Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Case for Badness

Despite a terrible miscalculation on my part resulting in a late entry into the movie, I was able to get in to Superbad just before the film left school and went into the night of the "greatest night of these young men's live" (TM).

Yup, Superbad went where many movies, from American Pie to Porky's, has been before. The swearing factor was turned up a notch, the gross out factor... actually, that was toned down a bit. But some budding yet hapless heterosexual males were determined to lose their sacred virginity to some of the hottest chicks in school, and use the social lubricant of illegally purchased liquor to turn that dream into a reality.

I really can't go into too much more really. It was well done - the cops were insane, the geeks particularly so, the hot chicks hot, and there were assorted moments of awkwardness, hilarity and insanity, enough to fill the nigh on two hour running time.

The geek pop references were the hardest thing to swallow, considering most of the popular references seemed to relate to shows and events that are no longer popular (hey, I got them!), but they entertained me, as I had imagined they would, written as they were by that king of the geeks, Seth Rogan (and his friends). It was pity that there were no outtakes over the end credits, and the images that were put up in their stead were... well done, though fairly repetitive.

Verdict: Superbad wasn't Supergreat, more Supergood - I liked it, but almost immediately started to forget...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Case for More Than a Game

Now, it might not have escaped the notice of those who pay attention to the media in New Zealand that there is a certain event going on over in France at the moment of vital strategic, diplomatic and - let's be honest here - psychological and spiritual importance. Yes, the Rugby World Cup is dominating the airwaves at the moment (luckily for TV3 News, Rugby qualifies as both News and Sport - or at least, it does in New Zealand), and try as one might, one can't get away from it.

Though, at first glance, getting away from it should be a fairly easy thing to do. The matches aren't played every day, and they are on at ridiculous times due to the time difference, and they take place over the course of months. But, as the title of this blogspot suggests, Rugby is now more than a game. In fact, there is so much else around the game, that the games themselves almost don't seem to matter.

Take, for example, Johnny Wilkinson, the pride and hope of the English rugby team. Does he actually play rugby anymore? And yet, does the media - and the public in general, of which I count myself as I am definitely not a rugby fanatic - know and/or concentrate on any other member of the English team?

And then there is the New Zealand Rugby squad. Now, I appreciate seeing brawny, fit men running around the French countryside topless as much as the next man, and Richie McCaw has always seemed to me a fairly solid bloke and a good leader, but the deification of individuals like Richie McCaw (albeit in fairly humourous ways sometimes) and the rest of the team does seem a bit excessive. Some speak of the unbelievable pressure on the All Blacks to bring home the Webb Ellis trophy but, much like the Hollywood stars and starlets these men now seem to be emulating, a lot of it is brought on themselves and the NZRFU. Trading on their images as sportsmen of the highest calibre (which I am not doubting, let it be said), and using that image for financial benefit (good on them), it's not all that surprising when the public develop the expectation for them to live up to that hype.

However, all this is very much an indication of the times in which we live. Once, Rugby was an amateur sport, but now the players are paid professionals who are well remunerated to live and breathe rugby - and sell clothing on the side. I am sure traditionalists look back and see these changes as having destroyed the "purity" of rugby, and who can really argue that?

Rugby really is not just a game anymore: it is a way of life; it is a job. The boys are there not just to win a game, but to sell the game, even off the pitch. They are Hollywood stars in the a big budget extravaganza that also carries the additional pressure of the hopes and dreams and patriotism of their sporting public. They are warriors (different code I know, perhaps "soldiers" instead?) fighting in the interests of their nation states in battles where victory is the only acceptable outcome. They are images and idols, who wear undies, use phones, fly with Air New Zealand and drink Coke (all for free, of course; the rest of us aren't really as "on the team" as that...). And I am sure they themselves wouldn't have it any other way.

To finish off this particular rant, I think two verdicts are in order:

Verdict 1: Rugby is not what it once was, though the players seem quite a bit prettier.
Verdict 2: As much as I think the All Blacks are going to win, I have to support the underdogs. And who can be more underdoggish than the French team that suffered humiliatingly at the hands of the Argentines? Viva la France!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Case for Dixie American Pie

I knowingly and willing subjected myself to a chick flick this week. And there were things this movie had to teach me.

Things I learned about “real life” from watching the movie Waitress:

  • Waitresses who make chocolate and lard pies will not put on weight, nor will their husbands. Nor their friends and bosses. Only customers count the calorie cost.
  • Women have affairs for very good and justifiable reasons.
  • Men do not need good reasons to have affairs, but have them anyway.
  • Affairs are okay when the two people involved are the main characters.
  • If waitresses treat elderly bosses well, they will end up with large legacies from said boss after the boss's demise.

Things I learned about moviemaking from watching the movie Waitress:

  • Kerri Russell is incredible. And thin.
  • Nathan Fillion is incredible. But I knew that already.
  • Directors should not also be main characters in their own films. Seriously. Even if I am speaking unwell of the dead. She was just plain annoying.
In a less pointy form: Waitress was fun and had great performances from the leads. But it was also over long and morally dubious / ambiguous with regards to the nature of extra marital affairs. And a fairly strong film was almost completely ruined by a pat, trite and completely unfulfilling ending. A pity.

Verdict: A big slice of oversweet American apple pie, full of saccharine and unfortunately leaving a bitter aftertaste.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Case for Chocolate Fish

I woke up far too early this morning and thus have awakened in a more judgemental mood than usual. So when I was reminded of the fact that the Chocolate Fish Cafe is closing at the end of 2007 thanks to the machinations of the beloved Wellington City Council, I had to have a bit of a rant.

Now, I don't live in Wellington city, so I never get to vote in the Wellington elections and I don't really plan on moving there any time soon. So I suppose I really shouldn't complain about things that in which I have decided not to get involved. But there are some things that the council seems to do that just makes no sense to me: 1) build a bypass (though only do a cheaper version so it causes as much traffic disruption on its new route as possible), but then decide to move part of that bypass over a few metres to make way for a decorative park under
the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior; 2) a final decision on the whole Transmission Gully debacle still seems no closer and I believe it is the WCC dragging its heels there; 3) and now this happens.

While I am highly judgemental, I am not going to say I fully understand all the complex reasons and issues behind any or all of these decisions. However, on the surface, I have to say I do not understand this at all. And, like all good highly judgemental people, the things I don't understand are the things I judge the most harshly (unless it is a film by David Lynch - I love those).

One thing I will say: if the Chocolate Fish Cafe have a sale on their funky chairs, I bags the Wonder Woman one...

Verdict: Absolutely Positively Incomprehensible

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Case for Italian Life

It has taken me a wee while to determine how to judge this movie. The Italian is a movie from the Russian Federation, about a young orphan boy who is about to be adopted into an Italian family who decides instead to pursue his own genealogical quest around St Petersburg rather than just accept his Italian fate.

The most extraordinary thing about this movie is that most of the child actors are actually all orphans themselves, who grew up in the state institutions and who, while evidently not trained actors, are obviously completely believable. The depiction of Russian life in the orphanage is by no means a rosy recounting of an idyllic childhood, with the dilapidated facilities and fairly mercenary authority figures, but at the same time, neither is it shown as a totally bleak place without any moments of happiness.

Once the movie shifts from the orphanage to the Italians search for his mother on the streets of city, for me, the movie started to lose interest. While it shows some Russians adults as charming, if rough around the edges, the film starts to rely on the cuteness factor of the child, and the resolution is disappointing in its side stepping of several quite important issues. The fairly obnoxious and jangly musical score doesn't help matters much either.

It was a good film, of that I cannot deny, though I was not in as much rapture as the group of three in front of me who discussed events at length and yelped at the appropriate “scary” bits [as an aside, can one really be justifiably upset with talkers in a subtitled film if one does not understand the language?]. And the scenery and architectural style (if not the buildings themselves) were just as I remember it from my trip of just over a year ago (though mercifully, I did not experience a Russian winter).

But this slice of the reality of Russian life is mixed in with a bit of the fantastical as well, a bit of Equal amongst the cane sugar, adding up to something a bit too sweet for my own, more cynical tastes.

Verdict: Nice vodka, but needed a bit more of a kick

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Case for Castlepoint

Again, my thanks to the NotKate for once again providing me with the updated "look" for this page. My apologies for not noticing that she actually put this up there ages ago - doh!


Over the weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to take advantage of the fine spring weather to head over to the Wairarapa and see that part of the country through fresh eyes. LaurenOrder and her good friend Grace provided the excuse to head over to Castlepoint, with the Fisherman suggesting a quick drop by Stonehenge Aotearoa on the way.

I may save judgement on Stonehenge NZ for another day, but I will not remain silent on the marvel that is Castlepoint. That place always fascinates me. The waves crashing over the natural lagoon walls; the sight of a hill that appears to be sliced neatly in two by the power of the ocean; the incredible contrast with the beach just around the corner; all of these things always leave me completely in awe of the power and beauty of nature. And of course, and being completely predictable, the Castlepoint locale always hints to me of some fantastical kingdom, beset by enemies and by the ages, crumbling away but still retaining a distinct aura of past glories. The Fisherman took some incredible shots that illustrate the almost mystical quality of the place - here's one of them.

And seeing it again with the assistance of first timers is always a revelation in itself. Watching what interested them, the sites that first drew their interest, was to rediscover parts of the world a jaded person such as myself had lost. Thanks guys, I really appreciated it.

Verdict: Some things old are new again – for a while, anyway

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Case for Being Bourne Again

Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne in the Bourne Ultimatum, the third movie of the Bourne trilogy. The Bourne movies are known for their gritty, realistic (well, relatively so) action sequences that have inspired the “return to reality” of franchises like James Bond, and their nauseating use of a hand held camera is legendary. This was what I was expecting from the third movie, and I got it in spades.

In such an environment, Matt Damon lives up to the caricature of him made famous in Team America: World Police. His acting chops are really given nothing to do, as his karate chops define his character. A stunning (yet almost incomprehensible) fight scene in a Tangiers apartment made my teeth and neck ache in sympathy, and the breathtaking (yet highly implausible) stunts were a wonder to behold in this age of rampant digital enhancement. Jason Bourne’s ability to tell shatterproof glass from highly shatterable glass was put to a lot of use this time around, and I hate to think of the number of easily influenced people who will now try reversing their cars of multi-storey parking buildings and expect to come out with a bit of a limp that should resolve itself within a few hours.

Around the action was some semblance of plot and other characters. Joan Allen appeared as a painfully thin CIA boss, Julia Styles was wasted as a doe-eyed unrequited-love object of Jason Bourne, and there were other people who rapidly shouted in acronyms and euphemisms and looked worried a lot of the time. I would love to know what the actors playing the computer operators actually do bang away on their keyboards while pretending to hack into secure systems or bring up suspect profiles from foreign databases.

The audience were treated as Americans: “Paris, France” and “Madrid, Spain” descriptions tagged the aerial shots of these fairly distinctive cities, while “New York City” and “West Virginia” were classified as nation states of their own. The strength of the Anglo-American alliance was once more confirmed as the CIA ran roughshod over British authorities, security and rule of law, while the Spanish and Moroccan police were shown as efficient and competent. Funnily enough, the end result seemed to be that the CIA was responsible for more acts of terrorism than most official terrorist organisations – not sure if that was entirely the image they were going for, but at least they used fancy technology and martial arts to do it (funny how most of the CIA’s assassins looked “Arabic” or “Muslim” this time around).

In the final analysis, the two hour film absolutely flew by as the action swept me along to a satisfying (albeit fairly predictable) ending. The evil men were punished, the good men and women were vindicated. Not a film to challenge the mind (in fact it helps not to think about it at all), but one to enjoy for the sheer, unvarnished and unbridled action.

Verdict: Action flick rating of 8 out of 10; Thought-provoking drama on international espionage and personal relations rating of 2 out of 10.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Case for Boom v X

I was made aware of a blog called Ouch! The Painful Divide Between Generation X and the Boomers about a documentary on the US Network PBS called The Boomer Century, which reviewed the Baby Boomer years. Apparently, the screening of this documentary caused quite a stir amongst those who watch PBS. The argument seems to have fallen into two camps: those who view the Baby Boomer generation as representing prosperity, newfound freedoms and disappointing self-realisation (mainly the baby boomers themselves); and those who view Baby Boomers with disdain, seeing instead selfishness, lost opportunity and a world left to inheritors with almost none of the problems raised by the Boomers actually solved.

Obviously, I am (as an Xer) falling into the latter camp. What can one say about the boomers? "Nice start, but pity about the end"?

Generation X is meant to be the "me" generation - self interested, no loyalty, having a wonderful time on the fruits of the labour of the previous generation. But that final point really defines Generation X, I think - we are what our parents made us. The reason Xers are so self interested and not loyal to jobs or countries is because of the world the Baby Boomers have made. The Boomers who sit on their couches and rant about All Blacks not sticking around to entertain them on the telly are the ones who have encouraged and made companies and governments more interested in markets and commodities than in the people themselves. To meet the market model determined by Boomers through the mission statements of companies, where profitability is all, through the World Bank and World Trade Organisation, and through the priorities of the governments of the day, many companies have no loyalty to their staff - so why should employees in return?

The current political situation, with the oil crisis and the various wars fought over it, are all products of the relentless drive of Boomers to have bigger and better cars (amongst other things) - desires that have been passed on to their children, though now we realise that kind of mentality can't carry on. Actually, should rose glasses shows like the Wonder Years and other baby boomer nostalgia be accurate, the boomers realised this too - and just seem to have done nothing about it.

In the end, my interest was piqued more in the reaction to the show. Not having seen it at all, I have gleaned that there was a backlash to the way the Baby Boomer generation was depicted. Shots of the assassination of Kennedy, the landing on the moon, all those monumental and incredible moments that defined that generation were pointed out by the Xers as just that - moments. The lasting legacy, the day to day world that the Boomers created, may include space age technology and may be dominated by the lives and deaths of the rich and famous, but it is also made up of a raft of other things, less easy to fit into a soundbite or an amusing phrase. It's made up of other less tangible things like a loss of community, and awareness of an environment brought to the brink of collapse by the policies and people of the past century, and of a global village with neighbours we don't understand well but with whom we love to meddle.

Every person tends to want to think the best of him or herself. Of having fun, and of leaving the world a better place for having been in it. But what of the legacy of a generation? Its not up to Baby Boomers, currently sitting on the boards of the TV networks who approve programming, to decide. It should up to those who they leave behind, the true inheritors to that legacy.

So, what is your verdict? Here's mine:

Verdict: The jury is still out on this one