Oscars 2014: My Reviews

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The Oscars are over, and now everyone can go back to forgetting that they never enjoy the ceremony so they can inevitably complain about the next host.

For those who haven’t been following me outside of this website, for the last year I’ve been writing reviews for Trespass Mag. Here are my reviews of some of this year’s big winners (though I saw Dallas Buyers Club, it wasn’t mine to review).

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Best Picture: 12 Years A Slave

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Best Animated Feature Film: Frozen

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Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

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Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity

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Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Her

Pitch Perfect

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“At last,” said the scientist, her test tube glistening in the fluorescent light of the laboratory, “we have found this decade’s Bring It On!” She smashed the tube to the floor, and out of the smoke emerged a smiling Anna Kendrick and a krumping Rebel Wilson.

They saw the sign.

Unto every generation is unleashed a high school or college movie that speaks to everyone. Kirsten Dunst brought it to us twelve years ago, and now Anna Kendrick and a troupe of considerably less Aryan, less Buffy alumni, types are prepared to bring it to the next level.

Pitch Perfect is a smile of a movie, designed to make the audience feel good the whole way through without manipulating them into doing that. It’s got a lot of laughs, too, with the audience reacting to some deliberately horrible jokes (“a ca’scuse me?”) even on their fourth go-round.

For something that could have easily been a cynical exercise in selling endless horrible sounding covers on iTunes, rather more thought went into this film than many might have suspected. This is ultimately not a musical, but a comedy about a group of girls who become friends, and the alternately awful and misguided boys who they have designated as their enemies.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Film 2 Comments

 

Dear friend,

Perhaps I have never been infinite. I have definitely never been an American teen, nor did I ever attend an American high school. To be an American teen is an experience not really comparable to any other in the world; while higher education has at least some commonalities the world over, and adults are much the same everywhere, the American teen lifestyle as promoted on film is uniquely homogeneous and largely alien. The American high school milieu is so foreign that it should realistically be almost as unmarketable to Australia as the infernal baseball film.

 

But The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not a hard sell simply because of its alien subject matter; it’s a hard sell because no one in it is human. No one in this film is someone you would wish to exist, or someone who would actually be able to exist in the real world. No one in this film or the novel it is based upon has a life outside the celluloid or the page. They have only what author, screenwriter and director Stephen Chbosky has to offer them, which is precisely nothing.

Desperately grasping at a desire not to be inert, The Perks of Being a Wallflower goes beyond simple excruciation. Every moment of this film, save its quite nice soundtrack, conspires to make the viewer hate it.

And yet I am alone. I am the proverbial wallflower at the school dance. I am standing on the outside looking in at a party of people toasting Charlie, never quite understanding what they see in him. Not just unwilling, but unable to see exactly what there is to this bloodless mannequin of a human being.

 

I hated this film more than I normally hate anything. I can’t say for certain that I hated it more than its attendant novel (and I certainly hated that), but I can safely say that this is one of the worst cinematic experiences of my life to date, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. If someone wasn’t holding my hand, I possibly would have run from the cinema.

This is not a profitable way to spend 102 long minutes. This movie is infinite.

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Prometheus

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Someone has been waiting for Prometheus for 33 years. I hope they’re not disappointed. Me? Please, I’m only 26. Regardless, I’m satisfied. Others might not be so happy, but I don’t care: it’s my movie. They don’t need it, and they can’t have it.

Prometheus is kind of an entry in the Alien canon. It’s actually pretty unambiguous about that, but some people will want to ignore the various “clues” – that is, the names of entities featured in later Alien films, the designs inspired by Giger, the … Well, the everything. This is an Alien film, with echoes of the original and with something new besides. It’s not the evolution that Aliens represented, nor the declension of the latter two films. It’s its own film, and a hard film to classify at that.

But it’s good. It’s good.

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The Official Batrock.net 84th Oscars After Party!

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I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the Oscars this year. As a piece of television entertainment, there was barely any drag. Apart from the In Memoriam roll, which doesn’t count, there was only one montage, and it was twenty minutes in.

Last year I said that hosts were irrelevant, and that the Oscars are boring and bloated anyway. It may partly be thanks to the fact that I couldn’t watch it live this year and was able to skip the ads with extreme prejudice, but I was close enough to entertained by the pageantry and never felt bored or like cussing out the production.

 

So maybe this is down to Billy Crystal, who actually had a presence beyond last year’s intermittent appearances of Anne Hathaway and James Franco, everyone’s favourite scapegoats. Crystal’s opening song wasn’t particularly inspired (“Mr. Joey” was only marginally less engaging than War Horse itself) and, like every single “host inserted into famous movie scenes of the last year” segment to date, this year’s showreel ran out of steam fairly quickly after an impressive start.

Despite this, Crystal represents stability. He’s a safety blanket. As he said, “Nothing can take the sting out of an economic downturn like millionaires presenting each other gold statues.” He’s the host the people of Chapter 11 Theatre need, and it’s a happy coincidence that he’s also the one they wanted. Rather than taking a backseat, Crystal was all over the show. It’s unfortunate that the lesson we take away from this is not “give the Oscar hosts good material to work with and don’t make them come across as aloof bastids and the show might work better”, but “we should never give anyone new a chance; as long as Crystal draws breath we don’t have to risk employing Allen Ginsberg and his like e’er again”.

 

I’ve since looked this up and it seems no one liked Crystal. You vultures will never be happy! He wasn’t even the baffling part of the show: why was Edward Norton telling us what he thinks of movies? What’s he done lately? Nothing for nobody. At any rate, the ceremony is a life support system for giving a bunch of golden dudes to a bunch of rich or aspiring-to-be-rich dudes and dudettes. Let’s examine the outcomes.

 

Hugo and The Artist tied with five awards each, with The Artist taking out the bigger ones of those. Once Dujardin took away his Best Actor award, Crystal informed us that “France is going nuts right now. Or whatever they have instead of joy,” which was the weirdest and cheapest joke to make given the circumstances. What I learned from all of these wins for The Artist is that its cast and crew felt a genuine love and enthusiasm for their work, and that obviously translated across to a lot of the Academy voters. It’s a shame that this didn’t come across to me, and that I’m just going to look at the Best Picture and Director wins as oddities in the long history of the Oscars. I would try to watch The Artist again, but it’s a movie that’s not designed to be consumed repeatedly. By contrast, I’m eager to see The Descendants, Hugo and Midnight in Paris again.

Scorsese can be happy with the recognition that Hugo deserved, but I legitimately feel that his love is more apparent on the screen without overwhelming. Unlike Hazanavicius’ work, it feels natural rather than forced – which I realise now was not Hazanavicius’ intent at all. I’m quite happy with Dujardin’s win because he’s a genuinely cool dude who tried his darnedest and came through.

 

As for Meryl Streep, well. I’m not going to complain about her being a career nominee, because that makes no sense: if you’re consistently good enough to secure a nomination, then that’s just a fact. Equally factual is that Streep’s frustrating performance in a less than half baked film was not the best of the five nominees. Michelle Williams should have taken this away: the clip they used to showcase her performance was magical and reminded me that she really is one of the best actresses currently working.

 

Speaking of showcase clips: the Oscars were hell bent on spoiling the movies this year. Key scenes from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Hugo and The Artist were all prominently featured. When Natalie Portman recapped to Dujardin everything that he did in The Artist, including several of the small delights that the big reveals provided, I couldn’t help but recoil in horror. Most people who go to see The Artist because of its win will probably forget everything they’ve been told, but it’s the principle of the thing.

Also less ambiguous is footage of Daniel Craig being gassed and the identity of his antagoniser being shown. There may be a statute of limitation on spoilers, but I’m not convinced that one’s passed yet.

 

I was impressed with both screenwriting credits, because I was very fond of Midnight in Paris and Woody Allen was coming from a personal place of love, both indulging his nostalgic urges and recognising their dangers. The Descendants, apart from being a very good script, means that Jim Rash is now the recipient of an Academy Award. Community, a show that has been consistently lining up sharks and jumping them for a good season and a half now, now stars an Oscar winner.

 

The rest of the show was pleasant enough, and for the first time in years I didn’t get bored and wish for the embrace of death. Good show, Academy. Good show.

 

PS. In my notes I may have referred to Gwyneth Paltrow as “Goopy McGee”. I’m not proud, but I have no regrets.

 

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The Official Batrock.net 84th Academy Awards Hoedown!

Film, Oscars 1 Comment

The annual bloodbath is upon us! The most notable films of 2011 have been filtered through the old white man machine, survived the gauntlet of lesser awards, and have been dragged onto the world stage for the only event that truly matters: the Academy Awards.

 

As always, I shall take you on an 11th hour guided tour of the films that have enchanted and frustrated audiences the world over and caught the eye of the Academy over the last year. Some are worthy, some decidedly less so. Only one film can win each category, and the rest will be consigned to the scrapheap of history. Unless you ask Matt Dillon, who insists that no one remembers the winner, only the nominees (he lost that year to George Clooney).

If anyone can remember anything positive about Crash, I don’t want to know them.

 

Let the games begin, and may fortune be ever in your favour!

 

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Love Never Dies – February 21, Capitol Theatre

Musicals, Stage 2 Comments

 

The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful stage musical of all time, but what a lot of people ignore is that it is also one of the dumbest. It’s the story of a petulant child in the disfigured body of a man, who kills people when he can’t get what he wants, and kidnaps women in an attempt to force them to love him. Most people look beyond that to consider the inherent tragedy of his situation, but there are some things you simply can’t recover from.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, by now a very rich man indeed, decided that a sequel was at last called for. Never mind that the original show was still going in London and New York (and still is, for that matter). Never mind that, by bringing the Phantom back onto the stage, you undo the enduring mystery of the finale. Never mind.

 

Love Never Dies was unleashed upon the London public and was almost universally reviled. The Love Never Dies that we have received in Australia is not a replica production, but a new construction from the mangled corpse of the old. To make it work, you have to ignore almost everything that you were told in The Phantom of the Opera, because this show frequently, openly and catastrophically contradicts its source material.

But work it does. Strangely. Grudgingly. Paradoxically. It can only begin to satisfy if you’re heavily steeped in the lore of the Phantom; whether you’ve had a chandelier dropped on your head when you were five, or been dragged to the show that many times … and then you’ve got to ignore everything you know, and accept texture over logic.

It’s a strange, ornate, boutique experience, and it’s only for you. A true spectacle, but a small and intimate story besides.

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Patlabor: The Motion Picture

Anime Leave a comment

 

It’s rare that I’ll rewatch a movie months after the effect, take its unpublished review, and almost completely scrap my thesis. Patlabor: The Motion Picture confounded my expectations when I watched it again after having rewatched the later, and alternate, TV series. It’s true that not everything strictly works about this project – some of the movie shorthand is too short – but one thing is clear: Headgear had almost complete understanding of their characters even before their most properly iconic incarnation.

Despite its 99 minute running time, this film is abrupt, but its animation and feel are superlative. If Oshii Mamoru had to cut his teeth somewhere, he couldn’t have picked a better project. I’m not convinced of the viability of this film as a standalone project, as it is best consumed within the context of tens of hours of other material but, rather like the OVA that preceded it, it’s definitely an excellent supplement.

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Britney Spears: The Cabaret – February 18, The Reginald

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Britney Spears, once a juggernaut of pop music, now has little more than ironic value in many circles. Tell someone that you’re going to see something called Britney Spears: The Cabaret and they’re going to look at you strangely and ask “why?”. There’s still a draw for old fans (that is, largely women roughly the same age as Spears herself), and she still sells, but the incredibly public life led by Britney has rendered her a modern curio.

 

Britney Spears: The Cabaret is not a tribute to Spears as such, but rather an examination of a fragile personality that has been buffeted from all sides and repeatedly pushed to breaking point and back again. As Spears, Christie Whelan begins her act tongue in cheek, eventually affecting a complete nervous breakdown in front of the audience.

It’s something special.

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Roxette Live 2012 – February 16, Sydney Entertainment Centre

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Roxette are touring the world; they have been for coming on a year now. They sold out the 13,000 seat Sydney Entertainment Centre twice, and a third show was added to their Sydney bill. Yet not everyone “gets” Roxette. The Australian press are largely dismissive, if not openly bitchy, about the prospect of their existence in the first place, not to mention their continued existence, their sheer nerve at remaining a functional band some 26 years after their formation (with two generous hiatuses in between).

 

There are people who were in the audience last night, there to relive the barely recollected glory of their misspent youth, who possibly never really connected with the band beyond a vague familiarity with their work on the radio. These are the people who do not know that, rather like Blondie, Roxette is the name of the band.

These same people also don’t understand that time marches on for everyone, and not just them; that a fifty three year old cancer survivor can’t reasonably expected to look exactly the same as she did in her mid twenties.

 

But that’s enough frustration; there clearly were people at the concert who cared deeply about Roxette, who had a natural affinity for one of the all time greatest albums, Joyride, who understood that some things remain good, no matter how many years they’ve been removed from their point of origin.

 

Roxette was not perfect last night, but for many of us this was something that we’ve waited all of our lives for, ever since Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo teamed up to save Samantha Mathis from Dennis Hopper. Last night was a watershed, a rite of passage. I would not say that it was a religious experience, but there are some things that you simply have to do. To deny your fate would be foolish.

 

Opening their twenty one song set with “Dressed For Success”, Per and Marie set a precedent: this was no Charm School tour; they were going to primarily play what the audience wanted to hear. Given their predilection for big songs that they expect the audience to provide the choruses of, this was a wise choice. The opening triple whammy continued with “Sleeping In My Car”, which is still grammatically dubious after all these years, and “The Big L.”, delivered here without the whips that the audience may have been expecting.

 

The territory got rather rockier for the audience members whose final years of high school were not punctuated by rabid hunts for every last piece of Roxette ephemera, people unfamiliar with the 1999 album Have A Nice Day. “Wish I Could Fly” remains a good song, but a strange choice for the first ballad of the evening. As the later ballads proved to largely be show stoppers

 

The awkwardness began when the Charm School songs kicked in. Charm School is not a bad album, but it has nothing in particular to set itself apart like, for instance, Room Service’s superlative “The Centre of the Heart”, which failed to get a look-in last night. Charm School is serviceable, but it’s not an album to hang a tour on. To me, Roxette are more than just a “novelty”, but I understand that you can’t pack stadiums on the basis of a relatively obscure album from a band that many people in your country haven’t heard of for anywhere between ten and seventeen years. Not everyone is as obsessive as me.

 

The night changed significantly when Per announced that he was going to take us to Hollywood, and bam: “It Must Have Been Love”. 13,000 people sung the chorus in unison before the instrumentation kicked in properly and the song remains as strong now as ever it was. Would anyone remember Julia Roberts’ Pygmalion effort had she not parted ways with Richard Gere to these sorrowful strains initially written as a German Christmas single for the 1987 season? (Possibly.)

 

“Fading Like A Flower (Every Time You Leave)” continued to get the audience going, and then we were in for a rare and strange treat: “Crash! Boom! Bang!” with Per on prime vocals. I’ve listened to a fair few Roxette demos in my time, and it’s always strange to listen to Marie songs sung by Per with the gender inverted. For the first time in my hearing, this song sounded natural coming from his mouth (although “when you’ve found your girl make sure she’s for real” still seems wrong), and as a duet it was surprisingly effective.

 

This bled into the first ending: the triumphantly infectious “How Do You Do!” segued directly into “Dangerous”, and then we had no choice but to join the “Joyride”. It was a good ending, except … it obviously wasn’t.

A night of Roxette with no “Heart” songs? This will never do! “Spending My Time” is as good as it ever was, and “The Look” became the second cap on the night – this version emphasising Per’s reliance on The Beatles for inspiration, as the ridiculous “na na na nas” nearly became a parody of “Hey Jude”.

 

They left again. Still no “Heart” songs? I was damn near ready to demand my money back (and here is where I point out that it has cost me marginally less to see Roxette twice than it is costing me to see Lady Gaga once). So of course Per and Marie returned for the final time and implored: “Listen To Your Heart”. Draping themselves in an Australian flag, they performed “Church Of Your Heart” and disappeared, asking us to stop by again soon, maybe tomorrow. Little did they know I have the tickets and the friends to go with them.

 

 

Roxette are obviously no longer spring chickens. This is a simple fact. Marie had to reeducate herself to almost Liza Minnelli levels after particularly strenuous chemotherapy, and sometimes this strain translates to her stage persona. At times she seemed uncertain of lyrics (as Per warned before “Perfect Day” started: “sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t”), and was obviously frustrated by the fact. “Crash! Boom! Bang!” in particular no longer features the line “and the pain stays the same”, here substituted for the repeated “it has always been the same”. Her heavenly backing vocals are no longer so easily provided, and the Have A Nice Day song “7Twenty7” is somewhat lost on stage without them. It is of course worth noting that the stage – a literal arena, in this case – is different and less controlled than a studio environment.

 

Despite the obvious and understandable effects of age and a successful battle with a debilitating illness, Marie still managed to mostly triumph – there were more than enough moments of pure magic and excitement for one night. Per, for his part, is full of boundless energy – and he has always been the more outspoken member of the band versus Marie’s wallflower personality borne of her less confident English.

 

Most of the people were in the audience last night because they had a reason to be there; Roxette does not fare well under the watchful gaze of a cynic: you can’t attend one of these concerts ironically, because Per and Marie are so earnest and sincere that to roll your eyes at Roxette would be to deny your own heart.

 

Certainly I would have loved to have seen Roxette in 1995, but I was ten then, and was not yet on my way to memorising all of the lyrics in my sleep before I even properly knew what they meant. Turns out “Sleeping In My Car” is not actually about sleeping in a car. If you were ever a fan, Roxette are still as worthy of your time now as they ever were. If you’ve forged a genuine connection to Roxette across the years – or even just the weeks – there’s still every reason to love and support them.

 

I will admit, I’m going to be doing this all over again tonight, but I’m sure that these are two nights that I will never have cause to regret.

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