The Official Batrock.net 84th Academy Awards Hoedown!

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!

 

Love Never Dies – February 21, Capitol Theatre

 

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.

Patlabor: The Motion Picture

 

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.

Britney Spears: The Cabaret – February 18, The Reginald

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.

Roxette Live 2012 – February 16, Sydney Entertainment Centre

 

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.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

“You seem like more of a Marcy May.”

Who knows how and why a young woman enters a cult? If you watch Martha Marcy May Marlene, you’ll still be none the wiser.

Young Adult

"Yes, I actually do have a dog. In my vehicle."

In Young Adult, Diablo Cody has, honest to blog, written her most natural sounding script to date. Everything that Charlize Theron says could be reasonably expected to emerge from the mouth of a 37 year old woman desperate to recapture the glory of her youth, to recreate the days before real life took hold and disappointment kicked in.

It’s a pity, then, that the film seems so distant. It’s not happy, but it doesn’t have to be; it would be hypocritical of me to complain on one day that The Artist was too happy and Young Adult was too bitter. This is supposed to be a character study of Theron’s Mavis Geary, but it’s more of a snapshot of someone that we would like to know better, and someone that we feel more sympathy than distaste for.

Alas, it’s not to be, and Young Adult comes to us as a compelling film, but one that feels strangely incomplete.

The Artist

What do you do when you watch a love/hate film and you neither love nor hate it? You’re in trouble, because while you come out on the side of positivity you’re not willing to fight to the death for it. You’ve got major issues with the film, but not enough to actively dislike the thing.

The Artist is second only to (the superior) Hugo in the Academy Awards nominations pool and it has the potential to clean up. This is largely a matter of style, because it hits that sweet spot beloved by critics and audiences alike: it’s slightly different, slightly unusual … and it has a little dog in it.

Shame

 

Compulsion is a terrible thing, taking over lives and robbing people of their humanity. Sexual compulsion is obviously one of the more private compulsions that one can have, and yet it can be more consuming than almost any other. Shame is about the obliteration of the self through the pursuit of sexual release.

Contrary to anything else that you may have heard, Shame is not about Michael Fassbender’s penis, although it is something that you see more than once. The plenitude of sex characteristics both primary and secondary on display belies one simple fact: Shame is one of the least sexy and erotic films about sexual acts ever made, rightfully and deliberately so.

The Australian R rating is an insult to director Steve McQueen, but there’s no fighting it: people got naked and engaged in a mechanical pantomime, and so we must protect all but the most rarefied from witnessing it.

15th Japanese Film Festival Day Three: Star Watching Dog and Patisserie – Coin de Rue

The third day of the Japanese Film Festival was attacked from all sides, but featured two stalwarts of the nation’s cinematic output: the weepy dog story and the sugary tale of a pattissier in the making, more commonly recognised as “the chef’s journey”.

Star Watching Dog

 

Japanese films have a tendency of making up Japanese folklore where they feel necessary. Does the star watching dog exist? The idea goes that dogs watch the stars, not knowing they can never reach them. Therefore, they always aim for the top.

Japanese dogs never banked on Laika.

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