Sunday, November 25, 2012

Insidiously Dull

On Friday, I did an un-Dad thing. I skipped the orchestra concert in which Nat and the kiddies were performing, in Launceston. I did so in favour of a few glasses of rum and lime, a bowl of popcorn, and a horror DVD.

To put it into perspective, though... last weekend with Natalie bedridden, me as carer/carrier, a barbecue/cinema/sleepover event, and a bunch of other stuff was a nightmare. And the week itself that followed wasn't easy. Natalie is on the mend, but her back still hurts, and she's sleeping poorly as a result. (Yes, we have a spiffy new mattress. Big bastard it is, too. And yes, one of my jobs for the week was to take the old, Queen-sized box spring mattress up into the Cinema Zone for its retirement usages. Access to the CZ is not easy. For those of you who've been there: yes, stuffing a gigantic fucking mattress up through that entrance was a bitch of a job. Genghis helped, though.)

Anyway. This weekend (the one that just happened) Natalie was on call. And so, of course, all parental missions fell to me. That included the Saturday morning trip to Grammar, in Launceston, so Jake could sit through his standardising tests so they know what to do with him next year. (I have a small bet with myself that says I will still have to go in for extensive talks with teachers and principals, just to get the same basic set of acknowledgements of the boy's abilities that we've got at the primary school. The bell-shaped curve sucks.)

Naturally, as Natalie was on call, the other two kids had to come with me as well. And that wasn't so good, because the standardising tests last three hours.

Thus we visited Chez Tehani in the interim. Genghis gets along quite well with Tehani's eldest, and the Mau-Mau plays very well with Tehani's daughter, so these visits are always a positive thing. Nice to have a bit of a chat, too, and see the new baby outside of the hospital setting. He seems a quiet, determined chap, much bent on getting a good feed, and filling his nappy.

So anyhow. Visitations, etc. And then the rest of the weekend as Chief Kid Wrangler. On those grounds, I decided that I could be permitted to skip one orchestra performance, and take a little quiet time on my own.

Tragically, the horror movie was a dud, in my opinion. Oh, sure: Insidious has all the requisite visuals, the spooky images, the sound-track, etc. But jeez... when are the Yanks going to get tired of making horror movies about the Happy Family Who Encounter Supernatural EEEvuls? It would appear to be their one and only take on horror -- at least, if you disregard the annoying subgenre of slash/gore porn horror.

Honestly? I no longer give a shit about these interchangeable, modular, wholly replaceable Happy American Families. From the Exorcist (at least the family was a bit dysfunctional) through Poltergeist down through Amityville, to the latest incarnation, they are all the fucking same, and the story is always the same, and I am bored with it. Bored bored bored bored bored.

Rule one of storytelling is to engage the audience with your characters. But how am I supposed to engage with these lego-brick whitebread Ken and Barbie clones? They're dull. They're absolutely beyond redemption. They exist on screen purely as symbolic representations of some kind of idealised suburban Elysium, to be pulled down and destroyed by the Creeping Doom of (Insert Wicked Vile Creature of Occult Origins Here.)  They are without any form of individuality or interest, and while the Shiny Happy People symbolism of it all may resonate with a thin slice of the vanishing American middle class, they nauseate me even as symbols. 

Is it any wonder I find myself cheering for the monster? Waiting (vainly) for horrible, bloodstained fates to befall these pathetic glove-puppets of a morally bankrupt society?

Here are some horror films I have more or less enjoyed in the last decade or so: I liked Sauna, a remarkably creepy Finnish period piece set at the end of a war between Russia and Sweden somewhere in the Renaissance. It was very well done. There was an interesting story going on, with interesting characters, and as elements of horror crept in and derailed everything, I found myself drawn into the development, and genuinely creeped out by what was happening to the characters.

I liked Ringu, out of Japan, and The Ring (the English-language remake) as well. I liked the way the story focused on the investigation of the horror, and I liked the suspense created by the seven-day deadline, and I liked the way the investigators were constantly struggling to free themselves from the curse, even as they tried to understand it. Most of all, I liked their absolutely immoral decisions at the end -- the course of action they took in order to try and free themselves. And of course, the excellent visuals were perfectly creepy.

I even liked Tarantino's Dusk Til Dawn. Not because I think it's a good film, but because Tarantino was at least trying something different. The complete switcheroo between suspenseful crime/hostage flick and balls-to-the-wall vampire action/horror was unexpected, and provoked a lot of laughter. And I went on to enjoy the over-the-top denouement, with all the lashings of silliness Tarantino applied.

I didn't much like the Blair Witch Project, though. It wasn't Happy Family Crumbling Under the Supernatural, but it was Happy Circle of Friends Crumbling Under The Supernatural. And I never bought the whole shaky-cam POV, and frankly, watching Americans blame each other and fight each other when placed under pressure just gives me the shits. I'm way too Australian for that to resonate with me -- and remember, Australia's the nation where they stopped making "Survivor", because the co-operation between the players made for dull TV. (It may be dull TV, but it's damned good sense in real life. Troubles? Rely on the people around you, and work together. It's your best chance of getting through. Owning lots of guns, dogs, and a carefully stocked bunker is a way distant second, I'm afraid.)

So. Now I've seen Insidious. And I'm guessing it will be another decade or so before I bother to revisit the genre. But between the rum and lime and the popcorn, it was a nice evening -- and I survived the weekend pretty well.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Yippee Skippy, The Weekend's Over.

Weekends aren't great from the POV of a stay-at-home writer dad. During the week, I'm cook and chauffeur, not to mention cleaner, launderer, handyman, tutor and martial arts teacher, but come the weekend, I'm expected to put up with all sorts of family shenanigans too.

Sometimes it's cool. Sometimes it doesn't work out so well.

The weekend that just past is a classic case in point. It was supposed to work like this: Friday afternoon, Natalie picks up the three kids plus one Double-Banger kid, and goes into Launceston for orchestra practice. Roundabout four thirty, I hop in the other car, go in after them, and bring all the kids back. Then I make dinner, maybe we watch a movie or play a game, and the kids go off to bed.

Saturday was supposed to be Scottsdale Show Day. And on top of that, Genghis had his official birthday party. (Yeah, a month early. The Mad Viking Neighbours are off to Darwin, and won't be here for his real birthday, so we set it up early.) Genghis opted for a firepit barbecue, and then a cinema night with lashings of popcorn and all three Indiana Jones flicks. (Great kid. I love him to pieces.)

Sunday was supposed to be quiet, with the Mau-mau being kidnapped down to her best friend's birthday party. And it was all going to end on a gentle, easy note.

Except that on Friday, Natalie's back stopped working. Herniated disc, most likely. How bad? Well, I've seen her weep with pain four times. Three of them, she was having a baby. She was laid out, immobile, unable even to turn herself over without enormous pain and effort.

Naturally, that put me into the driver's seat for the orchestra event. Luckily I'd prepared most of the evening meal beforehand, so I could just put the finishing touches in place on the nasi ayam when I got back.

But it also meant that the next morning, when Natalie was supposed to take Genghis and Jake and the Mau-mau down to the show... she couldn't. Leaving me to figure out how to manage all that, as well as prep the place for the epic evening to follow.

The boys pitched in when I asked, and cleaned up the cinema zone. I found someone else to take the Mau-mau down, and I agreed to do an extra pickup run to Scottsdale, equipped the boys with a mobile phone, and let them wander the Scottsdale Show on their own while I cooked, cleaned, and prepped.

I also contacted Genghis' two sleepover guests, and pointed out that I wasn't comfortable acting as sole adult to a bunch of kids while also being responsible for Natalie. It was bad enough we felt there was a chance she might have to go to the hospital, so what was I going to do if I had a couple extra small boys in tow? Happily, the boys were good about it, and their parents were even better. I was very grateful.

The barbecue went well enough, though I had to keep running food up to Natalie, etc. (Poor thing. I think she managed to watch two full seasons of "Buffy" over the course of Friday and Saturday.) There were presents, and singing, and cake, and water balloons, and marshmallows, and lots of cheerful kids. Then I cranked out the popcorn, and we settled in for the Jonesfest. That, too, was very cool.

Things got a little more challenging as stragglers turned up, but it worked itself out. The Baggins sisters were willing to give a lift to the only really problematic one, while in the end, we found enough bedding for the three Viking boys plus the Double-Banger lad to crash in the cinema-zone once the movies were done. (So yes, I wound up with four overnighter extras anyhow. But on the other hand, the Mau-mau stayed down at the Viking house, and the Viking lads are old enough to look after themselves. Plus, if worst came to worst, they could have simply walked home.)

Of course, that meant the nice, quiet Sunday didn't really eventuate. It rained, so there were three Viking lads, one Double-Banger boy, and my two all wandering about the house, while Natalie lay upstairs and watched still more "Buffy". I made a very large number of pancakes, and organised them into work teams to take care of the worst of the fallout from the previous evening.

Meanwhile, I stepped out into the light rain and put the finishing touches on the new quail enclosure. Oh? Did I not mention the whole quail thing? Somehow, Genghis got interested in quail, and convinced his mother that we should get some... and so, of course, I have been building a little enclosure. It's aviary wire up to roughly hip height, with fencing wire at the top of the aviary wire. The uprights are star pickets, except for the treated pine posts which allowed me to hang a wire-and-pine door.

But quail fly, don't they? And so I have also used poly-pipe to create curved, arching ribs over the top of the enclosure, and I have slung bird netting over all of that, clipping it to the aviary wire with plenty of overhang. Meanwhile, around the bottom of the aviary wire fence, I used still more bird mesh to create a "skirt" of wire that extends about 30cm from the fence itself, pinned down to the ground by wire loops. That keeps rabbits and wallabies from pushing/burrowing under the wire fencing, you see.

Later in the afternoon, Anna the Viking showed up with three young Coturnix quail. Genghis was suitably surprised and impressed. They are all duly named, and they seem comfortable enough in their spacious, grassy enclosure. They are studiously ignoring the zinc/steel aviary shed we put in there for shelter, preferring to hunker down in the long grass, making noises like disturbed crickets.

Quail. Hmm. Ooookay. The three chicks are unsexed, as yet. I hope to hell at least one is a female. Apparently I'm not allowed to slaughter these three, so if none of them starts laying eggs I'm going to be seriously pissed off.

So. That was my weekend. By the very end of it, Natalie had recovered to the point where she could get up and walk for brief intervals, with the help of a large stick. Meanwhile, the Viking hordes had returned home, and the Double-Banger had also disappeared, but we had the Mau-mau back, just to even things up.

No. I didn't get very much done over the weekend. Thank fuck they were back at school today...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Poor Old Uncle Ben

So, the most recent Spiderman flick came out on DVD a while ago. And yes, we're still keeping our policy of saying "Screw you," to the Launceston cinemas, and watching the movies we want to see a bit later on. It's working well for us at this end. Who knows? Maybe the people behind the cinema business in Launceston will get the message, and find a way to make their venue interesting again, some day.

But probably not with movies like the Amazing (Astounding? Astonishing? Unlikely? Silly? Who the hell can remember which adjective they chose, anyway? Not me.) Spiderman.

I'm happy to admit it's a better film than the Raimi version. It's shinier. The FX are better. The main actor (whoever he was; they're all a bit interchangeable these days, aren't they?) was much more interesting than Dopey Maguire. And the lead female role was played by someone (whoever she was; they're all a bit interchangeable these days, aren't they?) with much more life, spark and personality than Kirsten Dunst.

(Dunst. Dunst. Dunst. Dunst. Damn. That's starting to remind me of a comic-book sound-effect, maybe. The sort of thing you might see in a panel where a surgeon throws a bit of unwanted organ-meat over his shoulder into a trash bin. Dunst!)

I liked the villain more too. Willem Dafoe's turn as Psycho Norman Osborne Green Goblin Bad Daddy was a bit too hard on the scenery for me. Yeah, I know. He was playing a comic-book villain. But he was in a movie, right? They're not the same thing, no matter what the fanboyz say. Peter Jackson knows what I'm talking about.

Whatever. The point is that even for my young boys, the movie was largely unfuckingnecessary. We lounged about, giggling over whatever silly elements of the story took our attention. We lampooned Dopey Maguire, and we dissed Dunst, and we did it over the top of the dialogue of the Unbelievable Spiderman and we didn't give a damn.

Because, of course, we knew exactly where the movie was going. At every point. Aside from the usual elements of signposting (oh noes! Peter's dad has been working on a Sekrit Formula!) it was just the same old, same old Indefatigable Spiderman story.

And we got bored.

Thus, when we saw Petey's parents onscreen, the boys and I shouted warnings: "Look out, Pete! Your parents are gonna disappear! You're gonna be an orphan, and you're gonna have to live with your Aunt May and your Uncle Ben! Look out!"

Of course, Petey paid us no heed, and his parents duly shuffled off, as directed.

Then there was Martin Sheen doing his Uncle Ben impression. And let's be fair: it was a good Uncle Ben impression. (They really pulled out the stops casting Aunt May and Uncle Ben, didn't they? I didn't even know the Flying Nun was still making movies!) But there he was, puffing and blowing and pontificating his way through his stand-in parent role, and instead of engendering sympathy, it just made the boys and I shout again: "Great responsibility!" we howled. "Tell him the bit about great power and great responsibility, Uncle Ben!"

Oddly, he ignored us. So we shouted the line for Peter to hear. But Pete ignored us too.

Worse still, when Uncle Ben wandered out into the night to get (what was it? Extra tampax for the Flying Nun? I can't remember) something from the shops, he ignored us again. "Look out, Uncle Ben," we shouted. "You're gonna get killed! Don't go down to the shops! There's a bad man with a gun!"

Peter, too. We called out to him as well: "Look out, Pete! Uncle Ben's gonna get killed by that bad man with a gun! You better stop him, Pete, or you're gonna be orphanised even more, and then you'll be all angsty and have to go around beating up criminals for the rest of your unnaturally prolonged teenagerhood!"

But did he listen? Nope. Not a word. Not a hint.

I am tremendously glad that we didn't bother seeing that one at the cinemas. I'm sure we would have annoyed the shit out of everyone else in the place... but unfortunately, taking the piss out of the tired, sad, predictable developments unfolding inevitably, mechanistically, fatalistically on the screen in front of us was the only way to have fun with the film.

If I was five years old, seeing the Unredeemable Spiderman for the first time, I'd want it to be that version of the movie, yep. But I'm not five. I saw all three of the previous Dopey Maguire versions, and so did the boys. So what if the suits at Sony wanted to hang onto the rights? I don't give a shit. It wasn't worth the effort.

Fuck all this "reboot" shit the studios are doing. There are a million fantastic amateur projects out there on the web. Hollywood is a frustrated dinosaur, screaming and stalking around the landscape trying to masturbate with hands too short to reach its wiener.

That's not what it's about any more.

Guess I won't be back to the cinemas any time soon.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Well, Yes. I've Been Busy.

So. Early in September, we took off on a "holiday". Let me give you just a touch more information there.

The first week of the 'holiday' saw us up in Cairns, in a couple rooms at a very shiny hotel. That's not my kind of holiday, but there was a reason: Natalie was facilitating a sizable medical conference... which left yours truly to be Parent In Charge for most of that week.

It could have been worse, sure. I caught up with old friends. Rented a car, cruised up and down the coast. We took a family day, rode the Kuranda Train to the top of the range, and came back down via the cable-car through the rainforest, all of which was pretty cool. But let's be honest here: I spent a lot of time shepherding three very temperate kids through the tropics, and they weren't too happy about that.

Once the medical conference finished, we spent a few days staying with my dad, up the back of the Atherton Tablelands, near Mareeba. That was pretty good too. I made father do the grampa thing, and take Genghis fishing in the little creek near his house. Father was sceptical, but I know enough about freshwater fishing up in that part of the world to have an edge. And so, armed with a small spool of line, an oversized suicide hook and a big lead sinker, they added a bit of raw chicken, and trundled down to sit on a log overlooking the creek. And sure enough: one very nice perch, which flabbergasted my father, and delighted Genghis beyond all measure. He had it for breakfast the next morning.

It was nice to catch up with the old chap, and my defacto stepmum, but of course, we were guests in their house. And that's not my kind of holiday either. Not complaining, though. It went well. We visited a friend of theirs who keeps reptiles as a hobby; the kids got to handle pythons and shingleback lizards, which was cool. We also took in a bird sanctuary at Kuranda, where excessively friendly parrots settled on us, and perplexed the tourists who couldn't figure out why me, my father, and the two boys were constantly surrounded by birds when other folks couldn't entice them down with bags of bird-treats. (Hint: if you want the birds to come to you, sit still, you idiots. If you scream and jump and flinch every time a bird settles on your shoulder, they rapidly conclude you're a bloody lunatic, and they avoid you afterwards.)

After that, we took the Sunlander train down to Brizneyland. That's about a thirty-six hour trip, covering something like 1800km. We took two sleeping cabins, figuring the kids had never done long-distance train stuff before. It was expensive, and interesting enough to do once. But never again. Small children in a small cabin pretty rapidly become problematic.

In Briz, I had plans to catch up with people... but it all went sideways. We stayed with Roz and Steve, which was pretty cool, but the Briz vista was broken up with a weekend trip across the border (another rented car!) to northern NSW for Natalie's sister's wedding, complete with two nights in some kind of rural retreat thingee.

The wedding was very cool. Nat's sister is a sweetie, and her new husband is a sharp individual. Their wedding vows were hilarious... he promised to get shit down off high shelves and open jars; she promised not to complain if he didn't pick up all his clothing; he promised to stop regarding the outdoors as his enemy; she promised to treat a weekend watching The West Wing with the same appreciation as hiking up a mountainside, etc.

Somehow I got dragooned into helping decorate the big barn where the reception was held. Being me, I promptly went to the local reject shop and spent a hundred bucks on weird shit: little garden gnomes, slightly naked fairies, a rubber chicken, lots of glow-bracelets, supersour lollies, and other peculiarities. I figured if I was going to be pressed into service, then I was going to have some fun while I was at it...

... but it backfired. The glow-bracelets were met with the greatest of delight. The rubber chicken was a centrepiece, eventually having its head bitten off by a drunken reveller and sacrificed on the midnight bonfire. The bride herself took home the plaster meerkat, and nobody noticed that some of the candy was terrifyingly sour. So, all up: an excellent jape for all concerned. Made me happy, and cheered up a bunch of others as well. Best of all, my wife and her stepmum both knew about it in advance, and were more than a little alarmed.

Then we went back to Briz. Stayed with Roz and Steve again, and then made the trip to my sister's place. And frankly, there just wasn't time to chase people down, and I regret that, but as you can see, with us staying on people's couches and attending weddings and stuff, it wasn't really a farking holiday at all.

I should also add the following: since early September, I have written ninety-eight thousand words of fiction. I have written a couple thousand words of very hardcore Byronesque poetry. I have written five thousand words of academic stuff. I have presented a paper on the progress of my MA. I have built a quail enclosure. I have graded twenty-odd ju-jitsu students over a two week period. I have also taken part in the judging of the Conflux writing competition, alongside two other fine writer-types.

This is, of course, on top of the usual routine for this part of the  year.  So yes. You're right. I've not been posting around here.

Did you miss the bit about ninety-eight thousand words of fiction in a little over two months? Go away! Stop hassling me!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Remember, Remember

...better luck next time, mate.