Friday, December 30, 2005

Little Man From Another Place

Watched Good Night and Good Luck the other day, and recommend it: it's a viscerally unsettling portrait of a nightmare America, not so far removed from the comfortable banalities of the present day, one in which Leland fucking Palmer is reading the eleven o'clock news.

Seriously, I think this is why we haven't seen Ray Wise around more often in the last fifteen years - although after checking out his IMDB page, I'm definitely excited for Cyxork 7: The Final Cyxorkening - it's completely impossible to see him and not be creeped out. He's not in GN&GL very much, but whenever he's on camera it suddenly feels like a horror movie. ("Senator McCarthy, you're going back to Missoula, Montana!") Ray Wise exudes hopelessness from every pore. Each of his smiles is a terrifying rictus. And something is always up with his hairpiece, possibly owing to manipulation by dark forces. This man absolutely needs to be given a sitcom, and his sitcom needs to have a very intrusive laugh track and kitschy theme music by Angelo Badalamenti.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Declares War On My Liver

Last year was the first time I hadn't made it back from points abroad to spend Christmas with the family in England. I felt a bit maudlin and sentimental about it, and I expected to feel something similar this year, only worse - after all, last year I was surrounded by friends and loved ones, and now I'm sitting on my balcony, on the other side of the world, drinking tea by myself like the grumpy old bastard I am rapidly becoming. And yet I don't feel the least bit maudlin, I think because Christmas in this stifling heat is entirely different from Christmas in drizzle and damp and doesn't have the same set of emotional associations at all. On that basis, I think I might prefer this version.

Anyway, cloying holiday sentiments have also been driven from my body by that reliable old stalwart: a real bastard of a hangover. Last night was the final reckoning for the world-class pizzeria across the street from me, and for some reason that led to a morose liquor-fuelled attempt to figure out how it is that I have developed this Vibrating Death Palm technique that only works on Italian restaurants. (The owner accepted my apology gracefully, although he did look slightly nonplussed.) I am supposed to be in Annandale watching some cow-punk act play sped-up carols and, I am forced to presume, cover Slade, but I've been operating at forty percent all day and I just can't bring myself to do it. Balcony, books, occasional fireworks detonating in the distance, and the prospect of the beach tomorrow will do very nicely. Compliments of the season to all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dance, Monkey!

So, I blathered:
[Peter Jackson is] the perfect guy to put in charge of a blockbuster: no matter how enormous the production gets, you can be assured that he's gotten the script as tight as possible and then spent just ridiculous amounts of time worrying over the exact type of chainmail the orcs are wearing, specific gross-out effects shots, etc...
Um, it's generally a good idea to watch the thing before making such bold statements. Specifically, the statement in bold, because it's completely untrue in this case. Now Jackson has made his name with a trilogy of famously overlong films, maybe they're just going to keep getting longer and longer - he's paid his dues, and who's going to fucking stop him?

Anyway, so the damn ape movie could be trimmed by half an hour and lose nothing at all. I am a bastard of an editor - except with my own stuff, obviously - and I reckon I could double that, albeit at the cost of some suspense. A lot of the secondary characters are just completely unnecessary, and so (though it pains me to say it) is Adrien Brody - especially since his character already inexplicably morphs from Geeky Playwright to Impossibly Daring Swashbuckler whenever one is called for. Jack Black carries the first hour or so, practically singlehandedly, through some pretty rushed exposition and some dialogue that clanks more than it should. Naomi Watts looks a bit lost in the early going, but more than makes up for it once the ape shows up and she has to start doing emotional scenes with a special effect.

Speaking of which, it works. I was worried at first - all the CGI involving boats is frayed around the edges, the dinosaurs (hey, when isn't it a good time for dinosaurs?) look a bit creaky - but that may have all been the equivalent of the first shot of Team America, an attempt to fake us out. The best stretches of the film are actually the ones with little or no dialogue at all, and I don't just mean that as a comment on the quality of the dialogue - the action sequences in the middle are on a par with anything I've ever seen. Also, the entire final act in New York is marvellous, except for those nagging "why does Adrien Brody's character exist?" moments.

Perhaps worth noting: Andy Serkis does double duty as Kong and one of the otherwise superfluous secondary characters, which is a nice touch. The only other film I can think of with him in the flesh, as it were, is Topsy-Turvy. (By the way, he has to win some kind of award for this. Has to. I know a digital effect isn't technically a Supporting Actor, but still.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Addicted To Love!

So, this just made my afternoon.

Alas, if you're actually paying attention to what you're reading, you probably won't experience the thrill of discovery that I did - the headline kind of gives the twist away. I thought I was skimming some piece of nonsense about how smoking in movies is a terrible social ill, innocently grumbling to myself, and then suddenly... well, I snarfed my coffee somewhere around the line
That's performing a good public service. But let's take this humanitarian impulse one step further. We would suggest that ABC News take on another dangerous practice — homosexuality.
Now, that's the kind of segue you just don't see very often anymore! It's even better if you imagine it delivered a la Will Ferrell in Anchorman.
The practice shows the dangerous and addictive nature of the homosexual lifestyle. As if it wasn't bad enough that the homosexual men are HIV-positive, they simply cannot stop having sex with other men. So they are still having sex, this time with other HIV-positive men... It appears that the homosexual lifestyle is as addictive as smoking.
I am reasonably certain that this wasn't intended as a joke.

Irvine Welsh Doesn't Make For Feel-Good Confetti

Welcome to Blog - misidentified as "Bush" in the links below because it's a URL that simply deserves attention - points to some misty water-colo(u)red memories of last Christmas. Thanks to his conscientiousness, I still have the remnants of Irvine Welsh's Porno, post-shotgunning, in a Ziploc bag. It reads much better that way, although we declined to deploy the results at the actual wedding.

The Week's #1 Scare-Quoting

This sounds like an interesting show.
Time and again the more socially useful innovations - those that you might think in themselves would benefit large numbers of people are roughly dismissed by the dragons [see link for context - Z], while the ideas and inventions which succeed in attracting investment are usually relatively pointless ones in the bigger scheme of things... The fact is that these people are, fundamentally, worthless. I suppose I like it that the show confirms all my prejudices about the types of people who 'succeed' in business.
The author is, of course, free to invest in any socially useful innovation he sees fit, although such a course of action might be, like, selling out. Goddamn that 'success', anyhow - it truly is the second-worst thing out there.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

In Other News, Dilbert Is Still Going

I haven't been paying that much attention to this blog popularity contest that concluded recently. Every so often, a finalist would mention it, everyone involved would feel slightly awkward, I'd vote for them if I could be bothered, and that was that. I had naively assumed that Achewood would effectively be running unopposed in the "best humor blog" category, but apparently this was not so. It seems that I have not been paying enough attention to the world's "humor blogs", and that there actually are some other than Hutton (who apparently wasn't nominated). Now I have some catching up to do. Why not start with the 2005 Best Humor/Comics Blog?

In short, it's great stuff, but a bit refined for my taste. For instance, scattered amongst a large number of posts urging people to vote for them in the aforementioned contest, we find the
Anatomically Correct Ann Coulter Action Figure
Now, maybe I've been out of the fray for too long, but this one is sailing over my head. I certainly can't recall any occasions upon which jokes have been made about Ann Coulter, nor do any obvious jokes that might be made in such a context spring to mind. But wait! There's something in smaller type!
"Flaccid" model shown. Erection sold separately.
Still drawing a blank here, sorry. Oh, wait! But surely they couldn't mean... that? And yet, upon closer inspection, the Barbie doll has a distinctly phallic bulge on display. Scandalous! My political and sexual confusion was only eased (and even then, for how long?) by this thoughtful sidebar:
This is political satire. Everything posted here should be understood in that context.
Ah! Satire. Now I get it. Thanks.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Man Elected By Australians Optimistic About Australian Character

Some controversy over John Howard (or, as he is sometimes known, HoWARd - zing!) having said this:
I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country. I have always taken a more optimistic view of the character of the Australian people. I do not believe Australians are racist.
I don't think the linked post is bad, although I think treating the Cronulla riot as primarily an outbreak of white racism is missing the point. To quibble, though: if this is an "abnegation of leadership", are we to presume that a statement indicating the opposite would have been an improvement? Public statements by leaders of nations are typically not a good place for introspection.

The statement "I do not believe Australians are racist" can be construed as a refusal to acknowledge that any Australians are racist, but I think that's a hell of a stretch, one that would only be undertaken by someone who has already decided to put the worst possible spin on anything coming from Howard's direction. Better to say that this kind of statement is a challenge, an expression of faith, a thing to be lived up to. (Easy for me to say, of course, as I'm not an Australian.)

Negative Stereotyping Of Jack Black Not Decried

As a card-carrying Peter Jackson geek, I try to keep an eye out for articles like this. Good times all around, especially the last line - am I the only one who finds it in questionable taste to compare the characters of King Kong and Othello? - and an always-welcome excuse to link to this.

(What I love about Jackson as a director, by the way, is his pathological attention to detail. He's the perfect guy to put in charge of a blockbuster: no matter how enormous the production gets, you can be assured that he's gotten the script as tight as possible and then spent just ridiculous amounts of time worrying over the exact type of chainmail the orcs are wearing, specific gross-out effects shots, etc, with the results that his films are always amazingly unified spectacles - he may not be fantastic with actors, but he knows exactly what he wants to put on the screen and he's technically ingenious enough to find effective ways of putting it there. If he wasn't making films, you have to think he'd have the world's most intricate model railway in his basement. In anyone else's hands - except possibly Sam Raimi's - a Tolkein adaptation would have been a massively overlong trawl through endless incoherent battle scenes and quasi-mystical nonsense: Jackson made it a slightly overlong trawl through etc. He's wonderful. If he'd been given the reins on the Harry Potter franchise, it might have actually not sucked.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Terra Cronullius

A news cycle has passed. Now, let the wanking commence.

"Examination of root causes" has - justifiably, in my view - been mercilessly lampooned by right-leaning types in recent years. 9/11, the London bombings, the riots in France, etc, all have provoked frantic introspection from their left-leaning counterparts. Except in the hands of a very good writer, this kind of frantic introspection can easily devolve into outright apologetics, tasteless hand-wringing, and miscellaneous appalling bollocks. Post-Sydney riot, I think it would be a mistake to go down this road. Yes, the riot didn't happen in a vacuum. No, a bunch of Lebanese thugs terrorizing a neighborhood does not in any sense justify a group of non-Lebanese thugs attacking random - to use the media nomenclature - "people of Middle Eastern appearence".

On the other hand, a lot of the "nuanced" analysis has been particularly bad and shows no sign of getting better. I get that writers like the guy I picked at random to link to above don't want to seem to be singling out immigrants, or anything like that. I get that white journalists understandably feel more comfortable picking targets that don't leave them open to charges of white supremacy. But doing what's comfortable isn't the same thing as doing what's correct, and a professional writer should be able to clearly distinguish between describing the actions of people who belong to a particular ethnic/religious group (be they Lebanese street thugs or white beach vigilantes) and condemning everyone from that group. Apart from the fact that it's basically ego-driven, this journalistic hypersensitivity reinforces divisions between ethnic groups (make no mistake, in a liberal society with a free media, to be considered beyond criticism is to be excluded from an important part of the public discourse) and leads to stuff like this:
...most of the 10,000 who gathered on the Cronulla foreshore had been unconsciously affected by the stream of negative stories from the Middle East and Bali. It coloured their own experiences of seeing young Lebanese Australians daring to treat their beach like they owned it.
"Daring to treat the beach like they owned it" is, in this context, a marvellously sensitive euphemism. "Threatening to rape women on the beach" might have changed the sense of the paragraph somewhat, as well as adding a dash of that extra reportorial je ne sais quoi. There are serious and ongoing gang problems underlying this story, which the writer linked above completely ignores in his haste to interview gender studies faculty at the University of Sydney. For bonus points, see if you can guess what the gender studies lecturer has to say on the subject.

And then there are the people on (for want of a better word) the right who seem determined to treat the aforementioned Lebanese street thugs as somehow representative of Islam, complete with mocking references to "the religion of peace" and so forth. This is a meme that I find distressing: it's every bit as stupid as declaring (and God knows there have been a lot of people declaring it) that a bunch of flag-waving white guys attacking random non-white folks at the beach are somehow representative of the rest of the damn country.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Internet Still Not A Haven Of Rationality

I'll have more to say about the sudden Clockwork Orange-ness of Sydney later, but for now let me just observe that Sydney Craigslist is finally beginning to kick off.

I don't think many Sydney folk know about Craigslist; it's usually just populated by whining Americans and semi-literate Brits trying to pick a fight. This disappoints me; I was in the US just after Hurricane Katrina, and Craigslist Rants & Raves was, even more so than usual, a fascinating glimpse of the very worst aspects of the nation's id. At time of writing, all this nonsense in Sydney has generated a whopping nine posts, most of which also look to be from whining Americans and semi-literate Brits, but at least it's a start. And look! Someone's even posted an article from those zany racists at VDare! I feel quite nostalgic.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Assembled Douchebags: "Keep Our Sand White!"

Interesting weekend to be at the beach.

Now, I'm not a very adventurous beachgoer. There's a direct bus from the end of my street to Coogee, and the ride across the harbour to Manly is gorgeous; that'll do nicely. As far as I'm concerned "Cronulla" is just a minor Dr. Who villain circa 1970. So, when this punch-up was forecast by someone at our table at the Coogee Bay Hotel on Saturday night, I may have underestimated the import, said something terribly witty about Quadrophenia, and gone about my evening. After seeing all the apocalyptic "race riot" headlines in the Herald, I felt slightly chastened. In the spirit of learning and humility, then, here are some lessons to be drawn from the whole mess:

  • Quadrophenia still has untapped comedy potential after all these years.

  • The dominant race, whatever it may be, disdains punctuation. Apostrophes, in particular, are a clear sign of racial inferiority.

  • The word "capsicum" is an Australian substitute for "pepper" even in non-culinary settings: witness "capsicum spray" in the SMH link.

  • There's nothing you can't protest by throwing rocks at the police.
  • Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    Bridge And Tunnel Crowd Triumphant

    A clearly bitter Tim Blair points out the finest in Australian blogdom.

    (I actually think this might be the best blog in Australia. Perhaps a bit political for the judges' taste, though.)

    Sunday, December 04, 2005

    "We Got The Results Back From The Lab, And We Think We Know What The Problem Is"

    Dan has an excellent excuse - really, a series of excellent excuses - for his recent absence. Myself, I don't. The only thing that has seriously distracted me this week is the discovery that I live directly across the street from a really good pizzeria, but it's not like I've never eaten pizza with one hand while typing with the other before.

    (As a general observation, I wasn't expecting to find outrageously good Italian food in Australia. And yet, there it is. Innovations are even being pursued: after visiting one neighborhood restaurant enough times in one week to develop a rapport with the diminutive lunatic of an owner, he offered me a seafood dish of his own design. Its most prominent feature was, in some ways, a thick cream sauce and yet, in other crucial ways, a curry. Alas, the restaurant went out of business a few days later.)