… of Putting things in Perspective

My driver’s name is Qlad. He’s just graduated as a bio-molecular scientist from Curtin. Today is his first day driving taxis and I am his first customer. He’s never really had a high opinion of taxi drivers so it’s a bit of a sad day for him, but he’s determined to make the most of it. There’s not much work in his chosen field – he says to me later “I used to be a clever man” and I explain that he still is, he just needs to find someone to pay him to be clever – and he’s just returned from 3 month trip to Houston and Texas, so he needed a job.

He moved to Australia in 2008 from Iran where he was a freelance journalist. He’d write blogs about what was going on over there, only to be continually be blocked by the government. “Every time they’d block my story, I’d have to find a new way to get my stories out” he says.

I asked if he’d ever consider going back to Iran; he tells me it wouldn’t be safe. His involvement in demonstrations over here would mean he’d be sent to jail if he ever re-entered the country, so it’s not a very appealing option. We talk about the people in Iran – they’re nice people, he says, but they’re not treated well by their government.

He asks me about my work, and I explain what I do. He tells me he could never work in a call centre – “Too many angry people”. We talk about my film degree. I tell him of the hurdles of working in film, but honestly, right now they seem pretty insignificant. He asks me about my choice of editing package – Final Cut. He’s only used iMovie. I explain these days they’re not much different.

He suggests I could always get a job in oil and gas. His friend is a trainer earning a lot of money. I tell him it’s a bit dangerous for me. I don’t like the idea of working somewhere I could be crushed by machine. He laughs and tells me his friend works in a class room, not on site. It’s very safe.

We arrive at the airport and finish our conversation. I go to pay, only to find he never turned the meter on. Because it’s his first day, I’m his first customer and it’s Christmas, my ride is free. I insist on giving him a tip, and eventually he accepts. I give him the only note I have on me and kick myself for not having more.

He helps me with my bag, I shake his hand, wish him luck with his new job and head off to board.

Take from this story what you will. For me, it’s a pretty timely reminder to be grateful for what I have, and not waste time complaining about the things that don’t matter. Thank you Qlad for reminding me that people can be awesome.

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… of Discipline & Determination

I’m not sure if it’s becoming a ritual, or just habit. Maybe it’s the warmer weather? Maybe it’s something in the water? In any case, my post New Year motivation has hit, as it always does around this time. My study-come-Man Cave has been transformed into an almost ready to actually work in work space. I’ve attended my first taekwondo class of the year after a two month break, and despite my legs still not working as they should, I intend to go back. And inspired by good Twitter friend Sunky, I’ve decided to take a different approach to listening to my always growing music collection.

Continue reading “… of Discipline & Determination”

…of Making Lists with a Vengeance

It’s been a odd year. A good year, for sure, but an odd one. I’ve got a list as long as my arm (I have short arms) of things I’d hoped (and failed) to achieve, but I’ve also got another arm’s worth of awesome adventures, surprises and happy co-incidences. As I get older (and I talk about getting older a lot), I’ve started to realise how unimportant it is to tie our successes and failures to the arbitrary boundaries of a calendar system dreamed up by a bunch of men in togas. The theme of my year has become “These things are what we make them”. Life will sometimes hand us lemons, and other times boxes of chocolate, and sometimes the chocolate boxes will contain only peppermint creams, which are kinda gross unless you like eating chocolate filled with toothpaste, so then you have to hand them back and ask for lemons, because at least you can make lemonade with those if you have enough sugar, which hopefully you do. Point is, good stuff happens and bad stuff happens and how you chose to deal with the stuff is entirely up to you.

Ramble over. Music wise it’s been a mixed year for me (we’ll get to why shortly), so for a change I’m going to expand my review out to include some of that life stuff.

Continue reading “…of Making Lists with a Vengeance”

Who watches A Serbian Film?

It’s been a few months since I watched A Serbian Film, and while I was rather apprehensive about writing about it at all, after its recent theatrical release in the US, I thought I may as well throw my own thoughts on the pile.

Also, since watching it I’ve found myself thinking about it more often than I like. If I say only one thing about it, it’s that it made an impression on me. Over the same weekend I also watched Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, which people often use as a benchmark of hard to watch cinema. Funny Games for me was a slap on the wrist compared to the brutal assault that was A Serbian Film. Is this a good thing? I’m not sure I could tell you, but I’ll do my best to try. I had the opportunity to see an uncut version of the film, which has been refused classification within Australia. According to Wikipedia, as of April 5th 2011, a censored version of the film has been approved, however I’m not sure if it’ll have much of a release.

Continue reading “Who watches A Serbian Film?”

… of Parenting and Parallels

An Open Letter to my Parents

Dear Mum and Dad,

I’m not sure if you read this blog or even know of its existence. If you do, um… Hi! Hopefully you’ve not read anything too shocking or suprising about me. In any case, this is a theoretical letter, so it doesn’t really matter if you read it or not.

Remember when I was in primary school, and I really, really, really wanted to watch Ghostbusters, but you thought it wouldn’t be suitable for me? It had recently been on TV, and my friend Brendan had taped it. We didn’t have a VCR at the time, so you called Brendan’s Mum and asked her if you thought it’d be Ok for me to watch. I sat in the next room, nervously listening in to the phone call, hoping for and praying for a positive answer. And it came. Brendan’s Mum thought that, while there were a couple of scenes that might be a bit scary, it was all very tame and I’d be fine. I went to Brendan’s house later that week after school and watched Ghostbusters for what would be the first of many, many times. And it went on to become on of my favourite films ever.

Then, remember when I wanted to watch Gremlins, so you called Chris’s Mum because she’d seen it, and she said that, although there were some scary scenes, I’d probably be Ok? And we all watched Gremlins and I was fine afterwards.

I learnt something from all of these phone calls. I learnt that, if I wanted to watch a movie that you didn’t think would be suitable for me, and I had opportunity to watch it, I should probably just go ahead and watch it without asking. For instance, one morning I was at a friend’s house, and my friend’s Dad suggested we watch Robocop (I won’t say which friend’s Dad, on account of you might still run into him at the local shops). Robocop was rated R [1], which meant I’d never be able to watch it at home. And I thought to myself “I really want to watch Robocop and there’s no way Mum and Dad will let me watch Robocop at home so I might as well take this chance and watch Robocop now!” And I did. And it was awesome. And to this day, I’ve never once wanted to shoot a policeman till his arms and legs fell off. It’s just never crossed my mind.

Having said all of that you guys did a pretty awesome job at being parents, and for the record in your position I’d probably have acted similarly. For instance, there’s no way I’d let my (theoretical) 10 year old son or daughter watch Robocop. I’ve seen it, and it’s pretty violent in parts, and I don’t think kids should be exposed to that. At the same time though, I also know that if my (theoretical) son or daughter really, really, really wanted to watch Robocop, they’d probably find a way, and there’s not much I could do to stop them. I can’t keep track of them 24 hours a day, and ultimately, all I could hope for is that by raising them well, they’d make the right decisions in life, and that they understand that movies are just movies, and shooting a policeman until his arms and legs fall off is wrong.

Many years later while we were in the UK visiting family, Mum, you relayed a story about how you really wanted to see a film (I really wish I could remember which one) that Nana didn’t approve of, but you went anyway, and she was very mad and didn’t talk to you over dinner. I wanted to tell you then about all the films I’d watched without your permission, but I couldn’t bring myself to it. I imagine the list would be pretty long anyway. I do remember feeling relieved though, and knowing that we had that in common made me feel like I’d, somehow, done the right thing.

So yeah, sorry Mum and Dad. I think the lesson here for everyone is, when you tell someone they can’t do something, it’s highly likely that that’s going to want to make them do it even more. So rather than banning them from doing it completely, you should maybe take time to explain why you think them doing it is a bad idea, and let them decide whether they want to do it or not. I guess it’s just one of those things about raising children, huh? I think I turned out Ok though. At least, I hope I did.

Love to you both,

Mark

[1]  Which I learnt from the story Dad once told about a teacher he once worked with, who brought a stack of R rated films – one of them being Robocop – to a school camp for the students to watch, because he was under the impression R stood for ‘Repeat’.

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An Open Letter to the Australian Classification Board

Dear Australian Classification Board,

I’m not even sure if you read this blog, or know of its existence. If you do, um… Hi! Hopefully you’ve not read anything too shocking or illegal about me. In any case, this is a theoretical letter, so it doesn’t really matter if you read it or not.

Remember when I was finishing up at University, and I really, really, really wanted to watch Larry Clark’s film Ken Park, but you thought it wouldn’t be suitable for Australia? It’d recently been released in the US and Europe, and Margaret from The Movie Show was able to obtain a copy to screen in Sydney. You shut the screening down pretty quickly though. I think Margaret even spent some time in jail for it. I sat, over in Perth, hoping and praying that the decision would be overturned and Ken Park would be released to cinemas, but it wasn’t. Fortunately for me, a friend of a friend with a high-speed internet connection was able to obtain a copy of the film from a country where Ken Park was released, and later that week I sat down to watch it on my computer for the first of what was probably a couple of times. I wouldn’t call it my favourite film ever, but it’s definately one of Larry Clark’s best.

Then, remember the time when I wanted to watch Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs, so you watched it first and decided it wasn’t really suitable for me, but then you watched it again and said it’d probably be ok? And now I can just rent 9 Songs from most video stores in Australia? So I went to the video store and rented 9 Songs, and I was fine afterwards.

I learnt something from all of these decisions. I learnt that, if I wanted to watch a movie that you didn’t think would be suitable, and I had opportunity to watch it, I should probably just go ahead and watch it. For instance, one Saturday night recently I had the opportunity to watch A Serbian Film. I’d read interesting things about the film and people’s reactions to its content, and wanted to see and judge it for myself. Then I  read you’d refused the film classification in Australian, meaning it would never be commercially avaialble to view in this country [1]. And I thought to myself “Now I really want to watch A Serbian Film, and there’s no way the government will let me purchase a ticket to see A Serbian Film in a cinema, or rent or buy it on a locally released DVD, so I might as well take this opportunity and watch A Serbian Film now!” And I did. And it was pretty bleak, and I can see how you’d have reservations allowing people to see it. At the same time though, I’m an adult, I feel I was warned sufficiently about its content, and I knew what I was getting myself in for. And to this day, I’ve never once wanted to be involved in the creation or production of snuff films, or do any of the disgusting acts that are shown in the movie. It’s just never crossed my mind.

Having said all of that, I do understand where you’re coming from in some respects, and for the record, in your position I’d also have reservations. For instance, there’s no way I’d let my (theoretical) 10 year old son or daughter watch A Serbian Film, or Ken Park or even 9 Songs. I’ve seen them all, they’re all very confronting films, and I don’t think kids should be exposed to that kind of content. If my (theoretical) child ever showed an interest in watching these films or films of the same ilk, I’d explain to them why I thought it was a bad idea, and how when they’re older, they’d be welcome to chose what they watched, and expose themselves to what they’d feel was appropriate. At the same time though, I also know that if my (theoretical) son or daughter really, really, really wanted to watch A Serbian Film, or Ken Park or even 9 Songs, they’d probably find a way, and there’s not much I could do to stop them. I can’t keep track of them 24 hours a day, and ultimately, all I could hope for is that by raising them well, they’d make the right decisions in life, and that they understand that movies are just movies, and hanging out with Serbians who make snuff films under the guise of art, is wrong.

So yeah, sorry Australian Government Classification Board. I think the lesson here for everyone is, when you tell someone they can’t do something, it’s highly likely that that’s going to want to make them do it even more, and by trying to stop this sort of content being view by adults, ultimately you’re just going to draw more attention to it. So rather than banning them from doing it completely, you should maybe take time to explain why you think them doing it is a bad idea, and let them decide whether they want to do it or not. I guess it’s just one of those things about running a country, huh? I think I turned out Ok though. At least, I hope I did.

Love to you all,

Mark

[1] A Serbian Film will have a limited release in the US in an edited form, with an unedited version being made available digitally. Similarly, an edited version has been approved for viewing in the UK who, let’s face it, have a history that’s much worse than ours when it comes to banning films. Yet, A Serbian Film is still refused classification (banned) here. Via Dark Horizons.

… of the Horror. The Glorious, Glorious Horror.

A recent writing project has re-sparked my once-thought-dead interest in cinema. Specifically, a genre I’ve always held a great respect for, but haven’t ever had the time to dive into properly – Horror. As a teen I cut my teeth on the Nightmare on Elm St films. Freddy was the man. I watched him grow from being the almost silent killer in the first film – brutal and vengeful – to the fun loving, playful, anti-hero who’d take delight in exploiting his victim’s fears. It’s a well known genre trait that horror teens are always going to be fodder for the killer. What I love about A Nightmare on Elm St is how the archetypal teens brought their archetypal teen fears along for the ride, and how Freddy was able to use their fears against them, turning their deaths into imaginative, almost surreal, over the top set pieces. Compared to the shuffling menace of Jason Voorhees and his machete from the Friday the Thirteenth movies, Freddy had charisma and style. The only thing I ever found interesting about the Friday the Thirteenth movies was the lengths they’d go to dredge up [1] another excuse to bring Jason back [2].

Continue reading “… of the Horror. The Glorious, Glorious Horror.”

…of Making Lists 2: Listing Harder

Cool Things from 2010
Some Cool Things (and Not Cool Things) from 2010

or: Another year of falling behind.

Rather than dwell on the failed plans, let’s just look at what came out, ok? A shorter list than last year, and no real suprises. Nothing you’re not going to see on anyone else’s list anyway. Music has been a bit up and down for me this year. Some of my most anticipated releases have failed to grab me, while I found a few bands who should’ve always been on my radar (I’m looking at you The National). So without any further adieu, and in the interest of getting this done before next year, here are the explanations:

The National’s High Violet: A definite highlight for me, and perhaps my favourite release. An almost perfect album.

Owen Pallett’s Heartland: It came out early on, but I’ve had it on pretty high rotation over the year. I’d been aware of Owen under his Final Fantasy moniker, but never got around to checking him out. And then I saw this video, and I was sold:

Warpaint’s The Fool: Discovered while researching for Laneway. It helped that they had the whole album up for streaming. I spent a whole day getting caught up in it. Beautiful.

Kyu’s Kyu: Despite only attending a handful of gigs that weren’t festivals, one of my live highlights was seeing Kyu open for Xiu Xiu at Amps. They weren’t even listed on the bill, but the twenty minutes they spent on stage I spent gobsmacked. An amazing surprise, and their debut album is fantastic.

Foals’ Total Life Forever: A departure from their first album, and a bit of a grower for me. Another potential highlight of the upcoming Laneway Festival.

Kanye West’s My Dark, Twisted Fantasy: However you want to label it (I’m going with Hip Hop for White People), and whatever you want to say about the man’s ego (yes, it’s gigantic), Kanye put out a great album.

Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs: I’ll be honest, this almost very nearly ended up on my disappointments list. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great tracks on The Suburbs, but it really didn’t grab me like their previous albums. And while both Funeral and Neon Bible growers for me, as much as I tried, I just couldn’t get The Suburbs to stick. I blame expectations for this one.

Batman, Green Lantern & Scott Pilgrim – It was a good year for comics. Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin and Return of Bruce Wayne has been spectacular. 2010 was also the year I started reading Green Lantern, which has been pretty rad (although I read it’s taken a dive of late), and everything Scott Pilgrim rocked my world. The books, then the movie, and then game, and then the soundtrack. Geeky goodness.

A notable exception and possibly my track of the year – if Triple J will please stop flogging it to death. I heard this one night in the car, and it’s the first time in a long time I’ve been knocked on my arse by a song. It’s everything I like about music, all rolled into one. An amazing drum line and fantastic beat, layers of noise and vocals, a nice build and a solid ending. It’s three minutes and twenty-nine seconds of perfection. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but my kind of amazing.

Disappointments

Interpol’s Interpol: When “Lights” was released early in the year, I could barely contain my excitement. Where-as there’s a common opinion that Interpol are working on a schedule of diminishing returns with each release, I’ve found myself falling deeper and deeper in fan as they’ve progressed. The move from Bright Lights, to Antics to Our Love… all seemed perfect to me. Enough of the same yet just the right amount of different to make it work. Interpol was said to be a “return to form”. Daniel had found the Bright Lights setting on his amp again, and they were excited about going back to their roots.

And then, not long before the album was released, came the news that Carlos had left the band. The beginning of the disappointing end. For me, Carlos’ bass had been integral to the band’s sound, and while he was still on the album, you could almost hear him phoning it in.

My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days: True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys: Sitting in a drafts folder somewhere is an open letter I started to My Chem explaining my disappointment, and while I won’t go into the gory details now, the long and the short of it was, you don’t follow this:

Grant Morrison with a ray gun
It's Grant Morrison, and he has a ray gun!

With an album full of synth-y euro pop/rock. It’s just not good. And yes, I should probably be ashamed of even mentioning this here, but you can’t release a video with Grant Morrison holding a fucking ray gun and not follow up with something kick ass. Here’s hoping Garrard Way has some more comics in him. He’s good at those.

Lost: Yup.

And I saw perform live*:

The Voltaire Twins, (avoided) Mumford & Sons, Whitley, Daniel Johnston, Echo & The Bunnymen, Sunny Day Real Estate, Clutch, Isis, Placebo & Paramore & AFI (all from a distance), Jane’s Addiction, Jimmy Eat World, Faith No More, Pavement, Dinosaur Jnr, Pixies (viva la Marchapalooza), Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mark Lanegan & Dave Rosser (as well as completing my Gutter Twin’s autograph collection), Band of Horses, (avoided, again) Mumford & Sons, The Strokes, Kyu, High Places, (the face meltingly good) Xiu Xiu, Silversun Pickups, Birds of Tokyo (against my will) and

* It should be noted, I may have seen (walked past) more bands at festivals, however the above were bands I either planned to see, or saw full sets.

Who watches Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?

From where I was sitting Scott Pilgrim was poised to be the biggest film of the year. Leading up to its release, my Google Reader was inundated with previews, reviews, exclusive clips, on-set reports and hyper-excited blog posts. My Twitter stream became awash with people counting the days, hours and minutes till they got to see the film. The reports flooding in from those who had had the chance to catch early screenings were gushing in praise.

My internet world was filled with Scott Pilgrim love, and it was a magical place to be. I’d not seen this level of excitement since the days of The Dark Knight.

Continue reading “Who watches Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?”

Crisis on Multiple Blogs

Or: In the Biz, we call this a Retcon

retcon v. to retroactively revise (a plot, storyline, character, event, history, etc.), usu. by reinterpreting past events, or by theorizing how the present would be different if past events had not happened or had happened differently. Also n.

I’ve decided this whole two blog thing was getting a little out of hand. I started the Tumblr [1] just to see what it could do, and quickly fell for its uncomplicated publishing tools. But as with all projects I undertake, the new didn’t leave much time for the old. The whole idea of the Tumblr was to have an avenue for quick, casual posts that I could throw together, as opposed to the infrequent music essay posts that ended up here.

That didn’t go so well.

So, rather than having one blog for geek stuff (comics, TV and video games) and one for music stuff, I’ve decided it all lives here now – a blog[2] in which Mark Ampersand writes about stuff. Hopefully this will mean more frequent updates also.

Tumblr, I shall miss your easy to make pretty layouts and glut of awesome Batman scans, but for now, my heart belongs to WordPress.

—–
[1] Plus, Tumblr sounds totally like The Tumbler, which is pretty fucking awesome, don’t you think?

[2] I hate that word so much.

Also while we’re here – new theme which is exciting, right? But why the fuck do all my links have a space after them? If anyone could help me out with making them look less lame, that would be awesome.

coming soon: Guitar Hero: Warriors of What?

Hey there Guitar Hero,

Y’know, you and I have had some really great times. Me, with my fake plastic guitar, rocking out to hit songs from Muse in Guitar Hero III, and then Muse in Guitar Hero: World Tour, and who could forget that Muse song in Guitar Hero 5? I mean, you even let me rock out as the guy from Muse! He was even really, really short. Just like in real life.

But with the good came the bad, and as much as I like Muse (seriously, can we just go ahead and put out Guitar Hero: Muse and be done with it?), I can’t help but think that maybe you and I have begun to grow apart. Sure, we had some laughs with Guitar Hero 5, but even you have to admit, the spark just wasn’t there. Not like it used to be.

That whole Kurt Cobain thing left me a bit cold too. I mean, I’m not one to take these things too seriously, but letting me play as zombie Kurt Cobain (who looked, credit where credit’s due, like an actually, really real life zombie Kurt Cobain) while rocking out to Public Enemy and Anthrax, lacked some of what most people would call… taste.

Anyway, you’ve got a new game coming out, and even though it looks exactly like the same old shit, you and I both know I’ll probably end up buying it anyway. I’m predictable like that. And your bitch. I guess I’ll see you sometime later this year.

Fuck you.

Regards,
Mark

P.S. Could you at least look at letting me import all of my songs over from the last 17 versions of the same game I bought? Cause Rock Band lets me do that. It also lets me have a little credibility as a fake plastic instrument player by not trying to placate me with shitty looking celebrity based avatars. Have you played Rock Band? You should. It’s pretty ace.