Saturday, February 15, 2014

gustavo duarte, monsters! and other stories

I'm out of practice on reviewing comics. I used to read mountains of them--not so much the DC/Marvel stuff, but a lot of indie comics--and there are piles of them in our study. Pre-Rocket, we'd head into the city every weekend and go to Comics R Us and Minotaur, or catch the train to Windsor and hit up Alternate Worlds and their Comics R Us. I've always been lucky enough to be served by only the nicest of people, who didn't seem to care that I was a lady, and to be frank, I wouldn't have been anywhere near as interested in comics when I was a wide-eyed twenty-one-year-old looking for new interests if it hadn't been for the roundly excellent service we received in a few key shops. Originally, both of these were Comics R Us stores--the one on Bourke St, and the one in Ringwood. We don't go to Ringwood much any more, but every time we do we like to go there, because Ian is one of my favourite people, and even if we haven't been in there for months or years, he still remembers us, and says hello, and asks how work is going, and suggests things, and shows us exciting stuff he has and gives us sneaky extras. As someone who grew up in the eastern suburbs, I mostly see the ex-zone-three area as a place too full of embarrassing teenage memories to enjoy it (sigh for the memory of my silver nightclub pants), but Ian alone is worth the visit. The city store, though, is where we blasted a home loan's equivalent of cash on comics and figurines and assorted fun stuff, all because everyone who worked there was so enthusiastic and cheerful and friendly and all the positive words. Later, they and we expanded into All Star Comics on Lonsdale St, up near Queen, and while we don't have the money for armfuls comics any more (apparently babies need shoes, and sometimes even food), we still make it up there once a fortnight or so to pick up the new Hellboy or some local release, to build up karma for when Chris publishes his own indie release and we sell the film rights and become millionaires and well I'm definitely not letting this train of thought get out of hand here.

Mostly, I don't read what Chris buys. Mostly, I'm distracted by crime books, or whatever writing or reviews I'm working on, or the kiddo unpacking all our cds and repacking them into new, unrelated cases, never to be found again. I still read some, but not as many. Today, over a Lime After Lime cupcake, I read Monsters! & Other Stories.


Some art looks so natural it reads as if the illustrators have no difficulty in what flows through the arm and past the pen. Gustavo Duarte is one of those people. Every stroke looks flawless, relaxed, and easy. It's impressive and completely enjoyable. The realistic lines of people's faces--exaggerated yet honest--and the swirl of the fantastic in his monsters and the water; they are all just right. There were maybe one or two panels in the, uh [flicks, guesses] one-fifty pages where I got lost in what was on the paper. Those are pretty good odds.

There are three stories. In Co, a farmer encounters an alien, and the resulting abduction tilts his world into a pig-and-chicken-fueled confusion. In Birds, Death pays a visit to two work colleagues who try to avoid this unpleasant appointment. In the title piece, giant monsters storm a city, and only one man and his glorious moustache know what to do. In none of them is there a single word of dialogue. Duarte is Brazilian, so this probably saved a decent amount on translation fees. The lack of dialogue or narration is never missed, with everything told in expressions and a punchy storyline. It's glorious, cartoonish, fun, delivers some swift bloodletting and left me completely happy with the afternoon's purchase and with the medium itself. Fine, I'm convinced. I should get back into this comics malarkey.


Monday, February 10, 2014

the national at the sidney myer music bowl

Saturday was the kind of day that brought on low expectations for Sunday; late in the afternoon, when I'd tried to convince the Rocket to come play with me instead of banging on her father's laptop, she wailed, "No, mummy!" and physically pushed me away. It's not the first time she's done that - actually whenever he's around I am about as useful to her as a pair of shoes she's grown out of - and I don't take it personally. (In fact, I love that they adore each other. It's like when your two best friends get along, and then you all get to hang out together.) But this time, it was hot, and I was frustrated, and stressed - I can't even remember why - and I yelled, "Fine!" and stormed out of the house, thundered down the street to the park and then continued the metaphor by raining all over my face on the swings. After about five minutes of furiously not tweeting vague things about my feels (and one minute of doing exactly that), the Rocket and Chris came down the path. She sang, "Mummy!" and then came over and pushed me on the swings until I swung back and knocked her over with my ass. By that time, I was done with my rage. Apparently when I left she called out for me, and when Chris asked her which direction I went, she led him straight there. (Though, you know, it was also the playground, so I'm not trying to get too deep here.) Later, I rained on Chris about how hard it can be to have the same relationship when the affection is shared with another, and our time together is so short, and sometimes, around work and the creative outlets that are exploding for both of us this year, we are just so bone tired. We don't have movie marathons, or go out for dinner all the time, or spend all day in the city just wandering around. We laugh with our daughter and love each other completely, but it is not the same.

Sunday dawned into a bright hot forty degree day, and my eyes still hurt from the day before, crying and then sitting in front of the air conditioner, all my moisture leached from my face. I took my headache into work, and it was fixed slightly by coworkers trying pressure points and three of us pitching in to buy the biggest serving of hot chips from the sushi place across the road to eat upstairs in the kitchen (we called it "a managerial conference about salt"); I took all the crispy ones and they didn't even fight me for them. Still, when I left, the headache was there, at the front of my forehead. I still had to get home, clean, facilitate two babysitter changeovers, then get ready to go out for our date, and it was one of those days when those very simple things seemed unexpectedly hard.

At six thirty we were on the train. It was quiet, and the heat had mostly left the city, though still stagnated in warm corners without airflow. We were alone together, and there was no one between us to yell for food or ask us to read Dr Seuss' Hop on Pop over and over again. We got to talk about work, and about our days, and about his band and my committee, and we got to hold hands. We ate Lord of the Fries in the Alexandra Gardens and watched the slow migration of humans from Flinders Street Station to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, before walking alongside them.

I'd never been before; I couldn't even place it in on the map in my head. It's so big, I couldn't believe I'd missed it. I poured water out of my bottle over the fence and we went in, snaked our way through the picnic blankets set up on the grass, and found a patch of grass. Usually, we get to gigs early, and I go straight to the front. It's the curse of the five-two adult; someone taller is always in front of me anyway. This time, even though Chris said we could go find a spot by the fence, I was happy to stay further back. The crew setting up were far away enough to be featureless, but it had never mattered less. The sky was clear, the temperature just cool enough to make me idly wish I'd worn an extra layer but not so cold that I could justify spending eighty dollars on a hoodie from the merchandise stall. We nudged up against one another and listened to Luluc, the support band, watching them on the screens set up on either side as they filled me with mellow. I went and got us some Cokes, thought about a pizza, or banh mi, or anything - the whole concept of food vans at a gig was new and dizzying, but I was in that kind of mood, where the smell of smoked garlic was enough to make me giddy just about everything. And Melbourne was putting on her best face, the buildings lighting up the sky, the moon three-quarters-full and centred directly above the stage, bats flying overhead, and everyone around us was beautiful, every single person, even me. The people in front of us had brought a picnic with corn chips, crackers, dip, jaffa cakes, chocolate wheatens. I considered giving them two dollars for a handful of chips, maybe making some new friends.

Eight thirty, and The National took the stage. Everyone stood up. They were tiny, and the sound was big. I had to Google the setlist, right now, to see what they played, and I looked at that list and couldn't remember all the moments that broke into me. I love The National, more than almost any band, but I can't tell you the names of their songs, even though I can sing them, even though they don't always make sense. I know they sang everything I wanted them to. I know that I almost cried when they performed Demons from Trouble Will Find Me; I know that when Matt Berninger hollered Squalor Victoria that I almost burst out of my skin. I know that I couldn't remember loving Melbourne as much as I did when we all sang along, even when everyone sang that we were evil to Conversation 16, but especially when everyone closed their eyes and turned Bloodbuzz Ohio into something new, and when it ended, as it had last time we saw them, with an acoustic singalong to Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. There were times when songs ended with me applauding hard and then hitting Chris excitedly on the arm. When I was a kid, I used to express joy by flapping my arms like a bird (now let us all never mention this again), and this was full of moments where, for the first time in a while, I had to hold onto something - Chris, my pockets, my drink - to prevent the urge from breaking through.

I couldn't sustain the heightened emotion for the entire two hours. During a spate of songs that weren't my favourites I started looking around, thinking of getting a cider, wishing people wouldn't smoke, measuring by city skyscrapers where the moon had moved to, losing the moment that I had immersed myself in so much. Then there was England, and everyone was singing again, and I was too, and the trumpet player belted out an incredible solo and the notes cut me into pieces. There was more, there was a lot, there was dusk and night and stars, not many because it's the city and the state was on fire, but they were bright and they were there, and by the end of it everything had been solved, all my problems were over, and all my sorrows were left behind on the grass with the crushed Heineken cans and banh mi wrappers.

As we sat together on the train home, humming songs and swapping gifs we'd found on the internet, I finally noticed that my headache had gone. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

47 ronin

Man, it's been so long since I last posted a review here that the entire dashboard has changed and I am confused. What's with these new buttons? What is this thing you call "Publish"? I'm pretty sure when I last posted the option was "Chisel into stone". Anyway, with my beloved on school holidays we have manipulated many of our relations into babysitting for us and seen quite a few movies ("quite a few" in the way that parents of young children see nothing new unless they illegally download it and then watch it over three days over the periods where said kids are not throwing cornflakes on the floor or finding glasses of water to knock over.)

47 Ronin has received many terrible reviews. On Metacritic, its score was 29 (out of 100, for those sensible people who don't care about review sites that aren't, obviously, this amazing one right here.) I assumed it was going to be so awful that I would spend most of it composing mean tweets in my head, should I ever see it. And then I scored some free tickets, which meant that I could see it, with no guilt. Score!

Keanu Reeves plays Kai, a "half-breed" found almost dead in a river as a youth and brought up by the compassionate Lord Asano (Min Tanaka), though all around him treat him badly apart from Asano's daughter, Mika (Ko Shibasaki). The town they live in is visited by the Shogun, who is accompanied by a rival lord, the constantly smarmy Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano). Kira has dire plans for the town, however, along with the magical, nameless shapeshifter played with absolute alarming creepiness by Rinko Kikuchi, whom I will love forever after being in Pacific Rim. After manipulating the event and causing Lord Asano to commit seppuku to restore his now-bad name, the town's army, left as ronin--masterless samurai--decide to fight for Asano's honour, despite the quest meaning certain death.

About halfway through I leaned over and whispered to Chris, "What is everyone talking about? This is a perfectly serviceable movie!" At the end, I cried. (Don't read the Wikipedia entry on the true story of the forty-seven ronin, it is spoiler central.) This is a movie that had a good pace, knew how long to make the action scenes without giving the viewer fight fatigue, was populated by a large amount of handsome male actors with long hair (swoon), and never once made me look impatiently at my watch. The acting was all marvellous--Keanu wooden as per usual but it works as a stoic samurai-type--and it even passed the Bechdel test, with both Rinko Kikuchi's witch and Ko Shibasaki's Mika princess tough as nails.

Of course it has flaws: it's a Japanese myth made by Hollywood, with Reeves as a half-breed when there was no such person in the original story. It's frustrating, because Hollywood is so obsessed with white people saving the day in every nation, and Reeves' closest tie with Asia is being one-quarter Chinese-Hawaiian (Hawaii having a large Japanese influence, however.) At least the rest of the cast were Japanese and not from a variety of unrelated Asian countries *cough*Crouching Tiger*cough*; also, Asano's 2IC, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada, my boyfriend from Sunshine) is just as much the hero, and mostly more useful, than Kai. The one ronin who is more big-boned than the rest supplies comic relief through his weight alone, which also feels out of place. The Japanese witchcraft doesn't add much to the tale, so could be done without; one frighteningly large silver samurai is mysterious right until it is unmysteriously dispatched but without an explanation for its origins. Also, that all-over-tattoo dude from the posters has like one line and ten seconds of screen time, would it have killed advertisers to put Sanada or Shibasaki on it? Jeez.

But kudos to the filmmakers for staying fairly close to the bones of the original story, for totally surpassing my low expectations, and for the most un-Hollywood ending I've seen in a long time. I give this 47 out of 70 Ronin.

Friday, March 22, 2013

las vegas for vegans, a s patric

Short stories, good short stories, take me a long time to read. When I read a novel I like, I barrel through it to get to the end, but in a collection of short stories, when they are wonderful, I take my time. I put the book away, physically reshelve it (as opposed to leaving it in the pile of books next to the couch, where all the crime books I review live) and wait until I need it another day. So it goes that reading a book of short stories can take me weeks, months, even years—I still haven’t finished Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You—because I have a choice about when I finish it. 

 Las Vegas for Vegans was given to me by the author back when it came out, late last year, and I started it straight away. About five months later, I finished it on my couch, the baby finally asleep in her room, an expanse of time in front of me that was exactly right for Las Vegas for Vegans. I went into the study, retrieved it from the shelf (don’t laugh, it is shelved under blue), and read the final third that I had been saving for good, like a literary front room. 

Even though I hadn’t read any of it for weeks, the first story I read today—The Bronze Cow—pulled me right back into the visceral world (or worlds, or dimensions) that he has created. They are enough that by the last sentence (and sometimes that is after ten pages, sometimes after a paragraph) you have already been as immersed in the story as you might have been by a full-length novel. They are all-encompassing, ethereal, grounded, amazing. I am not clever enough to know what is happening in all of them, but it doesn’t always matter. Some I read twice because the first time I was pulled along like a current and then it would end and I wasn’t sure what I had read. These stories are not always quite real, but they are really something, you know? Like when an old American man looks over a vista with the sun in his eyes and says, “That’s really something.” 

It is the kind of collection that makes you rethink how words fit together and how stories are told. Some I didn’t like. Some made me sad. (And it isnt a recommended travel guide for traveling vegans at all.) I have folded down so many corners for turns of phrase or scenes that struck me in some way that to put them in here would probably violate copyright and have me arrested. My only regret—and I know reviewers write this type of thing all the time but I am nothing if not unoriginal—is that I’ve now read them all, that the next time I have this quiet sleeping hour free, I won’t be able to read them fresh. I’ll just have to read them again.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Movies like Bachelorette, The Hangover and Bridesmaids make me feel like getting married is a complete lapse of judgement that will end with you in some kind of physical or emotional pain on what is touted as the best day of your life. I also am beginning to think that I have a very rare thing in my life: friends who are not assholes. Is it really that hard not to be an asshole? Bachelorette says: apparently it is very hard. 

Becky (Rebel Wilson) tells her dear friend Regan (Kirsten Dunst) that she is engaged to her high school sweetheart, Dale (Hayes MacArthur). Despite this piece of apparent good news, Regan calls their mutual friends Katie (Isla Fisher) and Gena (Lizzy Kaplan, who also starred in a previous mean girl movie called Mean Girls) to immediately anguish over the fact her boyfriend hasn’t proposed to her (because in Hollywood, relationships aren’t real unless you’re married), and why does Becky deserve a decent husband anyway? 

Then the movie fast forwards to the day before the wedding. Regan, as maid of honour, has declared herself in charge of the wedding and is cruel to the help. Katie assists by bringing a vast amount of cocaine. Gena is pouting because her ex Clyde (Adam Scott) will be there and she has Unfinished Angst about him. Together, the girls ruin Becky’s bachelorette party with an obnoxious stripper, get told by Becky to grow up, and proceed to Become Mature People by laughing about how they can fit two people in Becky’s wedding dress, which they then tear. Can they fix it in time to not ruin Becky’s wedding? Will they encounter handsome men? Will they all die at the end in a fiery explosion? WE CAN ONLY HOPE SO. 

Bachelorette fails because the cast is so vehemently unlikeable. Regan does nothing but shout, and when she whines about not getting proposed to, you assume it’s because she’s a monster. Katie is painted as the ditz and really is so ridiculously stupid, which she exacerbates by being almost constantly high, that she is entirely unrelatable. Gena is the one I think the audience is supposed to bond with, and harbours a fairly grim secret with Clyde which adds some romantic tension in a sea of pricks (see: Dales friend Trevor, played with jerky abandon by James Franco) and needs to move on with her life and perhaps not be so horrible. But lord, you just don’t care about what happens to them. You wish for them to succeed because Becky seems like a nice person who suffered through high school and who clearly isn’t great at picking acquaintances, but otherwise, just...sigh. Many of the characters (Regan, Katie to an extent, most of the men) don’t get enough backstory to connect with the viewer, and some of the lessons—like, bulimia saves lives!—will make you shake your head. 

There are some great lines, Adam Scott is totally a babe who does one of the best wedding speeches you’ll ever hear, it passes the Bechdel Test easily and I’m super pleased Rebel Wilson is getting famous. Also, she kills with the line: “People think I’m too fat for Dale.” Regan’s response is good, but Becky is right. Her friends are horrible. That is the only lesson to take away from this. 

I give it three out of six bridesmaids. And even those three bridesmaids are wearing dresses that they will never wear again.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

ruby sparks

In a plotline that feeds into the fantasies of 90% of people who work in cafes, an author defeats writer’s block by writing about a woman he dreams of, who then comes to life and is able to be controlled by said author’s typing. I mean, this guy—Calvin, nearing thirty, played by Paul Dano—had already written a bestseller at age 19, and lives off his writing. This is more unrealistic than bringing a girl to life with your mind, but is strangely not the topic of the movie. 

Calvin is moping about, friendless, dateless, and not writing but being harassed about it, when he dreams of a girl and they have a nice conversation without any usual weird dream things like it being in your old bedroom but actually on Mars or anything. Inspired by that and his therapist Dr Rosenthal (Elliot Gould), he writes about her, and thus Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, also the writer and one of the producers) springs to life one morning as Calvin runs about panicking about being late. Reacting perfectly to the presence of a strange woman in his house by hiding from her and freaking out, it takes a while for him to comprehend that she is real, really real and wonderful and fun and just the girl for him. Which is grand, until their relationship hits a few minor speed bumps and Calvin, in a panic, gets back onto his typewriter and changes her course. 

What are the ethics of controlling someone, even when they’re not entirely real? What about if you think it’s for their own good, to make them happy? What would you do in the same situation? (We discussed it while we were watching: write them a huge trust fund and a bright red convertible Cadillac.) What is behind Calvin’s need for control over those in his life? Ruby Sparks is thrown around as a lightweight comedy but has a lot of depth and seriousness; you won’t always be laughing, and everyone is not perfect. While it outright discusses (without the name) Manic Pixie Dream Girls and how they are not practical as human beings, it raises other questions, for me anyway: why are men compelled to write women with sexually turbulent pasts? Did it not pass the Bechdel Test on purpose to make a point about women being idealised? 

Well now that serious contemplation is out of the way, I will say that it’s a great movie: the acting is sincere, the characters bounce off each other well—Calvin’s much more normal brother Harry (Chris Messina) is a good straight logical man without coming across as boring because of it; Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas (sigh) as Calvin’s mother and stepfather are an interesting look into Calvin’s psyche; Calvin’s dog Scotty is suitably fuzzy—and make it a believable situation in a believable world. When Calvin tries to alter Ruby’s personality and finds things inevitable screw up, it makes for both humorous and slightly-to-very depressing situations. It’s an interesting idea and it’s been done well. As a bookseller, one of my favourite things about it was that the book covers in the movie were actually great instead of the crap they usually put out in films—mostly, the author’s name IN VERY BIG LETTERS in case you weren’t sure the book they were signing was their own. If these books turned up in my store, I would buy them. Kudos to their art department then, and to their set designers for Calvin’s stepfather’s forest-like house, which is the most divine place you’d ever want to live in armed with lots of bug spray. 

Ruby Sparks is quirky and delightful while avoiding cliché and never straying into comedy for the sake of it. You could do a lot worse than this film next time you’re out and about. I give it four out of five houses with swimming pools.

Monday, September 17, 2012

kath & kimderella

Have you heard of the sandwich way of criticism? It’s when you need to say something bad about someone who you’re trying to encourage, or who you like, or who will roll up their manuscript/screenplay/comic and beat you about the head with it if you are mean. (I am this person.) You sandwich the bad criticism between good criticism. 

Like, for instance, Kath & Kimderella. I enjoyed the first season of Kath & Kim (I bought it on VHS, in case you were curious about how long ago it started). Kath & Kimderella is possibly the worst movie to ever grace the big screen. But Woodley was very funny. 

See? A nice gentle criticism sandwich. 

Kath (Jane Turner) and Kim (Gina Riley) are both angsting about the missing sparkle (or “vajazzle”, as Kath would and does say) in their relationships when plot encouragement occurs for them as Kath wins a competition at her local chemist for a trip to the Spanish outpost of Pampilloma, located in the south of Italy. Upon their arrival they discover that the whole place has gone bankrupt and their hotel has shut down, but after a tour of the local castle the king (Rob Sitch with luscious hair) misinterprets their knockoff label clothes as the real thing, assumes they’re rich and attempts to seduce Kath for her apparent wealth. His son, hiding his features behind a mask, falls for Kim after seeing her with a t-shirt that says PRINCESS on it in sparkles. Hijinks ensue. Sigh. 

The central conceit isn’t really a problem—give me enough jokes and any plot is fine. But crucially, Kath & Kimderella is not funny. It’s not funny when Kath, Kim and Sharon (Magda Szubanski, along for the ride) go outlet shopping and the girls run around sped up like a Benny Hill skit. The same sped-up schtick is also not funny when Kath uses what she thinks is the castle’s gym but is in fact their dungeon (LOL HAHA except that it is actually totally a gym). It’s not funny when Kath and King Javier go for a ride on their Vespa against some green screen so obvious that it could almost be a joke, but just looks bizarrely cheap against the rest of the movie’s actually decent backdrops. It’s not funny when the plot stagnates halfway through, and it’s not funny that all the twists are completely obvious from the moment the characters appear on the screen. 

It’s also confusing when the poor men, left at home to watch telly in their Snuggies, decide to go fight the royals for their women. Kath’s husband Kel (Glenn Robbins) commits an act on an airplane that would surely get him banished from all flights forever, but then turns up mysteriously in Europe five minutes later to save the day. And, even more mysteriously, arrives before Kim’s own husband Brett (Peter Rowsthorn), who was on either the same flight or an earlier one. Uh, spoiler alert. Also, Gina Riley looks amazing and while I certainly can’t rock a midriff top, I’m a bit over the whole “ugh, look at her in an outfit that’s too small lulz” thing. Wear what you want and get over it. 

Oh hey, It wasn’t entirely awful. Kim’s cutting little digs were occasionally funny, and the cinema popcorn was nice, and the bit where the king and Kath address a crowd and Frank Woodley signs for the hearing impaired made me shake with laughter. This hasn’t made me dislike Turner and Riley, whom I admire greatly for making me laugh numerous times over the years, but I really did not enjoy this. Though I did just see a review on IMDb by summerblink that stated “To everyone who didn't find it amusing - there's so much of Australian culture you do understand. If you call yourself an Aussie, you should be ashamed.” And I’m glad people like it, honestly, but here I am in shame, saying I give it 9 out of 86 minutes.