the daily column

Historical Perspective

Kottke points out, on the occasion of NASA’s 50th birthday, that it took 11 years to get people on the moon.

Eleven years, from scratch.

Three years after, they were on Mars. I’m beginning to think we’re getting quite a bit lazier and impatient even than people were 40 years ago (compared to medieval times, that’s a given).


Movie Review: The Dark Knight

Where to begin with Batman? The franchise has, after all, been going for nigh on 20 years now, and now we come to the 6th installment, The Dark Knight.

When you think about it, the number of Hollywood A-Listers who were in Batman and Robin, the entirely forgettable Batman movie of the mid-ninties, it is a bit of a shock that between them they managed to turn out the pile of crap that was. I mean, Clooney, Thurman, Schwarzenegger, Sliverstone, and sure, Macpherson even, and with Bruckheimer directing, you’d really hope you got something more for your money. Between that and Batman Forever (Kilmer, Kidman, Carey and Lee-Jones? No?), you’d have thought Tim Burton’s dark and brooding vision of Gotham was lost entirely in a chase for easy money that big names bring.

Little wonder then that Batman Begins wasn’t attempted until many years later, and with a cast far shorter on the A-List side. But aren’t we all glad it was? Dignity was restored to the franchise, even if in a post-Incredibles “No Capes” world, the cape really had to be justified. Not only did writer-director Christopher Nolan show that you could avoid crass blockbusterism, but you didn’t necessarily need to set it in Burton’s alternate reality to make bad guys and good guys work. Batman Begins established that the characters behind the masks could be real, that Gotham really could be somewhere, a true alt-New York.

The Dark Knight continues in that vein. While the broad arc of the story remains true to the comic cannon, Heath Ledger’s Joker is far more grounded, far more visceral than Jack Nicholson’s first incarnation of the Joker. Burton’s vision was a comic book brought to life, and it’s part of what he does best. Here, we have an entirely different beast, one more accessible and requiring less suspension of disbelief, even if the exotic gadgets do step up a notch from the restraint shown in the previous movie.

Much has been said about Heath Ledger and his role as The Joker, and I’m sure much more will be said, amongst them the push for a posthumous Oscar. On the basis of his performance here, it’s hard to see who his competition will be. In The Dark Knight, the Joker is not merely a criminal with a quirk; he’s a full-blown psychopath. Ledger lives and breathes the role, and we are richer for it.

No superhero movie is complete without an arch-nemsis to get in the way, but this movie is so dominated by Ledger’s performance and the Joker’s characterisation that the focus of the movie is more properly said to be the Joker, rather than Batman. It is his actions which drive the plot throughout, and Batman is left playing catchup.

It is a treat to see a superhero movie that both takes itself seriously and pulls it off. Batman has always been the most accessible superhero – his special power is money, not some supernatural, inexplicable power for which we are given pithy explanations. Batman Begins made a serious effort to establish a plausible background for Batman’s abilities, and The Dark Knight takes it to the next logical step, showing Batman still has human frailties. Wayne tires during the day, sleeping in a meeting. After a fight, we see him stitching himself up – he isn’t invulnerable.

While this movie is far from perfect – inexplicable and needless plot points seem to abound, possibly suggesting an even longer movie left (thankfully) on the cutting floor – it definitely is one of the better ones released in the last few years, and strangely enough one where the sequel is more in-depth than the first. Between this and Hancock, I’ve had my hope in the superhero genre renewed.

Christian Bale isn’t my perfect idea of Bruce Wayne – something about him doesn’t live up to the rich-boy image, possibly enforced by another Nolan movie, The Prestige, but he is a capable actor who manages to live the role and make it rise above the standard man-in-leather-tights. Maggie Gyllenhal is a great replacement for Katie Holmes, but is under-used – possibly, again, left on the cutting room floor.

Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman round out a solid cast, showcasing some of the better character actors currently at work. Eckhart particularly seems to take his Thank You for Not Smoking role and inject it with a sense of gravitas, while Oldman has long been unrecognisable from one movie to the next.

Well worth watching – all the better if you can catch it on a giant screen, as its cinematography is masterful. ★★★★☆


Dr Horrible’s Sing-along Blog

Dr Horrible’s sing-along Blog, only available online & free for one more day: Miss it and you WILL regret it. And I’m not talking the “oh that’s too bad” regret.

the daily column


Maybe I’m just being picky here, but I think someone needs to hand the Catholic church a dictionary for “World Youth Day”, as it is neither “World”, what with only being Catholic and all, nor “Youth”, what with 40-60% of attendees at least over 30, nor a single friggen “Day”. Nor are the attendees allegedly “pilgrims”, given there is no Catholic holy site in Sydney for them to pilgrim-age to, unless the Pope is a walkin’ talkin’ holy site.


Why you should use a translator

There’s a way to go yet before computers can replace all humans, and not least of all translators. (hattip: Regan)


My Timeline

Swurl is a service which allows you to aggregate all your feeds in the one spot: very funky; I was looking for a wordpress plugin to acheive this right here, but it looks like someone’s gone and done a very slick job of it. The timeline especially is very slick, given the context of flickr.


Movie Review: Quickie Edition VI

Get Smart: Bloody hilarious. Unless you came to see Get Smart the TV show replicated on the big screen, or were expecting something with a bit of substance, you won’t be particularly disappointed. Steve Carrell is no Don Adams, but his straight-man is nigh on perfect, and Anne Hathaway with her gorgeous eyes is … well, a different take on Agent 99, but sexy as hell in any case. Don’t watch any trailers though, as it’ll kill some of the better jokes. ★★★★

Street Kings: I will forgive a lot for a story that has the balls to kill off characters, especially likeable ones. Not one of Forest Whittaker’s best efforts, but Keanu and co do well. Good to see Hugh Laurie out and about playing someone other than House. ★★★

There Will Be Blood: Look, I’m sure the critics love this, and I’m sure all those film majors love this, and I’m sure Daniel Day Lewis does a sterling job. But I have struggled personally to make my way through this in one sitting, and as a result my impression ain’t so great. Some impressive camera work, but just so slow and attempts a lot of deep-and-meaningful. ★★

History of the World, Part 1: Mel Brooks is possibly the closest thing America had to Monty Python in the 70s, and he delivers a right old piss-take here. Best line, Josepheus to Oedipus: “Hey, motherfucker.” Unfortunately, a lot of the rest just falls flat. ★★

The Life of Brian: Speaking of Monty Python, this movie shows why the Pythons were miles ahead of Brooks. Deeply sarcastic humour that delivers line after line without fail, memorable ones you can recall for years. Let down somewhat by a bit of rambling in places, but none the less probably the best send-up of religion and religious coflict of all time. ★★★

Definitely, Maybe: More Rom than Com, a nice chick flick, but with little for the guys. Isla Fisher is surprisingly cute, Rachel Weisz is under-used and the other girl… um yeah. Ryan Reynolds does well, surprisingly. ★★★


Movie Review: Hancock

Hancock: This isn’t going to get great reviews in the media, because (a) it mixes genres and (b) it’s got some moral ambiguity, which could be like, confusing and stuff? But don’t be fooled, because it’s… uh… really not that bad. Honest.

Will Smith is John Hancock, a superhero who doesn’t know why he’s a superhero. He’s a drunk and generally in need of some anger and image management – after all, what kind of superhero is hated, told to go away? – until he meets Ray (Jason Bateman), PR whizz attempting to sell his world-changing ideas.

The thing that I enjoyed most about this movie is that they actually resisted giving away a gigantic chunk of it in the trailer. Watching most trailers, you can put two and two together and work out the plot, which it really does feel like for this movie too, at least up to the inflexion point. What you might perceive to be a stock-standard parabolic plot suddenly goes the wrong way, and the audience is left bruised by the story.

I’m not going to spoil the surprise at all, because it is one of the best features of this movie. Suffice to say though, it left people gasping – something I’ve not heard in a long time. From what I can tell of its development history, it’s been in production hell for nigh on 10 years before it actually got made, and was changed from something far less comedic, and for coming through as intact as it has I give full credit.

Will Smith does a superb job as Hancock during the early part of the movie, though the effort lapses a little towards the end. I’m yet to see Jason Bateman do wrong since Arrested Development, even in the low-ball The Kingdom, where his depiction of a kidnapped American soldier was the biggest redeeming factor for the whole movie. While there’s little hint of Michael Bluth (of AD) here, occasionally you’ll hear a line or two that resonates, and his every-man affability is awesome – you want to live down the street from this guy. And finally, Charlize (as Ray’s wife) is, as ever, gorgeous and very capable.

If there’s one (or two) criticisms to be had, it’s that it does make a couple of concessions to audience populism and raises the inevitable blockbuster sceptre of sequelism. Some rather minor plot threads are left open, though not in an obvious way, and while it would be nice to get closure on these, it’s more intriguing to leave them hanging than try to draw some disparate threads together.

There is a moment, very late in the movie, where the plot can diverge one of two ways: populist, a.k.a. blockbuster-ist – what keeps the punters happy – and artistic, or maybe post-modernist. One would have you walking out of the cinema, pleased enough, and the other would make you leave a lot more contemplative or even miffed at their audacity. See if you can spot the moment too.

A note for the Aussies: a “John Hancock” is apparently American slang for a signature, something I had to look up when I got home. Also, there’s a mini bonus clip about a minute into the credits, though only worth a short chuckle.


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Fun Rock

I’d found The Presidents‘ new CD at my local JB Hifi the other day, and listening to it in the car on the way back I got to thinking how rare this brand of what I call “fun rock” is – rock-type music that’s reasonably upbeat and light-hearted. I’ve got a very limited library of it, mostly made up of The Presidents and Do As Infinity (sadly, no longer together).

There has to be more of this stuff out there though. To that end, I ask you, dear friend, to have a listen to a sampling of fun rock on my muxtape and tell me where I can find more of this kind of stuff. I don’t know what exactly it’s called – perhaps alternative? – but it’s the polar opposite of both Emo and “heavy metal” and its ilk. The song’s gotta make you smile, make you tap your foot along to it on the train. I’ve heard good things about MGMT for example, but not really sure what their fun rock songs are.

All suggestions welcome!