Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Case for Forest Dreaming

It is hard not to like the ComedyFest show Sammy J and the Forest of Dreams, especially when it starts off with a rousing number like F#ck you Disney. The usual unease I felt when encountering supposedly funny shows dispersed as the show quickly started mocking Disney’s purported Nasi-eaque leanings and held out the promise of a gentle and at times brutal mock musical, in the muppet style.

Unfortunately, the extended promise didn’t quite manage to live up to itself for the whole 75 minutes of the show. There were ups and downs, comedic hits and misses, but more hits than misses thankfully. That the performers are incredibly talented, entertaining and amusing, there was no doubt: the muppetry was incredible, if at times disturbing; and the sense of humour, though occasionally wandering into vulgar (and not necessarily funny) realms, spent most of its time in the land of the funny. One apparently improvised exchange brought on by the failure of a sound effect left the entire audience howling with laughter – and the performers seemed amused by the whole thing too.

The story though is what kind of lets the side down. My own perspective on the plot, which centred on the machinations to inspire insurrection in the fabled Forest, was that it seemed in
a bit of poor taste – but then, my perspective is influenced by the Great War for Civilisation by Robert Fisk that I am currently reading, thanks to a loan by the Fisherman.

Some slower scenes dragged the pace of the show down so much one could distinctly hear the tumbleweed blowing through the bleachers, though some claim this was just the hideous Wellington weather on the night in question. Whatever the real cause, it was drowned out once the flabbier middle of the show was done and the laughs came thicker and faster. While distinctly Australian in flavour, the show threw in some local references for good measure, and was not afraid to laugh at itself. Most importantly for me though, I found that I could laugh along with them - the ultimate sign of comedic success.

Verdict: All in all, I was not disappointed by this, the only ComedyFest show that I thought worthwhile to see. Sammy J in the Forest of Dreams was a lot of laughs, even in a howling Southerly and late on a Wednesday night. 3.5 fingers out of 5.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Case for More Book Fair Attendees

To be honest, it was only the link from the Fisherman that reminded me that I had actually started classifying the types of people found at the local bookfairs.

As with all ecosystems, the environment of bookfairs is in a constant state of evolution, with the “Survival of the Most Fit” seeing the emergence of new species of bookfair goers. Some of these may thrive as conditions change and may grow to be the dominant bookfair goer; others may find their time in the sun brief and unfulfilling.

Here, then, I will try and add to the growing list of bookfair folk, categorising them for posterity, should any of these curious species sink into the tarpits extinction.

Amateur Attendees


Most people tend to flick through their prizes. Most people check to make sure the book is in good nick, takes ones fancy, and is what one really wants. Most people will take a quick look at the book where they are, and then take a longer look once they have found a quiet spot where they will not disturb anyone. Whereas Openbooks decide that they are going to read their latest potential acquisition then and there, placing the book back down on the piles and spreading their book open so it covers several rows around them. And not only will their book impede the view of other books, but their own physicality impedes the flow of people around them, their immovable @rses blocking the way. Highly irritating, and in need of eradication.


For a few moments in Johnsonville, the spirit of a deceased Hangerson that must have passed away in a bookfair of years past possessed me. Well, either that, or I have some hangerson genes struggling to express themselves – and now coming to the fore. Hangerson are those vultures of the bookfair world, who follow those support staff charged with bringing out fresh book meat to fill the empty spaces left by the rabid bookfair hordes who have picked the stalls clean. Hungry for fresh carrion, these hyenas, who can actually be very nice and polite and even friendly, are nonetheless a fearsome bunch, with a wild-eyed look, circling the tables and ready to pounce on any newly produced book that looks appetising. Deceptively dangerous.

The Volunteers


Not often seen in urban settings, a Sausagesizzler provides much needed sustenance to those who have spent several hours in close personal combat over books. Whether their wares be extravagant, garnished with tomatoes and mustards and onions, or the plain variety of sausage in bread and butter, they are always a pleasant sight – unless they place themselves in the path of the entrance of course.


Girlguides are rarer sights than Sausagesizzlers, though they tend to be seasonal rather than location specific, mainly showing their youthful plumage at the beginning of the bookfair season. They bring with them delectable treats that they are willing to share with all attendees. If you are tempted by their offerings, store them for the bleak winter months.


The Miscellaneii are both location and season-specific attendees. They vary in size, shape and intent. Some offer café-quality coffee, others home made brews of varying quality. They should all be treated carefully and with respect, lest they not wander back in later years and fairs. Unless of course, their stuff is rubbish and they are annoying, in which case they should be hounded off with extreme prejudice.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Case for Sheeps Clothing

Okay, so I actually saw Wolverine (or the fully titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine) before I had the pleasure of new Star Trek (XI), though the pleasure of both movies was still at the Embassy. The fact I saw a preview of Star Trek that made me want to see that film more than the Wolverine I was about to witness was probably not getting things off to a good start, but I settled in to enjoy X-Men 4 nonetheless.

I have not really followed X-Men closely. apart from a brief stint of collecting the comics in the 1990s, and even then I didn’t really learn a lot about the characters, and some of the “cameo characters” were completely new to me, so there was no real chance of me getting upset by continuity problems – I got more upset when the comics tried to cash in on the success of the movies and thus effectively erased 30 years of history.

But back to the movie: Wolverine is more of a visual feast than an exercise in engaging story telling. There are great fight scenes and explosions for the boys (and girls thus inclined), and Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds, and other fine specimens of manhood for the girls (and boys thus inclined). The moral centre of the film seems to be that violence for revenge is okay, but violence for violence’s sake is wrong – but then, it never purports to be a deep movie, and with the action and a new and handsome guest mutant appearing every few minutes, one really doesn’t have the time to dwell.

Unfortunately, a lot of the action is CGI’d so that the stars appear to be in the scenes with the most danger, when of course it is more obvious than ever that they were just in a sound stage and had really no idea what was meant to be going on around them. The scenery itself is amazing, and I thought I spotted a one-lane bridge in the South Island that I recognised. As the camera tracked a pickup truck/ute crossing the bridge and then joining back to a dual carriageway road, a large white arrow clearly indicating that people should drive on the left was casually ignored by the vehicle, which proceeded in good American fashion to drive on the right hand side of the road. Why the arrow itself was not CGI’d out, surely a very easy thing to do, probably had more to do with a dismissal of its significance rather than an oversight.

By the time a young Cyclops shows up, I was dismissing a lot of stuff myself: how Cyclops’ optic beam could cut a lovely big hole throughout his school but miss the person chasing him; why a person who could control technology was ever released from service in the military considering the incredible applications of that gift; and quite how Gambit proves so easy to find considering he is meant to be on the run from the bad guys.

None of that matters. It’s a great ride – or else, it is, until the final showdown with the big Superbad. Yeah, I was decidedly underwhelmed by the multi-gifted mutant who, rather than dealing with Wolverine quickly and efficiently, mucks around for far too long. And when Wolverine deflects a powerful laser beam using is Adamantium blades… well, I would say it stretched credibility, but none of this is particularly credible anyway. The most disturbing thing though is when Patrick Stewart makes a digitally-youthified appearance – creepy!

In sum then, Wolverine is a whole lot of not special done well and wrapped in a buff wrapper. By the nature of its vacuity and its packaging, I am sure it will get a sequel. As long as Wolverine doesn’t sing, I can live with that.

Verdict: Empty and soulless it may be, Wolverine fights its way to watchability on the back of its spectacular stunts and rock hard abs. VI adamantium blades out of X.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Case for Stupid Movie Ideas 1

The plot for the next Star Trek movie:

Star Trek Troopers XII: The Wrath of the Arachnids

Rebel Brainbug, Kahn, and a band of his followers escape Klandathu by commandeering the Federation Starship USS Rodger Young, and then set out across the galaxy seeking revenge on the sentient who killed his character in World of Warcraft, Spock. Much mayhem, dismemberment and other laughs ensue.

Verdict: This is actually a movie I reckon could be pretty fun to see! And it does not sound totally implausible considering the last Star Trek film! 8 Arachnids out of 10.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Case for Continuing Voyages

Once upon a time, there was a television series called Star Trek. It was a series that showed a future where men and women of all creeds and races (including alien) worked together for the betterment and enlightenment of all. In time, this series spawned several others, and also a move franchise, that all tried to capture the spirit of meaning in the original series, to varying levels of success. But then someone said, “Screw it; make a move that is fun”.

And so,
Star Trek XI: A New Beginning (not called that, of course) has really almost nothing to do with its predecessors. It is like someone took a script written by fans and normally enacted in the privacy of one's basement and threw a few tens of million of dollars and a great looking cast at it too. So, for those wedded to the “original” Star Trek, this will come as a bit of a shock; to those who just want action and thrills and a bit of a twist on a very clichéd tale, this could be loads of fun.

While the various series of Trek was riddled with inconsistencies, it str
uggled vainly to try and at least pretend that there was some sort of sense to how they imagined the future to be. This version doesn’t really care. Space has never looked so small – everything is very, very close together (Saturn is apparently about a 5 minute walk from Earth) and the final frontier looks like it is really not that big a deal.

This goes nicely with the film style, as almost every shot of the cast is either in extreme close up, is all shaky and unfocussed or else has a bright light flashing directly into the camera. It is quite irritating, but given the frenetic pace of the film, you don’t notice it after a while – until things calm down again anyway.

The actors are obviously having fun playing well-loved and established characters. While Kirk and Spock are played as brilliant
ly as one would expect (and, in Kirk’s case, smugly and irritatingly too – again, as expected), Carl Urban’s McCoy is eerily close to DeForest Kelly’s, and Simon Pegg brings a sense of the ridiculous as Scotty. But the stand out has to be Zoe Saldana as Uhura, who gets the chance to bring Uhura out from behind the funky earrings and be given a bit more sass, and she even gets her man – even if her character is still not that well developed.

But then, none of them really are. As I said, this is about the action, not such inconsequential things as story and character development (bah, humbug). A red shirt dies (yay!), Winona Ryder makes a surprise cameo playing “old”, things are “homaged”, other things explode. What more does one really expect?

I have to say though that I was not a big fan of the set design: Spock's personal ship made no sense and definitely was not in keeping with the "theme" of Trek; the layout of the bridge was a bit hard to make out at times amidst the cacophany of light and sound and glass partitions; and somehow the engine room from the Titanic
ended up in the bowels of the Enterprise, though quite how it fit within the confines of the Enterprise's structure seemed to have more to do with TARDIS technology than warp drive.

Personally, I am a big fan of Picard-era
Star Trek, and there is no way I can be a fan of the both of them and consider them both to be “Trek”. I would have loved to ask those who came to our session at the Embassy (this film deserves big screen treatment like this, BTW) dressed in quasi Star Fleet uniforms if they thought the same thing. But I was able to enjoy the film by seeing this movie as a “spin” on the real version, not by trying to reconcile it with what I consider canon. The film is accessible, looks amazing, and quite a bit of fun. And I enjoyed it. Lots.

Verdict: Even though there is no citing of Moby Dick, this Star Trek is still going to go down as one of the good ones. I am not quite sure how the great Paramountal powers would go around making a second film of this ilk, but I am sure they will give it a try, and hopefully, it will be as fun as this one. I may not want this version to live long and prosper over the one I grew up with, but for now, the needs of the cinematic many outweigh the needs of the few. 8 Vulcan nerve pinches out of 10.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Case for Kiddie Nostalgia - Part 5

Well, I am bringing this one closer to now than then, but these entries are still pretty nostalgic (to me anyway) nonetheless, so I now offer them up for your own reminiscencing.

11. Eek the Cat

Only the fact that this is a nineties thing really kept me from mentioning this earlier.
Eek the Cat was one version of cartoon perfection. It was actually a show made of two cartoons: one, the headlining feline with his fat (really?) girlfriend Annabel, and Eek's sometime friend Sharkey the psychotic sharkdog and his sometimes girlfriend and superwrestler Platinum; and the second was man v. dinosaur in the Terrible Thunder Lizards, with puny humans Bob and Bill pests to be hunted by high tech Schwarzeneggerian dimdinosoldiers.

I don't think the twain of these two cartoon strains ever met, but their own separate, insane universes were perfectly matched side by side - Eek with its cumbayaical nonsequitoriality and the thunder Lizards with its twisted social commentary.

Influences: Lots and lots of catch phrases ("Cumbaya", "When will the hurting stop?", Elmo the Elk constantly doing good works for the charity of his little nephew Timmy), and a definite appreciation of the absurd. And there was a profoundly amusing Psychology lecture many years ago where time intervals were indicated by the catchphrases by an obviously smitten tutor.

DVD: Well, Amazon doesn't seem to stock it, though the image implies there is one. The world must be coming to an end. Eek!

Verdict: I loved this one. It was great. 'Nuff said. 5 Eeks out of 5

12. Animaniacs

I had the joy of appreciating this one in both English (Aa-nimay-niacs!) and French (Les ahnee-manyaks), and appreciating them both times (the english credits are here!). If you don't know who Yakko, Wakko and Dot are, don't know what Pinky and the Brain plan to do tomorrow, don't appreciate the comic genious of Slappy the Squirrel, and have never heard the 50 US states and their capitals song... well, hang your head in shame and weep that you have lived a life deprived.

The 90s were an amazing time for Warners animation -
Batman animated, Tiny Toons (who will get their own entry, number 13), Freakozoid and of course, the jewel in the Speilberg-sponsored crown, the Animaniacs. Nothing was safe - everything was parodied, lampooned, mocked and otherwise insulted, except the intelligence of the audience. I am sure the wee kiddies had no idea what was going half the time (did they really understand what Goodfeathers was based on? Could they fully appreciate the brilliance of the Star Wars spoof?), but it didn't matter - there were layers and levels and onions, and they were all brilliant.

Influences: Everyone always notices when the Brain's voice animates other characters. "Hellooooo NURSE!". Much like Eek the Cat really, though in a more mainstream and popular way. And still brilliant.

DVD: Yes, yes, they are all at Amazon. And yes, I would love them all. And treasure them. Like... treasure.

Verdict: Absolutely brilliant. 100 out of 10.

13. Tiny Toons

I had not originally intended to go down this path, but how can I mention
Animaniacs without mentioning this show? I still recall when the gang of three appeared on this show as black and white cartoons from a bygone era. But when Wakko, Yakko and Dot made it big, the parent show Tiny Toons wound up, and now Warners appears to have abandoned this whole concept - the offspring of the original classic Warner characters are now nowhere to be seen. Actually, in time, Elmyra and Furball migrated from here to Animaniacland but the rest kind of faded away...

Tiny Toons was utterly mad. They even said they were all in a little looney in the opening credits (oh yes, they are linked). My favourite character was Shirley the Loon, but the sketch I remember most was Baby Plucky and his adventures with the elevator ("Elelator go down the hooole"). As it was the first in the "new Warners" stable, it was a bit uneven, but its paved the way for the series that were to follow, reintroducing variations of the classic Warner characters to a more cynical audience.

Influences: Well, there was the odd catchphrase that I still recall, but the obvious influence here was a total appreciation for all Speilberg/Warners were achieving (though I never did really get into Freakozoid). It was fresh, funny, and a lot smarter than the more "family friendly" Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons this was spawned from. I mourned its passing, while appreciating the havoc it unleashed.

DVD: There appears to be some on DVD at Amazon, but my memories of the Tiny Toons is somewhat dimmer than that of the Animaniacs. I would love to have this, but do fear a bit of disappointment considering how hallowed this is in my head. On the wish list definitely, but a few entries down.

Verdict: Not perfect, but fondly remembered. And the visit to Gogo's world was completely bonkers. Tiny Toons earned a First Class Honours from Acme Looniversity, though it graduated second in the class to the Animaniacs.

And now our song is done.