Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 %: Movies Released in 2012

The final day of 2012, how many of you thought we wouldn't see this day? Those pesky Mayans! But anyway the year is over and so I bring you this, the final part of my end of year review, Movie of the Year awards time!

I admit that I haven't yet seen all of the really interesting looking movies released in 2012 but I have seen 76 of them and largely I've been unimpressed. As previously discussed this is symptomatic of the fact that I have a tendency to give the garbagey Hollywood nonsense a shot before trying out the interesting stuff AND most importantly here, I am really hard to please and easy to disappoint.

As a dedicated Letterboxd user I have taken advantage of their site to assess my viewing data and produce these end of year lists and as such I am using their release dates as opposed to local, Australian, release dates. For example this means that The Inbetweeners Movie which I definitely saw in 2011 is counted towards my tally and also means some 2011 American releases, such as Hugo, that only made it here in 2012 cannot be considered so I guess it evens out.

As so few of these 76 films garnered more than 7/10 scores I have decided to forego the usual Top 10 in favour of a Top 10 %, so here is my Top 7 Movie Releases of 2012 followed by a complete list of the 76 films for comparison. The 7 consists of 1 female director, 3 female protagonists, 2 movies made outside of Hollywood, 0 Oscar contenders and only 1 Golden Globe nominee. Considering my opinion of the recent Oscar winners this simply confirms that my taste is better than the voting members of the MPAA and of course the opinions of the masses.

7. Bachelorette Dir. Leslye Headland
These girls are so mean and sassy, it's like watching my life, only prettier. Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan are two of my current favourite actors and Headland gets the best out of them throughout. Of course Isla Fisher is Isla Fisher and I love watching her. This thing for redheads is getting to be a concern. And Kirsten Dunst is a perfect blend of soft-centred and tough edged, funny and sincere.

6. Damsels in Distress Dir. Whit Stillman
A charming, witty and wonderful surprise, not least because Greta Gerwig can act. A little bizarre, not for everybody for sure but I had a wonderful time with Whit Stillman's flowers. Full Review can be found here.

5. End of Watch Dir. David Ayer
A decent movie on its own but when you take in to consideration the superb performances of its cast, specifically the powerful leads Gyllenhaal and Pena, it becomes something much more impressive. Full review can be found here.

4. Premium Rush Dir. David Koepp
Jospeh Gordon Levitt, the man of the moment, starred in four films during 2012 and only one was truly enjoyable on its own merits from start to finish. Premium Rush is pure entertainment from start to finish; it's not a masterpiece of visual craft, it's not even interesting or unique storytelling it is just a 90 minute chase movie that relies on it's stars to carry it through the weaker moments. JGL and Michael Shannon are really great to watch in this.

3. Chronicle Dir. Josh Trank
The biggest surprise of the year for me. A found footage movie that was actually good and didn't rely on cheap scares? Even more impressive when at its heart it is a teen movie in a generation of lazy and obvious teen movies. Chronicle seems to be all about taking chances with the genre and style, not taking the safe option when something more interesting could be tried. It is funny and honest and owes as much to Larry Clark as it does The Avengers.

2. Killer Joe Dir. William Friedkin
Very cool. Very creepy. Superb performances all round but especially from Man of the Year, Matthew McConaughey. Everything was understated including the great direction from Friedkin. A highly enjoyable film with one of the best blow job scenes ever seen in cinemas. This was the only film to even come remotely close to competing with the winner. Really was a poor year of cinema for me.

1. The Deep Blue Sea Dir. Terence Davies
Winner by a near landslide, Terence Davies adaptation of the Terence Rattigan play is slow moving and understated, a study of passion told in the repressed style of the period and will be poking and prodding at your mind for days after watching I'm certain. A beautiful and mesmerising film featuring a powerful performance from Rachel Weisz that wasn't bettered this year.

Nothing more remains for me to say other than Happy New Year, make safe decisions, don't throw fireworks and please Hollywood how about a few more intelligent movies next year for lazy viewers like me?

The full 76: The Master, Skyfall, The Sweeney, 21 Jump Street, The Avengers, Cloud Atlas, The Inbetweeners, The Baytown Outlaws, Tomorrow You're Gone, Deep Blue Sea, Killer Joe, Premium Rush, End of Watch, Damsels in Distress, Bachelorette, Killing Them Softly, Flight, Contraband, Arietty, Deadfall, Home Alone 5, Lincoln, Jack Irish Bad Debts, Jack Irish Black Tide, Argo, Seven Psychopaths, Frankenweenie, Paranorman, Taken 2, Looper, Arbitrage, Liberal Arts, Lawless, For A Good Time Call, Why Stop Now, Expendables 2, Cosmopolis, 2 Days In New York, Goats, The Campaign, Red Hook Summer, Total Recall, The Watch, Ruby Sparks, Dark Knight Rises, Savages, Amazing Spider-Man, Ted, Magic Mike, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, Brave, Safety Not Guaranteed, Prometheus, Treasure Island, Moonrise Kingdom, Men In Black 3, Hysteria, God Bless America, Bernie, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Lock Out, American Reunion, Iron Sky, Goon, Casa Di Mi Padre, Jeff Who Lives At Home, Friends With Kids, John Carter, The Lorax, Comes A Bright Day, Journey 2 The Mysterious Island, Safe House, Chronicle, Woman In Black, The Grey, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Friday, December 28, 2012

Top 10: Matthew McConaughey Movies (Man of the Year Award)

 The year is coming to an end and I've been procrastinating long enough over my final Top 10 for 2012 but with Skyfall to be seen on Saturday I thought I'd share one last Blahblahblahgay award, Man of the Year. 2012 is without a shadow of a doubt the year of one man and that man is 2005's Sexiest Man Alive, Matthew McConaughey. His three performances stand out so far beyond those of the other mere mortal actors that only Guy Pearce can come remotely close. The major question, 'are we just reacting to his previous incarnation as a good looking piece of meat for Kate Hudson, that hideous woman from Sex in the City, Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck's ex and Penelope Cruz to hang off of?' And you might follow that question up with 'can he maintain this exciting new direction?'

“I looked around, at my life and career, and said, ‘I’m in a good spot.’ I was reading some of the same action and romantic comedy stuff. Nothing was that exciting. I had done those for a while. They were fun. They treated me well, I treated them well. They paid my rent. I said, ‘I want to do something else – I don’t know what it is, but I want something to scare me.’ That was a word I remember telling myself. And I wanted it to scare me in a good way.” 

“There’s two sorts of fear: one you embrace and one you should listen to and turn the other way. Good fear is when you’re scared because you don’t know the answer, and looking at a role, whoa. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be able to do with that; this is really courageous and daring material, I’m not sure about it. But I’m excited, because I know I’ll come out the other side, I just gotta go through the blind spots, dive in, and say, ‘I’m going to take it on.’ It’s very different than a fear when you’re trying to make it work because you think it would be eccentric for eccentricity’s sake — that’s not the good fear. That’s the one you should probably turn away from and go, ‘No, the reason my gut isn’t into this is because it’s wrong’” - Matthew McConaughey

I've been a big fan of the guy for a long time, since I saw him charming the pants off of everyone in EdTV opposite the now invisible Jenna Elfman, so it comes as a pleasant surprise to find him actually acting these days. But even prior to that I had seen him in five big films in five years going back to Dazed and Confused and ending with The Newton Boys, a movie that could have finished everyone's career but instead only accounted for Skeet Ulrich and yet I hadn't paid any attention to him. Clearly somebody did as when he was finally given some room to breath and put his own stamp on things he excelled.

How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days, Failure To Launch, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and The Wedding Planner are just four of the stinkers in his past but for me this second stage of McConaughey's career is most notable for his musical talent, later referenced with a great big wink in Magic Mike. He was arrested by Austin, Texas police in October 1999 and charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia after a neighbour called to complain about the volume of the music coming from his home. On arriving at the scene the cops found McConaughey dancing naked and playing the bongos. The drug charges against McConaughey were eventually dropped, though the star did plead guilty to violating Austin's noise ordinance, for which he paid a $50 fine. How cool is that?

As his bank account grew fatter his credibility dropped off but now in a move that mirrors that of Ben Affleck (only without the directing so far) he has boldly taken hold of his career. In a statement that basically reads as a fuck you to the Hollywood nonsense that made him rich, he has been seeking out interesting scripts and putting in bold performance after bold performance. In 2012 he kicked some serious acting ass and the lack of awards consideration is surprising to say the least. Major supporting roles in Bernie and Magic Mike would have been enough for most actors in the wake of last years Lincoln Lawyer but his eponymous turn in William Friedkin's (who has surely made a film as a call to arms for all directors needing to restart their careers in a low budget style) Killer Joe was by far the most enjoyable male performance I've seen this year and a complete revelation. And yes I did see the chameleon-like Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln.

It doesn't look like this will be a one off year either, with forthcoming releases Mud (fugitive from law gets help from PG-13 kids,) Dallas Buyers Club (horrifically skinny AIDS sufferer opposite Jared Leto,) The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorcese directed true crime story) and the most dangerous film of all The Paperboy, which just might suffer from the recent John Cusack curse and stink, 2013 could be even bigger for him. Here's hoping the Bongos train is too powerful to be derailed by that curse.

To celebrate 2012, the year of Matthew McConaughey, here is a selection of my ten favourite Bongos movies:

10. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) Dir. Brad Furman
If only because it was the start of this current run of fine form The Lincoln Lawyer is worth seeing.

9. Reign of Fire (2002) Dir. Rob Bowman
Bongos, Batman and in Rob Bowman a key figure in the history of The X Files? Of course it has a place on this list even if it wasn't so great.

8. A Time To Kill (2006) Dir. Joel Schumacher
Easily the best of the John Grisham mega blockbuster adaptations with a cast that also features Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, Oliver Platt AND both Sutherlands not to mention it is one of the most memorable (in a good way) of Joel Schumacher awful career.

7. Sahara (2005) Dir. Breck Eisner
OK so this is one of Leah's favourite movies of all time and I'm not entirely sure why. It's good fun, the kind of adventure movie that seems to be quite rare these days and don't forget the underrated Steve Zahn.

6. Dazed and Confused (1993) Dir. Richard Linklater
I was never a huge fan of this like others are but there's no mistaking that this was a great followup to Slacker and features some phenomenal talent in its ensemble cast.

5. Bernie (2012) Dir. Richard Linklater
It was Jack Black's movie but what Bongos did he did very well indeed.

4. Magic Mike (2012) Dir. Steven Soderbergh
Not one of Soderbergh's best movies due to its uneven nature but features a powerful performance from McConaughey and is the second movie in which I didn't hate Channing Tatum.

3. EdTV (1999) Dir. Ron Howard
Directed by Ron "Oscar Machine" Howard this was far from a success, especially in the face of the similar themed but far better Truman Show. However McConaughey is at his charming best and is surrounded by great actors seemingly having a great time which carries this film over the finish line. Something tells me it was quite prophetic and might require a rewatch in the near future.

2. Lone Star (1996) Dir. John Sayles
It's a John Sayles with a memorable lead performance from Chris Cooper, what more do you want?

1. Killer Joe (2012) Dir. William Friedkin
Pretty much my favourite new movie in a long time thanks to bold direction and a brave performance from Bongos, not to mention the supporting players putting in high class shifts.

I apologise to fans of Contact and am waiting to hear somebody defend those chickflicks. Go!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 5: Movies Seen For The First Time in 2012 (Catchup Awards)

I've seen 195 movies since I started using Letterboxd on July 15th, prior to that I didn't keep count but I would say that my total should reach somewhere around the 450 mark for 2012. My tendency to watch a load of old crap simply because it seems easier than watching movies that I will actually enjoy is a problem I hope to rectify one day but as it stands the movies I place in the Why Did They Even Bother? category outnumber the picks for Sometimes They Make Something Great which in theory made picking the winner of this award easy. The results were interesting, 4 out of 5 were made in a year ending in 7, the odd film out was the newest (2008) and the only film directed by a woman (Kelly Reichardt) and the only selection with a female protagonist (Michelle Williams).

The Blahblahblahgay Top 5 for Best Movie Made Prior to 2012 That I Somehow Had Never Seen Before AKA The Catchup Award follows:

5. Point Blank (1967) Dir. John Boorman

One of if not the best films of its kind. John Boorman's direction combined with Lee Marvin's screen presence and Richard Stark's character leave this film head and shoulders above the rest of the field. It's a violent next generation film noir that owes as much to Godard as it does Hammett and shares many similarities with Melville's Le Samourai. The influence of this film cannot possibly be estimated, not least on my second favourite director, Steven Soderbergh.

4. Hombre (1967) Dir. Martin Ritt

I remember when I first saw this I thought I could watch a thousand more western films and not see a better one, so far that has proven to be true. Newman is subtle yet powerful but the impressive Diane Cilento steals the show as Jessie the innkeeper. Its rare enough to find a strong, independent woman with brains and class in a film let alone in a genre typified by misogyny.

3. Sweet Smell Of Success (1957) Dir. Alexander MacKendrick

I honestly can't find a thing wrong with this movie. Top quality performances from Lancaster and Curtis and a great script combine for one of the most memorable, fast talking movies I've ever seen and a great from the history of film noir to boot.

2. Wendy and Lucy (2008) Dir. Kelly Reichardt

American indie cinema is so often filled with quirky adorkable people that it's easy to think that this is all young writers and directors have to offer. Sure some of them are very well made, entertaining and filled with good performances but the majority seem to be a little bit of a mess. In the case of Wendy & Lucy however I will happily say that this is as good as low budget indie cinema gets in the 21st century. I don't recall seeing an American make such a wonderful slice of life drama as this before. In my experience it is a form of cinema the British excel at but Kelly Reichardt has crafted a "Poor Cow" for America in the 21st century and even more impressively has made it accessible. Directed with admirable restraint she gets the best out of Michelle Williams who surprises me with every new performance, this is cinema that verges on perfection but doesn't quite make it.

1. Metropolis (1927) Dir. Fritz Lang

It's not every day you get to watch a masterpiece for the first time and Metropolis is a masterpiece in the true sense of the word. This is essential viewing for any lover of cinema, even more so in the new reconstructed and remastered Blu-ray version.

Anything you regret waiting until 2012 to watch? Seen many masterpieces this year or are you like me and generally watch the dumbest Hollywood flick you can find?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bottom 5: Movies Released in 2012 (The Drive Awards)

As of December 20th I have seen 67 movies released in 2012 according to Letterboxd, of which three were definitely TV movies and one was seen in 2011 and will not be considered for these end of year review posts.
I'll start my end of year movie recap by taking a look at the movies I actively disliked. In an attempt to avoid negativity and endless criticism I would like to point out that whilst these are not necessarily the worst movies of the year by any stretch of the imagination these are those five special films that I hoped for more from and was sorely disappointed.

I think it was last year that Drive killed my enthusiasm for cinema and in some ways this list could be called The Drive Awards AKA Man! I Hated This Movie. 

5. The Watch Dir. Akiva Schaffer

So much comedic potential gone to waste with this film, my expectations weren't too high but I did expect to laugh more frequently than I did. Easily the worst comedy of the year for me simply because of who was in it. I'm sure a Rob Schneider would have been a thousand times worse but then I would never watch one of his movies ever again so obviously it can't be nominated.

4. Savages Dir. Oliver Stone

I loved the book and hated the movie, there's a little bit of book reader disappointment involved in my disdain for the latest Oliver Stone mess but that aside I would have expected more from an Oliver Stone movie featuring lots of violence, such as being entertained not put to sleep. I make my plea once more, Mr Stone please find a way to remove Hollywood's dick from your ass or quietly retire from making films.

3. Dark Knight Rises Dir. Christopher Nolan

For so long this was my least favourite movie experience of the year. I know I am in the minority and that so many people orgasmed over its "brilliance" but I had so many problems with this tired and obvious movie (I don't even count plot holes as an issue, before that criticism starts here) from the second the plane was hijacked and they've only been magnified over time. It's certainly not worse than Birdemic or The Room or whatever because Nolan actually has talent but it certainly made me hate cinema for a while.

2. Total Recall 2012 Dir. Len Wiseman

I guess you could say that I expected something from this film, I didn't expect it to live up to the original or even the Philip K. Dick source story but I did expect to enjoy myself a little. Afterall it's a sci-fi chase story with lots of violence. And that expectation is what saves this from being my worst film of the year. Don't get me wrong, this movie has absolutely nothing going for it, it stinks from start to finish as discussed during the live twitter review but perhaps I wouldn't have hated it so much if it had a different title. Perhaps. Of course, if I'd waited another fortnight before watching the winner of the award there would have been nothing for this disaster to hide behind.

1. Taken 2 Dir. Olivier Megaton

It made a late run for it and scored big time. Man I hated this movie.To celebrate, here is my full review:
Holy shit snacks that was bad! Taken 2 has done what I never thought was possible, made me reconsider just how bad Total Recall 2012 was; compared to this steaming pile of nonsense it just might be considered an OK movie.
Perhaps my memory isn't so hot or I'm looking through rose-tinted glasses but I felt certain that whilst the first movie wasn't great it was a decent revenge thriller that featured Liam Neeson kicking so much ass in a series of well directed set pieces.
This one was mean spirited, derisive, clichéd, convoluted, slow, boring, un-thrilling, stupid, senseless, pointless, messy, exposition filled, racist, badly directed, horribly written, disastrously performed, and unnecessary.
My favourite parts: the directors name is Megaton and I couldn't get the movie title Giant Bay versus Megaton out of my head. Two painful directors, one movie, no survivors.
Also there's a moment in the first 30 minutes of nothing happening when Neeson gets given a brown envelope by some oil rich sheikh he was protecting, he opens it has a little chuckle to himself and puts it in his jacket never to mention it again. I can only assume that it was a moment of realisation that the large cheque received for starring in this worthless piece of shit sequel possibly wasn't worth it and he would be sacking his agent pretty sharpish.

What are your nominations for The Drive Awards? How often do you find yourself saying "Man, I Hate this Movie"? Who wants to be the first to defend Dark Knight Rises?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mixtapery: Cuckoo Clock Shop (2012)

Welcome to another blahblahblahgay mixtape post. Due to Tyler at Southern Vision pointing out that people use Youtube for listening to music (this is foreign to me but clearly there's a market for it with the large volume of tracks uploaded to black backgrounds etc.) I have embedded videos at the end of this post.

As I briefly mentioned in the Like What? post the end of year mixtapes have been about compiling those songs and artists that have been the soundtrack to my year; mostly new finds or new albums from bands I love with some old stuff thrown in too. The major reason for the mixtape however is to share. Music has always been about sharing with others, learning from them and educating each other in music we might not have heard about otherwise. I've noticed with the massive growth in music online that finding things that my friends haven't heard of yet is getting harder and harder but hopefully this mixtape has something that you haven't yet heard and perhaps become part of the soundtrack to your 2013.

Highlights from this years mixtape for me as the compiler have to be linked to the few live shows we managed to get to in 2012.

Back at Easter we travelled to Sydney to see Taking Back Sunday with their original lineup for the first time. As major influences on my musical taste as a younger man their new album was a massive return to form and such a wonderful surprise that I still get excited when I scroll past it on my iPod, it's like when you reconnect with an old friend and discover that they are much more fun than you remember.

The history of TBS is complicated by the formation of Straylight Run by half of the band and when they played my favourite Straylight song back in Easter it was easily the most unexpected moment from any show I've ever been to, needless to say I sang along like nobody was listening.

We saw the fabulous Blood Red Shoes for the fifth time whilst we were in London, they were supporting Gaslight Anthem and so we got to see them perform on a bigger stage (especially compared to the London public toilet converted in to a music venue we had previously seen them at) with a bigger sound and listening to them you would never have guessed that they were just two skinny indie kids up there.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were another band we saw live in London and despite the poor stage presence they managed to turn a pleasant album on CD in to an overwhelming aural experience. They were supported that night by Hatcham Social who defied all opening act expectations by actually being good and making me want to buy their album. I can't remember the last time that happened.

The mixtape also features songs from albums I have reviewed this year by Pierce The Veil, General Fiasco and Alec Ounsworth, follow those links for full reviews.

So enough waffle, here's the zip file for you to download the complete mp3 experience uploading issues mean this zip is not ready yet, and don't forget to leave some comments on how you might prefer to receive this mixtape in future and how much you love the music obviously.
Cuckoo Clock Shop (2012) at Spotify

NY Girl by Hatcham Social

Everything Is The Same by Pull In Emergency

Cold by Blood Red Shoes

Lift by Pharaohs

3 Hearts by Johnny Foreigner

Elizabeth by The Kabeedies

Is This Love? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Map To The Freezer by Stagecoach

Mimi Ash by Oh No! Yoko

The Age You Start Losing Friends by General Fiasco

An Exquisite Year For Charm by Hello Bear

We Got The Beat by The Go-Go's

It Ends & It Starts In A Dark Room by Lady Fortune

A Boat To Row, To Row, To You by Boat To Row

Belong by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Write About Love by Belle & Sebastian (featuring Carey Mulligan)

What Fun. by Alec Ounsworth

Girls by Elephants

Billy Liar by The Decemberists

This Is All Now by Taking Back Sunday

Dead End Dreams by Man Overboard

Existentialism on Prom Night by Straylight Run

I'm Low on Gas and You Need a Jacket by Pierce The Veil

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Review: True Grit by Charles Portis (1968)

True Grit by Charles Portis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ranked #3 on my Top 10 Reads in 2012

"True Grit is the best novel to come my way in a very long time...One of those rare sweet can recommend it to inveterate fiction readers and to those who read only one or two novels a year." - taken from the back of the book.

Blurb: True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl from Dardanelle, Arkansas, who sets out in the winter of eighteen seventy-something to avenge the murder of her father.
Since not even Mattie (who is no self-doubter) would ride into Indian Territory alone, she "convinces" one-eyed "Rooster" Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshall, to tag along with her. As Mattie outdickers and outmaneuvers the hard-bitten types in her path, as her performance under fire makes them eat their words, her indestructible vitality and harsh innocence by turns amuse, horrify, and touch the reader. What happens-to Mattie, to the gang of outlaws unfortunate enough to tangle with her-rings with the dramatic rightness of legend and the marvelous overtones, the continual surprises, of personality. True Grit is eccentric, cool, straight, and unflinching, like Mattie herself, who tells the story a half-century later in a voice that sounds strong and sure enough to outlast us all.

Thoughts: Quite recently I've had a thing for alternative western stories. Even going so far as to write a chapter of my DVD guide about the genre. I quite enjoyed Three-Ten to Yuma and Other Stories and was a little disappointed by the recent award winning The Sisters Brothers but it was the startling The Hawkline Monster that impressed me the most. True Grit was the one I really wanted to read however but all I could find was the Coen Brothers movie tie-in version. Not a single old copy to be found it seems. I held off, thinking my recent trip to Europe would facilitate the locating of a really pretty old pulp, no joy. In the end I found it in the secondhand bookshop I used to work at on the second day after getting back in to Perth. I travelled the world to find this book and it was well worth it.

If you are one of the 10,000 people to have rated this on Goodreads so far you already know what this is about. If you are not, the chances are that you've seen one or both of the fantastic movies that have been made from it in the last fifty years and you still don't need me to tell you that this is the story of Mattie Ross, Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon the guy with the French name and their quest to capture the murderer Tom Chaney. Set at the turn of the century in Arkansas and Oklahoma Charles Portis captures the spirit and rhythmic cadence of the time with apparent ease as he spins an authentic sounding tale of this period of American history.

“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.”

Mattie Ross is a compelling narrator, with a strong, unique voice. Her travelling companions are equally compelling and conflicted characters, two very different men who Mattie doubts over the course of the novel but all three of them demonstrate the meaning of the title of the novel in spades by the climax. The adventure is occasionally tense, quite violent at times, graphically depicted and wonderfully told. The denoument is one of the most excitingly written pieces of fiction I remember reading.

From the opening page I was hooked, everything about the novel was a joy to read. Whilst The End of Everything made me feel I could never read a book as good ever again, True Grit gives me hope that somewhere out there even more wonderful pieces of literature can be found to enjoy. Highest recommendation.

View all my book reviews

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review: The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston (2008)

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ranked #9 on my Top 10 Reads in 2012

With his teaching career derailed by tragedy and his slacker days numbered, Webster Fillmore Goodhue makes an unlikely move and joins Clean Team, charged with tidying up L.A.'s grisly crime scenes. For Web, it's a steady gig, and he soon finds himself sponging a Malibu suicide's brains from a bathroom mirror and flirting with the man's bereaved and beautiful daughter.

Then things get weird: The dead man's daughter asks a favor. Every cell in Web's brain tells him to turn her down, but something makes him hit the Harbor Freeway at midnight to help her however he can. Soon enough it's Web who needs the help when gun-toting California cowboys start showing up on his doorstep. What's the deal? Is it something to do with what he cleaned up in that motel room in Carson? Or is it all about the brewing war between rival trauma cleaners? Web doesn't have a clue, but he'll need to get one if he's going to keep from getting his face kicked in. Again. And again. And again

Thoughts: This book is fantastic. I was blown away from the start and didn't want to stop reading until I'd gotten to the end. It transcends genres and categorisation but in the end I'd say it was literature because of the over-arching story of how one man deals with an horrific event that happened in his past.

The character of Web is so real, his voice addictive and funny and his adventure in to the world of crime scene cleanup is a highly entertaining surface for the emotional journey he takes. But it is not just Web that is well written it is everyone in the ragtag bunch of people he comes in to contact with thanks to his new job. Guys, girls, they all have a purpose for the story but they also are rounded and true with unique voices in addition to that purpose.

There are some really grizzly no holds barred descriptive passages of violence and crime scenes; one early on was so vividly described I felt as if the stench was on the air and forced my imagination to calm down before it made me vomit.

And it really is funny, so many laugh out loud moments that seemed in tune with that excellent TV show Archer, and it's not vulgar or in poor taste, the jokes are not at the expense of victims of crime as it might have been easy to do, the humour comes from the honest human reactions and interactions.

I can't sing this books praises highly enough, well worth the read, one of the most enjoyable books I've read in the last 12 months, right up there with the very excellent and in some ways similar Savages.

HBO developed a pilot based on this book but it never got aired or picked up, I find this slightly disappointing as obviously it has a lot of potential for recurring characters and long running storylines in the world of crime scene cleanup. Think The Sopranos meets Sunshine Cleaning.

View all my book reviews

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott (2011)

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Megan Abbott really hit this one out of the park.

Blurb: A close-knit street, the clink of glass on glass, summer heat. Two girls on the brink of adolescence, throwing cartwheels on the grass. Two girls who tell each other everything. Until one shimmering afternoon, one of them disappears. Lizzie is left with her dread and her loss, and with a fear that won’t let her be. Had Evie tried to give her a hint of what was coming, a clue that she failed to follow?

Caught between her imaginary guilt, her sense of betrayal, her own powerful need, and the needs of the adults around her, Lizzie’s voice is as unforgettable as her story is arresting.

Thoughts: Everyone's favourite noir pixie takes a step out of her comfort zone with this fantastic contemporary novel. As an award winning afficionado of classic noir tropes, utilised to great effect in period pieces Die a Little, Queenpin and others, Megan Abbott demonstrated her writing style to great effect but with The End of Everything she has taken further leaps towards greatness.

No longer confined by her research in to 50s Americana The End of Everything is a modern tale of lust, revenge, guilt, and my favourite four words; secrets, lies, passions and repressions, that takes it cues from the "social problem" greats of noir history such as Mildred Pierce. Evie, a thirteen year old girl goes missing and everything in the world of her best friend, Lizzie, is changed forever.

Told from the point of view of Lizzie this is not a straightforward read, it is dark and disturbing, it might make you feel icky and dirty, you'll be filled with an unnerving sense of dread because you are not a thirteen year old girl and everything in your bones tells you that this girl is hopelessly wrong and nothing good can ever come of any of her actions.
"...for most 13-year-old girls, life is “noir.” It’s all sex and terror and longing and confusion. Everything feels big and frightening and thrilling. The stakes feel dramatically high and everything feels precarious — it’s a time of heightened everything." - Megan Abbott

This book has drawn comparisons to The Lovely Bones all over the place but I warn you Megan Abbott is not in this game to provide catharsis, she wants to twist your insides in to knots and steal your breath away, this is no easy ride and if you're not questioning yourself and your reaction to the words, the phrases, the tone, the rhythm then you're doing it wrong and I suggest something a little more surface, a little less feeling for your reading from this point on, a little more conventional perhaps.

Abbott wants you to be in Lizzie's world, her usual prose style is heightened to encourage this, from the opening pages you get a real sense of it thanks to wonderful descriptions of sights, sounds, sensations, memories;
"...voices pitchy, giddy, raving, we are all chanting that deathly chant that twists, knifelike, in the ear of the appointed victim." - p1

"...he's the one always vibrating in my chest, under my fingernails, in all kinds of places. There's much to say of him and my mouth can't manage it, even now. He hums there still. p4"

and once you're there Abbott takes you for all she can, you're vulnerable to suggestion now, weak, your defences down and she pulls no punches to the very last; just when you think you've taken all the hits you can another one buries itself deep in your gut as you marvel at the power of the author to make you feel this way without resorting to tired old genre cliche, the literary equivalent of soaring emotive music or removing all forms of doubt and hitting you with a sledgehammer or emotive phrases.

Even now, a day later, my heart is pounding at the thoughts of what I've just read, just experienced and I'm not sure if there's a single book out there that can follow this. After this I may have to retire from reading.

OK in the end I didn't but even so nothing has surpassed this book since the day I wrote this review, and only the pleasure of reading True Grit came close to recapturing the feelings evoked by Ms Abbott.

View all my book reviews

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Top 10: Novels Read (2012)

December means time to take a look back on the previous 12 months. Being a multimedia blog these days I have more than film to consider. First up I take a look at my literary experiences, which will be followed by the end of year mixtape (technical issues not withstanding) and then some movie lists before we start logging new things again in January.

2012 was a crazy year of reading for me. After logging only 46 novels in 2011 I started by challenging myself to read 100 books this year but that quickly changed to 200, a target which I managed to reach in September and 250 became my new aim. Incredibly very few of these books were awful, I guess I just pick safely the majority of the time. From those 250 here's my ten picks for most enjoyable read of the year and for the rest of the week there will be a full review of some titles not yet reviewed here on blahblahblahgay.

Moving Toyshop Mystic Arts Grifters Game Suddenly a Knock Player One Savages Snuff True Grit Eyes Open End Everything

10. The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin (1946)

That such a quirky self referrential novel was written in 1946 astounds me. It reads like a modern day farce that Jasper Fforde or even Stephen Fry would be proud of, the quality of writing and humour is that high. There aren't many laugh out loud moments but the entire book is filled with joy that will keep a smile on your face.

9. The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston (2008)

The character of Web is so real, his voice addictive and funny and his adventure in to the world of crime scene cleanup is a highly entertaining surface for the emotional journey he takes.  

Full Blahblahblahgay review

8. Grifter's Game by Lawrence Block (1961)

A brilliant piece of noir fiction with an ending that makes Nightmare Alley feel like a unicorn ride through a flowery meadow to the end of the rainbow where the dame of your dreams is frolicking in the gold as she awaits your arrival.

7. Suddenly, A Knock On The Door by Etgar Keret (2010)

Keret is completely unlike anything else I've read. His stories are often strange and slightly fantastical, funny, dark, impressive and affecting. This is a serious work that apparently exhibits all of Keret's usual trademarks in it's study of the human condition.

6. Player One by Douglas Coupland (2010)

So oil is expensive, people go crazy, strangers lock themselves in to an airport hotel cocktail bar to survive the fallout, Douglas Coupland documents this scenario in 'real time' and helps you take a long hard look at yourself and what it is that you are doing, what we as a species are doing.

Full Blahblahblahgay review

5. Savages by Don Winslow (2010)

This is an American novel that analyses post 9/11, post Obama America in such a way as to bathe it in bright flourescent light, all it's failings and weaknesses shown as plain as day. It is a bold move for an American to write this stuff, almost constantly bashing every little detail of the 21st century American dream gone wrong.

Full Blahblahblahgay review

 4. Snuff by Terry Pratchett (2011)

This is the best and most enjoyable Discworld book in quite some time, I think perhaps you have to go back to Thud! before you come across anything quite like it in terms of completeness of vision, storytelling and literary heart, I don't think it's a coincidence that it too was a Sam Vimes book.

3. True Grit by Charles Portis (1968)
Mattie Ross is a compelling narrator, with a strong, unique voice. Her travelling companions are equally compelling and conflicted characters, two very different men who Mattie doubts over the course of the novel but all three of them demonstrate the meaning of the title of the novel in spades by the climax. The adventure is occasionally tense, quite violent at times, graphically depicted and wonderfully told. The denouement is one of the most excitingly written pieces of fiction I remember reading.

Full Blahblahblahgay review

2. He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond (1984)

A remarkable work from a very talented man, it makes you care for somebody whose name you never hear mentioned, his clear affection towards the drunken mess of a man at the centre of the mystery is evident and if you don't care for Charlie Staniland or his life you will at least care that there is somebody out there desperate to bring his killers to justice.

Full Blahblahblahgay review

1. The End of Everything by Megan Abbott (2011)

Megan Abbott is not in this game to provide catharsis, she wants to twist your insides in to knots and steal your breath away.

Full Blahblahblahgay review

All ten picks get the full 5 star rating from me as first time reads and if you're looking for interesting stories written by talented authors then I can't recommend any of them highly enough. What were your favourite novels this year? Got any recommendations for me? Has anyone read any of these already? Leave all that and more in the comments below.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Movie Diary #5: November 2012

Before I run through my month of movie watching I have another guest post that I want to plug. Last week I told you about the first part of a History of Hard-Boiled and Noir Fiction essay written for Literary Exploration and for those who paid attention here's the link for the second part. Tomorrow marks the moment when I start to assess the past year; for those of you who really don't care about my literary adventures I'd suggest returning next week when the fiction lists are done with and we can move on to movies.

November saw me make up for lost time, thanks largely to TCM I feel I've seen a lot more films this month than in any month from the rest of the year. 51 films watched in November, nowhere near Chip's 108 in October but for me it's massive. And only 4 of them I'd seen previously.

Unhappily quite a few of them were completely forgettable but at least I'm racking up the big numbers right?

There were a few disappointments from trips to the cinema (The Master, Looper, Lawless,) but mainly because I had high enough expectations to leave the house, some truly awful experiences on the sofa (Total Recall and many more) and the balance of decent films (13) to great films (3) was weighted in entirely the wrong direction for my liking. I think I'd prefer quality over quantity in future.

Why Did They Even Bother?

Total Recall (2012) Do you remember my live blogging experiment on November 1st?  
This movie has nothing going for it at all. Nothing. It wasn't necessary to remake this film. It certainly wasn't necessary to remake it so badly.

The Watch (2012) compounded my awful start to the month.
I just hoped its potential would blossom out of the mediocre soil but instead I got a laugh every 15 minutes.

Blame (2010)
For an amateur movie this might have been pretty decent. The script was the worst part and some of the acting didn't help. I was hoping for something semi-decent from a local film for once but it just revisits the same old tired cliches of the genre and on top of that tries to get Australians to talk like they're not from here.
Savages (2012) got the full review treatment here.
For a film the length of Traffic this has 1/10th the substance. It took me less time to read the book than it did to watch the movie too.

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt (1956)
Dull and silly script with quite astonishingly boring direction from somebody of Lang's calibre. The same premise was told in a more interesting fashion in The Life of David Gale.
Paranorman (2012)
So the animation was decent but the story was ordinary and told in such a way as to put me to sleep. I can see why people are excited over all the horror references but that's not enough to rate a movie highly. If you want great classic horror references watch a Rob Zombie movie.
The Three Musketeers (2011)
Paul W S Anderson is a worse film maker than Uwe Boll.
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (2012)
Interesting premise, wonderful beginnings, dreadful endings. I think Melancholia might have had more laughs than this "romcom." I think Antichrist might have too.
It's a big horrible mess that tries to hard to be cute and sweet and quirky but suffers from too many ideas and overuse of cliche plus a distinct lack of pacing because this was interminable. Perhaps the end of the world might have been preferable to watching this?
Deadfall (2012)
I'm not sure how this film got made. A truly awful script that spawned some quite awful accents. An Austrian director that clearly couldn't tell the difference between an Eric Bana American accent and that of a real American. Combined this is one great big disaster.
The Campaign (2012)
Dear Zach Galifianakis I've seen your standup comedy, it is funny. Please try to resist appearing in movies that are this bad in future. Thank you. Write back soon.
It Passes The Time

The Human Factor (1979) is an unjustly forgotten Cold War classic.

Some names involved with this project, names that alone should be enough to have kept this film alive in the minds of cinephiles: John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Richard Attenborough, Tom Stoppard, Graham Greene, Otto Preminger, together they made an honest and realistic film about the human casualty of cold war espionage whilst thumbing their noses at the absurdity of somebody like James Bond existing in the British Secret Service.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
I actually expected this to be so much worse than it is, but there's so little cheese and gratuitous gore with a focus on human weaknesses and a realistic, tense, atmosphere that I was impressed despite the lack of interest in the plot.
Damsels in Distress (2012) the new Whit Stillman was reviewed in full here including some great screencaps.
A charming, witty and wonderful surprise, not least because Greta Gerwig can act. A little bizarre, not for everybody for sure but I had a wonderful time with Whit Stillman's flowers.
Bachelorette (2012) has been so unfairly criticised that I felt moved to review it here.
I heard a lot of talk about Bridesmaids last year but thought it was terribly derivitive with obvious humour and no subtlety, Bachelorette on the other hand really does play like a female centred Hangover but funny and with superb performances, most notably from Ms Dunst.
Shoot The Piano Player (1960) continued our noir-a-thon, taking us from Hollywood to Europe as the style evolves.
A pretty good adaptation of the David Goodis novel but much less dark and carrying much less weight. Truffaut instead crafted his own vision of the source material and in doing so created the first real new-wave noir.
The Lady Vanishes (1938) didn't live up to its hype.
Hitchcock's direction is technically very impressive, especially for 1938 and it's a jolly good adventure with some great natural performances but it's also a bit of a mess plotwise. It's slow to get going, with some really strange sequences in the hotel but once you're on the train things improve dramatically.
End of Watch (2012) featured some great performances and inspired yet another review from me this month.
Powerful and enjoyable movie making that is hamstrung by not following its own rules.
Butter (2011) brought Alicia Silverstone back to my screen! Can this be the signs of a comeback?
This was surprisingly funny with really good performances from all but it lacks a certain something that makes the great movies stand out and therefore is another example of what is wrong with The Weinstein Company in recent years.
The Master (2012)
Technically brilliant with superb performances but in the end it provided an unsatisfying cinematic experience.
Bande a Part (1964) was the second Godard from the noir-a-thon after Bout de Souffle.
I remember this with a lot more fondness than the pleasure I garnered from rewatching it. At times it's a fun caper but towards the end things start to drag and no amount of 3 minute dance sequences and 1 minutes silence can make up for it.
For A Good Time, Call... (2012) is the latest in the new supply of interesting, funny and intelligent female centred comedies we've seen recently.
The best bit, it's not about men. It's not about women finding men, fighting over men, winning back men, it's about self discovery and friendship.
Comes A Bright Day (2012) is an interesting and enjoyable low budget romantic movie set during a jewel heist.
Fine performances all round and some very nice cinematography are let down slightly by a script that could have used a little tightening and some really quite strange moments that defy explanation for their presence in the movie other than to appear quirky.
 Rogue Cop (1954)
I started out giving it the benefit of the doubt based on the source material but scene after scene rolls on by without any semblance of action or legitimate drama that aren't just plot devices.
Sometimes They Make Something Great
Shinoda Lang Preminger

Metropolis (1927) was supposed to be screened at the delightful John Waters themed Rooftop Cinema here in Perth but due to a rare rainstorm got cancelled, instead we drank our mulled wine on the sofa and screened the remastered Blu.
A masterpiece in the true sense of the word, this is essential viewing for any lover of cinema.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
One of the finest courtroom dramas ever made. Stewart and Gazzara are superb and Preminger provides solid direction as the loopholes in the legal system of America comes under scrutiny with more than its fair share of laughs. In my opinion, not as good as Wilder's Witness For The Prosecution.
Pale Flower (1964) was recommended to me by yet another in a series of great reviews from Bonjour Tristesse over a year ago and didn't disappoint when I finally saw it.
Mesmerising visuals combined with equally effective audio to create one of the finest pieces of noir nihilism ever captured on celluloid and certainly one of if not the best yakuza films ever made.

And that's November folks. Feel free to discuss absolutely anything in the comments. How did my 51 films stack up against your monthly viewing figure? Have you ever come close to watching 108 movies in one month? This weekend I saw 8 movies, do you think that level of viewing is sustainable? Does anybody agree with me on that Steve Carrell movie? Who has been lucky enough to see Metropolis outside with an orchestra without getting rained off?