Meeting Stan Lee

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 15 July 2014.

Stan Lee June 2014

In comic book fandom, there is only one true living legend. Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are just a few of the co-creations of Stan “The Man” Lee. At the spritely age of ninety one, Lee was recently on our shores for his farewell world tour, and I was one of 50,800 fans who attended the Supanova Pop Culture Expo just to be in the same room as the creator of the Marvel Universe. I actually did a little better than that, also having the opportunity to have a photo with and obtain an autograph from “Smilin'” Stan Lee.

As the Game of Thrones travelling exhibition proved (I came, I saw the queue, I went home), being a lover of pop culture often means enduring long waits, and Supanova was no exception. Even with my reasonably expensive “True Believer” pass, I was still subject to queues which snaked across the immense concrete floor of what is normally the food pavilion of the Royal Easter Show. It was impossible to get lost. There was a plethora of kooky volunteers to prod you into a single file, and the seemingly never ending masking tape arrows at your feet would see you to the superstar guest of you choice, eventually.

I was quite amazed at the efficiency of the celebrity photography outfit at Supanova. It was literally get in, drop your bags, get drenched, er, I mean smile, get out and collect your glossy photo. Proudly sporting my new lycra Spidey tee, I approached Mr Lee who was comfortably seated on a bar stool. I posed, we smiled, there was a flash and a treasured memento for my living room was made. I was quite chuffed when Stan muttered, “Good work.” Hey, who is going to turn down positive feedback from the revered co-creator of Doctor Strange?

The autograph process was much the same. Luckily for me, my pass allowed me to bypass the extremely lengthy general admission queue and join the “True Believer” queue. Sigh. Standing in line at a pop culture convention is never boring. There are always interesting geeks, who know more about Doctor Who than should be legal, to converse with, as well as costumed cosplayers to admire (or not as the case may be – portly Picard I’m talking about you).

At the head of the line, I hastily unfurled my limited edition print (Stan fighting off a Mars Attacks alien with a typewriter) and was waved on to meet “The Man” again. Seconds later I was on my way with an authentic Stan Lee signature (I paid extra for a sticker that says so) and a brief story about how the typewriter on the poster is a depiction of the original typewriter that he used until his ex-wife broke it, and that was why she was his ex-wife. I assume that was a joke.

The highlight of my day was a filled to capacity Q & A session where Lee bounced around the stage, captivating the audience with tales of Marvel’s early years, the origins of now iconic super heroes and his favourite creation (for the record, it is Spider-Man). I just hope that when I am ninety one, I will still have such passion for my work. Forget that, I hope that I still have a passion for anything. I also hope that thousands of geeks will pay hundreds of dollars to get my autograph and have photos with me, as I relax in a chair. Excelsior!!

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 15:02  Leave a Comment  
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The Wonderland Years: Odd Jobs

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th March 2014.

Imagine arriving for a morning shift as a ride operator at Australia’s Wonderland to be given the task of searching for a missing crocodile. Named Maniac, the giant saltwater reptile had absconded from the wildlife park during the week and was somewhere in the park. To this day, I have no idea how he escaped. I guess someone slipped in a file baked into a birthday cake.

Moments later, I appeared at my assigned ride and dutifully began to search for my friend. Was he in the control booth? No. How about in the bins? No. Is he on the ride? Nope. How about the bushes at the side of the ride? For $7 an hour, there’s no way I’m going over there.

The park opened a little later with no sign of Maniac. He was found a few days later having a jolly good holiday in the lake by Bounty’s Revenge. Good thing the pirate stunt show finished up the week before.

Typing of the lake, I was once asked to clean the lake stage in preparation for a show. At the time, the park only operated on weekends and school holidays. During the week, the park was the domain of rats, cockroaches, crocodiles (sometimes) and lots and lots of ducks. And where did these birds live? On the lake stage of course.

Armed with just a broom and bucket, I can’t say that I removed much of the copious amounts of bird droppings from the stage. I guess I just spread it more evenly. Late apologies to the dance school performing that day. I hope your costumes were washable.

On the subject of washing clothes, imagine what happens to a garbage bin full of half consumed cups of soft drink over five days in the hot sun. The answer my friends is bin juice. Add to this equation the thinest plastic bin liners ever manufactured and what do you get? Stinky wet trousers and shoes every other shift when the bin liner disintegrates just when you are about to throw it into the dumpster.

For some extra money, my mate Craig and I picked up some shifts coming in during the week when the park was closed to dig dinosaur trenches. Over a couple of the hottest summer days ever, we attempted to smash our way through the hard ground around the Snowy River Rampage with picks and shovels in order to hide the cables for the animatronic dinosaurs that were being installed as a special attraction.

To this day, I can still hear the looping soundtrack of dinosaur noises that played for every minute of those shifts. Up close, the dinosaurs were, well, hydraulics and latex. Not particularly frightening. For real thrills, they should have let Maniac take his vacation there instead.

Despite the “interesting” jobs, terrible pay and the harsh conditions, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. It’s such a shame that Australia’s Wonderland is no more. Where will we now train the dinosaur trench diggers, bin juice connoisseurs, crocodile wranglers and duck poo cleaners of the future?

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 23:03  Leave a Comment  
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The Wonderland Years: Wizard’s Fury

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th March 2014.

The final ride under my area’s responsibility at Australia’s Wonderland was the Wizard’s Fury, manufactured as the Bayern Kurve in 1973. A toboggan style train, riders would be sent round and round a circular track at 50km/h, passing through a house, presumably the aforementioned wizard’s crib. Part of the original 1985 ride lineup, it was also inherited from Kings Island Amusement Park, Ohio, owned at the time by Wonderland’s parent company, Premier Parks.

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The neat thing about the attraction was that the sixteen toboggans tipped towards the centre during the cycle, giving riders the false perception that they’d be decapitated by the entranceway of the house. Fun, huh?

As an operator, the biggest challenge operating Wizard’s Fury was the noise. It was a really loud ride. Being trapped for hours at a time behind the operating console which was located inside a three sided glass windowed booth usually resulted in headaches and some degree of hearing loss. Ear muff style hearing protection was supplied but I rarely wore them because I couldn’t hear the phone ringing, and it would mess up my hair. Hey,I was a single, reasonable looking guy wearing a disgusting green and white striped uniform for $7 an hour. I needed all the help I could get.

Come to think of it, I must have industrial hearing loss. I am quite partial to the music of Phil Collins. I better call my lawyer.

Despite the attempts to theme the ride as a magical journey through a mysterious dwelling, I always thought that the experience was diminished somewhat by the fact that the house doubled as the ride maintenance workshop. Instead of vials of dry ice bubbling in coloured water and the like, riders instead enjoyed the feast for the eyes which was oily rags, containers of degreaser and spare ride tyres. Mmm, magical.

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Wizard’s Fury was not rainproof either. As soon as the park received a light sprinkling, the slippery ride motor wheels would squeal as they attempted in vain to push the train up the track. Oh dear, time to empty the queue line and call in a 61 Delta, Wonderland code for a ride down due to inclement weather, and my code for kicking back in the booth with my feet up.

Closing the ride at the end of the day was a little tricky too. We were under instruction to finish on time. If the park closed at 5pm, we were required to cut off the queue so that the final riders would go through at 5pm. Unfortunately, with the queue behind me, it was pretty hard to know if crafty guests had snuck onto the line, usually resulting in a late finish with no overtime. Wonderful Wonderland indeed.

Wizard’s Fury was closed in 2002 when the track and carriages succumbed to rust (I did say that the ride wasn’t rainproof). The wizard’s mechanical workshop didn’t go to waste. The site and theming were utilised as the new home for the Galleons Graveyard attraction which was relocated from the defunct Hanna Barbera Land.

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 22:59  Leave a Comment  
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The Wonderland Years: The Zodiac

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 11th March 2014.

The Zodiac was not originally part of my area of the rides department at Australia’s Wonderland. Sometime during my employment we inherited this twin arm gondola attraction, originally manufactured in 1974 under the name Star Wheel, from Hanna Barbera Land. Wonderland itself inherited The Zodiac. It was transplanted from its original home at Kings Island Amusement Park in Ohio in 1989. At the time, both Wonderland and Kings Island had the same parent company, Premier Parks. How such a huge ride is transported from one side of the planet to the other is beyond my comprehension. I presume it wasn’t in the overhead compartment.

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Whilst not the most exciting of attractions, it certainly produced its fair share of sick guests, mostly because riders had the ability to spin their gondola by turning a wheel located in the centre. Guests would emerge from their 5 minute captivity in the oversized birdcages and stumble towards the nearest garbage bin or garden bed. Most didn’t make it. As always, a little kitty litter would do the trick, followed by a phone call for some poor sucker from the park services department to attend with a dustpan and brush.

The legend amongst ride staff was that there was once a competition to see how long operators and loaders could hang onto the base legs of the gondolas as they ascended before they had to let go and fall to the ground below, landing safely I assume. Now as a proponent of workplace health and safety, I in no way condone this activity, however, I did try it, just the once. I got maybe 2 metres off the ground before I had to drop away, way too concerned for my ability to walk (and possibly talk) in the future. I hate heights and the idea of falling almost as much as I hate the idea of falling from a height onto concrete. And certainly not for $7 an hour.

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Operating The Zodiac was a boring affair. Stuck up in a raised booth, you had little contact with anyone. Wait for the loader to lock the twelve gondola doors and press two buttons when you received the thumbs up. My boredom was only broken by the occasional visit from my girlfriend at the time (she worked as a character escort) and one of my best mates, Anthony, in the disguise of Fred Flintstone or Captain Caveman. Normally silent when interacting with customers, it was always amusing for me to hear Fred complain about the heat, swear about the smell in the costume, give me a rude gesture and be on his way. Yabba-dabba-don’t-do-that-in-front-of-paying-guests.

From the booth, you had a bird’s eye view of the backstage area of the Hanna Barbera Stage. My favourite moment was catching Play School’s John Hamlin having a cheeky fag whilst only metres away sat hundreds of toddlers awaiting Big Ted and company.

The Zodiac closed with the park in 2004 and is now presumably rusting away in a scrap yard somewhere.

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 22:56  Comments (1)  
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The Wonderland Years: The Jousting Ring

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 4th March 2014.

The Jousting Ring was located on a rise in International Village, overlooking the lake. Otherwise known as the dodgem cars, this was an extremely popular attraction that allowed everybody to have go at driving with no consequences, experience or not. As a ride operator or loader at Australia’s Wonderland, the major problem with this attraction is that it allowed everybody to have a go at driving with no consequences, experience or not.

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You see, our dodgem cars were a little difficult to drive for the uninitiated. Turn the steering wheel too far in one direction and it would lock, sending the car into reverse. An hour or two rotation through the ride as an operator or loader would be mostly spent yelling at clueless riders stuck against walls, barriers or each other. Occasionally, guests would become so frustrated that they’d get up and attempt to leave mid-cycle which would result in an emergency stop.

Management also required that the car safety harnesses be worn in a particular way. Simply a loop of seatbelt material, all you needed to do was place it over your head and one shoulder, just like a normal seatbelt. Everyone can do that, right? Nope. As a loader, I would’ve walked kilometres every shift checking each and every seatbelt before the ride started. My favourite incorrect seatbelt configurations were around the waist, around the neck, around your child’s neck and both belts worn backpack style.

At the rear of the ride was the staff area for my section of the park. Here we would congregate at the beginning of the day to collect our ride folders and keys. One day I found a pile of blank postage paid customer response forms, completed them with a bunch of ridiculous suggestions and sent them in. I was amused to pick up a staff newsletter sometime later with my ideas listed as genuine customer feedback.

Why not change the direction of the dodgem cars to clockwise to provide variety for returning customers?

Why isn’t there a yum cha restaurant located in the park?

Have you considered a large dome over the park so it can stay open in the rain?

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One of my fondest memories of working on the Jousting Ring was when the maintenance engineers would turn up the voltage on the ride after the park closed. Now super-charged, the cars would fly around the track. With just a little bit of effort, it was possible to drift around the corners. Great fun and a fantastic way to unwind after a stressful day dealing with seatbelt challenged guests and their offspring.

The dodgem cars were sold off to an amusement hire company when the park closed in 2004, and the Jousting Ring was demolished the following year.

The Wonderland Years: Dragon’s Flight

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25 February 2014.

Dragon’s Flight, a wave swinger ride known commonly as the flying chairs, was my least favourite attractions to operate at Australia’s Wonderland. One of the original rides when the park opened in 1985, it was located in the Medieval Faire zone, later renamed International Village.

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Operating the ride was a challenge. Not only did you have to count forty eight riders at a time through the turnstile (we were supplied sporadically with cheap clicker counters which would literally fall apart in your hand after overuse), but you also had to control the ride brakes. There was a hydraulic foot pedal in the ride operator’s booth. As the chairs descended at the end of the cycle, I’d have to slow the ride so that the passengers would touch down exactly as the rotation stopped. I rarely got it right.

If I braked too early, the chairs would crash into each other in a uncontrolled seething mass of chains and legs. If I braked too late, the riders received the best foot exfoliation ever.

I was forever kicking guests off Dragon’s Flight. Mischievous riders would spin their chairs before the ride started and twist up the chains. They’d hang onto each other, or kick the chairs in front. I’d usually give one friendly warning on the mic, and if I was ignored, I’d cancel the ride cycle and bring everyone back down. I’d then kindly request that the idiots, er, naughty riders depart the attraction. Occasionally I’d cop some abuse from the evicted, but a quick call to security would usually result in the unruly guests escorted to the special attraction called the park exit.

Once, I answered a call from my manager informing me that a bomb threat had been received and asking that I casually check the bins and ride surrounds without the guests knowing. You can imagine exactly how obvious it was to the two hundred guests in the queue line when I brought the ride down, asked the passengers to depart, left the operator’s booth and proceeded to stick my head in every bin and shrub around the ride. One women asked me if I was looking for a bomb. I denied it, making up some pathetic explanation about a routine check for missing animals from the Wildlife Park.

Speaking of animals, every now and then in summer, I’d hear a shriek from the queue line and turn around to see people running in all directions. In the heat of the day, some of Wonderland’s residents snakes would come out of their holes to sunbake on the warm paths.

Dragon’s Flight was notorious for making riders sick. Known as a protein spill, there was a bucket of kitty litter ever present in the booth for a quick cleanup when a rider’s lunch came up for air, usually at least hourly on a hot day.

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My not-so-beloved flying chairs ride is now located at Sunway Park in Malaysia.

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 22:44  Comments (1)  
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The Wonderland Years: Bounty’s Revenge

This column was originally published in The Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th January 2014.

Bounty’s Revenge, known to Australia’s Wonderland staff as “360”, was a looping starship ride with a pirate ship shell. One of the original attractions when the park opened in 1985, it seated fifty passengers at the time, swinging backwards and forwards until it eventually went right over the top to a height of twenty four metres. It was also one of my favourite rides to work on because it required 3 staff. With the ride queue really close to the operator’s booth, plus the extra colleagues, it was great fun to operate if you liked to socialise and interact with the crowd, which I certainly did.

Microphone in hand, I’d give my safety spiel every ride cycle and then begin my banter with the riders. One of my favourite things to do was tell the passengers that they would receive a free set of steak knives if they kept their hands up throughout the ride. Of course, I had absolutely no control over the ship whatsoever. Besides the lap bar controls, the start button and the big red emergency stop button, the ride operator had no influence on how long the ride went and how many revolutions it made.

I was also certain that no-one believed a word I said, until I was called in to see my manager. Unable to control his laughter, he proceeded to give me a “serious” warning. It seems that a rider indeed visited the guest relations office to claim his complimentary steak knives and after a fairly lengthy period of confusion on behalf of the poor employee behind the counter, became quite irate when told he had been duped. I didn’t play that prank again, much.

The problem with pirate ships that go upside down is that riders tend not to listen to warnings about loose objects. Fortunately, in the early nineties, no one really had mobile phones, so the staff would take shelter under canopies or umbrellas from frequent showers of coins, cigarette lighters, sunglasses and once, an SLR camera. At best, the object landed in the ride pit and would remain there until I called a maintenance crew member to fetch it, but usually it would stay where it landed for weeks until a scheduled clean out. At worst, it landed in the lake and was never seen again.

Whoever got the job to drain the lake in 2004 when the park closed for good would have made a fortune in coins. My friend and former colleague Craig claims to have found $80 in change when rostered to clean the outskirts of the ride.

Occasionally we would have a rider who was a little too, well, rotund for the seatbelt. The solution was pretty simple: seatbelt extensions. The tricky thing for staff was to retrieve these extensions when the ride cycle finished. Being almost identical to the standard seatbelts, they were pretty hard to find. Of course, when they plummeted from a height of  twenty four metres and slammed into the platform, they were much easier to locate.

The worst thing about Bounty’s Revenge was cleaning up after a guest was sick on the ride. Affectionately known as a “protein spill”, it was not possible to toss kitty litter over the mess and call park services to sweep it up. Instead, we’d throw soapy water over the seats, tell all of the guests to move under the queue canopy and run the ride. Not many attractions have their own spin dry cycle!

Bounty’s Revenge is now known as Pirate’s Revenge and is located at the Sunway Lagoon theme park in Kuala Lumpur.

Published in: Uncategorized on February 18, 2014 at 23:04  Comments (1)  
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The Wonderland Years: The Celebrities of Australia’s Wonderland

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 4th February 2014.

I’d like to think that everyone has some sort of life changing experience as an adolescent that maps out your future and the way you see the world as an adult. It could be your first crush or kiss. Your first job. Your first car even. Your first car accident. For the kid in my favourite film of last year, The Way Way Back, it was getting a summer job at a water park. For Elliot, it was meeting E.T. For Justin Bieber, well, that is yet to be determined.

In my case, it was Australia’s Wonderland.  No, it wasn’t just going there, although I at least visited once a year during the late eighties (I had a Wonderpass long before I had a learners permit). I worked there as a ride operator. The majority of my lifelong friends came from that time and place. I met my first serious girlfriend there. My band, which coincidentally is celebrating twenty years together this year, played our first gig at a christmas party in the park. I have friends that are happily married with children who met working there.

With a few drinks in the system (water of course), it doesn’t take very long for my circle of friends to start retelling old stories from AWL. And now I’m telling them to you. Let’s start with celebrities…

One school holidays the park was graced with a few weeks of performances from The Flying Fruit Fly Circus, a youth circus from Albury-Wadonga. For some reason, let’s call it stupidity, I took to reminding the guests on the ride microphone to check out “The Flying Fruit Bat Circus” every time I had to do my safety spiel. That would be every 3 minutes or so. Of course, yours truly completely forgot that being a youth circus, the performers would be enjoying the park between shows. Let’s just say that having a group of twenty circus kids in the ride queue hear their ever popular show be besmirched is not going to generate a positive response. So my apologies, twenty years late, to The Flying Fruit Bat Circus.

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Remember Take That? Featuring a young Robbie Williams, the UK boyband was in the park to promote their latest single. After a night time performance in the Sundown Theatre, I was asked by my manager to stay back when the park closed as the band had requested to ride The Demon roller coaster and Bounty’s Revenge, the pirate ship that went the full 360 degrees. My experience with Take That was brief but they seemed to be having a ball. I got a handshake from each of them at the end, and had the “honour” of minding their hotel room keys during the ride cycle. If I had a time machine, I would go back and get their autographs and warn Robbie against recording his terrible swing albums.

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My band had debuted in 1994 with a staff concert at The Beach, the waterslide area of the park. One of our dubious covers was a version of Lee Kernaghan’s McBeefsteak jingle, which was on television at the time promoting the latest McDonalds atrocity. Shortly after, the park manager arranged for my band to meet Mr Kernaghan backstage at a Wonderland gig. He mistook us for real fans and asked us what was our favourite song from his repertoire. My response, “Ah, I really like all your stuff, especially the McBeefsteak song.”

Another night I was drafted to do some crowd control for a night event, most likely a dance party featuring a pop act with a name that consists of 3 letters (KLF, OMC, CDB). These events were traditionally hosted by a B grade celebrity, usually from Home and Away. Sure enough, I ran into an “actress” whom I had worked alongside for a year on a TV show. We had an awkward reunion. She was clearly embarrassed to be seen talking to a theme park employee in a green and white striped shirt. We swapped numbers. She never called me. I’m proud to say that my career as a roller coaster operator lasted longer than her fame.

Film Review: The Great Gatsby (old sport)

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 29th May 2013.

I must profess to not having read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby recently, but I’m pretty sure that I have just seen the pop up book. Just like Leonardo DiCaprio’s mysterious Jay Gatsby knows how to throw a wild party, Baz Luhrmann certainly knows how to film one. Within minutes of the opening credits, we’re back to the hyper reality already established in Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge:  beautiful people, rapid edits, loud out-of-era music, rapid edits, champagne and partygoers jumping into swimming pools. Did I mention the rapid edits? Granted, they aren’t as headache inducing as in Moulin Rouge but there were moments where all I wanted was to take in this visual feast. Luhrmann clearly has an eye for beauty and detail, so why does he insist on ensuring that the lens doesn’t stay on anything long enough to enjoy it?

Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway arrives in New York City following his service in World War I and rents a house in West Egg, Long Island, right next to the Gatsby Mansion. Gatsby? Who Gatsby? What Gatsby? Throughout the first third of the film, DiCaprio’s enigmatic millionaire is consistently referred to as a mystery man. Although the host of elaborate parties, no-one knows what Gatsby looks like. Once Nick is invited to a party and becomes Gatsby’s “old sport”, this subplot is thrown out with several visual references to framed pictures of the “great” one adorning his mansion walls. The climax of the film also relies on a positive identification that shouldn’t have been possible.

Gatsby had a relationship with Carraway’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) before he was sent to war. Unfortunately Daisy is now unhappily married to the womanising Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). To win back his old flame, Gatsby has purchased the mansion across the bay from the Buchanan’s residence in East Egg, as you do. Luhrmann gleefully utilises CGI sweeping shots over the water to remind us of the futility of their love. Either that, or Baz wants to subtly hammer home the fact that The Great Gatsby is shot in 3D. To reunite with his former love, Gatsby throws lavish parties in the hope that she will somehow attend. He also uses Carroway’s familial connections to arrange a reunion. I’m not entirely sure how Gatsby knew that Nick was related to Daisy, but who cares, THE GREAT GATSBY IS SHOT IN 3D.

All of the lead performances are solid. DiCaprio has the charisma to overcome a script that has him say “old sport” too many times. Maguire is appealing despite a weak bookend subplot which undermines his character and does nothing to drive the plot forwards. Mulligan is radiant as Daisy, and Edgerton is appropriately nasty as the moustache twirling villain. Poor Isla Fisher and the talented Jason Clarke are sidelined in small supporting roles. Keep an eye out also for some of our most highly regarded actors in thankless tiny character parts. You can play the “Where’s Wally? The Great Gatsby edition” by looking out for Vince Colosimo, Steve Bisley, Max Cullen and Jack Thompson.

The Great Gatsby is a case of style over substance. Luhrmann’s Gatsby hyper world is certainly an exciting place to visit but he has failed to capture F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary classic on film. Instead he’s created the theme park ride of the book.

Published in: on May 28, 2013 at 19:28  Leave a Comment  
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Concert Review: Paul Simon Live – 2 April 2013 Sydney Entertainment Centre

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th April 2013.

Many, many moons ago, for my twelfth birthday party, I compiled a wish list of cassettes that I wanted to receive from my family and schoolmates. For the uninitiated, cassettes were the precursor to compact discs and had a tendency to melt in the car on hot days in summer. They were also much harder to use as drink coasters.

My list was varied and contained just as many albums that would be considered classics as embarrassments. For every Crowded House debut album, there was a Rick Astley disaster. For every Kick by INXS, there was a Tiffany album. As always, I will deny owning these terrible albums if asked (I’m still talking to you, Doug, the newspaper guy).

One cassette I loved from the moment I pressed play was Graceland by Paul Simon. My gateway track was the hit single You Can Call Me Al, which featured a music video starring Chevy Chase, back when he was funny (he later became funny again in the hit comedy series Community but sadly left the show last year, which for fans like me wasn’t funny).

Graceland was the amalgam of Simon’s pop and folk roots and his discovery of South African music. Every track is a gem and the album, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, is still on regular rotation in my home and car (on CD even).

So it was with great excitement that I witnessed a 70 year old Paul Simon in concert at the soon-to-be-demolished Sydney Entertainment Centre last Tuesday night. I missed his support act, Rufus Wainwright, but heard some audience members giving him scathing reviews in the foyer, so I may have dodged a bullet there.

Opening with the Graceland classic, Gumboots, it was clear that the capacity crowd were in for a musical treat. Simon’s eight piece multi-instrumentalist backing band was absolutely remarkable and recreated the sound of the Graceland tracks, in particular, flawlessly.

In his awkward introductory speech, Simon announced that he wanted to play an upbeat set, which was fine by me as I had just driven for three and a half hours from work and had the same journey ahead of me immediately after the concert. Hit after hit followed in rapid succession: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, The Obvious Child. Unfortunately, the overzealous security folk kept those wanting to dance in their assigned places, however, with a largely baby boomer audience, arthritis may have also been responsible for everyone else staying comfortably seated.

Simon performed six Graceland tracks during the show, including You Can Call Me Al, as well as songs from his earlier solo work right up to his new album, 2011’s So Beautiful or So What. He also performed some covers including a beautiful version of George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun.

Returning for his third encore, Simon announced that he felt like playing some Simon and Garfunkel tracks and sent us all home after two hours of pure musical bliss with joyful renditions of America, Homeward Bound and The Boxer. I might have shed a tear or two during the final track. I said “might have”, Doug.

Published in: on April 9, 2013 at 18:42  Leave a Comment  
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