Thursday, March 31, 2011

luke pearson, hildafolk

At work we just got in a stack of new titles from a company called Nobrow Press. I hadn’t heard of them before, because I am mostly wandering around in a forest of book-related information feeling lost and overwhelmed, but let me tell you internets, they make a damn attractive book. We made a display just for the collection, because they are visually appealing, and we all kept wandering over to sniff the glorious, fresh-and-well-bound-book smell and discreetly flick through them and then eventually just buy. Seriously, I don’t know why we even bothered to make a display, it’s half-empty already just from employees with no self-restraint.

Anyway, the title I couldn’t resist was Hildafolk, by Luke Pearson. Nobrow has a graphic short story project called 17x23 and Hildafolk is one of the titles. It’s beautiful, and not very long, which is appealing to someone like me who has a short attention span. So I picked it up and took it home and read it and fell completely in love.

It’s hard to summarise something that has less words in it than the review I’ll end up writing (probably), but a young girl called Hilda lives with her mother, reads books on trolls, has an antlered-fox-type-companion-animal called Twig, and loves to draw and sleep in a tent when it rains. One morning, she goes out drawing, and, well, as she says at the end, “What a noteworthy day.” She learned a lesson about tolerance, made me do these alarming short barks of laughter, and then I sniffed the pages some more in a vaguely creepy manner and sighed at the end. It really is a perfect little story.

Luke Pearson’s big-eyed, stick-legged people and gorgeously coloured mountainous landscape are just the right level of cute and immersive. The snow and wind and Hilda’s fear of trolls are equally as clear and vibrant on the page, Pearson’s lines drawn as clear and smooth with the changing weather as they are with Hilda’s big, happy face. The terrain is familiar, but the critters within are not, trolls and giants as normal as snow and rain. Once I’d checked out other stuff on his site, I realised that his style, with clean lines like a Chris Ware tale but with movement (not to criticise Ware, who is amazing), if maybe Ware had an artistically-inclined baby with Charley Harper, is actually just my favourite style to look at. When it rains in Hilda’s tent, the PT PT PT of the downpour is evocative, and the earth-toned colours are so well-chosen that texture was rendered completely unnecessary. I mean, look, the whole thing has made me do entire sentences comprised entirely of fawning and without any terrible jokes. Surely that is something to be celebrated.

In summary: Exceeds Expectations, and about the most perfect way to spend ten minutes. It’s great, and you should read it. The only downside is the price here in Australia; while it’s a full-colour book with sturdy pages, it’s still only about twenty-four pages long and at twenty dollars, compared to around six dollars for a typical comic single issue, it’s a bit much. Still, it’s actually completely worth it, as both an art piece and as a comic, and you should all read it anyway and agree with me that the world created for Hilda should be the default setting for life. And then you should buy it. Or at least go and visit him over here, and tell him I sent you so he can be all, “What?”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

griff the invisible

Forever in my mind as Vinnie the hapless husband from the halcyon days of high school when my mother and I obsessively watched Home and Away after dinner, Ryan Kwanten has done what only a handful of ex-H&A-types have and is now gleefully in the middle of an awesome local and international career. And you can see why—in Griff the Invisible as the titular Griff, he is so far removed from the world of Jason Stackhouse both literally—Griff is an Australian film—and emotionally, as he doesn’t exude the confident ridiculousness of Jason but instead is so put upon and quirky you just want to give him a hug. Or an AFI. Maybe both.

In the dark of night, when crime is creeping up on unsuspecting civilians, the person to save them is Griff: clad in a yellow-and-black suit, strong and brave, he will defend the citizens of his town the best he can. With an amazing security system and cameras all over his neighbourhood, he knows where to go and when to help. But when daytime rolls around, he struggles in normal society. Bullied at work by the mean-spirited Tony, he stammers and blushes his way through social interactions and only slight loosens up around his own brother, Tim. It’s Tim himself who first reveals, holding up a poster of a poorly-drawn representation of the costumed Griff that are plastered around the neighbourhood saying DO YOU KNOW THIS MAN?, that this is not new, and that Griff has been in trouble for this before. And before long, you are left questioning: is he a superhero? Does he have superpowers and a line straight to the unnamed commissioner?

There are a lot of everyday-superhero movies out at the moment, from the recentish Kick-Ass to the very recent Rainn Wilson vehicle Super, and it has become such a genre of its own that I couldn’t even convince my spouse to see it with me, so bored was he of the idea. But the limited scope of Griff—you never go out of the neighbourhoods he works and lives in—means it becomes much more personal and involving, less about action and fight sequences and more about the mental state of its main characters. Along with the painfully shy Griff, there is Melody (Maeve Dermody), Tim’s new love interest and a scientist who believes she should be able to walk through walls. And while it
’s Tim who finds Melody at a Chinese takeaway restaurant, it’s she and Griff together, realising almost instantly that they have found a kindred spirit in each other, that make the film so wonderful: they are cuteness personified, laden with quirk and attractive without the overly made-up perfection of Hollywood movies. Despite the superhero plotline, it’s a movie that smacks of familiarity, and can I just say, it is so nice to see an Australian movie that’s not about a) bogans, b) death, or c) bogans dying. There are suitably Australian turns of phrase but with none of the cultural cringe that movies like Sanctum make you suffer from. (The phrase “yum yum chook’s bum” is uttered, but it’s contextually appropriate and kind of funny.) It’s the kind of Australian film you wouldn’t be embarrassed sending to your overseas pals on DVD if not for those pesky regions.

It’s a gorgeous-looking film, with the reveals of Griff’s surroundings over time heartbreaking and simplistic. The camera loves the beautiful Melody, and it’s well-shot even within the confines of the limited areas and spaces used. The soundtrack is good enough to make me go to work and whine that we don’t have it in yet, and the sound design also zippy. The film, however, does drag on a bit, despite its short running time, and goes through so much happy! sad! together! apart! that you’re a bit done with it by the end. There’s also a couple of fun things, like Griff’s fights with steampunkers in alleys, and Melody’s habitual clumsiness, that happen at the start and then vanish towards the end, leaving you feel cheated of the things that made you feel so warm towards it in the first place. But really, it’s the characters that make Griff the Invisible so great, with Tony someone you’d really like to see blasted into space by a cannon (spoiler: this doesn’t happen), Tim someone well-meaning but ultimately painful to talk to (“Anyhooo, we better goooo,” he will say awkwardly), Melody’s concerned but adoring parents (Heather Mitchell and the always utterly utterly fabulous Marshall Napier), and Griff and Melody themselves, superheroes, super weird and a couple to be held in high esteem by outsiders everywhere.

In Summary: Meets Expectations. I couldn’t say it’s the greatest movie of our time, but it is absolutely a sweet little movie to spend an afternoon watching, and then you could go out afterwards and take Melody’s advice: protest a protest, or Google Google. Or go punch a bad guy in the street. Whatever floats your boat.

Monday, March 21, 2011


At the beginning of Rango, a few owls kicking around in mariachi gear and wielding instruments start singing laments to our lizardy hero, who, they declare, will inevitably die. It’s a bit confronting for a kids movie, and just to go off on a small and not really movie-ruining spoiler, isn’t true: by the end, they confess they meant it in the we’ll-all-die-eventually kind of way. At the beginning of Limitless, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is standing in a dapper suit on the edge of a building’s balcony about to fling himself off and pondering what happened to get him to this point. And then we go back to the start of the story and, in a small but not really movie-ruining spoiler, when we get back to him on the edge of his balcony, he changes his mind—it’s not the end of the movie at that point and there’s still plenty of danger to follow, in case you were wondering. But honestly, what is it with movies at the moment where they feel the need to signpost the fact that there is a threat to the main character? Of course there is going to be some kind of drama, that is the whole point of films. But all these flicks where we’re supposed to assume the main character dies, only to have them not actually be dead—it’s frustrating. No, of course I didn’t want Rango to die. (Note I am less vehement about Bradley Cooper.) But just stop it, film industry, okay? We’re perfectly capable of sitting through the start of a movie knowing there’s action to come, and we don’t need it pointed out. That’s what ads are for and frankly, we’ve already paid for our tickets at that point, haven’t we?

With that rant over, now to get into Limitless proper. If you’ve ever heard the old trope about how we only use 20% of our brain and the other 80% is just lying around letting us knock over glasses of water because we’re uncoordinated, this plotline may be of interest. Struggling writer Eddie is moping about with no motivation and a ponytail (that’s how you know he’s downtrodden, apaprently), and has been dumped by his straightlaced girlfriend Lindy (soon to be Sucker Punched Abbie Cornish). At this low point, he meets up with his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who used to deal drugs in his past and has now come up in the world, so to speak—the drugs he now peddles are worth $800 a pop. Against his better judgement, he accepts a single pill from Vernon—and suddenly that other 80% of his brain is firing on all cylinders. And one pill—you’ll be shocked at this—just ain’t enough. Despite the minor blip in the radar that is Vernon turning up in the next scene with a bullet to the head, Eddie secures a stack of pills and then becomes a kind of SuperEddie, all-round genius, social networker, lady puller and stockmarket genius—all of which happens, obviously, only after he loses the ponytail and gets a nice suave haircut. But such a fabulous drug doesn’t come without its consequences, and along with a loan shark and a creepy stalker, the awesome solution starts to screw with his sanity.

Limitless is actually pretty good. What couldn
’t be entertaining about seeing someone know everything, learn languages in hours, take over the stockmarket and have photographic recall of everything in his past that he has ever seen, even briefly? It taps into everyone’s dream of what you could achieve if all your brainspace wasn’t taken up by useless facts like Hey Theres That Guy From The Bourne Supremacy etc.

Bradley Cooper, king of Alpha Male roles, barely convinces at the start when Eddie is a slouchy deadbeat, but (gasp) does wonderfully as a smooth operator when high, and then alarms completely with his third haircut. Abbie Cornish is fairly restrained as Eddie’s staid love interest, but it makes for a convincing and interesting scene later on when she refuses the drug despite knowing what it could do for her. Robert De Niro turns up as finance wrangler Carl Van Loon, keen on Eddie’s newfound stock knowledge and his insight on a merger with another company. Rounding out the major players is professional lowered brow Andrew Howard as Gennady, the man who lent Eddie a hundred grand when he was starting out and now wants in on the altered reality.

It’s exciting, every new situation doused in a hearty amount of pop culture—see Eddie’s fight scene, his talents gathered from television and Bruce Lee flicks—and pretty non-stop entertainment-wise. As the scope of the drug’s hold becomes clear, and the unnerving problems arise, you are nervous for Eddie and his tenuous grip on reality. Good sound, great action
, cool idea—it’s what action movies are supposed to be.

In summary: Meets Expectations. It doesn’t exceed them because it is the right kind of entertainment from a blockbuster action film, but still has its flaws—the finance stuff does dull the excitement maybe a touch, even though you see why he’s doing it. The movie then has the monetary concerns of Inside Job plus the skewed-reality thrills of The Adjustment Bureau, a fact that maybe only I see because they’re two of the more recent movies I’ve seen. Actually, coupled with the similar intro of Rango, maybe there are just no new movie ideas. Anyway, there is also a frustratingly unsolved crime and a sense at the end that you’re not sure whether Eddie is a poor schmuck caught up in things beyond his control or an A-grade asshole straight out of The Hangover, which, god forbid, is about to spout a sequel. Still, there are some genuinely nifty moments in it, one involving a pool of blood that made the whole audience squirm (you’ll know it when you see it), and it sure holds you in thrall. Anyway, everyone should have to go see a film directed by a guy called Neil Burger, just to stick it to the people who probably bullied him at school.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Ah, Rango. The movie posters up at a bus stop near you have a chameleon in a Hawaiian shirt clutching a wind-up fish toy and staring anxiously out. What message about the story does this convey? First, that we’re in a world where animals wear people clothes—and yes, they all do, but we never encounter any humans having a reaction to it—and secondly, that Rango and his pet wind-up fish are going to get up to all sorts of adventures. But alas, the poster lies, and those of you who are fans of wind-up fish toys in their movies are going to be sorely disappointed when he is cast aside within three minutes.

Of course the Wind-Up Fish Fan Club has a pretty small following but honestly, the advertising campaign for this movie has it all wrong. I went to see Rango because I’ll go see virtually anything that is animated (though the godawful trailer for Mars Needs Moms will nix that particular movie) but I wasn’t expecting much, just the silliness provided by the ad and a vacant-eyed fish that for all I know would end up talking a la Gnomeo & Juliet/Toy Story 3. I’m also a bit sick of Johnny Depp parading around in his current only roles as Ham In A Silly Hat, and as he voiced Rango, I expected Ham Via Voice Only. Instead of all that, Rango is actually totally incredible, from its flawless animation to the western/Hunter S Thompson in-jokes to the not-for-toddlers drama and violence. It is an amazingly funny movie, Johnny Depp is restrained—and unless you’ve got an ear for such things, you won’t recognise any of the other famous actors either—and it is so much fun you should barrel right over there to see it now. Quick, open another tab on your computer, see where Village is showing it near you (they have better popcorn, though Hoyts have a good point system. Join up and Palace is cheapest, however. Anyway do what I do and join them all. Memberships make me feel important.)

Depp is Rango, a chameleon cast accidentally out of his happy tank life on a trip through the desert. (That scene, of Rango flying along the ground on a piece of shattered glass, is one of the first visually magical moments in the film; there are at least a hundred more.) During his quest for water in a place so hot liquid evaporates on the ground upon contact, Rango happens upon a lizard named Beans (Isla Fisher, unrecognisably twangy), who alarmingly has bosoms, wears a prudish Southern dress, and freezes completely when alarmed. She leads him to her home village of Dirt, a desolate desert town where all the buildings are animal-sized (and all the animals sized the same as each other, but hey, it’s not like everything else is realistic here until that point) and the people all in desperate need of water. But something sneaky is happening to the water, and Rango, the newcomer who uses his theatrical skills to pretend he is tough when in fact he’s a city slicker like you probably are (and I certainly am) is declared the salvation the town is waiting for.

This is Industrial Light and Magic’s first foray into entirely animated film, and I will throw down and say it’s the best-animated movie I’ve ever seen. We’ve all seen talking animals before, but all these animals are so gloriously convincing, full of expression and texture, that it will blow your mind. Seeing it on the big screen was really something else. Other than that (because really, half of my notes on the film were things like “it looks fucking amazing”, but you probably get the hint by now) I’d like to first express that it’s not really a film for the littlies, with nightmarish dream sequences and an armadillo squashed on the road in the first five minutes with a tyre print along his now-flat belly. (He’s actually fine—or at least a talking ghost, who knows—but I did hear a little whimpering and even some little gasps from the adults, and possibly me.) Another amusing scene ends up with a squished villain, which is funny, and a relief, but still pretty violent.

Cutting insults include “Missing your mommy’s mangoes?” and “If I see your face in this town again, I’m going to slice it off and use it to wipe my unmentionables”, and also confusing to small children would be this line: “We’re experiencing a paradigm shift.” (My favourite noted line was “I’m gonna strip away this mystery and expose its private parts.”) The start is pretty existential, though amusing all the same. And in case you didn’t already get a Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas vibe from Johnny Depp and his alarming shirt, an actual cameo from Duke and Dr Gonzo careening past in their car will get the point across.

My only issue with Rango was that it petered out a bit at the end once it started following a predictable storyline when Rango’s lies catch up with him—it’s a story we’ve seen before, and up until that point it had been so fabulously original I was sad to see it happen. It remained completely hilarious and entertaining, though, so I don’t really mind. And if this is ILM’s first outing, I am desperate to see their second.

In summary: Exceeds Expectations. An all-round wonderful movie and yet another lesson, started with KFC’s Colonel, that anyone wearing white in the dusty South is up to no good.

Image via

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Unknown was pretty average and thus, after a few false starts, gets only a short amount of my mental energy expended on it.

Liam Neeson is on a plane with his hot wife and her improbable hair. Upon landing in Berlin, where he’s about to give a speech on bio-who-cares, he gets in a taxi which swerves to avoid a fridge and then lands in the river. When he gets out of hospital and barrels towards his hotel, no one knows who he is—his wife doesn’t recognise him, and someone else is standing in his place, with his name tag on. Was he never who he thought he was? If he is, what is happening? And why didn’t he get a haircut before the movie started so it wouldn
t flop everywhere and distract the viewer?

This movie had a lot of potential—Neeson is a solid actor, the idea is pretty interesting, and the actual outcome not at all flat. But it
’s stuck with some overly ridiculous car chase scenes—not one but two separate incidents with cars driving down pedestrian paths (once backwards!) with no honking, and all you can do is think: is this one person’s life/sanity worth the potential death of everyone who decided daringly to walk on the footpath today? And while on the carnage discussion, why does pretty much everyone involved, or barely involved, have to die? I just stopped being concerned about people because I assumed they would be eventually shot in the head, and never was invested enough in the characters in the first place to care.

In Summary: Below Expectations. There’s probably a worse movie out there at the moment (I’m making brash assumptions here about Disney’s Handy Manny Motorcycle Adventure, which is unfair of me) but it couldn’t be more middle of the road if it were that machine what paints stripes in the middle of roads.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

the adjustment bureau

Despite initial reservations, about fifteen minutes into this movie I turned to Chris and said, “I am enjoying this movie.”

Half an hour later I whispered to him, “No, I’m really enjoying this movie.”

And by the end, a big happy smile on my face, I declared to everyone within yelling distance: “WHAT A GREAT MOVIE!” and then attacked the poor cinema attendant with my full-force Good Movie Beam and actually, cheesily, thanked him.

The Adjustment Bureau. The Bourne-type posters, with ex-Bourne Matt Damon hanging onto Emily Blunt’s hand as they are mid-run, make you think it’s going to be some sock-em smackdown movie. Instead, it has much less bloodthirsty action than you’d expect and more talking and romance, yet despite that midly depressing description, still manages to be completely entertaining. Damon is David Norris, running for the New York senate, and about to blitz the election with a huge lead. After a picture is leaked of him after an unfortunate mooning incident, he is in a bathroom preparing his losing speech when he discovers a beautiful young ballet dancer, Elise Sellas (Blunt), hiding from security in one of the toilets. One hypercharged conversation later, they are making out on the sinks and thus their relationship begins.

Fate seems to have brought them together, especially when he meets her on a bus again the next day, but in reality fate is a team of guys in hats who do their best to keep the world on the correct path. This is the Adjustment Bureau, who know that Elise and David must be kept apart and do everything in their power to manipulate their relationship. While they sneak mysteriously around in their fancy headgear, freezing time and fixing people
s thoughts, our two heroes want nothing more than each other.

This movie works so well because of Damon and Blunt: their chemistry is stronger than a year eight science lab accident. If you weren’t emotionally invested in their relationship the film would fall completely flat, but right from their first chat you are cheering the two of them on. Damon makes a speech about how his team hired a seven thousand dollar consultant to determine how scuffed a politician’s shoes should be; Blunt dunks his phone in his coffee when it rings too much; they are, honestly, completely hilarious. Their angst at being apart becomes your angst. David’s anger at the Adjustment Bureau is justified and it’s all you can do not to boo them when they appear on-screen with the books they each hold, dictating the future of the world. When one of the Bureau takes pity on the beleaguered couple, you are delighted.

In stark contrast to recent action flick Unknown’s constant fighting, this has a very satisfying lack of danger to the public on the whole, with few car chases and limited strangers getting pushed over and no one getting shot by the bad guys, whose power remains solely in their hats. Not to say it doesn’t have an edge—one particular crash jolted me right out of my mellow complacency—but I have lost a little faith in action movies after Unknown and it was good to see something that still held the excitement level of a thriller without having to watch some pointless carnage. And this is from someone who likes pretend carnage: Machete is still my favourite movie of 2010, and possibly of all time.

With Terrence Stamp grey and ominous as Bureau member Thompson, and rather attractive Anthony Mackie as Bureau turncoat Harry Mitchell—not to mention the cameo appearances by the likes of Jesse Jackson and David’s amusing interview with Jon Stewart—the casting choices round out nicely. The cinematography does the movie wonders, following the characters at pace and making the fun action—the Bureau members can go into a door in one place and careen out of a door on the other side of town—easy to follow and super enjoyable. The only bone I have to pick is with the soundtrack: unnecessary twee in places and invasive in others, it became something noticeable rather than a backdrop to what was really happening on screen. Still, not enough for me to do anything more than note; I won’t be writing a strongly worded letter to director/screenwriter George Nolfi or to the estate of Philip K Dick, whose short story “Adjustment Team” this was based on.

In summary: Exceeds Expectations, is a total blast, and you’ll secretly wish for Damon and Blunt to ditch their respective partners and hook the hell up. It is much better than the other ballet-related flick of 2011 (*cough*BlackSwanwasstupid*cough*). Also, anyone who walks past you wearing a hat will be in immediate danger of getting crash-tackled to the ground with you yelling, “I AM A MASTER OF MY OWN FATE!”

Or that could just be me. Sorry, general public.