Les chansons que j’aime (Songs That I Like) : Elaine / Should I Laugh or Cry / by ABBA

Bet you didn’t see that one coming as the first song I chose!
When people think of ABBA they invariably think of Dancing Queen, Fernando, Mamma Mia or The Winner Takes It All, and why not? They are all brilliant slices of sparkling pop, daring you not to like them…. and I do like them.
However, it’s ABBA’s more obscure songs that seem to have captured my imagination and my heart – songs like Elaine, which when I first heard it sounded indescribably dark, dangerous and almost raunchy to a very sheltered Baptist pastor’s son (not so sheltered now but it still has an edge)), not to mention threatening, desperate and sad, something that other earlier songs seemed to lack. But it seemed that as ABBA moved on with their career, their albums grew progressively more musicaly sophisticated, lyrically mature, and while they didn’t completely lose the sunny upbeat feel of earlier material, many of their later songs did dwell in the darker shaded areas of life.
Songs like Should I Laugh or Cry, which detailed a woman trapped in a relationship which seems to be equal parts frightening and darkly amusing, and The Visitors, which talked about dissent being crushed in a dictatorship. For some reason despite my eternal optimism, the darked and more troubled the songs, lyrically and musically, the more they captured my attention, and captured me with their emotional intensity.
Most people may not have heard of them, and perhaps I am an ABBA tragic and gay drama queen who loves nothing more than emotional intensity ramped up to levels so high my heart bleeds hysteria, but I like to think that I am simply appreciating very good songs that speak to me, and never really got their moment in the pop sun.

Born This Way – Lady Gaga

I am not a massive fan of hype.

Odd you may think since we extrovert creative types generally all the over boiled melodrama we can get our hands on, feast on it for months till the marrow is all sucked dry, and then moe on to the next over wrought incandescent piece of hyperbole. But too often I find that hype does a disservice to the event/film/song etc being promoted, and rather than lifting it up, almost succeeds in tearing it down, or lessening it’s impact. The product may be the bext thing since sliced bread, but with peoples’ expectations build up by a relentless tide of “This will be HUUUUUGE!!!!”, the only realistic outcome is disappointment.

I would much rather the merchants of hype simply promoted it and let the event etc fall or rise on it’s own merits. Generally, if it’s good, it will shine anyway, go viral on the internet, clog airwaves everywhere, and become it’s own piece of self-sustaining pop culture fun, floating into everyone’s consciousness till it is supplanted by the next sparkly piece of zeitgeist-ness. But somehow, I think my hope is forlorn, and we will continue to get bombarded by ceaseless hype till you cease to care about what’s being promoted, or doggedly keep caring, and find the song etc diminished by the expectations placed around it.

Such is the case with Born This Way by Lady Gaga. The way it was promoted you would have assumed she, Jesus and Buddha had got together, made a baby who became the Messiah mark 2 and was coming to make us all joyfully happy and eternally love with mung beans and marmots. It verged on the ridiculous. I like Lady Gaga’s music a lot, love her idiosyncratic style and find her fun and interesting, and a definite talent who leaves other female popsters looking pallid and talentless in comparison.

But the insane level of hype that accompanied this song means that while it is very good, with empowering lyrics that speak to me as a gay man, and a catchy disco vibe, I am actually disappointed by it, and I daresay, much like other things before it – Jurassic Park springs to mind – once I distance it from the hype, and let it stand on it’s own two sonically pleasing feet, that I will love it. Possibly….

But right now it’s a victim of hype, and I am not happy that some trigger happy publicist has soiled what could have a been a moment of shiny pop perfection….


This is an intense movie…. but also a curiously uninvolving one (@ Open Air Cinema – with Steve, friends, Warren, and Sue – Wednesday 9 February).
The first part is to be expected given it’s subject matter of death and the after life, and for the most part the movie succeeds in not letting the emotionally heavy subject matter drag it’s narrative into a melancholic mire. Which is quite an acheivement given that it starts with a horrifyingly real recreation of the 2004 tsunami, in which the character of Marie Lelay is swept away to an almost certain death, during which she sees into the realm of the hereafter with profound effects on her life. It then moves after this emotionally jarring start to Marcus, a London school boy who suffers a traumatic loss and withdraws into himself, desperate for answers….. and finally there’s Matt Damon’s character, George Lonegan, a psychic who actually does speak to the dead, unlike the charlatans featured elsewhere in the movie, but struggles with his gift, which he feels is a gift that robs of the chance to a real life.
With all that emotional heaviness suffusing the film, which has only a few lighter moments to leaven the weight of the subject being discussed, does sometimes feel a long, sad stroll through emotional neighbourhoods you would much rather avoid. It is, at times, hard to really get involved in the lives of the characters, and you feel a certain remoteness from them despite the writer’s & director Clint eastwood’s obvious intention to draw you in deeply and completely. Even so, despite that, and the somewhat cheesy, too neat ending, I ddi find myself engaged with the movie for the most part, locked into it’s world, and forgetting for once at the Open Air Cinema (hard with the stellar Sydney views before me) where I was.
This is a film to make you think about a subject that most of us work very hard to avoid.

True Grit

What a wonderful movie.

I have often had a difficult time with Coen Brothers movies – enjoying how articulate and clever they are, and enjoying immensely the great subtle (or not so subtle) wit they bring to their creations but also finding their odd take on things a little too odd at times – but this movie resonated with a depth of emotion that rang real and true, and impacted you quite powerfully.

At it’s heart, True Grit (@ Dendy Newtown, Saturday 5 February with my boyfriend and friend Fahmi) is the story of a 14 year old girl, Mattie Ross, who, imbued with a simultaneous naivity about life even as she takes on adults many times her age and usually wins through sheer force of will, determines to track down and capture her father’s killer, Tom Chaney with the aid of a very unorthodox US Marshall, Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, played superbly by Jeff Bridges, who is given very little in whether he participates or not. The unusual duo are joined by Texas ranger La Boeuf, who provides some of the comic relief, on their trek into the Indian Lands where they encounter numerous obstacles in their hunt for Chaney.

The touching aspect of this movie for me was watching Mattie grow from an over confident child who, despite her pluck and vigour is as easily scared or bewildered as any one her age would be, to a somewhat scarred young woman who realises that sheer determination and belief is not enough to win the day. Her optimism at the start of the movie is inspiring but you soon realise just how out of depth in the gritty arena of life she is, and how far she has to travel both literally and figuratively. The movie is less about her quest for vengeance in the end, which she discovers is neither as easy or satisfying as she had assumed it is, than her growth as a person and the way this impacts Rooster and La Boeuf, who despite themselves form an attachment to her, a bond that is crucial to her survival.

It is somewhat sad watching her coming back as a 39 year old to find Rooster Cogburn, reduced to pretending to be a man of the Wild West in a travelling show, but also touching seeing that this event in her life had made so much more of an impact on her in ways she hadn’t expected, than she realised it would when she first bravely, and foolishly you might argue, rode across the river to avenge her father’s death.

If you want a movie with heart, and depth, and an articulation of the human condition in a way that is heart warming without being mawkish this is the one.

Please Give

This was the first of my Open Air Cinema movies for the year – the Open Air Cinema is, as it’s name suggests, a cinema in the great outdoors; well not so much the great outdoors as it is Mrs Macquarie’s Chair in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens but it doesn’t have a roof, and there are times when you watch movies in pouring rain (not an issue if the movie is good) – and it was excellent. Not buy it on DVD excellent, since it left me feeling a little depressed by its portrayal of the struggles of day to day life – that likely has more to do with my struggles at the moment to redefine my career particularly,which actuaklly underlines how good a job it did of conveying modern life, warts and all – but extremely good nonetheless.

Catherine Keener is an absolute stand out as the central character, a wife, mum and business woman trying to do it all while struggling with ethical and moral dilemmas and the needling sense that there must be more to life that what is has in her hands at that point. Her nuanced performance is suffused with an every person nagging sense that she may not be the doing the best she can, and she tries, via hand outs to the city’s poor, and her on again, off again quest to volunteer, to make her life much more meaningful than it is, with less than stellar results. But that’s not because she has failed in any way – by any yard stick she is a success – lovely husband, family, chic apartment, successful business (which provides one of the central moral dilemmas of the film as she struggles with making money by re-selling for inflated amounts, the retro furniture of old people) – but because she is trying too hard to make life bigger than it is, instead of fully inhabiting the life she has now.

But that’s not a criticism as I can identify with her need to infuse the banal every day with depth, meaning and purpose, as I reach for big ticket items like a stellar career as a writer (should that ever happen) when what I should be doing is living my life, infusing it here and there with small, new, meaningful things, rather than waiting for the big imagination -capturing things that may never happen. By all means dream big, because that fuels the human soul, as does the hope for great positive change, but in the mean time, work hard to make the life you do have one that satisfies the soul too. I think in some small way Catherne Keener’s character, through her interactions with the other members of the ensemble cast – all of whom bring their characters to life brilliantly, using a wonderfully insightful script – finds some small sense of peace by the end of the movie, but in keeping with the movie’s very firm sense of day to day grinding reality, never finds true resolution as no one ever really does in life, which is by its nature, evolving, unfinished and messy.

This movie speaks so well because it speaks to a sense of flawed, struggling huimanity central to us all, and for that reason alone, it is worth seeing.

The Sweet Ethereal Sounds of Holly Miranda

What a cool performer.
She walked onto the small stage of The famous Spiegeltent, to give it’s full grand title, in Hyde Park, Sydney, and while quiet and unassuming with a spoken voice barely above a whisper, she commanded attention straight away, her normally quiet folk pop given some extra grunt by her excellent band. The set itself was quite short, only running for a shade over one hour, in common with most concerts in the Spiegeltent. I was mesmerised from the start – here’s a singer I knew little about last year when I first booked to see her sans band (I had to forgo seeing her when I fell ill), but who, thanks to an execellent LP & EP, had made her way quite emphatically into my iPod playlist and stayed there. Her songs are mostly soft gentle pop, but that belies the often hard edged lyricism, and her willingness to use the songs to fight any number of battles including Prop 8 in California, which sought successfully in the end to get gay marriage banned in that state. She introduced the song that addressed this issue, Prop 8 Rapids (I think – one down side of her soft spokenness was the tendency for all manner of comments by her to be lost in audience applause, or even missed in the quieter moments) by saying “Prop 8 is still an issue, and so I keep singing this song.”

Her battles may be mighty but the melodies are sweet and lush and heartfelt, the musicianship superb, and her sense of self, as a person and artist, very much in evidence throughout. I wanted to see at least one concert in the Spiegeltent this Sydney Festival and I am glad it was her concert I got to see. She is a one musician worth listening to a lot, and keep an eye on as she is bound for great things.
Check out her fabulous song, Sweet Dreams, my favourite:

Making a Nuclear Plant From String and a Tin Can

I am pretty sure you can’t really do that, but McGyver can!

Home from work today recuperating from all the crazy dental work I had done yesterday, I switched on GO! while I ate my scrambled eggs and pudding (not together, although possibly not completely gross), and while I dismantled my Christmas tree, I watched an entire episode of McGyver. I had a ball! Yes, the plot was threadbare, the escapes ridiculously easy, and the way McGyver escaped an entire pursuing army with slight of hand and tricks was verging on the very, very silly but I didn’t care one bit. It was fun, escapists TV, something the 80s did very well. It may not have been as highbrow and clever as the current crop of HBO and HBO-like dramas, many of which I enjoy, but it was enjoyable, forget-the-world TV and there’s nothing wrong with that.

King’s Speech

What a marvelous movie.

I had heard all the hype, read all the glowing reviews, and with actors of the calibre of Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter (playing, with great believability, a ‘normal’ character, for once; not that I don’t like her weird oddball characters which are superb but she was becoming typecast and this was a refreshing change of pace) playing the main figures, it had to be good right? Still I approached the movie worried that all the talk of people giving it standing ovations meant it was doomed to be like Jurassic Park, which was all hot air hype when I saw it at the cinema, taking me years before I enjoyed it sans the hype.

Thankfully, the movie was superb. It had wit, humour, gravitas, an excellent eye and ear for history, and believable drama all finely calibrated to tell the story of a man imprisoned by a very dysfunctional family’s expectations, and then placed in a role he had never really expected would be his. Colin Firth was so moving as a man trained to do the right thing but struggling with how to do once the moment of glory caught him in its spotlight, Geoffrey Rush’s larrikin Aussie, was refreshingly down to earth, and heartfelt without being twee, and Helena’s Queen Mum was a joy as the supportive, loving wife who would do anything for the man she loved. It may not be the best movie ever, but it is a brilliantly executed one, suffused with intelligent drama, heart and soul in spades, and a refreshingly warts and all look at a momentous time in history, centred on the struggles of very real people grappling with events beyond their expectations.

Well worth seeing.

TRON Legacy

In my general day to day life blog, I posed the question of whether you can go back and truly enjoy movie or TV shows from your past, and I by past, I mean, dim, dark childhood past?

Some shows such as Charlie’s Angels or Hart To Hart, while revealed for the frothy confections they always were, still manage to amuse and delight; others such as Lost In Space simply look ridiculously threadbare and you wonder what on earth you ever saw in them, and some, such as Tron, were watched once, and then never re-visited (it came over out in the pre video age and I hadn’t bothered to track it down on DVD) but retain a fond spot in your heart. Obviously it sits in the third camp at the moment, and while I do plan to watch it as soon as I can get my hands on a copy ofn the movie (at which point it will move into category 1 or 2; I am hoping for the former), I sat down to watch it’s much delayed sequel (Tron Legacy – saw @ Hoyts Broadway on 9 January 2011) with only a hazy recollection of it’s predecessor, something that worried me as I wondered how easily I would re-enter the world of Tron.

I have no idea why I let the angst in. The movie did a superb job of linking itself to the first Tron, with a minimum of expositional clunkiness, and it’s obvious that the creators of this incarnation went to great lengths to retain the look of Tron while still utilising the latest technology. The new movie is visually lush and portrays  a fully realized virtual world that you immerse yourself in fully from the word go (well as soon as the movie enters The Grid, the name given to this virtual world, which has been a tyranny of perfect oppression since the last movie), and while no one would accuse the Tron Legacy of possessing a complex narrative, the story it does tell is well fleshed out for the most part (some elements of the story are rushed or seemingly thrown in at the last moment such as Tron’s belated change from bad guy to good guy) and illustrates well why the ceaseless quest for perfection as exercised by so many tyrants, is an illusory goal. It carries you along for two hours in a rush of richly burnished graphics, fast moving storyline, and some genuinely heartfelt moments ( the end of the movie where Cora sees a sunrise for the first time, all realised with no dialogue at all, is beautiful and brings a smile to the face), and as far as my faulty memory is concerned, adds much that is good to the Tron universe.

So can you back? Not always but as Tron Legacy displays beautifully, you can most definitely go fast as light ( on a light cycle if you can!) into the future, and enjoy the ride all the way…

You Ain’t Nothing But a Heartbreaker

I love French movies.

Let’s get that out of the way from the get go. Perhaps it stems from studying French for six years at high school, or my enduring love of French pastries (unlikely that an unhealthy preoccupation with almond croissants would lead to an appreciation of French artistic expression but you never know), or the hilarity of Pepe Le Pew cartoons (OK let’s rule that one out now – he’s funny but hardly a cultural imprimateur oui?), but I love French movies.

They are usually eccentric, clever, artistically bold and emotionally nuanced efforts, and while like any cinema industry, they have their fair share of duds, they more often than not succeed in crafting movies that emotionally impact you, or amuse you, or get you thinking, and that makes a refreshing change from many of the banalities that Hollywood pumps out. (That last phrase makes me seem like a cultural snob, which I am not, enjoying Hollywood blockbusters as much as the next man; well as long he’s French, literate and ready with a bon mot and a croissant at the drop of a hat!).

Heartbreaker (L’arnacoeur in French – (saw @ Palace Cinemas, Leichhardt, 8 January 2011), while a romantic comedy, a genre that suffers from cliched Hollywood-itis more often than it doesn’t – which is not such a bad thing since you want romantic comedies to end a certain way so cliche is part and parcel of the package; unfortunately, this often translates to creative mediocrity and creative laziness – was full of the sort of joyful verve and comedic fun that I have missed in many of Tinseltown’s latest romantic efforts. Some of the character types were obvious – the bumbling, well meaning assistant for instance – but they were played with such fun by the cast, who had the benefit of a well paced, witty script, that it didn’t matter. It did have the requisite happy ending but I would have been displeased if it hadn’t. As I said this is one genre than needs the cliches and in the hands of the right script writer and director, they can be fresh and fun.

Heartbreaker had all this and more, and was a bundle of fun to immerse yourself in, especially watched at Palace Cinemas Leichhardt, which excels in offering a great cinematic experience – lovely foyer, curtains across the screen, relaxed ambience. So very French non?

Now where’s my croissant garcon?