Friday, December 31, 2004

2004: The year that was
introspection, and some top 5 action

I started this website because at the beginning of 2004, I was feeling depressed about my inability to do anything creative. My job just seemed to be sucking a lot out of me, even though I didn’t feel particularly good at my job, or particularly appreciated by people I work for. I was doing some interesting things, no question, “skilling up” – but without any pleasure. It made good sense to stay where I was for a bit longer (and get over that “two year’s experience” hurdle), but I felt that intellectually, and particularly in terms of skills I actually value, I wasn’t really going anywhere.

And now, it’s just weird to look around and think about how 2004 turned out. So many of my friends and family are in the middle of “interesting times” but in a good way – you know who you all are. 2004 has been a big year for a lot people close to me: having children, buying houses, finishing degrees, moving overseas, changing careers, engagements, marriages, scholarships and travelling of epic proportions. In fact, I can’t think of many people I know who won’t look back on 2004 and think of it as a year of significant change and growth. Good for all of us.

Throughout the year, this website has been great for me – in motivating me to write again, and just getting me interested about something new. Last year, most of my friends would probably have characterised me as a reader. Writing about books was something I knew I could do, but writing about films seemed a bit more interesting. (part of the motivation may also have been that legendary joint essay written by Beth and I on Fight Club back in our english honours year. It’s all about a post-modern crisis of self! Also: Brad Pitt is hot.) Getting to “know” regular bloggers like James and Rod has also been great (I reckon I’ll be down in Melbourne sometime in March or April, and I think there’s a pub crawl with our name on it, guys!)

And now, I am so excited about 2005. My new job which I’ll start in late January is awesome. If I was brainstorming a dream list of ten organisations I’d like to work for, this organisation would be on that list. In fact, I first found out about the job when two good friends, independently of each other, emailed me the job description and told me it would be perfect for me and I should apply. From now on, when someone asks me at a party “what do you do?” and I answer, it’s totally the kind of job where I will immediately seem like a cooler person. (I will also probably seem like a cooler person because of my awesome technicoloured fish necklace that I bought in Cuba, but that’s another story). The only downside: less pay. I can’t tell you how much I don’t care.

Happy New Year, everyone! See you on the other side.

Top 5 ongoing thematic obsessions

1. My niece – baby, three and a half months. I watch her like a television. She’s just getting more amazing each time I see her. You can almost see her awareness and interest of the world expand in gentle concentric circles day by day.

2. McSweeneys – general literary collective. I read their website daily. My subscriptions to The Believer and the Quarterly have lead to picking up novels and stuff by a whole stack of different authors – which in turn has led to a separate but engrossing side-obsession with the legendary Michael Chabon. They’ve also released a number of collections which I’ve picked up copies of including this one, this one, this one and this one – all are great and highly recommended.

3. Cuba – country. The politics, the mythology, the pop culture currency. Such a melting pot. I’m even trying to learn Spanish (badly) so that the next time I go back, I can read more of the poetry.

4. Joyce Carol Oates – author. She’s still writing faster than Stephen King, so I’m having trouble just keeping up, let alone catching up on her back catalogue. She’s a genius.

5. fridaysixpm – website. Whatever Beth is thinking about, is what I’m immediately interested in too. This has saved me a lot of time reading the paper.

Top 5 novels I read in 2004

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon

2. Bellefleur – Joyce Carol Oates

3. Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

4. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day– Winifred Watson

5. The House of Sand and Fog – Andrew Dubus III

Top 5 films released in Australia in 2004

(using this page as a guide to when stuff was actually released in 2004, because my memory for release dates sucks).

1. Bright Leaves
I can’t explain it, I can’t rationalise why I love this film so much. But if a film is important when it rearranges your idea of what a film can be or can do, and you start using that film as a standard in approaching other films you watch . . . what other rationale for a #1 film is there?

2. The Station Agent
Alienating yourself from the world is a lot harder than you’d think. This one is a keeper. I hope I like it as much the second time around.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Mindbending and in its own way, hopelessly romantic. Jim Carrey has never been better.

4. Collateral
For three weeks after seeing this, I was starting every conversation at work, at home, with strangers on the train with “Have you seen Collateral? You should totally go. Yeah, I don’t like Tom Cruise either, but you should still see it. Look, I’ll pay for the ticket . . .”

5. Somersault
Jindabyne like I’ve never seen it, and the terrible/beautiful path of adolescent sexuality and identity. Flawed, but what a debut – Cate Shortland is the new director to watch.

Honourable mentions:
In America (#6), The Barbarian Invasions (#7), Big Fish (#8), Capturing the Friedmans (#9), The Motorcycle Diaries (#10).
(And then there's . . . Control Room, The Return, Hellboy, Bus 174, Bad Santa, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, The Incredibles, Farenheit 9/11, Monster, 21 Grams, Girl With a Pearl Earring, The Cooler, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, Lost Things, The Corporation, The Manchurian Candidate, Shaun of the Dead, Supersize Me, Kill Bill Volume 2.)

Festival film honourable mentions (which haven’t really been released here yet)
Witnesses, Maria Full of Grace, The Story of Marie and Julien, The Seduction of Doctor Lewis.

Dishonourable mentions:
One Perfect Day, One Perfect Day. Catwoman. Oh, and One FRICKING Perfect Day.

Disclaimer – the list of films I haven’t seen yet which I’ll almost certainly like:
Hero, Before Sunset, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Dirty Pretty Things, I Heart Huckabees, The Triplets of Belleville, Napoleon Dynamite, To Be and To Have, House of Sand and Fog, Spring Summer Fall Winter . . . and Spring, My Life Without Me, Elephant, and . . . believe it or not, The Ladykillers. (If it’s on this list, I’ll get round to it. Don’t hassle me! It’s been a busy year.)


Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bad Santa
The best Christmas movie, ever – unless we’re counting Die Hard.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Celebrated my first day back at work by handing in my resignation and going to see a matinee of Bad Santa. These were both excellent experiences.

I remember hearing that the record for most swearing per minute of film is held by some Eddie Murphy flick. (Google couldn’t help me find the name of the film. Humble readers: consider yourself challenged.) About forty minutes into Bad Santa, after non-stop wall to wall profanity, it occurred to me that this record might well be under threat. As it turned out, the very next scene had a thirty second silent tracking shot (of the pipe Santa had plugged into the car exhaust and through the window as a part of a suicide attempt); and the absence of a well timed “fuck” at this point probably means that Eddie can rest on his laurels for a little while longer.

I’ve just read a bunch of reviews of this film which were largely positive, but also have various complaints – that the movie starts off slow, how it gets bogged down in its own depravity. Some people think it just isn’t funny. Some think it’s just too crass. All of which makes me ashamed to admit that I laughed myself stupid. Not just a bit, throughout the entire film. Up to and including all the most profane bits of humour. In fact, I think I clapped during one of those moments (for those who’ve seen it: I’m talking that scene in the plus sized department and the subsequent recap by store management).

Director Terry Zwigoff’s films have all celebrated fringe-dwellers: think the outsiders of Ghost World, or the edgy independent comics hero in his documentary Crumb. Whilst there are a lot of people who may appear to make these kind of films, no one is really doing it quite like Zwigoff. He’s not just interested by kooky characters, in the way that some directors make “small town” films peopled with quirky yet benign and unthreatening figures (think Northern Exposure, Seachange, Sweet Home Alabama, Gilmore Girls, Ed, etc, etc.) Nor is this one of those films where the climax reveals that it’s the quirky people with humanity, whilst the “normal” people lack heart (last year’s Elf). In fact, there’s no straight man in this film, no “normal” characters who contrast the extreme personalities of the central cast. At most, there is “weird” and “less weird”. And “less weird” in this film is the woman who has a Santa fetish and insists that Willie leaves his hat on.

On paper, Bad Santa doesn’t have much to laugh at – Willie the Santa, played by Billy Bob Thornton is a sad-sack alcoholic safe-cracker who is filled with self-loathing, and spews venom at everyone around him. You can see the joke inherent in the set-up: a drunk and profane department store santa. But if this was all the film had, it would end up like most modern comedies – a funny first ten minutes, and an incredibly boring last seventy whilst the joke wears thin. Which isn’t what we get here.

The ultimate success of this film has to be attributed to Billy Bob Thornton, who delivers not only a brilliant comic performance, but a believable one. Weirdly, I haven't been this impressed by him since Sling Blade, and it would be hard to think of two more different performances. We laugh at Willie because he’s such a sad-sack idiot, love him for the extent of his depravity – and love him some more because he doesn’t give a shit what we or anyone else think of him.

Most Christmas films about misfits like Willie are structured around a redemptive arc, during which we all discover the joys of Christmas. And whilst there is a redemptive arc of sorts, this is not redemption on the audience’s terms, but on Willie’s. So forget singing christmas carols, and calling your mother, decorating the tree and being filled with goodwill towards humanity. How do you think a violent, alcholic, swearing, santa-masquerading criminal who hates children is likely to discover the spirit of Christmas?

Heh. You'll have to watch the film to find out.

(obsession note: Joel and Ethan Coen executive produced. Maybe they should run with this gig more often . . . ?)


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Pop quiz

I have seen parts of the following films but missed the main titles, so I have no idea what they are. Any guesses?

1. In a hotel room in Havana - a giant shark movie with no name actors, involving huge megladon sharks big enough to swallow small boats whole. This film was hilarious. Highly recommended for anyone who can find it on video.

2. In a bus between Varadero and Santa Clara - a boxing film starring possibly Wesley Snipes and maybe Ving Rhames, set in a prison called Sweetwater.

3. In a bus between Santa Clara and Trinidad - a film about AIDS (I think) with an all star cast including Lily Tomlin and Richard Gere, in a weird docu-drama style.

Assistance much appreciated!

For the record - I have just been in a hot springs resort up in the mountains close to the start of the Amazon rainforest. Mindblowingly beautiful.


Sunday, December 05, 2004

Exorcist photo

The post below this one is the photo of me, dead, on the Exorcist stairs. Much thanks to Jasmine for making this possible!

Currently in Ecuador. The keyboards here are pretty weird. Someone just tried to sell me a bootleg DVD of The Incredibles in Spanish.



Friday, December 03, 2004


The one film that I really wanted to see whilst in the US was Sideways, the latest film by the director who brought us Election and About Schmidt. Other aspects of its pedigree which intrigued me: it stars Paul Giametti the star of American Splendour. It co-stars Thomas Haden Church who was Ned on the old sitcom Ned and Stacey, which was a guilty pleasure for me a few years back. And the reviews are nothing short of astonishing - it has a rating of 97% on Rotten Romatoes which has it just in front of Pixar's The Incredibles (currently at 96%). People are muttering about the potential for Oscar nominations for the two actors, the director, one of the supporting actresses; as well as possible script and nomination runs as well.

I don't want to write too much about this film becuase it might be months anyway before it comes to Oz. But in a nutshell? Funny (and at times, seriously, funny), poignant, and with such a deft touch. There are dialogue-heavy moments in this film, but none of the most important character moments for me were about the dialogue - they were in the visuals, in cues of expression, in those small non-verbal interactions. Great to see a character focussed film with this kind of light touch.

Yes, yes Lyn, I hear you grumble, but what's the film about? Well, the film is essentially a buddy road trip: Giametti and Haden Church play old friends off for a week's holidaying before one of them is married. What happens in the space of that week, from Saturday to Saturday, occupies the length of the film: which is mostly concerned with the dynamic of old friendships, how men age (or don't age) through their relationships, and varying plays on sexual politics. Added to this is a sweet, sad rendition of the old theme of the frustrated author (Giametti) - as the film also works as a sort of hymn to the heroes amongst us who try to write, to create, who put their works out into the world, and are shot down for their trouble. It's also interesting to think about this film in relation to other recent flicks like Adaptation and Wonder Boys which look at writers in crisis.

Although it looks great on paper, the lack of major box office stars and the "independent" tag make it an uncertain candidate for Australian distribution. I mean, we'll probably get it, but god knows when, hey. So watch out for it people, and stay vigilant. It's not the biggest, brightest and best film you'll see; but the humour, the ideas, and the light melancholy will creep up on you whilst you watch.

Such a great film. See it, see it, see it. Tell your local theatre you want to see it, and feign amazement if it's not on their "upcoming features" list. See it.

Off to Ecuador tomorrow, and probably more sporadic email / internet usage. However, I'm expecting the food will be excellent. See y'all later, now.


Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Incredibles

Pixar never disappoints. It's mind-boggling how good every single film this animation studio has created - they have the highest hit rate of any filmmakers currently working today. This film is predictably awesome, striking exactly the right tone in terms of comedy, genuine feeling, whilst never losing sight of the story.

It's definately one of the better Pixar films. I think it ranks just thismuch below Finding Nemo, but I was reliably informed by several people that such an opinion was wrong and blasphemous . . . so there you go.

In other news, I was at the Arlington cemetary today and it was glacial, this icy wind just gusting across the ground making it almost impossible to move around outside. But the cemetery itself is an amazing little cross-section of major themes of US national identity: the Kennedy graves and eternal flame, the tomb of the unknown soliders and the changing of the guard; monuments to those who died in the Challenger and other space disasters, rows upon rows of white markers for those who've died in conflicts right back to the civil war. There was a funeral going on for someone whilst we were there - a small squad of tightly packed men in uniform marching in formation, with a string of cars winding behind them up the hill.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Sightseeing: The Exorcist

You know that scene at the end of The Exorcist where the priest goes out the window and falls down a flight of stairs, and ends up lying in a lifeless heap at the bottom?

I was at that flight of stairs today, which is in Georgetown, Washington DC, and managed to get a fantastic photo. If you guessed that I featured in this photo stretched out on the ground as if I was a lifeless corpse? You'd be guessing right.

In other news, Washington is great. I've been drinking in a lot of awesome bars where all the political junkies go to get plastered when Congress is in session. I also finally tried Budweiser. Ewwwww.


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