Film Reviews: The Babadook & If I Stay

These reviews were originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2 September 2014.

Film Review: The Babadook

Australian screenwriter and director Jennifer Kent has a critical hit on her hands with The Babadook, her feature debut. An atmospheric horror thriller, it is an intense cinema experience which will stay with you all the way home (in the dark in my case) and beyond. I’m definitely going to check the basement for ghoulies before I go to bed, and I don’t even have a basement.

The ever reliable Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) stars as Amelia, a single mum still reeling emotionally from the death of her husband seven years ago in a car crash on her way to the hospital to give birth to their son, Robbie (Daniel Henshall). Barely coping with Robbie’s behavioural issues and irrational (but normal) fear of monsters under the bed and in the closet, their lives fall apart when Amelia comes across a mysteriously creepy pop-up book about The Babadook.

Using a modest budget, with some dollars generated by a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign, Kent makes the most of a creepy old Adelaide house, a little CGI, a super scary sound design and plenty of darkness.

Unlike most conventional films of this genre, there’s a real emotional heart to this film, and I found myself genuinely caring for the characters. The performances of Davis and Henshall are superb. See The Babadook (even through your fingers  or under a blanket if necessary) before he finds you.

Film Review: If I Stay

After sitting through this disaster, I figured that the title referred to the question of whether I would stay for all 106 slow minutes of this cheese-fest. I did, but only in the name of film criticism and to save others from wasting their time. Letters of thanks may be sent to the CWD.

If I Stay is actually based on a popular young adult novel of the same name. Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a brilliant cello playing teenager experiencing her first love with the most clean cut baby faced lead singer of a rock band ever, Adam Wilde (Jamie Blackley). When inclement weather results in a school “snow day”, her hipster parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) stupidly decide that a road trip with her brother (Jakob Davies) is a good idea.

One inevitable car accident and three deaths later, Mia has an out of body experience running barefoot around the local hospital, watching her family and friends keeping vigil over her comatose body unconvincingly lying in the ICU (hint: don’t watch this film with hospital staff…actually just don’t watch this film).

Will Mia return to the land of the living? Will she go to “the light” (I was cheering for this one)? Why does Mia have to wait for doors to be opened for her, if she is a ghost? What sort of idiot boyfriend would break up with a girl for successfully auditioning for the Juilliard School? Who cares?

Miss Grace Moretz is a talented actress but she is way too good for this material. The rest of the cast, including screen legend Stacy Keach, do their best with a turgid script, which never rises above an episode of The O.C.

I admit that I am not the key demographic for this type of film, but there’s no reason that cinema for teens and tweeners should not be intelligent and thought provoking. If I Stay is neither.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 14:31  Leave a Comment  
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Newspaper Comic Strips: are you a three panel addict?

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 12th July 2011.

Turn to the comics page of this paper. Go on, I can wait. Check out the Garfield strip for today. Did you notice today’s date, in American format, on the side of one of the panels? That’s right. That is today’s Garfield strip for the planet. Every paper worldwide that carries Garfield has exactly the same strip today. That’s pretty amazing. There wouldn’t be a story, let alone a reporter, writer or columnist with that level of coverage around the globe. It’s a good thing that Garfield has no political or religious agenda, unless you’re for the rights of lasagne.

Garfield is carried in over 2500 publications and holds the Guinness World Record for the most published syndicated strip. Created by Jim Davis in 1978, the strip had humble beginnings, initially being published in 41 newspapers. Three years later, it was being carried by 850 publications. It is estimated that Garfield now brings in up to a billion dollars of revenue a year in sales. Not bad for a lazy cat.

Imagine how difficult it must be to come up with something witty and different every single day of the year. After over thirty years of writing, how would you know if you had used the same scenario before? Would anyone care or even notice? Do you write a single strip a day, or do you produce months of content in one big creative spurt and then have some time off? My mind boggles.

Not surprisingly, Jim Davis is no longer the principal artist on Garfield although amazingly, he still authors the storylines and text. I assume he needs the extra time to count his money. That’s what I’d be doing.

My favourite Garfield strips are the ones without Garfield. In 2008, Dan Walsh created a website, Garfield Minus Garfield, where he digitally removed Garfield and all of the other characters, leaving Jim to speak to himself. The end result is a different but hilarious spin to the franchise, with Jim’s solo mutterings, reactions and twitches being laugh out loud funny and a little disturbing at the same time. In 2008, an officially endorsed Garfield Minus Garfield book was published. It is on my Christmas wish list.

I quite like The Phantom too. Unlike most humour-based strips, the adventures of The Ghost Who Walks are told in long arcs which are split into daily strips. The story is slowly revealed in a few panels per day. The funny thing about The Phantom is that you never know where you are in the storyline. Without the context of what has happened before, the daily strip usually makes no sense. Most days, the Guardian of the Eastern Dark punches someone in the first panel, we see the mark left by his skull ring on the villain’s face in the second, and he rides off on his horse, Hero, in the third. Compelling stuff, isn’t it?

Of course, with the short term memory of a goldfish, I can never remember what happened in yesterday’s instalment but that doesn’t stop me from dutifully reading The Phantom every day and loving it. I guess as long as The Man Who Cannot Die remembers what he did yesterday, the wheels of jungle justice will keep turning.

So enjoy your comics page in today’s paper knowing that the same couple of seconds enjoyment you are getting is being shared by millions of people worldwide.

Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 12:59  Leave a Comment  
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