Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

Things That Are Terrible: MTV remakes Skins

Today in Things That Are Terrible, American television station MTV released a “sneak peek” (I hate that term so much, even though I use it when writing scripts at work) at their remake of the awesome British show Skins. In the recent case of the American remake of the Swedish film Let The Right One In, I decided to wait until I saw the film to decide whether it was a Thing That Is Terrible, which is just as well, because Let Me In was a Thing That Is Good. As the trailer below attests, though, this new incarnation of Skins is definitely a Thing That Is Inconceivably Awful And Should Not Be.

See that shot-for-shot recreation of the camera panning slowly up from (the American equivalent of) Tony’s face as he’s lying, tucked very neatly in his bed? In the UK version, we saw his bedspread had a naked man (face down) and a naked woman (face – and titties! – up). It was important, because it said something about his weird relationship to sex. This new version of Tony just has pretty trees on his bedspread. Way to miss the point, MTV.

Also, I thought the point of American remakes was to get rid of allegedly ugly British actors and replace them with lovely American ones. Although the new Sid is a little cuter, the new Maxxie and Tony are not, giving us an overall lower cuteness quotient. For shame, MTV, for shame. You no longer deliver music, and now you can’t even adequately deliver eye candy. What good are you?

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Ugens Sang: Diamond Rings – Show Me Your Stuff

Canadian musician John O’Reagan fronts a quite serviceable post-punk outfit called The D’Urbevilles. But his solo work, under the Diamond Rings moniker, is amazing (hence why it’s also posted with the amazing/forbløffende tag): exactly the kind of melancholy, menacing electro-pop I love. Earlier songs like You Oughta Know (not an Alanis Morissette Cover, sadly) had a Gothic undercurrent, but his best song is the over-the-top camp-fest Show Me Your Stuff.

I discovered it just after returning home from Europe, and a lot of the song resonated with me lyrically as I tried to figure out what my next move would be: “either way, I know just what I need and I’ma find it, because all I need is already within me.” Of course, though, what I loved most was its Lady-Gaga-on-a-budget aesthetic, from the skittering synths to the peacock-shaman costume. The most amazing thing about it, though, is the fact that it is not on his debut album, Special Affections, released today. The rest of the album is good, but it ain’t no Show Me Your Stuff. According to my Last.FM profile, I’ve played it more than any other song in the last 18 months. You should play it – loudly and repeatedly – too.

Er det ikke forbløffende? Ja, det er meget forbløffende. Nu, spille det igen!

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Forbløffende: Papa Vs Pretty

Some of your probably already know the adoration I have for local trio Papa Vs Pretty. They’ve just released their first major label EP, Heavy Harm, and you should all go and buy it. I went to see them supporting The Holidays (another local band who are less brilliant, but I’m very fond of them nevertheless) last weekend and they blew me out of my socks, as always.

I first met the band (well, frontman Tom Rawle) when he was a high school student of 15 or 16. It was seriously adorable: this kid blew my mind – I thought they were the best band I’d ever seen – and then he went and had a Coke with his chaperoning father. His ex-girlfriend lived in the suburb I worked in, so I’d often run into him, hanging out in his school uniform.

Anyway, I banged on and on about the band – to my friends and in the pages of the magazine I wrote for – and now they’re getting a nice bit of attention, which makes me feel justified. There’s nothing worse than extolling the virtues of a particular band (or book or film) and being met with a shrug of the shoulders when your friends are finally exposed to the object of your affection.

I’m a serious fanboy for this dude: I think everything he’s written (or, at least, everything he’s released and performed) is brilliant. He essentially recorded the first Papa Vs Pretty EP himself, a nifty collection of moody electronic pieces – kind of Kid A-era Radiohead. Afterwards, he disbanded the line-up and recruited Angus Gardiner and Tom Myers, the current rhythm section, and released another EP, mainly made up of re-recorded rock versions of the first EP’s tracks.

And now, Heavy Harm is more like The Bends-era Radiohead. It’s a great release, but the stage is where they really slay it: they turn into an aggressive power trio that puts me in mind of 50 Foot Wave. I’ve never seen anybody  A crowd favourite during their live sets is a cover of Prince’s Purple Rain (see below).

Everyone was crying out for Purple Rain last weekend (which they played as an encore – the first time I’ve seen a support band called back onstage), which strikes me as a bit rude: covers are nice, but their own stuff is holy-shit-amazing. Current single, Heavy Harm.

And then, there’s earlier single Ballad, which they don’t play any more. It’s a bit more indicative of their live sound – abrasive indie-rock – and I fucking love how 90s the clip is: a cheerful band emerging out of a suburban cupboard and playing a private show in an increasingly confused teenager’s bedroom. Also, watch drummer Tom Myers’ face: he’s the most expressive drummer I’ve ever seen. His tongue rolls from one side of his mouth to the other, he grins and grimaces and purses his lips like a monkey. It’s the best.

And hey! I just found out I’m a source on their Wikipedia page! Woo woo! According to Wikipedia (and my memory), in 2007 I described their first EP as “the best thing I’ve heard this year”. And if it wasn’t for Diamond Rings, I’d be saying the same thing again right now.

Papa Vs Pretty. Verdict: amazing.

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Latterligt Sang: Bodebrixen – Alarm Clock

This isn’t a song of the week, just an adorable, ridiculous song. This is Alarm Clock by Bodebrixen, a duo from Århus, Denmark (naturligt). It looks like they filmed the clip with the camera in their MacBook. The editing is non-existent, their dancing is atrocious. It’s one of the most incompetent clips I’ve ever seen, but I love it (and not just because the boys are scantily-clad and waifish). Perhaps it will make you smile like it did me.

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Opskrift: Banana bread

Banana bread was, at a certain point, my main reason for living. When I worked my first office job, I started at 7.00 every morning. Ugh. I decided I needed some extra sleep, so I started getting breakfast on my way to work. Most days, to reward myself for getting out of bed before sunrise, I’d get banana bread. Mmh. What a delicious and fattening treat. I did have to reign in my habit when sitting on my arse and eating banana bread every day caused me to gain five kilos in as many weeks, but I still love the stuff. Now, instead of buying the sweet, cake-y type you get in cafes, I make my own.

Delicious.

It’s a great and easy recipe, and quite healthy: mainly flour, eggs, milk and fruit. The only “bad” ingredient is a bit of brown sugar. What I like most about this recipe (apart from its ease) is its versatility. I usually throw in some raspberries (fresh or frozen) and a quarter cup of desiccated coconut, but add whatever you like: blueberries, pear, walnuts, pecans, chocolate chips.

Basic banana bread recipe

Not pictured: eggs.

2 cups self-raising flour (I usually use wholemeal)
1/3 cup brown sugar (the recipe says “firmly packed”, but seriously, the sweetness of the banana and the raspberry I usually add is enough, I usually use a loosely packed 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup milk (I use low-fat milk, and use a bit less than the cup it calls for, otherwise it gets a bit gloopy)
1 cup mashed banana (approximately two bananas)
+ whatever else you care to add!

Sift or whisk together dry ingredients.

Gently fold in wet ingredients (this is where I add the raspberries – last, and folded in very gently, or they discolour the batter).

Pour into lined loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes in a 180 degree oven.*

How fucking easy is that? It freezes well (although I suggest cutting it first and freezing each slice individually) and is great with a cuppa any time of day or night.

*Optional step: I usually use two big bananas for the recipe and take two long, diagonal slices out of them to decorate the top. Press them gently into the top of the batter. Especially tasty if you combine a tiny bit of brown sugar with a tiny bit of water and brush it over the top of the banana, so it goes all crisp and toffee-y. I usually re-brush it halfway through the baking so that that banana doesn’t dry out.

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Ugens Sang: Jenni Vartiainen – En Haluu Kuolla Tänä Yönä

I worked for a few years as a music journalist, and I miss writing about music. I thought I’d try to share a song I’ve been enjoying each week. First up is En Haluu Kuolla Tänä Yönä by Jenni Vartiainen, a Finnish singer who won their Popstars television competition in 2003. (The Popstars franchise originated in New Zealand, was picked up in Australia and then spread to the rest of the world, resulting in the assorted Idol competitions. So, um, sorry about that.) She was part of a trio called Gimmel, and launched her solo career when the band broke up after two albums. Her first album, Ihmisten Edessä, is relatively straightforward: half pop songs, half piano ballad-y stuff. Her second album, Seili, is phenomenal. There are some really beautiful songs, and Vartiainen takes quite a leftfield approach to pop, combining elements of Finnish folk music and a variety of dance genres. She’s got a beautiful voice, and I think the Finnish language is very strange and beautiful, so I’ve been listening to her a lot this week.

This song is the first single from that album. The video is fairly standard pop fare: the old singing to a mirrorball/dancing in a crate/wearing a fishing net as a hat business. The verses aren’t the song’s strong points, but stick through it for the chorus: it’s a corker.

The title apparently translates as “don’t want to die tonight”. Fucking bleak Finns. Why can’t they just sing a nice love song?

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Let Me In Vs Let The Right One In

A few years ago, when the Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In was finally released in Australian cinemas, I skipped a party I was meant to attend that night to go and see the film by myself. Tonight, I did the same thing for the American remake of the same film, retitled Let Me In.

Let The Right One In was based on a superb novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. (If you’ve missed the press around it, long story short: 12-year-old bullied boy befriends vampire neighbour who lives with a man who kills for her to survive.) The director of the American remake, Matt Reeves (of Cloverfield fame), had said that his film would be a new adaptation of the book, and not a remake of the film. This is a lie. The original film skipped large chunks of the book (as film adaptations usually need to, except for books by Cormac McCarthy, whose prose is so sparse that it has just the right amount of meat for a film), and the remake skips large chunks of the original film, while excising further material.

Let me say this: Let Me In is a good film. It is not better than Let The Right One In (as some critics have suggested), but it does justice to its source material.

Of course, when I first heard of the remake, I groaned. They were going to dumb it down for American audiences, I was sure of it. I felt more hopeful when I heard Kodi Smit-McPhee, a young Australian actor who was excellent in The Road, had been cast as the bullied Oskar (here retitled Owen). Well, they did dumb it down a little. They added dialogue which spelled everything out in big, neon letters for the audience. They used the most hyperactive and intrusive score I’ve heard in a long time, with rumbles of bass telling us when to be scared, layers of strings telling us when to be sad.

Smit-McPhee and his co-star, Chloë Grace Moretz, did a very good job. Moretz, as Abby (formerly Eli) did a good job, although she was given the majority of the unnecessarily expository dialogue I mentioned before, and at times seemed to be impersonating Lina Leandersson, who played Eli, instead of making the role her own. Smit McPhee was an excellent choice – the best the filmmakers could have made – but he was still no Kåre Hedebrant. Both boys have a quiet intensity, but Smit-McPhee is usually just sad, sometimes scared. Hedebrant is trusting, confused and angry: there is more power in Oskar than in Owen. Owen seems to be swept along by a series of events he can’t control, whereas Oskar made a choice. “Yes,” he said. “This is what I want.” Owen doesn’t seem to grow through the film: he hums the same tune (the advertising jingle of his favourite candy) at the beginning as he does at the end. It seems his journey has taken him nowhere.

The script also sexualised their relationship, which was unexpected and inappropriate. Owen spent time watching his neighbours fool around, a couple in the video arcade make out. At times, he seems like a creepy little perv. Of course, he is just a boy discovering girls, but Oskar was a child: all he really wanted in Eli was a friend.

Anyway, enough of the characters, let’s talk setting. The original was set in Blackeberg, a Swedish suburb, in 1983, and with good reason: it had a lot to say about Sweden at that point in its history, at a time when it was hiding its problems in plain sight, as Eli does by trying to appear human. Let Me In moves the action to New Mexico, and keeps the year, for no good reason. There are a few televised speeches from Ronald Reagan and, coupled with some dialogues about evil that were shoehorned in, perhaps it was a commentary on the Cold War. I doubt it. It seems the only reason they kept the film in the 1980s was so that Håkan’s character could listen to David Bowie’s Let’s Dance on his Walkman.

(Speaking of Håkan’s character, he was credited only as The Father, while Staffan’s character was renamed The Policeman. They weren’t real characters, just Hollywood ciphers for plot development. Håkan didn’t stay with Abby because he loved her – he stayed with her because he was too afraid to leave. I thought that was a sad simplification of Eli and Håkan’s unsettling relationship. Similarly, Virginia’s role was reduced, her age was halved, and she seemed like an idiot. We really didn’t care when she *spoiler alert* went up in flames.)

The film kept the mood of the original, which is weird: it doesn’t look like any America I’ve seen in films. (And, my experience in travelling through America taught me that it looks just like the films. I couldn’t believe it, driving through the suburbs of Philadelphia – I was pressed up against the glass exclaiming, “It really is that green! It really is that wholesome!” Unsettling.) It has co-opted the film’s unique Scandinavian look, which makes me…sad. And they basically rewrote the laws of…I don’t know, astronomy. The original recreated the Scandinavian light of an pitch-dark mid-winter afternoon. When Owen goes to training at 4pm, it appears to be night-time, although the sun doesn’t set in New Mexico until 5pm in winter. (Thanks, Google!)

It’s a bloodier film than the original, but not scarier. It uses a lot of jump scares, and turns Abby into a CGI monster, but the horror of the original was in its everyday appearance: Eli was all the more frightening because she was so human. It was a story about the dark side of suburbia, and the things that hide just outside our range of vision. The penultimate swimming pool scene (y’all know what I’m talking about) was terrifying because we saw so little. In Let Me In, we see (and hear) it all. It’s not bad, but it’s indicative of the Hollywood attitude of the filmmakers: more is more, or maybe not quite enough.

A lot of these are quibbles that don’t really distract from the narrative, but I couldn’t keep them out of my head. Reeves essentially took these two works of art – the book and the original film are, in my opinion, masterpieces, at least in their English translations – and gave them a coat of red, white and blue paint. He did nothing to make it is own, and nothing to justify his remake of it (oh, except for saving audience members the Herculean effort of reading subtitles).

Edit: One thing I did like about the remake was a moment in which *spoiler alert* Owen finds a picture of Abby with a boy about his own age. It’s an old photo, so it’s presumably Håkan (or The Father). It addressed what the book and the original film only hinted at: that his fate is to end up like that, bound to an ageless being, committed to killing so it can survive. It’s not a happy future.

For the most part, Let Me In belongs to the American/Australian/Swedish Idol school of remakes: it’s a technically proficient, almost note-for-note reconstruction of the original. It’s inoffensive enough, but it adds nothing to our understanding of the film.

As a small aside, I’ll give you an example of what I mean. In 1970, Black Sabbath released Iron Man. It’s an iconic heavy metal song filled with futuristic dread. A man travels to the future, witnesses the apocalypse, and returns to the present day (well, 1970). In the process, he becomes metallic in some way (the lyrics claim he was “turned to steel”, even though the title clearly posits him as a man made of iron), and mute. He tries to warn people, but they are terrified of his appearance, and run away in fear. This angers Iron Man, and in his fury, he wreaks havoc and causes the very apocalypse he witnessed. Ooh. Paradoxical.

Anyway, in the mid-90s, Swedish indie-pop outfit the Cardigans (incidentally, one of my favourite bands) covered the song. I’ve included it below. Its folky-pop feel and breathy vocals (check out the boop-boo-boo-boop action towards the end) make us feel sorry for Iron Man, even as he destroys all around him. It casts him in the light of a tragic victim instead of a violent villain.

That was a long way to make a point. If you enjoyed the original as much as I did, it wouldn’t hurt to see Let Me In. It’s a good film and, if you haven’t seen the original, you’ll enjoy it even more. But I highly recommend the story’s original forms: they left me devastated and awed, and I find wonder in them each time I rewatch and reread.

Below the jump, I’ll post the trailer for Let Me In and Let The Right One In. Comparing the two gives a fairly accurate idea of the differences between them.

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Language Ninja

As anyone who has been near me in the last year can attest, I like Denmark.

And Danish.

And not just the pastries. (Which aren’t called Danishes in Denmark at all: they’re called “wienerbrød”, which translates as “Viennese bread”.)

After much searching, I found a Danish course in London – a mere two tube stops from my home, conveniently enough.

The best part about learning Danish is that I quite literally had a secret little language. (Well, it’s obviously not secret in Denmark, or wherever the country you’re learning is spoken, but elsewhere…) All of my childhood dreams of being a spy came true, because I got to be a language ninja! You know how ninjas are quiet and unobtrusive until BAM you have a shuriken in your face? I’m like that, but…umm…but with words.

Okay, not so deadly, but the point is, MY SKILLS ARE HIDDEN.

I was once dancing with some Swedes in a London nightclub. We popped outside, and they were chatting in Swedish. (I notice Scandinavians tend to do this. If you don’t aggressively manipulate the conversation and keep it in English, they will slip back into their own tongue.) Swedish and Danish have similarities waiting to be EXPLOITED by a language ninja such as myself.

They were talking about me, and I managed to decode a few words: “Aww, you think I’m sweet?”Just like a ninja can slit open your gut with his little fingernail (or so I assume), my tiny linguistic movement had a stunning effect.

“How did you know what we were saying?”

“I WILL NEVER REVEAL MY SECRETS…okay, so I know a little Danish.”

My new Scandinavian friends were suitably impressed.

Also, baffled.

“Umm, do you have Danish family?”

“No.”

“Did you live in Denmark?”

“No.”

“Do you…WHY WOULD YOU LEARN DANISH?”

As if BEING A LANGUAGE NINJA wasn’t reason enough.

I also got to feel a bit smug as a language ninja in Norway. I spent a couple of days in Oslo (surely the world’s most expensive city) and, as I traversed the city’s public transport system, realised I could understand most of the advertising. Danish was the official language of Norway for about 300 years in between the 16th and 19th centuries, so there are many similarities. The sounds are quite different (Norwegian sounds like a language; Danish sounds like a giraffe gargling woodchips), but on paper, the relationship between words is obvious even to a beginner like me. Keep in mind that at this point, I had had just 20 hours of formal instruction in Danish, and I could understand all these advertising campaigns. If a functionally illiterate foreigner can understand it, they mustn’t think their target audiences are very intelligent.

Anyway, I didn’t get to harm humans with my DEVASTATING LINGUISTIC ABILITIES, but as Akira tells Bart in the episode of The Simpsons when Flanders opens the Leftorium, “We learn karate so that we need never use it”. The citizens of Oslo should count themselves lucky that I chose not to unleash my FEROCIOUS VOCABULARY upon them.

So I guess the moral of the story is that learning things is more fun if you pretend the knowledge can maim people.

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Ho Ho Ho

This week, I went to see Rare Exports, a Finnish Christmas horror film. Yes, a Finnish Christmas horror film. It was dark and funny – one of the best films I’ve seen in a long while.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the film reimagines Santa Claus as a terrifying being, a beast that crawls out of the nightmares of Vikings. This sinister side of Christmas terrorises a small Finnish settlement.

The film was based on two earlier shorts, Rare Exports, Inc. and Official Safety Instructions. The second short is closer to the tone of the film, but both of them display the same straight-faced handling of material that is by turns ridiculous and frightening. Both are embedded below, although I would recommend watching them after seeing the film, as parts of the shorts are shifted wholesale into the film.

It was a horror film, but there is not much violence and gore – the worst it dishes out is a few jump scares. The writer and director are wonderful at building tension, and making sure the audience never knows more than the protagonists. There is a very dark, very Scandinavian sense of humour running through it. (So dark that, at one point, I thought the film was about to end with a young child being torn to shreds by a horde of rabid, naked elves. Yeah.) At the same time, it’s about a young boy growing up without every hitting us over the head with it. At first, this young boy, Onni Tommila, seemed to belong to the Haley Joel Osment school of cutesy child acting – you know the kind of the kid, the one you want to hug and slap in equal measure – but he turned in a great performance. There was also some dodgy CGI – think Legolas dancing on the head of the cave troll – but it was forgiven in the film’s overall quality, especially as the CGI was buried in the beautiful Finnish landscape.

I highly recommend this film. It’s an antidote to the insipid holiday shit that Hollywood trickles out, and a great film in its own right.

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Om Nom Nom

As anyone who has spent a couple of hours with me can attest, I have a nigh-insatiable fondness for sweet foods. Whether I stop for a sugar fix or simply gaze longingly at a window display of cupcakes, pastries and other sweets always feature somewhere in my daily routine. I laugh when friends push away a half-eaten plate of caramel slice – claiming it is “too rich” for them – before finishing it off for them.

Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for my waistline and poor, overworked heart, which is genetically predisposed to fail), Sydney’s Sweet Infinity cafe has opened a new outlet in the shopping arcade next to my office building. (This same arcade also houses the Sydney home of Haigh’s Chocolate, making the this arcade a tunnel of delicious terror for me.)

Some of their treats miss the mark – their raspberry and chocolate brioche was too dense, and flavourless beneath its raspberry and chocolate topping. But I will gladly vouch for their orange and almond cake, and would choose their chocolate brownie as my last meal. Truly, they’re perfect: crispy outside, still moist and gooey inside, with a hint of cinnamon. (There is also a very tasty young gentleman displayed behind the counter, but he doesn’t appear to be on the menu. Shame.)

Normally, I’d try to be a good blogger and take a photo of one of these babies, but I can barely make it out of the store before half the thing is in my gullet. You’ll just have to wander over to the Strand Arcade and try one for yourself.

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