Monthly Archives: December 2012

Movie Doubles – ‘Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides’ & ‘Freelancers’

The Picaresque And Pretense of Evil

Today’s movie double is about the ‘bad guy as hero’.  The broad genre convention of picaresques is that the main character be something of a charmer but somehow lacking in moral fortitude. The classic definition involves the satirical content as well as the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society.

It seems interesting to compare Johnny Depp in his fourth outing as Captain Jack Sparrow is solidly set in his piratical ways, while 50cent tries to extend his rap singer persona out as a rookie cop turned bad cop ‘Malo’. The Picaresque might be making a comeback in these uncertain times.

A World Of Crooks

The civilised parts of the world in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ are always so full of stuffy nasty poncy Englishmen who seem either captive servitors of a rather nasty system, or servile, willing collaborators for the rich and nasty types. The promise of freedom is offered up by the pirates and their way of life. By this, the fourth installation, it seems like a ritual that somebody attempts to hang Jack Sparrow which leads to a dating escape. Somehow these sequences get more elaborate and silly as the films go on.

Similarly in ‘Freelancers’, the world of New York City police force life for rookie cop ‘Malo’ seems to be a foregone conclusion of corruption and mayhem. The senior police represented in this little segment of the world seem to be all heavily compromised in their ethical stances. Led by Robert De Niro’s Joe Sarcone (whose main purpose seems to be to lend weight to this trifling film with his actorly baggage of good films), the senior cops provide bad examples for the newly minted rookie cops.

Both these films paint bleak portraits of society, although it has to be said the Pirate movies are not serious at all about its portrayal of class in England. Meanwhile, ‘Freelancers’ seems to want to make the serious point that every second cop in New York City is crooked, mostly by necessity of the socius. It’s a difficult claim to take seriously, but, because 50cent has a public persona to maintain, this is what we get.

Whereas the Pirate movie offers us moments of genuine delight and abrasive satire at the pomp of the British Royal family, ‘Freelancers’ wants us to take the social commentary very seriously. Now,  it might be the case that the police in New York City are corrupt, but this movie portrays the rookie cops like idiots and babes in the woods, ready to be corrupted by the older hands.

The flipside of this is that they’re all portrayals of a certain kind of Americana. Jack Sparrow exists defiant and opposite to the British class system, which informs the kind of gun-toting second-amendment-loving diatribe that falls out of the the birth of the USA. You could read the supernatural story of Jack Sparrow as kind of metaphorical birth of America. Meanwhile, ‘Freelancers’ paints a picture of where America is today and the irony is that the society portrayed by the latter film is just as bad as the society that tries to hang Jack Sparrow every episode.

The Anti-Establishment Credentials

It makes me laugh to read that in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, the NRA thinks Hollywood films and violent video games and music videos have to shoulder some blame. If ever there was an entity that basically provokes this irrational fear of edgy entertainment, it is a rap star like 50 Cent.

It goes without saying that 50 Cent and his persona cannot relinquish the street, so the film ends up being a tortured revenge story where the main character is hardly heroic; he’s more a vagabond in a cop uniform, ready to go on the take faster than you can say “fifty cents”. If this willful distortion of ‘values’ doesn’t grind people’s gears and their sense of society, then surely the film needs some kind of ballast and that seems to be what Robert De Niro and Forest Whitaker provide. Combined, the film has an all-over-the-shop sort of mimesis that simply has not existed before, where the audience is rooting for a bad cop played by a gangsta-rapper.

Forget the ubiquity of drugs and the tortured discourse about the ‘n-word’, the film staggers along what can only be described as the social sewers of New York, all the while people are snorting and fucking and snorting while fucking. For me, it’s kind of a dystopia, but this film is pitched for somebody – I feel sorry for that somebody. As picaresques go, this one makes you wonder if western civilisation has reached a saturation point in decadence.

The Fountain Of Youth As Arbitrary Symbol

One of the most peculiar concerns in ‘Pirates IV’ is that the characters are in search of the fountain of youth, while the main character seems rather oblique to these passions. It’s not clear that Jack Sparrow wants to get there, let alone take part in the required ritual at the end of the journey. It seems incredibly disingenuous even, that Jack Sparrow would not be interested in the fountain of youth if such a thing existed – and this being a movie, of course it exists.

His sometime nemesis and other-time partner in crime Hector Barbossa is equally disinterested in the fountain. He’s after revenge against Blackbeard, so it is purely coincidental that the fountain of youth is involved in the story. For all he cares he would have his revenge on the streets of London or a pub somewhere. The character who has the clear motivation of getting to the fountain then is the villain Blackbeard except it is not even clear he believes in the necessity. On some level he seems to be resigned to his fate of being killed by the one-legged man. He’s only going because he’s being goaded into it by his daughter.

This explains the title in a roundabout way, why it might not be ‘Fountain of Youth’ but ‘On Stranger Tides’. The film’s main characters are actually oddly blase about getting to the destination.

Do They Learn Anything?

Picaresques in general are narratives to highlight and satirise the societies in which they are set . That being said, it is hard to see if the main characters in these stories really learn anything. Even Jack Sparrow seems largely unchanged by any and all the adventures he has found himself. The inability to change is probably due to the fact that the authorial voice is usually couched through the incredulity or passive-aggressive compliance of the main characters. Thus Jack Sparrow seemingly eludes any emotional change as readily he eludes his captors in the big chase show pieces, right across 4 films.

In ‘Freelancers’, it is clear that ‘Malo’ learns something about his father and therefore his own identity. Whether what he learns contributes anything positive is rather questionable, as even the ending shows that Malo might be much happier operating on the wrong side of the law than the right one.

Malo finds out that his father was a crooked cop on the take. His father died when he tried to turn states evidence, and Joe Sarcone found out and killed him. When Malo grows up to be a cop, the first thing Joe Sarcone does is recruit Malo. This is a mystery given the prior history – the man ought to fear revenge, but there is no such sign of consternation. Malo, gets with the crooked cop routine like fish to water. this to is mysterious. it doesn’t seem to occur to Malo to walk the straight and narrow. Instead his own solution is to betray Joe, set him up for a hit, while also tipping off the DEA (which, in the scheme of things makes no sense).

So Malo too expresses the authorial voice’s – probably 50cent’s own – need to castigate New York City, but at the same time he is entirely complicit in the bullshit. It might dress itself up as some kind of social critique but it’s pretty piss poor in quality when it is too easy on itself.

Schtick As Acting, Acting As Schtick

I’ve pointed out before how, the more something veers toward comedy, the layers of acting increase. So we know that ‘Stranger Tides’ is firmly a comedy early on when we are presented with Jack Sparrow pretending to be a judge and Penelope Cruz’s Angelica pretending to be Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa pretending to be a respectable privateer for His Majesty. Geoffrey Rush’s turn as Hector Barbossa seems to grow more arch and convoluted with each outing. This time he is missing a leg but he uses his stump peg leg as a flask.

I’ve been told this kind of acting is over-acting and in bad taste but alas a) I have a taste for bad comedy and find it hard to throw away and b) I have a strong distaste for realism as a benchmark. Especially in a flipping weird series of films as the Pirates of Caribbean, where at some point a ship is rolled across the desert on rocks or eyeballs or whatever. Realism that, fellas.

In Hollywood fare, it’s immensely difficult to see the acting for the stars, and the star system banks on the fact that you don’t see the acting – that you only see the schtick.Tom Cruise’s entire career has been built on this premise. In this day and age, do you really get to see Robert De Niro *act*, or do you get to see Robert De Niro trot out his schtick? Lately I’m inclined to think it’s the latter, the longer the career goes. Is he phoning it in? Probably. But I imagine I would have ended up watching ‘Freelancers’ any way, even if Joe Sarcone had been played by… Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, or even Danny DeVito.  It might have been even better had it been Danny DeVito. I don’t know what to make of Forest Whitaker and Robert De Niro’s turn in ‘Freelancers’; Even accounting for them phoning it in, it’s a pretty ordinary effort. Especially the scene where both of them order Malo to snort not one but two lines of cocaine. I found myself thinking “this is too fucking stupid for words.” Except at some point somebody wrote the script with those very words. The God of Filmmaking is not only blind, he’s illiterate as well. 50 Cent’s acting is pretty ordinary, even allowing for my lax tastes. I can handle ham, I can handle cheese, or for that matter ham with cheese. I just can’t handle crap, and this is crap.

What Frightens Me

Hollywood is hard up for ideas. That’s why Pirates of the Caribbean is on to it’s Fourth film and maybe there’s even going to be yet another sequel. it’s a money making machine, born out of a theme park ride and mostly devoid of any ambition in its narrative stakes. ‘Freelancers’ is some kind of garbled street cred movie from a rap star. It’s clear they’re hard up for good ideas and they’ve lost the balls for doing anything daring.

Given the parlous state of Hollywood, what frightens me is that ‘Freelancers’ will have a sequel.

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Contrasting Styles

Reforms, The Chinese Way

Here’s an article about China needing reforms and here’s an article about India needing reforms. It’s interesting that they come up on the same day in the same way with similar problems.

China first.

Chinese officials did little to dispel some of the more extreme rumours, including that he was seriously ill, or that he was hit in the back with a chair hurled during a meeting that turned violent with a fellow ”princeling” – a term used to describe the close-knit network of sons and daughters of revolutionary heroes increasingly gaining influence and political capital in China. Again, no explanation was proffered.

China’s standing in the world now, combined with the lack of regular access to senior politicians, has meant the increasing horde of China-watchers tend to hang off every public utterance from the likes of Xi, trying to read between the lines, squinting for subtle messages in what is invariably tightly scripted party-speak.

Just this month, Xi’s visit to Shenzhen, in China’s south, drew close attention from state and international media. Shenzhen was a stop on Deng Xiaoping’s landmark southern tour in 1992 – the genesis of the catchcry ”to get rich is glorious” – and where he canvassed support for his platform of economic reform.

There’s a list of challenges this year for China, but basically there’s no guessing how this reform will be accomplished. The leadership and its processes are opaque to the point of obscure. Nobody knows how they will deal with tough issues that involve vested interests. It’s actually a deep mystery how they prioritise their issues.

This is in stark contrast to India:

”The current economic situation is difficult. The continuing crisis in the global economy … combined with some domestic constraints, has meant that our growth has also slowed down,” Dr Singh told the National Development Council, India’s major economic planning body that includes the leaders of all 28 states.

”Our first priority must be to reverse this slowdown. We cannot change the global economy, but we can do something about the domestic constraints which have contributed to the downturn.”

Dr Singh said the world’s largest democracy needed major economic reforms, and rapidly, to lift its poorest citizens from poverty.
An estimated 400 million Indians still live on less than a dollar a day.

”We must remember that we are still a low-income country. We need 20 years of rapid growth to bring it to middle-income level. The journey is long and requires hard work.”

India’s growth rate for the fiscal year ending in March is expected to be 5.7 to 5.9 per cent, the slowest since 2002-03.

There’s a democratically elected leader pointing to the problems with no veiled language that needs to be dissected and decoded. The article then goes on to a discussion about the need for a Goods and Services Tax.

I offer this up as interesting because with China you have an oligarchic state that will do what’s required from the top down without any insight into the debate while with India you have a state that spells out what needs to be done but must build a difficult consensus in order to get those things done.

If I were an investor, I’d be challenged by what is on offer here. On the one hand it’s high growth, multiple and high political risks with China, and relatively lower growth with comparatively lower political risk with India. Not to lowball China’s accomplishments so far, but the lack of transparency in China just scares the hell out of me. Equally, tales of vast inefficiencies, and red tape in India would brown me off from putting money there in a hurry.

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Harmon Kardon Sound Stick III

Plastic Can Sound This Good?

Harmon Kardon Sound Stick III

For Christmas, my better half bought a Harmon Kardon Sound Stick III system for me to use in the kitchen. The original idea was to get a Boom Box so I could just plug in the iPod, but a bit of shopping around and auditioning led us to this contraption which has been around in one version or another for a good decade, but the current version really sparkled.

Truth be known, I was mean to most of the Boom Boxes and powered speakers on display in JB Hi-Fi – I ran original instrument violins and cellos sawing their way through J.S. Bach, which is not the kind of music those things are generally designed for. All the same, the Sound Stick IIIs were able to give a sense of timbre beyond the squeaky ‘squeeeeeee’ of the original instruments and the shop demo doof music seemed to have some kind of shape. it wasn’t much to go on, but it was a loud shop at Christmas Shopping time.

Even then you could hear this thing was head and shoulders above anything in its price range, let alone stuff for which they were asking twice the money. It was the only system where the strings sounded like strings and harpsichord sounded like harpsichord, and Glenn Gould moans sounded like Glenn Gould moans. The dude in the shop wasn’t particularly impressed I was pumping piano music loud just so I could hear Glenn Gould moan, but … you get that. Soon enough, we decided this one would do.

Once I got home and ran some full-blooded rock and full-hearted jazz through these things, the sound scape just expanded and filled the space like some bit of proper hi-fi equipment. And I found myself staring at the marvelous plastic object, honestly wondering from where in the good name of the lord, this sound was being summoned, because the clear bits of plastic just don’t look like they should be doing this well.

When you look at it closely you can see the sticks are in fact little baffled speakers in their own right, while the main sub unit is like an alien dome with its own baffle design. The design itself has been around for a few years now and it’s allegedly in the New York Museum of Modern Art for its design, which tells you it ticks the Modernist chic box nice and well. I remember seeing the original ones thinking, “oh, yeah, that looks interesting… but all that plastic?” I’ve got a lot of prejudice about materials that way – But the marvel is when you run a bit of King Crimson or Herbie Hancock or even the remastered Sgt. Peppers through it from the iPod. Yes, the damn iPod Classic running 192kbps AAC files. Plastic? You can not hear the plastic. Honestly, this thing has got me baffled with how well it works.

A clear plastic thing hurling out monster sound. Go figure that one out.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 18/Dec/2012

Shinzo Abe Wins In Japan

Predictably, the Democrats lost in Japan to the Liberal Democrats in the election on Sunday. now that the dust has cleared, there’s a lot of talk about how this is a hard move to the right. The DPJ were not only kicked out, they were more decimated to about one sixth of representation. in the landslide, the ‘Restoration Party’ also picked up a bunch of seats in the lower house, putting them at about equal footing with the DPJ, while the Social democrats got smashed to two seats. The end for Prime Minster was more crash-and-burn than going out in style.

What’s got my interest right now more than all this talk of Japan might be turning hard to the right is the notion that Shinzo Abe wants to challenge the Bank of Japan to do the kind of Quantitative Easing in the style of Ben Bernanke and the US Federal Reserve.

Mr Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won a landslide victory on Sunday, securing a two-thirds “super-majority” in the Diet with allies that can override senate vetoes.

Armed with a crushing mandate, Mr Abe said he would “set a policy accord” with the Bank of Japan for a mandatory inflation target of 2 per cent, backed by “unlimited” monetary stimulus.

“It’s very rare for monetary policy to be the focus of an election. We campaigned on the need to beat deflation, and our argument has won strong support. I hope the Bank of Japan accepts the results and takes an appropriate decision,” he said.
The menace behind his words did not have to be spelled out. He has already threatened to change the Bank of Japan’s governing law if it refuses to comply.

“An all-out attack on deflation is on its way,” said Jesper Koll, Japanese equity chief at JPMorgan.

Mr Abe plans to empower an economic council to “spearhead” a shift in fiscal and monetary strategy, eviscerating the central bank’s independence.

The council is to set a 3 per cent growth target for nominal GDP, embracing a theory pushed by a small band of “market monetarists” around the world.

Which, when you think about it is pretty enticing.  It’s certainly a return to Keynsian economic thinking, and something I’ve been wondering for some years now. Japan was actually coming out of the lost decade around  2007 when the GFC kicked in, and since then, asset deflation has hit growth pretty hard. More to the point, if there’s one nation that could have printed more money in the last 20years,it was Japan.

Now, there are reasons the Bank of Japan hasn’t simply printed money, and this is because the property bubble came about because there was so much cash flying around the economy, looking for places to be invested; and under the old hyper regulated markets of Japan, inevitably found their way to real estate which led to the Bubble. Since then of course there’s been a whole lot of deregulation. It may work better now that there has been all this deregulation that has happened since 1990.

This next bit also got my attention:

“Any meaningful sell-off in the JGBs could trigger a serious problem in Japan’s banking system. The holdings of JGBs by Japanese banks account for 900pc of their Tier I capital,” he said. Better the Devil you know.

Professor Richard Werner from Southampton University, author of Princes of the Yen, said the Bank of Japan is to blame for the country’s failure to shake off its financial crisis in the early 1990s and for two Lost Decades of perma-slump that have followed. He accused the bank of dragging its feet at every stage, forcing governments to rely on huge fiscal deficits instead.

This tight-money/loose fiscal mix has pushed public debt to 240 per cent of GDP. The country would have been better served if the bank had stopped the rot immediately by flooding the money supply to kickstart lending. “It has taken 20 years and the Fed’s Ben Bernanke to show them how to do it.”

“Mr Abe has the right intentions but the Bank of Japan knows how to put up a fight. After watching the glacial moves in Japan for over 20 years – often in the wrong direction – I want to see the details before being sure that something really big is happening,” he said.

You can just see the successor to Shirakawa – whoever it’s going to be – would want to put up a big fight with Abe. Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that if one sector in Japan has made lots of money since the Bubble, it’s actually the banks. Banks everywhere seem to thrive a lot better when interest rates are lower, and the banks in Japan have been able to grow steadily in spite of the low growth economy for quite some years now. So, rocking the boat and printing money may actually be something the banks would like. The Bank of Japan claiming it’s been holding off inflation seems to have been way off the mark for most of the time since the Bubble burst.

No More Of Tanaka In Niigata Ward 5

Daughter of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, Makiko Tanaka lost her seat to Tadayoshi Nagashima of the LDP. The interesting thing about that is that it happened in Niigata where the name of Kakuei Tanaka brings awe (and graft money by the truckload). Some of you might know this but the man who deposed her is the former mayor of Yamakoshi village that suffered greatly from an Earthquake earlier in the decade, and led the recovery of that village for years.

I met Mr. Nagashima when he came out to Sydney for the Japanese Film Festival. He is a career politician in many ways, but he did it from the ground up. He’s not one of those people who come from dynastic families of politicians, unlike Makiko Tanaka, who is the epitome of that problem. Whatever Makiko Tanaka might say, she lost to a man who knew the electorate and understood how to do elections there. Talk about an end of an era that dates back to the mid 1950s.

Good Riddance, I say.

 

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 14/Dec/2012

How Low Can You Go, Bro(ugh)?

We all want to know this, now that the Federal Court has thrown out James Ashby’s case. What’s interesting about the case is not only did judge Steven Rares throw out the case, he awarded costs against Ashby. Which is to say, the judge thinks Ashby has not just been a public nuisance but a malicious muck-raker unto Peter Slipper and now must make amends to the man.

This has led to ALP front benchers accusing the Coalition of being part of a conspiracy, and Julia Gillard has called for Mal Brough to front up to a press conference in Canberra. It’s all a little too late for Peter Slipper himself, as Anna Burke will stay Speaker of the House. Mal Brough will stay the candidate for the LNP trying to unseat Peter Slipper, and the Coalition has been pretending that they had nothing to do with Ashby’s case. the problem of course is that the first person to fail the Cui Bono test is Tony Abbott and the second person to fail is everybody else in the Federal Coalition. 

In my books, you don’t call this sort of thing a ‘conspiracy’. It’s called gaming the system, and it’s exactly why the judge threw out the case – he did not wish the court to be made into the Coalition’s play thing. I’m sure there will be retaliation from the Coalition once they get into power; and it has to be said, they will deny that it is revenge when they exact it upon the judge.

We’ll all have to hold our noses so long we’ll go blue and die.

Weasel Words

Julia Gillard has said Abbott has to stop using weasel words:

As Mr Abbott today denied there was a Coalition conspiracy, Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott had to stop using ”weasel” words over the matter and disendorse the Liberal National Party candidacy of Mal Brough – who the Federal Court found worked with James Ashby to harm Mr Slipper.

Which is funny because the Conservatives delight in weasel words. It’s their credo that the language they speak is not English but Weasel Words. Pointing this out doesn’t even constitute an insult. it’s like telling a leopard won’t change his spots – of course not, not only is it impossible, he’s proud of them. I just thought I’d mention that.

Bob Carr’s Lucky Break

This week, Julian Assange has been making noises he will run for the Senate in earnest. This is interesting because I’ve also noticed that the person who has been the least helpful to Asange’s cause might be the foreign minster of Australia himself, Bob Carr. Yes, he who used to be the Premier of NSW and jumped before he got found out for running a corrupt ship of fools. There he was languishing in retirement, doing power walks around the footpaths of Iron Cove, and voila, his lifelong dream of being a foreign Minster opens up because Mark Arbib had to fall on his sword.

I seem to recall Mark Arbib got named as a CIA informant in leaked documents – documents leaked via good old Wikileaks – and so he had to fall on that sword; Mark Arbib’s senate seat never would have opened up had it not been for the good work Julian Assange did in exposing that RattusRattus. Bob Carr is a net beneficiary there of the chain of events.

Well, it occurred to me today that Bob Carr should be thanking Julian Assange for allowing his lifelong dream to come true, and that he should do a much better job of protecting Mr. Assange and bringing him home.

I know he won’t see it that way – he’s the master of non sequitur responses and would claim some arcane reason why he’s not – but it seems obvious as daylight if you bother to read the newspapers. Oh I forgot, nobody does that anymore.

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Forgetting Romnesia?

Mr. Romney’s Ready For His Close Up, Mr. Spielberg

Here’s something interesting out at the Economist about how the republicans are scapegoating Mitt Romney after his defeat.

Yet fair or unfair, the trashing of Mr Romney should be welcomed, because it shows signs of reflection among those now vying to lead the party. Mr Romney faces two main charges. First, he allowed the Republicans to be seen as a party of the rich. Second, he seemed to scorn social mobility. Exhibit A for both charges is the moment when Mr Romney was secretly filmed at a dinner with donors asserting that 47% of Americans are Democratic voters “no matter what” because they are dependent on government largesse, pay no federal income tax and are thus deaf to arguments about low taxes or personal responsibility.

In recent days, a string of grandees have singled out those comments for attack. Mitch Daniels, the outgoing governor of Indiana, calls the 47% incident a “self-inflicted fatal blow”, compounded shortly after the election when Mr Romney blamed defeat on voters greedy for government “gifts”. Ted Cruz, a senator-elect from Texas, claims (rather implausibly) that the 47% comments—rather than Republican hostility to immigration—explain Mr Romney’s dire showing among Latinos. Mr Romney’s running-mate, Paul Ryan, has let it be known that he “seethed” about his boss’s blunder.

The 47% incident pretty much sums up Romney campaign at this point in history, now that it’s all said and done. It was a colossal ‘blunder’ – or moment of frankness – because the Democrats were working pretty hard to paint Romney as a plutocrat, and he essentially served up his own credo to be put in stocks and be pelted.

This all got me to be thinking about the Obama Campaign’s campaign director Jim Messina and how he drew from a wide range of sources for his plan. The most inttersting bit in is that he consulted none other than Steven Spielberg:

Messina spent time with filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who briefed him on what messages got the attention of audience, and reportedly had input into a advertisement against Mitt Romney that highlighted his time at Bain Capital, a private equity firm that he co-founded.

“Romney had run on this business record of, ‘I’m a manager, I know how to turn things around’. And the Obama strategy over the summer was to turn that positive into a negative by running these ads in states like Ohio, talking about Romney’s record at Bain Capital – outsourcing, jobs, laying off workers,” Mr Freedman said.

While the negative ad was slammed and described as many commentators as unsuccessful, Mr Freedman said the campaign against the Republican challenger, who was at that time still pre-occupied with the primary, ultimately appeared to be effective in the swing states.

Obviously that bit stuck in my mind for months because it shows that in going for the jugular, they picked the mind of the man who was most attuned to putting an emotive message across, and the advice was decisive. When you consider the Republicans got Clint Eastwood to turn up at their convention to talk to a chair, you get the feeling that the Republicans were more than a little behind in how messages are put out to the public. The Democrats were making ads with Spielberg’s input to get the nuance exactly right while the Republicans were essentially waving symbols around – “Look, we got Clint Eastwood who used to be Dirty Harry!”. The level of abstraction and sophistication is so low it beggars belief.

It was certainly an interesting moment in history because the Democratic machine was coming at them with what can only be described as ‘applied Marshall McLuhan Communication Theory’ and the Republicans were essentially doing things that weren’t far removed from semaphore and cave paintings. Even if you don’t take into account the demographic shift going against the white establishment, you seriously wonder if the Republicans are going to be able to get their heads around this problem, because it’s not just who you talk to, but it’s how you talk to them and what you tell them in order to persuade them.

They can scapegoat Mitt Romney all they like, but it seems to me they had much deeper problems than Mitt Romney being a gaff-prone plutocrat.

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Burning Down The (Movie) House

From Miserable Failure To Abject Failure

A heads-up from Pleiades gave me this wonderful view of how a company purporting to be a Film & TV production company soaked up millions in investor funds and then hurriedly went into receivership.

Pierpont never watched the sitcom, Hey Dad, so his withers were unwrung last September when its lead actor, Robert Hughes, was charged with sexually assaulting children.

Your correspondent has no idea whether Robert is guilty or not. However, while the authorities are at it, they might take a look at his wife’s company, where the wallets of investors have been getting assaulted a bit for the past couple of years.

Robert is married to Robyn Gardiner, who is quite a movie celebrity in her own right. In 1982 she set up Robyn Gardiner Management, attracting a galaxy of 300 clients including Cate Blanchett, Sigourney Weaver and Lisa McCune.

In 2005, Robyn moved her RGM group to Singapore to expand into Asian movies and TV.

In 2010, RGM Media listed in Australia. Since then it has burned through some $14 million and gone into administration without – as far as Pierpont can ascertain – ever producing a single movie or TV show.

Pierpont then goes into great detail as to what tipped him off that Robyn Gardiner’s outfit was headed for financial disaster. What’s amazing is that the adventure also sucked in S$27.5million of the Singaporean government’s money – and once again we reiterate, without having made a single film.

The business side o the film industry can be quite opaque to outside observers, what with all these different types of ‘producers’, but in a nutshell it comes down to finishing up with a product on a certain date and delivering it to the market in the manner desired by the exhibitors. It goes without saying that the content has to be good and compelling; but also the films have to be able to go into other ancillary markets.

It’s really hard to make money back from the market if you don’t make a single film and call yourself a production company, while pulling down studio exec paychecks. Naturally, it follows that we have to be suspicious of the people involved, whether they really had any intention to produce any films, or not as the case may be. Without accusing anybody of anything, the track record described does make one wonder as to where exactly the priorities of the executives of RGM sat, given that inglorious track record.

Faking Bad

One understands that the free-to-air TV business is under great strain, like at no other time in the relatively short history of free-to-air television, with business models crumbling and advertising revenue plummeting. In that light it seemed rather odd that Lachlan Murdoch and Jamie Packer put themselves on the board of the Ten Network. Under their ownership, Ten has sunk from about $1.50 a share to 33cents. Some unkind people have been calling the Ten Network ‘Two.Tel’ and ‘Ten.Tel’.

You get the drift.

Today, I found this article in the SMH that led me to think maybe this wasn’t entirely unplanned.

A report released on Thursday by BBY media analyst Mark McDonnell boldly states: ”We do not accept the chairman’s [Lachlan Murdoch’s] description of this raising as ‘prudent’ – a better term would be excessive, given the resulting net cash position and the practical effect of almost halving the value of shares from already historic lows due to the massive dilution.”

McDonnell believes Ten’s latest equity raising – the second in six months – could well be a form of creeping privatisation by a few ”insiders”.
It is an interesting theory, given the equity issue will thrust Ten from a net debt position to a net cash position. On the face of it the move seems extreme, given it has been achieved at a massive 38 per cent discount that will result in up to 2.5 billion shares on issue.

Billionaires Lachlan Murdoch, James Packer and Bruce Gordon, who collectively control 32 per cent of the company, have agreed to support the latest $225 million equity issue. The other billionaire board member, Gina Rinehart, who turned up 45 minutes late to Ten’s annual meeting on Thursday, has opted to keep everyone in the dark about her intentions.

As of this writing, Gina Rinehart has joined the other billionaires, so she too is playing ball. What if the billionaires were indeed planning on privatising the Ten Network and having decided on that course of action, gone to own trying to drive the share price down by driving the business into the ground? Could this even be possible?

You could see the motive, but that alone doesn’t prove anything. They have the means to do such a thing, and sure enough the share price for Ten has gone down steadily in the last 24months. You’d be hard pressed to say the possibility wasn’t there.

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