculation and, eventually, a state of Total War. But while they’re expositing their little what-ho, a constantly shifting parade of shorthand French stereotypes are buzzing about distracting our gaze from what should be a far more interesting dynamic. That the audience on opening night kept applauding every bit of basic clowning that occurred while the piece’s villains were concurrently waxing nasty on another part of the stage speaks volumes. More immediately annoying was the shallowness of characterisation afforded the pedestrian crowd.

While nobody in the MTC’s latest production actually wears a stripy skivvy with a string of garlic around their neck, you always feel they’re just a costume change away from it. As beaming accordion-players exchanged howdies with rosy-cheeked flowersellers and bicycle-borne gendarmes tipped their caps to dancing homeless men, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone, somewhere, was prendre le pissoir. (I must continually remind myself that not all of you are as fluent in the language of love as moi, so I should note that I’m not suggesting that someone was “on the piss” during the development of this piece, but was mayhaps “taking the piss”. Also, I used the term for “urinal” rather than “piss” through a form of “creative license”. “Creative license” is a common term used to describe the ways writers engage in imaginative, sometimes innovative wordplay to add flair to otherwise lacklustre prose. Another common technique is digression, wherein the obvious trajectory of a piece of writing is subtly delayed by gently segueing into seemingly casual but ultimately unrelated asides, anecdotes, pontifications and opinionating. If this review seems unusually characterised by digression, then it is simply to mask a lack of anything serious to say about this show. Also, c’mon, if you’ve ever read this site you shouldn’t be surprised.)

Anyway, the level of clichĂ© on offer in Madwoman is best summed up by Ms Theatre Notes’ review, in which she compares it to a Yoplait commercial. I couldn’t sum it up better myself. At times I began to wonder if it wasn’t an exercise in Franxsploitation. For a long time, I felt there was a decent story being developed somewhere under all of the Tours Eiffel and copious latte sipping and rhubarbe-ing. When Magda S. finally turned up as the eponymous Madwoman, things began to look up.

The Countess Aurelia at least offered a greater depth than most of the other folks on offer. Magda wisely plays against the role – rather than offering a madwoman of the histrionic, non sequiterial or fey type, she is simply a softly-spoken eccentric dressed in an outfit director Simon Phillips must have rejected from his Priscilla with an “I’m sorry, but that’s just TOO much.” She has her oddities – to her, all men have the same name depending on the hour of day, her missing feather-boa holds the key to her fate, and she is haunted by the memory of a long-ago lover she only knew in brief – but Ms Szubanski grants her character a level of respect I found admirable. Strangely, she was the only character with a wireless mic, but this didn’t really affect my appreciation of the show since it allowed her to be heard without having to bellow out across the Playhouse stage. And she was playing the wacky-wisewoman, so a little subtlety was required.

I suppose the whole crazy-dame-possessed-of-uncommon-wisdom angle might boast an air of the classics about it (also a polite way to describe the bathroom of a Parisian cafĂ© I once visited). If my high school education doesn’t fail me – and I’ll admit it was more airy Swiss than fresh French Charolais – the Greeks blabbered on about some nutty kid called Cassandra who could speak the future but was never listened to. Kind of like SBS newsreaders, I suppose.

Aurelia is the informal spokeswoman for the community of French stereotypes we’ve met so far, and it’s her job to speak out against the encroaching modernisation of gay Paris. When she learns of the plans to drill under Paris for black gold, she gathers her fellow eccentric womenfolk in a trio reminiscent of another classic threesome, the Fates, and debates the ethics of entrapping and murdering all of the capitalists in France. Which, eventually, is just what happens.

If it all sounds quite exciting – madpeople, manslaughter, missing feather boas – it doesn’t really play out too heart-palpitatingly. When we finally leave the streets of Yoplait Paris and enter the gorgeous dungeon Aurelia seems to live in, things get quite fun. The comedy has gathered a layer of dust – written in the 30s, this might not be such a surprise – but there is a sweet scene where someone pulls on a bit of stone and a secret staircase is revealed. That’s pretty much all I want out of a play.

Unfortunately most of this play is as uneven as the rough-hewn rock steps of the staircase itself. The dazzingly negative responses to the piece I’ve read so far – and they’re incredibly entertaining for their damning-ness – offer the best summations of the show’s flaws. But their very relish, the way in which they – or we – can so precisely pinpoint what’s so very wrong with the thing, make me feel that this isn’t a case of a show getting it wrong. Not at all. It feels more like a work whose intentions are so contrary to those expected by Melbourne’s reviewers that we simply can’t understand how this – this – could be exactly what Phillips, his cast and crew has meant to end up on the stage.

Anyone who has ever been to Paris will likely wrinkle their noses at the odd artistic choices here in the same way so many Aussies pout at the omnipresent dog crap decorating the city’s sidewalks - mainly because said crap is entirely absent from this peachy-keen vision of the City of Lights. Maybe that’s the point. The play’s descriptions of a nostalgic Parisian past – including, I kid ye not, the trash cans of old which, apparently, smelled so much sweeter – seem so ridiculous that maybe only a ridiculously artificial production could be appropriate. Suspension of Disbelief, meet Benefit of the Doubt. I hope you two get along.

Those of you who thought Amelie was far too depressingly realistic might find this quite your decanter of Beaujolais. For the rest, at least you get a dungeon.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Notice of Removal of Name from Electoral Roll

The title of this post comes from the title of a letter I received this week. Jiminy Crickets! And with an election coming up and all. That's what you get from moving house so often. I'd better get onto it. Or who knows what may result?

We cannot rule out the potential.

In other news, I will probably be doing a little redecorating of this here blog in the next few days. This is mainly due to the very welcome if a little disturbing inclusion of a list of Melbourne artsy blog URLs in the latest Malthouse season brochure, and given we here at Born Dancin' Worldwide Enterprises (limited liability) decided to name ourselves starting with a big ol' "B", we're at the top of the list. So a few things should perhaps occur - I'll be taking out the occasional personal reference (mainly relating to other people who might not want to be read about) as well as losing all of the links (same reason). Typos, rash reviews and lazy factual errors will of course remain, due to said laziness.

In other other news, I've also been busy wrapping up phase one of the bookmagazinebook project after a year at the thing. BMBs have made their way to most continents and have been picked up by writers and photographers and craftspeople and artists ranging from emerging indie kids to people who are household names. And of course all sorts of other people who liked the idea or knew someone who did. If all went according to plan, the first would show up next week. But of course things rarely go to plan, which is the point of the project.

And also the point of phase two.

In other other other news, I've just come home from Petty Traffickers' current show, The Chosen Vessel. It's definitely worth checking out, and maybe I'll post a full review here in the next few days. Then again, looking at the last few busy weeks - YOU KNOW I WON'T. Apologies in advance &c.

Just go along and see it and post your own review. Ends Sunday.

Also: Faces in Places. Why God invented the internet.

Friday, October 26, 2007

MIAF 2: AWOL and contrary

OOPS. The festival is almost over and I haven't covered much of it. I've seen a lot (A LOT) but I've also been moving house and have no internet access. I reconciled myself to this and was going to save myself for a festival wrap-up but a post over at Matt C's Esoteric Rabbit (hi Matt! I sat in front of you at Euro House last night!) crystallised how my responses to this year's festival have been pretty much the opposite to those of everybody else on the web.

Firstly, my highlights have been European House and Hunger, both of which were disappointments to some, along with Shaun Parker's This Show is About People, which was just outstanding. I was largely unmoved by Kitson and Wilson, and Laurie Anderson was ok, but nothing special. Again, I don't seem to be in the majority here.

But what's really had me scratching me noggin is exactly what Matt pinpoints in the post linked above: not the problem of noisy, disrespectful audiences, but of audiences who find that so irksome. In what world is a Merce Cunningham piece set to John Cage's music supposed to be enjoyed in silence? This is the dude for whom incidental audience noise could be a composition in itself.

I know it's my hobby horse, but it's one I've pursued for years. The behaviour of audiences is tied to the process of socialisation - a "disciplined" and silent viewer is a recent historical construction that serves very particular purposes mirroring the larger demands of Western liberal capitalist ideology. Compare the behaviour of audiences for traveling Russian cinemas,
or 19th century American Shakespearean performances, or Indonesian music theatre (which is what riled me so much about Wilson's show last year). "Encore" once meant something - say, getting Hamlet to do his last soliloquy again, it was that good.

Anyway, my point is that if I want to absorb some wonderful art on my own, without being reminded of the presence of others, I stay home and watch TV.

And I don't watch much TV.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

MIAF 1: Does Wilson Matter?

And so it begins.

THE TEMPTATION OF ST ANTHONY



Opening night of MIAF 2008 had me hunkering down for Robert Wilson and Bernice Johnson Reagon's The Temptation of St Anthony, which impressed me every bit as much as Wilson's contribution to last year's festival, I La Galigo.

(ie... not very much).

It was a bit embarrassing to be sitting in the very lovely festival Artists Bar last night next to a large group of obviously theatre-literate and intelligent young folks laughing about the show with the sort of derision you normally hear in "my kid could paint that!" art appreciation. Normally I'd be thinking "well, maybe you just missed something in the piece" or simply "it just didn't speak to you" but I couldn't help but agree with these kids. Temptation felt like a puffed-up, fancily-panted bit of not-a-lot. The cheery complainants were quoting lines from the libretto with mirth - "does matter matter? What is the function of form?" And while these are good questions for any artist to put to their audience, it felt like a year 7 philosophy class in which a bored teacher named Bobby Wilson threw those questions to the audience then left the room for a smoke break with a "discuss!" flung over his shoulder. And, leaving, left his charges with no reason or manner in which to tackle that heavy stuff.

The biggest problem with Wilson's show is Wilson. In every other aspect, the show is great - a huge cast of African-American singers deliver great performances of some great music, but Wilson takes the dynamism and elasticity of these performances and shoehorns them into his typically pomo staging. I had the same feeling during last year's show - after years of pleading the defence to students, I'm finally beginning to understand Fredric Jameson's argument about the depthlessness of high postmodern art. Wilson's work is so carefully self-conscious that it strips away historicity, context and authenticity. Normally I'm all for that, but in the case of I La Galigo, where he adapted Indonesian music theatre styles to produce a three hour epic, it felt like he had plundered this incredibly rich source and turned it into an empty spectacle. It felt about as Indonesian as a Mc-Gado Gado Special at McDonalds.

Take the Slow Walk thing. I hate it when works like Temptation have performers moving to their next arbitrary spot on the stage with that damn measured, meditative, almost Butoh-like stepping style. I know it's probably meant to draw attention to the economy of gesture, or a Kleist-ian sense of the performer's physical gravity, or of the negative space of movement, but Robert, you were drawing attention to that stuff before I was born. I geddit.

Now, I'm not arguing against Wilson's wonderfully important contribution to the modern stage, especially through all this postmodern stuff - and lord knows I love me postmodern stuff. But why marry pomo minimalism to - and I quote from the program - "the history of African-American music and culture"? I didn't see a shred of history in the piece, and it seemed that any possible connection to that history was deliberately severed.

I'm being harder on the thing than it really warrants. But as another patron said at the opening night party, The Temptation of St Anthony would make a great concert.


THIS SHOW IS ABOUT PEOPLE




That's more like it! Good on ya, Shaun Parker, about whom I know exactly nothing.

When I asked a colleague their thoughts after last night's showing, she thought for a moment and came back with: "It was very... busy."

Which is just how I like it. There's so much going on in this piece - visually, thematically, aurally - that you often miss things. It's hard to be bored. You're always working, but there's such a great sense of play that you don't feel you're being punished or anything.

It's set in a kitschy, ambiguously defined space that could be a bus-stop waiting room, a hospital foyer, an underground bunker or an antechamber to the afterlife. A very strange collection of people are sitting around - a Hawaiian-shirted lout with a boombox, a nervous-looking secretary sort, a bearded hippie type and a few others. Things start getting weird very quickly. Hippie type pulls partially naked people from a vending machine, a nerdy fellow begins singing in an early music kinda of soprano, people split into two, and of course, being ostensibly a dance piece, there's plenty of dancing. Most of it is informed by breakdance styles with plenty of flips, unsupported headstands and even some popping an' locking. The infrequent dialogue isn't the show's strongest point, but it does make clear that the show is about the ways people make sense of their world, through philosophy, religion, violence and so on. There's also a strong motif of control, people often manipulating each other in innovative ways.

It's a pretty short show, and it finishes tomorrow, so get on down and grab yourself a seat. Like Temptation, what you get from This Show will largely depend on you - it's just that Parker gives you so much more to work with.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Calm Before the MIAF Storm

I have seen a lot of movies lately so here are some reviews.

DELIRIOUS


Stupid, forgettable and mostly irrelevant name aside, this little US feature is such a sweet treat it instantly found a way into my crabby heart. It reminded me of a sub-genre of film I'd all but forgotten about but once had had a special fondness for: the mid-90s New York indie dramedy. Not the self-consciously auteur-style American indie flicks of the early 90s by folks such as Jim Jarmusch and Hal Hartley and the like, but the ones by directors who you probably never heard about, and who made films that generally went straight to video here. They often featured actors like Parker Posey or Steve Buscemi.

Delirious does in fact feature Buscemi in one of the best roles of his career, as an angry papparazzi photographer who holds his celebrity targets in contempt while simultaneously wishing for their acceptance. It's a fantastic character, full of depth and fully realised. And it's directed by Tom DiCillo, who did archetypal 90s NY indie flicks such as Living in Oblivion.

The story follows a young, pretty homeless kid who makes his way into Buscemi's life as his wide-eyed assistant, and a hot pop songstress who gets between them. It's not really about fame, per se; it's more about the growing friendship between two down-and-outers with very different visions of humanity, and the trials that friendship has to face. It's wonderfully funny throughout, in a quiet way (though I laughed out loud a handful of times), but the undercurrent of bittersweet melancholy that runs thoughout the film will probably linger with me more than the comic stuff.

It's a very minor but very enjoyable film. Tell me what you think. Oh and Parker Posey doesn't appear, but the role she would have played is filled out by Gina Gershon, who has the credentials to make this a proper certified 90s New York Indie Flick herself. Just one that came a decade and a half late.


RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION



I like zombie movies. I liked the first Resident Evil (a bit). I didn't like it enough to see its sequel. But I had tickets to see the threequel, so see it I did.

The thing about zombie movies is that they're pretty hard to mess up. Dump a garbage can full of slops on a bunch of non-speaking extras, tell 'em to shamble about moaning, and have a group of interesting and ethnically various characters run around trying not to have a chunk bitten out of them - that's all you need for some good ol' fashioned fun, like mamma used to make.

And on top of that, zombies are the perfect symbol for the modern horror filmmaker with pretensions - you can use them to symbolise anything. The detrimental, deadening effects of consumer society (Day of the Dead), the essential brutality of mankind when freed from social strictures (28 Days Later), the post-capitalist return of a repressed underclass (Land of the Dead).

Or, in the case of Resident Evil: Extinction, you can use zombies to symbolise exactly nothing but an army's worth of fugly dudes with gloop for faces ready to get mashed up by Milla Jovovich. I know that sounds okay for a film's premise really, but I left the film with the expression you normally reserve for leaving an elevator after somebody has dropped their guts and hasn't owned up to it.

It's hard to really remember much of the film, it was so thin. The whole world is taken over by zombies, a motley gang of survivors drive through the wastelands trying to survive, and the audience is waiting for Tina Turner and some kind of Thunderdome to pop up.

I do feel a certain kinship with the crew behind the film, though. I spent most of the movie with no idea what was going to happen next, or how what just happened related to anything that happened before, and I think that's exactly how the people who made the film were feeling during filming. There's a devil-may-care attitude to narrative structure, dramatic pacing and simple logic that I can't help but tip my non-existent hat to.

A good example is the way this is one of those films where the heroine seem to acquire and lose super powers whenever randomly, so at one moment she's telekinetically wiping out hordes of monsters with flames controlled by her mind alone, and the next all of her friends are getting massacred while she is stuck high-kicking and machete-chopping an army of zombies. Huh? Use your brain, Milla!


And yet.


Avoid.

EASTERN PROMISES



I caught a preview of this new Cronenberg number early in the week and spent much of it clutching my neck. Throat-cuttings, clearly, are very in-season.

Eastern Promises is the Godfather of Russian Mafia films, but with less epic familial saga-ness and more bad hairstyles on Viggo Mortensen. It does have my fave Aussie actress (tm) Naomi Watts though, who does a decent job here.

Naomi is a London nurse who delivers the baby of a 14-year-old Russian sex slave who dies in the maternity ward. Things go downhill from there.

Cronenberg seems to have pulled back from the amazing body-horror of his early career, which was even still evident in more recent films like eXistenZ (or whatever it was called) and that History of Violence thing. Here, there are a few remnants of existential ickiness rough-housed into a Robert Ludlum drama, but the performances, the cold precision of the cinematography and the harrowing interest elicited by the subject matter make this a film worthy of a look-see. Just make it a light lunch beforehand.

WAAAAAIT A MINUTE. This isn't a film blog! It's an arts blog! And the Melbourne International Arts Festival opened last night!

So let's get to it!



Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Oh! What a Musical Life.

Ok, I've been tagged by a Man About Town and I've also got a fistful of Fringe things I should review here. A little short of time, though, so here's a short community service announcement before we go to the break.

Today, making the most of my new lifestyle, I wandered down to the local cinema and saw the remake of Hairspray. I wasn't expecting much because the original film was so good that I couldn't see how or why someone would attempt to better it. I don't know that the new version is better, but it's ridiculously smile-making and one of the best musicals I can remember (for someone who doesn't, generally, get off on musicals, despite my great love of both music and dancing.)


Anyway, having John Waters do a cameo early on seemed like some kind of seal of approval (he directed the original) and some other nods to the first version (appearances by Ricki Lake, Jerry Stiller) won me over. Well, by the time those last two appeared, I was well won already. It's great that such a subversive film made it as a Broadway musical then was slipped past the sensibilities of middle America to package a progressive, historically-minded film that is really all about bigotry in the sleek outfit of a nostalgic teen high school musical.

My only annoyance is that the character of Penny Pingleton is completely cut back in the new version - in Waters' film she was unforgettably hysterical, in several senses of the word.

MY POINT BEING: You usually walk out of a dangerously catchy musical acutely aware that the world isn't like that. People don't sing and dance on a whim, life isn't as cute as you've just been led to believe, and it's rare to find yourself wondering at just how wonderful a life your life can be.

EXCEPT: Walking home after the film, listening to some fast 60s soul to keep the mood going, I found myself nearing my house while stuck behind a very slow walking dude. He was tall, had a hoody pulled over his head and seemed intent on going nowhere fast, or at least going somewhere really, really slowly. I didn't want to overtake but I was almost home so I just kept pace a few feet behind him, thinking about why he might be taking his time so severely.

THEN: Out of the blue, as an Otis Redding track hit the chorus, he unexpectedly started dancing in the street. Just a quick dance, about three shoulder shimmies and a few up and down bopping movements. Then he was off again. And I suddenly felt a bit closer to being in a musical, where normal people like this guy can do things like that. Thank you, tall dude in hoody, you made my day. I hope you keep getting funky to that inner tune as far as it takes you.

THEN: Catching a cab to see a show tonight, nervously strumming the seatbelt as I fretted about being late, I pulled up outside the North Melbourne Town Hall and gave the cab driver ten bucks. I was in a hurry. Keep the change. He looked shocked, and waved me back for a moment.

"Then you take candy!" he exclaimed, and opened the centre console of the cab to reveal a secret tupperware container full of Korean lollies.

Thank you secret-candy hoarding cab driver!

AND FINALLY: Heading back home at the end of the night. Passing through the city. The carapace of vaguely defensive wariness descending, knowing that the city is a place for alertness, not wide-eyed wonder and the hope of gloriously fun things happening. Not a musical at all. Entrenched suspicions confirmed as a police Rapid Response vehicle suddenly arcs up and wheels around a corner, officers leaping out to halt some rough looking guys in their tracks, all barking commands to the defiance of the slowly spreading crew, an expanding sphere of uncertainty. One of those moments you tense up at.

Until a young girl with a nonchalant expression rides through the middle of the fracas on a unicycle without slowing, disappearing from the frame because hey, she was just a non-speaking extra brought in for colour.

All of this happened in about 10 hours, but it's late nowly. Good night.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Exit Stage Left



Public transport just can't be beat.

Speaking of, yesterday I saw the most exciting drama I’ve seen in a while. It was great, with lots of twists and reversals of fortune and a solid three act structure. I give it like eight thumbs up.

Absent-minded dad is standing on the 96 tram with cheeky tot on his shoulders. They’re waiting by the doors for the next stop, and he’s pushed the button to signal his intention to disembark. He’s holding a railing with one hand, the other wrapped around cheeky tot’s left ankle. This is important, as it sets up the initial tension of the scene. Cheeky tot’s own arms are waving around playing with the roof and other things, which means that the only means of support her precarious situation is afforded is absent-minded dad’s left hand.

I’m making some assumptions here – I mean that’s the only visible means of support. She might be supported by an Australia Council grant for street theatre or a genetic history of circus families, but for the purposes of this story its just pa’s meaty paw that’s preventing the possibility of a rapid descent.

That’s the opening act, and it establishes the scene pretty quickly. But then comes the complication. Cheeky tot is so named not merely because of the mischievous glint in her eye, but from her willingness to cause TROUBLE. Which is what she does: with one of her hands, she reaches out behind her and grabs one of the hanging straps ordinary, adult-sized commuters use to stabilise themselves while Melbourne’s tram drivers indulge their racing fantasies. Absent-minded dad is unaware that she’s latched onto the strap, and she keeps checking to make sure he hasn’t noticed. Boy, will he be in for a shock when he steps off the tram to find the apple of his eye still dangling amidst the bleary-eyed business crowd not used to such excitement.

Then again, we in the audience can see that absent-minded dad’s loose ankle grip will be enough to pull the kid at an angle not so conducive to laughter, and her own tiny hand doesn’t seem strong enough to maintain a hold of the strap for long.

The tram pulls up at the stop, and we’re only seconds away from disaster.

Then a new player enters the scene at this dramatic climax – a scraggly-haired, long-bearded dude who looks older than he probably is, has worked hard and played hard and lived to tell the tale, steps forward shakily from the audience to prevent the inevitable. As the tram doors open he crosses the few paces between his position and the kid’s and reaches up to catch her. Dad – still absent-minded – steps out the doors as cheeky tot, smiling all the while, lets the strap fall from her hand and is breezily carried by her father out towards whatever adventures await their night.

Scraggly-haired, long-bearded dude is left standing on the crowded tram, hands held out to save an absent child who never needed saving, observers like myself (if there were any others) wondering if we would have had the nerve to step onto the stage and risk what he did. Not the risk of becoming a part of the drama, but the risk of taking that chance and finding ourselves an unnecessary player, the chorus-member who forgot their cue to disappear into the wings.

All in all, a stand-up job from all concerned. Rich performances all round – cheeky tot is one to watch, and scraggly-haired, long-beared dude showed an unexpected commitment to the role – and the piece didn’t outstay its welcome.

I’ve seen some other great shows lately. I’ll try to post capsule reviews in the next few days, but things are pretty hectic around these parts lately.

In fact, I’m a little worried since I’m currently finishing up at my present job (sort of) and tomorrow I’ll be three days away from retirement, and anyone who has ever watched a thriller knows that when you’re three days away from retirement, you might as well be wearing a big fat t-shirt that screams “hey guys, I’m about to get my guts blown up!” I’m glad I don’t have a pregnant wife and/or kid about to graduate from military college, or I’d be a goner. Also, my angry loner lifestyle pretty much means that if the bad guy did decide to take me out tomorrow, there’d be nobody to avenge me, and what sort of dramatic scenario would that be? I’ve been smart that way, see.

But for now – look! It’s a macaque hugging a pigeon. Warning: only click the link if you are ready for extreme AWWWWW-someness.




Thursday, September 27, 2007

Oh, the things I have seen.

I have seen lots of things. But I have not written about any of them here. That is simply how it is. None of them have been so spectacular that I have both felt the need and found the time to write about. Which is not how it should be but, again, is how it is.

I am extremely very excited however having just learnt a nano-second ago that both Bjork and Brian Wilson will be performing at the Sydney Festival next year, which is like a Bruce Lee tough one-two punch to my ability not to be extremely very excited (a very developed ability, might I add).






Otherwise, I have been ridiculously busy lately with stuff. My car was wiped out (nobody hurt and the other guy's fault - all ok then) and my bike just met the same fate (my fault from riding it too harshly, which I didn't know was possible); big changes at work (ie kind of a new job) and starting a doctorate; having to move house in about two weeks with no actual notion of where to move; and so on. But at the same time, very pleased.

Here's how things are right now: if you could cut open my skull, extract my brain and squeeze it real hard like a sponge, so all the emotions came out as a nice kind of juice, and then poured that juice into a machine of great complexity that turned brain emotion juice into online content, then you might get something like the following assortment of oddments.







Ah well, all this was really just a pathetic excuse for a quick post to feel as if I was still contributing meaningful time that I don't have to this thing (also wasting time before a show). KAPOW!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Quiet World of Frogs & Toads



Frogs are a little bit... you know... weird. Maybe it's just me (but it's not).

I had to reevaluate this prejudice today, however, and temporarily remove the permanent off-milk scowl I pin to my fugly mug every time someone mentions frogs. A whole world was opened up to me after a hastily-scanned B3TA email alerted me to an eBay auction which recently ended.

I don't know how long the auction details will remain online. If my scraggy memory serves me it's only a week or so. For the sake of posterity, then, I'll reproduce here the gory details, and post a link further down.

The item on offer is described as "BECOME INVISIBLE & walk unseen among people or CROWDS" and subtitled "Moral purposes ONLY = = Adults 18+ = = EXOTIC & Rare". There's no immediate indication as to what exactly the item might be. I do, however, like the sudden change of case which occurs when we hit the word CROWDS.

Some text from the listing (dramatic and/or psychosis-induced BOLD and OVERSIZED TEXT MOMENTS removed).

A powerful secret is now within your grasp...
Become INVISIBLE!
This is not a toy, a magic trick or a scam.
This is not an illusion, a rip-off or a Ninja technique.

The Secret of Invisibility renders you completely invisible.
This method is currently used by the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies.
Don't Scoff! You can go anywhere, at anytime, without being seen.
You're invisible to all you meet... NOT EVEN A SHADOW.
This works even when you're completely surrounded by cameras or people.
Lets you vanish & reappear as you wish, wherever you may be!

Yeah, yeah, let us LOL. Nobody in their right mind is going to even bother reading this scam, since it's patently obvious that aint nobody knows no guuuuuurtdarn secrets of invisibility.

Not so fast, my little friend. Invisibility may not truly be on offer here, but some of the most compelling, pulp-driven prose is.

This isn't new... far from it. A fantastic rumor has been whispered throughout the generations and since the beginning of time: super-elite societies knew how to become totally invisible & walk unseen among people. They could vanish from sight... even in the middle of a crowd... and reappear anywhere they desired!
Thousands of years passed. Empires grew and decayed. Kingdoms crumbled, lying buried and all but forgotten but the astounding rumor never died: invisibility was possible!

Ok, hang on. Back it up. Rewind. You're really expecting me to believe that invisibility is possible, if only I can master some kind of MYSTICAL "secret"?

a secret so powerful that throughout history, men have literally died trying to wrestle it from the tight fists of its masters.

It's the tight fists that won me. I'm sold.

But, as the old adage goes: "come for the ancient secrets of invisibility, stay for the secrets of seduction, penile extensions, horse whispering masterclass and cat potty training!"

Fork out your 20 bucks (US) for the whole invisibility thing (my active imagination depicts a book but I suppose a photocopied, spittle-stained pamphlet or homemade C-90 audio cassette is more likely) and you'll also, apparently, receive AS A BONUS the "Secrets of Sexual Seduction", which includes captivating sections such as "Gorilla-tactics: Seduction for your home & car" along with two cures for baldness that "really work", "Unusual methods to GAIN 4” - 6” in height", and a method of losing weight without exercise. Gents also learn how to gain 2-4 inches of "intimate length".

I was clawing for a sick-bag within my intimate length by this time when I reached the final, exclusive offer that comes with the tight-fisted invisibility thing that started the whole listing. Vomit your cash on that bucket of nonsense, it seems, and you'll also find yourself in possession of "The Wizard's Book of Animal Secrets".

I won't kid you kids, cos you've always been there to cover my back.

"Controlling snakes, bees, gnats, houseflies" has long been a desperate goal.

"Keeping a squirrel in your pocket", well, that sounds kind of ok and fun-esque.

"Teaching your dog to walk & dance on stilts" is... maybe a bit much.

But amidst this lengthy litany of ridiculous promises - which includes bringing dead creatures back to life, commanding flocks of birds, taming wild horses and more - comes the simple, bullet-pointed line:

The quiet world of frogs & toads


I can't help but be touched by the fact that whoever wrote this ridiculous work of anti-art found a moment to include the quietness of life, a sublime yet serene silence amongst the histrionics. And, I guess, gave that moment to frogs & toads.