Thursday, March 13, 2008

Oh Dear, there’s a Poo in the room but no-one wants to admit it

The dowager couple of reviewers from SBS’ Movie Show, and lately of the ABC’s ‘At the Movies’, David and Margaret, are as traditional and as reliable as PlaySchool’s Teddy and Jemima. Yin and Yang; Hall and Oates; Choc and Ice; Yoda (Margaret) and Wookie (David).

However, I wouldn’t be the first semi-regular viewer to notice that they tend to add on anywhere from one to four stars if the movie they’re reviewing happens to be Australian.

For example, ‘Praise’. It got awarded four or five stars, yet involved an amoral slut with a scratch-til-you-see-blood excesma problem who moves in with a bloke so comatose he can barely inhale his next Winnie blue. Or Jimeoin’s ‘The Craic’ – 3 stars for a film that was about as funny as a cot death in a kindergarten.

So why should I have been surprised that they gave ‘Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger’ three-and-a-half sodding stars?

Here I present the evidence:

Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger - Review by David Stratton

13-year-old Esther Blueburger, played by DANIELLE CATANZARITI (Kath: please stop yelling David, besides you mispronounced her surname on telly anyway) lives with her parents, ESSIE DAVIS and RUSSELL DYKSTRA, and twin brother, CHRISTIAN BYERS, in a smart suburban house and is preparing for her bat-mitzvah.Esther is the odd girl out at a posh private school. She gets bullied and teased and has no friends, hence no-one to invite to her bat-mitzvah party – until she meets Sunni, (KEISHA CASTLE-HUGHES), who encourages Esther to enrol in the public school she attends, a change Esther conceals from her family.

Writer-director Cathy Randall has come up with a very clever idea for this cheerful comedy – a comedy which incorporates dramatic elements. TONI COLLETTE appears in another Aussie Mum role, after THE BLACK BALLOON, as Sunni’s bike-riding, tolerant mother, very different from Esther’s uptight parents. The performances are delicious. Diminutive DANIELLE CATANZARITI is terrific as the resourceful Esther as is KEISHA CASTLE-HUGHES, of WHALE RIDER fame, as her new-found friend. The Scope screen is intelligently used and when the film shifts into drama it does so effortlessly. A few quibbles arise but this is the second high quality Aussie film this year, and that’s a cause for celebration.

A few quibbles….! A FEW quibbles!!???? That’s like saying Paris Hilton likes to go out walking with the local lads after Sunday mass some afternoons....! By this stage I was sitting there with my mouth open in dismay and utter shock. Having drool on my knees didn’t make it a pretty sight for Love Chunks and he kept telling me, “It’s only an opinion you know,” before David and Margaret both gave it Three and a half stars.

Afterwards they wittered on:

DAVID: Margaret?

MARGARET: Yes, it's got a real eccentricity about it, this film. (Crap blended in a mixmaster by a nervous epileptic is the way I'd describe it if I was allowed to)
DAVID: It is, yeah.
MARGARET: You know conceptually and in the way it's directed and in these creations of characters (Your niece has obviously graduated from her movie course, David).
DAVID: Mmm (Yes, but I dread family slide nights now).
MARGARET: But I agree with you. I think they carry it off really well. I think Toni Collette's amazing. You know, she just has a small role in this and she's just so good in everything.
DAVID: Yeah, she is. She's terrific, yes. (Yes, she is, but she's only on for about five minutes and was one of the producers. Aussie tax dodge anyone?)
MARGARET: She's, you know, I haven't seen her put a footstep wrong, you know.
DAVID: But I thought this was a very intriguing film because it does go off in quite unexpected directions. (It certainly smelled 'off' from every direction.)
DAVID: It's by no means a traditional teenage comedy, although there are elements...
MARGARET: No, and it's actually quite discomforting at times... (Most times. How on earth could such shite be funded when there are some startlingly talented writers out there eking a rent cheque by working as speech writers for government gonzos or taking tickets for Fringe shows?)
DAVID: It is, yeah.
MARGARET: the way it does that.
DAVID: And I like that about it, actually.
MARGARET: Yes, so do I. I like that challenge (....of trying to say something positive about something I'd dearly like to wipe my arse on).
DAVID: Mmm. (how much did they say they'd pay us for saying this nice stuff?)
MARGARET: Look, I think that maybe this is a good year for Australian film.
DAVID: Well, let's hope so. It's starting off well, isn't it? (Are you on drugs?)
MARGARET: Yes. (I want what they're having).

This is how I saw it when I was sat in the wasteland of the Greater Union Cinema in the piss-stained end of Hindley Street last Monday morning:

The star power of Toni Collette and Keisha Castle-Hughes might have got this movie made but their talent can’t save this soggy mess of a burger. Newcomer Danielle Catanzariti stars as Esther in this disjointed, supposedly quirky Australian coming-of-age tale that only serves to explain just why audiences are avoiding home-grown movies in droves. It simply does not work on any level.

The acting is unconvincing and the secondary characters are mere caricatures that don’t provide any humor or reality to the story. The script itself is excruciatingly awkward and does not possess a shred of genuine comedy or insight. Any sadness or confusion experienced by Esther towards the end of the movie is contrived to the point of irritation: we no longer believe or care about whatever teenage confusion she’s supposedly going through. Even the continuity is riddled with mistakes: her fall off the school stage (after being allowed, without any interruption, to disrupt the school assembly and speak nonsense for far too long), shows her about to land on her back but the next scene sees Esther in bed with a black eye.

It’s a sad day for Australian cinema when the best part of a movie is the cute yellow duckling – before it is killed and plucked for biology class. "

During the screening, one of the other three reviewers present stood up in disgust and yelled out, "THIS IS CRAP!", to which we all heartily agreed and then proceeded to comment loudly throughout the remainder. The other guy in black muttered, "Does the person who wrote this s**t even know how kids think?" No wonder we were given 24 pages of utter dreck about how hilarious the actors' found the script and how they looked at 3,000 girls before Esther was found - they hoped we'd just scab a few words out of the future budgie-cage liners and not bother to watch the actual celluloid suckfest.

Since then, I have only seen one review online and that was for a piece on the Berlin film festival earlier this year. Nothing by the Traumatiser (like that one, Redcap) or the Sunday Fail but that's understandable seeing as only a year ago they breathlessly asked their readers to let them know if they clapped eyes on Toni Collette whilst she was filming in our fair city. Still, even the usually-groovy-but-honest Empire magazine hasn't reviewed it yet. Hmmmm, I wonder why not….?


Hungry Hungry Hypocrite said...

I think you're a little hard on cot-death, it's not everyone's cup of tea granted but it's a comedy staple.

Would have to agree, Aussie films, more often than not, are given far too much slack. I still haven't forgiven Film Victoria for "Garage Daze". How can an industry that produced such classics in the 1970s (Gallipoli anyone???) have fallen to the state it's in now?

It's enough to make you watch a Michael Bay film isn't it?

Kath Lockett said...

Yes. Monsieur Bay has more depth, originality and links to the gritty reality of life as a suburban teenager than this slice of s**t did.

Agree re the 1970s, but must quibble: Gallipoli was made in 1981 (and is one of my all time favourite movies).

Anonymous said...

"How on earth could such shite be funded when there are some startlingly talented writers out there eking a rent cheque"

Couple of friends who work in the industry assure me that plenty of scripts start out well, but by time everybody who has any influence has put their own two cents worth in, it's a quite unrecognisable beast.

And is there really anything wrong with Margreat and David trying to boost the local industry? Looking back to a previous post, how much crap Aussie music did Molly plug on Countdown back in 1985 (and the year before that, and the year before that, and the.....)

Terence McDanger said...

It's the same over here. Every Irish movie that comes out, the reviewers nod at each other and then they all go into a room and have a big collective wank about it.
In newspaper terms, I'd say it has something to do with trying to keep the advertisers sweet. I don't trust big movie mag reviews for the same reason.

franzy said...


I seriously watched D&M and believed that at last at last here was an Aussie film that I might actually pay money to go and see in the cinema! I was going to take my fellow YA auteur and we would examine what passes for a candid look at modern Australian teenage life.

Alas, following your review, I shall be stating now that I'll get it out on DVD and promptly forgetting that I ever said as such.

One More Thing: Michael Bay is a Top Bloke. Transformers was gold gold gold and anyone who says otherwise didn't realise they were going to watch the Greatest Film About Gigantic Transforming Robots In History and was foolishly expecting something else!

Kath Lockett said...

Sorry to burst your bubble Franzy. Just watch 'The Transformers' again - it'll be far more entertaining and less likely make you want to stab your own eyes out with a fork.

Anonymous, I too think it's perfectly natural that David and Margaret would want to promote Aussie movies, but NOT to the extent that they are willingly promoting utter shite. All that will do is send a few punters off to the movies, only to be annoyed afterwards and think (as Love Chunks and I have done in the past): "Geez, if this one got three-and-a-half stars" I'd hate to see an Aussie movie that only got three, or two...." All it does is add to the 'Cry Wolf' mentality and put people off forever.

Promotion of good local talent yes. Promotion purely on the basis of it being local, no. HONESTY is better.

Hungry Hungry Hypocrite said...

1981 you say? Oh well, sorry about that. I stand by my comments though, Garage Daze is one of the worst films ever made. Re anonymous's comments, I often wonder how much films really do differ from their origins. There are some very talented people producing and funding films in this country ... how do they get it so wrong so often? By trying to make a buck of course. But then you get gems like "Noise" starring Brendan Cowell - absolute ripper of a film. Just goes to show that artistry can pay the bills.

ashleigh said...

Some Australian filums are ok:

How about "Malcolm", and "Death in Brunswick" ?

The more modern stuff seems to have lost its edge thought, death by conservatism and lots of script editing.

davey said...

Thanks for the tip Mill, although I don't think it will come near enough to my vicinity to warrant actively avoiding it. Will warn Mum though.

Considering that reviewers are charged with providing an unbiased gauge of quality for the sake of the viewing/paying public, to skew ratings in an effort to prop up local industry is at best unethical and at worst counter productive -- Disappointed punters are hardly going to be speaking the praises of the industry they've just been duped by.

Rosanna said...

Oh god, can I get an amen? I loved the cot death line. In fact, if that had been in the movie - it would've been the only high-point. The movie was dribble. A waste of $12 if ever there was one.

Baino said...

Hi Kath, popped over from Terrence's gaff. Nice to connect with another Aussie blogger! I love the Movie Show but you're so right there's a strong bias not just towards Australian movies but also art house - both of which can be utter crap! I've given up on Aussie movies completely and restrict myself to watching them on DVD . . .Call me shallow but Transformers was so good, I bought it!

Kath Lockett said...

Even in today's Sunday Fail there's a tiny article about Keisha Knight Hughes and one about Toni Collette but still no actual review....

Agree with you re 'Malcolm' and 'Death in Brunswick' Ashleigh, but they were made in 1986 and 1991 respectively. The only recent funny one I can think of is 'Kenny'.

Anonymous said...

People will naturally have different views on the merits of this or any other film, but having seen this film I can't understand why it's offended you so much. I think David and Margaret are spot on about this film - it's very clever, it's well acted and looks beautiful. One thing David and Margaret failed to mention that the music for this film is simply outstanding.

Normally a review of a film doesn't bother me, but I must say that I found your rant on this film highly offensive. Of course you should be free to express your opinion, but to question the integrity of anyone who happens to have a different opinion than you, as you do in your rant, is totally outrageous and disgusting. David and Margaret have the right to express their opinion without it being slanderously suggested that they are only reviewing a film positively because they are on the take ("how much did they say they'd pay us for saying this nice stuff?").

You also seem to suggest that it's only David and Margaret that have reviewed the film positively (or could possibly review the film positively). This is complete rubbish. While the film hasn't been released yet and therefore hasn't been widely reviewed, if you'd bothered to do your research, you would have found a number of positive reviews from overseas (try the highly reputable Screen Daily for example). Further, the initial audience reviews (with the glaring exception of yours) from the At the Movies website are very positive.

I could pick heaps of issues with your writing on this film. How can Toni Collette be terrific at one point, yet the acting be unconvincing at another? Why should "the other guy in black" in the cinema "in the piss stained end of Hindley Street" be the authority on whether this film has reached its target audience? Why on earth would he know what kids think? And your admission that you commented loudly throughout the screening is an indictment on you, rather than the film. How can you possibly review a film with any objectivity when you're not watching it?

In short, you've provided an unbalanced rant with not a shred of credibility, rather than anything that could even loosely be termed a review. I really think you don’t know enough about film to comment in any meaningful way, so instead can only resort to a vitriolic tirade of abuse.

So excuse me if I continue to place more weight on the views of David Stratton over someone who lists Sixteen Candles in their list of all time favourite films.

PS I am not associated with the film and have not been paid to make these comments.

Kath Lockett said...

Thank you for your comment - nay *rant* Anonymous. What a shame you won't reveal your real name.

I stand proudly by my opinion that 'Hey Hey it's Esther Blueberger' was an embarrassing mound of crap that only serves to send the already-struggling Australian film industry back into the dark - no dank - ages.

Oh and 'Anonymous'? I *did* do my homework - the only reviews I've found to date were from 'aintitcool' news re the Berlin film festival, Dave and Margaret, and, just yesterday, Empire (who gave it 2 stars by the way). The point I was *trying* to make was that no South Australian publication has seen fit to publish a review. The Traumatiser has merely put in a few puff pieces about Toni Collette's tiny pole dancing scene or Daniela Catanzariti's nerves before opening night. I'm pretty sure that the positive reviews on the 'At the Movies' site are those from participants in the celluloid piece of shite itself.

Hmmm, perhaps I've offended you because you or your darlings went to the private school featured in much of the background scenes?

If you find my views offensive that's tough luck. Go surf somewhere else. And if you think that listing 'Sixteen Candles' as one of my favourite TEEN movies is a negative, then I'd gladly act out the 'Farmer Ted' role than anything in Esther any day: at least it's funny, endearing and well acted.

If the best you can say is that the music is good, then that's pretty tragic. The 'guy in black in the cinema at the piss-stained end of Hindley street' - along with the other two people present - were also REVIEWERS. Four out of four of us hated it. YOU do the math, Anonymous.

Go find yourself a life, Anonymous, for if you find this review "outrageous and disgusting" you clearly don't get out enough.

After seeing 'Gallipoli' on DVD during the weekend and seeing what the SA Film Corporation has supported in the past, PooBurger made me want to weep. And it makes me angry that such crap is being shoved down our throats as 'representing the travails of teenagers', 'quirky', 'it made me laugh and cry'..... This movie is about as clever as a failed Big Brother contestant.

Kath Lockett said...

By the way, Anonymous - what's YOUR claim to credibility when it comes to movie reviews - direct chromosomal linkage to Helen Keller?

TOM said...

Kath I haven't heard of the film and when I do I guess I'll try to miss it...Don't you love anonymous people??

Anonymous said...

What a pathetic website! Makes me sick to be australian......

Kath Lockett, you are offensive and a bad bad bad writer, obviously with a huge chip on your shoulder.

Kath Lockett said...

Dearest, brave 'Anonymous.'

Your insults only spur me on. If you don't like what you see and read here then why don't try go somewhere else, like, oh I don't know, Jim Schembri of The Age's website review of PooBurger?

Now run along and go and find that life of yours, OK? Love and Kisses
KATH LOCKETT - the writer with a NAME.

Anonymous said...

So we are not allowed to take the piss out of David and Margaret? I reckon if you put that idea to them, they would be shocked and horrified...

Esther B. is making its way round the AFI's at the moment. It is a really misbegotten film.

What was the audience? Kids? No, there is a sex scene.. oldies? no..

Whose point of view> Esthers? no, because of the comedy etc etc..