Snowtown (2011): Uncomfortable Viewing

This film came highly recommended. It was said to have the same edginess and bite that other Australian films have. Films that I adore like Long Weekend, Rogue, or even Wolf Creek. It was gritty, edgy, grim,  and incredibly hard to watch.

Directed by Justin Kurzel (this was his first feature length film) and written by Shaun Grant Snowtown (aka The Snowtown Murders in the US) is based on the true story of Homophobe John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) and  Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway) and Bunting’s ‘gang’ of Homophobe friends who tortured and murdered at least ten men in the area who were suspected of being homosexual or were known homosexuals.

The film was shot entirely on location where the crimes took place and apart from David Henshall and Richard Greene (Barry), who were the only two professional actors in the film, locals were used for all the other parts. Where in some cases this may have hurt the film’s credibility, it added an overall grittiness and grimness to the film.

The decision to use locals was tantamount to Tod Browning‘s use of real ‘freaks’ in his 1932 filmof the same name. It makes for awkward viewing and one has the tendency to watch the film tensed up. With one eye sort of squeezed shut and not looking at the film head on. Almost like you expect one of these unpleasant characters to jump out of the screen and somehow infect your house.

Tod Browning’s controversial Freaks.

What happened at Snowtown is horrible, there is no denying it. But when watching the film you are hard pressed to be attracted or drawn to any of the characters. Dirty, apathetic, drug worn and alcohol ridden, they feel like the dregs of society who have all been drawn to the town of Snowtown like miserable moths to a flame.

The film quite openly shows the homosexual tension and interaction between the sons of a local family that Bunting befriends. It is only Bunting’s obvious dislike of any sexual act that might suggest homosexuality that Jamie becomes the willing Zoe to Bunting’s Svengali.

The film starts slow and never really picks up its pace. Even when the murders finally start happening it is done in such a leisurely fashion that I almost lost interest. This combined with the mother that Bunting was ‘living with’ being totally out of sync with her emotions (to such an extent that it was only after all her sons bar one disappeared that she finally showed some emotion) and the incestuous nature of her family made the film almost a chore to watch.

There is no humour or even ‘normal people’ to lighten the atmosphere of the film. Bunting himself was so intimidating that I found it hard to believe that anyone would willingly follow his lead. At the start of the film a boyfriend of the woman who Bunting moves in with takes suggestive photographs of her sons.

Her reaction is to shout abuse at this odious ex who lives across the street. Bunting’s answer is to systematically torture  the man by painting his house with the word Fag and other insulting phrases and dumping kangaroo heads and guts on his front porch. Bunting is so unrelenting in his campaign of hate that the ex boyfriend soon moves out.

Daniel Henshall as John Bunting.

The remainder of the film is just as unrelenting. I did struggle, at times, to keep watching until the end. When it does finish and the film tells us via subtitles what happened to Bunting and crew I felt too shell-shocked to care.

Overall, this was an incredibly hard film to watch. As I mentioned earlier it was nigh-on impossible to ‘bond’ with any of the characters. Of course Kurzel’s hands were tied a bit since the film is based on true events, but the lack of bondable characters combined with the use of locals in the film made the entire experience of watching the film unpleasant.

My final verdict is that the film is an interesting example of low-budget Australian cinema. Just be warned that you may feel like you need to take a shower after you’ve watched it.

The Torture and eventual murder of Barry.

God Bless America (2011): Black Comedy Gold-thwait

Every once in a while you find a film that makes you ask the question, “Where have you been all my life?”

And mean it.

Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (World’s Greatest Dad) God Bless America is a hard hitting black comedic look at all the things that make America unpleasant. It is the  movie I have been waiting for and didn’t know it.

The two main characters are Joel Murray‘s Frank and Tara Lynne Barr‘s Roxy. Frank is a divorced man living in an apartment with paper thin walls. He fantasizes about killing his obnoxious neighbours and their constantly screaming baby. At start of the film he is fired from his job for ‘sexually harassing’ the office receptionist (he didn’t) and discovers that he has an inoperable brain tumour which will eventually kill him. His ex-wife lives with their overly spoiled and unpleasant daughter and her police officer fiance.

Frank decides after yet another night of television channel hopping  that the tv reality programs and the country’s news people are made up of profiteering and mean people. Believing that his tumour will kill him anyway he decides to shoot himself. While he has the pistol barrel in his mouth he watches part of an episode of My Super Sweet Sixteenth Birthday.

The birthday girl is spoiled, selfish and self centered. She screams at both her parents that what they are doing for her birthday isn’t good enough. Frank takes the gun out of his mouth, leaves his apartment and steals his neighbor’s car.He drives to the birthday girl’s school to kill her instead of himself.

Joel Murray as Frank

Easily the funniest sequence in the film is where he meets Roxy and then goes down to kill birthday girl Chloe (Maddie Hasson). He handcuffs her to her birthday car’s steering wheel after she tells him, “You can have the car it’s the wrong one!” Frank replies, “I know.” He then places a rag in the gas tank opening and sets it on fire.

The placing of the rag, setting it alight and the slow-motion walk away from the car is accompanied by a very cool soundtrack. Unfortunately, before Frank gets too far away the  rag falls out of the gas tank and gets blown away from the car. Frank rushes to put the burning rag back. A group of Chloe’s ‘friends’ come up and Frank decides to shoot her instead.

Getting back into his neighbor’s car he flees the crime scene. Roxy is wildly impressed by his actions and tracks Frank down to ask if she can accompany him on his killing spree.

Tara Lynne Barr as Roxy

This unlikely pair spend the rest of the film bonding and killing annoying and mean spirited people.

Despite this being the blackest of comedies, the film walks a fine line between satire and drama. Joel Murray’s acting should have garnered him a bucket load of awards. His performance in the film showed every step his character took in his arc. By the time the film reaches it inevitable climax, Murray is so convincing it raised the hairs on my arms as I watched him.

Barr’s Roxy was a brilliant blend of teen angst, raging hormones and tunnel vision. She could, in my mind at least, give Ellen Page a run for her money as the new Hollywood ingenue.

The film itself was a perfect blend of ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary style filming with no musical ambience at all to all out musical set pieces which fit the scene so well that it was like listening to the sound equivalent of a tight fitting glove.

This independent film was a joy to watch from the very first frame of film to the last. It managed to make me a lifetime fan of Joel Murray and an ardent admirer of Tara Lynne Barr. Murray I would cheerfully cast in everything and Barr has fallen into the category of ‘keep your eyes on this one, she’s going places.’

God Bless America does not hit one sour note. It is paced well, edited perfectly and ends as it logically should. I could write reams more about this movie, but I would soon enter into spoiler territory. I’ll have to finish here and state quite simply that if you haven’t already seen this movie, you need to.

I will be purchasing this film to see if they have any ‘making of featurettes and/or director/cast interviews. This one is definitely a ‘keeper.’

Fifty Shades of Boring

Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey (Photo credit: ellebnere)

Okay, so I read in today’s internet news that a Chav (that’s UK English for poor white trash) has published her own version of Fifty Shades of Grey. The article goes on to helpfully point out that the book is available for purchase from Amazon.

Am I surprised? Uh, that would be a no, I think.

Ever since Stephanie Meyer helped open the door for semi-literate writers everywhere by getting the mediocre and laughably bad Twilight series published, other writers have been rushing to get their sophomoric  scratchings published.

I remember the big hoopla surrounding E L James’ book when it first hit electronic book stands. At best it sounded mildly pornographic, but oddly it was accepted as ‘mainstream’ fiction presumably because it was written by a woman. I never bothered to read the book or excerpts from it. I relied on word of mouth, or more accurately word of reviewer to gauge my reaction to it.

I also remember the publicity for the book stating that Fifty Shades of Grey was a middle aged woman’s sexual fantasies put in print.

Wow.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would not want to read the middle aged  sexual fantasies of anyone, male or female. And before you rush to label me a prude or a repressed old man, I’ll say quite loudly and clearly that I like sex, I just don’t want to read about it, especially when written by a mid-life crisis wrinkly.

I just read the other day that this ‘best selling’ book was in fact intended as fan fiction for the series Twilight.

Brilliant.

How you can take a series that is about as sexy as a dead trout and then write fan fiction that is, apparently, very hedonistic and not a little rooted in S & M somehow escapes me. But the very fact that both authors exhibit a middle school writing style explains a lot.

Okay, that’s enough rambling about the merits of Meyer and James. I’ll now return to the reason for this blog post. The article about the UK version of Fifty Shades (which was originally titled Fifty Shades of Chav) came about because the author (another middle aged budding author) got 6000 likes on her facebook page dedicated to her book.

So okay, sales of 6000 smutty poorly written books at .99 pence per book does yield a nice little profit. But what if the UK version does as well as the US version. Will there be charges of plagiarism? Will this success lead to countries throughout the world coughing up middle aged sex fantasies for their own topical Fifty Shades?

More importantly will this new trend of ‘older’ fan fiction continue to be top of the bestseller list? Hopefully not. I remember reading about the furore caused when Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published. Written by D.H. Lawrence and published in 1928 the book was the scandal of the day.

It featured a plot that crossed class boundaries and described the sex act quite explicitly. Not to mention the use of the ‘F’ word.  An uncensored version of the book was not available within English shores till 1960. Yet this book was a runaway best seller.

These days I don’t think the book would have raised a single eyebrow. Yet Fifty Shades of Grey, a middle aged soft porn bit of fan fiction, has lept to the top of the bestseller list. I’m not sure what that says of today’s reading audience.

Have our reading levels been so reduced that we find nothing wrong with substandard writing? Have we all forgotten the rules as laid out by William Strunk Jr so brilliantly in The Elements of Style?

I can sort of understand the pushing of Meyer’s work in schools. It is difficult enough to get youngsters to read now-a-days. I can see the parent, teacher board saying, “Well, at least they’re reading.” But at what price? More importantly, what cost?

I can see a entire generation of substandard readers flocking to buy and read the latest electronic dross and ignoring the good authors. The writers who really know how to practise their craft. Experts who can not only tell a story, but tell it well.

I would dearly love to see something I’ve written become published. A lot of potential authors want to be published as well. I don’t know about anyone else, but I refuse to ‘dumb down’ my writing to appeal to the masses who apparently can’t get enough of vampire stories that aren’t and middle aged pornography.

I rather keep learning my craft slowly, surely and painfully. One day when I really know what I’m doing, I’ll get published.

Or not.

Cover of "The Elements of Style, Fourth E...
Cover of The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

I Remember When Just Spitting Was Considered a Bad Habit

Kudu dung spitting aka Bokdrol Spoeg In South Africa

Kudu The kudus are two species of antelope of the genus Tragelaphus: Lesser Kudu, Tragelaphus imberbis Greater Kudu, Tragelaphus strepsiceros. (Wikipedia)

Dung –  May refer to: Dung, animal feces. (Wikipedia)

I was skip reading the October issue of Readers Digest when I happened across an article entitled The World’s Oddest Competitions. Some of the things in the article did seem a bit odd, but nothing was as stomach churning as the Kudu dung spitting competition that many Afrikaans participate in yearly.

According to South African hunters the Kudu is adroit at avoiding and escaping being shot. Their trademark is a pile of dung which they leave behind them in their flight to freedom.

This practise of people putting dung in their mouths and seeing how far they can spit it is probably the most revolting thing I’ve ever heard of. The competition began in 1994 and is seemingly quite popular despite the fact that the participants are putting an animal’s poop in their mouths. Obviously taste is not too much of a factor as the dung pellets are soaked in alcohol the night before the event. It also appears that the competitors are soaked in booze as well.

Did I just see you put my dung in your mouth?

So far the record distance that a dung pellet has travelled is 15.56 metres. Just reading the title of this particular past time had me in fits of hysterical laughter. It brought up all sorts of jokes and sayings from my childhood.

“That boy’s so quiet he wouldn’t say sh*t if he had a mouthful.” That was the first one that popped into my head and it took me ages to stop laughing. “Every time you open your mouth, sh*t comes out.” The second one still made me laugh but not to the degree that the first saying did.

Once I got over the admittedly school boy attitude to the whole dung spitting thing, I began to wonder if any other competitions centered around animal dung. Either putting it into your mouth or otherwise handling it. After trawling the net I could only find an oblique reference to cow-chip throwing.

Cow-chips (or patties or cow pats) are the flattened dung from cattle. It lies on the ground and drys in a circular shape.  In Wisconsin they hold an annual Cow-Chip throwing contest. Unfortunately there seemed to be a shortage of cow chips due to a long dry summer this year. But cow chip shortages aside, the good folks of Wisconsin throw them with their hands not their mouth.

Now I don’t know about Kudu poop, but cow poop once it dries is fairly odourless. Not that I’d want to spend too long sniffing the thing to ascertain whether it did smell or not.

Just look at the awards you can win!

Of course there is no hunting myth attached to the dried cow pat. It’s history is pretty straight forward. Early pioneers on their way to the western shores of America collected dry Buffalo chips as well as cattle chips and used them to make campfires. It is one of those historical facts that I have never felt the urge to try. I’m sure it gives the food a unique flavour.

In South Africa the hunters say the the pile of Kudu dung pellets left behind the fleeing Kudu is a sort of ‘nose thumbing’ gesture. A sign of contempt, if you will. I am sure it seems that way when you’re having a hard time shooting one of the beasts.I have another theory though. I think that the Kudu are just acting normally. I can tell you that if someone had just shot at me and nearly ended my short life that I would flee too. I’d also leave a souvenir behind but it would not be in pellet form .

The more I think about it the more plausible it sounds. I mean think about it. Don’t you think almost getting shot by a hunter would scare the literal crap out of you?

Open, I say open your mouth and say Ahhhhh.

Is it Bad to Want to be Freshly Pressed More Than Once?

Just lie down sir and we’ll have you freshly pressed again in no time at all.

The only problem with getting Freshly Pressed is that everything afterwards is a bit anticlimactic. Once you’ve tasted the sweet success of heavy hits on your blog, you begin to yearn for the same thing everyday.

The whole experience is exciting. Getting notified that your blog post has been selected and then the agonising wait for it to appear on the ‘Wall of Glory.’ The excitement of getting all those likes and comments on the blog post itself. Then the inevitable slow down of views, likes, comments and new followers.

Of course the pinnacle of being Freshly Pressed is getting the widget to place on your site that says you’ve been Freshly Pressed.

The badge of honour.

All this heady mixture of acceptance, approval and attention tends to make you sit up that bit straighter when you type your next blog post. It also serves as a goal post to aim for.

Then you start to wonder, ‘Will I ever reach this height again? Have I peaked too soon?’

The sense of accomplishment is soon replaced with one of concern. What if you have peaked too soon. You may never write anything that is worthy of being Freshly Pressed ever again.

The worst thought is that you may well match or even exceed your Freshly Pressed article and it will never get that stamp of approval or be placed on that ‘Wall of Glory’ because you’ve met your quota.

These questions suddenly popped into my head earlier today. I was going over old comments, I do this periodically in case I’ve missed responding to someone, and read one from my friend Tyson Carter over at Head In A Vice. He jokingly said something to the effect that it was odd that I’d gotten Freshly Pressed and then had a heart attack! He went on to say that perhaps he did not want to get Freshly Pressed quite so badly now.

Joking aside, it does make you wonder if there is some sort of price to be paid for being included in the small group of nineteen folks who get chosen each day. What if I do excel myself and by some longshot get Freshly Pressed again? What might happen this time?

Just thinking of the consequences makes me shudder. It doesn’t concern me too much though. I think that perhaps barring sudden death, that I might just accept the consequences and let the chips fall where they may. After all, I had four whole days to bask in the glow of getting Freshly Pressed before I had the heart attack.

Four days of excitement and acceptance from the WordPress community. Four days of getting more followers and the best daily view count ever.

Seems like a fair trade to me.

I’d like to thank my mom and dad…