I’m looking and I’m dreaming for the first time… The art of the good review

Jessie Tu’s debut novel was published recently: A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing.  There was a splash of press as Tu tried desperately to convince everybody that she was edgy and had something to say.  In one interview, she complained that she had started studying law but gave it up because she was too edgy (law students are famously not edgy) and had something to say (law students are famously reserved in their opinions).  But it had been written with the support of an Australia Council grant, so we all had to take a moment to applaud how our taxpayer dollars were supporting the edgiest and most full-of-things-to-say upcoming authors who were definitely going to shake the establishment.

Two months later, Tu has returned to centre stage with a review of another debut novel: The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey.  And the review is… bad.

Continue reading “I’m looking and I’m dreaming for the first time… The art of the good review”

Now that the truth is just a rule that you can bend… On Roger Scuton

Roger Scruton passed away after a several-month battle with cancer. In the context of our highly polarised media environment, it was almost predictable that the discussion about his life would split so sharply between those who thought him some kind of unparalleled genius and those who thought he was a deplorable monster.  He was neither.

Scruton demonstrated that it was still possible — despite the ubiquity of trollumnist versions of conservatism — to advocate an intellectually serious version of conservatism.  Although it was intellectually serious, Scruton was prone to vanity and some level of dishonesty in his presentation of the arguments of others.  That’s not a fatal criticism: the same has been said about countless many prominent academics.

I have a shelf dedicated to Scruton’s works. He is highly readable and — provided you engage the text with a critical lens — his vibrant style can be enjoyable for short dips.

Continue reading “Now that the truth is just a rule that you can bend… On Roger Scuton”

I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines… Anyway, so I went to see ‘Joker’…

When somebody tells you that Rick & Morty is their favourite show, or that Ayn Rand is their favourite writer, or that they want to be a horror writer like H.P. Lovecraft, your red flag detector should go heywire.  Don’t get me wrong, I quite like Rick & Morty, but every 16-35 year old guy who loves the show tends to idolise Rick.  In a sense, we’re not watching the same show.

Joker will soon fit into the same category.  The 16-35 year old guy who loves the film won’t have watched the same film as the rest of us.  They’ll have watched a film about an anti-hero who has ‘one bad day’ and becomes a figure for the violent expression of the real, authentic, and justifiable rage that 16-35 year old boys have because girls don’t pay them enough attention and all their man-baby desires aren’t immediately satiated.

My conflict with the film is that I’ve seen most of the best elements in other films.  I spent a lot of this film wishing that I was watching Taxi Driver instead.

Continue reading “I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines… Anyway, so I went to see ‘Joker’…”

My days end best when this sunset gets itself… I gave up after one session of TEDxCanberra. The puzzle of ideas festivals

My organisation was dealing with a problem.  It wanted to reform its business processes to put it in a better financial position.  The solution had already been decided long before the problem was fully understood: we were going to introduce a new piece of software.  This was contentious and, very quickly, there was little good will left to make anybody believe that the proposed software solution would work.

To address this problem, senior administrators called a meeting.  No agenda.  No real communication about what the meeting would cover.  But it was time to call everybody together into a room in order to ‘talk’.  The session began with five minutes of trying to make the audio visual system in the room work, before we realised we were going to be subjected to a TED Talk that had been uploaded to YouTube.  Make sure the important things are in the goldfish bowl before adding the unimportant things.

This is the popular association with the TED Talk: vapid ideas that focus on the presentation and style of delivery rather than critical engagement with the ideas themselves.  There’s a real problem in your organisation, life, or community?  Here’s a ten-fifteen minute hot take about what your problem is and how you can fix that with a bit of inspirational thinking and elbow grease.

Today is the ninth TEDxCanberra session.  I gave up after the first session and went home to read instead.  At $160 for a ticket, I was strongly tempted to try to endure it… but why?  The key idea on display was that ideas festivals are broken and they need to be rethought.

Continue reading “My days end best when this sunset gets itself… I gave up after one session of TEDxCanberra. The puzzle of ideas festivals”

It’s only one scene, but to me it don’t matter… ‘Death of Stalin’, ‘Pacific Rim 2’, ‘Ready Player One’

I haven’t written about movies in ages.

Continue reading “It’s only one scene, but to me it don’t matter… ‘Death of Stalin’, ‘Pacific Rim 2’, ‘Ready Player One’”

I’m sure you’ll have some cosmic rationale… Answering Quadrant’s (@jolly_rogered) questions to @SenatorFifield

Being conservative, I have strong opinions about art.  It goes with the territory.  Art has an important social function, developing the ideas and concepts through which we understand ourselves as individuals and as a community.  This importance means that it is necessarily a contested space: how should it be funded, how should it be regulated, and what it should achieve are going to have ideologically informed answers.

But it is also going to bring out the sooks.  No matter which way the resources are distributed, somebody is going to feel like they’ve missed out.  Rather than present some intellectually serious account of how arts funding should be allocated, we hear moaning from all sides of politics about how everything’s so terribly unfair.

Quadrant — which is utter sludge barely more adult than The Spectator — is a frequent performer on the stage of boohooery.  Where previously it enjoyed a healthy stipend courtesy of the taxpayer, it now has to seek out other sources of funding to sustain its content: ‘Why the Stolen Generations never happened’, ‘Why the Left is making everybody soft’ and ‘Why the Stolen Generations never happened, the Sequels’.

I read with some surprise Roger ‘If there were justice in the world the ABC would have been bombed’ Franklin cracking the sads that a young woman received funding from the Australia Council for the Arts instead of a bunch of old men at Quadrant.  As is routine, his objections are more ‘point and giggle’ than serious engagement with arts policy.  Rather than put forward some serious view, he asked ten questions of Senator Mitch Fifield, the Minister for the Arts.  Here’s how I wish the Minister would respond:

Continue reading “I’m sure you’ll have some cosmic rationale… Answering Quadrant’s (@jolly_rogered) questions to @SenatorFifield”

Is it wrong to think it’s love when it tries the way it does?… Blade Runner 2049 review

First up, the boring part of the review: Blade Runner 2049 is amazing and you should go see it.  It is a very good heir to the original Blade Runner, if only because it compels you to think about the original in a new way.  Even down to basic questions like: ‘Could the original Blade Runner be made today?’  ‘How do we feel about the legal/political/social questions of the original movie today?’ and ‘Should we think more closely about the genre of film that seems to be defined by multiplicity of versions?’

It is a beautiful movie that somehow matches sophomoric and boring questions about authenticity with much more difficult questions about technology and sexuality.  The movie is closer in substance to the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner than to the Final Cut: there’s very little ambiguity about the content of the movie, and the movie does a lot (too much for my tastes) to make it really, really clear where we’re up to in the story.  I would have been happy with many of the movie’s questions to remain unresolved. In a sense, even the biggest questions from the plot don’t really need an answer.  I look forward to watching a dozen edits of this movie over the next three decades.

For those of you who unwisely avoid spoilers, here is where you should stop.  I want to discuss a few scenes in particular, and why some of the criticism about the film’s sexual and racial aspects are unwarranted.

Continue reading “Is it wrong to think it’s love when it tries the way it does?… Blade Runner 2049 review”

Quick Post: A note on translation and procrastination

Procrastination, gentle reader, makes me productive in every way except the ways in which I ought to be.

I’m not joking.  I have three books that I need to read by tomorrow, an essay with a deadline that is rapidly approaching, a stack of audio that I should edit, I need to clean out my bedroom, and a shortlist of job applications I need to submit… but the weather is inviting, and there’s a nice cafe down the road, and I have three new books that I’d like to pour over, and there are some movies I’d like to watch at the cinema.  I want to write short stories and then delete them so that nobody can see how bad they are.  I bought some letter paper a few weeks ago, but it’s too large for writing letters, so I might draw on those instead.  And I love reading essays.  I want to be a better essayist, but I keep succumbing to the self-doubt that I’m dull and turgid.  Maybe I’m the only person left who still gets excited by essays.  I want to print out old literary essays on cheap pamphlet paper and slip them into friends’ letter boxes, leave them on colleagues’ desks, tuck them into books at the library for complete strangers to discover.

Of course, I’m not actually going to do this because I haven’t completely lost my biscuits yet.

Continue reading “Quick Post: A note on translation and procrastination”

Violent like lightning, someone cries out for love… Do films need substance?

Having just finished the new season of Twin Peaks, I was caught again in a classic question about cinema: what is it about?  Being a narrative dork, my instinctive answer is that cinema is about storytelling.  Where once we sat around fires and sang each other heroic epics, or passed on ghost stories at the dinner table, now we watch movies or television.

I freely admit that I privilege narrative over other purposes of cinema, but the risk is that I miss other functions of cinema, like the artistry of composition.  Perhaps again revealing my biases and predilections, I am quite fine for a short film or digital media piece to contain absolutely no narrative, but just be beautiful, but that’s because short films and digital media isn’t real cinema.  Narrative is king.

Twin Peaks invites a challenge to that view.  The narrative takes a back seat to the aesthetic and ideas, challenging the audience to overcome its perceived need for closure, coherence, and completeness.  But, again, we are in the area of television (or, perhaps, episodic cinema).  Is the fascination with Twin Peaks more that it’s quirky in contrast with ‘real’ cinema/television?  It’s nice for a treat, but we really want the substantive stuff?

I tried to test this out by looking at two mainstream movies that prioritised aesthetic over substance… but I suspect I chose poorly.  What follows, gentle reader, is a blog post that wasn’t what I intended to write when I watched these two films.  What follows is the ravings of a man driven half insane by visions that no mortal man should ever see, visions strange and unnatural, visions of demons that haunt the minds of others deep in the void that exists behind their eyes whose incessant chants call to the Old Gods who, not dead, are long in sleep and whom we dare not wake lest they return to the world of men.

I watched The Neon Demon and Jem & the Holograms and I regret it so much.

Continue reading “Violent like lightning, someone cries out for love… Do films need substance?”

I can’t see the sunshine I’ll be waiting for you, baby… War of the Planet of the Apes is amazing

There is no way to adequately capture the joy of watching War of the Planet of the Apes.  It is a film which plays expertly with the audience’s expectations, deftly swapping between genre of film without ever breaking faith with the viewer.  It tackles complex themes competently, and brings enough comedic relief to prevent the film from becoming overwhelmingly bleak.

More importantly, it is a brave film.  In an age where we are struggling with our narratives about war and conflict, War of the Planet of the Apes shows how cinema can contribute meaningfully to our public debates.

Continue reading “I can’t see the sunshine I’ll be waiting for you, baby… War of the Planet of the Apes is amazing”