My Worst 5 Films of 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 31st December 2013.

With 2013 done and dusted, it’s now time to wade through the cinematic dregs of the year and fish out the floaters which are my bottom 5 films of the year.


5. One Chance – Based on the life of internet sensation and winner of Britain’s Got Talent Paul Potts, this biopic offended me. Obviously a talented opera singer, Potts does  practically nothing to pursue his dreams until he is plucked from obscurity by a Christ-like Simon Cowell. Unsurprisingly, this flick was produced by Cowell. The marketing campaign compares this drivel to Billy Elliot. For the record, One Chance is nothing like Billy Elliot besides the fact that both films star Julie Waters and focus on a bunch of unhappy poms.


4. Movie 43 – All I can say is that a lot of favours must have been repaid considering the A grade cast of this Z grade comedy which consists of a series of interconnected short films. Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Greg Kinnear, Halle Berry, Kate Winslet and a remarkably brave Hugh Jackman are just a few big names in this all star cast. Like Jackman’s abnormal facial growth in his segment The Catch, this film is unwatchable.


3. Save Your Legs! – This Aussie disaster should have been titled Save Your Money! A mediocre amateur cricket team goes on tour to India and loses a bunch of games. Gripping stuff I know. Even the exotic setting couldn’t reprieve this alleged comedy which stars the usually solid Brendan Cowell and Stephen Curry. Give me the drop toilet scene from Slumdog Millionaire anytime. I only got to the end because I watched it on a plane and couldn’t walk out.


2. Sharknado – Granted, some may say that this is the greatest bad film of all time. They’re wrong. This is just a bad film. Originally a TV movie, this makes the list for it’s one day theatrical screening. Starring Beverley Hills 90210 has-been Ian Ziering and a surprisingly non-nubile Tara Reid, the list of things wrong with the bomb is never ending. Sharks managing to stay alive out of water and flying through the air until they are shot out of the sky like birds. Disastrously bad editing and continuity. CGI effects done on a Commodore  Vic-20. Dialogue written by monkeys. Did I mention that Tara Reid keeps her clothes on?


1. Scary Movie 5 – I’m ashamed to say that co-writer and uncredited co-director David Zucker was responsible for two of my favourite spoofs of all time, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! and Airplane! (a.k.a. Flying High). By unpopular demand, he now brings us the wildly unfunny latest entry in the Scary Movie franchise, which continues to suffer from the law of diminishing returns. The problem for moviegoers is that they are insanely cheap to produce and someone keeps buying tickets. Letters of apology to the CWD please. The talented Anna Faris wisely stayed away from this abomination, and is replaced by the untalented Ashley Tisdale, whom your tweeners will remember from the saccharine High School Musical series. She’s joined by an array of B grade stars making cash for cameos such as Charlie Sheen, Snoop Dogg and the pneumatic Lindsay Lohan. You know you’ve seen a bomb when one of the best jokes in the trailer is Sheen getting crotched by a door and it doesn’t even make it into the final cut.

Happy new year everyone. Fingers crossed for a brilliant year of cinema starting tomorrow.

Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 16:56  Leave a Comment  
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My Top 5 Films of 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 24th December 2013.

As a certified cinefile and your favourite film critic, I’ve seen 190 films so far this year. Not bad, but down from last year’s haul of 230 movies. As the year winds down, it’s now time to look back and reflect on the year in film. Here are my top 5 films of 2013.


5. Searching for Sugar Man – Seventies folk singer Rodriguez had poor sales all over the world, except in South Africa, where his records resonated with the growing anti-apartheid movement. Long presumed dead, two fans set out to find the truth behind this enigmatic musician. Don’t read any more about this great documentary, or you’ll spoil the experience.

4. Silver Linings Playbook – Jennifer Lawrence certainly deserved the Best Actress Oscar for her depiction of the mentally unstable Tiffany in David O. Russell’s fine romantic dramedy. With a cast to die for, including the surprisingly good Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker and Australia’s Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook is a superb examination of how life doesn’t always go to plan.

3. The Rocket – This heart warming Australian drama, set in Laos, is adapted from director Kim Mordaunt’s own documentary, Bomb Harvest. The impending construction of a new dam sends a boy, his emotionally scarred father and bitter grandmother on a journey in search of their new home. Their only hope for a bright future is winning the prestigious but dangerous Rocket Festival. Completely spoken in Lao, The Rocket is an outstanding Australian film. A big shoutout goes to my friends at the Orange Film Society who brought this and many other fine arthouse films to local audiences this year. I look forward to an exciting 2014 program.


2. Zero Dark Thirty – Kathryn Bigelow’s nail biting thriller depicting the search for and capture of Osama bin Laden is finely crafted, with an all star cast including the brilliant Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong and Australia’s Jason Clarke. Originally written to conclude with bin Laden’s escape from the battle of Tora Bora, the screenplay was altered to include his capture and assassination in Pakistan. It’s in this final act that Bigelow deftly manages to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, even if the conclusion is common knowledge.


1. The Way Way Back – I rarely rewatch any film, but I have already enjoyed this bittersweet coming of age comedy three times. Introverted 14 year old Duncan (Liam James) is forced to go on summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her overbearing new boyfriend (Steve Carell). Stumbling across the Water Wizz water park, Duncan finds a kindred spirit in Owen (Sam Rockwell). Written and directed by Oscar winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the film is well paced and perfectly encapsulates the growing pains of adolescence. Rockwell is an absolute standout in a talented ensemble cast, as is Allison Janney as the acerbic alcoholic next door neighbour. I’ve never experienced an American seaside summer vacation, nor worked in a water slide park as a teen, but The Way Way Back resonated with me. Highly recommended, it will leave you wanting to spend more time with the characters, a feat any screenwriter should be trying to achieve. The soundtrack is a killer too.

Notable mentions – Django Unchained, Lincoln, Argo, The Imposter, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, Evil Dead and The Lone Ranger

Film Review: After Earth

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd December 2013.

During a trip to NYC earlier this year, there were very few places to turn without being confronted by a huge billboard promoting the then upcoming Will Smith movie, After Earth. Co-starring his son, Jaden, Columbia Pictures had high hopes for the big budget sci-fi flick.  Will Smith is one of Hollywood’s biggest, and most importantly, bankable stars. His name alone above the title should have guaranteed a blockbuster. Unfortunately, audiences voted with their wallets and the film tanked, returning only US$60 million from a budget of US$130 million. Lab coats and gloves on folks, it’s time for the autopsy of After Earth.

In the future, the polluted Earth has been abandoned and mankind has escaped to a new planet, Nova Prime. Alas, Nova Prime is already an alien race’s humble abode and after numerous ignored eviction notices, the deadly Ursas are dispatched to wipe out the humans. Ursas are attracted to human fight or flight pheromones and it is only through the fighting prowess of the Rangers, who can completely control their fear, that mankind prevails.

Legendary Ranger General Cypher Raige (Smith) is on his final mission, accompanied by his son, Kitai (the other Smith), when an asteroid storm sends their ship crashing to Earth, where all living creatures have evolved to kill humans. With his legs broken, Cypher sends his son on a dangerous mission to retrieve a homing beacon. The only problem is that Kitai is a failed Ranger cadet and is unable to control his fear.

Actually, there is another problem, the film is terrible.

Adapted from a story by Smith, After Earth is the ultimate vanity project. The film is produced by Smith, his wife Jada Pinkett Smith and his brother-in-law Caleeb Pinkett. Make your son the co-star and voila, potentially eliminate any objective filmmaking whatsoever. Luckily, Smith found himself a fantastic director. Oops.

Ten years ago, M. Night Shyamalan (pronounced Shama Lama Ding Dong) was the hottest auteur in Hollywood. His thrillers with a twist, The Sixth Sense, Signs and Unbreakable were massive hits. And then it all went downhill. The Village and Lady in the Water showed that the formula was wearing thin. The Happening and The Last Airbender were completely unwatchable. Now a gun for hire, Shyamalan’s name is nowhere to be found on any promotional material for After Earth.

For some reason, Smith has chosen to extinguish all of his natural screen charisma and charm in favour of a cold and humourless performance, complete with bizarre accent. And Jaden fares little better. The cute kid in The Karate Kid remake (you know, the one without any karate), is now a whiney teenager. By the middle act of After Earth, I was hoping that he’d be lunch for one of numerous CGI creatures.

In the future, everyone wears beige, and lots of it. Despite this, I appreciated the futuristic design of the spaceships and dwellings. Based on organic shapes found in nature, the art design overall is excellent. Note that the none of the art designers’ surnames is Smith.

Plot holes abound in After Earth. One of the driving tensions is the film is Kitai’s dwindling supplies of breathing vials. Why does he require them, yet his father, trapped in the debris of the spaceship but breathing the same air, does not? What is point of a high tech survival suit that changes colour to display the health of the wearer? Let’s hope those CGI killer baboons are colour blind. Hypercolour clothing is so early nineties.

With his legs broken, Cypher injects himself with a pain killer which warns of drowsiness. Perhaps the DVD box should have come with the same warning. Even Smith can’t stay awake in his own film.

After Earth is a dull snoozefest. All the way through I couldn’t help but think about what I wanted to do after After Earth. My verdict is best described by my favourite lines of dialogue from the film:

Kitai Raige: “That sucked.”

Cypher Raige: “That is correct.”

After Earth is now available on DVD, blu-ray and on-demand.

Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 16:39  Leave a Comment  
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Christmas Albums 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th December 2013.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Such a shame then, that the holiday season has to come with such awful music. That’s right, it’s Christmas album season. Every December, musicians around the globe have just a few short weeks to cash in with generally horrible albums which are completely useless 11 months of the year.

BYO earplugs folks. Let’s trawl through the latest holiday music offerings competing for your, or at least your grandmother’s, hard earned present money.

First up is Leona Lewis, 2006 winner of The X Factor in the UK. Christmas, With Love is a Motown style album of traditional fare, such as O Holy Night, Winter Wonderland and Silent Night as well as some original material. Lewis has a similar voice to Mariah Carey and the album could easily be mistaken for one of Carey’s mega successful Christmas releases. For my money though, if it’s a Motown Christmas you’re after, you must listen to A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector. It’s the best Christmas album ever.

Typing of Motown, Australian vocal group Human Nature have also unleashed a Christmas album, imaginatively titled The Christmas Album. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I was surprised to be confronted by huge advertisements for their Motown show at The Venetian, proclaiming their “modern twist” on the genre. I suppose a quartet of squeaky clean white guys from Australia performing music of a predominantly black origin is a “modern twist”. I look forward to their upcoming negro spirituals album.

Human Nature have been running their Vegas act for the past 4 years. Good luck to them I say. And thank you for permanently performing so far away from me. Back to the task at hand. If your idea of a good time is being stuck in an elevator during the Christmas sales, then this is the album for you.

Remember the band Heart? They had a huge hit in the eighties with All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You, but have actually been around since the early seventies. Well sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson are back with a new Christmas EP, catchily entitled Heart Christmas Single 2013. No longer the hard rocking act of yesteryear, they’ve teamed up with soul crooner Aaron Neville and eighties heartthrob Richard Marx on two holiday themed original songs. This one is strictly for the fans, and anyone who thinks that all they wanna do is have a nice cup of tea and a lie down. File under bland.

What’s better than a Christmas album? The answer is a Christmas single. At least it’s all over in 3 minutes. This year Susan Boyle teams up with Elvis Presley on O Come All Ye, Faithful. The recording sessions must have been a blast. I actually feel bad for the King. It’s pretty hard to object to having your legacy besmirched when you’ve been dead for 36 years. Please don’t buy this single. It will only encourage them.

My pick of the litter is the debut single from Abigail Breslin, the former child star of Little Miss Sunshine. Still an actress and now a budding musician, 17 year old Breslin has a sweet voice and Christmas In New York is a pretty song. I’m not completely certain that a Christmas single is a good way to kickstart a music career, but hey, who needs credibility in the music business at this time of the year?

Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 16:37  Leave a Comment  
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Deluxe Movie Packaging: same movie, bigger box

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th November 2013.    

Many moons ago, I spent a North American summer working as the World’s Oldest Camp Counsellor™. It was a rich kids’ camp and I will never forget parental unit visiting day. One of the campers in my cabin was handed a brand new music CD as a gift. He immediately took the disc out to play the inevitably horrible music contained within, throwing the case and liner notes in the bin, or trash in this instance. As a music collector I was shocked. Although the music is, obviously, the most important element, I love having my CDs stored in their cases on my bookshelf. Besides, how on earth would he know the names of the songs?

Fast forward to today and music CDs are practically an endangered species. However, when it comes to movies, the industry has shifted to the opposite extreme. Perusing the shelves at my favourite non-specific movie retailer and their online store on the weekend, it was hard not to notice that the emphasis is now on the packaging, not the film. Why buy just the film on your preferred format? You need to shell out the extra bucks for a fancy box too.

Here are my favourite deluxe editions that I am sure will be on many a Christmas wish list.

et

Remember everyone’s favourite alien? No, not Lady Gaga, I’m referring to E.T. Steven Spielberg’s sublime masterpiece hit shelves last year in beautiful high definition blu-ray to celebrate its 30th anniversary.  The movie on blu-ray can be picked up for a reasonable $13, but why stop there? For just an extra $150 you can get the film with a 26cm “collectible” replica of E.T.’s spaceship complete with flashing lights, music and moving parts. That’s a very expensive box. I’m sure a real spaceship wouldn’t cost much more. Maybe Clive Palmer will build me one if I ask nicely.

i robot

If more redundant films are your thing, how about I, Robot? Recently released in 3D (I’m not sure why), the disc will set you back about $30. For $120 more, you can buy the deluxe gift set which includes a full scale robot head bust. For that price, I don’t think anyone is getting a gift, except the film distributor. Forgettable film, unforgettable packaging…

breaking-bad-series-on-blu-ray

Everyone seems to love Breaking Bad at the moment. Having recently completed a brilliant 5 season run, the complete series will be released later this month on blu-ray for around $150.  Add an extra $85 and you can get your hands on the very same discs, stored in a replica money barrel, as well as a commemorative coin and apron. What, no replica crystal meth too?

The X-Men franchise has vacuumed up over $1 billion worldwide. This Christmas, you can add to this total by purchasing the Adamantium Collection. That’s six discs (5 of them already available as budget titles) stored in a weird looking stand which features a replica of Wolverine’s bladed fist for $170. Please note that only right handed versions are available. I don’t know about you, but I have enough trouble keeping my discs scratch free without storing them in a box with claws.

predator3D-1024x905

I probably should mention the Predator 3D deluxe edition which comes with a predator’s head and the Under the Dome limited edition set with the discs stored (wait for it) under a dome. For true fans of the show, the dome should be sealed so you can’t open it.

under_the_dome_limited_collectors_edition

As a cinephile, I’m all about the films, not the elaborate packaging. I’m (mostly) with the summer camp kid on this one. Just give me the movie in a boring old case. The film should take me to other places and worlds, not the box.

Girls Gone Wild – Spring Breakers

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 17th September 2013.

The notion of spring break is a little alien to those of us residing in the southern hemisphere. With our seasons out of sync, the only references we have are teen movies and Girls Gone Wild videos. Controversial director Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers does little to dispel the myth and will split audiences with its confronting mix of alcohol, drugs, bikinis and bad behaviour. For the record, I liked it, but you have been warned.

The film opens with footage of students partying on the beach. The booze is flowing freely. The boys stand around leering at the nubile girls as they become even more nubile. Everyone is having a great time, except the audience. With crotch shots that linger just a second too long, Korine is deliberately making you uncomfortable. There’s a dark side to this frivolity.

We soon meet our spring breakers. Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Faith (Selena Gomez) are desperate to escape the humdrum of their student lives. Unable to afford a spring break vacation, the girls rob a local diner and soon find themselves partying it up in what can only be described as a Miley Cyrus music video.

At first it’s all fun and games but eventually their actions start to have consequences. Arrested for drug possession, the girls come under the influence of Alien (an almost unrecognisable James Franco). The cashed up drug dealer is all grills and guns, and leads the girls even further down the rabbit hole.

Spring Breakers has the distinction of featuring two ex-Disney stars in their first adult breakout roles. Be prepared to be “shocked” by scenes of Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place) and Hudgens (High School Musical) smoking bongs, swearing and wearing bikinis. Don’t let the DVD cover fool you though. Rachel Korine, married to the director since 2007, does all of the heavy lifting, nudity-wise.

In fact, Gomez only appears in the first half of the movie. Her character, however, is easily the most interesting of the quartet. Her Faith, torn between religious beliefs and loyalty to her friends, resonates on the screen. The other three, unfortunately, fare less well and are indistinguishable from each other, besides the colour of their swimwear.

James Franco, recently the subject of a hilarious Comedy Central roast, steals the show and almost makes amends for his dull turn this year in the even duller Oz the Great and Powerful. His Alien is all bravado and southern accent. A memorable scene features Franco performing Britney Spears’ Everytime on his poolside baby grand piano (as you do).

Spring Breakers is told in an unusual format. Although ultimately a linear narrative, Korine adopts a montage style, continually changing locations. Occasionally, we are given a glimpse of a future development which doesn’t make sense until later in the film.  This surreal format reinforces how far from reality the world of spring break is for our protagonists.

Korine divided audiences back in 1995 as the screenwriter for Larry Clark’s challenging Kids (for the record, I hated it). Now in the director’s chair with Spring Breakers, Korine once again proves a magnet for controversy. This time, however, he has the story and the storytelling chops to pull off a rewarding film for some. Love it or hate it, Spring Breakers will provoke a reaction.

Spring Breakers is now available on DVD, blu-ray and digital download.

Published in: on September 17, 2013 at 19:17  Leave a Comment  
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New Music Roundup – August 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6th August 2013.

On a recent trip to the States, I was disappointed to find that the record shop had become extinct. I wandered the shopping districts of NYC and Las Vegas, only to find that the major music retailers I remembered from previous visits had disappeared. Only the iconic Amoeba Music store in Los Angeles remained.

So for those of you who remember albums, here’s my rundown of the latest offerings.

The Pet Shop Boys have been producing their unique brand of synth pop for the past 22 years. Their twelfth studio album is entitled Electric and is a welcome return to the dance floor after the joyless creative failure of Elysium last year. Reminiscent of their Disco series of albums, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have rediscovered the right combination of beats per minute, catchy synth hooks and quirky lyrics to appeal to the Tony Manero is all of us. Electric is the first release through X 2 (“times two”), their own label.

Remember Lou Bega? In 1999, he hit the jackpot worldwide with Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of…) and was subsequently never heard from again, thankfully. This week, his fifth studio album hit shelves and I’m predicting that next week, it will hit bargain bins. Entitled A Little Bit 80s, Bega gives his favourite songs from the decade without taste a little bit of the Mambo No. 5 treatment. That means dancehall style grooves and lots, and I mean lots, of synthesized brass hits. Unfortunately, Bega’s low vocal register means it is impossible to sing along with the tunes. Red Red Wine is not a complete disaster but best avoid his version of Olivia Newton-John’s Physical.

Hey, how good was Madonna’s last album? Nope, I have no idea either. Along with the rest of world, I didn’t buy it. For those interested in the other end of the Madonna timeline, an album of largely unreleased recordings has emerged under the title, The Early Years. I would suggest an alternative title: The Unlistenable Years. This collection of stodgy synthesizer tracks with avant garde German artist Otto Von Wernherr features Madonna vocals in the form of barely present samples accompanying a horribly augmented male singer. Imagine the vocal stylings from Taco’s Putting on the Ritz with Madonna on backing duties. Yep, it’s that bad.

Following a bizarre album and tour with New Kids on the Block, billed collectively as NKOTBSB, the Backstreet Boys return with a new album, In a World Like This. With Kevin Richardson back on board, the original line-up returns with a collection of inoffensive acoustic guitar riddled power ballads. Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of hooks, making it one for the fans only. As crazy as it sounds, I’d recommend instead the also newly released offering from NKOTB (no longer new or kids) entitled 10.

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 00:09  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: (Don’t bother to see) Now You See Me

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th August 2013.

The makers of Now You See Me want you to believe that the film shares roots with Christopher Nolan’s brilliant The Prestige. Both feature the stage magic theme and Michael Caine in a prominent role. To strengthen the association, Morgan Freeman also co-stars with Caine in both this new feature and Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Unfortunately, Now You See Me is not even half as smart as The Prestige and the only magic trick on show is the filmmakers making money disappear from unsuspecting moviegoers wallets to see this mess.

The film initially shows promise as we are introduced to street magician Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), washed out hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), street hustler Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, brother of James) and high risk illusionist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher). Brought together by a mysterious stranger for an even more mysterious purpose, the quartet become the Four Horseman and are soon filling stadiums under the guidance of millionaire sponsor Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).

For the finale of their Las Vegas show, the Four Horsemen seemingly pull off the impossible: making millions of euros disappear from a bank vault on the other side of the globe. This trick draws the attention of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), as well as professional magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman).

The trickery behind this initial illusion is explained but ridiculously we’re left completely in the dark for all of the subsequent acts of magic. There is no “prestige” or final reveal. Instead, the storyline spins completely out of control until it crash lands with a highly unsatisfactory resolution. Three screenwriters are credited for Now You See Me. I suspect that they have never met.

Director Louis Leterrier’s previous films (Clash of the Titans, The Incredible Hulk, Transporter 2) have all favoured style over storytelling. Now You See Me proves no different. The Las Vegas and New York City locations are appealing, and the performances by the Four Horsemen are certainly glossy and elaborate, but it’s all distraction and little else.

The performances are all uniformly solid with everyone doing a lot with their thinly written characters. Jesse Eisenberg once again proves to be a watchable leading man, although I suspect he is only capable of playing himself. Isla Fisher is radiant and deserves her place as one of the most in demand actresses working today. Mark Ruffalo is charismatic and on a rise after his turn in The Avengers. And Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman once again play Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, respectively.

Despite a trailer that promises so much, Now You See Me doesn’t deliver. It’s the cinema equivalent of asking someone to pick a card, any card and then walking away with no explanation.

 

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 00:05  Leave a Comment  
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Lego of Me: Canberra Brick Expo 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th August 2013.

As a kid during the eighties, I’d look forward to the school holidays because that meant that it might be time for the Lego World Show. Once a year or so, a Grace Bros. store in Sydney would host a travelling themed display, all made from Lego bricks. I was in kid heaven exploring the larger than life creations. One year the theme was dinosaurs, the next ships of the sea, followed by the circus and then space exploration. Of course, each show would ultimately spill out into the Lego part of the toy section. I’m pretty sure a great deal of my childhood big bag of bricks was obtained via pleading and begging at the exit of the Lego World Shows.

Earlier this year, I inadvertently wandered into the Lego store in New York City with my travelling companion to discover that he was a Lego fanatic. I walked out with a few photographs and a cheap souvenir or two. Jeff carried out a couple of hundred dollars worth of playsets. And you think that you know somebody.

Fast forward a few months and Jeff has invited me to visit Brick Expo 2013 in Canberra. Held every year since 2010, the expo is a not for profit event run by the Canberra Lego Users Group, a collective of adults and children that love, well, Lego. Last year, the event raised over $40,000 to purchase much needed equipment (not made out of Lego) for the paediatric ward at the Canberra Hospital.

The first expo attracted 4,000 people. This year, the Brick Expo was the hottest ticket in town, with the event’s 12,000 tickets completely sold out. Take that Pink! Not bad for an organisation that started out a few years ago with 4 members and now boasts a membership of 70. That’s more than the Democrats.

Wandering around the expo, I was amazed to see the wide variety of styles and themes that keep the Lego nerds of Canberra off the streets: Star Wars, Batman, trains, pirates, Star Wars, cars and ships. Did I mention Star Wars?

Obviously there were plenty of displays made from official Lego kits and playsets but I was most impressed by the original creations. Apparently, it is possible to purchase bricks of almost any colour and size directly from Lego in Denmark. It works out to about 13c per brick. My favourites were a full size playable Lego guitar and a huge framed Superman picture. My respect also goes to the guy making a life size Tardis out of bricks. Blue Lego may be a little hard to come by until he finishes it.

Brick Expo is so popular that you only get a 90 minute window to explore before your session ends and you are sent on your way. Despite the incredibly complex displays on show, it was heartwarming to see kids happily sitting around and building their own creations. It reminded me of my childhood where I would spend hours building stuff, demolishing it, building again, and then sticking pieces up my nose.

Although I’m not convinced that adult Lego fandom is for me, I have a new respect for the little Danish plastic bricks and their devotees. Now please exit through the gift shop.

Film Review: Elysium

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd September 2013.

South African director Neil Blomkamp burst onto the scene in 2009 with District 9. A sci-fi action flick set in Johannesburg, the film examines our world twenty eight years after a refugee alien race arrives on earth. Making a strong statement on apartheid, District 9 was well received by filmgoers worldwide and made leading man Sharlto Copley into a star on the rise. Now Blomkamp returns with Elysium, another sci-fi feature, and expectations are high.

In 2154, the earth has become overpopulated and polluted. The rich have left the planet and now reside on the space station Elysium, where they are kept healthy by machines and seem to do nothing else but have pool parties. Isn’t this the plot of Wall-E?

Back in Los Angeles, now a crime ridden dustbowl of poverty and desperation (I’m not entirely sure that it has changed much over time), we meet Matt Damon’s ex-con, Max De Costa, who has just been exposed to deadly radiation and has five days to live. His only hope is to get to Elysium. Unfortunately, his salvation is off limits to all but the elite and he is forced to hijack his way off the planet.

Pursued by Agent Kruger, Sharlto Copley’s homicidal secret police officer, De Costa is also at odds with the plans of Elysium’s Secretary of Homeland Security Delacourt Rhodes, played by Jodie Foster.

Elysium retains the same visual aesthetic set by Blomkamp in District 9. His slums are really…slummy. This time the apartheid allegory is replaced by the refugee debate, very topical in today’s political climate. A scene where a spaceship laden with asylum seekers (or is that Elysium seekers) is blasted en route to Elysium really struck home for me. The film’s message may be at times heavy handed but at least it has something to say, unlike recent sci-fi blockbusters such as Oblivion and Prometheus.

Just like District 9, the action and violence is brutal and raw. I winced several times as Copley’s Kruger dispatched the good guys with his particular penchant for blowing the human body to pieces. In a rather gruesome scene, Damon’s De Costa has a powerful exoskeleton literally screwed onto his body in order to become a fighting machine.

Matt Damon is an appealing leading man, with the acting chops and physical gravitas required for an ex con who will do anything to save his life, and maybe the lives of others. I have no explanation for exactly what Jodie Foster is doing in this film, except delivering her lines in a multitude of strange accents. Wasted in a barely two dimensional role, I half expected her to start twirling a moustache as the evil Elysium powerbroker. And the only compliment I can give Sharlto Copley is that he is 100% dedicated to a performance that makes his Murdock in The A-Team movie seem subtle.

Elysium is a step sideways for Blomkamp. Hampered by a few dodgy performances and an overpowering moral message, he nonetheless once again creates a believable world, albeit with police robots and health spa space stations. I am looking forward to where Blomkamp will take me next, as long as it isn’t a slummy slum.

Published in: on September 10, 2013 at 23:55  Leave a Comment  
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