Monday, November 29, 2010


If you hadn’t seen the posters or read about the plot, a movie with a name as subtle as Monsters could be understandably visualised as some kind of schlock horror film that may be either taking the piss out of horror (a la Scary Movie) or perhaps actually just some big, stupid monster flick about aliens that no one will go and see (except that mantle has been taken by Skyline at the moment.) Having read about Monsters’ guerrilla shooting style, the minimal budget, the frisson of excitement surrounding it in Empire magazine and the fact that the lead couple are, in reality, married, I was interested to see how the film would go. So, on a Saturday night in a movie theatre filled with twelve-year-old boys who were undoubtedly disappointed in the lack of boobies, we went to the flicks to see what would happen.

The film has a nicely original starting point where we are not witnessing the Attack of the Monsters, or How America Beat the Monsters with One Guy and a Well Placed Bullet, but how society is going seven years after octopus-like aliens have landed on Earth via a space probe that broke up in Central America. That area has been cordoned off as the Infected Zone, and with great big walls erected on both the Mexican and US sides of the zone, the creatures are kept isolated. There are occasional attacks outside the zone, and the film begins with the destruction of a hotel in Mexico and the unexpected pairing of attack survivor Sam (Whitney Able) with Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a photojournalist pressured by his boss—Sam’s father—into helping her get home to safety. The course of a monster movie escape never runs smooth, however, and the seemingly quick journey home becomes an unnerving trip right through the Zone itself.

Monsters is not really about monsters, though you will see them and be scared. Monsters is allegorical and sentimental in equal parts. Mexico and the United States have erected enormous walls on either side of the Infected Zone, but that hasn’t stopped the aliens from breaching the defences and getting all up in society’s face. The high walls themselves are a perfect vision of terror, and supply some of what was, for me, the most chilling moments in the film. Seeing Mexico’s giant wire fence was genuinely spooky, like when I was eleven and watching Jurassic Park and waiting for the T-Rex to sidle up to his giant electric fence and eat his goaty breakfast. You kind of wanted one of the aliens to come up to the fence, all tentacles and spiky legs, tentatively touch the fence, get zapped and then run off, yelping, just to dissipate the fear of that giant structure. The reality of walls between societies is not lost on anyone, with the horrors of war made clear. Kaulder points out to Sam—who is appalled by his photography at inappropriate times—that her father pays fifty thousand dollars for a picture of a kid killed by an alien and nothing at all for a picture of a happy child.

The sentiment lies in the relationship between Sam and Kaulder, one that is by turns spiky, playful, and tender. It is easy to forget the pair are a real couple despite the chemistry they share; they seem genuinely annoyed by each other at times and then newly excited in others. It is quite sweet watching them get closer, as the slightly jerky but amiable Kaulder does his best to impress engaged rich-girl Sam, and all done with only a vague script and a large amount of ad-libbing. When Kaulder makes Sam laugh it is uplifting, and when they huddle together in fear you hope desperately that they survive. A cheesy moment in a hotel room, where a David Attenborough-type documentary on mating plays in the background while Sam and Kaulder are trying to work out where their relationship stands, was a little forced, but the rest of their scenes felt uninhibited by constraints.

It really is a movie about adapting: watching people adapt to new people and experiences, no matter how shocking or horrific; watching the world adapt to these new alpha critters on the food chain; adapting enough to a new life to be able to appreciate the beauty of the monsters themselves. The casual, documentary feel to the camera work lends itself to lots of close-ups of faces and brings the raw emotion of the characters to the fore. It also enables lots of soft-focus and outright fuzziness, especially when it comes to gore; most of the worst scenes are tempered by photographic haze. It makes the scenes both awful in what they don’t show but also more palatable for the teen market (and there was a six-year-old in the cinema, which was pretty unnerving, though he seemed more bored than scared and mostly sang to himself in the corner and ate chips.)

The music is lovely, and the scenery is mind-blowing at times and eerie in others; lush forests, amazing landscapes, hidden treasures amongst the trees, destruction, husks of buildings, rusting planes. What is most amazing is that this entirely professional-looking movie was made on a budget of only $200,000, which, well, isn’t an amount to sniff at, (grumble about housing prices) but in film terms, it can be the cost of a single explosion. Few of the cast are actors, just given an outline of the scene and filmed from there. It makes the film so much more natural and believable, a down-home gritty reality instead of a shiny surreal world that $500,000,000 will get you. (Yes Avatar, I’m looking right at you and shaking my head, sighing.) Director Gareth Edwards also wrote the story, was the cinematographer, and did the special effects himself—an A+ effort when you see them. The critters themselves are possibly not as perfectly lit as they could have been if another zero had been whacked onto the budget, but are still believable, completely incredible and, as they occasionally make their own light source, forgivable.

Less forgiving is the one irritating monster movie flaw that Jurassic Park 3 started with that stupid dinosaur that ate the mobile phone: creatures sneaking up silently behind someone to deliver a shock but spending every other moment walking around the land causing the earth to shake and bone-chilling thuds to be heard from miles away. Hundred-metre-high octopi are not the same as the bad guy in Scream. They cannot sneak. They do not need to sneak. They have the upper hand. Eight of them, even. (Boom-tish.)

In summary: Exceeds Expectations. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great three-and-a-half star movie that is touching while still being scary enough to be a proper, pacy monster movie.

Friday, November 26, 2010

songs for nobodies

Regular readers of this blog will have heard me frequently sigh over my secret boyfriends including, but not limited to: David Tennant, Antonio Banderas, Rupert Grint, and Robert Rodriguez. One thing I have not had until today has been a secret girlfriend. Bernadette Robinson has completely changed that and is now a contender for my heart.

Songs for Nobodies was the final play for our final Melbourne Theatre Company subscription, as the prices for subs when you’re thirty or older become far too expensive. (I hold Chris entirely to blame; I don’t turn thirty for another year, but refuse to see plays by myself because then who will I be able to whisper “they were on the telly!” to?) Fittingly, we saw our first and last plays in the same theatre—the Fairfax, in the Arts Centre—and we were also running late, as we were for our first play. Here I should mention how lovely MTC staff are when you turn up late, wracked with guilt and apologetic—they tell you how long until you can enter, set you up in a chair, and turn on a television that fuzzily broadcasts the play as it is performed. The people we had to clamber in front of were less excited, but hey guys, YOU try turning right in our car at the moment: it’s a fine and stupid art.

Songs for Nobodies follows the story of five separate women: the first, a woman who meets Judy Garland (this is the bit we arrived late for, so I am not as clear as I wish I was); an American usher glowing after her experience with Patsy Cline; an New Yawk journalist setting up an interview with Billie Holiday; an English librarian recounting how Edith Piaf saved her father’s life; a young Irish woman working on a cruise ship packed with temperamental celebrities, including Maria Callas. In each story, the most notable tunes by those singers will also be performed along with a band and—while many of the tunes are not particularly high on my list of favourites because I have heard them so much during my life—listening to them performed six feet in front of you by an artist who gets them all absolutely pitch-perfect was one of the most amazing theatrical experiences I’ve had.

Without a performer of the calibre of Bernadette Robinson, this play would be nothing. But listening to her get every accent right, all while wearing the same sharp outfit, utilising the minimalist, slightly art-deco set, and becoming five completely different people—she is incredible. As the librarian, she looks austere, walks with her head held high and speaks in a clipped accent that is nothing less than convincing. As the Irish teenager, fresh out of a relationship with an “evil, he isn’t a bastard, but he is evil”, she is all sass and and lopes around the stage, recounting her tale with delicious drama. And when she sings—oh—you’ve never heard anything like it. Or you have, because she sounds so much like the singers she’s emulating that the hairs raised up on my arms and I leaned forward in my chair, beaming at this woman who, moments before, had been an aspiring journalist nicknamed Too Junior Jones, and then suddenly became Billie Holiday, singing the always moving Strange Fruit. It really is something.

The play isn’t all singing, though, and the little snippets of existence we get from the women are of equal interest. They are funny, and smart, and appealing. When the librarian makes a crass joke with her beautiful voice you can’t help but giggle; when the usher accidentally walks in on Patsy Cline you are excited for her, meeting her idol. Bernadette Robinson is an absolute revelation—to me, anyway, as she is a well-known performer. Joanna Murray-Smith wrote the play for Bernadette, and it is hard to imagine anyone else in these roles, able to sing as five loved stars, and to act as five anonymous women whose lives were changed by them.

I didn’t even make any jokes in this review. That’s how blown away I was by this play. It took away my propensity to be ridiculous and filled that part of my brain with awe.

In summary: Exceeds Expectations and the perfect end to our subscription. I also want to know who styled Bernadette’s hair, because it was great. If I could complain about anything, it would be that it started on time so we missed the beginning. Damn efficient MTC.

The Songs for Nobodies season runs from November 5 to January 15, already having been extended, probably due to an excess of awesome.

Monday, November 22, 2010

the loved ones

If there’s one thing Australia can do well, it is: be scary. International folk think we’re a hotbed of spiders, snakes and drop bears, and that we’re liable to get kicked in the face by a kangaroo as soon as we walk out our front doors. What The Loved Ones shows is that it’s not the wildlife we should be afraid of, but also teenage girls who like to wear pink. Though I could have told you that years ago.

Teenager Brent (the preppily named Xavier Samuel, who was vampire ringleader Riley in Eclipse) is living a typical schoolkid existence: he motorboats his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine) in her Volkswagen Beetle, listens to hard rock, and fights with his mum. What is less typical is that he’s trying to cope with the car accident that took his father’s life six months before, and in that respect, he resorts to cutting, and spends his afternoons either in the darkness of his room, or searching for release in the dangers of the Australian landscape. When he is asked to the school dance by the slightly awkward Lola (Robin McLeavy), he turns her down; he’s kind enough, but it wasn’t the answer she wanted. And as Brent listens to his iPod and broods in the bush with his dog, Lola’s dedicated dad (John Brumpton) does what any father of a slighted girl does: he knocks Brent out, chucks him in the back of his ute, and hoofs it back to his place so Lola, decked out in a pink frock and matching shoes, can get the night she wanted so badly. And while Brent’s best friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) enjoys a typical dance with the hottest black-wearing girl in school—the glum Mia (Jessica McNamee)—by smoking a buttload of pot and embarrassing himself trying to impress her, Brent himself is dealing with drills, knives, hammers and the very real chance of a lobotomy, all underneath a disco ball in the kitchen of one of the creepiest families you’ll ever see on film.

It’s an authentically Australian movie without being throw-another-shrimp-on-the-barbie ocker. The landscape is that kind of local country you could find just at the end of the train lines; the house interiors could be any of your friends’ homes; when in the school grounds, the lockers could be yours from year eleven, all scratched up from your combination lock grating against it. I am obviously biased in this sense, being from Victoria where this was shot, and possibly even in the neighbourhood—the end credits thank the Whitehorse City Council (where I live now) and the Yarra Valley City Council (where I used to as a kid.) Heck, when the credits rolled, I realised I actually knew two people in the crew as well. The Loved Ones portrays Australian life convincingly without being cheesy or overdone. (Though when Lola’s father hammers one message home to Brent, he does snarl, “That’s for the Kingswood.”)

Half of the movie is spent in Lola’s kitchen, claustrophobically trapped by her and her father, surrounded by glitter and sparkle, and with Brent attached to a chair and wearing a snappy suit. Those scenes are truly, utterly scary. The two, and a very quiet third house guest, are so completely unnerving with their insanity that they’ll undoubtedly be haunting my dreams. Lola, brought up by a father whose is clearly unhinged, has no moral issues with what she is doing. Her father is doing everything in his power to keep her daughter happy. There is a deeply disturbing undercurrent (actually, maybe just a current) of attraction between the father and his “Princess”, which will keep you just as squicked out as the mild torture-porn they inflict on poor emo Brent.

The other half of the movie takes you out of the devastation of the home and into the lives of others: Brent’s mother, as she waits for news of her son; Holly, as she waits in her party dress for her beau to come home; Jamie, as he bumbles his way through the night of his dreams. Jamie is really just there to alleviate the mood; one of the hardest scenes for me to watch was immediately followed by a riotous bit of slapstick comedy from the clumsy Jamie that literally had the audience coughing on their popcorn and laughing well into the next (probably inappropriate) scene. Rather than detracting from the tone of the film, it made it a much more enjoyable movie. There was a lot of humour for a horror movie, with Lola’s tantrums and glee overdone to the point of hilarity, while still—admirably—remaining scary. As the film goes into a glowing slo-mo play of Lola being crowned the queen of the dance with a pink paper hat from a cracker, it is an amusing yet chilling look into the headspace of poor deranged Princess.

The acting is top-notch, with the everyday teenagers spectacularly natural even as they are damaged; Brent bears his torture with the appropriate amount of screaming; Princess is bonkers but had you feeling sorry for her at the start of the movie, and survived her many close-ups looking perfectly like a five-year-old who didn’t get a lollipop at the supermarket; her father, flitting between proud, overprotective, eager to please and Candyman-scale terrifying, will have you scared of meeting any potential in-laws for decades to come. The sound engineering was so convincing in parts I wanted to cover my ears and run out screaming; composer Ollie Olsen’s metal soundtrack was also a perfect backdrop to the piece.

In summary: Meets Expectations, because I’d read a whole pile of glowing reviews and expected it to be good. It really is. The only things I didn’t like about it were that Princess looks alarmingly like the girl who does my eyebrows, and that everyone who was playing high school kids were all the same age as me, though I was completely convinced they were seventeen. But that’s just wrinkle-induced jealousy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

jeff kinney, the ugly truth #5 diary of a wimpy kid

When the fifth Wimpy Kid book came out, I was a bad representation of its readership. The day is was released I skipped into work, made a beeline for the kids’ section, then asked my nearest co-worker: “Where’s The Ugly Truth?” “Not here yet,” said they, “but maybe on its way from the warehouse.” When the first delivery from the warehouse came, I almost leapt onto the trolley being pushed, yelling, “Is it in here? Is it in one of these boxes?” Then I tore them open, couldn’t find it, and sulked. HARD.

Finally I opened a box and there was a flash of purple. There they were, Jeff Kinney’s newest Wimpy Kid. And there was me, with hours left at work. I thought long and hard about leaving work early, or just hiding myself out in a quiet corner upstairs to read it, hoping no one would notice I was there. Instead I did the slightly more mature thing: I worked diligently the rest of the day, and shrieked about how excited I was to read the book to anyone who provoked me into conversation with something like “Hi, I’ll take this history book please.”

The Ugly Truth starts with our hero Greg about to start back at school but lamenting a fight with his best friend, Rowley. Greg is a little jerk to Rowley at the best of times, so you can’t help but feel glad Rowley has escaped—and has started hanging out with parent-hired mentor types to be a good influence on him. But Greg needs to find a new best friend, and no one’s quite up for the job. (For example: “Tyson is nice enough, and we like the same video games. But he pulls his pants all the way down when he uses the urinal, and I don’t know if I can ever get past that.”)

And Greg really needs a friend right now, because he is starting to grow
up. There’s boy/girl parties to be had, instructional videos to watch at school (“Rowley didn’t even make it through the whole video. He passed out at the two-minute mark when they said the word ‘perspiration’.”) and awkward conversations with his family to avoid. So Greg does his best to reclaim his childhood by wanting to go to the pediatric dentist (slogan: “We cater to cowards!”)and trying out for ice cream ads only small children are required for, while simultaneously trying hard to come across as mature to the cool kids and pretty girls at school. Basically, it’s hard hitting puberty, especially when your ex-best friend still thinks it’s contagious and avoids older kids because of it.

The Ugly Truth is just as hilarious as you’d expect, but without Rowley for Greg to torment, and a surprise lack of Greg’s father around to do embarrassing things, it maybe wasn’t as good as last book Dog Days. It’s still better than a lot of other books I’ve read—grown-up ones included—and the pictures (at least one on each page) remain a perfect accompaniment to the text. It’s a great read for kids who are overwhelmed by a lot of writing but still like the idea of books, and it’s such a laugh that you’d be hard pushed finding a kid t
hat doesn’t love it. The characters are all great—from Greg’s Gammie who quietly pranks her unloving family, to his uncle Gary whose fourth wedding Greg finds himself the “assistant” flower boy for. While there’s heaps of jokes that made me giggle uncontrollably, there also is a mildly discomfiting subplot involving a maid named Isabella who doesn’t do any work, too.

In summary: Meets Expectations, but almost Below, because I thought it would Exceed. Here, have a page from it to smile about goofily.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Only a few reviews ago I was raving about The Social Network being the best movie of the year. In retrospect, that was a ridiculous thing to say when there was a new Robert Rodriguez movie released within weeks. The Social Network is great, sure, but Machete takes that movie, shoots it in the face, straps a bomb to it, and then sets it on fire.

You know how in relationships, you always end up having the discussion about who the one famous person is you are allowed to have an affair with if the possibility ever arises? Chris usually picks Sarah Chalke, who plays Elliott in Scrubs, and while I’ve discussed my secret boyfriends in the past on this blog, I’m pretty confident that my number one affair-inducer is Robert Rodriguez. I am a fan of him in every shape and form. He is cute, wears a bandanna, directs, writes, edits, composes, and gets his family and friends involved in pretty much every movie that he makes. And they are some of the best movies I’ve seen. I don’t know what it is about his films that I love so much, but he absolutely hits every button with me. Embarrassing as it is, there got to a certain point during Machete where I was enjoying it so much—not laughing, just smiling—that I actually shed a tear. I did. I cried with excitement over a schlock action film. AND I WILL DO IT AGAIN.

Machete began as just a glimmer in Rodriguez
s eye years ago, then properly as a fake preview in Rodriguez’s ill-fated (but brilliant) Grindhouse collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. With Danny Trejo decked out in an array of machetes and knives, he shoots, stabs, gets shot, bonks pretty ladies and comes flying through the air out of an explosion on his motorbike. It received such love from the crowds that Rodriguez turned it into a feature length movie, and we are all the better as a world because of it.

Machete (Trejo) is an ex-Federale, working illegally as a day labourer in the Texas after a series of unpleasant events involving crossing drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal), watching his wife be killed, and being stabbed and left for dead in a fire. A lot is going on in Texas: Senator John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro) is launching a campaign targeted at getting rid of immigrants—he calls them “parasites”—while The Network, run by the elusive Shé, is doing what they can to help those crossing the border. When Machete is hired to assassinate McLaughlin, ostensibly to stop him from taking away the cheap labour Texas needs to survive, he finds himself part of an even bigger plot that goes all the way back to Mexico and to the man he hates the most.

From the opening scene with Machete crushing a police two-way radio in his bare hand, what follows is excessive amounts of gore, blood, and nudity—if you wanted to see Jessica Alba (as immigration official Sartana Rivera) in the shower, or Lindsay Lohan (as wayward daughter April) naked in a pool but for a huge blonde wig, this is the film for you. Michelle Rodriguez keeps her kit on but is amazing as Network leader Luz, saving the world from her taco van. The casting is always incredible in these films, and also usually share a few of the same actors: Cheech Marin returns as Machete’s padre brother, meaning Rodriguez can have his usual church shoot-em-up (“I absolve you of all your sins, now get the fuck out”); blue-eyed Jeff Fahey is Michael Booth, political aide and the conniving schemer behind the hit; Tom Savini—he of the glorious groin-gun in From Dusk Til Dawn—plays Osiris, hired by Booth to kill Machete. This movie also “introduces” Don Johnson as border vigilante Von Jackson. Seagal is utterly excellent and looks about eleven feet tall next to Trejo (who isn’t a tiny man), and as ominous, unmoving and square as a detention centre in his Kim Jong-Il outfit.

Things get blown up. Limbs and heads go flying. Everything is ridiculous and overdone. Sartana kills someone armed only with her red stiletto shoes. A particular self-induced death scene is the most calm and memorable you’ll ever see. Booth walks through a house shooting everyone there is without breaking a sweat. In my favourite scene by far, Machete jumps out of a hospital window using still-attached intestines as a rope. It’s absolutely silly, fun and cartoonish. While this blog is okay with differences of opinion, and if you hate schlock movies then that’s fine, but the reviews I’ve read that dislike this seem to be taking it far too seriously. I mean, honestly. At one point Sartana yells at Machete for not contacting or texting her and Machete says, monotone, “Machete don’t text.” It’s brilliant. Even despite its silliness, Sartana’s speech at the end as she rallies the immigrant workers of Texas, saying: “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!” made chills run up my spine. I think I am the Target Market here.

Rodriguez makes the most out of close-ups, not holding back from the actors’ flaws. His cinematography has always been wonderful, at the right place at the right time, and totally immersive. The sound is predictably wonderful, loud and chaotic and full of zest.

In summary: Exceeds Expectations, and is the greatest movie ever. Apparently, an even more violent director’s cut will be on the DVD release, leaving me searching wildly for a time machine that can shoot me into next January to buy it.

ETA: After extensive fawning over Wikipedia, I have discovered that Robert Rodriguez has broken up with Rose McGowan. Bye all, I’m off to Texas.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Some actors can pull off any film you stick them in. I’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t like Bruce Willis (even after Surrogates), Helen Mirren (who looks hotter in a red bikini than I ever will), Morgan Freeman (whose voice weakens knees) and John Malkovich (mostly evil, always cool). Make the four of them ex-CIA agents, trying to keep themselves alive after a case from their past comes to light, and you get action-packed quality that could boast the stupidest script ever and you’d still watch it. Luckily, it’s not the stupidest script ever either.

Adapted from Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s comic, Red opens with retired agent Frank Moses (Willis) waking up and moving around the house to the kind of jaunty soundtrack that opens an indie character piece. He gets on the phone to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), who deals with his pension cheques and who shares with Frank a shy, fledgling phone-relationship. Then, in one incredibly destructive scene—why use a wrecking ball to destroy a house when enough people with machine guns could do the same?—Frank is forced to escape, get help, and assist the girl he has a crush on—and who he has been endangering just by talking to her.

Moses rustles up old friends and foe, from nursing-home-bound rascal Joe Matheson (Freeman) to the bonkers Marvin Boggs (Malkovich), living alone on an island, hiding in trees and paranoid only in the sense that occasionally he is wrong that people are out to get him. Add to the mix the elegant Victoria (Mirren) and Russian agent Ivan (Manhunter’s Lector-playing Brian Cox, who has amusingly been in a previous movie called Red), and you have one of the most elderly death squads since the other day when I went to see The Expendables. Except that instead of oversized biceps and hilarious hair, it was more oversized talent and hilarious jokes. Well, corny jokes.

The story itself was not quite as twisty as expected, being a fairly straight action movie with all the requisite one-liners and romance. The audience around laughed so hard and loud at the most obvious jokes (and a lot were signposted) that I was beginning to wonder if I’d stumbled into an audience of people that had never actually seen a film before, and then I thought I was a bit of a monster for analysing why a crowd would laugh at a joke. If this movie had been filmed with up-and-coming actors, it would have barely made it to theatre—not to say it’s terrible plot-wise, but really, this is a movie to see for the acting alone.

Bruce Willis plays exactly what you imagine of him—a tough guy, but a bit old (though he doesn’t really look it) and gone all soft for Parker’s Sarah, who he kidnaps to save her. Parker does a wonderful job of actually doing her best to escape from a guy she had previously been into but who now appears to be a criminal, but then starts to enjoy the ride he’s taken her on—though it never seems contrived (well, in an entirely contrived movie, but she still does a convincing job of it.) Malkovich is only a year or two older than Willis, but with a proper amount of crazy white hair he looks sufficiently old and batshit, and is absolute fun as Boggs, jumpy and watchful and who was the subject of LSD experiments in his past. Morgan Freeman doesn’t get enough time on screen, but as a sneakily dignified gent, fools everyone. Much has been said of Helen Mirren shooting people with a machine gun and how awesome that is, and let me tell you internets, it is. She was the Queen of England, and now she’s shooting CIA agents and you’re cheering her on. On the youth front, Karl Urban, current CIA agent and the man who doesn’t have the full story but is trying to stop Frank from killing everyone, works nicely from a fairly bland beginning to a much more emotive ending, though he does get the shit kicked out of him at one point but then appears the next day with barely a scratch on his previously swollen and bloody face. His motivations are also tricky to decipher, but oh, who cares. It’s an action comedy. And he’s pretty cute.

In summary: Meets Expectations. Predictable and silly, but great fun.

Friday, November 5, 2010

the social network

Hype! I hate it. It’s all up in your media, telling you something’s going to be the next big thing or a godawful disaster, and then causing nothing to ever be as awesome/terrible as you expect. But then sometimes hype is actually right. I guess it’s just statistically inaccurate to assume they would always be wrong.

In the case of the new David Fincher movie, The Social Network, the hype is right. This movie is killer. It’s great. It rocks. It’s everything you could want in a movie. It is beautiful and entertaining and it is interesting and it should win all of the awards for available, even Best Musical because there was music playing in the background sometimes. I loved it. I have lost my brain a bit about it—even when I think about its failings I am like one of those people who defends their friend who is a jerk. “It’s just how they are,” they say, and you hate them. I am like that about The Social Network. Blinded by how cool it is. Just like Sean Parker does to Mark Zuckerberg—yes, maybe this is an indication I should get to the plot.

Based on Ben Mezrich
s book The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network is the fictionalised but vaguely true account of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), founder of obscure website facebook and the world’s youngest billionaire (billionaire! I’m excited to be a thousandaire half the time.) The film opens with Harvard computer student Mark and girlfriend Erica in a bar, getting into a fight as Mark is revealed to be an arrogant and basically unbearable person to be around. Erica leaves him, and he takes out his anger by creating a website called FaceMash, where pictures of women from the university are shown side by side with the ability to vote on who is “hotter”. This crashes the Harvard server, lands Zuckerberg in trouble with the school, and brings him to the attention of three people: all-American identical twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, as both) and their business pal Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). These fine folks are looking to create a social networking site for the university, and they recruit Zuckerberg to write their code. Instead, he takes their idea and creates facebook, landing him popularity, fame, and ridiculous amounts of money—and leaving the “Winklevii” and Narendra with their idea plundered. As Zuckerberg chases his dream of getting facebook to the masses, he starts to lose his own friends, namely best pal Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), whose eventual lawsuit—along with the Winklevoss/Narendra case—plays out in the background to the rise and rise of facebook itself.

The acting is top notch. Jesse Eisenberg was awkward and loveable in Zombieland, and is awkward and a pain in the ass in this, making Mark the kind of arrogant know-it-all with jealousy issues that you can hate but understand on a human level. There is an amazing turn by Armie Hammer as both Winklevoss twins: blonde, sculpted, rowing champions, entitled and utterly enjoyable to watch, especially as they are shot down by the university dean for bringing their problems to his attention. Eduardo is the one good guy in a big pile of jackasses, and he was represented endearingly by Andrew Garfield, who is soon to don the Spider-man suit and release us all from the curse that was the other Spider-man movies. (Insert theatrical gagging here.) Another character of note is Sean Parker, the brains behind Napster, who gloms onto Zuckerberg, offers advice and becomes a business partner, coming across as a man of much blustery charm, little in the way of morals and basically as the villain of the piece. He is played with tight blonde curls by my nemesis Justin Timberlake (rant to follow).

The music, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is incredible, from tender and moving to go get ’em inspirational-moment beats to brain-knocking party tunes. The cinematography is amazing, with every shot tight and perfect, and some—like the twins’ regatta in England—shot in such a way that the scenery and the race looked like miniatures, perhaps (and we all know I rarely go in for symbolism here) to illustrate how small they have become in the scheme of the plan, or how small-minded they are as they make fun of Prince Albert—who they have just met, as you do. David Fincher continues to be the kind of director that gets people flapping their arms about when they hear that he
s bringing a new film out. Well, me, anyway.

Women are not fabulously portrayed in this film, apart from the five or so minutes we spend with the strong and admirable Erica (Rooney Mara, who will be Lisbeth Salander in the American remakes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc, and who I am reserving judgement on until I see that trilogy.) Women are shipped in by bus to a frat party where they dance on tables and kiss each other madly; they get high in the lounge of the house Eduardo helps pay for as tech boys frantically write code in other rooms; they snort cocaine off each other’s bellies; they fuck the famous; they are batshit crazy girlfriends who set things on fire; they are beautiful but never part of a living, breathing plotline. I assume this is more a pointed look at the college boy view of women, but it still feels a little gross. Women: only here to party, or break Mark’s heart. We get the instructions for those two tasks when we are born.

Also well-portrayed but hard to swallow is the whole Ivy League classism and fraternity/finals club wankery, where which club you belong to can change your entire life due to knowing the right people, but which can often only be achieved by knowing the right people (or having enough money) in the first place. Australia isn’t immune to classism, but with the universities not having frat houses or as many boys wandering around with sweaters tied around their shoulders, it’s always something that’s come across as almost comical and ridiculous. People actually act like that? What dicks. But that’s why America is such enjoyable fodder in films like these, where they milk it for all its worth, as Eduardo is picked for a finals club and Zuckerberg spitefully says it’s only because they’re filling their minority quota. Not only that, but everyone in the film appears to be from money, apart from Zuckerberg, who appears to be from outer space as his family is never mentioned and he is really weird.

Despite the bad attitude towards women and the nauseating sense of entitlement suffered by everyone involved, I would give this five stars or ten out of ten but for one thing. Justin Timberlake. I don’t even know what he’s like as an actor, though I do know he plays the person who is basically the villain of the piece. I just hate him so, so much. It’s not his awful music, or his flat head, or his celebrity relationships. It’s the fact that he not only thought that he brought sexy back, but that it ever went away to begin with, and that emulating Michael Jackson was the way to reintroduce sexy to society. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE. YOU ARE WRONG. I cannot see past my emotions here. Therefore:

In summary: Exceeds Expectations, in the way that rockets exceed the local school zone speed limit. But only 9.5/10 until you strap Justin Timberlake to one of those rockets.

Monday, November 1, 2010

tripod vs the dragon

I am sceptical of musical theatre in any form. I think my feelings are somewhere along the lines of: if you can sing it, why don’t you just say it, and if you think your singing’s so good, why don’t you just join a band? I’ve been to a few musicals, and sure, some of them have been beautiful, elaborate productions, funny or moving, so on and so forth. But once you’ve heard the chorus of a song, where they sing the point of the scene (“Lisa it’s your birthday”, and other much more high-class examples) then I get the point. You don’t have to sing it again. But you will, because it’s musical theatre, and it’s there to repeat the same line until you throw up your hands and say, “Fine, I get it. It’s Lisa’s birthday. I understand.”

Musical comedy is a little trickier to judge. I like to laugh. (A strange quirk, I know, but there you are—one of my most embarrassing and intimate secrets revealed to all.) But I don’t like musicals. A quandary! But when the suggestion came up from lovely co-worker D to accompany her to see Tripod’s new show Tripod vs the Dragon, on the day it was getting filmed for DVD, I said a firm hell yes. Because comedy is funny, and I’d never actually seen a full Tripod show—only skits on those epic musical all-nighters they show on TV when the comedy festivals come out. Now was the time to branch out, so I practised my ridiculous laugh so that I could be heard clearly when I purchased the DVD later. But that was only 76% of my reasoning to go.

Tripod vs the Dragon is the musical tale of a game of Dungeons and Dragons, with our three Tripod heroes, Scod (Scott Edgar), Yon (Simon Hall) and Gatesy (Steven Gates), chancing upon a map that has a mysterious missing area. They decide to explore, but will they listen to warnings about a dragon in the area? Of course not, because it’s called Tripod vs the Dragon. This differs from other Tripod performances by the addition of jazz songstress Elana Stone, who really should have caused the renaming of the troupe to Quadpod, as she was quite a useful (and vocally as well as visually gorgeous) member of the group. As game master and an important part of the story, she stole the heart of poor goofy Gatesy, and the audience too.

It was hilarious. Some jokes made me feel deep, lasting regret that I had not gone to the bathroom before the show. Tripod was pleasantly sweary, and they bang out a good tune. They harmonise beautifully, and are clearly talented musicians. They’ve got fantastic chemistry and have clearly been honing the skill of being scathing to each other for years. Elana had great comedic timing, and fit in just fine. Some of the story was told through shadow puppetry, purposefully simplistic and thus fantastic, and those were my favourite parts. What can I say? I love a good cardboard cut-out.

It didn’t really alter my opinion of musicals being one of my least favourite types of comedy, but it’s definitely my favourite kind of musical theatre. It was fun and funny, I had a blast, and the fact that they were filming a DVD means that this could be my big break into the film industry. Well, maybe if we hadn’t been in the second row from the back. The actual DVD recording aspect was quite entertaining, with them explaining to us what was going on, cameras all over the place, and an understandable blanket ban on toilet breaks during the show. When they had to repeat a skit at the end to make sure the sound was right, it was like we were old pals and they were asking us a favour. They also left the theatre just after everyone else and will happily stand around and chat. Because they’re cool.

In summary: Meets Expectations. I thought they’d be funny, and they were; I thought the songs might occasionally be repetitive, and they were. But it’s okay; it’s still a million times better than listening to the Top 40. (I say this, but as I seem to be only listening to the new albums at work, I don’t really know. For all I know Justin Bieber and his ilk might actually be quite talented.)