Monthly Archives: August 2009

Yankees Update – 30/08/09

Getting There

Since the big series in Boston where the Yankees stamped their authority on the AL East, the last fortnight has been a process of working through the numbers. Their long road trip out west finished with a 7-3 record, and while they lot the series to Texas at home 2-1, they’ve won 2 so far of their 3 game series with the White Sox. While the tension has somewhat gone out of the AL East race, the Yankees still have to get through September.

Even losing 2 of 3 to the Texas Rangers was interesting in that, it makes it just that harder for the Red Sox to get their Wild Card berth; an while you wouldn’t exactly accuse the Yankees of tanking it, it’s actually a nice result given the context of the race for the post-season. The only time losing a series this season felt okay.

New Joba Rules

Joba came out of his 8 day break and sucked. So now they have new Joba rules. It’s a case where the desire to limit the innings and the need to get him to stay effective as a starter are beginning to work against each other. Clearly he needs the routine, so they’re going to give him the starts, just limit the innings. Fortunately the Sergio Mitre-Chad Gaudin combo of a 5th starter has begun to work. Today’s combined shut out by those guys is actually very useful. So it might be the case where Joba will pitch regularly, just not that long into the game any more. Certainly not until the post-season.

Andy Pettitte Wants To Keep Pitching

Most people were assuming he was going to retire but he’s now making noises about going a bit longer. Well, with the sort of money on the table, why wouldn’t you? Well, I’d be okay with that if he takes a similar incentive deal.

Derek Jeter’s Magic Run

Captain Intangibles is about to reach a Yankee milestone later this season. he is likely going to pass Lou Gehrig as the career hits leader for the Yankees. I’m sort of amazed he’s passed Bernie Williams let alone Babe Ruth, but there you go. Today, I consider him to be the luckiest man on the face of this earth. 🙂

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District 9 Review

What’s Good About It

For some reason there’s been a dearth of good science fiction lately. I lay the blame squarely on the un-intelligence of Hollywood executives because basically, they’re the only ones capable of funding a good sci-fi and they seem to have lost the ability to pick them any more.

It’s against this context we get ‘District 9’ thrown at us like so much meat to hungry animals in a safari enclosure. The animals I might add probably always feel there’s got to be better than the meat that’s being thrown at them.

I guess I have to say that at least it’s a full-blooded sci-fi flick, an that counts as good.

The South African Accents are great. It puts you deep into the rhythms of Jo’burg and there’s something very curious about that. Maybe I’m missing the South African emigres with whom I used to play baseball. It’s actually quite a bit of fun, and it has the added advantage of the bad guys seeming like much worse guys than if they were white guys from America, being mercenary.

I guess I’m a product of my times.

What’s Bad About It

The film doesn’t really give you an indication what the central problem is until a good 20minutes in to the film. This isn’t because there’s not much going, but because there’s just too much going on. We’re busy trying to decipher the vast mass of signals springing off the screen that we miss that it’s about some of the aliens wanting to go home. In other words, it’s ‘ET: The Extra-Terrestrial’ but with better effects and uglier aliens.

The other problem is that the it doesn’t make any sense. If the aliens have been on Earth for 20-odd years because they were stranded without fuel, they shouldn’t be able to extract fuel from stuff in the junkyard. An the same substance shouldn’t be turning the main character Vikus into an alien just because it splashed all over his face. There’s just no rationale for this except for the expediency.

The other thing I didn’t like was the pseudo-documentary style it took with the extensive hand-held camera that made me car sick. I think I spent the middle 40minutes or so feeling woozy and wanting to throw up. That’s not a selling point or this movie.

What’s Interesting About It

There a re echoes of apartheid that play out in this film. of course the question one could ask is, is it just repeating the structure of racism or is it inverting it in some new way? I’m not really sure if the film makers ever successfully address the nature of xenophobia, but they do show how apartheid would have been exercised under the guise of bureaucratic policy.  That part of the film is at least fascinating.

The ugly, bullying bureaucracy is carried out with a very forced, fake smile and a condescending attitude that embarrasses us as we watch.

The other idea that is interesting in the film is the idea of Bogan Aliens. These aliens that come to earth are workers and have no idea about anything. You can just imagine it. If you randomly sampled the human population, its probably not going to be a good representation of the human genome. They’re certainly not a goo political representative.

Which all works in favor of the complexity of the film’s theme. All this breaks down as the story progresses towards a simple action gun fight climax, and you realise you’re watching a re-telling of ET. I guess you could do worse on a Thursday night.

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Rachel Ward Wants Some Slack Cut Her Way

I Dunno Lady, But You DO Get Slack Cut By Being Rachel Ward

This article came in courtesy of Walk-Off HBP.

I have a film now braving the marketplace. It does not comply with the dictates of mass marketing. It is not trying to be “entertaining enough for mainstream audiences”. It does not try to compete with the million-plus audiences turning on television for Packed to the Rafters and Underbelly. It cannot compete with the marketing budgets of US studio fare. But, I believe – and my distributors and funding bodies believe – that given a fair chance, there is a healthy audience for Australian films. Uneasy, complex, unsettling ones at that. Always has been.

If anything, Australian film made its name with them: Fred Schepisi’s The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and The Devil’s Playground, Bruce Beresford’s Breaker Morant, Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout. New Zealand did it this way, too, with the likes of Lee Tamahori’s Once Were Warriors and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.

I don’t know whether filmmakers from other years have suddenly felt this insidious wet blanket of negativity for making films that demand and confront and haunt an audience (which is certainly my idea of entertainment) rather than providing simple escapism and the ubiquitous ”feel good” factor.

Feel-good films have their value and their place. Like a big, buttery box of popcorn, they have no trouble selling themselves.

But as the Herald’s film writer, Garry Maddox, went some way to point out, niche movies are dependent on how well they are made. They are also hugely dependent on an accumulation of great reviews, multiple stars, inordinate publicity by deeply committed actors and filmmakers, inventive and passionate distributors, inclement weather and robust word-of-mouth recommendations.

Removing any of those things can spell disaster. In other words, such films are extremely fragile beings.

I am not bleating for insincere reviews or coverage. I don’t need them. As with Samson and Delilah, The Black Balloon and Somersault, my film, my fragile, beautiful egg, is being propelled towards the try line (decent box office returns) by positive reviews and good word of mouth. Reviews are not the problem.

What I did not count on was a succession of last-minute spoilsports, dumping doom and gloom and threatening to squash my precious egg before those in the audience could make up their own minds.

Well, let’s see now…

Nobody is saying Rachel Ward shouldn’t be allowed to make her movie. It’s just that every time a niche movie is made with government money, it’s an opportunity lost to have made a movie that might have a wider audience appeal.

And every time a niche movie goes into the market place and doesn’t make it’s money back, it puts another nail in the coffin of the Australian Film Industry being viable as an industry. And frankly, we’ve had 30-odd years of that going on thanks to really strange choices made by the AFC, FFC the various State-based agencies, and most likely Screen Australia. These strange choices informed by non-market biases and a very strong sense of wanting to be seen funding the ‘correct’ projects, combined with the ATO’s very strange rulings on what constitutes Australian films, have all but destroyed the creatives in this country. We’re dead, we’re fucked – so much so in fact that we’re dead-er and fucked-er than ever before.

So I kind of think Ms Ward is pretty lucky to have been able to make her film, good or bad, hit or not. It most likely won’t be a hit. It most likely won’t make its money back, but she got her work out, and likely got paid to do it. I think she’s been given way more of a fair crack of the whip.

Here’s some sobering news for you all. ‘Indie’ is dead. That’s straight out of LA. Don’t even bother writing your small-time scripts with little actions tailored for small budgets. They’re not getting made. The marketplace is rationalising itself around big pictures that are based on proven commercial properties – read comic books and toys – and the biggest demand outside of that scope is in the $20million budget picture.

The kind of films we make in Australia simply don’t fit that category. It’s time to accept that even the international market that used to exist for our films is rapidly disappearing with the GFC.

So do I think Rachel Ward is off-base? Yeah, I do.

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Some Honest Words

Cinematically Speaking, We’re Pacific Islanders

Today brings yet another critique of the sad world of the Australian Film Industry. A lot could be said about this article but frankly I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted with talking about the damn thing when nothing seems to change. Anyway, here’s what George MiIller has to say:

Except for Luhrmann, George Miller and a handful of others, Australian filmmakers are not even playing the same game as Hollywood. It’s no wonder they’re not competing.

They’re like painters and musicians politely showing their work rather than scrapping for ticket sales.

“It’s a tough business out there,” says Miller, who is – with the Mad Max movies and Happy Feet – the country’s most consistently successful filmmaker. “The big-event movies seem to soak up all the attention and all the box office. Unfortunately, that’s what the cinema business is devolving to.

“The smaller, more intimate, more modest stories are probably finding their way better onto cable, onto television, onto DVD and onto the web ultimately.”

Miller believes the comparison he made a few years ago – that the film industry is like the Fijian and Samoan rugby teams, with brilliant one-off talents but not enough support to match the world’s best – still applies.

A cinema-chain executive, who asks not to be identified, says recent Australian films have just not been entertaining enough for mainstream audiences.

“The box office [see “Dollar for dollar”, right] indicates what the general public’s reaction is to these films and, despite certain people saying that the industry isn’t supporting these pictures, that’s a fallacy,” he says. “Except for Samson and Delilah, that bunch of films have failed to strike a chord with audiences on a large scale.”

The film industry – fragmented, democratic and often justifiably unhappy about the way success is tied to box office rather than overseas sales or audience response – has many talented creative figures but not enough producers who say ugly truths such as “No one cares about this story the way you’ve approached it” or “Even if you execute this perfectly, it’ll still open in a handful of cinemas and last four weeks”.

There aren’t enough hardheads who’ll say, “If this doesn’t make money, it’ll be five years before you make another film” or “How can we broaden it?”

Yup. Plus Phil Noyce’s input:

And we need to listen to director Phillip Noyce, who recently finished filming the Hollywood thriller Salt with Angelina Jolie. “All Australian filmmakers have to be aware (as Baz Luhrmann so obviously is) that making the film is just half the job,” he says. “A much higher percentage of budgets need to be quarantined for publicity and marketing. We need less workshops devoted to refining our craft and a huge redirection of energy by funding and teaching bodies towards basic entrepreneurship.

“The classic economic rules of supply and demand do not apply to movies; demand to see a film has to be created.”

It’s a number’s game. The most ardent cinema-goer who pays to see films will see 50-100 films. That’s based on a weekend movie with friends plus a shot at Tight-Arse-Tuseday. Plus they might watch a DVD of a film they missed, but you’re not talking thousands of films.

So if you’re choosing to see a film, you’re going to choose from the top 50-100 most visible and interesting films on offer. This would mean the most marketed films will find a way into view of the ardent cineaste much more readily than those without the marketing budgets. And really, Australian films simply do not have the kind of marketing budgets to crack the top 200 most marketed films in any given year. So why are we surprised by this outcome?

Why are we even bothering funding more films when we know we’re sending those films to box office oblivion? Isn’t there something more useful to spend this money on? Like better education and health? I keep saying this but Australians pretend to want an Australian film industry much more than they really do. It’s no surprise the industry is to all intents and purposes, dead on the vine.

Today, I feel too embittered to continue with this shit. I really am. I’ve had enough.

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JCVD

What’s Good About It

You have to like a movie that decides to work in a self-referential frame, where the main guy playing Jean-Claude Van Damme is Jean-Claude Van Damme. The film proceeds under the fiction that the JCVD we see on the screen really is the Belgian film star, who happens to get involved with a bank robbery.

The non-linear narrative where we see JCVD’s entrance into the Post Office twice is effective and the flashbacks to different points in time are more poignant as the story rolls on.

The pacing is good and at no time do you really feel “man, this is dragging on”, but there really isn’t much to the story anyway.

What’s Bad About It

The guys who rob the bank are a trio of losers. They behave like something straight out of ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ with perhaps a lot less wit and as a consequence their demises are on the whole dissatisfying. Perhaps that’s part of the script’s theme as well where JCVD confesses his great disillusionment with stardom and life.

The trio are so bad that you just cannot see how they might get out of the situation, even with JCVD as hostage. Inexplicably, they make him take the fall for the job by making him talk to the police negotiator, but that is about it. One of them even has a hairstyle reminiscent of John Cazales’ look from ‘Dog Day Afternoon’.

The film might have been even better had the bank robbery villains had half the gusto of Johnny Depp’s John Dillinger.

What’s Interesting About It

Apart from the premise itself? It’s surprisingly barren.

It’s full of pithy observations like how most American movies bash up on Arabs and muslims except JCVD.

There’s an observation made by one of the bank robbers that John Woo owes JCVD big time, but somehow let him down by forging ahead with his career. Without JCVD, he would “still be filming pigeons in Hong Kong”. That was a funny line.

The jokes about Steven Seagal and his ponytail are mildly amusing.

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The Reader

What’s Good About It

This is a pretty weird picture. It has a NAZI SS camp guard as a leading character, and it’s a woman – and she’s pretty predatory about sex as as well when she seduces a young German boy after the war, which is essentially where it starts. The horrible past only comes to light later in the story. It’s a good ploy because it forces the audience to reckon with the humanity of the woman played by Kate Winslet, before we have to reckon with the horrible past with the main character.

Turns out it is an almighty emotional that requires two actors to anguish their way through the film, one of the Ralph Fiennes who was of course once upon a time that other horrible NAZI on screen, Amon Goeth.

It’s quite clever in that it captures a side of the historical taboo through the libido and carnal pleasure sort of angle. The Germans in this story have to struggle with the NAZI past to they break, but it’s not clear what happens beyond such flagellation.

What’s also good is that the post-war trials of former NAZIs are depicted in the film and you get the feeling that yes, if you know how such trials are going to go, then they likely are show trials no different to the kind of trials they have in say, Communist China or Burma under military rule.

What’s Bad About It

This is a really, really good film except I’m not sure you can de-politicise the Germany-Nazi-Holocaust parts of history to the extent and pretend that only personal moral concerns remain. I’m sorry, but I’m just not that naive. Nazism is/was politics. They didn’t do all the stuff they did for nothing – they were hyper-political about the how and why of the Holocaust and everything else they went and did that we disapprove of today. In the same vein, anybody who was a Nazi is/was political.

You don’t just sidestep that. And politics does go to where morality cannot stomach, quite often. But then, so does the law.

That may just be my reading of it, but the film goes towards having Bruno Ganz’s character mounting the argument that the law has limitations and we still thirst for justice. And yet we’re left with the impression that there were good Germans and bad Germans and we’d all be all right if we can just lock up the bad Germans.

What’s Interesting About It

There’s something almost stupid about a film that has NAZIs and the Holocaust as a back-story and then the leading actress who goes extensively nude in the film ends up with an Oscar. The same actress who joked about such phenomena in ‘Extras’ to Ricky Gervais, that is.

I mean, are we that dumb? Are they that dumb? It’s a good film and all, but come on people! Winslet’s done better work than this. Isn’t this like Holocaust-Porn, the worst of its kind since ‘Life Is Beautiful’?

It’s like they show the ciphers of NAZIs and Holocaust and everybody has to go running to praise the thing. It’s silly.

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BrisConnections Disconnenct Part X

A Mess Is A Mess Is A Mess

After ASIC went and got the verdict it wanted against the Hardie board of directors, I’m sort of wondering when they will go after the financial engineers who engineered BrisConnections. Here’s the latest.

BrisConnections, meanwhile, disclosed Macquarie Group reaped $133.8 million in underwriting, listing, management and other fees. Deutsche made $44.7 million in fees.

The company reported a $24.4 million net profit, largely thanks to the interest it earned from cash held in the bank. BrisConnections stated it had spent $880 million on construction expenses and had $187 million on hand on June 30.

Reflecting the turmoil within the group, BrisConnections also disclosed it held 27 board meetings during the year.

Despite BrisConnections launching legal action against unitholders who defaulted on the second instalment, the group is not legally obliged to repay the underwriters.

Under a clause in the underwriting agreement, BrisConnections is obliged to transfer only units forfeited by 135 unitholders who did not pay the second instalment to the underwriters.

Does this strike you as odd? It seems that they foresaw there would be defaulters, and the defaulters would be pursued for their money, BUT the underwriters won’t be held to the same price tag. Somewhere along the path, they didn’t expect Nick Bolton but they did expect people would scream. Go figure that one out.

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