Monday, October 25, 2010

The Case for Some Odder Euro10 Photos 02

A few more photos of stranger interest from the Euro10 trip earlier this year:

7) This was my plane from Hong Kong to Frankfurt, an older style Boeing 747 with no “personal entertainment system”. I did love the acknowledgement of 50 years of partnership with Boeing, as I supposed they couldn’t really claim to be in partnership BEFORE that...

8) In the British Museum, in the more empty Asian part of the diplays, was this fantastic statue and its enlightening explanation: one of the judges to the underworld. Good to know that Judges have jobs in the afterlife.

9) Again in the British Museum, the child in me comes out, as does the need to take a photo of a statues butt.

10) Flying from Newcastle to Paris, I was somewhat surprised when the plane took a detour over Heathrow airport. I am sure there is some logic lying behind adding more traffic to the skies above what is the busiest airport in the world.

11) At a roadside diner on the way to Normandy, I had to try the andouillette sausage, a reputed local delicacy and what turned out to be rather potent tripe (with chips). The Coke just off to the side was used to help wash it down. I was assured that non-roadside andouillete would taste a bit better, but I was not game enough to try out. Oh, and the spoon is wickedly bent, though you can’t really see that in the image.

12) I think this one more or less speaks for itself. Yum. Not that I had any..

13) Graffiti, French style on the coast between Normany and Brittany. “Never forget” D Day it says. Well, it doesn’t. It actually says “Nevvver forget” – so much for the French education system, unless it’s a tourist adding some foreign colour.

14) The Parisiens call them like they see them: no need to Step Up, just go with the sex angle. And yes, that is part of a reclining woman at the bottom of the image, as I took this in Montmartre, near the red light part.

15) This display in Switzerland may have been meant to inform, but the fact the stuffed animals are all prowling above the drinks stand just kind of gave me the wiggins.

16) A more common sight in Switzerland – well stereotypical perhaps: cowbells adorning a local home.

17) This one may speak for itself. If it does not, check out the duckies’ funky hairdos. And there were no local signs to explain why the bouffant was back in mode this season.

18) Not my Singapore Airlines flight on the way home. This Airbus340 was on the way to Melbourne. I kinda wanted to be on it, just to say I had been on one. Maybe one day.

Verdict: Is it you or is it me? Probably just me, but I will share these with you anyway. More photos out of many.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Case for BosTownies

The Town is a pretty self conscious film, as illustrated by the fact that a few minutes into the end credits, an apologetic note comes up saying "while there are lots of criminals in Charlestown, not everyone's a criminal, and in fact there are some nice people there, who hopefully won't mind that this film is all about the criminals and not them". But then, I had the sense the film was aiming (and missing) for something with a lot of depth when there was a rather pointless reference to an Eskimo, which almost automatically had me reaching for my 3D glasses and spaghetti with lots of oregano (come on, someone HAS to get that reference).

Not that the Town is bad. I have heard that this film has been compared with the Wire, which is actually a very pale comparison but probably more "now" relevant than comparison with the film Heat, which I think is more apt, though The Town does not quite live up to that excellent standard either. So it is good, but far from those fantastic benchmarks.

Despite the awesome cast and beautiful cinematography, I think that there are two things holding the film back: the director and the lead actor. It is quite convenient then that both of these are actually the same person. Square jawed Ben Affleck, who hired a personal trainer (say the credits) for about 5 seconds of him shirtless (the money was well spent, it has to be said), plays an arrogant git really well. It's a shame then that his character in the Town is meant to be restrained, reflective and torn, because Affleck is not very good at pulling that character off at all.

I imagine the directorial advice to all the actors was: be serious. Everyone is steadfastly hard and manly, except for the women, who are allowed (and almost expected) to fall apart. There are a massive number of subplots all related to Affleck's character and none of them are given a lot of breathing room, which is just as well as the heaviest monologues are delivered by Affleck and seem to come out of nowhere and so end up with next to no emotional resonance.

Wow, this is all pretty negative thus far! However, once you get past the slow tedium of what passes for character development, the rest of the film stacks up nicely. The gorgeous Rebecca Hall as Affleck's love interest (ignore quite how they get together - this is more supposed "character development") lights up the screen every time she appears, and Mad Men's John Hamm is the most serious of all the men, playing as he does the Law Man determined to bring the Charlestown criminals to justice (with many exclamation marks after that).

The story progresses as you would expect it to (it's painfully obvious how things will go, though the plethora of red herrings occasionally had me guessing - for nought, it turned out), but it's all done with style and beautiful camera work.

Heat and The Wire kept one thing in mind, which made them work well: the bad guys may have lives and loves as tragic as the heroes, but they are bad guys. The Town (for me) makes the cardinal sin of trying to make Affleck's character a "good" guy, without him actually doing good things. You are meant to root for him, rather than respect and understand him but still recognise he is, at the end of the day, an intentionally bad man. After all the preceding action, this made the ending a bit of a let down, albeit a beautifully shot one.

Verdict: To rain so much on what is not a bad parade seems a bit harsh, but The Town reeks of Affleck's attempt at a serious, deep film and so gets a bit smelly whenever he is on the screen. The rest of the cast keep things more interesting, though they all must have suffered serious testosterone depletion at the end of filming. 6.5 nun masks out of 10.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Case for Newsworthiness

Many moons ago on this blog, I wrote about the joys I had experienced watching the news service on Triangle Television / Stratos. The ability to view Al Jazeera International, or view highlights packages from French, German, Dutch, Esperanto and several other news services from around the world, was a breath of fresh air in the stale, smug atmosphere that is the state of the televised news services in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, once I moved from the hills to the valley and sorted out Freeview HD, I learned one very depressing fact: Stratos / Triangle TV is not on one of the channels offered. I wrote an e-mail to the company, asking when they might be broadcasting on terrestrial to complement the satellite Freeview service they currently offer, but the response was that they just did not have the money to do so. And so I cried a little.

And, at around 6.00pm each day, during the first few moments of 3 News or (shudder) the Wy-Si show over on One, I am almost brought to tears again. First, the opening headlines flash before me, an epileptic flurry of images set to the music of tragic puns, asinine rhetorical questions and nauseating appeals to my sense of patriotism. Seconds after this assault to the senses begins, it is over, to be replaced by two automatons, well coiffed and attired, smiling knowingly and condescendingly at the camera, knowing what I want to know, determined to deliver it in language littered with alliteration, gross generalisations, inappropriate pauses and obscure colloquialisms, yet still managing to dumb down the stories to the point that the pictures tell a thousand words that never seem to even occur to the presenter.

It is at around 6.02pm then that my hand subconsciously reaches for the remote control, and flicks the channel over to Neighbours or some other show that at least admits to being insulting to ones intelligence. I occasionally put my foot down (figuratively speaking) when there is a story that I think I really need to see, and my conscious mind wrestles back motor control so that I can once more watch the chosen news service. But more often than not, I thank my subconscious for its good thinking, and find myself something else to view or do instead.

To be fair, terrestrial Freeview does have other news services on offer: Prime has their brief bulletin at 5.30pm which, for almost anyone who takes public transport from work will tell you, is about as useful as being told what today's weather was at least twice during a news bulletin; over on TVNZ7, the basic bulletin is informative but it appears that this service is deliberately kept as dull as possible so that it will never be able to rise from its humble origins to rival the great and powerful One News flagship; whilst Maori television's news service seems to wear its political heart on its sleeve and almost everywhere else on the presenter's outfit, which is honest but does not always make for the most informative news reporting. And of course, BBC World Service does play overnight on TVNZ, but the hours between 2 and 6 am are not really the most conducive to appreciating the big news items of the day - and, for the life of me, why BBC World can't be shown on its own separate Freeview channel here seems criminal.

I remember back when 3 News was not stuck up its own buttocks trying so desperately to be taken seriously, when it had a set that was stuck in a walk in wardrobe rather than one that looked like it was cannibalised from a surgical lab set up in the back of a lorry for an episode of CSI, and when it had a sense of fun about it all. I have never been the biggest fan of One News, but at least, once upon a time, it didn't pretend that it was young and hip. One News was (is?), in fact, the default setting for a lot of people who either couldn't use - or couldn't be bothered to use (and yes, this is a reference to the sad fact 3 News is better watched when Home & Away precedes it) - a remote control, or who found John Campbell's "young and hip" over-enthusiasm on the other side exactly what they did not want to see. I am sorry: Simon Dallow may be a lovely person but, bless him (in my most patronising tone), he is as square as his jaw and as bland as dry weetbix, and my money would have to be on Hillary "no holds barred" Barry should there ever be a trans-network boxing bout.

And of course, I can barely control myself when I think of the shining beacon of liberal insanity that was the Daily Show, my preferred news programme, and how C4 threw it away to spend all its money on quality programming like Plastic Surgery Tragedy of Love.

And so - and back to the beginning - these are the reasons that I miss Stratos, and why my eyes fill with tears almost every day. I raise my pleas to the heavens and point to the soulless bodies of the "A Team" news presenters from both of the main networks as proof that I am being punished and that I deserve at least a little something back for all that suffering. But will the televisual gods hear me? And if they do hear me, will they answer me? And if they do answer me, will I really like what they have to say?

Verdict: Oh woe is me - I feel a strong case of news neglect at the moment. 2 headlines out of 10...

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Case for Gilmore Graduation

Well, it has been a long road, but I have finally made it all the way through the gabfest that was the Gilmore Girls.

It has been an entertaining ride, as it was a show that appealed to many different audiences: girls and young women could relate to Rory's growing up; older women could relate to the Emily and her troubled relationship with her daughter; women of all ages could enjoy the romantic lives and loves of Lorelei; men, young and old, could appreciate Lorelei in her single MLF glory; and of course the dialogue was almost always sparkling with wit and frequently incomprehensible references.

As I had been forewarned, Season 7 definitely felt a lot different to previous seasons. The storyline a bit all over the place (more so than usual) and new characters introduced with minimal interest or effect and to the detriment, in fact, of some of the most entertaining characters, in particular Emily and Mrs Kim. The whole Lorelei/Christopher resolution made little to no sense, Logan and Rory's relationship similarly took a turn for the "huh?", and the token appearance by Christianne Amanpour in the final episode felt even more painful than the poor acting involved, so contrived and hastily ended was the encounter. At least Paris was allowed to bloom in her insane, overbearing way - always an amusing highlight.

There have been some interesting storylines through the years [SPOILER ALERT] which I will go into once those who might want to avoid the spoilers have the chance to skip to the next paragraph. Is this enough time, or rather, space on the page? I hope so, as I will go into it.... now: I am not altogether sure how mothers would have appreciated or explained Rory having an affair with a married man; Lane's pregnancy has to be one of the fastest ever, and her baby belly one of the largest; the whole Marty avoidance storyline seemed fairly pointless (though there were a few other threads that went nowhere, to be fair); Paris's tenure as editor of the Yale newspaper was wonderful in a "lessons for dictators to avoid" kind of way; any storyline featuring Emily at her most condescending (anything to do with boyfriends she did not approve of, like Luke, Dean, Jesse...) or martyred (anything to do with Lorelei) was bound to both annoy and amuse; and Lorelei went through at least one engagement per season, which is a fairly high rate, I believe.

But now the ride is over, and, luckily I suppose, the ending is more of a mercy than something to be missed. My respect for Lauren Graham (in particular), Kelly Bishop and Melissa McCarthy has been firmly cemented by all seven GG seasons, and it's amusing to think that most of Rory's exes have gone on to bigger and sometimes more soapy things (
One Tree Hill, Supernatural, Heroes and The Good Wife).

Gilmore Girl film was rumoured to be in the works, but, as much fun as it might at first seem to have all the characters back in action, the general lack of story direction would probably make a 2 hour movie a chore rather than a slow, meandering journey. Here's hoping Lauren stays strong and has a successful series to keep her busy (her movie choices have been... interesting; and Parenthood mysteriously vanished from the harsh Darwinian terrain that is the TV3 prime time schedule after only a few weeks) so that the idea of going back to Stars Hollow is never really given serious consideration.

Verdict: Where they led, I did follow - and for seven seasons. The
Gilmore Girls was great fun, better in the beginning and when the original creative team were on board. 7 cups of Luke's finest coffee out of 10.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Case for LIkeable Despicability

Despicable Me is like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs with Ewoks.

Make sense? The film is basically quite good, with some amazing visuals, ridiculous inventions (most quite retro-futuristic in an Incredibles kind of way) and a story stupid enough to be loads of fun if executed properly. And then, to this mix, the producers decided to add to layers of cute: the incomprehensible Sponge Bob-ish like minions, and a trio of orphaned sisters.

Its unfortunate that you can see exactly what strings the minions and sisters are trying to pull. Almost nothing in any scene they are in is subtle, which to me robs those scenes with most of their colour. There are digs at Lehman Brothers, at evil nemeses and their dastardly doings and the like, but when the cute factor is ramped up, and the sentimentality dial is set to sickening, it all becomes a bit painful. And the less said about the "disco" scenes the better.

For all that negativity, it isn't a terrible film. The hiding place for the Pyramid of Giza cracked me up every time I saw it. Steve Carrell's evil eastern accent as Gru loses any charm about 3 minutes into the film, but the character still is quite amusing. The real joy though is to be held in the amazing and insane inventions that grace the screen, as its obvious a lot of love has gone into their design. Its just a pity the love all went there rather than into the script.

Verdict: Amusing enough, but weighed down by far too much cuteness, Despicable Me has the odd reference that parents might enjoy, but is aimed mostly at the pre-teen girl market. 6 sinister schemes out of 10.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Case for Fast Exits and Misspeaking

First off, Paul Henry.

Moosetastic has already gone into this. The Greens are outraged. Commentators are out for blood - though perhaps the cry of Tall Poppy Syndrome is not far away.

At first, when I was unsure whether the Governor General was a naturalised New Zealander or not, I was just mildly offended by Henry's statement. Then, upon hearing what the Governor General sounds like (he sounds more Kiwi than me, I think; and in fact, he probably IS more Kiwi than me), my offended setting went from mild to well done.

The reaction "out there" though has been the more interesting thing. New Zealanders should be able to say what they think, and it is encouraging to see that a lot of people are outraged. TVNZ should be shot for claiming Henry is saying what a lot of people are thinking, as blaming the "silent majority" is never an excuse for allowing extremist views, when saying that he just has extremist views is (in my opinion) a completely valid reason.

This is a great chance to actually debate and discuss this kind of thing, to expose some of the underlying assumptions made by people who really don't think about this a great deal and so can say some fairly hurtful things they might not necessarily mean. It's perhaps time for the shock jock to realise what most people know: that there are repercussions to saying things like this, and so you better be ready to face those consequences or else just stop.

I wasn't - and perhaps am still not - quite sure what to make of Exit through the Gift Shop.

The film was a festival hit, now on general release, and had even inspired the Lighthouse in Petone to such an extent that they had an artist paint their exterior in homage to the film. It wasn't one of my first choices at the festival, but the premise sounded interesting enough to warrant a view, and so in I went, expecting to learn a bit more about street art and the mysterious and famous Banksy.

Straight off, I was wrong. I learned next to nothing about street art - origins, motivations, influences - though I did get a good dose of what it looked like. The film introduces a few of the more well known artists, though only one or two are actually seen, as the rest had their faces covered and voices altered to avoid the authorities knowing who these graffiti artists are.

Instead, the film actually seems to follow the video documenter of the movement, a roguish Frenchman living in the Los Angeles with a knack for turning rubbish into highly desirable objects for the trendy, and obsessed (for a while at least) with filming things and people, eventually stumbling on this artistic niche through a relative. Unfortunately, for me at least, his early life is quite dull, and thus a lot of the first half of the film is too, with lots of images of people posting art in public places - and that's about it.

The film gets more interesting when Banksy gets involved, his political statements making thought provoking viewing though these are not really discussed in any meaningful way besides the "how we made it" detail. The interest level increases again when the Frenchman leaves the filmmaking behind to concentrate more on developing art himself, though the film also gets a bit surreal, and I found it hard to take the "documentary" seriously. Really, it seems to turn into a more subtle Borat, where the most interesting characters are no longer the subjects of the film but rather those the subjects encounter, the world out there starting to appreciate street art in the way it knows easiest to do: as a means of making money. One woman wanders through her house, proud of her (expensive) collection, but admitting that she actually dislikes her prominently displayed Keith Harring artwork, whereas her (supposedly) cherished Banksy is hidden in a cupboard somewhere.

The film publicity describes it as watching a train wreck, but for me, the whole "Frenchie-finds-art" ending, foreshadowed as it was by his history in clothing, felt too staged to be real, and so the train wreck itself ended up like watching an episode of the Office rather than of real people, in that there probably are people and situations like that out there, but that this was just an approximation. Some of the comments too felt entirely scripted, designed to be funny rather than incidentally so.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. It could all have been utterly real, the story organic. If so, then the documentary is actually a bit rubbish, and fairly unenlightening. However, as a story, as a work of art possibly designed to make people think about how we view art, then, for me at least, it worked a lot better.

Verdict: It's hard for me to rate Exit Through the Gift Shop, as I am not altogether sure I really understood it. On face value, it is unenlightening if occasionally amusing, a documentary with no depth as it were. If I try and put more into it, it is again fairly unenlightening about the subjects, but more interesting in what it says about how street art is viewed. I did laugh a lot in the second half, but my brow was furrowed trying to figure out if I was laughing at reality or just a well executed scene. That furrowed brow extends to my final rating: 6.5 OBEYs out of 10.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Case for Some Odder Euro10 Photos 01

Okay, after a few postings about life in NZ, its time to go back to the recent holiday.

Here are some of the images I took of things that seemed a bit odd or amusing to me in one way or another.

1) Whether out of joy or pity, the guy in the sandwich suit got lots of hugs from people, and quite a few photos in front of Big Ben.

2) I adored the question mark in this one (Surbiton), as I was not entirely sure what it was meant to signify. Is correctly getting the start time of the quiz one of the quiz questions? Is the quiz itself in jeopardy of not being run should the patron be uninspired or attendance below expectations? Unfortunately, I was not around at the time (or was I?) to find out.

3) I saw this in Brighton, and loved the tag line. Adam breathes again - now he is no longer on Shortland Street? Poor guy...

4) The only photo I managed to take in a mall in Chatham (not allowed), though the most important - it sounded like this machine could cure anything.

5) Even in hideous weather, Brighton was cool - and it had some awesome graffitti around the place too. How can you go wrong with a Smurf theme?

6) While the British love their page 3 girls, the French don't even both hiding them inside the covers of a magazine and instead plaster them all over the place, even next to (or above) the less titillating (oh yes, I had to use that pun) or innocent children's magazines that can be on offer.

Verdict: Installment one - there are plenty more things I have found a bit odd on my travels. 6 images out of... a few more...