I suppose ‘review’ is probably the wrong word. ‘First thoughts while walking home from the train station’ just isn’t as SEO-friendly.
Zoolander 2 touches on a lot — fatherhood, conventional beauty — but it is the way it deals with the passage of time and the transience of fame that has stuck with me most in the two hours since I saw it. The film holds a mirror up to those old guards who have been replaced by artists they perceive to be inferior, in a way I don’t feel I’ve seen before.
A character the first film ridiculed, returns to ridicule his contemporary counterpart. It serves to remind us that even at our peaks, we are disappointing someone who came before us. We are all unworthy successors in somebody’s eyes.
Unworthy younger successors.
A character literally wants to rip off the faces of teenagers and wear them, while countless others think their successors are useless, gimmicky imposters. There is a contradictory push and pull, a desire for and rejection of youth, like the older would do youth better, if only they had the chance. The tragedy is they can’t, and they look ridiculous when they try.
The fact that Stiller crammed that into a film with enough cameos to make Entourage cry, “Excessive!” and enough off-colour jokes to make your head spin, is an admirable achievement. The film will be dismissed for its surface-level stupidity, which is masterful in its own right, but I really hope critics far better than me, and quite possibly younger, have a crack at unpacking it. There are gems there.
This is a spoiler-free review of The Force Awakens. If you are desperate to know who our new heroes are, and what predicaments our veteran heroes find themselves in, this is not the review you’re looking for.
I was introduced to the Star Wars series in 1997, thanks to the Special Edition theatrical re-releases. I tend to judge films and books by how much they inspire me to write, and they capital-letters INSPIRED. I anticipated the prequels, and when I saw them in theatres, I enjoyed them immensely. I admit, they could do with thorough rewrite, but in the same way the original trilogy inspired me to write, the prequel trilogy inspired me to problem solve — to edit. I spoke about this a little over at Inside A Dog, the prequels prompted an entire community to discuss what revisions they would make to make the films more palatable.
I became comfortable with the idea of an Episode VII after marathoning the films in 2014. Six films, two days, two revelations. One, having soured on Attack of the Clones after repeat home-video viewings, I realised the film just works on the big screen in a way no film so oddly written and acted should. Kudos to John Williams. Two, Return of the Jedi is super strange, tonally. Most critics cite the Ewok/Emperor contrast in the film’s conclusion, but I had a sour taste in my mouth from the moment we entered Jabba’s Palace, where slapstick meets Luke’s darkness and Leia’s sexuality in this weird mixed bag of, ‘Who is the target audience?’ And don’t get me started on the Luke/Leia twist, which is a silly idea made even worse by its execution. As the credits rolled, Return of the Jedi left me yearning for a more fitting conclusion to my favourite film series.
Enter The Force Awakens.
This is the film I wanted it to be — respectful to the past, while still looking to the future. As absolutely thrilling as it was to catch up with Han (Harrison Ford), Luke (Mark Hamill) and Leia (Carrie Fisher), this film belongs to Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who each turn in stellar performances. Even though the film moves at a break-neck pace, director JJ Abrams sprinkles enough character moments throughout to make us care about the next generation of Star Wars protagonists.
Respecting the original trilogy was a necessity. Star Wars is a brand, a brand perceived by most to have been tarnished by three prequel films. The Force Awakens needed to remind fans what they loved about the original trilogy, but I have to say, I wish it reminded us less. As much as I love Ford, Han is used as a vessel for this overt fan service more often than I would have liked. His character arc is strong enough (Han + Leia 4Eva) that using him to frequently wink at the audience feels a little cheap.
A lot has been made of the film’s reliance on A New Hope. Star Wars has been copying itself since the Second Death Star, and The Force Awakens, at first glance, cribs a lot from A New Hope. But I would not say it rehashes. Instead, it remixes. It subverts our expectations, challenging the tropes of the damsel in distress more aggressively than I anticipated. It is aware of its diversity in a way I don’t think internet comments sections are going to like. But every time Ridley’s Rey took charge, I was grinning ear-to-ear.
To be fair, though, I was grinning a lot. In The Force Awakens, the franchiserediscovers its sense of humour. Abrams has said he wanted to recapture that feeling of joy from the original trilogy, and he has done that.
An even greater achievement, and one that cannot be overstated, is that he found a story after a Happily Ever After, which is difficult to do. For every Toy Story 3, there are scores of Sex and the City 2s. Abrams and co have crafted an Episode VII that does more than make up for Return of the Jedi or the prequels, it makes me crave an Episode VIII.
Do I have my qualms about The Force Awakens? Sure. I wish it was a little quieter, and the exposition a little subtler. I am also not quite sold on Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). But that is a post for another day, after another viewing. For now, Abrams has done his job, and it’s time for Rian Johnson to do his.
After a brief hiatus (in whichever bizarro world fifteen months can be considered ‘brief’), I’m back. It’s been an incredible year-and-a-bit. I won the Gold Inky (thanks to everyone who voted), and it’s taken me so long to post about it, they’ve gone and given the award to someone else (Gabrielle Tozer. She is excellent. Her novel The Intern is also excellent.).
2014 was an incredible year, and 2015 matched it. I toured a lot, mostly alone, but for three short days, with international author Sara Farizan. I got to wrestle Marama Whyte over an ARC of Illuminae. I lost, but it’s out now and I bought one so I’ll deal. I also took Mum to a really terrible Robbie Williams cabaret show, which was a life low-light, but a Twitter highlight:
Most importantly though, I’ve been writing a book. It’s called The Sidekicks, and it’ll be out in early 2016.
Now, whenever an author’s new book is announced, you can know a title and read a blurb, but you don’t really get a sense of what it will be like until you see the cover. For that reason, the cover announcement is kind of a big deal. The lovely folks at Penguin Teen Australia had a strategy and everything. They were going to announce the cover after their regular #PTAChats (guided discussions about YA).
Just a quick post to share some good news: The First Third has been shortlisted for the 2014 Gold Inky Award. Awarded by the Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria, the Gold Inky rewards the best fiction, poetry, anthologies and graphic novels written for young adults, as voted by young adults. The other fantastic books on the shortlist are:
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner
Published when I was 19 (and a William rather than a Will), it’s a look back at mid-noughties reality TV. It was described as Fight Club meets Gossip Girl. I honestly don’t know whether that’s a compliment or not, but I choose to believe it is.
So, for those of you who didn’t catch it the first time around, I hope you like it. For those that did, now you can gift it to your friends for $12.99.
Loathing Lola (2008) Fifteen-year-old Courtney Marlow didn’t exactly think it through. She thought the offer to have her life broadcast on national television was the perfect solution to her family’s financial troubles. She was wrong.
Mackenzie Dahl, the show’s producer, promised to show Australia a real tenager. Courtney was going to be a positive role model, someone on television without a boob job and an eating disorder.
Soon, everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame via a little bit of Courtney – especially her conniving friend Katie, and her stepmother, Lola. And Courtney is just beginning to realise that ‘ordinary’ does not translate to ‘entertaining’…
I go to Tropfest each year expecting to be disappointed. There always tends to be two or three films I like, and a lot more with too much ‘typically Australian’ humour for me to stomach (lots of bodily functions and fluids). The latter kind always do better in judging than the former, but I leave knowing I’ll come back next year.
Two films into Tropfest 22, I knew I didn’t want to come back next year.
I didn’t even want to stay for the rest of this year’s.
Now, I understand comedy is subjective, and I’m certain that others would consider a lot of the comedy I appreciate offensive (If It’sAlways Sunny In Philadelphia were fuel, I could live off it), but Matt Hardie’s Bamboozled was… soul-crushing. Capping off a weekend that saw the nation’s first legal same-sex marriages, it was an unintentionally poignant reminder that we have a long way to go when it comes to treating the LGBTQI community as ‘equal’, rather than ‘other’.
In Bamboozled, Pete bumps into his ex at a bus stop. The twist? His ex has had a sex change (a really tasteful use of the year’s theme, ‘change’) and is now a man. They catch up over a few (hundred) drinks, rehashing the two years they spent together. Their connection is clear. The next morning, Pete wakes up next to his ex (a man) and he clearly regrets his decision. Yes, their shared history and obvious chemistry is null and void because, ‘Ew, gross, I slept with a boy.’ Cue audience laughter. Then, he finds out its an ‘elaborate hoax’, and instead of sleeping with a Helen-turned-Harry, he’s just slept with a Harry. And he’s shamed for it. Cue more audience laughter.
“We got you, man! We got you!” Harry howls.
As if things can’t get any worse, in comes Helen, his real ex. “How do you like that, Pete?” she asks. “And now, you slept with a guy!”
“You totally banged me, man. You totally banged me!” Harry continues. He adds a, “He loved it!” as he high-fives his co-conspirators.
So, yeah: Ugh, Tropfest.
Some are defending the film, saying it’s just a joke. And that’s exactly the problem, there’s nothing particularly funny about being intimate with someone of the same gender. That, in and of itself, is not humorous. And neither is shaming them for it. That’s othering anyone who doesn’t identify as heterosexual, pointing at them and laughing (literally, in this case).
If selecting the film as one of 16 finalists wasn’t — wait for it — bamboozling enough, it went on to win. In the short term, it’s disheartening. In the longer term, it may have a positive effect. It may have inspired someone who was sitting in Centennial Park who wasn’t laughing to pick up their camera and tell a story we didn’t see on the big screen tonight.
But until then, it just feels shitty.
UPDATE: Director Matt Hardie has defended the film as a parody of the media in an interview with ABC.
“The punchline really is a comment on media and how the world may have homophobia, but the lead character, and what I was saying, he was completely willing to go with either gender, he was in love with the person,” he says.
Right, okay. I don’t know what media he’s commenting on. Yes, reality programmes like 2003′s There’s Something About Miriam were vile and exploitative, but they were also in 2003. Since then, we’ve seen positive, sensitive portrayals of the LGBTQI on the small screen thanks to reality TV. I’m no fan of Big Brother, but there’s no denying it’s done some good in this regard.
Let’s be honest here, if Hardie’s character Pete really was “completely willing to go with either gender”, his first words when waking up next to an affectionate man wouldn’t have been, “What the F?” In fact, the whole scene wouldn’t have been framed like every other morning-after-drunken-regret scene committed to film.
Hardie says the punchline is two-fold. It’s a commentary on a media (that may or may not actually exist), and “how the world may have homophobia”. I’m assuming he means Helen’s gleeful, “How do you like that, Pete? … You slept with a guy!” This is perhaps the most problematic part of his explanation. The world having homophobia isn’t a punchline. Having people shame a man they duped into having sex with another man isn’t a punchline. Playing it for laughs isn’t showing how the world may have homophobia, it’s showing the world how to be homophobic.
The First Third is out now. It started out as a kernel of an idea: what if my grandmother gave me her bucket list to complete? And from that, out grew this novel about what it means to be a grandson, a son and yourself.
It’s a more personal novel than I expected to write… It’s not about me, but there’s a lot of me in there.
And it’s definitely a lot of fun.
It’s available in paperback at your local bookstore and online, and digitally for your mobile devices: Android and iOS.
We could have been anywhere. Like sitting at a table in my grandmother’s garden, between the olive tree and the tomato patch – Mum, Yiayia, my brothers and I. Our fingers were greasy and our mouths were full. We were in our own little ethnic bubble.
You could practically hear the metallic twangs of the bouzouki.
There was too much food. There was always too much food. Mum and I were grazing, picking from the platter of haloumi cheese resting on my grandmother’s thigh; my younger brother was balancing his carbs, protein and fat, as if one family meal was the difference between being super-fit and morbidly obese; and my older brother was sampling like someone who’d lived out of home long enough to miss having six different types of meat in one sitting.
A dull beep cut through it all. The bouzouki trills ended abruptly. The bubble popped and the rest of the world roared into focus – the bed, the complicated medical equipment. And the other bed across the hospital room, the old man lying on it and the family exchanging worried, heartfelt looks.
The old man’s heart-rate monitor beeped again. And again.
‘Ma, stop moving,’ Mum said. ‘You’ll knock over the salad.’
We had lunch laid out on my grandmother’s hospital bed. She was still in it. It was lunch-meets-Jenga, one wrong move and it all fell down.
We’d pulled our chairs in close and started eating like it wasn’t ridiculous.
‘Um, guys?’ I found disguising observations as questions helped me walk the fine line between knowing it all and being a know-it-all. ‘Don’t you think we’re perpetuating some dangerous stereotypes here?’