Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Everything is Awesome at the Oscars

Everything is Awesome (2015) photo by Pants

Or perhaps just beautiful, like at the ballet. Everyone who gets an award certainly thinks everything is beautiful. They all have beautiful lives and wives and children and god-bestowed fortune. Julianne Moore says winning an Oscar adds five years to your life. Probably more importantly, it adds five zeros to your bank account. I've chosen to post the picture above because it is the only animated, not to mention colourful, moment in the three-and-a-half tedious hours. If not for the mandatorily gaudy tinsel backdrop, we could easily conclude that we are viewing in black-and-white. Honestly, ever since George Clooney married that human rights lawyer, Hollywood's gone all dignified and causey. But I'm racing ahead.

Holiday season is well and truly over and it's February which means that my little family is back together again. Barney and The Question Why returned on Saturday from their ashram stay. Long-time readers may recall that Barney formed a lasting bond with The Maharajah of Katpur some years ago and is now on the path to enlightenment via the Elizabeth Gilbert method, with rather more emphasis on the eating element, judging by the size of his girth. I have not seen my pearls for some years either. 

Our day begins with a pre-Oscars perusal of Hollywood Reporter where we learn of the demise of the Mani-Cam.  Yes, we are baffled too so we follow the link to The New York Times where we learn that some bolshy leading ladies have indeed refused to allow their cuticles to be curated. Genuine actor activism. We learn also that Plastic Jesus is up to his old tricks, placing a life-size, cocaine-snorting Oscar on Hollywood Boulevard, presumably as a tribute to the late Robin Williams.

We miss the opening number as we are arguing over what canapés to have with our Chardonnay and completely lose track of time. I want abalone-wrapped quail eggs and mini Lindy's cheesecakes but Barney claims the drones are both on important missions for his new business partner - none other than David Walsh of MONA fame - so cannot be spared to fly to Mallacoota and New York. Well, DW is a big hero of mine so I content myself with Barney's Eggs Vladivostok and Vodkamisu. As Barney says, 'it's been good enough for you every other year.' Too true. 

It's a shame but we later find Neil Patrick Harris's Broadway-inspired opener on the internet and it isn't half bad. Not that we like 'not half bad'. In all honesty, we prefer dismally bad because it's much more fun to write about. The lyrics are rather clever. The video is difficult to watch as Larrikin's End is experiencing a raging thunderstorm which means I don't have to water the tomatoes and lettuces but also that our already dodgy internet connection is about as good as it gets in Dakar during a monsoon. It is also a shame that we miss it because, in defiance of Robert McKee's excellent advice, (thou shalt save the best for last), it seems the best was gotten over in double quick time.

We arrive as NPH cracks the worst joke we've heard since Methuselah wore a onesie,

‘The subject of the film, Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some treason.’

Poitras now sensibly lives in Berlin where they mothballed the zeal for spying on each other a couple of decades ago.

The win for the song Glory - performed on a replica of the Edmund Pettus Bridge - incites tears and rage in equal measure as John Legend lets fly with a spirited, 'The struggle for justice is now!' which he underscores with the fact that there are more black men incarcerated in the United States today than there were under slavery in 1850. Pretty disgraceful. It's equally reprehensible that the Academy fell over itself to honour a film about slavery last year but disdains a film about freedom fighters this year.

It's taken NPH three hours but he finally comes up with a decent joke. 'Benedict Cumberbatch is the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck.'

It's about the time for some poor sod you thought died before the Berlin Wall came down to be wheeled out. Any sighting of John Travolta is an alert. Who could forget last year's cautionary plastic-surgery shocker with Kim Novak and Barney hasn't slept properly since Kirk Douglas appeared a few years back.

I try to attract Barney's attention for some Chardonnay but he's constantly on the phone with David Walsh. He's reciting numbers like he's auditioning for Theory of Everything 2. Does he even know what 'skin in the game means?'

This year's relic is Julie Andrews. What a relief. She looks alive, more or less. There are no tubes that we can see. It's fifty years since The Sound of Music. Imagine! Lady Gaga struggles through a medley missing more than a few high notes along the way, and demonstrating exactly why Marni Nixon had such a long and productive career. Gaga's inner-arm tat clashes violently with that confection of a dress.

'What is that?' asks TQW, 'an Exocet missile.'

Could be an Exocet, or maybe a bugle?

Eddie Murphy is in the top five of highest paid actors of all time and doesn't need to work, NPH informs us. Just as well as, clearly, he can't remember how to.

Graham Moore wins the Best Adapted Screenplay award for The Imitation Game and discloses that he nearly committed suicide at sixteen because he felt 'weird and different,' unlike every other sixteen-year-old on the planet, obviously. He concludes with a defiant,

‘Stay weird, stay different and when you’re standing on this stage pass the message along.’

Oh, the arrogance of privilege. 

When will this festival of thought placards end? It's not that we don't agree with all these heartfelt statements, it's just that we're finding it a little tough to take from the same folks who last year insisted we dream big dreams and lose ourselves in the magic of, well, themselves.

Ben Affleck arrives with a much-needed Frank Capra invocation.

'There are no rules in cinema,' he lectures, 'only sins and the cardinal sin is dullness.' Oh, the irony.

Alejandro Iñárritu wins the Best Director Oscar for Birdman and injects some enigmatic Spanish-style mysticism into the proceedings. 'If someone wins, it means someone has to lose.' 

'That did need crystallising,' allows TQW.

Enter the insufferable Cate Blanchett to present the award for Best Actor to Eddie Redmayne. We have to admit that he does get Stephen Hawking's facial movements exactly right and, given that there is not an actual award for that talent, it's right that he should be given the Best Actor Oscar instead.

'This belongs to all the people around the world battling ALS,' he announces before leaping about like a cricket on meth, just because he now can, presumably.

'ALS?' queries TQW.

'The new name for motor neurone disease,' says Barney. Where does he get this stuff?

And now it's the turn of St Matthew of McConnaughey to present the Best Actress with her five extra years of longevity and a little statue to commemorate the moment. He doesn't say anything daft. Miracles do happen. After Moore finishes congratulating herself on her excellent choice of husband and children and her all-round good fortune, she redirects us to item No. 3 on our cause-of-the-day sheets - Alzheimer's.

Well, no surprises so far. You're playing tragic illness or crippled genius? Go right ahead and clear a space on the mantelpiece straight after the wrap party. Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown? Meryl Streep as The Iron Lady?

The relentlessly grooming-resistant Sean Penn has the ultimate honour of handing over the Oscar for Best Picture. None of us is in a position to pronounce on the merits of these films as I'm the only one who's even seen one of them. I watched Grand Budapest Hotel while waiting for my car to be serviced as there was a free screening at the library nearby. All the other participants were ferried in from retirement villages. It wasn't ideal as there was a lot of commentary and clattering of teacups. I liked it well enough and it certainly was colourful.

Birdman wins Best Picture. Sean Penn prefaces the announcement with a hearty,

'Who gave this son of a bitch his Green Card,'

artfully unravelling an entire evening of earnestness. You gotta love these people.

Accepting as director, Iñárritu counters with, 

'Two Mexicans in a row. Someone's gonna get suspicious.' 

Alejandro, if it was a fix, you certainly wouldn't be standing there, unless...

TQW and I turn to face Barney who is grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Owly-Cat.

'Our bank account just acquired five extra zeros,' he informs us. I guess his friendship with David Walsh isn't such a bad thing after all.

We are indebted to Sean Elder of Newsweek for supplementing those bits of our memory that were lost to indiscipline and/or Chardonnay.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Into (and out of) the Woods

Into the Woods (2011) Kodakotype by Pants

Larrikin's End has one small cinema screen nestled in a breeze block shell that also houses three squash courts. Even by Larrikin's End standards, it's ugly - and believe me, we have elevated ugliness to an art form here. There is something about natural beauty that just cries out to be defaced, don't you think?

The odd juxtaposition makes for an interesting sensory experience. The aroma of sweat-permeated walls and wet-dog carpet tangoes uneasily with the freshly popped corn and dust mites singeing in the ageing lights. The patchwork of seat upholstery reminds one of a Kerala bus - although I seem to remember they were more comfortable. To endure a movie the length of Into the Woods there requires a special appetite for self-harm, 24 hours of recovery time and a very hard mattress. In tense moments, the distinct thwacking of a small ball against a wall not exactly far, far away, adds a certain je ne sais quois to almost any film.

I'll talk about the movie in a minute (probably, maybe). With the external temperature up around the high thirties, I make the decision to spend $10 on someone else's air conditioning rather than $4-5 on my own. Given that there's a movie I haven't yet seen thrown in, well it's a no-brainer really. I plan 24 hour's worth of bed-bound activities to follow. The squash courts aren't air conditioned and, well, there is a beach so no one is going to be battering a ball against a wall when they could be bell-flopping into waves. No external sound effects on the menu, or so I thought.

The Larrikin's End Cinema-slash-squash court is a one-person operation. That one person is the ticket-slash-projectionist-slash-popcorn guy. He does a good job. He'll even sell you 3D glasses at a pinch. I always take my own. Even though they're only $1, I take my environmental-slash-penny-pinching responsibilities seriously. Not that Into the Woods was shown in 3D in Larrikin's End. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Much more rhyme and reason in Sondheim than there is in Larrikin's End.

I find a seat I know from previous experience won't land me in the emergency room. There are up to twenty other patrons, most of them kids, all of them with popcorn. I don't actually like popcorn. For a movie of this length, I take a bottle of water and a tube of tic-tacs. I've pre-planned a raid on the tic-tac tube at the nominal intermission. I know this musical well. The first act ends with the false happy ending. 

Well, talk about engrossing. We're well into the second act and I've only recrossed my legs a couple of times to make sure they are still joined to the rest of me. We get to the bit in the film where there is an enormous storm. I realise that the thunder that is shaking the building isn't coming from the tinny little speakers at the back of the theatre. Then everything goes dark, literally. And the emergency lights come on.

For the fourth time in a week, Larrikin's End has suffered a power outage. (If you're here for a review of Into the Woods, you might want to move on, or at least down - then again, I'm not sure where I'm going to end up here. If you're the patient type, then maybe stay with me. Otherwise, you know what, reviews are cheap - actually they're free and where was I?) Oh, yeah, in the middle of a fairly big and not terribly unusual thunderstorm in a smelly cinema in Larrikin's End. 

Owner-slash comes in and asks if we'll all wait for 10-15 minutes to see whether the power comes back on. As a Larrikin's End resident for, god is it six years already? I offer a resounding yes because I know that unless you get the kind of storm that rips out thirty-storey trees, and this is not one of those, then someone usually finds the blown-out candle on our grandiosely named 'power grid' fairly quickly and relights it.

Owner-slash suggests we use the time to stretch our legs - assuming we still have some. I pop a couple of tic-tacs and take a toilet break. I know my way and I carry a small purse torch these days anyway - combination of failing eyesight and absence of street lighting. I'm pleased that it's an afternoon session. I start thinking about this strange land where rhetoric and reality are as disparate as, say, a cinema and a squash court sharing quarters and I start wondering why I end up spending several minutes every morning resetting all the home appliances that want me to know what time it is.

These days Australia is an embarrassing place to be in or from. It's always been a bit that way, but now, more than ever, man does it suck. Here am I, in movie limbo, while owner-slash guy takes on the extra role of liaising with the power company. We are privy to the entire exchange because he's conducting it on his mobile - the landline being knocked out. The complete uselessness of it seems poignantly emblematic.

I start thinking about the broader national power picture and how some of our leading morons recently managed to convince the chief morons of other countries at the G20 that it would be a good idea to build an 'infastrucha hub' here in Australia, a country where the lights go out every time the gods go bowling. In many ways, it's a classic Australian solution to a problem that would seem simple if only the people weren't. Get a bunch of educationally challenged suits who think they're important together in a room, wrap an enhanced finger buffet around it and you never have to think about how hard it is to bury a few power cables in the ground.

There really are big, tall (or perhaps short), terrible giants in (the) Sky. 

After twenty minutes, power is triumphantly restored to Larrikin's End. I schedule time to reset all my home devices and resume my seat in the cinema-slash-squash court. Ten more minutes pass as owner-slash guy takes advice from a group of animated and attentive under-fives as to where we were when everything went dark. Several spoilers later, we re-experience the giant crashing to the ground and make it to the end of the film without further interruption. The children are a bit baffled by the downbeat conclusion, (what happened to the Baker's Wife, Mummy?), but everyone goes away happy and there is rather a lot of spilt popcorn on the floor, adding to the heady sensory mix. Owner-slash-cleaner guy sighs and gets out the industrial hoover.

It is, as I'm sure you know by now, a fabulous film. Sondheim is Disney-proof and so cool now that every A-lister who's ever been one of the seven brides or brothers in a high-school production, wants to be in the film version of one of his shows. I've seen a couple of productions of Into the Woods and have the original Broadway version on VHS. Sadly, my player no longer works so I haven't watched it in ages.  Ditto Sunday in the Park with George - now there's a movie I'd like to see but please let's not have Johnny Depp as George. My favourite Sondheim musical is Company - mainly because it contains the best 11-o'clock number ever written (Being Alive). I saw the Sam Mendes production of it in London at the Donmar starring the divine Adrian Lester. I had a VHS of that as well as it was later shown on television. I guess I will have to buy them all again on DVD. Returning to the subject of things that really suck - constantly changing media formats anyone? 

After a few post-movie glasses of Chardonnay, I remember that I gave Niece Pants a copy of the Broadway version of Into the Woods when she was really little. I remember that it's always been a favourite of hers and how she loves the Sweeney Todd movie. I remember my own childhood and how I always latched onto the subversive and musicals often gave you that surreptitiously. I think about how engaged those little kids were with the movie we've just seen - something I would never have known if the power hadn't gone out. And I sense hope. As long as children are exposed to Sondheim's view of the world, all cannot be said to be lost.

Must go now and reset all the appliances that like to tell me what time it is otherwise they might retaliate by overcooking the lasagne or something...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The same only different

Holiday face-off by Pants

I'm on holiday which means I'm doing what I usually do, just in a different order and at different times of the day and in a place far, far away from Larrikin's End. Some things I do slightly less of (drink wine, eat toast), and other things I do slightly more of (exercise, watch television, talk to other people).

The most dramatic change is that my day shifts forward by about five hours. Instead of commencing at 10am with a leisurely cup of Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire blend, it begins at five with an elderly shuffle accompanied by an excitable Bichon Frise called Louis. When I'm in Queensland, I automatically wake at ten minutes to five. Ten minutes is all I need to poke in a pair of contact lenses and throw on some jogging rags, shoes and a hat. By the time we return at six, there is already enough heat in the day to fry eggs on our foreheads. Some body clock, huh.

Staying with Ma Pants means that I must adhere to a strict routine or find myself sitting on the settee in a recreation of a Monty Python sketch (I got up at five o'clock, made myself a cup of tea, looked out the window and I've been sitting here for seven hours...). It's not that Ma Pants is inert, it's just that time seems to go into free fall if I don't organise it rigidly but discreetly. As she is 85, she doesn't have a lot to do, whereas I have an entire lifetime's worth of unfinished projects to be getting on with. It's a situation that needs to be carefully managed. There are psychological factors in play, of which more later.

I allow up to sixty minutes for a shared breakfast at the world's most uncomfortable table. I find one of the greatest joys to be breakfast in bed and indulge almost every day. Back home in the cold south, I favour scrambled eggs on rye toast with a couple of slivers of smoked salmon, (strictly for the Omega 3, you understand), garnished with fresh herbs from the garden. I have this at around eleven so it's more of a brunch. I'll only eat 'chook' eggs, i.e. eggs from local people's backyard chooks that I buy from the grain store or one of the charity shops. Six o'clock is much too early for a cooked breakfast so I have fruit and yoghurt. Tropical fruit is unaffordable in Victoria and unavoidable in Queensland.

Food is a dominant issue when staying with Ma Pants. She has a fridge roughly the size of Reykjavik which she stuffs full of every imaginable perishable. She eats a spoonful of everything and then carefully packages the remainder in a clear plastic vessel and watches it decompose. It drives me nuts and I suspect, this may be a further benefit. Ma Pants is of the Wallis Simpson school of philosophical thought: one can never be too rich or too thin. She is less-than-secretly proud of being underweight though far from wealthy. Yet it's hard to envisage a more ostentatious display of excess bounty than the purchase of food you have no intention whatever of eating. My fridge, on the other hand, is the smallest fridge/freezer it's possible to buy and yet it still always looks pitifully empty.

Ma Pants has a four-bedroom house all to her tiny self. Three of the bedrooms have a wall-long built-in closet. Her own bedroom features a walk-in closet that Carrie Bradshaw would envy. All of them are jammed with her clothes. As a house guest, you are very lucky indeed to find a few inches of hanging space and a drawer in which to park a couple of sarongs. It's not like you could ever borrow any of her things, unless you are, in fact, a Barbie doll. I also have a four-bedroom house and two of these erstwhile sleeping modules are primarily libraries. Books are at least one-size-fits-all. I shelve my books systematically - fiction alphabetically, non-fiction by subject. I can usually find the book I want. Ma Pants knows where every single item of apparel she owns is located. No system, just a rather eerie sense of attachment. My clothes fall into two categories - in the wash and not in the wash. They are so old and faded now that I don't even need to separate darks from lights. It annoys Ma Pants that I don't dress up for a trip to the ATM. I am not above a little filial taunting myself.

The best time to get to the popular Noosa Beach is around 7.30. This guarantees a parking space close to the beach under a shady tree and a towel space also under a tree with low branches for the hanging up of sarongs and leaning against of the appropriately ancient 'boogie' board. I am still plonking my increasingly decrepit form onto a 20-year-old plank of Styrofoam but am on a sliding scale of success when it comes to catching waves. Chasing them is out of the question now. I can barely walk in wet sand. The encumbrance of flippers would render me completely incapable of going anywhere.  I have to be in the perfect spot when the wave peaks if I am to have any hope of launching. Still the water is glorious and the D's positively inspiring after a bleak winter. I stay at the beach until 10.45. In that time I write some diary notes, review the previous day's work, read some long-form articles or a few chapters of a book.

I am home and desalinated by eleven. Ma Pants and I enjoy our morning coffee. She will relate whatever governmental idiocy has been reported on the ABC morning programme. We are at least on the same political page. Despite our obvious profligacy, my family are all lefties. I believe I am what is known as a Chardonnay socialist - although possibly more actively Chardonnay than socialist these days. My conviction is as strong as ever, it's my belief that protest makes any difference that is waning. It's unwise to read too many capitalism-will-destroy-the-world books in a row. In quick succession this year I devoured Profits of Doom, Capital in the 21st Century and The Shock Doctrine. Vulture capitalism, rampant capitalism, disaster capitalism - all too, too vile. I'm fighting back by growing my own vegetables and darning my socks. Capitalism won't get fatter on my dollar.

Ma Pants and I lunch together at around 1pm. I've usually manged to sneak in a couple of hours work by then. Time to unpack the sneaking around bit. For reasons that I've never been able to fathom, Ma Pants dislikes the idea of my having any artistic aspirations, so I don't talk to her about what I'm doing lest it result in the dreaded frown of disdain. I am more sensitive than I should be and far more sensitive than I've ever been before. I no longer work towards public acceptance so the roller-coaster of disappointment is now rusting in the recesses of the part of my brain that used to deal with self-esteem. It was hugely liberating. Some time soon, I'm going to write a whole piece on what a crock the whole self-esteem phenomenon is. I'm not just working this out now by the way, I've never been the type who could look in the mirror and say, 'I love you, you're wonderful.' I've always been more inclined to say, 'Is that a melanoma on your nose or just a kohl smudge?'

In the afternoon, I take a swim in the pool. I can't do laps because Louis runs alongside barking like one of those sociopathic coaches that we used to praise in the 1980s for their ability to turn neurotic, exhausted teenagers into gold medals.  Breaststroke excites the canine pom-pom less but, unfortunately it's also boring for me. Sometimes we watch a film after my swim. Yesterday it was Nebraska, a film about an elderly man who may be a hopeless alcoholic in the early stages of dementia or may simply have withdrawn his cooperation with a world that can find no place for an individual with small but meaninful passions whose youth it stole in a pointless war. It's a long time since I've seen a film as satisfying. Irascibility is a very effective antidote to bleakness. 

Ours is not an unhappy family in any sense. It seems to me that we do not know each other well enough to have developed strong negative feelings and that doesn't bother us at all. We don't and never have shown much of an interest in what each other is doing. We always have trouble thinking of what to buy each other for Christmas and yet, our Christmas celebrations are always enjoyable. Not memorable, but enjoyable. This year I've found Christmas shopping almost unbearable, largely because the shit in the shops just gets shittier every year and this year the excrement levels have been elevated to extreme. Yet, it's done. The Christmas tree is up and the presents are all getting wrapped, a few at a time.

Ma Pants and I take it in turns to prepare an early supper. In this weather, it is invariably salad. Easy. You can't go wrong with salad. On my non-preparing nights, I can usually manage it sneak in another 60-90 minutes of work. And what is this work? Well it sure ain't blog posts, as you know. This year, I finally had to admit defeat with my novel-in-progress for the last eleven years and as many drafts, The Full English. There followed a bitter winter of lying under three duvets with plates of toast watching all the old musicals over and over. And then, on a blizzardy day at Seat of Pants irascibility won out. I remembered that I had once written a musical adaptation of a Charles Dickens story which never quite worked. So, despite the fact that I had not played the piano in over six years and was coming off the back of another long project that had 'not worked out', I decided to revisit the musical. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, it has come right and I have learned to use a musical notation programme which eliminates both the need for a piano and the memory of how to play it.

In a couple of weeks, I'll go back to doing the same things in the usual order. I'll have eaten some Christmas pudding, kissed the family farewell and embarked on the dreary journey back to Larrikin's End. Somehow though, I have the feeling that 2015 is going to be a better year for me. I have had my own Nebraska moment. Like the film's character, I seem to have snatched a surprise success from the gnawing mouth of doomed failure, if only in my own mind. But then again, that is the only place where it really matters.

Best wishes to you and yours. See you on the other side.