Thursday, 29 March 2007

Igby GG

Igby Goes Down (7 Sat 1145P) stars Kieran Culkin (little brother of you know who) but don’t hold that against it. Culkin, as Igby, is the disaffected youth of today with his indifference and irreverence. Ably supported by Susan Sarandon (as his “ferociously acerbic” mother), Ryan Phillipe as his older brother, Jeff Goldblum, his wealthy god father and the delightful Claire Danes and Amanda Peet. [Even Rory Culkin, little brother of who know who and now you know who else, plays a supporting role also].
Script and direction are by debutant Burr Steers who demonstrates an aptitude for “edgy and witty” dialogue. RT 76%.

No GG next week as I will be up bush in Taggerty for the Easter long weekend.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Seeing Eye Dogs II

As they say in the classics, 'a gag is a gag.' The second entry posted on our work noticeboard regarding the team fundraising for a Seeing Eye Dog.
Doesn't have quite the killer comedy element I was hoping for, but amusing enough I suppose.

In a small "in-joke" for my own amusement, I named our Seeing Eye Dog in this letter 'Argus' after the giant of Greek mythology who had a hundred eyes.
Apropos of nothing, Argus was a servant of God Hera. When Argus was slain by Hermes, Hera commeorated her faithful watchman by preserving the hundred eyes of Argus in a peacock tail.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Requiem for a Dream

What a completely f***ed up, crazy, hallucinatory, amazing story is Requiem for a Dream. My weekend project has just changed : I want to find director Darren Aronofsky’s first feature, Pi from the video shop.
Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), mate Tyrone (Marlon Waylans) and girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) are all drug users and believe that they are just one deal away from securing their futures and living their dreams.
Harry’s mother, Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a lonely, widowed retiree who spends much of her life watching TV and a particular game show especially. When she responds to a marketing cold call, she believes she could be the next contestant on the show. She begins to take diet pills so that she can fit into the red dress she wore at her son’s graduation, a dozen years before.
During ‘Summer’ the air is full of hope and the drugs give a buzz that makes everyone carefree and happy. Aronofsky uses fast edits, distinctive sound effects and tight close ups of the pills, the dilating pupils and the rush into the blood stream (not dissimilar to Dave Fincher’s stylistic close ups) to demonstrate how quick a hit can get you high … and how quick it ends.
The downside in ‘Autumn’ shows the drug supply dry up, the cash run out and the extreme measures they take to score a hit. Sara (the mother) complains to her doctor that the “pills don’t work so good anymore”, as her addiction takes hold. She starts to double up her pill intake, just to get the same feeling and her physical appearance disintegrates. We all know where this is headed.
Finally in 'Winter', Harry and Tyrone take a car trip south to Florida. There, Harry’s infected arm (from one too many needles) is amputated, Tyrone is arrested and thrown in jail, Marion is forced to use her body to raise funds and Sara is effectively lobotomised from the electro-shock treatment given to cure her habit.
So why would you want to watch such a ‘down’ story ? As already stated, the style of the piece is first rate. Secondly, the acting is uniformly excellent. Ellen Burstyn is unrecognisable as Sara and lost the Best Actress Oscar to Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich. Erin Brockovich she ain’t. “Aronofsky brings a new urgency to the drug movie by trying to reproduce, through his subjective camera, how his characters feel, or want to feel, or fear to feel.”1 This is first rate film making : provocative, accomplished and with stylistic flourishes that have you riding the edge of the first high.

1 Roger Ebert

KT Tunstall

I have just bought a new CD by Scottish artist, KT Tunstall, Eye To The Telescope. I am really enjoying it.
Probably the best known song on the album is the Ugly Betty song, 'Suddenly I See' but 'Other Side of the World' has been released as a single also.
My musical preference is harder rock, usually with a female vocal : Killing Heidi and Evanescence for example.
Having said that however I love listening to KD Lang who has such a beautiful voice and simple acoustic backing. She tends toward country.
KT (unlike KD Lang, the "KT" is modern speak for "Katie", go figure) is more ballad-type rock with acoustic guitar or keyboard accompanying her. She has a great voice which carries the album. You can listen to samples on Pandora.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Supplications - GG

Once again the green guide gods have not answered our on-line supplications by not providing us with new and exciting movies to watch(although there is a to-do over the non-programming of The Shield on channel 10).
Opinions regarding the quality of Sexy Beast (Fri 7 1230A) from regular readers of this site are divided. For mine, I rate it highly. Stars Ray Winstone and a ferocious Ben Kingsley.
Human Nature (Mon SBS 1115P) is directed by Michel Gondry and written by Charlie Kaufman (both also responsible for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and is described in GG thus : “the story of a repressed behaviourist (Tim Robbins) and his sadistic lab assistant (Miranda Otto, with a very cute French accent), a hirsute woman-turned-author (Patricia Arquette) and a man raised as an ape (Rhys Ifans). The theme is the tension between “civilised” life and human instinct. Gondry has a talent for brief self-contained moments, but not for a coherent and cohesive narrative of feature length. This is a postmodern melange where almost every frame is borrowed from somewhere else. To many, Gondry and Kaufman are cult heroes who are replacing storytelling clichés and traditions with freer associations of the mind. To others, [he is] most exasperating.”

No coverage of the International Friendly between the Socceroos and China on Saturday night [boo, hiss] and channel 9 are not covering the Australia v South Africa World Cup Cricket, first round match on Sunday night either. The good news is that Channel 9 are telecasting the Super Eights however (starting next Saturday, March 31 [I think, the on-line program is ambiguous]), one semi-final and the final.
An interesting article in today’s Age by Richard Hinds is well worth a read, regarding the “prominence given to sport on television is now as heavily dependent on the rights-holding arrangement as what viewers want”

Monday, 19 March 2007

Tristan + Isolde - a tragedy

Tristan + Isolde is an Arthurian type legend from the 6th or 7th Century where the tribes of England are at war with the Irish and won’t unite to stave off defeat. Young Tristan, orphaned by the Irish, is taken in by King Marke of Cornwall (Rufus Sewell) where, as an 18 year old (James Franco), he demonstrates his brooding good looks and consummate fighting skill. He is the king’s favourite and is named as heir to the throne.
Apparently killed in battle by a cut from a poisoned blade, he is loaded onto a floating bier which is pushed out into the Irish Sea and set alight from flaming arrows. Some time later his boat washes up on the Irish shore. How did a wooden boat not completely ignite, notwithstanding the fact it was floating on a lot of water ? What chance is there that a row boat would make a safe passage across to Ireland all by itself ? Incredulous, true, but lets move on. Here we meet Isolde (Sophia Myles), the daughter of the Irish king (remember Romeo and Juliet folks and how that ended ?). She takes a fancy to this dying hunk of a man and with her maid, drags him miles along the beach to a wee hideaway in the cliffs, gives him the antidote to the poison and of course, they fall in love.
He escapes back to England, this time under rudder and sail (just in the nick of time, would you believe?) with the help of Isolde. The Irish king meanwhile holds a tournament with Isolde as the prize in a further bid to divide the English kings and make taking over their land, easier.
Our man Tristan turns up and fights for Cornwall. Naturally he wins (was there a doubt?) and claims Isolde … (wait for it) … for the king, not for himself. The king falls in love with Isolde and that allows young James Franco to express his full range of pouting, brooding and painful glances.
Where can this screenplay go ? The king is cuckolded, finds out, learns of their true love, banishes them both, is attacked by the Irish and Tristan returns just in time to try and save the day. Naturally he dies in the attempt and everyone is very sorry and here endeth the tragedy of Tristan + Isolde.
The quality of this historic love story is a step up on 2004’s King Arthur but it is no R&J, nor a Gladiator in terms of scripting or epic-ness. I was not moved by the emotive tragedy of it all as I had been led to believe I would. When Isolde says, “Why does loving you feel so wrong ?” I knew there was no going back. It really was the 21st century trying to do the 8th century for the 21st century. But looking at director, Kevin Reynolds filmography one starts to see a pattern : Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Waterworld and the execrable Count of Monte Cristo.
The handsome Rufus Sewell was welcome as a loving and kind character instead of the baddie role he often plays and Sophia Myles was plenty cute enough as the chatteled princess.
But between the all to convenient plot devices (the underground passage into the castle) and the mysterious fire burning properties (every other house in the village except for Tristan’s), it just couldn’t do it for me.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

GG - Nothing Already ? Its only March !

There really is not much to recommend itself this week. The closest I can get is My Best Friend's Wedding (Sun 10 1030P) with Julia Roberts and a very gay Ruper Everett or 1989's Sex, Lies and Videotape (Sun 9 1130P) with James Spader and directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven, Traffic). Hardly compelling is it ?

The show I am most looking forward to is the return of Spooks (Fri ABC 920P), series 4 of the BBC spy drama set in MI5. Distinctly less flashy than the American spy shows like 24 or Alias, it touches a number of real life issues as it weaves between political power plays, agent rivalry and international espionage. A good time to pick up the show if you haven't seen the previous series' as the old characters have all been killed off and new characters are about to join. Series 6 is about to go to air in the UK and so there's plenty more of the show to look forward to.

Seeing Eye Dogs - workplace pranks

In a bid to undermine the OBs* that think they run this office, I have taken it on myself to gently provoke (for my own amusement, mind) wherever possible. Naturally when slightly more mischievous opportunities arise I maximise the moment (such as the keys to the locked cupboard in the kitchen that have mysteriously disappeared, leaving the cupboard unlocked) but now is not the time.
A number of staff thought that sponsoring a Seeing Eye Dog would be just the ticket to contribute towards something worthwhile in the community. Our noticeboard has since been adorned with a cutey-wootey widdle puppy dog, snuffling up to the camera (stock standard SEDA photo #53) and a sponsor's letter. I can imagine a 9 year old girl just loving to receive this. Here it is (click on the image to enlarge) :

In a bid to mock the entire process (naturally) I have since posted, anonymously of course, the following variation on the puppy theme :

I intend to add another one next week : a beer swilling, gambling addicted greyhound. I hope the owners of said puppy are outraged and rip my contribution down. If I fail to provoke then I will be forced to remove the puppy's picture and post it back to the head OB. I will let you know how I get along. Reader's suggestions for future Dog gags welcome.

*OB refers to certain female personages about whom I will not refer to on-line in any more detail. Off-line however is a different issue !

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Ocean's Robot - GG

The GG highlights for the week, for what they’re worth, are first-run-on-TV films from 2004 : I, Robot (Fri 7 830P) and Ocean’s Twelve (Fri 9 830P).
I, Robot has Will Smith interacting with CGI and, by and large, the first half works. The second half flags under a convoluted and yet predictable series of double crossings and misunderstandings. Directed by Australian Alex Proyas who is also responsible for The Crow and Dark City. I, Robot is no worse than either of those but no better either.
Ocean’s Twelve is a light hearted caper-comedy that is one step more silly than Ocean’s Eleven which was silly enough and one step less charming. The comedy cannibalises its own pop culture references (with Julia Roberts playing Tess playing Julia Roberts, as an example) and while this might work for a sitcom or sketch show, is not a device that I warmed to in this film.
Also, Hannah and Her Sisters (7 Sun 1A) is arguably Woody Allen’s best film. I can’t remember if I have seen it or not, so I will be tuning in to try and decide once and for all whether Woody Allen is really worth getting excited about.

The Natural ain't natural

Roy Hobbs, the thirty-something baseball superstar in The Natural, played by a forty-something Robert Redford has a belief that he could have been the best ever baseball player. He could have broken all the records. Then the kids in the street could look at him walk down it and say, “there goes Roy Hobbs, the greatest ever baseball player.” “Then what ?” he is asked. His blank face is the answer. Well nothing else. That’s it.
I have just finished re-reading Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys that talks a lot about positive male role models in children’s lives, and in particular, boys. A positive male role model can assist boys in growing up to become caring, strong, confident and gracious men. These sorts of men don’t just want to become the greatest baseball player ever and then stop. They want to live life, be involved in their families, be active members of their community.
Did young Roy’s father pass on nothing else before dying of a heart attack ? Evidently not. The scripting in this film reminds me of something that Daffy Duck might write : “the best of the best of the best.” Even Porky Pig had a better sense of self
We know too in modern life that the cult of celebrity is nothing more than a fantastic dream. Stalking, harassment and pressure lead celebrities to adopt lifestyle choices that are isolating.
The Natural is a fantasy sports film in the same way that Pretty Woman is a fantasy (you know, hooker with a heart of gold wins the heart of a lonely billionaire and they drive around in expensive cars for ever more), only its nowhere near as believable. The fantasy is that there is this guy who can bat, pitch and field with power and grace, who can smack a baseball through the very window where his enemy sits up in the press room, and out of the ground every other time. The baddies are real bad and the women too.
Why did the woman in black, Barbara Hershey, pull a gun and shoot him (but not kill him, go back to that image of the Hulk from two weeks ago) ? I don’t know. The script never mentioned it.
Does Glenn Close have magical powers that can transform a player from bad to sublime ? The film never told me that either although the sunlit halo suggested it. And when did she get knocked up ? Are we ever told who the father is or do we just suppose it was you know who ?
The cartoon pretensions don’t end with here. There’s the one-eyed mystic, the albino Judge, the hapless old timer coach, Michael Madsen’s untimely outfield demise by running through the fence that rings the ground (just like many a Bugs Bunny episode where you see the outline of the critter who has gone through the door while it’s still closed).
Its hard to believe that a professional sports team, especially viewed through modern eyes, plays more akin to a Keystone Cops slapstick routine during the “hapless” sequence (until our boy turns up that is and they instantly become competent professionals again). And doesn’t the crusty old coach who has been there for 57 years know a thing or two about coaching ? Even Jock McHale at Collingwood had to win the occasional premiership just to stay employed.
And finally, just before the sparks from the light tower that rains glory on the victors and ignominy on the defeated, where did the blood come from ? Is it a stigmata ? Is Roy Hobbs really a deity who cannot die and perform miracles on earth ? He doesn’t die, he does hit the ball and he does retire with the magic woman and the boy and they do live happily ever after. So, what was the point of the blood ? Did he never play again because NappySan hasn’t been invented yet and “you’ll never get that stain out” ? This, like the film itself, is baffling at best. Comical more like.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Home Fix-it

Yep, that's my new indicator lever on my Holden Commodore VN. The factory-fitted lever which served its purpose for the vehicle's first 16 years of life sheared off after getting caught in my suit jacket, on one of those searingly hot days we experienced recently.

I drilled a small hole in the end of the indicator stub which was still attached to the steering column. I then inserted a 20cm wood screw which remarkably, has held firm.
My two biggest fears were that
1) there were some key electrics in the steering column that would react violently should I drill through them, and
2) the plastic surrounding the screw would disintegrate and my solution would prove falliable. I supported the plastic base of my new look indicator with some good, old fashioned, U.S. made gaffer tape.
The outcome so far : the wood screw is stuck fast and allows the driver to easily indicate and operate the high beam. Until it doesn't work, I cannot see why I will need to buy a replacement part and have a mechanic install it !

Thursday, 1 March 2007

India outsourced to Melbourne - GG

While there is nothing screaming out to be watched this week, you could dip a toe into old waters : My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Fri 9 830P), Silence of the Lambs (Fri 7 11P), Adaptation (Sun 10 1030P) by director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) – a very clever, deliberately convoluted series of plot lines with Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep and Nic Cage; High Fidelity (Sun 7 1130P), or even The Ghost Ship (Tue ABC 2A) which is one of the Val Lewton produced 1940s horror movies which has not been screened as recently as some of his others (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Seventh Victim).
I think though for flair, fun, colour, song and dance, Salaam Namaste (Sun SBS 930P), a Bollywood musical comedy which was shot in and around Melbourne a couple of years ago. Laugh at the incongruent geography as they travel from one landmark to another – I wonder if the Harbour Bridge will make an appearance ? – and be amazed at how our great city can be reduced to a cliché of postcards, all for the homeland’s mass market. Any bets on a tram, the Arts Centre tower and Luna Park’s gaping visage in the first one minute of film ? Plenty of Australians filling in the gaps between the Indian stars (and Melbourne’s own Tania Zaetta !)

A little Extra

Feature article in today's GG, interview with Extras co-creator, Stephen Merchant.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Recently, Harry Potter fans (of which I am unashamedly one) were greeted with the news that July 21 is the release date for the next (and last) instalment. Only ever intended by the author, J.K. Rowling, to write seven books (one for each of Harry’s high school years at Hogwarts), the most recent, and sixth, instalment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was the most impressive and complete story so far. My expectations for book 7 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) are now almost impossibly high.
Book 5 (HP and the Order of the Phoenix) was the greatest disappointment. Trying (a little too hard I feel) to demonstrate Harry’s increasing frustration and isolation (at being 15, at being an orphan, at being attacked by very nasty forces) resulted in A LOT OF SHOUTING (no kidding, Rowling used capitals a lot which wears thin after a very short while). Also, the book topped 900 pages. Like a lot of modern day movies, more is not necessarily better. I felt that book 5 would have benefited from an editor prepared to stand up to the marketing behemoth that is ‘Harry Potter’ and made a tighter story as a result.
If you have seen the films and can’t see what all the fuss is about then I’m not surprised. The first two films were directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and they were very much children’s films which (unfortunately necessarily) spent so long in set up and exposition that there was no time for character development. Film 3 was directed by Mexican Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) who got the mix of teenage URST right. Film 4 was directed by Mike Newell (Mona Lisa Smile, Donnie Brasco) and on the whole it was quite boring [with the exception of two action scenes, one of them involving the dragon chase]. Film 5 incidentally is due around the same time as book 7 in July this year. Plenty of cross-promotion all round.
My expectations have always been high for this series of novels. While ostensibly aimed at the upper-primary / young teenager, the language and sophistication of the stories and characters meant that “kids of all ages” could enjoy them. Adults enjoy emotional maturity in equal measure with a character’s adventures and as the books moved progressively through to #5, that maturity just seemed to be lacking, in my opinion. My wife kept reminding me that the books “were aimed at children,” not at adults but I still felt that they could offer just a little more and still be accessible to children.
The Half-blood Prince (#6), which I have just re-read, has Harry coping as a senior with his school work, captaining his sports team, squaring up to his rival, Draco, and finding out a lot of information about the evil Lord Voldemort whose return to power is terrorising the wizarding community.
The emotional climax of this story is with the death of yet another important character. At the end of book 5, Harry loses someone close to him but was not, I felt, as relatively close to us (as a reader). The loss at the end of book 6 is personal to both us and Harry and the result is devastating.
“What was real and inescapable, was the awful pressing feeling in his chest … He moved, dreamlike, through the murmuring crowd to the very front, where the dumbstruck students and teachers had left a gap.”

We are in denial. We have been tricked before by Rowlings writing style and clever shifts in attention. Our insides are with Harry : we scream with denial. But the truth hits us. We are numb and wander around in a daze.
“Somewhere out in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way Harry had never heard before : a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And Harry felt that the music was inside him and not without : it was his own grief turned magically to song that echoed across the grounds and through the castle windows.”

With a renewed mission in mind (and the subject of book 7 yet to be played out) Harry knows that he must eschew his close relationships so that they cannot be leveraged against him in any future battles waged against the Dark Lord. “It’s for some stupid noble reason, isn’t it ?” says Harry’s girlfriend with whom he his breaking up. Unlike Superman and Spiderman in recent film outings though, we know there is no stoic joy to be had by spurning those you love. We know that he is just an ordinary sort of boy facing extra-ordinary challenges.
You need to start at book 1 and let the stories envelope you. The great advantage that books have over films is that they have the time and space to build deep relationships. As the books evolve, so do the characters, their relationships and their maturity.
Like a car wreck the terror just stops us. The momentum of the story however carries us onward to July 21. We can hardly wait.