Rachel's Blog Rachel's Blog: Review

Tue, 08 Sep 2009
District 9

Cheapass Tuesday and I only had time to see one movie. My first choice was The Young Victoria, but it wasn't showing during school hours. So it came down to Inglourious Basterds and District 9. I kind of want to see both, but ended up choosing D9 because it's shorter. Short attention-span is short.

Loads of my friends have already seen it and they all raved*. "Awesome!" they said. You're all wrong, my friends.

It's an OK kind of movie. The effects are fine and believable. They've put heaps of thought into making the aliens ("prawns") both hideous and anime cute at the same time. I wasn't put off by the violence (I had to stop eating at one vomitty point, but I got over that). But blah to the characters and erg to the story.

Yes. We get it. It's about apartheid. It's set in Johannesburg just to make sure we don't mistake the forced sensation in our throats for a bit of stuck popcorn. Aliens have arrived on Earth (why and where from is not explained) and are put into a temporary camp in South Africa for 20 years.

And after that? Well there's this completely uninteresting guy and some stuff happens and his opinion of the aliens is changed 180 degrees. And That Is All. There's maybe half a sub-plot given to the main alien character, Christopher Johnson, but he isn't anything more than the dude with the MacGuffin.

The uninteresting guy, Wikus, is married to Tania, and although he does stupid and cruel things without question as part of his work, we are supposed, I think, to like him because he makes little tchotchkes for his wife and calls her Baby. He calls her Baby a lot. It's irritating. As is the lack of explanation as to why anyone would marry such an idiot.

The documentary style (to heighten the Theme - do you get it yet?) creates distance from the main characters, making it even harder to empathise with this blah person, but is then confused by the switch in POV when stuff actually happens. A good chunk of the film is just undisguised exposition, by people actually talking to camera ("interviewees"). Boooring.

I got really antsy watching District 9. It felt longer than it was and the denouement was twee.

Three out of five black bilious vomits.

*Except Richard. He knew ;-)

Mon, 19 May 2008
Shiny, Buffy; Buffy, Shiny

Drusilla's accessories

The first of many, many reviews that I will be writing for the foreseeable future has gone up today over at the Shiny blog. Yes, I have volunteered to join the team expressly and solely for the excuse to rewatch Buffy the Vampire Slayer* and Angel from the very beginning. To start off I've done an overview of Season One and later this week Alisa Krasnostein and I will begin tackling each episode individually starting with "When She Was Bad".

*I totally wrote Vampire Layer then, but that's a bit later on.

Sun, 06 Jan 2008
Review: I Am Legend plus I Am Improver of Legend.

This review contains major spoilers for the film I Am Legend, and probably the book by Richard Matheson as well, so don't read it. (I mean the review. Don't read the review. Read the book by all means. I haven't, so let me know what it's like, 'kay?)

I didn't see much hype for I Am Legend before I watched it today, but I imagine any hype it had got would have been too much. It probably avoided that by, despite being a major disaster film, not being a major disaster action film. There's stuff blowing up, but sedately, there's a mass exodus of NYC, but little panic, there are zombie-vampires (zompires? vambies?), but they're suffering an identity crisis (Are we a mindless destructive mob or are we cunning blood suckers?). Bucking recent trends in science fiction films, it's pretty depressing. Well, of course it would be - the whole earth's population is killed off by a manufactured virus leading to one man and his dog slowly going nuts.

While going nuts, our single human character Robert (Will Smith) attempts to find a cure for the zompirism by experimenting on infected rats and the occasional ex-human. So far so good. I was with it until the dog scene. Although the film was serious and dark, it was lightened enough to keep me involved with the only two characters (Sam - the dog - stealing all her scenes). Fishing in the koi pond, golf off the fighter plane's wing, lions roaming the streets - all good. Until the dog scene. I'll come back to that.

The film however made a wrong turn which resulted in the end lacking an emotional punch. I didn't care enough about Ethan and Anna that they got to safety. I hadn't known them long enough for it to matter to me that they hand a plastic vial of blood to a faceless person. The emotion of a story should not be tied to an inanimate object. I believe I've said this before.

Here's how I think the story would have gone better. No changes in the first two thirds - Sam is infected by the dark seeker dogs, Robert takes her back to the lab. Firstly he straps her to a table like he did with the human subject. He then injects her with the cure. It fails. Sam is clearly infected, snapping and growling. Robert administers a massive sedative, she goes limp and stops breathing. Robert is distraught. The audience cries. Then we return to the scenes where he attempts to kill off the vambies (and himself) and is rescued by Anna and Ethan. Incidentally can anyone explain to me how Anna and Ethan reached Robert if the island was sealed off and all the bridges blown up?

The film continues as we've seen it. The zompires attack the house, they race for the basement, the door is broken down, all seems lost. Anna notices that the ex-human seems more-human. Robert immediately turns to Sam's body, still strapped to the gurney. Her breathing is regular, her fur is no longer loose. As he touches one of her wounds she whimpers. The vambies are beating at the glass doors. The butterfly pattern appears in the glass, Robert notices Anna's butterfly tattoo. We flashback to Robert's daughter making a butterfly shape with her hands (as we have seen) and her pushing the puppy to him, "Here, Daddy, you take Sam."

Robert snaps back to the present and orders Anna and Ethan into the fireplace, "You get in," Anna urges, "There's room for you." Robert unstraps Sam, and pushes her into Ethan's arms. "Take her, she's the cure. Stay in there until dawn." He shuts the door, takes out the convenient hand grenade and blows up the lab, the zompires and himself.

Cut to Anna and Ethan driving. They find the survivor colony. They get out of the car. Sam gets out too and walks on her own four paws through the gate. Cheesey voice over optional, audience cheers, The End.

Mon, 08 Oct 2007
Shiny Issue 1 - Read it!

I've written a review of the first issue of Shiny magazine, and it's available to read at ASiF! Which story did I like the best? What are the biggest challenges facing Twelfth Planet Press? What is the one thing this magazine is lacking? Read on to find out!

Then you should go buy a copy. It's only $3 for three great stories and the warmth that comes with supporting small press and start-up projects.

Sat, 08 Sep 2007
Ratatouille review and Pixar's gender problem.

I really want to like Ratatouille. I like everything about the idea. Fuzzy little rat. In Paris. Fine dining. Kitchen antics. A Pixar film.

But sadly it is not as good as I wished it would be. Pixar have had such success with their previous films — The Incredibles, Cars, Toy Story, Finding Nemo — each of which I can happily watch over and over (and have done). They've spent so long perfecting the art of telling a great story while at the same time making a thing of beauty that it's a crushing blow when it doesn't quite work.

The story of the rat who wants to cook is lovely, but it has been burdened in Ratatouille with unnecessary plot and heavy exposition. There are numerous (human) characters in the film (and I'll try to keep this spoiler-lite) but their plot lines don't ever quite mesh. Each gets scenes of exposition which left Abbey wriggling in her seat where she was spellbound seconds earlier. Exposition which can only be told and not shown, such as a DNA test, a bequest, a legal wrangling.

The second distracting thing was the character design. Particularly the noses. I understand that it's set in France but come on. It wasn't just that they were large, they were ugly. And not only on the people. The rats, who had had so much effort put into their eyes (beautiful and expressive) had some of the most hideous combinations of shapes and curves for the rest of their faces. I understand they're not supposed to be all cute and mousy, but it turned me off characters I was supposed to be sympathizing with.

Not unique to Ratatouille, but an issue with Pixar movies in general, is the habit they have of defaulting every main character to male. This has been building up for a while, obviously, but it's really beginning to stick out.

Nemo, Marlin, Woody, Buzz, Remy, Linguini, McQueen, Flik, Sulley, Mike. All male. All main characters.

It's particularly noticeable in Toy Story, but almost all Pixar characters are male. Female roles are left as love interest (Sally in Cars), sidekick (Dory in Finding Nemo) or comic relief (every other female character - see Mrs Potato Head, Lizzie (Cars), Dory again). Pixar is not alone in this trend - female roles in Hollywood generally suck, but these are animations! These are sometimes animations about inanimate objects! Why are cars and piggy banks suddenly gendered anyway?*

But back to Ratatouille. There are no female rats in this film. (There must have been some once - the rat colony is huge.) There is one woman in the kitchen (love interest) and a very minor mention of a female food critic. That's it. So on top of a poor story and lulls in the plot, wincing at the design (but not at the animation itself - gorgeous!) it put me in a bad mood.

Rataouille is fun. It is pretty with all the fur and water an animation fan could want. The kitchen scenes are fabulous. But I want it to be better.

Pixar at the IMDb

*I recognise that the gender imbalance is not such a problem in The Incredibles, but it is largely Mr Incredible's story, not Elastigirl's.

Mon, 20 Aug 2007

Stardust! I was lucky enough to see a preview screening yesterday and I can report back that it's great! It's not perfect, but if I started down that road you'd all say I was being picky, and there'd be cries of "Spoiler! Spoiler!" and then you'd want my head on a pike or something and I do prefer my head where it is so, yes.

Stardust. It opens (in Australia) on September 20. Go see it!

In fact I might even see it again and write a proper review. Maybe.

Fri, 29 Dec 2006
Night at the Museum

This is such a disappointing film. It almost works in so many ways, but then just flaps vaguely at the exciting moments before returning to the boring plot of divorced dad must prove his worth to his only son.

What Night at the Museum should have been is a cross between Jumanji and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler (more the book in that case). An adventure story set in a common place that is naturally infused with mystery and excitment (such as an old house with an unsolved mystery or, hey, a museum!). To have this opportunity wasted is such a shame.

The main character, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is a middle-aged guy with no direction in life and no particular interests (except for his son to play ice hockey and WTF was up with that?). For a kid's film, the main character should have been the son, Nick (Jake Cherry). A nine- or ten-year-old boy, bouncing between his mum's and dad's houses, one of whom can't hold down a job and the other engaged to the lamest guy on the planet (Paul Rudd). This is the character the film should have focussed on. Nick instead is portrayed as being perfectly balanced - only getting upset when he witnesses his father being fired. This is played out as though he feels sorry for his dad's misfortune, when really it should have been about the fact that a)his dad let him down again and b)two of his friends also witnessed the unceremonious sacking and proceed to tease him (half-heartedly) about it.

But what about the night-time shenannigans, you ask? Well I think I'm giving as much attention here to them as the plot did. The whole, thrilling idea of having every exhibit of a natural history museum come to life between sunset and sunrise is merely a macguffin. An impressive and at times very funny macguffin, but obvious and pointless nonetheless.

The cast put in adequate performances, but not all of them were having as much fun with it as I would have liked to see. Owen Wilson was great as an inch-tall Jedediah, and it was historically nifty to see Mickey Rooney and Dick van Dyke acting together but other cameos are wasted. I kept expecting Ricky Gervais as the Director of the Museum to be funny, but he was hobbled completely by the unfunniest writing I ever cringed at. Robin Williams plays the wise man/old sage/Yoda of the film (disguised as Teddy Roosevelt), but it's nothing special.

It's easy to dismiss a film like Night at the Museum as just a kid's flick, but I don't belive that children should have to suffer second-rate entertainment. Especially when it uses up such imaginatively-valuable material. Who now will make the film I want to see where two kids sneak into a museum at night only to find that "history is coming to life"?

Fri, 08 Sep 2006
Review: The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton - Dean Jensen

Softcover, 400 pages, B&W illustrations
Published by Ten Speed Press, available in October.

Today, Daisy and Violet Hilton are probably best remembered for their brief appearance in Tod Browning's contentious film, Freaks. But in their heyday, the Hilton twins were household names. Genuine conjoined twins, they were born fused at the lower spine in 1908, and lucky not to be handed off to eager experimental surgeons.

Dean Jensen's book is, thankfully, a traditional biography, with the sister's birth on page one and ending with their funeral on the last. Jensen has not tried to be clever, but rather let this unusual story and the numerous strange characters have all the attention.

Adopted, raised and exploited by a pub owner turned raconteur and, later, a Melbourne-born self-taught showman, Daisy and Violet Hilton remain an island of near-calm in the giddy upheaval of their lives. Dragged from their birthplace in Brighton, England, to Germany, then Australia and finally to the United States, where they tried to simultaneously rise above their affliction and take advantage of it. The girls became talented singers, musicians and dancers, with one of their signature pieces being a pas de quatre at the end of the show.

Their lives touched briefly with others who were, or would go on to be, Hollywood or Broadway stars, something which the twins attempted numerous times. The book is peppered with familiar names and locations, such as a lovely snippet on the opening of Luna Park in Melbourne. The girls appeared in the park's Egyptian temple, "Pharoah's Daughter", just after their fifth birthday, only a few months after the park was opened. They went on to tour country Australia where they met Myer Myers, a Clifton Hills born circus-runaway who would gradually become the twin's manager and guardian.

The Lives and Loves... allows room to explore the people who surround Violet and Daisy; the characters of the freak shows and fairs (think Carnivāle) and later the vaudeville circuit, their colleagues on stage, in the orchestras they used, and their business associates.

With black and white publicity photos, film stills and postcards every few pages and quotes from contemporary documents and articles, as well as recent interviews, The Lives and Loves... has clearly been thoroughly researched. It is written in a straightforward, engaging manner, which gives the bizarre characters that populate every page of this book space to shine on their own. And it is not the more physically unusual people that are the most oddly behaved.

Highly Recommended.

Preorder from Ten Speed Press, or Amazon.

Mon, 07 Aug 2006
Continuum 4: And it's all over.

C4 was this weekend. Sorry if you didn't hear about it, but you can blame me for that. For about the last fortnight I had been planning a pre-con blog post, but I was too busy doing "real" publicity stuff to get to it.

Let me just say, it rocked. Being on commitee definitely gives a different convention experience. Something akin to mainlining, I imagine.

The guests of honour came to the party in a big way and were approachable and friendly and said intelligent things in their panels. Margo Lanagan said in the closing ceremony that the experience had been "Hardly at all scary".

The panels I was on, Kids' TV and Blankety Blanks, went as expected. The first was on Saturday at nine am, but we still managed to draw a few members into a nice casual conversation. It was very pretty with the clips Sara Eggen brought in from Jonathan M. Schiff Productions and, (I was told) it was informative for the audience.

Blankety Blanks was a comedic disaster fueled by exhaustion and hysteria, but that's what everyone was expecting, so I think that's OK. I only hope Mondy has managed to fight his way out of the soaped-up-monkey-skinning time-loop he got himself stuck in.

The Maskobalo was much better than even I had hoped. I am always surprised and impressed by the efforts people go to with their costumes and outfits, and the amount of energy and sheer enthusiasm they bring to something that is, in essence, a miniature disco. Thanks to Hespa, I even had fun putting up and taking down the decorations we had planned, and we recieved many positive comments from the crowd. Needless to say, Liz and I danced our boots off and I am still in some not-small amount of pain.

I'll probably remember some other things I wanted to say later on, but for now I want to shout out (yes, that's how tired I am) to Mitch and Mondy and all the other committe members and volunteers; you were all awesome, but let's not do it again straight away.

Keep an eye on this Continuum 4 Flickr group to get a visual sense of the weekend. And post your own photos and con reports!