Born Standing Up (2007)

Steve Martin

An impressingly well-crafted autobiography which, though brief, is an almost perfect splicing of Martin’s upbringing, pivotal biographical moments, evolution as an artist, encounters with fledgling and established celebrities, and struggle with the heights of his fame.

Martin is modest throughout the book but even within his humble recollections it becomes evident just how formative and influential he has been on modern comedy. It is this evolution of his distinct style which is the most interesting aspect of the book. Much of his stand-up and movies seem dated now, I think, but given the context of this book it is possible to understand just how truly unique Martin’s comedy was in its time. Iyoung steve martinf his comedy seems dated now it is because his inventions have since been so often copied and built upon.

I am always interested in reading about the evolution of an artist but have never read anything which provides such a clear understanding of how the evolution occurred. From a young age Martin is interested in performing and this book meticulously plots the twists and turns of his interest in comedy, development of style, interest in ‘doing it new’ and the subsequent struggle and then rise to mega-stardom. Along the way he performs with member of The Eagles before they are The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac before they are Fleetwood Mac, and even meets and is complemented by Elvis.

I would say that a failing of the book is that at times it is too modest, too glib and refuses to ever truly revel in the achievements or success of its author. I could have read much more on Martin’s film work and encounters with the SNL cast. When he does write about the peak of his fame, performing stand-up to arena’s full of tens of thousands of fans, he is still analytical of his act rather than congratulatory of his success. I would have welcomed more detail but will settle for a book that is, like the author, continually entertaining.

stevemartin

The netflix and import tax – looming or dead in the water?

Below is a short article I wrote about the upcoming low value import tax in Australia. It is similar to the Netflix tax which calls for GST on digital services. It may sound a bit dry and in many ways it is but how the tax is handled could fundamentally change how Australian’s buy goods and services through online marketplaces such as Ebay and Amazon. When I originally wrote the article it was unclear as whether the bill would be passed. A senate hearing had recommended a delay. With only two weeks until the imposition date it is still unclear though both Ebay and Netflix are making preparations. Ebay had threatened to reduce activity in Australia if the bill was passed.

Netflix has announced a price rise to pass the cost of the tax onto consumers. Ebay has sent two emails to account users advising them that as of July 1 GST will be charged on any sales  by all users on Australia ebay unless the seller has an ABN. GST does not apply to businesses that have a turnover of less than $75,000 per year. Therefore the average ebay seller could apply for an ABN and not have GST imposed on goods that they sell. A minor inconvenience but worthwhile if you just happen to sell some second hand goods here and there on the platform.

The bill had also called for resellers such as Ebay to collect GST on goods sold to Australians from overseas sellers. Ebay argued it is a reseller and not responsible for collecting taxes within its platform. Foreign Ebay websites do not yet appear to carry any information for international users selling to Australia.

In researching the issue I found the retail sectors were often basing their arguments on incorrect, exagerated or biased figures in arguing for the tax. On the other hand those against the tax such as EBay and the Australian Taxpayers alliance had vested self-interested and/or unclear motives.

The same arguments about protectionism of industry have risen before in respect to the CD industry and book publishing and each time it felt to me that the calls for protectionism were designed to protect retail sectors unwilling to adapt of change their business models. This is reflected to in that Angus Robertson are one of the very few Australian book chains to utilise Ebay as a point of sale. Meanwhile the vast majority of the Australian retail industry rely on poorly built web portals and for whatever reason chose not to also utilise marketplaces such as Ebay.

A tax may help Australia’s retail sector. Some sort of incentive to maximise web presence would probably be more useful.

 

 

Here is the original article with information correct on 12 May 2017:

A senate hearing report has recommended a delay on imposing GST on low value imports into Australia. The GST Low Value Goods bill calls for GST to be charged on all imports under $1000. The bill is currently set to be enacted on 1 July 2017 and focus primary on consumer goods purchased on online marketplaces such as EBay and Amazon.

The bill was introduced by former treasurer Joe Hockey in 2015. It has since been championed by the current Federal treasurer Scott Morrison.

Currently only imports of over $1000 in value are charged GST. These imports are assessed and charged by border forces.

The Senate Hearing Report found that projected revenue from GST on low value imports is expected to amount to $300 million over three years. According to the hearing this revenue would not meet the costs associated with border inspection of low value imports.

Other countries impose a similar GST on low value imports. Both Canada and B

#CHINA-ECONOMY-IMPORTS & EXPORTS-RISE (CN)

ritain charge GST and import duties.

Part of the criticism of the current bill is that it calls for online marketplaces to collect the GST on imports. EBay had stated that this may not be feasible and could lead restrictions on some sales to Australia.

Australian retail sectors have argued that the bill is necessary

and will help level the playing field and make Australian business more competitive against online marketplaces.

Leesa Lambert is a member of the board of the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) and owner of The Little Book Room in Carlton North.

“It’s necessary to help the local industry compete. Without GST on imports overseas marketplaces can offer a ten per cent discount relative to our price points. It’s an unfair advantage.”

Tom Bradford, it eh co-owner of Lulu’s record store and Cool Death Records.

“We don’t expect much to change. The bill could make us marginally more competitive against buying online but we’d still be more expensive. We’ve alway

s sought to make out point of difference our physical presence rather than price point.”

The Australian Taxpayers Alliance condemned the bill in an advertisement in The Australian as bad for Australian businesses and shoppers.

Representatives of the ATA and others undersigned did not reply for request to comment. The GST Low Value Import bill is expected to be enacted in its current form on 1 July 2017.

 

Tell it fast?

I’m currently writing a review of (Tom Cruise’s) The Mummy and a look at the state of Universals fledgling dark universe.

It’s been widely reported that The Mummy is a bad movie and it is on most fronts though it has the potential for a good (if not great) movie within it. One of the bigger problems I have with The Mummy is that the story is completely linear and the story time, as far as I could tell, is perhaps only 12-16 hours.

Linear story lines with short story times seem to be relatively common over the last year. Rogue One was a very straight ahead story and other than a flash back in it’s opening scene the events took place over the course of less than 12 hours. Wonder Woman uses a present day framing device to tell the story of the movie within flash back and also shows Diana’s upbringing through flashback but is otherwise also a very linear story with maybe 48 hours of total story time.

There doesn’t seem to be any obvious connection between these films. The Mummy and Rogue One share the commonality of not being great films that probably should have been. Wonder Woman fares better though it’s third act suffers because of the usual poor CGI boss battle common to all DC films to date.

My theory is that all of these movies have sought to model themselves after Mad Max: Fury Road and it’s linear story with a scantmadmax 12 hours of story time. Mad Max worked because the action was so tactile, sensational and innovative. It was also a chase movie and didn’t ask for the audience to need  know or care to much about the titular or support characters.

By contrast the films above insist and rely upon empathy with the main characters, are trying to tell stories and to fit into bigger universes (Star Wars, DC, and Dark Universe respectively) and don’t provide enough or big enough action for such straightforward stories.

It’s a shame that these films were probably created under such heavy influence from Mad Max: Fury Road. I wonder what they could have been otherwise? I also wonder how many other films will try and fail with the same formula?

Perhaps the upcoming Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan will create a new trend. There is no running time released yet but the trailer hints at multiple character arcs and story lines and it seems safe to assume the movie will come close to the three hour mark. I don’t expect it will lead to superhero movies running to three hours but perhaps, hopefully, it will mean a return to less linear and longer style of story within big budget films and an end to trying to emulate a movie as unique as Mad Max.

 

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985)

Jeanette Winterson

I’m tempted to very clumsily look for a trend in the career of Jeanette Winterson with other writers of the mid-eighties. I feel as if Jeanette Winterson, Ben Elton and Margaret Atwood shared a similar sort of career path from writer to cultural identity and commentator that certain other eras of writers also have, for instance Updike/Mailer/Vidal or Ellis/Tartt/ Janowitz/ McInerney.

The comparison occurred to me because all three authors have always worked as writers, their work has all dealt with leftist social issues, and they have since become cultural icons unto themselves in a way. My idea of this mid-eighties trend is flawed. Winterson has little in common with Atwood and Elton other than sharing the same side of the political spectrum and a chronologically similar publication date of their bigger novels (Oranges…, The Handmaids Tale, and Stark, respectively.

I’m reasonably familiar with a lot of Elton and Atwood’s work. Elton, I think wrote too much too fast and diluted his own style without enough development until it approached a Morrissey-like level of self-importance and over earnestness. Though, of course, he has remained reasonably relevant by continuing to also work in film and television.

Atwood seems to have developed her style more by allowing herself space between books. She is also older and has a much bigger career than the other two authors. Even so it is hard work reading her earlier work which is much better than Elton’s but similarly earnest and altogether far too serious. I don’t have as much comparison for Winterson’s bibliography but certainly this, her first book, sits better with me than the earlier works of her contemporaries.

Perhaps it is because it is more personal than political and semi-autobiographical as well. The material seems to have more room to breathe and the themes of identity, sexuality and repression are allowed to unfold gently with the narrative events rather than being flagged from the start. But still it is a first novel and one written in the early eighties so it tries far too hard to be clever and is sometimes merely lucky in succeeding. Though succeed it does. At this point I’ve read more of Winterson’s non-fiction than fiction and have no idea what the rest of her fiction output is like. Hopefully good. Hopefully as lyrical and interesting and as smart. I hope her work didn’t become too self-absorbed as her star rose and the navel gazing of the late 80’s and 90’s beckoned and her cultural identity rivalled that of her role as a fiction author.

In terms of criticisms I did wish that the book was longer, which is of course a sign of enjoyment veiled as criticism, and there are artistic flourishes and decision in the novel that I felt were superfluous and could have been replaced. Again, though it is this artistic style which differentiates the personal as political in this book from the often hard to read speculative and satirical politics of Atwood and Elton.

I’ve also yet to see the BBC adaptation starring Maggie Smith.

 

Many of the early edition covers have post-impressionist art work as do the early editions of The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m not sure what, if any, connection there is in this similarity. Perhaps it was just the fashion at the time.

oranges2

 

And another thing…

I also forgot that there are at least two references to Josepf Conrad’s Heart of Darkness novel in Kong: Skull Island. Tom Hiddleston’s character is called Conrad and John C Reilly’s character’s last name is Marlow. I didn’t notice the Marlow while watching but the Conrad reference pulled me out of the film a little.

Marc Evan Jackson on the I Was There Too podcast claimed these references just went to show how invested director Jordan Vogt-Roberts was in creating a homage to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. Again I think that might have been more evident and worked better if the film had been prepared to be a cruler film in the way it depicted the humanity as a whole rather than glossing over and racial tensions and making the war/anti-war themes so black and white.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

You’ve got a giant ape movie? I’ll take it. I’m there. The ticket is sold. I don’t even question why. More than anything I’m surprised when people aren’t as quite set to go see it by default. When they ask me why I’m so interested? Interested? How on earth do you not want to just go along and see what they’ve done with Kong this time. It’s not going to be awful. Probably.

Sure, it’s probably going to be cheesy. They’re pop-corn movies! Almost a perfect trope of the cinema going experience. The continual evolution of the story of a giant ape and how he is portrayed and what technical tools, budget and feats are utilised in this portrayal. In the same way that Jaws changed cinema and Jurassic Park after it Kong is a sort of watermark which bobs along in the wake of these films.

The original King Kong is a sort of model T ford of movies. It’s mainstream and it’s problematic but it’s also something that was revolutionary in its way and integral to the course of film history. Peter Jackson’s version may not be nearly as important but it was a well-constructed vehicle for Kong which paid probably too much adulation to its forebear’s story and concentrated too much on added extras and style without examining the essential problems of the Kong story. It was just another Ford. Another family sedan. Far advanced from its model T predecessor but essential the same beast with more power.

In this latest version directed by the relatively unknown Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Universal Studios is attempting to build a monster universe franchise in the same way that Marvel/Disney has done with its properties and DC/Warner Brothers is failing to do with theirs. To be cynical it seems as if they’re doing a relatively poor job at it and following the DC/Warner Brothers model rather than that of Marvel/Disney’s. The 2014 Brian Cranston Godzilla, we’re now told, was supposed to be the start of this epic ‘MonsterVerse’ while the box office flop Dracula Untold, also released in 2014 though no one noticed, was the start of another monster universe (I don’t really know if they’re under the same name of slightly differentiated) which is going to be rebooted with Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy this year (2017). This sort of blind floundering and large missteps in a universe doesn’t seem too positive. Then again as much as Marvel may like to make out as if they had all of their moves planned it still seems as if they were lucky with Iron Man (and Robert Downey Jnr) and have continued to play off of that luck and goodwill ever since.

As such this film is designed as an origin story for Kong to bring him into the modern monster universe. Kong is not fully grown though he is massive! In this film, he does not leave Skull Island and he has his own sort of agency and mission. His relationship with the natives of the island makes a little more sense than in other depictions. He is also, even as a teenager, seemingly much bigger than ever before on the big screen.

The film really doesn’t need too much else for me to be happy, which is lucky, as what else is shoehorned into the film is superfluous at best. The film as a period piece faintly plays off of the turmoil in America as the country struggles with withdrawal from the Vietnam war and domestic political upheaval. Yet at the same time the film isn’t interested in exploring any sort of racial tension between the soldiers or scientists and as such most of the characters are pretty two dimensional with very little real chemistry or character development. Brie Larson is fine as the inevitable love interest to Tom Hiddleston who himself manages to pull off (just) being some sort of shadowy military type. His casting also begs the question as to whether Hollywood, in casting Adrian Brody and Tom Hiddleston, look for thin men with angular features in Kong films. Perhaps in some way intending to cast male leads who look as unlike the ape as possible? Two examples aren’t the best sample test but it will be interesting to see what happens in the Kong versus Godzilla movie and who gets the call up. Anyhoo. Meanwhile Samuel L. Jackson chews the hell out of the scenery and makes the best of a character whose sole purpose is irrationally propelling plot. The real highlight of the film, other than Kong, is John C. Reilly, who seems to be the only one on set who understands and enjoys what he is doing with his character and lights up the movie for the time he is in it.

Ultimately, I liked this as a standalone film. Even if it was a little weak on plot and afraid to lean into the true troubles of its period. As an origin film, I think it is moderately successful as it shows why Kong is willing to be humanity’s hero against the other monsters. Sadly, though I’d be very surprised if Universal manages to do much better with their next film. It’ll probably, again, merely be ok. There is foreshadowing in this with Kong’s attraction to Brie Larson that they may once again take Kong to New York by using the bait of a girl and shoe horn that played-out story into the fight against Godzilla or one of the other monsters.

Universal hasn’t reinvented the vehicle. This isn’t a hybrid, electric or flying car version of Kong. It doesn’t portray the ape more effectively or much better. It’s just another Ford with a shiny new paint job and some retro throwback sixties features. The building blocks were there for this to have been something better and for a real sort of drama play out underneath the Kong story. Instead it’s more of the great ape and spectacle while puny humans scurry to and fro beneath him.

Vader – Vol 1 (2015)

Kieron Gillen

A surprisingly good story which covers the period between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. There are several such volumes which I assume cover the same period from different characters’ perspectives. In this, Vader, in the wake of the destruction of the death star is investigating exactly who Luke Skywalker is and what lead to the Death Star being destroyed. The book also covers the deteriorating relationship between Emperor Palatine and Vader and the chess like moves each begin to make.

As a kid, I read and enjoyed a lot of the Star Wars novels. Now, I hear, a lot of them aren’t considered canonical in the Star Wars universe. Still they were great because they explored these characters around and beyond the central Saga movie story lines. These books seem to take the same deep dive. Based on this volume I’m really impressed and would read more. The story is threaded very tightly between the events of the saga films and the new characters which the book brings in are ok (if probably disposable) while existing characters are used well.

Having said that this isn’t the best comic I’ve ever read but merely a good start. The art, as with a lot of Marvel books, is a little too cartoony and I’m still suspicious that the story is going to veer off into Scooby Doo style adventures or simply collapse under its own weight. If, however the book maintains the current direction and can lean in more on the evil and by any means necessary tone of this first volume I’ll be happy to read on.