Thursday, November 26, 2009


Some movies, like the recent smash hit 'Paranormal Activity', are spectacularly effective despite having all of the odds against them. Some other movies, like the $70 million Korean epic 'Dragon Wars', are spectacularly awful despite having everything going for them.

And then there are movies that fail because, like a South China Air jet made of tofu, maintained by Danii Minogue and piloted by pieces of fruit, their every component is hopelessly substandard. A case in point is 1981's 'Oasis of the Zombies'.

Great... eighty minutes of the living dead singing "Wonderwall" and bickering among themselves.

To fully understand why this film was a bigger fiasco than New Coke, it's necessary to go through the entire crew list, person by incompetent person.

Script and Direction, by Jesus Franco

In the midst of World War Two, a squad of Nazis escorting a gold shipment across the North African desert is ambushed at an oasis by Allied forces. Everyone is killed except for the Allied commander, who is rescued by a local sheik. While he recuperates at the sheik's palace, he impregnates the sheik's daughter, then runs off to rejoin his army.

An indeterminate amount of time later, the son born of the commander's tryst with the sheik's daughter discovers that his father has been murdered. He returns to North Africa from his home in London to find out what has happened. From his father's journals, he discovers that the Nazi gold is still in the oasis, and he and his friends vow to find it and get rich. Little do they know, however, that the Nazis are now zombies who rise up every evening and terrorise anyone dumb enough to be hanging around.

As bare plots go it's not such a bad effort. It's only when the bare plot gets dressed with the underpants of Dialogue, the jeans of Coherence and the shapeless T-shirt of Making Sense that it all comes undone. For example, the son is around 20 years old. That means that the story must be occurring in the early 60s. But the son's car is a 1970s Suzuki 4x4, and his girlfriend is shown wearing a Walkman. Therefore it must be the late 70s or early 80s. So either World War 2 lasted a lot longer than I've been told, or the director has the keen attention to detail of a drunken globus monkey.

Film Editing, by Claude Gros

Pausing the narrative flow every ten minutes to quickly recap the key moments of the previous ten minutes is not a valid editing choice. Unless, of course, you are editing with the intention of developing an insomnia cure.

Cinematography, by Max Monteillet

The colour is washed out, the establishing shots last longer than childbirth, and the closeups are so close that 80% of the screen is just some guy's nose. On the other hand, points for the lingering tracking shots focusing on the bottoms of nubile girls in two-sizes-too-small hotpants.

Max Monteillet, we salute you, you magnificent French pervert.

Original Music, by Daniel White

Imagine a young Philip Glass, zonked out of his brain on diazepam and messing about with his grandma's Hammond organ. Oh, and did I mention that he has Downs Syndrome?

Daniel's style was excellently summed up by viewing buddy JC: "This isn't a soundtrack. He's just fallen asleep on a keyboard."

Special Effects, by Richard Green

One of the zombies was a skull on a stick, animated by having a stage hand waggle it around. And that was a high point.

Sound Design, by Claude Panier

To signify the rattling, wheezing rasp of an oncoming zombie, Claude seems to have simply run his fingers up and down an old metal washboard. This gave the impression that the zombies were all auditioning for a zydeco band.

Acting, by several people who'd never acted before and haven't acted since

We don't expect Oscar-worthy performances from attractive girls cast as zombie fodder in low-budget horror movies. All we want is a little screaming, crying and convulsing as the undead (or at least the skulls on sticks representing the undead) drag them to the ground and start biting them. But even this was beyond the girls of 'Oasis of the Zombies'. Instead of panicked, desperate screams and thrashing, we got irritated little moans and the occasional fidget, as you would if some mosquitoes were really getting on your nerves, or your boyfriend was doing that thing that he knows you really hate.

Ow! Cut that out! I mean it! Ugh, you are so immature!

Assistant Direction, by Daniel Jouaniss

I don't know what an assistant director's duties on a film like this would be. However I'll blame him for not running over Jesus Franco with a Landrover when he had the chance.

And to think I paid 99c for this movie.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


One of the pleasures of using a seriously cut-price bookseller like The Book Depository is that one can afford to lash out and buy random books purely on the basis that they sound cool. Under normal circumstances I never would have bought 'The Magicians' by Lev Grossman and 'Soon I Will Be Invincible' by his brother Austin Grossman, because at an Australian bookstore I'd be looking at $50. At Book Depository they were about $20. That's all the incentive I need.

Although the books are completely unrelated, they're interesting in part because they're so similar. Both take the standard tropes of two popular youth genres and try to reimagine them objectively; as if to say, "Okay, if this scenario were actually true, what would it look like and how would it play out?" Lev deals with children's fantasy, while Austin has superheroes.

Lev Grossman's book is probably the more ambitious of the two, as it takes on and almost clinically dissects two of the juggernauts of children's fantasy: Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia. He tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, a fiercely intelligent but socially awkward teenager who discovers that, rather than getting into Harvard as he had planned, he has been accepted to Brakebill's, a secretive college of magic. He finds that the study of magic gives him a sense of identity that he lacked, but at the same time it creates a whole new set of problems and neuroses. All of this is brought to a head when he discovers that a magic kingdom from a series of children's books he loved as a child is actually a real place, and that he can go there.

The reimagining of Hogwart's and the reimagining of Narnia neatly fill the first and second halves of the book respectively - it's almost as if they're two closely related but different stories. In the first, Hogwartian half, Lev develops his conceit that magic is horribly, horribly hard. It requires fluency in several dead languages, complicated hand gestures, and a borderline-autistic knowledge of everything from the phases of the moon to the range of the tides. The only people intelligent and focussed enough to use magic are the hyper-intelligent but socially-retarded geeks on the fringes of your local high school. Studying magic at Brakebill's is like a combination of Japanese cram school and going to the Mathlympics.

The second half of the novel asks the question, "What would it be like to really visit Narnia? What would talking animals be like? Would they really want human royalty?" Lev’s magic kingdom is dark, violent and oddly empty, its inhabitants worn down and frightened by the constant threat of magic attack or interference. It feels more like a drug dream than a real place, except that death or injury can come for real.

Lev is at his best when he depicts what happens when the wholesome, awe-inspiring worlds of children's fantasy are occupied by the sort of adults who read too much children's fantasy. Like a lot of very intelligent modern nerds, brought up in an atmosphere of moral equivalency and a dearth of role models, Quentin is mostly unlikeable, with a sense of self-justification that works overtime to conceal his cowardice, his betrayals and his often weasely taste for power. While we appreciate the occasional good, upright characters who show bravery and self-sacrifice, it's more visceral to read about the students who drift off the proper paths and dabble in edgier magic. They tend to be devoured by monsters, tormented by demons or disfigured by their own hubris, and fear is a stronger emotion than admiration.

Austin Grossman's book looks at world full of superheroes and their supervillain nemeses. It's told from two perspectives in alternating chapters; first with experienced supervillain Doctor Impossible, then with newbie superheroine Fatale.

Austin's supervillains are the same people who make your life difficult every day: a mixture of bullies, blowhards, sociopaths and, in Doctor Impossible's case, the sort of restless, introspective geek who seems genuinely surprised that other people might get upset when he robs their banks, changes their weather or takes over their minds.

The superheroes are similarly dysfunctional: competitive, territorial, and elitist: some guy who buys titanium body armour and a flamethrower is considered rather gauche compared to a person who acquired superpowers via aliens, magic or the bite of a radioactive invertebrate.

The only problem with Austin's story is that it feels like a minor chapter in some gargantuan, unwritten book. It covers Doctor Impossible's umpteenth attempt to take over the world, and as it plays out it's clear that this is one of his less ambitious projects. Fatale proves herself as a superhero, but it's evident that her powers are fairly mundane compared to some others in The New Champions. Austin fleshes out the depth and history of his world by casually mentioning Doctor Impossible's previous time travel exploits or The Champions' earlier battle with an alien armada, but unfortunately all this does is suggest to the reader that there are stories more exciting than this one that aren't being told.

On the other hand, Austin has a neat trick of having his characters speak like normal people in private, then unconsciously switching to grandiose superhero and supervillain hyperbole in public. This is especially well done in Doctor Impossible, as the narrative flits between the ordinary, fretful thoughts running through his mind and the classic, "Prepare to meet your doom, puny mortals!" coming out of his mouth.

You can sort of see why he does it. After all, it's very difficult to speak the title of this book aloud without shaking one's fist in the air and bellowing. I've tried, and failed.

It’s tempting to look at these two books, written two years apart by two brothers, and make a call over which one is better. But I’m not going to do that, since there will then be the implication that the second-best one isn’t worth reading, and this isn’t the case. They’re both fun, inventive novels and I’d recommend both of them. Especially if you can get them cheap from The Book Depository.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Cat People’ is an odd little movie from 1942, generally classed as a horror film although it bears more resemblance to a noir thriller. Ostensibly it’s about a woman who fears that she is destined to transform into a black panther (literally – I don’t think she was particularly concerned about getting an urge to wear a silly beret and run about beating up whitey), but there’s a lot of subtext about repressed sexuality and gender roles.

But forty years later Hollywood decided to remake it, this time will all the subtlety that 1982 could muster. Which, as you can imagine, ran out about half a line into Malcolm McDowell’s first scene.

Try as it might, 1982 couldn’t generate the same sense of sophistication and poise that was more common in 1942. For a start, the story moves from New York to New Orleans – for some reason a lot of Americans seem to regard humidity as sexy. Supposedly it breaks down inhibitions, or something. Personally I don’t see anything sexy about sweat stains and clammy underpants... not that any of the characters wore underpants. Having spent considerable time and money hiring Nastassja Kinski and creating a script that had her disrobing every ten minutes, the last thing the director wanted was to spend precious screen time dealing with fiddly bra straps, panties or stockings. In a laudable gesture at equality, the director made male lead John Heard go commando for the entire picture too. They wouldn’t have put up with that sort of nonsense in 1942, let me tell you.

As for outerwear, this being the yuppie era, Kinski was dressed in tailored skirts, white blouses and neutral business attire, even though she was supposed to be an unemployed 20 year old. This means that for most of the movie she appears to be some sort of bureacracy-themed stripper.

The 1982 version does attempt to do the right thing. It retains the metaphor-filled setting of the zoo, in which wild animals pace and snarl in cramped cages. It also deals with notions of virginity, sex and repression. However, expressing these notions with oblique references and suggestive hints wasn’t the 1980s way. The remake felt the need to add sex scenes, buckets of blood, and a rather unwise spelling out of the mechanics of Cat Persondom.

Apparently the Cat People are distantly descended from an African tribe who sacrifice their children to some sort of black leopard god. Why they do this is never explained - perhaps they just really hate kids. Somehow over time this results in the existence of Cat People; men and women who transmogrify into big black cats whenever they have sex, and only change back into people if they kill. If this seems like a ridiculously arbitrary set of rules to you, then obviously you are not seeing things from the black leopard god's perspective. If the transmogrification occurred based on, say, the Cat People eating celery or driving a Toyota, he'd spend a lot of time being bored.

As would the audience, who only paid to see this film in order to see Nastassja Kinski getting her kit off.

However the best part of this movie wasn’t actually in the movie itself – it was in the blurb on the back cover of the DVD. It was presumably meant to describe Nastassja Kinski as, "a young woman on the brink of sexuality." But what it actually says is, "a young woman on the bridge of sexuality." As you can imagine, this lead to a line of riffing that my viewing buddies and I kept up through the entire movie.

"Sorry I'm late, the traffic was terrible. It took me an hour just to cross the bridge of sexuality. I'm exhausted, let me tell you."

"Well, you could take the bridge of sexuality, but I find that it's quicker if you stick to the freeway of chastity. It's less scenic, of course, but there are fewer red lights."

Me: (in news radio voice) The traffic 'copter is reporting a big pile-up on the bridge of sexuality. And yes, it's just as filthy as you'd imagine!

Me: Are you allowed to go fishing off the bridge of sexuality? What would you catch?

GC: Herpes, probably.

Me: Oh no, he took the wrong turn! He's missed the bridge of sexuality and he's going into the tunnel of... er...

PM: Innuendo?

So what’s next for Cat People? It’s been 1940s art noir and 1980s art porn, and it’s probably about time for another remake. Ever the entrepreneur, my friend PM has suggested the most obvious 21st century incarnation: LOLcat People.

Don’t pretend that you wouldn’t go and see it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


10 Things I Learnt From '2012'

1. It only takes a minute or two to drive from the leafy suburbs of LA to the centre of the business district... without taking the freeway.

2. Supervolcanos don't produce poisonous gas clouds, or even particularly hot ash.

3. If you want to save the great works of literature from the apocalypse, you might be tempted to take 3,500 books on a Kindle, or 50,000 on an iPod, or even 1,000,000 on a portable hard drive. But nothing beats the feel of a dozen real books, and let's face it, it's not important to save the world's great literature; it's important to appear to be saving the world's great literature.

4. People who've callously allowed almost everyone they've ever known to die will nevertheless offer you the sanctuary that they denied their dearest friends, their faithful staff and/or their extended family. All you have to do is show up. It helps if you have an adorable moppet that you can brandish at them.

5. If your aeroplane is running low on fuel, whatever you do, don't lighten the load by dumping the dozen or so tons of luxury automobile in the cargo bay.

6. And while we're on the subject, never save any fuel for landing.

7. Everyone in the world, from a rural Chinese welder to a flighty Russian mistress, speaks perfect English.

8. Air Force One is built so soundly that it will survive being hit by a kilometre-high tsunami then being barrelled up a rocky mountain pass. It won't even scratch the paintwork.

9. God promised Noah that He would never again flood the world. However Roland Emmerich knows better.

10. The moral of the story appears to be that the ends justify the means... a slightly sinister lesson when you remember that it's coming from a German.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Several Short Notes to the People in the Queue at the Bank on Saturday Morning

Dear frumpy woman,

It's 28 degrees outside; why are you wearing a cardigan?

It's not cold, and let's be honest, you're not exactly lacking in personal insulation in the first place. We can also rule out the cardigan as a fashion statement, since it's a horrible grey shapeless thing teamed with a grey T-shirt, khaki shorts and, worst of all, Vodka Breezer promotional thongs. Why, frumpy woman? Why why why?

With hesitant regards,


Dear man in a t-shirt,

Dude, I realise that you can't see the back of your own neck, even in a mirror. So you'll have to trust me on this - get help. In the long term, investigate getting skin grafts to replace the mottled, pocked, melanoma-studded lunar landscape rearing up from under your shirt. In the shorter term... wear a collared shirt, not only to protect you from the sun but also for the benefit of those unfortunate people who happen to be standing behind you and witnessing what appears to be a vampire attack from a diseased pikelet.

Your humble yet horrified servant,


Dear morbidly obese woman,

I appreciate that you have a lot of problems in your life. Your husband is frequently away working on the mines. Your daughter has some sort of problem that I didn't quite catch. And you have more surface area than a 1987 Nissan Micra and roughly the same aesthetic appeal. All of this, however, does not excuse you monotonously explaining your financial issues to an overworked bank teller after it's been firmly established, within the first thirty seconds, that she can't help you and you need to see a different staff member.

Oh, and the phrase "disability pension" should not be uttered as if it's as inevitable a part of everyone's life as paying taxes or grocery shopping. It may be perfectly expected in your social circle, but in wider society it bespeaks an overfamiliarity with the welfare state.

With peevishness,


Dear Blandwagon,

Have some compassion for those less fortunate than you, you fat fatuous git.

Except for the Vodka Breezer thongs. They're just inexcusable.

Ever yours,


Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Wisdom for the Ages

with The Flatmate

"Nothing says class like large silver naked ladies."

May these words guide you on your path to enlightenment.