Sunday, February 13, 2011

This week I have mostly been watching: Gentlemen Bronco's

Yes, this week I sat and watched Gentlemen Bronco’s, the latest film by Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre writer/director Jarod Hess. Did I enjoy it, yes I did.
To say the film is cut from the same cloth as Napoleon Dynamite is understating it somewhat. The scenery, clothing, music (80’s predominantly, including an expertly deployed Cher song.) and even the title sequence, draws heavily from Jarod’s previous work.
The films protagonists also come from the same pool of oddball small town characters as before but instead of being called Napoleon, the main lonely, socially awkward, nerdy outsider is called Benjamin, and he has a penchant for writing Sci-Fi novels.
Benjamin is sent off to a writing camp by his mother (an amateur clothes designer who also bizarrely models things from popcorn) in the hope of him getting some attention for his sci-fi stories.
In doing so he ends up entering his novella ‘Yeastlords’ into a writing competition judged by his hero, the pompous, self aggrandising, windbag sci-fi writer Ronald Chevalier (inspiringly played for all the comic gold its worth by Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement) and also meets a worryingly odd couple of amateur film makers.
The main plot of the movie deals with Benjamin’s struggles to stop his story being exploited by the fading talent of Chevalier and the questionable talent of the creepy filmmaker Lonnie Donaho, but running parallel to this plotline we also get the story of Yeastlords played out in the form of a hilariously cheesy sci-fi parody, full of jaw droppingly bad special effects and a great performance from Sam Rockwell as the hero Bronco.
The movie was so badly mauled by critics that it never actually made the cinema, and I can see why it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you go in with an open mind and are prepared to cope with the relentlessly offbeat characters and the Buck Rogers style camp sci-fi sequences, you will be rewarded with some damnably good (if occasionally juvenile) laughs and an interesting piece of dialogue about why a Troll mother would never name her child Teacup.
A lot of the criticism levelled at the film seems to focus on how disdainfully Jarod treats his characters. I didn’t get this from the film at all, for me he seemed to be celebrating the strangeness and awkwardness of the people involved, rather than mocking them for it.
This could have been because Benjamin actually reminded me of myself when I was an adolescent, granted I didn’t shoot a homemade blowpipe dart dipped in rat poison and human faeces into one of my Mothers breast pads but it’s something that wouldn’t have been quite beyond me at that time.
Growing up wasn’t like Dawsons OC One Tree Hill Skins tediously self obsessed shallow creek for me. I was awkward, had a ridiculous afro, a subscription to White Dwarf magazine and an unhealthy obsession with Terry Pratchett fantasy novels.
Instead of indulging in sex, drugs and boozing, I spent my evenings, paintbrush in hand, hunched over an Orc miniature, experimenting with ways to make its armour look convincingly battle scarred.
Jarrod seems to have gone through similar rites of passage and the affection he shows Benjamin and the rest of the Bronco’s is strangely heart warming.  
So if you fancy a slight, admittedly flawed, but entertaining and oddly touching comedy peppered with moments of surreal genius give it a go. Here’s a taster;

Be warned though there is an un-needed scene featuring a flatulent snake which you may want to avoid.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This week I have been mostly astounded: by peoples behaviour in the office toilets

The Lavatory. The humble toilet cubicle. What does it mean to you?
Of course its a place, some say the place, to carry out the inevitable daily evacuations of the bladder and bowel, but to me its much more than this. Its akin to Supermans fortress of solitude.
Like the fortress of solitude, its a place you can go to escape the noise and tedium of the rat race and reflect on the finer things in life, the smell of a rose for instance, a smile on a babies face, the beer fermentation process, to name but a few.

For some people in my place of work this is not the case though. To them, the toilet cubicle is a purely functional thing which does not possess any mystical healing qualities whatsoever.

I discovered this the hard way.

If memory serves it was a Monday morning.

I exited the hallowed fortress of solitude lighter in body and spirit as usual, and while I was washing my hands a work colleague entered (we will call the gentlemen Mr X to ensure his identity remains anonymous):

Mr X:  Morning, hows it going?

Me: Not too bad, how was your weekend?

Mr X: Good thanks, how was yours?

Me: Yeah not bad thanks

He then entered the cubicle and for all intents and purposes I assumed the Inane But Obligatory Weekend Chat With A Workplace Acquaintance or IBOWCWAWA as I like to call it, was over........but it wasn' was far from over:

Mr X: grunt...parp....yeah it was pretty wasn't it?

I paused for a few seconds.

Wait a minute, is this guy going to continue the conversation while taking his First Dump Of The Day (or FDOTD as I like to call it). Apparently so....I suppose I'd better answer.

Me: Um...yeah.............

Mr X:

(My god this is a vigorous bowel movement)
Me: Yeah it was wasn't it?

Mr X: I suppose you're not used to it coming from.........brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.......plop....from England?

Christ, what am I going to do? I can't just stand here while he goes through the clean up after that anal combustion. How can I look him in the eyes when the toilet door opens.

Mr X: Parp....parp......pffffffffftttt

A defecation of this vigour should be an anonymous act veiled in secrecy, you can't just put it out there in the public domain, in a public toilet no less.
I would at least have waited until all other patrons had left before even commencing such an act. It would be imperative that I was not identified as the perpetrator. How could you work alongside someone who had experienced first hand the sounds you make while seated on the throne.
Well, what could I do? I exited the toilet as fast as I could with the sound of outrageous flatulence ringing in my ears and did what any sane person would do; I avoided conversation or contact with Mr X from that day forward and began looking for a new job.

Of course I was aware that my fortress of solitude must have been the victim of similar acts by my work colleagues, but they had the common decency not to do this right in front of my ears in such a flagrant disregard for social convention.
Call me uptight if you will, but isn't there any shame in this world anymore? If organised religion has taught us anything, its that we should be ashamed of everything we do, which includes taking a shit while conducting the weekly IBOWCWAWA.

Have you suffered from similar toilet based embarrassment? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

This week I have been mostly watching: Sufjan Stevens at the Sydney Opera House

‘It’s gonna take some beating to top that’. Those were my words as Sufjan Stevens support act Owen Pallett left the stage at the Sydney opera house on Friday night.
Little did I realise the musical, visual and emotional extravaganza that was in store for me when that comment babbled from my ill educated cake hole.
Sufjan was playing 2 dates at the Opera House as part of the Sydney festival and I was lucky enough to be going on the second night. I had taken a look at the previous nights setlist and must admit I was feeling slightly disappointed that it drew almost solely from the ‘All Delighted People’ EP and the album ‘Age of Adz’. I liked the new album (after all it did win the coveted 3rd place rosette in my personal album of the year list) but it was ‘Seven Swans’, ‘Michigan’ and ‘Come on feel the Illinoise’ that had made Sufjan one of my all-time favourite performers.  After this night and this performance though, my opinion has been totally turned on its head.
Sufjan entered the arena wearing a neon pink and green jumpsuit and opened with the epic ‘All Delighted People’. The lights were solely on him during the first verse but the band were slowly revealed as the song progressed, showing they were dressed in similar bizarre dayglo pink, green and silver psychedelic outfits.
When the song peaks the cacophonous mix of trumpets, guitar and keyboards coupled with the onslaught of twin drum kits sounds immense, and you realise that the Opera house is the perfect venue for this intense, intricately arranged music.
The stuttering beats and squiggles of ‘Too Much’, arrive next and it is here we see the first real glimpse of the 2 choreographed backing singers and Sufjan himself pulling out some distinctly odd but strangely captivating and hypnotic dance moves.
What is surprising is how quickly I forgot the old folk singer songwriter styling’s of Sufjan and embraced this new electrically charged, larger than life, kaleidoscopic, all singing, all dancing Sufjan, haphazardly piloting this rainbow coloured starship of a show into unknown space.
The ‘Age of Adz’ sounded incredible and I was almost blubbing in my seat when, after being pummelled by the exhilarating full band assault, the song reached its painfully honest final verse which Sufjan sings unaccompanied on the guitar.
It may have been too overwhelming to take too many of these giant, emotionally wrought songs in a row and Sufjan wisely changes the pace with a spine tingling version of ‘The Owl and the Tanager’ and the more folk tinged ‘Heirloom’ and ‘Futile Devices’ (which features some tasty flute played by what appears to be Jesus in a shiny silver trench coat)
‘Vesuvius’ and ‘Get Real, Get Right’ are tremendous and sound far more robust and fully realised live than on record. It’s interesting that Sufjan gives a monologue halfway through the show on Royal Robertson, the outsider artist and self proclaimed preacher who was a massive inspiration for him when making the ‘Age of Adz’ album, as this helps put into context, not only the songs, but the outfits and visuals(which feature spaceships and cartoon characters created by Royal).
The final song is the ridiculously ambitious 25 minute ‘Impossible Soul’ which I approached with some slight trepidation. The backing singers, now clad in hot pink feather boas after a costume change, take centre stage for the opening section of the song which threatens to collapse under its own weight, until the lights dim and a giant diamond is lowered onto the stage.
Sufjan appears wearing a large shimmering fibre optic head dress with his voice heavily treated with vocal effects.
Then it happens, the moment the whole night has been building up to, during the joyous synth pop section of the song Sufjan sings ‘Do you wanna dance?’ and the Opera house answers in the affirmative.
As brightly coloured balloons tumble down from above everyone gets to their feet and starts to dance. A small child stumbles out into the aisle between the seats in front of me with a grin plastered across his face, someone shouts ‘Thank you’ at the top their voice. Our preacher for the night Sufjan is wearing a tutu and is prancing manically across the stage.
Unbelievable scenes. Simply Unbelievable. I’d never seen anything quite like it.
After this massive high the song comes down perfectly on the Sufjan trademark sound of hushed vocals and intricate fingerpicking of old.
The gig really should have ended here, but Sufjan returned for a triumvirate of classics which actually came across as a bit of an anticlimax. The well loved old songs now felt old fashioned and one dimensional after what had gone before.
Before he leaves the stage for the final time Sufjan actually apologies to the crowd that he mainly played only new material and that it may have appeared bombastic and overblown. Those criticisms could easily be levelled at him, but after this stupendous night of awesome entertainment and risk taking it would take a cold fish indeed not to take something from one of the most vital performers this generation has to offer.
Please enjoy some badly filmed footage of the show which doesn't do it justice at all.

Did you go to the gig? Did someone sitting behind you emit a potent gust of rectal gas? That quite possibly was me. Please let me know your thoughts.