Rocknerd: Not Dead Yet

Red Hot Chili Peppers Tickets – I’m With You Released Ahead of New World Tour

It’s been years since fans had the chance to get Red Hot Chili Peppers tickets, with the band’s last tour fading from memory behind a long hiatus. But 2011 has brought a lot of good news for Peppers fans with the announcement of a brand new record in June and a world tour that began Sept. 11.

Fans in the U.S. and Canada may have to wait a while to see when the Peppers’ tour will get there, because this fall appears to be filled with dates in other parts of the world. RedHotChiliPeppers.com has had a series of news posts this summer about the band’s new tour dates. They’ll be starting in September in Bogota, Colombia, then hop-scotching their way across Latin America with stops in Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. They follow up in October with a tour through Europe, including dates in Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and more. They’ll also be taking some time during November to make stops in Ireland and the U.K., including concerts at the Dublin and London O2 venues.

So what are fans expecting to hear? I’m With You, the new record, dropped Aug. 29 and has been garnering some rave reviews in the music press. Entertainment Weekly gave the album a B+, noting that one of the biggest changes has been the replacement of guitarist John Frusciante with Josh Klinghoffer. It hasn’t been a total changing of the guard, as Klinghoffer’s fretwork will feel familiar to those who have enjoyed listening to Frusciante over the years.

Still, EW.com says, “he isn’t simply a mimic; he rarely slips into massive power chords on the big hooks, instead letting Flea and Kiedis do the major melodic lifting (which is most apparent on the ambling ”Annie Wants a Baby”).” The review goes on to say that “restraint seems to be Klinghoffer’s greatest weapon; his sunshiny riffs on single ”The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” earn him the right to blow off a bit of feedback-laden steam on the bridge.”

The review notes that I’m With You rocks out. In fact, the reviewer says, you can pretty much rock out “like it’s 1989 again.” That’s welcome news for fans, who want to know that after all these years, their favorite band still has the skills necessary to kick things into high gear. Their last release was 2006′s Stadium Arcadium, which seems like ages ago, and furthermore, has left a lot of fans eager to hear some new material.

Fortunately for them, it seems like I’m With You will meet their expectations and surpass them. The Peppers have had some major hits in their catalog, with all-time highs including Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991 and Californication in 1999. Fans have been waiting a long while for another record that they could consider a classic in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ discography.

Is I’m With You the one? We’ll have to see how it stands the test of time, but for the moment, it seems to reigniting a passion for the Peppers.

CALL FOR AUSTRALIAN RECORD INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION (ARIA) CEO TO STEP DOWN

Revelations of Alleged CD Freeloading Need Immediate Investigation

Music business veteran and industry analyst Phil Tripp today called for either the resignation of Australian Record Industry Association CEO Stephen Peach or his suspension while Australian record companies and publishers audit his reported ‘CD Freeloading’ of pages of titles with multiple copies as printed in the Spike Column of the Sydney Morning Herald today.

“Former longtime ARIA/PPCA PR consultant Marcella McAdam–an unimpeachable music professional with several years dedicated service to ARIA–revealed what many of us in the industry suspected.” states 30 year veteran Tripp. “While organisations like ARIA and major record companies like to play the robbed artist and songwriter card when lobbying government over supposed losses by consumers downloading music off the Internet, it will be interesting if they take action against their own for ‘freeloading’ mass quantities of CDs for which artists and songwriters do not get paid and that are supposed to be used solely for ‘promotional purposes–usually restricted to media and business samples.”

In a radio interview with national broadcaster Triple J a little over a week ago, Peach had claimed that his and ARIA’s staff’s free CDs were ‘promotional’ and that the artists and songwriters were paid royalties from promo CDs, stating, “I mean, the industry has the idea of promotional CDs. These are all promotional CDs or they’re CDs in respect of which, as far as I’m aware, royalties are paid to artists.” The full transcript is available at Rocknerd site http://rocknerd.org/articles/04/04/05/0735240.shtml?tid=7

This is not true, Tripp states, and Peach, as a longtime intellectual property attorney and ARIA head for over 18 months should know–especially since standard industry contracts deny royalties for promotional copies to artists. And the ARIA/AMCOS five year agreement (which is up for renewal in June and which Peach is negotiating) also denies songwriters royalties to an agreed promos formula.

“If Peach claims to be unaware of these two industry practices, he should not be leading the industry organisation that is fighting for artists’ and music creators’ rights as he stated in a recent ARIA release.” Tripp adds. “He would appear to be as unaware of industry practices as he seems to be of the numbers of his own acquisitions of music at the expense of his clients.”

Peach made this official ARIA statement last month: “The ‘free ride’ simply can’t continue indefinitely at the expense of the owners and creators of the music,” the organization said, in a statement attributed to Stephen Peach, chief executive officer of ARIA.” From ARIA News site March 28 2004 http://www.aria.com.au/news.htm

The confirmation from his own PR consultant for 18 months–that Peach has ordered massive quantities “A4 pages”, “sometimes two or three of each title”–contrasted with his own statements to national media and should spur the ARIA Board of Directors to take action. It should start with a ‘standard industry audit’.

“The action I suggest is the same that any other respectable industry association would pursue if this issue came up in the media. That is to question staff and former staff as to the amounts of CDs ordered by executives and consultants (including lobbyists), look into other areas of freebies such as requested concert tickets, merchandise and other comped perks, and make those responsible for abuse subject to dismissal.” Tripp suggests. “If the Board refuses to investigate this matter immediately, establish a clear policy of not abusing artists and songwriter royalty compensation by tightening their own corporate belts and eliminating dubious glomming of promotional music by non-entitled staff, then it deserves not to be taken seriously by government, by the public and the industry.” Tripp affirms.

“In our industry, the abuse of free CDs being used as a form of ‘trading cards’ or ‘musical favours’ between staff at record companies coupled with the massive number of promotional copies of CDs that end up in used CD stores sold by media and industry sources is a long-running travesty which in the end, the artists pay for from denied income. It’s time the industry turn its attention to cleaning house if it is to be taken seriously in the battle against free music.”

Phil Tripp is publisher of the AustralAsian Music Industry Directory, CEO of IMMEDIA!– a music business information and conference company–and has been an artist manager, record company owner and music business journalist in his 23 years in Australia.

movie review: Mysterious Skin

They say that it takes courage to make certain films. Sometimes there’s more courage in enduring them.

Mysterious Skin (2005, dir: Gregg Araki) is a deeply disturbing film. It is well made and well acted, with a beautiful soundtrack by Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie (of Cocteau Twins fame). None of that makes its subject matter any easier to deal with, or the movie overall any more enjoyable when you walk away from the cinema like someone emerging from a car wreck.

Based on the novel of the same name by Scott Heim the story focuses on the lives of two boys, Neil (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet), who are linked by something horrific that happened to them when they were eight years old. What is even more horrific is that one of them cannot remember what happened, and it has left him an empty shell grasping for meaning in the clueless dark. The other remembers it very well. Too well. It has defined his life in ways all-encompassing and wholly destructive.

Brian searches for answers to his blackouts and nosebleeds through finding out about alien abductions and vile experiments onboard UFOs. Neil finds fulfilment through getting paid for hot gay sex and listening to 80s goth music.

As an aside, it is one of the most sympathetic and least cringeworthy portrayals of goth teenagers I’ve seen in many a while. You can extrapolate as to what the film is saying about goths and their origins, but as 80s goth teenagers go, Wendy, Neil and their friend Eric (Jeff Licon) looked credible and felt like real people that I didn’t want to smack in the face.

Neil’s best friend Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg, in a small but excellent role) knows enough about Neil to love him, but too much to be blind to the boy’s lost soul.

I’m not referring to an ability to dance or keep rhythm. Neil seems to be searching for either love or destruction at the hands of the men who pay to play with him, because though his many statements to the contrary imply the opposite, he is a deeply disturbed individual because of what happened to him ten years ago.

Joseph Gordon Levitt is superb as Neil. It’s not overstating it to say that he is a revelation in the role. Considering his idiotic work on sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, it’s astounding. He gets the dialogue right, the physicality of his character perfect, and most of all, the facial expressions which say what it would take a thousand pages to say in one moment, in one look.

Brady Corbet has the less showy role as the painfully shy and perpetually confused Brian. His glasses are massive and dominate his face, and not knowing what happened a decade ago dominates his existence so completely that watching him stumble towards Neil and the truth is scary and heartbreaking.

Brian hears of alien abductions and believes himself to be a victim of them. He gets excited when he sees a girl on telly who lives close by in Kansas who seems to have experienced something intensely similar to himself. He and Avalyn (Mary Lynn Rajkub) seem linked by this, and he thinks she is bringing him closer to the truth.

The truth is for the viewer to find out. Though I don’t want to give too much away to any potential viewer, it would be remiss of me to neglect to mention that paedophilia plays a big part in the story. A big, bloody, painful slab of the story.

Of all the taboos, though I am aware there are always people trying to invent new ones at any given moment out of boredom or perversity, it is still the one that is likely to disturb the greatest amount of people. It is a subject I have great difficulty hearing about or watching a film about. Extreme discomfort would be the phrase I’m looking for.

So my motivation in going to see the film was the tremendous reviews the film garnered here and overseas, more so than any desire to see anything about this kind of stuff which makes me physically ill to contemplate.

Though Araki is known for such cinematic masterpieces as The Doom Generation and his arse-bandit version of Thelma and Louise: The Living End (in other words, renowned for making shallow, exploitative and transgressive-for-the-sake-of-being-transgressive movies), here he treats the material with incredible tenderness and maturity.

A surprising amount of complexity and maturity. Almost more complexity, maturity and sensitivity than such material should warrant, one could say.

Speaking as someone who has (probably) fathered a few children around the world, the sexual abuse of children makes most of us want to join the nearest angry mob and torch the house of the scum responsible with them in it.

In movies generally the portrayal of characters who are the perpetrators of such crimes is as monstrous, sneering, inhuman creatures. It makes it cut and dry. For the people making it and financing it, for the audience. It’s more comfortable that way for all concerned.

We know what to feel and when to feel it: horror when the monster does what it does, righteous anger when the survivor confronts the attacker and cathartic joy when the monster is brought to justice or killed, which amount to the same thing.

There is no such trajectory in Mysterious Skin. There is a question, and it gets answered, but there is no resolution, no way of erasing the last ten years of our main characters lives or the events that brought them there. There is no catharsis at the end for us because life doesn’t work like that, on or off the screen. None of this makes the finale any less powerful or devastating.

The “monster” is portrayed as anything but a monster. We know him only as “Coach” (Bill Sage, effectively ending his acting career), and though his crimes mean he deserves to be tortured to death over a couple of years, he is represented as a tall, handsome, personification of love and desire. The righteous indignation and fury we might feel comes only from us; the film doesn’t tell us how we’re supposed to feel about him. The film maker assumes we’ll fill in the blanks without burning down the cinema in a fit of rage.

The beautiful way in which the movie is put together, the languid manner in which it all plays out, the melancholy themes of lost hope and lost youth; all these aspects serve only to increase the ambiguity, the discomfort, the confusing nature of how to feel about what goes on, at least for this member of the audience. I know the film is a success by any measure of Araki’s, or on many critical levels, but I still can’t recommend the film to another living soul.

I find myself so deeply horrified by much of what is said and what is represented in the film that I know, despite the fact that I believe it to be a good film, I may have been better off never having seen it.

Though never sexually graphic or gratuitous (though there is a violent rape scene), much of what occurs, part of me wants to say, should never, ever be spoken of or represented outside of a courtroom. There are images suggestive of what characters are really talking about or thinking of that make me sick just typing about them. And I say that as someone who has happily (well, maybe not that happily) sat through the works of Takashi Miike, Dario Argento, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mel Gibson.

Gregg Araki clearly had a deep affinity and love for the story. It comes through in every painstaking shot and every line of dialogue uttered. He worked with the book’s author to adapt the screenplay properly. Since the story represents an artistic rendering of the author’s life, I would imagine he’d be pretty happy with the end result.

Let your own threshold for these ideas and your own comfort level with the perversity of human sexuality, both that of children and adults, be your guide. All I can tell you is that it is a beautifully well-made film crafted from such poisonous materials that it left me guttered and gutted. Which is what good films are supposed to do. I guess.

Sandro – two scores: 8 times a violent sadist shouldn’t be beating their victim with a bottle of Johnson and Johnson shampoo (no more tears) out of 10 for people who can stomach such subject matter, or 0 out of 10 for people who are too overwhelmed by revulsion at the subject matter to be objective about it.

– “This is going to be the safest sex you’ve ever had” – (sure it is) Zeke, Mysterious Skin.

Leoncie, Iceland’s Hottest Pop Secret

Iceland has given the world a number of unique musical acts in recent years, among them Björk, Múm and Sigur Rós; and now there’s Leoncie. The self-styled “Singer with the Black Beautiful Powerful Voice” writes all her own words and music and “blends South American and Portuguese rhythms with modern pop-rock beats which creates a dynamic blend called Leoncie Music”, which she describes as “European PowerPop-and RaunchyRock-Dance”; this is borne out in titles like “Sexy Loverboy”, “Radio Rapist-Wrestler”, “Sex Crazy Cop” and “Safe Sex – Take Me Deeper”, which are accompanied by promotional photos of Leoncie smiling through heavy make-up and showing off her more than ample cleavage (in her own words, ‘”A Little Bit Of My Cleavage Shows, And Then The Icelandic Volcano Explodes.” Boooom!’). So what is she like?

There are two MP3s on the site for your delectation; in addition, 2-minute samples can be downloaded from the website hawking her latest CD, which you can’t miss as it’s linked to copiously. The music itself alternates between General-MIDI 1980s pop-soul and General-MIDI 1980s beer commercial rock, with vocals sounding somewhere between Whitney Houston (or perhaps LaToya Jackson) and a Wagnerian valkyrie.

Leoncie’s lyrics, it must be said, are a gem of originality in this age of mass-produced chart pop. Not for her the mundane rules of rhyme and scansion, or ploddingly conventional themes. Instead we get songs about evil wrestlers, cities of Satanists, men who live in pink houses and eat pink sausages and sex-crazed cops described in lurid detail. Not to mention refreshingly literal exercises in avoidance of tired metaphors; her song “Invisible Girl”, for example, steers clear of the predictable angst lesser songwriters would heap on such a title; instead, it is “about a special-powerful girl, going places and unstoppable too”. How can you argue with that?

In the age of impersonal, corporate artist pages heavy on flash and light on personality, Leoncie’s home page is a breath of fresh air as well, brimming with personal details and nuggets of wisdom from Leoncie herself. For example, her favourite singers are Britney Spears, Cher and Tina Turner, her favourite actors are Steven Seagal, Sylvester Stallone, The Rock and Mr. Bean, and her favourite politicians are Tony Blair and George Bush (who “is Special too and has great Character and Style”). Not only that, but she’s a fabulous cook, and even sews some of her own stage clothes. Which is why everyone needs to buy her CDs now.

Talkshow Boy back-catalogue now free in MP3

Melbourne “Hard Pop” artist Talkshow Boy is working on a new album and has now put his  entire back-catalogue online in freely-downloadable, high bit-rate MP3s. This includes his early demos, his hit single Ice Police, and his hitherto unreleased 2004 album Watch As I Perform My Own Tracheotomy, which includes tracks like Getting Heartbroken Is Way Cool,Freaky Teen Fashion – Time For A Makeover! and OMG I <3 LiveJournal (And My LiveJournal <3s Me). Fans of laptop glitch noise, Kindercore-style twee-pop, Le Tigre and 14 Year Old Girls could do well to check this out.

movie review: Last Days

Reviews for Gus Van Sant films are getting ever easier to write. His films are getting progressively freakier and less enjoyable by any conceivable audience, and reviewers are left with less and less to say, I reckons. That’s the thing about experimental films, they’re usually the kind of thing only film nerds and directors can actually enjoy. Who has time to care about whether there’s an audience for this crap or not?

I’m certainly a film nerd, but I didn’t get into this flick. The advertising for this film may give some poor potential audience members the impression that it’s about the Last Days (2005, dir: Gus Van Sant) of Kurt Cobain. Nothing could be further from the truth, you silly humans.

This is an entirely fictional account of the last days of some other blonde musician type called Blake. At film’s beginning he is wandering around in the wilderness, mumbling to himself. He mumbles to himself for the film’s entire duration. As such, he doesn’t really have any dialogue, or do anything that interesting.

In fact, nothing interesting happens for the entire film’s length, width or girth. There are lots of scenes of Kurt, sorry, I mean Blake, wandering around, filmed from behind. Lots of walking, in fact. Van Sant’s last three films have amounted to hours and hours of people ambling about. I get the feeling Van Sant, apart from being gay, also has a fetish or two. At least, he seems to get a major tingle in his nether-regions from filming people walking around. His Columbine film Elephant amounted to slabs of time devoted to filming people walking around before and during a school massacre.

Gerry amounted to two excruciating hours of Matt Damon and Casey Affleck walking around a desert. And Last Days amounts to 97 minutes of a guy mumbling, nodding out, and walking. I don’t know what Gus Van Sant is trying to say, but I know he’s happy to say it again and again.

It was more enjoyable for me to forget what the film was supposed to be about, and to think of it as a zombie film. Kurt, sorry, Blake is the only zombie in it, and he’s one of the old school slow moving zombies, but he doesn’t really go for people’s brains, or any other body parts. He is moaning for something, however, but it’s probably heroin instead. Delicious heroin.

Kim Gordon, the most famous bass guitar playing woman in rock history, appears out of nowhere to tell Blake he’s a rock and roll cliché. Then she disappears, her thirty seconds of screen time being up. I’m sure she’s just glad to say on screen what she’d wished she’d said to Kurt oh so long ago.

Anyone else in the movie is there for scenery. Any dialogue they have is either unheard, or, when Van Sant gets recursive and redoes certain scenes from a different perspective, utterly banal.

There’s a scene where a Yellow Pages representative confuses Blake with some business owner despite the fact that the guy is on the nod and wearing a dress, and tries to renew his ad in next year’s Yellow Pages. This may have been funny, I’m not entirely sure about it.

There’s a scene where two twin brothers from the Church of Latter Day Saints tell the free-loader residents of Blake’s house about the origins of their faith. There’s a scene where Asia Argento, supremely skanky daughter of horror film legend Dario, walks around for a while. She disappears seconds later, confusing you as to why she’s there, and then further confusing you because you hate her but still find her hot. Well, maybe you don’t but I’m ashamed to admit that I do.

Watch Blake make macaroni and cheese. Watch Blake nodding out whilst listening to a Boyz II Men video clip (anyone remember them?) Watch a guy sing along atonally to Venus in Furs by the Velvet Underground, and then have sex with some guy.

Watch Blake, played by Michael Pitt, play songs written by Michael Pitt which approximate Michael Pitt’s idea of what Kurt Cobain might have been like. Be surprised when one of those occasions (where, using pedals and creative sound design), he seems to be playing an entire Nirvana song on his own, and it’s actually good. Be less surprised when the acoustic song he plays later reminds you of all the awful buskers and cover bands you’ve heard over the last ten years “inspired” by Kurt’s example.

And then watch yourself as you sit there knowing the film was going to be like this, but still feel bored and cheated. I knew, walking into the empty theatre, since Van Sant’s recent films have been deliberately frustrating, this one would be no different. You just know he’s trying to see how much banality people can take in one hefty dosage, but he’s trying other annoying stuff as well. There are long takes that make me physically twitch with rage that they weren’t cut sooner. But that’s all part of the rich, annoying tapestry he weaves for our delectation. More likely his.

For that at the very least he deserves praise. This isn’t a film that could have survived the focus group / test screening process studio films go through these days. This is a guy making the exact film he wanted to make, and he had the support of a company (HBO Films) happy to give money to someone devoted to the idea of making such non-commercial films.

Again, it comes down to what a person wants or expects from a film. If you expect or demand that a film be sensible or entertaining, then you could be disappointed. If you expect this film to pay off in the way you could rightfully feel entitled to: that it actually give some insight or artistic expression of what Kurt Cobain’s last days were like, then you’re going to be triply disappointed. It so doesn’t come near any of that.

The experiment overwhelms the implied premise to such an extent that you’d be justified in feeling like lynching all the people involved in this cock-tease of a film. The lack of plot seems almost easy to take in comparison to the outlandish art wank – type crap that goes on.

I’m going to get all boring and film school for a second (which would not surprise long time readers.) The primary experimental aspect indulged in the film isn’t visual, it’s actually sound-wise.

There is the persistent use of, to use the official cinema studies term, non-diagetic sound. That’s a wanky way of saying the sounds we hear don’t match what occurs on screen. So sound effects and other motifs, such as ringing bells or water sounds, occur out of context and with no connection to what we see, and aren’t part of a specific score or soundtrack.

This stuff further distances viewers, in my humble, and pushes the experience into the realms of pure pretentious art fag, gallery opening with sushi and cask wine, “I must get home to smoke Silk Cut cigarettes and work on my affectations” type of wankery. There’s a market for it, and I’m probably part of it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.

Look, I didn’t like it. Bits of it I found downright infuriating. But I did find it interesting. I can respect what Van Sant has been doing lately, putting his commercial days behind him so resolutely, where he hopes to make up for cheesy crap like Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester with films even he must have difficulty sitting through. And I have to give him credit for doing that. Seriously, he’s achieved his objectives, and you have to kudos people where that kudos is due. Even if you wish you could whack them over the head with it until they had kudos-induced brain damage.

Sandro – 5 eyeballs I possess that I feel like sticking a rusty fork into in the hope doctors won’t be able to save my eyesight before the next Gus Van Sant film comes out, out of 10.

– “We need to get a jet heater, and I have to go to Utah” – Scott, Last Days.”

Mick Harvey – The Underworld, London, Thu 15 Sep 2005

Last night I went to see Mick Harvey (of The Birthday Party and Bad Seeds fame) at theMick Harvey - The Underworld Underworld. To me, the Underworld equals small goth bands, home of much missed Uncle Nemesis gigs, so it was weird seeing one of the members of not one but two of my all time favourite bands playing there, in a tiny venue. It was even odder to see the place full of people who weren’t goths (although there were a couple). I don’t think it was sold out though, I’m sure I’ve seen the place busier than that.

I watched a couple of songs of the support band, which was either a three-piece called Simon Breed or else the singer was Simon Breed. They were alright, if a bit too determinedly quirky for my taste. I left after two songs and joined everyone else in the back bar, where I also picked up three CDs for £20 (To Have and To Hold, the soundtrack for And The Ass Saw The Angel and an Anita Lane CD).

Mick Harvey was on stage on 9.30pm on the dot, as per the running order we’d noticed in the box office. I’d have expected no less from the man who managed to keep the Birthday Party in order. This man has organisational skills to put mine to shame, and he’s rock’n'roll, proof that it can be done! (Although perhaps not by me!)

There were three of them on stage, Mick, who played guitar and sang, Rob Ellis, who played keyboards and occasionally drums, and JAMES JOHNSTON! (I don’t know why I’m putting that in capitals as I expect about ten of you know who he is and only one of you will find that exciting.) Anyway, James Johnston formerly of Gallon Drunk on second guitar and occasional keyboards. They played a mixture of songs, one or two I recognised from the new album, which is encouraging as I’ve only listened to it once, but most I didn’t know. He did play “Sad Dark Eyes”, which was lovely, and one of the encores was “Bonnie and Clyde” from Intoxicated Man.

He played a couple of bars from “Mr Clarinet” between songs at one point and I got a bit excited. He seemed surprised to get a reaction to that one at all, saying he thought that one was too old for anyone to know. (It’s an early Birthday Party song.) He seemed to be having trouble keeping his guitar tuned in the sweaty atmosphere so he chatted a lot between songs while he fiddled with it, and was relaxed and amusing. His young son was there too, and he dedicated a song to him. (I know I wouldn’t bring a young child to the Underworld, I’m really suffering for the after effects of second hand smoke.)

I really enjoyed it, although it wasn’t the awesome experience it could have been, just a very pleasant evening. A friend seemed disappointed but I didn’t really have any expectations. I think it was best summed up in something another said: “this is music to drink whisky to”. Not life changing, but I’m glad I went.

X-Men: The Last Stand

I didn’t want to believe that the stepping down of Bryan Singer, the wunderkind director of the first two X-Meninstalments and the post modern crime masterpiece The Usual Suspects, as director for this flick was a bad sign. I didn’t want to believe that the stepping up of Brett Ratner, the director of Rush Hour 1 and 2, and a whole heap of Mariah Carey videos, was a bad sign.

There were, in truth, a multitude of signs I chose to ignore. It’s like owing a shitload of money on your credit card, and trying to put the massive debt out of your mind by throwing away the constant stream of nagging bills unread. That works until the credit provider sends hired goons to your place, but at least you can bask in the illusion up until that fateful day where your patellas cease to be your property.

I did enjoy the first two other films, I really did.

Bubbles by their very nature are obligated to burst. It comes down to physics more than anything else, including the so-called law of diminishing returns, but in this instance, I have a lot of questions as to how and why they (the makers) went the way they did with this flick, and I suspect I’m never going to get the answers I want.

By my very nature, at least the aspects of it that I am privy to, I am neither a sadistic nor a masochistic man. There is something about this film, though, that makes me wish I could strap the director and script writers into dentist chairs or Guantanamo Bay human pyramids and get some truthiness out of them. By Crikey, I want to ask them what they were thinking when they came up with this crap.

I speak as a geek, a nerd, an aficionado of the marginal and the obscure. But I don’t speak as a fan of the various X-Men comics, because I’ve never read them and never will. Why would I. The comics have been going since 1963. That’s a lot of comic books under the bridge, and I’ve never been that much of a fan of bulging muscles barely restrained by spandex or the belaboured intricacies that go into that much fan investment of time and money.

My point is that I don’t see myself as some kind of guardian of the legacy, or as being personally invested like some Comic Book Guy just itching to scream out “Worst Episode Ever.” I am, however, a fan of decent superhero flicks, because, like any decent sci-fi, they’re really about a decent balance between arse-kicking action and the ethical, moral, and emotional questions that parallel our own struggles here on this mundane earth. When they’re good, they’re great, and when they’re awful, they make you want to punch puppies in the face.

The Last Stand (dir: Brett Ratner, 2006) is a stupidly realised flick. It pains me to say this, and I know that my disappointment is colouring my judgement to such an extent that I am ignoring some of the better aspects. But I found this flick deeply unsatisfying and really an insulting way for this franchise to end.

To quote the pseudo-paraplegic wheelchair-bound character Andy from Little Britain, yeah, I know. I know there are going to be spin-offs and various other merchandising opportunities. But that doesn’t change the fact that the makers of this instalment clearly have contempt for the series and its fans, and wanted, for some reason I can’t work out, to both kill off a bunch of the reasons why fans like these stories, and still leave the door open to a host of pointless sequels, all the while telling us that none of it really matters.

For me, the problem with this flick is the serious weakness of the story, and the ordinariness of the plot that elucidates the story all over the pointless place. There really is nothing to care about, the characters that they’ve tried to get us to care about over the last two flicks are given even shorter shrift than they got before, thus increasing the level by which we don’t care.

Do you actually want to know what the flick is about, or would you prefer to have me ramble on, drunken and despondent, over the myriad sadnesses provoked heretofore? I’m sure what you really want is vicious invective and vitriol launched like a stream of capsicum spray from some hateful creature at a perceived enemy. Well, far be it from me to disappoint you, although there has to be some relating of story for this to seem even vaguely credible. You know, as a film review, and not just an angry ramble.

This is a world set slightly in the future where mutation has led to the rise of a group of people who are, to quote the late night commercials for the budget grocery store, NQR, or Not Quite Right. And though they’re not as cheap, these mutants represent more than a source of entertainment for the muggle humans of their world, who continually wonder what’s to be done with these freaks.

Fear reigns, but there is a truce of sorts fuelled by the spirit of co-determination and mutual respect, with some mutants choosing to live in harmony, lead by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) or at least apart from the rest of the muggles. But other mutants, led by Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) see themselves as being obligated to lead a pre-emptive strike against the normals to ensure their own survival.

Essentially, there’s a mutant group that views homo sapiens in a condescending but benevolent fashion, and another group that sees them as cattle, and dangerous, toothy cattle at that.

The ultimate conflict is betwixt the ideas and powers of the multicultural and inclusive Professor Xavier and the more aggressive Magneto, master of electro-magnetic radiation and the cutting remark.

The film begins twenty years in the past, where Xavier and Magneto are trying to recruit a powerful young mutant. The greatest thing it shows is that Xavier and Magneto used to be fast friends. They both walk through the gate in the white picket fence to greet a little girl called Jean Grey, crazy and powerful, sitting peacefully in her suburban home. Through the magical use of CGI, Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian have never looked younger. Their faces, overlayed with digital putty, look like plastic doll faces. It’s quite eerie.

It cuts back into the present, which is, we are informed, the Not Too Distant Future, where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Rogue (Anna Paquin) and some other shmendricks are fighting giant robots. Before any serious fans soil themselves over the presence of Sentinels, all this occurs as a training exercise in the Danger Room, which is little more than a holodeck run by the super-duper computer Cerebro.

The normals that rule, such as the president of the United States, who is exceedingly normal, have found a solution to the mutant problem. The existence of a particular mutant, Leech (Cameron Bright) has given them a nullifying weapon to use against mutant kind.

The existence of such a ‘vaccine’ of course raises all sorts of questions that sound like they could be explored in some interesting fashion. Some mutants see it as a major potential threat to their existence, whilst others see it as an opportunity to be normal. Of course this flick leaves plenty of stones unturned in its pursuit of making the allegory as bland as possible, so as not to risk all those precious brain cells of its viewers in the cinema.

The good mutants, like the weaklings that they are, helplessly debate the repercussions of the mutant treatment’s existence, whilst the big, bad Magneto-led mutants decide eradicating the cure’s source is the way to go.

At the same time, a powerful character thought to have died at the end of the 2nd flick, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) has come back. But again, she seems to be Not Quite Right herself. A formerly subverted part of her personality is now dominant, and she is the Phoenix.

She becomes a threat greater than the vaccine itself, because she can, like, wreck anything and anyone. She is little more than a lethal, mindless force of nature wanting to destroy all sorts of shit and kill everyone around her. Because, um, she can.

So many characters get a raw deal. Major ones like Cyclops, Rogue and Professor X are barely there for that long. Which gives us more time to spend with Halle Berry. Which is okay. She gets to actually fight and kill people this time. And give speeches.

Speaking of speeches, they give a leaden, terrible St Crispin’s day speech to Wolverine which made my skin crawl. It’s not the actor’s fault (I hope), but it gave me painful flashbacks to Van Helsing.

One of the few characters that gets more time and more interesting stuff to do is Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), with her ability to become non-corporeal and move through walls and floors. She also gets a strange romantic interlude with Iceman which is so gay that I think I lost a little bit of my heterosexuality just from watching it. She’s a tiny slip of a thing, and I liked the way they incorporated her power into the action.

That’s more than I can say for how they deal with plenty of other characters and their abilities. They introduce Angel (Ben Foster) into the flick, but he’s got virtually nothing to do. Many of the new mutants on display have names, like Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), Callisto (Dania Ramirez) and Jubilee, but all they really should have been called is Convenient Plot Devices. It’s the nature of these flicks, I guess, though it seems even crappier this time around.

I don’t think this is really that much of a spoiler, but be warned all the same, those of you who wish to stay pure and virginal before watching the flick.

The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, led by Magneto, want to get to the island near San Francisco upon which the infamous prison Alcatraz sits. Instead of hiring a boat, using his magnetic powers to fashion some kind of metal contraption upon which he can float over, like we’ve seem him do before, the screenwriters decide they’re going to have Magneto rip up the Golden Gate Bridge itself in order to get there.

I’d put forth the idea that if he could lift something weighing tens of millions of tonnes like that, comprised mostly of concrete and metal, the rest of the story is rendered somewhat pointless. Sure, it’s meant to look impressive, but what the ding dang? If we follow that logic then he might as well stand on the Oakland shoreline and rip up Alcatraz Island itself and fling it into the sun. Why is that any less ridiculous?

There’s this impression given, from the ads, from the title, and from a host of other crap that they were building up to some serious conflict, like some war between humans and mutant-kind, or the good mutants and the bad ones, but there’s no real sense of why this is such an apocalyptically big deal. I really can’t see what the big deal was. Magneto seems quite miffed at the existence of the cure because it reminds him of the Final Solution from his early days, but there’s no believable reason for why everyone else goes so berserk in such a short period of time, apart from the fact that everyone goes berserk.

After the credits role, there’s a ten second sequence, involving Dr Moira McTaggart, which undoes something that occurs earlier in the film, and you can either see it as a welcome relief, or as a lazy cheat/copout. So, you know, don’t miss it. You have to sit through the names of thousands of techies who worked on the flick, and some really awful music, but, you know, it’s REALLY worth it.

I didn’t like the story. I didn’t like the plot. Some of the action is okay, but look at what it’s in the service of. And the worst issue is, watching this flick made me feel a bit ridiculous. It’s making me doubt my commitment to Sparkle Motion. 5 moments of reflection that lead me to believe that I’m getting a little bit sick of being a nerd out of 10.

movie review: Cars

The title doesn’t lie. It really is about cars. Imagine a world where the only organic matter is plant life, and everything else is cars. Even the flies are tiny cars.

But for all intents and purposes, the cars are people. Not Soylent Green. People. The windshield is their eyes, the radiator grill at the front is their mouth, and they talk, drive around and even fall in love.

They can also be arrogant, ignorant, dopey, loving and nostalgic about the past. Especially a past where people took the time to just slowly drive around, instead of racing everywhere at top speed. They also had small town values, and loved, I dunno, a shiny chassis, a good paint job every once in a while, and a nice tune by James Taylor or Randy Newman.

In short, these are cars that aren’t really imagined to be that different from the people sitting in the audience: smug, comfortable, middle-class consumers.

Some are saying Cars (dir: John Lasseter, 2006) is the first fuck-up by a company praised for its successes so far. Each Pixar animated movie has made more money than the last, and ironically enough, the company has supplanted Disney as one of the main producers of ‘toons’ for the masses at the cinema. It’s ironic because Disney finally bought the company for about 7 billion dollars, probably out of a determination to stop them at any cost. If Disney can’t get audiences to watch its crap anymore, it’s going to stop everyone else from putting out decent animated flicks as well.

At least that’s what I think the company’s mission statement is. It could, in actuality, be to become the greatest producer of cheese in the world. And with flicks like Cars being put out by their in-house company now, they’re going to regain their place at the top of the cheese-making heap.

Cars is everything the other flicks were, even more so. Every cheesy, corny, cliché element is extruded and shaped according to Pixar’s determination to not stray too far from the known. Here they want to pretend they really give a fuck about all the hicks, rednecks, and ignorant unwashed masses that they hope will still drag their kids to this flick and buy them the oodles of merchandising on offer. It’s the kind of reflexive window into Pixar’s perspective on Americans themselves, and it wants them to celebrate how wonderful they are just for being who they are. Ah, the laziest form of self-adulation.

I know none of this shit is immediately obvious in any phenomenal way, or that it is that different from your average Hollywood flick, but for Pixar it does represent a level of caution and timidity I did not expect from them. Have no doubt, Cars is still an incredibly impressive animated movie. It looks superb, the animation is spectacular, most of the characters are likable and I’m sure the colours and movement will distract most kids for two hours, making it a valuable weapon in any parent’s arsenal of pacification techniques.

But the choice of story is hackneyed and derivative for a bunch of tech head geniuses prized for their originality and imagination. The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc and the rest were not exactly conventional. Sure, they retain plenty of elements to keep them recognisable and familiar, but they managed to match technological expertise with interesting story telling.

Cars has the kinds of themes and plot points I’ve seen in dozens of films, and not just Hollywood crap. The city slicker being trapped by circumstance in the country, who gradually has his or her arrogance and impatience eroded by basking in the gentle glow of country folk goodness, is an ancient tale. Ancient in that I’m sure that cavemen had stories about uppity tree dwellers coming to the caves and realising they’re not so much better than the cave folk they look down on.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is a racing car. In his own words, he is speed. He yearns to win he Piston Cup. Winning the championship will mean sponsorship, endorsements and car groupies. And glory, eternal glory.

He is brash and arrogant, and believes he doesn’t need anyone’s help or support to achieve his goals, which, needless to say, gets him into trouble. On the way to California in order to compete in the final race for the Cup, he gets into strife with some country hicks in a rundown town called Radiator Springs. Before you can start whistling the theme from Deliverance, he becomes their prisoner until he can learn a lesson or two about the important things in life. And maybe find love. Sound familiar?

This town isn’t just a town fifty years past its glory days; it’s a demographic microcosm, as it should be. There’s the patriotic Jeep, the hippy Kombi van (George Carlin), the Hispanic lowrider (Cheech Marin), the absolute hick redneck tow truck (referred to in the credits as Larry the Cable Guy, I’m not making that up), and the stately, grizzled old timer who thinks Lightning is nothing but trouble (Paul Newman).

There has to be a love interest. A previously citified Porsche called Sally (Bonnie Hunt) has made Radiator Springs her home, and guides Lightning along the path of his indoctrination into believing small town values trump city values every time, as if it’s a game of scissors, paper, rock.

Of all the Pixar flicks, this is the one that least seems like it was aimed at kids. The Incredibles had plot points and dynamics that could be said to be more adult than child orientated, but Cars seems to be even more adult focused. As such, having bored kids run around the cinema I was in added a special little spice to the proceedings. Every other time I’ve watched a Pixar flick at the cinema, the kids have been entranced for its entire duration, but I saw much boredom here.

The story is entertaining enough, lessons are learned, scenic slow drives are taken, the bonds of friendship and the virtues of small town life are ruthlessly reinforced, but I can’t help but feel there’s something wrong with this picture. Perhaps the amount of money and time Pixar is spending on these things means that they can’t afford to make something unless it reeks of generic-ness. And whilst cheese and hokeyness were always present before, now they’ve opened the floodgates in the fear that without it they’re not going to get the parental bums on seats bringing in their numerous offspring.

So they aim firmly at the middle of everything, be it middle of the road or the middle of the brow in order to timidly ensure the greatest of mass appeal. But they had that mass appeal before anyway, didn’t they?

Compared to their main competitors at Dreamworks SKG and Fox, with their tech groups Pacific Data Images and Blue Sky, Pixar took the high road. Pixar was better. The lamest moment of a Pixar movie trumped the best moments of any of the Shrek, Ice Age movies, or the loathsome Shark Tale. Now whilst they’re still achieving great things with CGI (several scenes made me forget I was watching something computer animated), the stories are starting to look passé because they want Shrek-like number at the box office.

Maybe these flicks were always this treacly, and maybe I was less cynical back then. Cars is, after all, a very entertaining and amusing flick. The little touches and bravura sequences are still delightful and charming, the voice work is pretty well done and the resolution of the great race undercut some of my irritation, though it’s still treacly as hell. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m complaining about nothing. Cars is what it is. It is what it looks like.

Criticising it for what it isn’t, is slightly pointless. Pixar are still top of the heap when it comes to the big budget animated flicks, I just hope that next time they can come up with something that feels a little less like it was assembled by a boardroom full of marketers. They say you’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of your audience, but by Jeebus, there’s got to be a limit.

One last point, as has become standard for Pixar cinema releases, the main film is preceded by a short animated movie, which in this case wasOne Man Band, which was truly excellent. Those few minutes, relating to two different one man busking bands competing for the punter’s dollar, gave me a bigger laugh than most of Cars. Make of that what you will.

7 times I was the only one that laughed at the Freebird reference out of 10

– ‘I’m happier ‘n a tornado in a trailer park!’ – Mater, at least someone is, Cars.

Rock Fantasy No. 13, September 1990: Bowie: Ziggy Lives!

Have your sporks ready before clicking this link, to save time poking your eyes out. Trust me on this one.