Bad Movie Choices for Dating

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd April 2013.

It’s strange how we regularly choose the cinema as a social experience. What’s social about sitting in a darkened room where it is impolite to make conversation? I suppose having that shared experience to discuss afterwards makes all the difference. What did we like about the film? What did we dislike about it?

I quite like going to the cinema alone. One of my favourite film experiences was watching Wolf Creek as the only person in the cinema. My backpacking days came quickly to an end after that one.

Selecting the right film is always a dilemma, especially when trying to impress someone of the opposite sex. As a cinefile, I appreciate all types of films, but there are clearly terrible choices which can turn date night into Fright Night. Here are some of my biggest mistakes. In the interests of protecting the innocent, I won’t name names and if ever asked about this, I will deny that it ever happened (this means you, Doug the newspaper guy).

So the year is 2000. You’ve asked a girl on a first date. You’re at the box office and you suggest that an Aussie film would be a great choice. Eric Bana is that funny guy from TV. His film debut should be hilarious, right? Wrong. About twenty minutes into Andrew Dominik’s Chopper, Bana’s titular character has been stabbed in the gut. There is blood everywhere. I look across to my date. She’s looking down. Wait, she’s not looking away from the visceral violence on the screen. She’s not looking anywhere. She’s passed out.

Trust me, assisting a faint, clammy girl out of the cinema is not a great start for a date. It is, however, a pretty definitive ending. I did go back later and see the rest of the film. It’s brilliant.

Jumping backwards in time almost a decade, I asked the smartest girl at school on a date to a Saturday afternoon matinee. How quaint! The year is 1991 and in hindsight, there was an amazing array of superb films on offer: Cape Fear, JFK, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Silence of the Lambs. Which film did I actually choose? Suburban Commando, starring Hulk Hogan, of course. This cinematic abomination is neither funny nor dramatic. As an actor, the Hulkster is a fantastic wrestler. Whilst remaining friends throughout school, we never spoke of this date again (Girl X and I, not Hulk Hogan and I).

My final embarrassment came during my university years. I frequented the Sydney Film Festival every year and was keen to share my film discoveries with anyone who would listen. I asked a girl to see a film that I was keen to champion, an underrated Aussie gem starring Jack Thompson and a young actor named Russell Crowe.

It was only when the lights darkened and I was thinking about trying the Yawn and Stretch Technique™ that I remembered that The Sum of Us was a tale about a father and son coming to terms with the son’s homosexuality. Although by definition a romantic-comedy, and still a film I recommend, this selection was not necessarily in line with the message I was trying to send. That date ended with a handshake. Enough said.

Trust me, choosing the right film is vital to romance. Learn from my mistakes. I’ll leave you with one last rule, which I learned the hard way. It goes like this. Don’t drop a mega-sized Coke on your date at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and insist on staying for the rest of the film.


Film Review – The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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

I’ve always been a little dubious when it comes to movie titles that consist of a character’s name. For every Erin Brockovich there’s a Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. For every Michael Clayton, there’s a Mr Deeds.

Blame Adam Sandler. He certainly cornered the market on this, starting with Billy Madison, his finest comedic turn in my opinion, and then Happy Madison. It’s all downhill from there but that’s another column.

And so it was with a little trepidation that I experienced The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Steve Carell stars as the titular Las Vegas magician whose act has became stale. A split with his long time stage partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) and the growing popularity of newcomer street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) forces Wonderstone out of his luxurious casino apartment and onto the streets. With the help of veteran magician Rance Halloway (Alan Arkin), the man who inspired him to become an illusionist, Wonderstone must rediscover his roots to win back his place onstage at Ballys.

Carell is a gifted comedic actor but I’ve never been convinced that he can carry a film on his own. Smartly, he surrounds himself with a fantastic supporting cast. Most recently seen in the brilliant HBO series Boardwalk Empire as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, Steve Buscemi reminds us that he can do comedy too with a scene stealing turn as Wonderstone’s naive offsider. Alan Arkin is one of the best character actors working today and shines as a disgruntled retired magician. And Jim Carrey is all abs and tattoos as the sinewy unhinged Steve Gray, a thinly veiled clone of street magician Criss Angel.

But the true stars of this movie are the crazy wigs. Carell, Carey and Buscemi are regularly upstaged by their Copperfield-tastic rugs.

Screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley also penned Horrible Bosses, a comedy with a nasty streak that starred Jason Bateman and Kevin Spacey. This time, they hold back on the black humour in favour of sight gags and slapstick.

Director Don Scardino is a veteran TV comedy director best known for his work on 30 Rock, and handles proceedings with a solid but unremarkable style.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has enough gags to keep you tittering throughout its 100 minute running time. Unfortunately, most of them are featured in the trailer. The best laugh of the film comes right at the end of the film. I won’t spoil it except to say that it is worth the wait.

You could do worse than this flick for your hard earned movie dollars. I just don’t think we’ll be talking about it in a few years. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a solid but unremarkable comedy. Only time will tell if it will be remembered as a successful movie named after its lead character.

Nonsensical Pop Songs

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th June 2012.

I love a good pop song. Always have. Probably always will. As a kid, I’d hang out at the newsagency near my bus stop every weekday morning. Each fortnight, the latest issue of Smash Hits would hit the newsstands and I’d usually have it read by the time I got to school.

My favourite part of the magazine was the song words pages. At the time, there was no quick and easy method, such as the internet, to look up the lyrics to the latest pop songs. If you were lucky, a cassette sleeve might have the lyrics, but most of the time it came down to Smash Hits magazine or just listening to the song repeatedly until I worked out the words. Or at least thought I had worked out the words.

I still come across songs that I’ve been enjoying for decades and realise that I’ve been singing the wrong lyrics. How on earth did I think that Starship built this city on logs and coal? And it turns out that their pony doesn’t play the mamba…

Occasionally, I come across a pop gem that on scrutiny of the lyrics, appears to make absolutely no sense. The song probably has some meaning to the writer but every now and then, I’m certain that it’s all a conspiracy to make millions of people around the world sing ridiculous lyrics. Here are my top five prime offenders.

5. MMMBop – Hanson Cute as three cloned buttons, the Hanson brothers peaked at number one in 1997 with this ditty about well, nothing. The chorus is phonetic soup. On closer lyrical inspection, I think that an mmmbop is a unit of time. So in that case, it is safe to say that Hansonmania lasted about an mmmbop.

4. I Am the Walrus – The Beatles I know it’s hard to believe but there are actually bad Beatles songs. For every Hey Jude, there’s an Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Walrus sits somewhere in the middle. It’s almost as if the lyrics are simply a method of delivering a melody to your ears in the same way that corn chips are simply a method of delivering salsa. Is it homage to Lewis Carroll or a salad recipe? You decide.

3. Blue (Da Ba Dee) – Eiffel 65 Apparently Italian dance group Eiffel 65 wrote the tune first with the lyrics coming later. No kidding. This 1999 hit is about a man who lives in a blue world. A lot of his stuff is blue too. How interesting. As you can see by the title, those looking for further explanation need go no further than the clarification of the title in brackets. The Teletubbies really need to stop writing songs.

2. We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel Yes, I know. It’s a list of historical events. The problem is that the chorus doesn’t really give the verses any perspective. You don’t believe me? Try replacing the lyrics from the verses with your shopping list. It’s pretty much as meaningful as the original.

1. Africa – Toto Surely this ditty must have some deep spiritual meaning? It mentions rain in Africa, doesn’t it? Sing along with me. “It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you. There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take some time to do the things we never have.” Nope, I have no idea either.

Avenue TV Commercial

Here is my TV Commercial Directorial Debut!

Orange Theatre Company presents

Avenue Q

5 -7 July 2012

Orange Civic Theatre

Book at the Box Office ph 02 6393 8111 or

Published in: on June 6, 2012 at 07:39  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Novelty Acts: are we laughing at them or with them?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd August 2011.

I’m not really a fan of talent shows on television. I haven’t watched a single second of the current season of Australia’s Got Talent. I suppose I don’t really fit the demographic for buying records from fourteen year old singing prodigies. If I do have to watch American Idol or such shows, I prefer to sit through the first few episodes which cover the initial audition process. There is something quite fascinating to me about those talentless contestants who face the audition panel with nothing but an overwhelming sense of self-belief.

Do these wannabes truly think that they have a talent that they must share with the world? Surely they can’t be completely delusional. Hasn’t someone taken them aside and told them the ugly truth? “Look mate, I don’t really know how to tell you. You can’t sing / dance / play the gumleaf.”

Every now and then, one of these “gifted” performers slips through the net of good taste and becomes a star of sorts. A novelty single or album gets quickly released. Someone makes a buck, usually the manager or producer, the performer’s fifteen seconds or so of fame expires and we all move on. We were all in on the joke. They weren’t. Or were they?

William Hung rose to infamy when he auditioned for the third season of American Idol in 2004 with an off-tempo and off-key rendition of Ricky Martin’s She Bangs, prompting an uncomfortable situation where the judges had to stifle their laughter and present some level of constructive criticism. When informed by Simon Cowell that he really had little to offer in the way of talent, Hung replied, “Um, I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all.”

This “glass half full” attitude somehow struck a chord with audiences, despite the fact that in terms of singing ability Hung had no glass in the first place, and William was signed to a record deal. What followed was three, that’s three, albums of Hung murdering perfectly innocent pop covers. Inspiration, Hung for the Holidays and Miracle: Happy Summer from William Hung are all CDs worth listening to… once, and would all make wonderful additions to your coaster collection.

Hung’s misplaced belief in his singing prowess is evident in the fact that he clearly recorded three albums of unfamiliar songs with little or no rehearsal, and all probably in one take.

Speaking of one take wonders, have you sampled the vocal stylings of New Zealand’s own Wing? Born in Hong Kong, 51 year old Wing has never let a lack of talent stop her from making records, twenty of them to date. From Andrew Lloyd Webber to AC/DC, Michael Jackson to Abba, Wing has recorded them all in her unique offbeat vocal style (think cats fighting outside your bedroom window).

As Wing’s notoriety spread via the internet, she became the subject of a South Park episode and was invited to perform at a BBC Radio One music festival in the UK in 2008. She later toured the US, even playing the famous Birdland Jazz Club in New York City.

For around US$15, Wing will phone you up and personally sing you a song. It is already on my Christmas wish list.

Throughout all of Wing’s recordings and performances, there is not a single hint that it may be all a gag. Regardless of the song, Wing performs it seriously. What won’t be serious though, is your reaction. Make sure you check out her performances on YouTube.

Wing has truly made a little go a long way, and has had a remarkable career so far, especially for a novelty act. And that I suppose is my point, do Wing and William Hung know that they are novelty acts? Is self-belief, or even self-delusion, enough? Are we laughing at them, or is the joke on us? I guess we’ll never know. The only certainty is that I shouldn’t have admitted to owning William Hung albums.

Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 09:03  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Newspaper Comic Strips: are you a three panel addict?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,