Curb your Enthusiasm – Season Eight – a Review

When a television comedy enters its eighth season you expect it to be ‘jumping the shark’ pretty soon, if it hasn’t already done so – in an effort to recharge a flagging show, its producers will desperately (or lazily) introduce a kooky relative, a mad dwarf, a man from space, or all three.

I initially thought Curb your Enthusiasm might have reached its ‘shark-jumping’ moment in Season Six, when Larry reluctantly takes in a family of black refugees. Then, in Season Seven, it was a Seinfeld cast reunion that smelled a little too much of ‘shark’. But both seasons had their share of solid stories and very funny situations.

Season Eight greets us with little novelty at all, apart from a mid-season switch to New York locales. And it might be one of the strongest seasons yet.

Larry and the Curb team have always been adept at juggling multiple storylines, then having them come crashing together in some outrageous conclusion. But I don’t think they’ve done it quite so cleverly and hilariously as they have in Season Eight.

For example, Episode Three manages to combine a golf tournament, a Palestinian chicken restaurant, Marty Funkhauser’s return to devout Judaism, an affair, a couple of annoying habits and Larry’s ‘social assassin’ skills to wonderful effect – along the way are many memorable Larry ‘moments’. (‘I’m going to fuck the Jew out of you,’ shrieks Larry’s Palestinian lover, while Marty Funkhauser fumes under his yarmulke in an adjoining room.)

Later in the season, we learn of Larry’s traumatic childhood Mister Softee memories, the results of which ruin a softball tournament and his sex life. The same episode includes some very funny scenes with a damaged car passenger seat (‘This chair is a fuck machine!’ declares Leon).

As usual, there are appearances of ‘real life’ celebrities. Larry battles Rosie O’Donnell for the affections of a bisexual lover, angers Ricky Gervais by talking throughout his stage performance, and in the season finale, Larry feuds with Michael J. Fox, claiming that Fox is taking advantage of his Parkinson’s illness to get back at him.

The only disappointment with Season Eight is the departure of Cheryl Hines, who played Larry’s extremely patient wife. With their divorce finalised in the first episode, she only appears in one short scene.

There is no one outstanding episode – like ‘Beloved Aunt’ in Season One, or ‘The Doll’ in Season Two – but that is possibly because they’re all pretty, pretty good. They’re so good it’s quite possible the show has a few more ‘sharkless’ seasons left in it.

Long live Larry!

Reviewed by Candy

Season Eight of Curb your Enthusiasm will be available to buy on DVD in Australia in June 2012.

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Reign of Terror – a Review

Another month, another Brooklyn-based electronic duo with a new album! But unlike Chairlift, whose forebears might include Eurythmics and the Human League, Sleigh Bells seek their inspiration from the likes of Joan Jett.

Their first album contained its fair share of frivolity amid the endless metal riffing, and at least one perfect pop song in Rill Rill, but the follow up – Reign of Terror – finds them in a far darker place, and the album suffers for it.

Their ‘agenda’, as the album title might suggest, is one of confrontation and violence. This is further alluded to in the lyrics of first track True Shred Guitars.

On your knees, on your knees, suffer please.
On your knees, carry me, M16.
If you’ve seen what I’ve seen, bury me.
Burn the streets, baby please, finish me.

But the details of their ‘agenda’ are never revealed. Who or what are they against, if anything? Why the repeated references to self-destruction?

Of course, this metal and death fixation could be part of the fun, it just doesn’t sound like fun!

One of the most appealing aspects of Treats was the interplay between Miller’s guitar work and the voice of Alexis Krauss – sometimes sweet, sometimes sassy. Reign of Terror turns the guitars up to 11 at the expense of the vocals, which makes the already ambiguous lyrics even harder to hear.

Many of the tracks suggest a conflict, with the protagonist both attracted and repelled (often violently) by the subject. Track 3, Crush, is a good example.

I gotta crush on
I gotta crush you
Baby please
I gotta crush on
I gotta crush you now.

And in Road to Hell.

Don’t run away from me baby
Just go away from me baby
Don’t run away from me baby
Just go away from me baby.

There are some good tunes here – End of the Line, Comeback Kid and You Lost Me are all winners – but the lyrics of even these slightly sweeter sounding tracks are just as tortured. For example, End of the Line opens with this grim image.

The nightmare lies in the mourning
When the birds are bleeding.

Not a great way to start the day, I’d suggest.

So – what to make of Reign of Terror? I’m a little disappointed and feel they’ve made a few mistakes. I’d like to see them drop some of the metal clichés and posturing, and stick to great tunes. I wouldn’t class this album a failure by any means; I just think they’re capable of so much more.

Review by Tidy Boy

Carnage – a Review

We’ve all been in the sort of situation that requires we behave with tact and restraint, rather than the seething anger we actually feel – disputes with neighbours, family quarrels, traffic incidents etc.

Carnage, the latest film from Roman Polanski, is about one of those situations. Only on this occasion, despite the best intentions of most of the participants, tact and restraint are abandoned in favour of hysteria.

Ethan, the son of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster), has been hit in the face with a stick, resulting in some damage to his teeth. The protagonist is Zachary, the son of Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christolph Waltz and Kate Winslet). All four parents decide to meet at the Longstreet’s apartment to discuss, and hopefully resolve the situation.

Initially, the Longstreets are almost overbearing in their hospitality, with Penelope talking without interruption, and Michael forcing food and drink on the more restrained Cowans. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Alan Cowan is less than pleased to be there, paying more attention to his mobile phone than the matter at hand.

The meeting is drawn out further when Nancy, suddenly nauseous, vomits across the Longstreet’s coffee table, on which there are several expensive art books. As Penelope’s already nervous disposition deteriorates, the afternoon starts to go downhill, particularly when Michael introduces a bottle of Scotch.

Couples turn on each other, husbands scream at wives, the women laugh at the men.

Carnage is based on the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza (who also co-wrote the screenplay). However, there is no attempt to hide its stage bound origins, with the entire movie (barring the short scenes that bookend the film) taking place in the one apartment. For me this worked in the movie’s favour, adding a claustrophobic effect – for the characters, there is no escape, only endurance.

The pleasures of Carnage are watching Foster and Winslet – two of the best female actors of the past 20-30 years – in full flight. Jodie Foster’s transformation from genial host to apoplectic wreck is amazing. But Reilly and Waltz are no slouches either. Waltz plays his cynical lawyer with relish, as though amused with the havoc he is helping to wreak. Reilly too, reveals himself to be far from the friendly host he might seem.

Carnage will make you laugh and squirm – often at the same time. It’s a small, intelligent film with great dialogue and superb acting. If you prefer guns, robots and car chases, I’d suggest you stay away; otherwise it’s definitely worth seeing.

Stick around for the end credits too, as you’ll notice the two sons reconciling in their own way, suggesting that perhaps we unlearn as we grow older, and not the other way around.

 

Review by Candy

Everything’s Gone Greenish – New Order in Concert

I saw New Order play at the Thebarton Theatre 25 years ago, and remember being very disappointed. The sound was atrocious, the band seemed pissed off, and they played a short set of obscure album tracks, b-sides and thrashy versions of otherwise likeable songs. The only semblance of a hit was ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’. The event wasn’t quite damaging enough to warrant a sacrificial burning of my New Order collection, but it made me wary of committing to any future New Order live experiences.

In the years since I’ve seen video footage of many competent, even very good, live New Order performances. Was it possible that my 1986 experience was a rare aberration? Did Hooky have a headache? Did Gillian forget to plug in her keyboard? Was the band under some sort of collective trance that made their music almost unlistenable?

Whatever the reason, when it was announced that the band were reforming (minus Hooky) and touring Australia, I jumped at the chance to see one of their shows, assuming that they’d overcome whatever ailed them on their ’86 tour. The temptation was too great! Would they play ‘Your Silent Face’? Would Bernard wear shorts? Would Gillian press the wrong key and summon the Walrus from Hell?

And so, I found myself, along with thousands of others, jammed into the Hordern Pavilion on an unusually wet and cold night in March. The excitement was palpable – fans with greying and/or receding hair donned New Order t-shirts, others wore Gillian masks, while a small minority wore black armbands in protest at Hooky’s absence. I managed to get a seat to the right of the stage – not the best spot for sound, but the view of the stage was good.

After a brief introductory ‘Elegia’, the band launched into a stomping version of ‘Crystal’, followed by the highlight of their ‘Republic’ album, ‘Regret’. From there, the band went from one great tune to another – ‘Age of Consent’, ‘Ceremony’, ‘Temptation’, ‘Krafty’ and so on. While the sound tended to get a bit murky at times, it was mostly excellent, particularly on those tracks with an electronic heart. ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Perfect Kiss’ were all especially good, but it was a version of ‘586’ which was the highlight of the night for me.

The only complaint I had was their insistence on playing ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Although it wasn’t so much that they played it, but how they played it. For me, the song works best with restraint and subtlety, allowing the simple melody to shine through. Their version at the Hordern Pavilion was more akin to Status Quo than Joy Division. They even employed a bizarre shriek during the chorus, which was perhaps meant to represent Ian Curtis’s reaction to this horrific rendition.

Despite this hiccup, the show was over too soon and we were tossed out into the rain, humming ‘Blue Monday’ in time to the sound of traffic and water as we plodded towards home.

 

A Fight To The Death

Like most phobias, arachnophobia makes no rational sense. But also like most phobias, the fear of spiders comes from some dark, hidden corner of the psyche. It’s primal. Just the suggestion of something hairy and eight-legged is enough to make the average arachnophobe gag, scream, or even leap out of a moving car. This is well before the rational part of the brain kicks in and tells us that ‘it’s a harmless little spider’. I can only speculate that somewhere in our prehistoric past, our ancestors ran from a now-extinct, man-eating species of cow-sized spider, and that this distant memory is locked away in our subconscious.

I’ve been aware of my arachnophobic impulses for many years now, and I’m proud to say that I can override the urge to hysteria in all but the scariest of spider sightings. A recent encounter, however, came when I was at a physical and emotional low, and I reacted a little badly. To put it bluntly, I was left shattered and highly embarrassed for days afterwards.

It was a Thursday night. All week, I’d been suffering from a nasty stomach pain. I felt sore and bloated. My appetite had all but disappeared. My head and back were aching and I was very tired. It was as though all my systems were falling apart.

I been visiting my daughter, but felt so sick, I decided to leave early. I didn’t feel like doing anything other than getting into bed.

That was when things started to go very wrong.

Upon getting home, I went straight to my bedroom, flicked on the light, and was about to throw myself onto the bed, when I caught sight of the largest, ugliest, hairiest huntsman spider I’d ever seen. It had arranged itself above my bed like a wall ornament. Like the severed hand of some alien creature now displayed as a trophy. I’d frozen – my mouth hanging open and my limbs stopped dead, like one frame of a moving picture – a runner caught mid-stride.

I did the right thing at first. I didn’t run out of the house screaming, or start waving my arms or rolling my eyes. I calmly thought things through. My plan was to brush it onto the floor with a magazine, then either catch it in a jar or, if I had no other choice, squash it with my shoe.

But as I took one step towards it, a magazine curled in my hand, the spider ran, with astonishing speed, down behind the head of the bed.

I gasped as a spasm of repulsion rippled through my body. ‘It’s on my bed,’ I whispered, swallowing the urge to hiccup violently.

I peered reluctantly into the crack between bed and wall, the creature’s hideous body a silhouette in the sliver of light. It was on the bed head, about level with the pillows. A terrifying chant echoed in my head. ‘There’s a spider on my pillow, my pillow, my pillow. There’s a spider on my pillow, my pillow…’

Again, I suppressed the inclination to panic. As calmly as I could, I attempted to lift the foot of the bed and swing it away from the wall. But the bed – queen-sized and solid wood – was so heavy I could only move it a few centimetres. Looking into the crack a second time, I could still see the spider, but it had crawled onto the mattress. There was no way I could even get close to it, forget about swinging a magazine.

Maybe I could lever the mattress from the bed? If the spider clung to the mattress, I’d be able to get to it. If it jumped onto the bed base, I’d also stand a better chance of getting to it without the mattress in the way. Either way, I’d get a shot at the monster.

By now, I was getting weary. The little energy I’d had was dribbling away, as were my feelings of compassion. All thoughts of rehabilitation had dissipated. It was now a fight to the death!

The mattress was no easier to move than the bed. It was big and heavy and awkward, and it was only after much swearing that I was able to get it on its side, standing like a wall across the middle of the room. But now that it was in that position, the spider was nowhere to be seen. I looked carefully around the bed head, and then, reluctantly, squatted on the floor and peered underneath. There it was – clinging upside-down to one of the slats forming the base of my bed.

The wooden slats were not nailed or bolted into position, but merely slotted into a groove in the base. I carefully manoeuvred the slat loose and lifted it, hoping to expose the beast. But as soon as it was visible, and my magazine poised to swat, the spider leapt with great skill onto the next. As I lifted the second slat, it did the same again, and kept on doing it until all the slats were loose and stacked in a ramshackle pile next to the bed.

By this time, I was white as a sheet and sweating profusely. I may have even been sobbing. The spider itself has clambered onto the foot of the bed and was making its way towards the great wall of mattress. Apart from the mess I’d created from dismantling the bed, I’d also stirred up a disgusting amount of dust that filled the air like a noxious fog.

I sneezed, sobbed and began to whine in the manner of a two-year old. I went in search of a glass of water and caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror. What this the face of a mature 50-year man, or a mentally defective infant?

Upon returning to the bedroom, I spotted the spider making itself comfortable on the upper reaches of my mattress. Suddenly, as though a fuse had blown in my brain, I slipped into a kind of hysterical madness, and lunged at the spider with a battered copy of Mojo magazine. I smashed at the mattress again and again, my blows random and careless, and as I did so I uttered a sort of primitive guttural shriek.

In the end, nothing remained of the spider or the magazine. Although, to my discomfort, I could only finds spider fragments scattered across the room – a leg here, a bit of body there. No complete confirmation of its demise.

I collapsed – exhausted and wrecked. There was no relief, just a sense of embarrassment and shame. Surrounding me was the remains of my bedroom – bits of bed, hastily moved furniture, disorganised piles of paper and magazines.

I found an uncontaminated pillow and slept on the lounge room sofa. Even then, as I closed my eyes, spider-shaped figures crawled across the inside of my eyelids.