Yearly Archives: 2011

Jim Schembri Makes Me Facepalm

"He said WHAT?"

I don’t know if a critic can be said to be trolling if he’s published by a major newspaper, but Jim Schembri is surely coming close with this piece on why Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is a better piece of animation than Tintin.

My problem is not with the central thesis. I love championing of so-called “low” movies, and I love it when critics find things in a movie they think others have overlooked. I haven’t subjected myself to Alvin 3, and am not about to simply to see if Schembri is right. But just taking the Tintin side of the equation here, the article is full of comments that don’t add up.

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Stalking the Movies

My post a while back about the changes to L.A. since the 1940s got me thinking again about the experience of visiting real movie locations, something I wrote about a few years ago (here). As I said then, it can be quite an uncanny experience visiting the spot where a familiar movie scene was filmed. What has changed since that post, though, is the roll-out of Google’s Street View. Where seeing the real locations where movies were shot was once something of a pilgrimage, these days we can do it virtually. So I thought it would be fun to find a few familiar or iconic locations on Street View.

Unlike my earlier post, I don’t have any larger point to make about changes to the city as a result of this post. I just thought it would be interesting. Perhaps you see no point in dong this… if so, fair enough. Move along, there’s nothing to see here…

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Merry Christmas, from YouTube

Tim Minchin’s Christmas song White Wine in the Sun is now pretty well known in Australia I think – or at least no longer obscure enough to seem novel when posted on a website like this. But I want to post it anyway, and I figure it will be new at least to any overseas readers who haven’t been chased away by my articles about Victorian urban planning. What I like so much about it is that it so completely and comprehensively rejects two of the cores of traditional Christmas iconography – the religious underpinnings and the northern hemisphere winter imagery – but gets instead to the core of what Christmas is (or should be) all about.

While I’m posting Christmas clips from YouTube: another favourite of mine is this duet by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, recorded for television in 1977. It’s such a strange juxtaposition of talent, and very corny, and yet it works. There’s something about Bing Crosby’s voice, in particular, that evokes Christmas in a very profound Pavlovian way for me.

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Fixing the Victorian Planning System: Six Key Issues

building the new city

What follows is a slightly edited version of my submission to the Underwood review into the operation of the Victorian Planning System (I wrote about that review back in June). With the committee due to report back early in the new year, I thought it would be timely to post it here since it’s one of the longer pieces I’ve written about the systemic problems with the Victorian planning system. A couple of points have been altered slightly to make it read better in this context, but mostly it’s as submitted.

I took a long time to post it as I have some reservations about it. I would have liked to have covered more nitty-gritty issues, which would have allowed me to be more specific and hence more constructive. Unfortunately time – and more particularly, a disillusioned sense that I wasting mine – got the better of me, so it ended up tackling just a few of the higher level systemic issues, rather than delving into detail. A more comprehensive overview of my take on the problems with the system would be gleaned by taking this in combination with the article Building a Better System that I co-wrote for Planning News (from which parts of this are cribbed), as well as my submission to the review of the Planning & Environment Act.

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New Zealand

Some snaps from my recent trip to New Zealand. Most of these are from the Routeburn Track. All are clickable for a better look over on flickr.

Abel Tasman National Park

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Tintintastic

The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg, 2011)

I don’t need to re-cap the level of anticipation to which I ascended in the lead-up to Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Hergé’s classic comic strip series The Adventures of Tintin; my salivating is all preserved on-line. Getting worked up ahead of the fact is part of the fun with modern blockbusters, but it means that actually seeing the film can often be a let-down. Amongst the recent mega-franchises we probably have to go back to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to find one that truly lived up the hype; at the other end of the spectrum, and far more common of late, are wretched let downs like Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Tintin arrives heralded to the screen by both Jackson (as producer) and Spielberg (as director), so the form line for this was mixed. The good news is that their adaptation does justice to the source material and lives up to the expectations. I loved The Adventures of Tintin.

One of the key things that fuelled expectations was the talented triumvirate of geek favourites that Spielberg and Jackson had snared for screenwriting duties: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish. The trio have done well in forging a largely seamless hybrid of Hergé’s The Crab with the Golden Claws and The Secret of the Unicorn, with a few small details from other books thrown in for good measure. The start of the film recalls the tone of Hergé’s earlier Tintin stories, with Tintin entering into an adventure accompanied only by his brave and faithful dog Snowy; in the latter portions, Tintin meets and then teams up with the irascible drunkard Captain Haddock. Their quest is to locate a series of parchments which, together, will provide a clue to the location of a hidden treasure; racing them to the target is the murderous Sakharine. The adventure takes Tintin from Europe to north Africa and back again.

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The Timing of Tintin

I was lucky enough to see Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin tonight, at its first Melbourne screening. However, they did ask for reviews to be held until 1 December. I’m so ridiculously, insanely grateful to have gotten into that screening that I will of course honour that request. I’ll be overseas then, but will endeavour to have my review ready and log in to press “post” on, or close to, the fateful day. So for anyone interested in my thoughts, check back around then. (Edit, 17/11: I have now twigged that WordPress lets me schedule the post. So it should appear first thing in the morning on 1 December.)

I can understand their reasoning on this to a point: they don’t want the buzz peaking too early (but why, then, hold our release so far back after everyone else’s?) It will be interesting to see how well the dam holds, though, especially since the movie is already out in Europe, and they were actively encouraging tweeting about the film (and tweets from tonight’s screening are already flying about).

Call it a hunch though: I don’t think Paramount will be blacklisting me for saying it’s fabulous.

Until then, here’s the trailer.

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A Kommendable Kael Kakophany

I should apologise for the paucity of posts, and film-related posts in particular, of late. The irony is that a big part of the reason is film-related thesis work (it will be a shame when I lose that all-purpose, reasonable-sounding excuse for not writing more often.)

I did want to briefly break my silence, however, to highlight the slew of good writing that has been appearing online about Pauline Kael. The publication this week of a new anthology of Kael’s work (The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael) as well as a new biography (Brian Kellow’s A Life in the Dark) has lead to a flood of re-evaluatiuons of the critic. The first I saw was this one by Nathan Heller at the New Yorker, but then followed Camille Paglia and Jim Emerson and Frank Rich and Dan Callahan and Armond White and “The Siren” and Andrew O’Hehir and Matt Soller Zeits.

It’s an embarassment of riches, and the there is, predictably, a lot of overlap in these pieces. Nevertheless, I urge you to have a look at them if you are at all interested in film criticism. I wrote my own piece on Kael a few years ago – here – and not having read the two new books don’t have much to add to what I wrote back then. And most of what I would add has been said better somewhere else by one or other of these writers. (It is hard, however, to imagine that the new anthology is better than the incredible For Keeps, published back in 1996).

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A Mixed Bag: Two Exhibitions at ACMI

Star Voyager: Exploring Space on Screen (ACMI, 22 September 2011 – 29 January 2012)

Margaret and David: 25 Years Talking Movies (ACMI, 17 August – 4 December 2011)

I am really reluctant to criticise anything about new shows at ACMI. Having written quite a nasty review of their Setting the Scene exhibition and then nit-picked at the much better Dreams Come True, I don’t want to seem like I have it in for them. I can also appreciate that we in Melbourne are fortunate to have the place at all: film fans in other Australian cities would love to have such a resource. So I don’t want to seem ungrateful for their new exhibition Star Voyager: Exploring Space on Screen. Once again, though, if I am honest I have to say I came away a little under-whelmed. I’ll keep this brief because as I said I don’t want to harp.

As with Dreams Come True, this is not nearly as problematic as Setting the Scene, avoiding many of that exhibition’s truly debilitating issues: things like layout and presentation of items are generally fine this time around. The big issue that remains, though, is one I have a nagging feeling might be inherent to the kind of moving-image gallery ACMI is trying to be: the oddity of presenting films in a gallery setting. A large part of the best content in this exhibition is film and video footage: there’s Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) and other early silent films about space exploration; a great Fleischer Koko the Clown cartoon; some interesting contrasts of real launch footage with Hollywood recreations such as Apollo 13; a blistering attack by Tom Lehrer (embedded below) on rocket scientist Wernher von Braun; and so on. It’s good stuff, but it’s inherently problematic to present this kind of thing on wall-mounted screens in a gallery setting. There’s probably several hours of footage in the exhibition, which means it takes considerable stamina to sample a significant portion of it. Aside from a few genuine “installations,” most of it would be best enjoyed sitting down, in a theatre or at home on a couch, edited together into a documentary film or television show. So I worry that ACMI may never get around the fundamental problem that films are not best appreciated while walking around an exhibition space.


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The VCAT Fast Track: What Matthew Guy Said Before the Election

Oh no i missed the train :(

There’s not much point editorialising about the proposed introduction of a user-pays fast-track system at VCAT (as reported in The Age today). The case against is pretty much self-evident, and well enough laid out by various parties in that story; and even those who support it will see it as a necessary evil, rather than the ideal way to resource the justice system. But I thought it was worth going back to what Matthew Guy said to Planning News about VCAT when we interviewed him, before the election.

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