Monthly Archives: October 2010

Oh Woe Is MEAA

More On The Hobbit Conflict

I’ve had a few more days to think about this, and people keep asking me what I think.

I’m of the opinion that it sucks that the MEAA is putting a production like ‘the Hobbit’ on the spot as some kind of test case to widen its claims. It’s not exactly collective bargaining, but singling out Peter Jackson and Warner Brothers.

If this were really a point worth fighting for, then the case should be made that all production in New Zealand and Australia should be stop-worked so there is a greater agreement about the terms of these contracts. Instead, they’re threatening one production out of many which might make for grabbing headlines but is doing untold damage to the reputation of shooting down under. The worst part of that is that it’s not an exchange I as an individual would have made, and I imagine there are plenty of others who feel the same way.

I understand that the MEAA thinks its doing the right thing, but it needs to understand that it’s doing it in absolutely the wrong way. It’s doing far more harm than any good that could come out of making Warner Brothers back down or go away. Because if they go away, they sure as hell won’t be the only major studio going away.

Parity Disparity

I’ve been meaning to write about this for days now since Pleiades handed me a page out of the Financial Review about the impact of an appreciating AUD. Every time the Australian Dollar goes up, there is a collective scream from the Australian Film industry because it means there will be fewer productions coming from America.

While I respect the contributions of that sector of the business it strikes me as rather pathetic that there’s nothing else around that those people are immediately out of work. I’ve been blogging about the industry for some time now but it seems incredibly sad that the lack of depth in our own production essentially exposes the vulnerability of the export sector of our industry  at the mere appreciation of our currency to parity with the US Dollar.

The Loved Ones Haiku

Ads are everywhere.

Testimonials are good.

Don’t think I’ll watch it.

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The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

Holocaust Porn

There’s a quick route to the Oscars’ Night podium, and it is to have a movie with Nazis and death camps; for Nazis and Death Camps are considered the height of human indecency and cruelty and to have any story set against that background is worthy of nominations.

For some reason, this film didn’t get close, but it might be because the main character is the son of a SS officer, and there’s no redeeming that boy let alone his family.

Now, for the spoiler alert. Don’t read on if you intend on watching this tripe without knowing what happens!

What’s Good About It

It’s a peculiar kind of gallows humour, but I found it funny that the SS soldier’s tragedy was that his son died in the gas chamber. We get to the end and we understand it is deeply tragic, but we’re also talking about the family member of an SS officer in charge of a death camp. A DEATH CAMP. It’s actually a moment I was reduced to howling laughter. It’s just too funny.

It’s not like the main character German kid is a terribly likable kid. He’s just an ordinary kid who misunderstands the world he lives in and gets to die with his friend. It’s not so much tragic as comic.

David Thewliss as the SS daddy is cool. He’s always good value on the screen.

What’s Bad About It

The problem with this film is that the fiction is so bad, no amount of directing and acting and editing and lighting and craft in general was going to rescue it from it crappiness as a concept. It’s simply an attempt to polish a turd.

This film is just so cloying I found most of it objectionable. They work hard to make the Nazi family look normal, but when daddy gets Heil-Hitler-ed in his full SS regalia, it’s just too much to swallow. I never liked any of the characters and the whole thing was turgid and stupid in that you knew nothing good was going to come of it, and really, it trivialises Nazism itself by only showing a corner of the death camp for most part until the final reel when Bruno goes in to the camp.

It’s intellectually dishonest to show a death camp without the immediate threat of Nazi SS guards with machine guns and dogs and the smoke stack pouring out plumes of mass murder into the sky. To not even attempt to show it in its full hellishness just sucks.

And I say this as somebody who isn’t Jewish at all.

What’s Interesting About It

It didn’t win any Oscars.

Goes to show the Academy isn’t that stupid.

‘Mein Kampf’ As Source Text

If Hitler was collecting royalties, he’d b happy by the amount of words these Holocaust movies quote his book.This film quotes sections in scenes where a Nazi ideologue ‘educates’ the children into the ways of the Nazi philosophy by making them digest the odious book. The problem is that apart from our own disapproval of Hitler and Nazism, there is nothing to reflect upon in the text.

The film ‘Max’ quoted ‘Mein Kampf’ extensively to illuminate what a sick little mind Adolf Hitler possessed, and went to great lengths to find the human frailty in the boisterous chest thumping rhetoric. This film has no such gusto. It just flops bits of ‘Mein Kampf’ to be part of a palimpsest. It seems more gratuitous than appropriate.

You start to wonder why gratuitous action in action movies is so looked down upon when gratuitous ideologising in these Holocaust movies get a free pass even when they are equally gratuitous. The artistic pretension is disgusting.

What One Rabbi Thinks

Here’s a review of the book this film is based upon. I quote this bit for it seems pertinent:

My Auschwitz friend read the book at my urging. He wept, and begged me tell everyone that this book is not just a lie and not just a fairytale, but a profanation. No one may dare alter the truths of the Holocaust, no matter how noble his motives.

I think that sums it up.

On some level I wish they’d stop making movies with Nazis and death camps. They can never do it any justice for censorship reasons – the reality is too obscene for the screen – so why keep putting up fakes and forgeries? Profanation indeed.

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The Expendables

Thank Goodness For Gratuitous Explosions

Rob Morgan said he wanted a crit written on this film. I figure, why not? It’s got things to talk about.

What’s Good About It

The explosions are big, the action is hard hitting. Some of these guys are getting on but they can still pack a punch, like Jet Li. Others like Dolph manage okay, but Sylvester is just not cutting it anymore as a fisticuff-ing toe-to-toe with the baddie guy. That’s probably why the film is structured like a buddy movie with Jason Statham filling in as his able partner. It’s a good move because more than once you wonder when Sylvester’s knee’s going to give out.

The script is so simple the central action takes place on an Island Vilenus (villainous, get it?) and the bad guys are some rogue CIA dude backing up a dictator for cocaine cash crops.

It’s good that the plot is so simple as it hardly needs any explanation beyond the streamlined parade of violence and explosions. Sometimes unadorned simplicity is the essence of beauty.

What’s Bad About It

There’s a fine line between a bit of nonsense and not making sense. The film veers into the “what is going on here?” moment. Also redeeming the Dolph character Gunnar at the end seems to set everything up for a sequel with Dolph but it seems to me they could have done a better job of using him in the script.

Also, Charisma Carpenter is in it like 3 scenes with about 4 close ups. I’m still deciding if this not enough or way too much.

The ending after the credits start to roll, with the guys rolling out in the low-riding Harleys is pretty dumb too.

What’s Interesting About It

I’m trying to rack my brain to find some depth worth talking about in what is a very shallow puddle of a film but with some big fish flopping around in the shallows. In that sense, if I were taking pot-shots, it would be like the proverbial fish in the barrel so to speak, if mixing and extending metaphors is your thing.

The Rogue CIA Plot

This isn’t the only 1980s flashback of a action film that features a rogue CIA operative that has derailed a mercenary outfit. That’s right, ‘The A-Team’ recently graced our screens with this premise. One can surmise that Hollywood really is running out of ideas.

That point aside, it’s worth noting that even ‘Knight and Day’ starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz was built around Tom Cruise being a rogue operative; and Angelina Jollie is playing a character in ‘Salt’, who could be described as a rogue CIA operative; Naomi Wolf playing somebody who was at one point characterised as having gone rogue; and suddenly you have this year’s Hollywood obsession with CIA operatives that go rogue.

The GFC has been really hard on the development side of scripts but its interesting to see how all of this is manifesting itself with the same small pool of ideas sloshing around the market place. Even for gratuitous action flicks, this hasn’t exactly been a good year for plot.

The American Anxiety About The State

Maybe it’s just me, but the American paranoia about the state is a little out of control. The Tea Party and gun-toting so-called libertarians are often seen complaining about government spending and taxes. The assumption seems to be that governments tax people a lot to spend that money on illicit activities and wrack up a huge debt.

The more likely (and simpler) explanation is that the government spends its money on things where people demand it. More likely than not, there are more demands than there is money, hence the debt.

But it’s easier for some people to think the US government is an Orwellian organ. Some even think it’s just a front for the Illuminati. Compared to such arcane thinking, the rogue CIA man backing a Latin American Dictator is merely a sham. That’s sort of interesting at this point in time, after decades of turning a blind eye to such dictators. Now they are merely bad guys in Stallone movies. Fancy that.

One Hundred Minutes Of Attitude

I think Gabriel Garcia Marquez would be appalled at the vision of the Latin American dictator in most American films, but he might actually be moved by this one. The reason is that this film goes for the melodramatic set up of having the insider on the island be the daughter of the dictator, who clearly has some conscience. That story line hints at the sort of tragi-comic drama that Marquez relishes in his work such as One Hundred Years of Solitude’ or ‘Autumn of the Patriarch’.

I don’t know if Sylvester Stallone goes in for reading Marquez. I somehow doubt it, but you should never judge a man by his oeuvre. Perhaps he is an avid reader of Gabriel Garcia Marquez – it just doesn’t show in his own work. Heck, I listen to a lot of J.S. Bach but it sure doesn’t show in my song ‘Dungeon Dad’. All the same, the set up of Latin American dictator and his dissident daughter makes for a pretty good set up for any story. There’s something literary right there, and very much worthy of intellectual conceits.

The shame of it all is that it takes a Stallone movie to come at the set up, which is in some ways, deeply ironic. It’s like the moment where a thousand monkeys at typewriters turn in ‘Hamlet’.Sylvester was actually on to a good thing, like a chef homing in on an exquisite piece of cuisine but he had to cover it in tomato sauce and slap it between two hamburger buns.

Mickey Rourke & Harley Davidson

If the idea of the film was to reunite the action stars of the 1980s, I’m not quite sure what Mickey Rourke is doing in this throng. Yes, he looks like a derelict from the 1980s but he was also the poster boy for extreme method acting, more than action movies. There are two films in his 1980s catalogue that might get him in myth-wise. There’s his seminal role as the Motorcycle Boy in ‘Rumble Fish’, there’s ‘Year of the Dragon’ and the rather insipid ‘Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man’. Let’s not forget the dude also played St Francis of Assisi.

He’s actually a bad fit in this crowd because he alone has acting chops worth spit, while everybody else carries on with the same action-movie-mien of impassive menace. He also gets a soliloquy of sorts, which is baffling but it seems to explain away why he doesn’t go on the shooting mayhem anymore.

As long time readers o this blog know,  I’ll always be a fan boy when it comes to Mickey Rourke, but it has to be said he looked wrong in this film, even if he looks like a bikie monster.

Sylvester Stallone’s Plastic Surgeon

…Did an immensely a bad job.

The Dude’s rich. You’d think he’d find whoever did Tom Cruise or Nicole Kidman.

Jet Li And The Little Asian Meme

It’s 2010 and the meme is still that the Asian guy is small but works hard. Some things die very hard, I guess.

Where’s Mel?

Mel Gibson I imagine is a better fit than either Jet Li or Mickey Rourke, what with his Lethal Weapon series. If even Bruce and Arnie are dropping in for a cameo, the least they could have managed was a cameo featuring Mel. It would have been authentic. Of course since the 1980s, Mel has been found out to have been an anti-semitic girlfriend beater as well as a religious nutbar and Oscar winning director. Still, one would have thought Sylvester could have reached across to Mel. That he didn’t says volumes. Dolph’s in, Mel’s not. Think about that for a moment.

It’s sick.

Anyway, I can just imagine Mel in his conceit – as an Oscar winning director of course – would turn down such a proposal from Sylvester Stallone. Coming to think of it, even Russell Crowe would turn it down. More’s the pity. I hope there’s a sequel with even more of these 1980s action guys in it. If there ever were a sequel to this thing we’ll need Jean-Claude van Damme and Steven Seagal, and a brief moment to mourn Brandon Lee.

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Blast From The Past

Robert Johnson

So, I’m over at Walk-Off HBP’s house and he brings out this resonator guitar. It takes about 30 seconds for me to want one. Turns out he’s designing a web page for a guitar shop and this thing was sitting there as a sort of sample, getting worked in by Mrs HBP. When you play one of these things with a slide, it just sings, hokum-swamprat-muddy delta blues, so it sent me scurrying for my Robert Johnson compilation album when I got home.

Even though I don’t consider myself any kind of blues player – let alone a serious one – the blues is in the blood of rock guitar and any amount of sourcing Led Zeppelin riff-age eventually leads you back to Robert Johnson and his songs like Terraplane Blues.

The album cover I’ve linked to is from the old LP compilation which had 28 tracks on it. The legend of there being a 29th song spawned the film ‘Crossroads’ starring Ralph Macchio and Steve Vai. The 1990s CD release actually had 40 tracks across 2CDs, which sort of stole the thunder from the movie, but a more comprehensive survey is a better experience.

I always liked the album cover of the LP, which I think I liked even before I owned a copy. Such is the life of a record collector, full of wistful silliness. The album was already an important disc by the time I glommed on to buying it. I bought the album at the Wentworth building at the University of Sydney on my way home from some lecture. It was that and ‘Blue Valentine’ by Tom Waits. I remember trudging home with the 2 albums in a bag thinking when will my “I-Hate-Sydney-Uni-Faculty-of-Medicine Blues’ end?

Robert Johnson sounded like a ghost then. He sounds haunting and disembodied even today.

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Predators

This Isn’t Working

The trotting out of sequels to milk the goodwill people have for a movie franchise can get ridiculous sometimes. I know they do want to give the fans something that they think they want, but it’s hard to say whether the fans really know if they like what they think they want.

The Predator franchise hasn’t been as strong as some of the other 1980s movie franchises. The other sequel set in LA was okay but not great, while it did open the door to the ‘Aliens versus Predator’ franchise in comic books, the movies in that line have been dastardly dull and dare I say dissatisfying in the extreme.

So after all that comes this movie which, I am guessing is meant for the genuine fans of the predator monster, as a monster movie. Yet, there’s something missing – and it’s not necessarily just Arnie.

What’s Good About It

The cast is surprisingly good in this rather laconic film which offers up deaths at a regular interval. Also noteworthy is the production design which draws a lot from the first film and yet has the requisite science fiction feel.

What’s Bad About It

It’s simply not very credible as a story premise or as an excuse to run around the jungle with guns. The script is weak and the tropes run to cliche a little too easily. The revelation that the Topher Grace character is actually a dangerous serial killer doesn’t really do much for the story either.

The action sequences seem like re-treads of other movies and the suspense never really rises because we know what the monster is like and we don’t learn anything new about them.

What’s Interesting About It

One of the ironies in the original premise of the predator was that we as humans might not be the top predator. The problem with the subsequent films is that we as the audience go in knowing that we are not the top predator on screen because the Predator monster alien is going to do its utmost to spill human blood. This might be the first film across all 5 entries where the irony is couched in such a way that the alien predator might not be the top predator on screen – that the humans might just be the top ‘predator’.

It’s the same shift that made the second Alien movie ‘Aliens’ viably a different kind of movie from the first. Similarly, the hunted bunch in this film make a surprisingly good fist of dealing with not 1 but 3 predators, though it can be argued the predators in this movie are not as tough as the predator alien in the very first movie. In that film it was a major discovery that if it bleeds, then you could conceivably kill it. In this film, their technological advantage is marginalised by the willingness of the predator aliens to traipse around without their camouflage.

“Your Ass Is Awesome”

The sad thing is that this line might have been the best line from the film. It hasn’t got a patch on “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

The notion that we are the dangerous predators seems almost secondary to the blatantly stupid sexism. In some ways the film is decidedly hell-bent on searching out the schlock horror roots of the Predator series and shoving it in our faces. It’s an interesting choice given how jaded the audience has become.

Is This All These Guys Do?

One of the most irrational thing about the Predator series is that hunting is all the predators ever do. They fly around space collecting hunting trophies. That’s it. Yes they’re ferocious but there’s also something stilted about these aliens that works to limit the scope of what these films can be. Contrast it with the Alien movies and you can see the deficit of ideas.

The Geiger alien is a biological weapon as well as a critique of violence. It has hives, and queens like a hive insect but it is also strangely dependent on finding hosts, thus making it destined to be more dangerous to what ever life form it comes across. In contrast we have seen that humans and predators can come to tacit agreements when put into a corner or the same ring with a Geiger-alien. In that sense, they are far less alien to us than the horror of the Geiger monster.

It also means the question that begs to be answered is, what exactly is going on with their society that all we ever seem to encounter are their equivalent of weekend warrior hunters?

Imagine if we sent out a flotilla of spacecraft manned only by hobbyist hunters, with the express purpose of going hunting for trophies. How cracked would our civilization be if it ever got to that point? All the same, not much thinking ever seems to go into describing just why and how it is that the predators go about doing what they do. After 5 films, it’s getting really thin.

Where’s Arnie?

Arnie hasn’t shown his face in any of the Predator sequels and AVP movies, even though his character gets referred to in some instances. One of the major failings of the Predator sequels might be the absence of the original dude who went toe to toe with the original predator.

Even Terminator Salvation had an Arnie cameo so you’d think they’d manage something – even if he is the Governator until further notice. The singular lack of charm in the AVP movies might be a result of not having a single character you can root for and hang your story interests upon. It’s even worse when the Predator movie kicked off as an Arnie vehicle.

My advice for the next entry is simple: Bring Back Arnie.

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Blast From The Past

A Little Ain’t Enough

Back in 1996, I was in Honkers as a freelancer. It was strange because the handover was coming up in 1997 and Star TV wasn’t handing out any ex-pat contracts even though they were hiring me out of Sydney. The thing is, you couldn’t live in HK unless you got an ex-pat deal and everybody said so, so it was inexplicable why they didn’t want to hand one out. The discussions got a little ugly.

I think I went 3 rounds of negotiations with the guy John McSomething and the other fuckwit – who should in all good taste refrain from naming but his fuckwitten name was John McBride – at the time wherein they said with a straight face that they wanted me to take on the responsibility of a senior but wanted to pay me a junior’s wage. Yeah right. Needless to say I didn’t budge (as all bastards don’t and won’t when making easy money) and I ended up coming back to work as a writer on a feature. In retrospect the 1990s were pretty good if you ask me, even if not all the breaks went my way. There was always something going on.

Anyway during that time in HK, an Aussie exec introduced me to this album by David Lee Roth. Because I was cut off from my CD collection it was actually a lifesaver having something to listen to. I even used the last track on some thing I cut out there. I gave the CD back to the dude who graciously lent it to me and forgot about it. Of course I picked up a copy in a $5 bin in Newtown a few years ago and it’s been siting on my shelf since then.

Except it hasn’t exactly been forgotten completely. There’s the beautiful play out on the last track ‘Drop in the Bucket’ which must be one the most resplendent bits of spandex-trousered-rock outside of Van Halen, with a 2min 25 second play out to the end, which kicks in at 2mins 40seconds in. That’s right, almost half the track is a lead break followed by a play out. It’s great guitar gymnastics with most excellent taste.

This week I’ve managed to encode it for my iPod and together with the Adrian Belew disc, I’ve been immersing myself in a bit of weirded out nostalgia.

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Blast From The Past

Lone Rhino/Twang Bar King

I picked up a 2-disc edition of Adrian Belew’s solo albums from the 1980s. There was a time ‘Lone Rhino’ in particular was the ultimate in guitar-music hip, what with the stripped back 1980s arrangements and bizarre guitar tones inflected with an astute, spare sensibility. Adrian Belew played with Frank Zappa on ‘Sheik Yerbouti’ and ‘Baby Snakes’; he played with Bowie on ‘Lodger’; He made Talking Heads actually sound as cool as their rep; he was then 1/4 of the new 1980s King Crimson. What’s not to like? He even made Laurie Anderson palatable – sort of.

Listening to it today, I’m struck by how sparse and open the arrangements are on both albums. In this day and age it’s almost stilted what with that New York minimalist sensibility – you almost expect the music to be in flat pastel colours. If there’s one thing I’m not sure about it’s the aggressive minimalism that brought about the end to 1970s prog rock and ushered in ‘New Wave’. Yes, sometimes less-is-more vis-a-vis The Police but just as equally, less-is-less in the case of Joy Division. Or Laurie Anderson.

So Adrian Belew sounds like he’s surfing that incline between the 1980s minimalist chic and slick. Most days I just want to hear him go for it. They’re okay albums today in the light of his other works. I still like ‘Big Electric Cat’ and ‘Momur’ but I’m still not sure about ‘Adidas in Heat’.

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