Drive has been on the fingertips of everyone in Antipodean critical and festival circles for months. It wasn’t until this week, after being thoroughly sick of the hype, that I finally got to see it. Was it worth the wait? Definitely. Could I have done without Chris Murray introducing it in the same effusive tones as he did the execrable Kick-Ass last year? Indubitably.


Drive is a tonal delight, a package of constant surprises. Fortunately, its incredibly filmic nature means that the unwrapping can only happen before your eyes and not on my page. Drive is not perfect, but cumulative moments suggest that it very nearly is. It’s a film’s film, as only certain directors can make; it is most assuredly not an entry in the same canon as The Fast and the Furious.


Samuel Vimes is one of the most beloved, and most featured, of all characters in the ever broadening Discworld series. When Terry Pratchett presents you with a City Watch book (“City” having become increasingly loosely defined as the series has progressed), you attack it in a different mind frame to any of his other books. This is because, when Vimes is in Pratchett’s hands, he becomes an incredibly single minded author. It is only rarely that we are taken out of the mind of Ankh-Morpork’s chief protector, and then that is usually only to be placed at the mercy of the inscrutable Lord Vetinari.


Essentially, Pratchett knows what he likes when he’s writing Vimes, and he hopes that the audience likes it, too. Fortunately, Pratchett is in but one of his many elements. The transcendental nature of I Shall Wear Midnight was always going to be a hard act to follow, so Pratchett does not try. Instead, he places us in the company of a man who has not had a book to himself since 2005 – and he has had the good grace to have made the world move in such time. Vimes is not in the same space as he was in Thud!, and the novel reads all the better for it.



Neal Stephenson and I go way back. Snow Crash, his breakthrough novel, was an enjoyably zippy future-tech adventure, overly hip and over in seconds. Over the years he learned verbosity and the ability to write more than was strictly needed, and this gave rise to Cryptonomicon. Then the Baroque Cycle came out and I gave up after only 200 pages, much to my continuing shame. Anathem has sat on my bookshelf, mocking me these past few years as I’ve ploughed through countless other books, all of them generally with fewer pages.

When Reamde was announced, I thought that my Kindle should be utilized to give Stephenson another chance. I would like to believe that my gamble paid off, although at Stephenson’s expense; against all odds, Stephenson has produced a pseudo techno-thriller: a jock in nerd’s clothing.


Jonathan Franzen – Sydney Opera House, September 13, 2011

(Working title: Franzen of the Opera)

A loose report of various things that may have been said at the talk.

It must be a huge burden to have people call you “America’s greatest living novelist” or “one of America’s greatest novelists” or “one of the greatest novelists”. I say this entirely without irony because, after being given that title, what left is there for you to say? Anything will be an inevitable disappointment, and none of it will be your fault. This is only true if the title was bestowed upon you; if you gave it to yourself, you deserve whatever you have coming to you.


In having written some pretty good books, Jonathan Franzen accidentally painted himself into a corner. His American novels became metonymous for the American novel. This gave Australians free licence to ask Franzen to deconstruct his country for our entertainment and edification. He was able to do this to an extent, but the evening was best when Franzen was being specific: why he writes what he writes, and how it all comes to be. Discussing the act of writing and what informs it is far more interesting than a simple oration on the general state of the nation in which it was produced.

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Nine Hours. Nine Persons. Nine Doors.

A survival horror visual novel, 999 is much more of a reading exercise with occasional puzzles thrown in than it is a game. This does nothing to dampen the experience, but it will be an obstacle for many. 999 has “cult” written all over it; those with the patience to see the nonary game through to completion several times are almost guaranteed to develop a certain fondness, if not love, for the Gigantic and at least some of its denizens.

Certainly, in my five days playing through the game to absolute completion, I came to think of my DS as the ship itself; few games have ever been quite so genuinely affecting as 999, nor quite so suited to the form despite their unorthodoxies.

John Dies At the End

John Dies At The End is not a novel, but a monster stitched together piecemeal from the detritus of David Wong’s mind over the course of several years. That it never delivers on the promise made by its title would probably not matter to the many readers unable to sustain patiences enough to stick it through to the bitter, bitter end. I stayed around, and let me say that it was so ridiculously not worth it that I practically embraced my Sookie Stackhouse chaser. John Dies At The End transmutes pulpy vampire novels into high art through sheer proximity; take Wong’s work and you can make anything entertaining by comparison. It’s a kind of magic, or alchemy at the very least.

There are several kind of misanthropies in this world: there is the kind that hates fun and the idea of anyone else having fun and must stop it at all costs (like me, telling you that this book is awful – I see this as more pragmatism than misanthropy); more sinister is the type of misanthropy embodied by Wong, which is based on the exploitation of humanity by utilising contempt for them to wring money from their all too willing wallets (this brand is also known as “capitalism”). While John Dies At The End was written by a man trying to kill the boredom of his low paying jobs, Wong has commuted that sentence to a presumably lucrative career as the editor of Cracked dot com, consistently one of the worst sites on the internet.

Louis C.K. – Sydney Opera House, September 4 2011

I don’t know how to review stand up comedy. I can’t exactly do a joke by joke dissection, because then everyone dies – the joke most of all.

I will start by saying that Louis CK’s Australian accent is atrocious: “tonight’s perfarmence”. It was really hard to place what he  was trying to do with his voice, and that was apparently what he was going for when he introduced his first support act, a nervous but funny ringer from Melbourne whose name I didn’t catch.


The second support was the established comic Tom Gleeson, who I didn’t think was as funny. He had a more consistent feel and was less awkward than his predecessor, but his style of comedy was in line with the “happily married with no children” school and that’s not something I can strictly identify with.

Did you know that married couples have sex, but not in the same way the freewheeling young folk do? Did you know that the Australian middle class talks about nothing but goddamn real estate? Tom Gleeson will tell you all about it!


On to Louis C.K., who is the important part: man is dynamite. He came on stage to say that it was first time in Australia, and we might know him from Youtube, or from stealing his TV show. But we couldn’t steal the ticket to tonight: “You paid for that! That’s right in my pocket!”

C.K. is one of those special comedians who can appear off the cuff even if he’s not necessarily doing so; if he’s done the bit about an effeminate God creating flowers while his disapproving room mate looks on before, I don’t want to know about it.

If C.K. had a set in mind, one that he wanted to slavishly stick to, it didn’t really come across that way. I still haven’t forgiven Dylan Moran for performing substantively the same material for me a year apart, and Bill Bailey reused a few bits with a couple of years separation while openly courting hecklers, it seemed.

Louis C.K. didn’t have to worry about any of that. The closest he came was when he returned for his encore and someone shouted “We love you Louis!” and he told them “No you don’t, you’re just having a good time. You don’t love me.”

C.K. owned the stage, at one point literally walking to the end of it and standing in the curtains to see how much slack his microphone cord would allow him. “I’m wasting your money right now,” he told us, as audience members in the balcony craned over the edge to see him leaning against the wall. That and the ticket bit might make it seem as if he was lording over the audience for having paid to see him, but it didn’t come across like that at all. The night being at the Opera House he seemed suitably humbled that someone could have played violin since four just to get the chance to play at the venue, while all he has to do is talk about fucking the fat he plans to develop “after I’ve driven away all of my loved ones” – and he doesn’t have to share the money with the rest of an orchestra. The level of self-deprecation and shame was just right without being too on the nose.

He briefly had me in tears, talking about the only people who he is bigoted towards (people who go camping with only a tent and a bike) and the special word that he has for them (which is an unfortunate coincidence). Otherwise I was laughing pretty much the whole time, with nothing falling flat – although he did notice that no one thought that “I fucked the wrong woman and had two beautiful kids” was a particularly great line; I think that I just assumed that not every sentence had to provide a laugh, as long as most of them facilitated either future laughs or overall cohesion.

Other bits that particularly got me were his discussion of evolution and the acknowledgement that the only voices he knows how to do are “stereotypical gay man” and “stereotypical seventies black man” and the fact that he talks to himself in these voices at home. His black bee was a delight.


Unlike Gleeson, with whom I couldn’t really identify, I felt that C.K. was speaking to me even when he was talking about marriage, fatherhood and frequent heterosexual intercourse. I even knew what he was talking about when he described deep sleep as a “whore goddess”, speaking in ancient tongues (of which she had forty to fellate him with) and secreting heroin into his penis with her tongue. It’s in the delivery, it’s in the tone, and it’s in the set of the man. I’m not being a cultural cringer in playing favourites here, but C.K. really seems to know how to sell his stuff; he’s an unassuming man and he’s willing to believe that his own material is funny, and to accept that the audience finds it so.

After a brief walk-off, C.K. came back for his encore and wondered what he would say to us, as we’d had enough “dick and cum jokes” for one night. He decided on a story about barely avoiding death, closing the night out on a great note that effectively established four characters and showed that the man is a genuine storyteller rather than a simple joke thrower. There was substance to everything that C.K. said on the Opera House stage; I learned a little something about packing comedy, and damn if I didn’t have a great time.


Mobile Police Patlabor – the original series

The original Patlabor OVA raises an interesting prospect when it comes to recommendations: because I have no idea what’s presently showing on Japanese TV, what I present to you is a selection picked from my own collection amassed over the years. Given the metamorphosis of the industry, a lot of the stuff that I own is out of print, so even if I say it’s good it might be hard to find. Still, history is history, and my opinions are valid whenever they’re presented.

That said, can I recommend the original Patlabor when it works best when taken in the context of an entire canon: seven initial OVAs, three movies, a 47 episode TV series, a sixteen episode OVA follow up to that, and three weird paper craft specials?

Yeah, I can, I guess. The original Patlabor OVA series is a collection of experiments met with varying success, and it works best when taken in conjunction with everything that came after it. Had Patlabor ended with the initial six episodes, it is doubtful that it would have had any lasting impact beyond being a playground for Oshii Mamoru before Ghost in the Shell.

As it stands, 23 years after the event,  I’m kind of mystified by the success of Patlabor; but the industry was much different back then. This is a good supplement but not the best at standing by itself.

The Help

Before I went to see The Help I braced myself for a horribly misguided racial nightmare, but in the final analysis I found myself quite surprised. While I can see where people would take issue with this movie’s themes and execution, I personally found that it was a fairly balanced and mostly unproblematic story about women discovering their agency in a terrible time and place in American history.

Despite the fact that I did a course called “Film in Black and White” I can’t pretend to be an expert on African American representation in cinema, and I will defer to other people on that, but The Help is a fundamentally good hearted movie that mostly fails to condescend; it aims only to drown out cinemas with the embarrassing sniffles of audience members who don’t know that they’re being played – overtly so, but not offensively.

Slayers Next


It was interesting to watch Slayers Try so soon after Lost Universe, because they not only spring from the same source, they also tell significantly different versions of very similar stories. Slayers Try proves that you can achieve a lot more if you focus your storytelling and develop your characters sufficiently, although it does have the admitted benefit of two series’ worth of audience knowledge behind it.