Tv blabs, movie blabs, book blabs. Lots of blab, but no flab.

Monday, January 31

Don't Cut The Muffin

I have always found more mirth in English comedies than in most bland formulaic American shows. Recent mirth makers have been My Family, My Hero, Dead Ringers, Smack the Pony, and Black Books. I'm not passionate about them, mind, but I laugh and have an enjoyable viewing experience.

I have seen Coupling a few times in the past, but it has never grabbed me. It may have been time slot or my disinterest; I'll never know. The past couple of Monday nights have been rather thin on watchable TV. I'm actually watching parts of The Biggest Loser, which is just scary.

Last week's Coupling was about how one of the guys can tell his new partner that he wants to sleep at home for one night. It was interspersed with fantasy scenes from what looks to be a bad Shakespearean play, that results in the lovers playing chess. The cutting between the real and fantasy world worked brilliantly, and I stuck with it. I was back again this week.

It is a pleasing experience to find a new comedy that doesn't play out like every other comedy. It is no wonder that the U.S. version of this failed miserably.

I also sat through the pilot of Desperate Housewives. Seven, as usual, really misrepresented this show in it's promotion. I thought it was going to be a new Melrose Place crossed with murder scandal-of-the-week. Instead it actually has characters with some established depth, totally dysfunctional families and a mystery to top things off. I don't think I'm likely to be a devoted viewer yet, but I think it's worth coming back to.

Sunday, January 30

Some Find

I love stumbling across sites that supply a good dose of info, perspective and wit. These are a couple of gems I found at The Movie Reporter:

Fellowship! The Musical. Oh dear. Ohh dear.

An interesting look at The Matrix Reloaded includes an excellent rewrite that could have saved the film.

And some more Charlie and the Chocolate Factory pics.


Chocolate rivers actually smell really bad.

Friday, January 28

Some Da Vinci Code film news. If you haven’t heard, Ron Howard is directing Tom Hanks in the lead role of Robert Langdon. Audrey Tautou (Amelie) has just announced that she will be stepping into Sophie Neveu’s shoes. The Louvre has agreed to allow filming in its halls, so I’ll finally know what the place really looks like, rather than my imagined Louvre.

The trailer for Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride has been released.

Peter Jackson has announced his next project post-Kong. He will adapt the 2002 novel ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold. It is narrated from heaven by a 14-year-old girl who has been raped and murdered, and looks down on the people left behind to deal with the tragedy. Sounds like he’s going back to his Heavenly Creatures roots.

A Serenity test screening had a mixed reaction but converts Herc into a Firefly fan. Can’t wait!

Here's some pictures (1, 2) of Tim Burton's Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.

Thursday, January 27

Back At It

Ratings are back next week, and it looks like I've got a busy night on Tuesday.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism

Tuesday 9:20pm, ABC
I was surprised to see this documentary on TV so soon, but it was happy surprised. I saw a review of this last year and it certainly opened my eyes to some scary facts. As a country who has a number of media outlets controlled by Murdoch I think everyone should watch this doco, even if some of it isn't locally relevant it will still leave you shocked.

The Amazing Race
Tuesday 7:30pm & Thursday 9:30pm, Seven
It's back and the race is on. Twelve new couples to laugh at and hate. Yay!

The O.C.
Tuesday 8:30pm, Ten
Total guilty pleasure viewing. Can't get enough of it!

The West Wing
Tuesday 10:30pm, Nine
I spent the Summer watching my season 1 DVDs. It has changed this year now that creator Aaron Sorkin has left, but it still beats the pants of most TV.

Thursday 8:30pm, Seven
If you've seen anything on Seven in the last couple of months, chances are you'll have seen an ad for Lost. A plane leaves Sydney and crashes over an island. 48 survivors and a scary island. Fun! Stars three Australians; always a plus.

Medical Investigation
Thursday 9:30pm, Ten
I'm not one for medical shows. I usually find them really irritating. I saw a trailer for MI yesterday and it caught my attention. I'll give it a try. It stars Jake 2.0's Christopher Gorham.

And The Nominees Are...

That's right. The nominations have been announced.

Oscar is not too far away.

There are so many that haven't been released here yet that I feel I can't really comment on what I think of the nominations. I am glad that Finding Neverland has a few as it was the most Oscar likely film I saw last year.

With Chris Rock as the host it will be a very new attitude for this mostly humdrum affair. Is the Oscars trying to sneak some of the MTV style to gather more audience?

Summer Shows

Every Summer, when the ratings season ends, all of the regular news, "current affairs", and presenter driven shows either have a break for 8 weeks or replace the presenters with stand-ins. For some shows this cast swap is actually a good thing.

SBS's The Movie Show had a revamp last year when David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz defected to ABC's At The Movies. They were replaced by a 'hipper', younger panel of reviewers. I watched a couple of episodes and found the tone of the show rather off-putting. I wasn't clicking with any of the hosts. So I only tuned in if there was a new film I wanted to know more about.

With the onset of Summer, The Movie Show bumped it's 'whacky info' guy, Marc Fennell, up to host and devoted the show to DVDs. Each week sees only one of the regular hosts join Mark and they review new release DVDs and their extra content.

I've caught the last 4 Sunday night repeats and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. So, my hope is that The Movie Show [DVD Edition] gets picked up as a regular show.

Now I have even more DVDs I want to own.

Vote in the At The Movies Viewers' Poll for your favourite film of 2004. It's not that easy picking the top 3.

Browsing that list made me realise how many films I didn't see last year. I will have to try harder.

Spectacular Spectacular

ABC Sunday Afternoon aired a repeat of the Schools Spectacular this past weekend. For those who've not heard of it, it is an initiative of the New South Wales Government's Department of Education that has been running for the past 21 years.

It is a program that helps students of public schools to develop talents in performing arts. All the performers are high school students and some of the singers are pretty amazing. There are a core group of singers who perform one or two songs solo and join ensembles for the larger numbers. Ranging from pop, musical theatre, indie rock, country to opera these kids perform like pros.

The numbers for this event are huge: an 80-piece symphony orchestra, a 700-voice choir, a 20-piece stage band, 1500 dancers and 50 featured artists must be absolute chaos at the culmination of it all at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Trying to imagine the logistics of this type of thing puts me in a cold sweat, but the experience of performing in front of an audience that big and the whole experience for all those students involved would be worth it.

No matter how you were involved, one of fifteen hundred dancers, in the choir right at the back, backstage making sure everyone has the right prop, there is an amazing buzz that goes with being part of theatre. Those of us who work in the biz thrive on it. Those who are involved as a hobby have day jobs to feed their habit.

If I'm not being clear, being part of nearly any performance is like a drug. And when I come off a big show, there's always what we call post show depression (a.k.a. withdrawals). So if this event can spark a theatre habit in even a few of those kids, then I'm a happy dealer.

Now the rest of the country just has to start doing their own Spectacular.

Tuesday, January 25

The End Of Theatre As We Know It?

Diddy bids for Lloyd Webber's West End empire.
Rap mogul Sean 'P Diddy' Combs is in negotiations to buy four of British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's legendary theatres in London's West End.


Hard to Watch

I've refrained from commenting on Carnivale for numerous reasons. Mainly because I don't wish to colour anyone else's viewing of it. I would much rather have a discussion about it than give a full dialogue of my thoughts.

The final ep of season one aired on Sunday night and I've never been left more wanting, nor more repulsed at the same time. Not repulsed because of the story mind you, but still reeling from the harrowing image not 5 minutes before the end.

If you haven't seen the end of it, all I'll say is that it makes Justine slitting Wesley's throat look like a paper cut. I still shudder thinking about it.

I can't wait for the next season to air here. So many more questions.

This has been one of the hardest programs to watch I've ever seen. It's dark, dirty, challenging, confronting, philosophical and enthralling.

Reality TV hasn't a chance against shows like this.

Summer Sport

The only sport that I can abide to watch is the Australian Open. I don't really know why. I don't watch any other tennis during the year, nor do I plan to spend anytime watching it. It just, sort of, well, happens. I flick over and there's an exciting match on and I'm hooked for the duration.

Tonight was Aussie Alicia Molik v Venus Williams. First time for 17 years that an Australian woman has made it to the fourth round. I found myself behaving like a sports nut. Wooing, and talking to the TV. Yeah and Arggg were constant commentaries on the games' progress.

Molik won and I will be tuning in on Wednesday night to see how she performs.

Is there some sort of patriotism seeping in?

Unlikely. I still can't stand Lleyton Hewitt.

I Need A Drink

Apparently I'm an underachiever.

I heard a news brief tonight explaining that the average Australian household expenditure per year on alcohol is $4000!

I really need to start drinking.

Friday, January 21

From The Ashes

Jake 2.0 didn't last very long on Ten on Friday night at 7:30 in the middle of last year. They aired about 6 episodes then it vanished.

It returns this Saturday night at the late time of 12:25am (Ok, actually Sunday morning).

They are re-airing the pilot. I can only assume that it has been so long that we need to see it again. I am hopeful that this time sticks and we actually get all 14 eps of this show. It's not fantastic, but it's goofy fun.

Thursday, January 20

Are We There Yet?

Once upon a time there was an animation studio who made great G rated films. After many successful versions of a similar story structure – the buddy film – it came time for them to start to grow up. Thankfully this didn’t involve seaweed moustaches.

Who’d have thought that Pixar would make a PG film? How much faith and guts did they have to hire an outside writer/director and give him creative control? How well does it pay off?

Pixar’s latest venture is the start of a new lease of life. I think it is fitting that the last Disney/Pixar co-production should be the one that leads Pixar to a new place.

The Incredibles is just as the title describes. It abandons the shtick that we’ve come to love for a family and all the relationships therein. It ventures places the other films daren’t go; mentioning things like divorces and marital issues, discontentment at work and death. Not that anyone major dies, they’re not that grown up yet. Lots of nameless henchmen get blown up while flying dangerous gizmos and fallen Heros who have cape issues.

The rise in classification also addsthe exclusion of some audiences. It is unlikely that the under 8s are going to last the 2 hours (the first film to break the 90 minute barrier). There simply isn’t enough colour and movement to keep their attention in the first half of the film. There were numerous fidgeting children in the session last week. I also think the action sequences could be too much for younger ones as well. The small girl beside me jumped a number of times during some of the more intense sequences.

Enough about outside things.

The Incredibles is about the Parr family. Robert and Helen are Superheros, Mr Incredible and Elastigirl. When Mr Incredible saves a jumper, he is sued for the injuries sustained from the rescue. All of the Superheros are forced into retirement, and the ‘normal’ life.

Mr Incredible’s large bulging shoulders have migrated into a large bulging stomach and Elastigirl has the signs of bearing three children on her thighs. The daily battles they now fight are homework, bathing rituals, and keeping food on the table for a growing family.

The Incredibles delves into suburban life and shows the same issues and the same concerns that affect everyone, even if you can lift trucks. This is where Shrek 2 failed. This film doesn’t drive every conversation toward a punch line. Sure, it’s very funny, but by spending the time with this family in their home the audience already has an emotional involvement and cares when there are real problems to be dealt with.

Each character’s powers are an extension of themselves. Mr Incredible is very strong as most father’s have to be; Elastigirl is flexible beyond belief as any mother is; Violet is shy and very self conscious so, naturally, she can become invisible; Dash is a young boy who is always on the go with boundless energy so he’s able to run extremely fast; the baby is a mystery, not showing any sign of having superpowers. Yet.

There is so much to look at, like any Pixar piece, that I enjoyed this movie more the second time. Even though I knew all of the big jokes and scares I still felt the thrill.

The concern with human computer animations is the realism. There is a certain sense of unease while watching a photorealistic human character speak. For example, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a beautiful film, but I found the characters just a little creepy to watch. Pixar understands this. They achieve photorealism in many of their productions, but it is always stylised. If The Incredibles were realistic, then it would have failed. How unbelievable a woman being stretched to extremes would be. By stylising the characters we are more likely to identify with them. Which is just plain weird.

The Incredibles design looks to be inspired by every superhero and spy flick of the 60s and 70s. Lots of curves and odd angles accentuate the world and provokes memories of James Bond, but also Batman. The contrasts between the domestic, normal world and the Super world are dramatic. Emphasising this difference is what the film is about. No matter what the setting, family and relationships are still important.

I loved the score. All original music incorporating the same sense of style as the sets. Very spy flick, exciting and emotional as well. A good CD to get energised with I would imagine.

Animation can have a bad reputation about being not very cinematic. Everything is so extensively planned and thought through that it can sometime lack the spontaneity that live action freely gives. The Incredibles couldn’t be accused of not being cinematic. The Dash chase would be ‘the’ special effects sequence of a live action, but the computer takes this and pushes it further. I’ve rarely felt that much excitement and laughed so much in so short a time. Loved the bugs!

I really could go on for pages about individual characters. Loved Edna Mode. And Syndrome was a very worthy nemesis.

I’ll definitely be adding it to my Pixar DVD collection.

The Ultimate Dad

Children’s stories are traditionally dark and scary; the tales of the Brother’s Grimm for example. The tales are interwoven with death, danger and deception. Stories are our first exposure the hard facts of life within a fictional and fantastical setting. With film currently dominating all forms of storytelling, we look to it to provide the same exposure to more grown-up issues.

The problem with this responsibility is the watering down of material between conception and release. Between all of the voices that make themselves heard about how a film will turn out to be few films actually manage to tell a story that resonates. Like it or not, humanity thrives from stories that take us to places we don’t wish to experience for ourselves. We learn from others: even fictional others.

Cinema has released a new film that is worthy of the description of dark and a little scary. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Event’s (LSASOUE) is the sum of the first three books in the series of the same title. The first line sets out the tone for the whole series. The film, on the other hand, begins with a fantastic deception, then pulls the rug out from underneath you.

We meet the Beaudelaire children on a beach where they are informed that their parents have both perished in a fire which destroyed their home. The three orphans are sent to live with their ‘closest’ relative Count Olaf, an actor of some ‘repute’. Throughout the film, Jude Law’s smooth voice warns the audience that this movie isn’t going to be at all pleasant, and there is a much nicer film in Cinema 2 (which only works, if you’re not IN cinema 2).

Count Olaf is a particularly nasty fellow who reveals immediately that he’s going to dispose of the children as soon as possible so he can inherit their family fortune. Jim Carrey is excellent as the dastardly Olaf. I’ve not liked Carrey in anything since The Mask, so I was reluctant to look forward to his performance. The combination of his slender physique and prosthetics gives Carrey the perfect Olaf look which he flamboyantly brings to life with his usual physical acting/comedy. Olaf is a very bad actor, and Carrey does a very good job of playing him. There are moments when some of his signature word-drivel goes a step to far, but there aren’t an abundance of these and the film moves on from them quickly.

The Beaudelaire children are what makes LSASOUE so very good. They are always trying to escape Olaf’s schemes and constantly under threat of being upstaged by Carrey. Not an easy gig, but these young actors keep the focus where it is needed. In a departure from the book, Violet, Klaus and Sunny are given more emotional growth after the death of their parents and learning how to rely on each other for support.

Emily Browning and Liam Aiken, Violet and Klaus, show they have the acting chops to portray this heightened emotional rollercoaster of a life. These characters are going to have serious therapy bills if they survive Olaf’s terrorism, and Browning and Aiken embody them well.

All of the film’s best lines went to the character who couldn’t speak. Well, she can speak, but nothing comprehendible. Twins, Kara and Shelby Hoffman, double as habitual biter Sunny who is the comedy relief and innocent heart of the film. What is captured of these girls is little short of amazing. Who knew anyone could get toddlers to perform such a range of emotions. They are not just happy and sad, but as much as one would expect from a child actor twice their age. Sure, we don’t know how much time and effort was put into capturing these moments, but it’s an additional quality that lifts the film.

As I was saying earlier, this is a dark film. The Baudelaire’s are hardly the first book characters who have lost their parents, but there aren’t many films where the villain is constantly attempting to murder them and killing off anyone who tries to protect them. Even Voldemort isn’t that menacing yet.

If you suffer from a fear of snakes (Ophiciophobia), then you’re going to love the Reptile Room. A woman sitting nearby had her eyes covered for most of this part of the film, and jumped out of her skin when the Incredibly Deadly Viper makes it’s sudden entrance.

The production design and look of the film is fantastic. Very Tim Burton. No surprise when you learn that the Director of Photography and Production Designer both worked on Sleepy Hollow, and the Costume Designers have worked with Burton since Edward Scissorhands.

It is a totally manufactured world, which gives the film a consistency that enhances the mixture of modern and late nineteenth century periods. Dark and Gothic heightens the gloom and emphasises the difference of each of the children’s new foster homes.

I go on and on about being faithful to the original text, and usually complain about the lack of attention to detail, but deviating from the original texts works in this films favour; providing more tension and emotional resonance for the final showdown between the Beaudelaires and Olaf.

Possibly a bit too scary at times for younger ones, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Event’s will be enjoyed by older kids and adults alike. Make sure you stay for all of the end credits. They are, perhaps, one of the best end credits that I know of. Excellent 2D animation, and if you make it through you’ll have a certain headworm that will bug you for days.

Wednesday, January 19

Lacked Spark

I’ll start off buy saying that I didn’t like Daredevil. It just didn’t work for me, and I’ve not watched it again to work out why. When I heard about Elektra, I wasn’t really that interested but I gave in to the hype and went along with an open mind accepting that I may enjoy it. How horribly wrong I was.

I promised myself I wouldn’t rant. It wasn’t bad enough to rant about; it just wasn’t good.

Basically it was all rather dull. Action sequences made little sense and had no intensity at all. The ninja guy with the semi-auto-Van Helsing-inspired-crossbow bolt-gun could have been an intense fight. Instead, there was a brief flurry of fire and that was it.

Jennifer Garner frowned her way through this role. I don’t really understand her Golden Globe nomination having seen the film.

Everything felt very ordinary for a story and characters that are far from it. I was constantly annoyed by boring choices of shots. The whole movie lacked direction.

The screenplay didn’t help either. The back-story that was given was vague and gave little explanation for Elektra’s motives. The villains hardly got any screen time, so I have no idea why they were the ‘bad guys’. Elektra’s targets are a father and daughter and she decides not to kill them, but protect them. If you can’t see how the film unfolds within the first half hour, you need to watch more average films.

I wish I had gone and seen Finding Neverland again.

Monday, January 17

Can It Be True?

This is why I don't go to bed early. I wake up in the middle of the night and hand write bizzare posts...

Vampires are dead humans.

Angel and Spike are vampires.

Buffy sleeps with them both.

Does this make her a necrophiliac?

Self Help

I have been curious about The Vampire Watcher's Handbook: A Guide for Slayers since its release in 2003. An unofficial, loose, tie-in to Buffyverse. I wanted to know what was in it, but could never find out because every copy I came across in store were sealed in plastic. What's the big secret?

Packaging a book like this is a double edged blade. It made me want to know what was inside that was worth sealing in, but on the other hand, I wasn't prepared to risk paying $25 to find a crappy book full of things I already know. Last week I found an opened copy for sale and had a flick. The content looked good and the design is very interesting, so I put it on my 'to buy if cheap' list.

Lo and behold, three hours later I am about to leave another bookstore when my eye caught sight of the cover art in the bargain box. $5! Impulse purchase indeed.

The title rings true in the contents. It is a practical guide to the world of vampires and how to deal with them. The first chapter is historical accounts of vampire activities and lore. Avoiding the typical path that some books of this type tend to venture down, i.e. myths. The Watcher's Handbook is surprisingly factual.

The rest of the book covers identification, locating, prevention, and, of course, slaying. Even including known vampire strongholds. You may already be familiar with all the methods of slaying, but do you know why they work and how they were discovered?

The design is very interesting. The text is a thinner column set in the centre, leaving room for images and diagrams, along the outter edge. It also features hand written notes and drawings expanding upon the printed text. It appears to be a well used book.

Obviously it is inspired by the success of Buffy but it is not a poor rip-off. The Watcher's Handbook is a fun and informative read for people who are interested in vampire lore and an essential too for those who wish to avoid succumbing to a vampiric attack. A valuable addition to any Buffy collection.

Sunday, January 16

Thy Name Be

One thing I find annoying about some fantasy type novels is the choices of names for people, places and things. I understand that it is not an easy task to come up with new words that haven't been used thousands of times before, and trying to avoid rehashing the same creature names makes it harder still, but I have to be able to decipher the pronunciation quickly or that word will annoy me for the rest of the book. If that word is the name of a main character, things could get ugly. As a rule, I also think it is wise to avoid chaining consonants together.

One author who is guilty of this annoyance is Cecilia Dart Thornton. Perfect example is Gwragedd Annwn. The problem with these types of words is I attempt to sound them out so my reading-voice is pronouncing things correctly. If I stumble every time I come to a word, I'm not going to have a good time with the story because the impact and meaning of the words is lost.

When a character appears, like 'Fitz the dog-boy', the association with the name is instant and the story can continue. When a name like Gwragedd comes along, my brain goes 'Oh it's hablemego.' or something to that effect, and I stare at the word more to crack the code. Perhaps if I was more literate or studied in English dialects, I would not glance twice, but I'm not and I like to be guided.

Tolkien, of course, is the master of the made up name. Most of them are word caramel; Lothlorien, Rohirrim, Pelennor. The best thing about all of these words is he tells you how to say them in the appendices. I don't expect every book to come with 150 pages of extra story, but a helping hand would be nice.

Friday, January 14

Knocked Me Off

I had to double check that I hadn't misread it. Then stared at it for a while then, once the shock past the excitment set in.

Buffy is back on TV.

Ok, so it's only a repeat. I have the episode on DVD and the episode itself isn't a high point, but my show is back on TV!

Sunday, 10:40pm on Seven - I Robot, You Jane.

Followed by the X-Files - Fire.

Wednesday, January 12

What's To Come

As is traditional, one looks at the coming year and what the highlights will be.

In TV land I've seen much that has piqued my interest. Currently there is only one show that I am very eager to see. Lost is the show that Seven is bombard-advertising and from what I read it is worth tuning in. Co-created by J.J. Abrams, who brought us the forgettable Felecity and messy Alias, Lost looks to be a drama-thriller-action-adventure-comedy. Which is how Alias began, then lost momentum and focus. Looks like it could be fun, so we hope for the best.

February 17
House of Flying Daggers
Large budget Chinese cinema is getting more and more deserving attention. After Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, Daggers looks to be right at home. Just as beautiful as Hero, but without the fascist undertones.

February 24
Another comic book adaptation, which sees Keanu Reeves play the title character who can see half breed angels and demons posing as humans. I am intrigued by the character and story, and am hoping Keanu tries to do the acting thing.

April 21
Firefly is such a worthy series to be put on the big screen. Join the Browncoats resistance for fun stuff and a forum. This is a film everyone should go see.

June 23
Batman Begins
I've never been much of a fan of the Batman films, but this one looks like it's a little different from the others.

June 30
War of the Worlds
The cassette copy we had used to frighten me to no end when I listened to this growing up. I haven't seen the original 1953 version, so I may have to unearth a copy to see if Spielberg does it justice.

July 7
Fantastic Four
An appealing cast as the Four, Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffudd, Chris Evans, and Michael Chiklis, with Julian McMahon as Dr Doom. Not a lot is known about it as of yet, but I'll keep my ears to the screen.

July 28
Who doesn't love Bewitched reruns. Things were looking good for this production. Nicole Kidman as Samantha, a solid supporting cast including Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine are a good start. The plug puller for me is that Will Ferrel is playing Darrin. I'll wait to see what the trailer is like.

September 1
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Tim Burton is trying out another 'reimagining' and I am hoping it is better than Planet of the Apes. With Johnny Depp as Wonka it's bound to be good anyway. View trailer.

November 10
The Corpse Bride
Tim Burton + stop motion animation = movie goodness. I watch The Nightmare Before Christmas a few times a year because it's so much fun and beautiful. The film is based on a 19th Century Russian folktale, where a man mistakenly weds a corpse. Whoops!

November 24
Wallace & Gromit Movie: The Curse of the Wererabbit
I have all the Wallace & Gromit eps on vid and Chicken Run was excellent. I've been waiting for a feature length Wallace and Gromit for years, and now I'll have one!

December 1
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
I can't help but be eager. It's a disease.

December 14
King Kong
How can I not look forward to Peter Jackson's next venture? With Andy Serkis playing Kong how could things go wrong? Will we ever see Serkis' face on film again?

December 26
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe
I grew up watching the BBC series and couldn't get enough of it. I've never read any of the books, but I'll set myself the challenge of reading them before the film is released. Sadly, it looks as though the other books aren't going to be produced. The art work looks pretty good.

The New Black

Reading a single volume collection of three novels is tough on one’s wrists. I think I’ve strained something. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is the sum of the series that is Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass in a thousand page hardcover wrist-breaker brick.

Northern Lights introduces the alternate world of twelve-year-old Lyra. Her universe is a mix of modern and turn of the century technology. Where it is the Church that governs and academia is intrinsically linked to it. Every human has a daemon that takes the form of an animal and those who don’t are to be feared.

It is a well thought out and executed world. Pullman’s hometown is Oxford and his familiarity with the location is clear in his descriptions. Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, are a ward of Jordan college and spend their days roaming the campus and waging war with other children.

Lyra’s journey is the usual moments of happenstance and long kept secrets. Pullman weaves an interesting story around this girl to keep one reading, but there are moments where I am pulled out of the story because somehow a gap in the prose has revealed the machines working the lights and scenery. I remember as a child writing stories and find myself falling into the simple trap of repeatedly writing “and then suddenly”. This is what called out to me in a couple of passages. The plot was lacking a character or an event, and then suddenly it was there.

I’m probably being too critical of what is a children’s book, but even there I am confused. This series is found in the 8 to 10 section of my local bookstore, and yet I am unsure of what the intended audience is. Lyra is essentially a child, thus sees the world in a child like manner, but the language is inconsistent. There are many ‘big’ words, and they are all within a context to be read and understood. The text appeared to be leaning between simple narrative and veering off into the didactic.

This is a vivid and colourful book. Lyra has an excellent wit and rebel streak that is likely to keep younger readers enthralled. As an adult (don’t laugh), I found the inconsistencies to be a distraction and the plot to be a little bumpy.

I am six chapters into The Subtle Knife and it is enjoyable thus far. Let’s hope my wrists hold out.

Saturday, January 8

Fowl Facts

Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books are one of my favourite children's series. They are colourful, imaginative, witty and way too much fun for their own good. The concept is that the fairy world does exist, but from the rise of humanity they've been forced deep under ground where they live in absolute secrecy. The fairy technology is amazing and when the criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl traps a Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance (LEPRecon) officer the first book gets underway. Did I mention that Artemis is only 11?

I received The Artemis Fowl Files for Christmas. I was excited. I love companion books. I have a few already about certain TV shows, films and books. This book contains two excellent short stories (no pun intended) about the initiation of Holly Short and the time just after the first novel. In between these stories are pages of facts about fairy species, interviews with characters and the author, diagrams, maps and a key for the translation of the fairy code.

Not very lengthy, but enough to bide the time until the next novel is released.

Under advisement from the back of this book, I should have posted this warning when I added a link to the Artemis Fowl site:

Please continue with care. The contents are highly confidential
and the existence of the entire Lower Elements Police may be in your hands.
To delete all fairy-related files, readers may experience a fine-tune
mind-wipe on exiting this site. Do not be alarmed.
This will in no way facilitate a drop in IQ.

Pretty much the same deal for when you leave this blog, but I don't guarantee that you're IQ hasn't dropped...

Thursday, January 6

A Little Music in the Night

Love him or hate him, Andrew Lloyd Webber is a phenomenon. His shows are on in 21 countries at any one time, and some are the longest running productions on Broadway and the West End. Here in Australia, Lloyd Webber has made some serious money. Jesus Christ Superstar had a stellar cast and a top 10 hit; Cats has been on stage and in a tent; and Phantom of the Opera did mega business with a two year national tour in the late 90s. Here, in my home town, alone there have been three school productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and a pro-am production of Evita in the last 10 years (I was involved in this and one production of Joseph). Not all of Lloyd Webber work has been a huge success. Anyone heard of Jeeves?

Phantom of the Opera was written in 1986 and the score is a testament to that time period. Musically, Lloyd Webber writes for the masses. He creates simple melodies and disguises them with beefy accompaniments. Take the Phantom song 'Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again'; half of the chorus is sung on the same note. Play the melody sans words and accompaniment and it’s rather boring; much like most Pop music. This is essentially what Lloyd Webber is, the Pop Musical King.

Phantom is wildly accepted to be the most successful musical ever performed. Rob Guest, who played the Phantom in Australia, performed the role more than 1000 times. It is a huge production. Lavish costumes and sets make the whole show more wonderful to see. It is even more costly due to the damage it does to each theatre it appears in. The false proscenium, the stage mechanics of the huge sets, and most of all, the huge Chandelier hanging from the auditorium roof all result in major renovations for the theatre when the production’s run ends.

Bringing Phantom to the big screen has been a long time coming. In the end, Lloyd Webber had to cough up the $45mil to pay for it himself.

Signing on Joel Schumacher (Lost Boys, Batman & Robin, Phone Booth) as the director seemed an odd choice. The guy who killed the Batman series had shown no interest in taking on a musical and was stunned when Lloyd Webber approached him to direct. Unsurprisingly Schumacher is co-credited as the screenwriter with Lloyd Webber. There are some extra back-story scenes that fill out the Phantom’s story so we understand why he’s a psychotic masked man and have some sympathy for him. With so much artistic control being already taken up by Lloyd Webber, I wonder if Schumacher felt a little superfluous at times.

The plot structure had been reworked a little and some, but not a lot, of excess plot trimmed. Some of the details which make the Phantom more menacing were also removed. His ghostly appearances and the ‘possession’ of the onstage piano, for example, would have been little good things to leave in.

Working with a rigid plot structure imposed by a full musical score is going to be a challenge to bring to film. Phantom is a rock-opera, that is structured in the traditional two-act style. There is a big climax at the end of Act 1, everyone goes for drinks and a pee, and then come back for the story to get started again to build up to the final climax. The typical drop in plot momentum is a big problem for a film and today’s audiences aren’t patient. Once war is declared we want the battle, so I can understand why the major event at the end of Act 1 in the show was moved to the end of the film, but I was still rather stunned when it didn’t happen. The new climax still made the next half hour go so very slowly.

Schumacher didn’t really go to any new places in the direction. Choices of shots, angles and moves weren’t overly inspiring. Most taken from the standard looks of period films or music videos. Lots of bright spots flaring the camera lens, even in the basement! The rooftop sequence portrayed none of the space one feels when standing on the roof of a theatre, it was very cramped. For all the spectacle, the were no shots that made me go wow.

The real stars of this film are the sets and costumes. It is a necessity for any period film to top the last with the grandeur of the buildings and frocks, but Phantom takes it to the extreme. At no point is realism an issue. If you want realism, you’re watching the wrong film. The Paris Opera House is the central location (whether in, above, or below it) for all the action, and the Production Designer didn’t hold back. Adapting many major elements of the stage version and greatly expanding them to create a world that is a feast for the eyes; from the gold and marble foyer, to the red velvet and gold gilt auditorium with a large clouded dome featuring THE Chandelier. There is so much to take in, that a second viewing is likely.

The film opens with the auctioning of the contents of the dilapidated Opera House. When the Chandelier (Lot 666. Subtle.) is lit with electric lights the theatre begins a transformation to its’ glory days. The earth-moving chords of the organ pound through your chest the message that this is not a film about subtly. Everything is big and brash; and Lloyd Webber score is the biggest and brashest of it all. In fact, it is so big at times it is overpowering. The singers quite often get lost in the cacophony of noise.

It is at this point the orchestrations are revealed. I went in hoping that the orchestrations would have been reworked from the original recording I have. It is clear that some work has been done, but to keep the heavy synthesised feel of the major songs was a mistake. The digital sounding rhythm accents standout absurdly against the full orchestral sound. There was a digital clap sound as the Phantom takes Christine into the catacombs that was so out of place I snorted.

Casting Phantom would have been a nightmare. Trying to find a cast of actors who can sing, act, and move; that are not stars but experienced; and with the final decision not being the directors, but most likely Lloyd Webber’s. That’s without having to face up to the thousands of ‘Phans’ either. Casting actors who can sing the role is a no-brainer choice. If Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones-Douglas can warble their way through movies and not make complete idiots of themselves, then the cast of the ‘World’s Biggest Musical’ should be expected to do the same. But, the danger of having high expectations is easy disappointment.

Gerard Butler looks to be a good choice for the Phantom. Moderate success as the romantic lead in Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and other less popular films. Possibly a bit young, but the Phantom is meant to be a bit sneaky with his looks anyhow. The biggest question mark is whether he could master the huge range of that part. I believe it’s a two part answer. Yes, in that he made it his own. A more modern, rock Phantom. Going for the anger with a vocal coarseness rather than intensity of note. No, because he didn’t have the consistency to really give the vocal punch the Phantom needs to make songs like ‘Music of the Night’ truly memorable. And the rearrangement of some of the songs to avoid the tops is never a good sign.

Some of the supporting parts were reduced to speak-singing. Andre and Firmin, played by Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds, spoke many of their lines which lowered the musicality of the movie at times. Still, they are my favourite characters, and Callow and Hinds play with the absurdity of these two men superbly. Speaking of absurdity, Minnie Driver is perfect as the Diva Carlotta. Miranda Richardson as Madame Giry fit right into the scary dance teacher role, and her singing was a little scary, but her accent made all the difference.

Patrick Wilson as Raoul is the dashing, tall-dark-and-handsome, one expects, even if it is a very Hollywood version. Who’d have thought the closet-gay Mormon from Angels in America would surprise me with such a good voice. Raoul is always running an up hill against the Phantom’s power over Christine, and Wilson does well in some of the derisory circumstances the story presents.

The stand out performance is, of course, Emmy Rossum as Christine. She was only 17 during the filming of Phantom, and proves that you don’t need the extra years to be able to portray the emotion of 16 year old Christine. A performer with the New York Metropolitan Opera since she was 6, Rossum has had the vocal training that made her performance stand out against all others. The purity and lightness of her voice was a good contrast to Butler’s harsh, coarse sound, and her duets with Raoul were some of the films best moments. During Christine’s opening aria, ‘Think of Me’, I was concerned when the coloratura at the end was trimmed down. I feared Rossum didn’t have the range to sing the end section of the song ‘Phantom of the Opera’. All fears were allayed when she hit that top C like it was nothing at all.

A problem I had with the three main actors was their accents. I don’t believe it is an unreasonable expectation to have American actors perform convincing accents when playing non-Americans. I accept that it would not be impossible to come across an American in the Paris Opera House, but it is unlikely that the daughter of a famous Violinist who was raised in France would have a distinct American accent. The worst symptom of this was some of the odd vowel pronunciations by Rossum and Butler. There were a number of jarring words that sounded very out of place.

With so much going on, singing, music, movement, and choreography, it could be forgiven that the acting seems a bit wooden. There are many times when the actors are overshadowed by the amazing sets and costumes that they look like the dolls in the Phantom’s theatre model. Add some of the very dated lyrics and there were a couple of moments of seriousness that were rather silly. Perhaps if Schumacher had applied a real sense of style and driven everything in that one direction Phantom may have turned out to be a classic film.

I may appear that I’ve been rather hard on this film. I wanted a truly memorable experience. I did get that, I’m still humming the tunes two days later, but I am disappointed at the lack of attention to detail in the vocals and sound in general.

Overall I really did enjoy Phantom. I’m a sucker for spectacle in all it’s forms and Phantom lathers it on. Rossum’s voice is amazing and she looks stunning. If you love the show, you’re likely to love the film. If you hate the show, why have you read this incredibly long post? If you like to see people burst into song midsentence, go see it and enjoy.

Wednesday, January 5

2005 Movies

I wish to make a list of all the films I see this year. A good record, but also a good way to make sure I keep writing about them and not slack off like I have been.

05 - The Phantom of the Opera - lavish, grand, beautiful, musical
14 - The Incredibles - fun, exciting, flashy, family
18 - Elektra - dull, ordinary, uninspiring, dull

01 - Closer - gritty, harsh, provocative, honest
25 - Constantine - dark, fiendish, intriguing

09 - Robots - fun, familiar, funny
19 - Sahara - down-to-Earth, fast, eventful
28 - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - smart, witty, fun

20 - Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith - long, bored, disappointed

7 - In Good Company - hopeful, moral, inspiring
21 - Batman Begins - grim, enthralling, thrilling
21 - Mr. & Mrs. Smith - bland, over-long, forced
28 - Batman Begins - revealing, dark, excellent
28 - Herbie Fully Loaded - fluff, nothing, guilty fun

1 - War of the Worlds - scary, relevant, bad ending
9 - Fantastic Four - shallow, brainless, nothing

Sunday, January 2

Thought Provoking

Welcome to 2005!

Well, there really is a site about everything.

What Tolkien Officially Said About Elf Sex is one I didn't expect to come across. Which, of course, begets the question:

Which elf would you do?

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