Sunday, January 31, 2010

Flick of the Week: “Gene, the Odyssey is dying.”

This week’s Flick of the Week takes us with Ron Howard from American Graffiti to the first directorial “big picture film” about “failed” Apollo moon mission, Apollo 13.

5F19RonHowardAfter finishing up Happy Days, Howard turned to directing – most likely because he realised his best acting work would come in The Simpsons . Ron Howard is a director for whom the phrase “workmanlike” is a pretty oft used description. Your pulse doesn’t get racing at the words “a new film by Ron Howard”; he’s no Scorsese, Spielberg or Ridley Scott. He doesn’t go over the top huge like James Cameron, the closest he probably is in spirit to is Clint Eastwood – both do good solid work, but perhaps Clint has the advantage of age and experience that puts him above Howard.

Apollo 13 is a perfect example of Ron Howard’s work. It is a good story, it is told well, but it doesn’t feel too life changing. When it was released it was often compared by critics to Phillip Kauffmann’s The Right Stuff, and mostly poorly, not because Apollo 13 is bad, but because it is just so safe. The script does all the right things, it has all the characters saying the right words to make everyone feel proud to be American etc etc… and it’s a good two hours of entertainment. But it just lacks… something... call it art.

Howard’s resume is full of such films – Working Class Man, Backdraft, The Paper, EdTV, A Beautiful Mind. They’re all good films, but seriously, no one has ever said, sorry I can’t go out tonight, Backdraft is on TV. This century he has improved (though I can’t really comment on the Da Vinci Code films): Cinderella Man was an impressive sports film (put it this way, it is much better than Clint Eastwood’s latest, Invictus) and Frost/Nixon is easily his best film.

Apollo 13 starred Tom Hanks in the middle of his greatest most popular actor in the world period. Check this out for a run of films from 1993 to 2000:
A League of Their Own (“Nobody cries in baseball!!”)
Sleepless in Seattle
Philadelphia (Oscar)
Forrest Gump (Oscar)
Apollo 13
Toy Story
Saving Private Ryan
You’ve Got Mail
The Green Mile
Toy Story 2

Look, I hate The Green Mile, and have serious issues with Saving Private Ryan, but geez, what a run. No one has ever had a run like it: 11 films, and all 11 were successful, and pretty much stand up well today – ok You’ve Got Mail is dated, but it’s still good rom-com work. At this point Hanks was called “this generation's James Stewart”, which was disingenuous to both actors – because while Stewart was perhaps the greatest film actor of his time (maybe all-time) even he never had a run like Hanks’s (mostly because he was around in the studio era where you had to appear in some B pictures). Let’s just hope Hanks doesn’t end up appearing in films of the calibre of Airport 77 when he gets old.

Apollo 13 also has a great cast full of what Bill Simmons calls “that guy from” actors. There’s  Clint Howard  (who is the brother of Ron, and consequently is in many of his films), Chris Ellis , Loren Dean, and Joe Spano. It also boasts a great supporting cast of Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton and Ed Harris (who was actually in The Right Stuff).

All in all it’s a good film, that was probably unlucky to lose the Best Picture Oscar to Braveheart (though I wouldn’t have given it to either film). It tells a story that you know the ending of well, keeping up good suspense, and has fine acting. Sure it’s not life changing, but not every film needs to be, and at least this is one film that you might find yourself saying, “hey Apollo 13 is on TV, let’s watch that. ”

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Who Has Federer Hurt the Most

292px-Roger_Federer_(26_June_2009,_Wimbledon)_2_newWhen you look at the statistics of Roger Federer’s career, it is hard not to think there must be more than a few players who at night lie in bed wondering why they had to be born at the same time as he. By making the final of the Australian Open he has now made 18 of the last 19 Grand Slam finals – in essence meaning anyone placed on his half of the draw since 2004 has had to settle for playing for the right to lose to Federer in the semi-final. He has won 15 Grand Slams in seven years – from his first win to his 15th only 25 Grand Slams took place. By comparison for Sampras to win his 14 Grand Slam it took 49 tournaments – or 12 years. So even if you played at the same time as Sampras, there were plenty of gaps there for you to grab your own titles (except at Wimbledon).

Since Federer won his first Wimbledon in 2003 to this year’s Australian Open final  there have been only 5 Grand Slam finals without him in them. How bloody annoying would that be? But who has it annoyed the most? Who has been most hurt by being born around the same time as Federer? The easy way would be to just give the title to whomever he beat in the final – but that ignores the fact that often the player he beat in either the semi final or even the quarter final might have been favoured to win had they not lost to Federer.

So let’s go through his 15 Grand Slam titles and see who would have won them had the world not seen Roger Federer (I  know it’s not a nice thought, but bear with me, it’s just make believe). Obviously this is all a bit subjective and we have to ignore that without Federer the rankings of players would be much changed, but nonetheless, I think it’ll give a fair indication:

2003 Wimbledon:

Quarter Final: Sjeng Shalken: 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
Semi Final: Andy Roddick: 7-6, 6-3, 6-3
Final: Mark Philippoussis: 7-6,6-2,7-6

This comes down to thinking whether Roddick would have beaten Philippousis. Prior to meeting Federer, Roddick was having a pretty strong tournament – only dropping one set. Philippoussis on the other hand went to 5 sets twice and 4 sets twice as well, but he did beat Agassi (6-4 in the 5th). I’m going to give it to Roddick, if only because he beat the other big server of the field – Greg Rusedski – in straight sets, and because I just can’t cope with the thought of Philippoussis being Wimbledon champion, and Pat Rafter not.

no-Federer world winner: Andy Roddick

2004 Australian Open:

Quarter Final: David Nalbandian: 7-5, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3
Semi Final: Juan Carlos Ferrero: 6-4, 6-1, 6-4
Final: Marat Safin: 7-6, 6-4, 6-2

This was the first finals that Federer really stood up and became Roger Federer. Safin was unseeded, but beat the top seed Andy Roddick and 4th seed Andre Agassi in the quarters and semis. Ill give him the win – beating Nalbandian in the final.

no-Federer world winner: Marat Safin

2004 Wimbledon:

Quarter Final: Lleyton Hewitt: 6-1, 6-7, 6-0, 6-4
Semi Final: Sebastian Grosjean: 6-2, 6-3, 7-6
Final: Andy Roddick: 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4

In this one, I’d pick Hewitt to beat Grosjean in the semi final, but come up just short against Roddick, as Roddick beat him that year at Queens 7-6, 6-3.

no-Federer world winner: Andy Roddick

2004 US Open:

Quarter Final: Andre Agassi: 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3
Semi Final: Tim Henman: 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
Finals: Lleyton Hewitt: 6-0, 7-6, 6-0

Agassi is the only person to take Federer to 5 sets in the Quarter Finals of a slam. The final was the match that scared Hewitt for life. In a final against Agassi (he would have beat Henman), it would have been a lot closer – their head to head was 4-4. But with the American crowd, I’m tipping Agassi to get up for the win.

no-Federer world winner: Andre Agassi

2005 Wimbledon:

Quarter Final: Fernando Gonzalez: 7-5, 6-2, 7-6
Semi Final: Lleyton Hewitt: 6-3, 6-4, 7-6
Final: Andy Roddick: 6-2, 7-6, 6-4

After two semi-final losses in a row, Federer used this tournament to start his amazing run of 10 Grand Slam finals in a row (the next best in the Open era is those two tennis hacks, Agassi and Laver with four in a row – this year’s Australian Open makes it another streak of 8 in a row for Federer). Once again at Wimbledon, Federer ruined the fun for Hewitt and Roddick. Both players had tough runs, and it’s a bit of a ‘pick’em’ for the title. At this point Hewitt had a 6-1 record over Roddick, but since then Roddick has won 5 straight. And given Roddick’s only victory up till then was on grass, I’ll pick him again to get over the top.

no-Federer world winner: Andy Roddick

2005 US Open:

Quarter Final: David Nalbandian: 6-2, 6-4, 6-1
Semi Final: Lleyton Hewitt: 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3
Final: Andre Agassi: 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1

A real hard one to pick this one. All three could win, but I’ll make it a Hewitt-Agassi final. I’m going to give it to Hewitt if only because Hewitt won 18 games off of Federer, and Agassi got only 16.

no-Federer world winner: Lleyton Hewitt

2006 Australian Open:

Quarter Final: Nikolay Davydenko: 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6
Semi Final: Nicolas Kiefer: 6-3, 5-7, 6-0, 6-2
Final: Marcos Baghdatis: 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2

This was the Open where 6 of the top 10 seeds were gone before the quarter finals. Davydenko (the number 5 seed) had the misfortune of meeting Federer. And like he did this year, he scared him. I’m picking him to beat Kiefer, and also Baghdatis.

no-Federer world winner: Nikolay Davydenko

2006 Wimbledon:

Quarter Final: Mario Ancic: 6-4, 6-4, 6-4
Semi Final: Jonas Bjorkman: 6-2, 6-0, 6-2
Final: Rafael Nadal: 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3

There’s no question here who would have won without Federer; that Nadal could get back and win a  set after getting blown away in the first set is enough evidence of brilliance for me to give him the nod.

no-Federer world winner: Rafael Nadal

2006 US Open:

Quarter Final: James Blake: 7-6, 6-0, 6-7, 7-4
Semi Final: Nikolay Davydenko: 6-1, 7-5, 6-4
Final: Andy Roddick: 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1

Who would have won out of Davydenko and Roddick? Well at this point in their careers Roddick held a 4-0 win record in their head to head. And even now it is 5-1. So I’m giving it to Roddick.

no-Federer world winner: Andy Roddick

2007 Australian Open:

Quarter Final: Tommy Robredo: 6-3, 7-6, 7-5
Semi Final: Andy Roddick: 6-4, 6-0, 6-2
Final: Fernando Gonzalez: 7-6, 6-4, 7-4

By this time, Roddick was breaking out in shivers just on seeing his name in the same half of the draw as Federer, but he was still good against other players. On hard courts Roddick has a 5-2 lead against Gonzalez, so I’ll give him the win.

no-Federer world winner: Andy Roddick

2007 Wimbledon:

Quarter Final: Juan Carlos Ferrero: 7-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3
Semi Final: Richard Gasquet: 7-5, 6-3, 6-4
Final: Rafael Nadal: 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2

No one other than Federer was going to beat Nadal that year at Wimbledon (and Federer was damn lucky to get over the line as it was)

no-Federer world winner: Rafael Nadal

2007 US Open:

Quarter Final: Andy Roddick: 7-6, 7-6, 6-2
Semi Final: Nikolay Davydenko: 7-5, 6-1, 7-5
Final: Novak Djokovic: 7-6, 7-6, 6-4

Of the three, Djokovic took the most games off Federer, and so I’ll give him this win and have him get his first Grand Slam here, rather than the 2008 Aussie Open.

no-Federer world winner: Novak Djokovic

2008-US Open:

Quarter Final: Gilles Muller: 7-6, 6-4, 7-6
Semi Final: Novak Djokovic: 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2
Final: Andy Murray: 6-2, 7-5, 6-2

This was Federer’s first Grand Slam since 2004 that he wasn’t seeded number 1 (so of course he won it). Both Djokovic and Murray had had tough matches all the way. In the first four meetings between the two, Djokovic won the day, but in two tournaments prior to the 2008 US Open, Murray beat Djokovic (Cincinnati and Canada). So I’ll give Murray his first Grand Slam.

no-Federer world winner: Andy Murray

2009 French Open:

Quarter Final: Gael Monfils: 7-6, 6-2, 6-4
Semi Final: Juan Martin del Potro: 6-3, 6-7, 6-2, 1-6, 4-6
Final: Robin Soderling: 6-1, 7-6, 6-4

del Potro looked a huge chance to beat Federer in the semi-final, and I pick him to beat Soderling in the final:

no-Federer world winner: Juan Martin del Potro

2009 Wimbledon:

Quarter Final: Ivo Karlovic: 6-3, 7-5, 7-6
Semi Final: Tommy Haas: 7-6, 7-5, 6-3
Final: Andy Roddick: 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14

One of the all-time great Wimbledon finals – the longest Grand Slam final (in terms of games) ever. There is no way I could give it to anyone but Roddick.

no-Federer world winner: Andy Roddick

So who was hurt the most?

By my calculations it goes like this:

Andy Roddick – 6 titles (4 Wimbledon, 1 US Open, 1 Australian Open). To go with his 1 real US Open, that would put him on 7 Grand Slams and up there as one of the all time greats (and also perhaps a bit less grumpy with umpires). (Roddick also is the player whom Federer has met the most in Grand Slams – 8 times – Federer is 8-0).

Rafael Nadal – 2 titles (Wimbledon). With two Wimbledon titles, added to his 5 others Grand Slams, Nadal would be well on his way to having a crack at Pete Sampras’s record of 14 titles.

Andre Agassi – 1 title (US Open). This would give Agassi 9 Grand Slam titles, and a place among the greatest of the great (which of course he already is).

Marat Safin – 1 title (Australian Open). His 2005 semi-final win over Federer was one of the best matches I’ve ever seen, this ‘victory’ would give him 3 Grand Slam titles.

Lleyton Hewitt – 1 title (US Open). Hewitt has met Federer 5 times in Grand Slams, but it only cost him 1 title by my reckoning.

Nikolay Davydenko – 1 title (US Open). A one slam wonder? Maybe… Had he beat Federer in the Australian Open Quarters this year, I would have tipped him for the title.

Novak Djokovic – 1 title (US Open). This would give him 2 titles and, given his run in 2007 plus his real win at the 2008 Australian Open, a likely number 1 ranking.

Andy Murray – 1 title (US Open). Will he deny Murray again for real in the Australian Open?  We shall see (I think it’ll be tight, but I think Federer should get up).

Juan Martin del Potro – 1 title (French Open). Thus far, the only player other than Nadal to beat Federer in a Grand Slam final, without Federer around he would have won an extra title and top ranking with Murray among the young guys coming to challenge Nadal.

So there’s a few players who would have been a lot happier without Roger Federer on the other side of the net… though there’d be a hell of lot more tennis fans who would have been devastated.

Friday, January 29, 2010

They Got a Little Lost

Watching so much tennis this summer has made me realise a couple things.

Firstly, Courtney Cox needs to be surrounded by 5 other friends, for me to really want to watch any TV show she is in. Sure I'll give Cougar Town a go, but I have a suspicion it'll go in the pile with Dirty Sexy Money and Cashmire Mafia of shows plugged without remorse during the Australian Open that turn out to be only so so.

Secondly, I haven't watched Lost in ages.

I think I stopped part way through the third season, when "the Others" came along in great prominence. The show went a different direction to the way I wanted it to go, so I dropped it. I did much the same with Heroes. Both shows had great first seasons - as good a first seasons as any shows in the history of TV. Some shows start off ok, but take a while to find their feet - Seinfeld, The West Wing, The Simpsons are a couple that really only became truly amazing in their second and third seasons. But Lost and Heroes? Their premises were so unique and interesting that each episode in their first seasons was absolutely unmissable.

And then... well they kept going... and I went.

In Lost's case things just got too damn convoluted; too damn stupid. It went from being a show where you wanted to find out the answers to a couple of things, to a show where every episode threw up a new question. Given this season is to be the last season, apparently these questions will be answered. I won't be around to find out, and the "Fine Brothers" have come up with an excellent song which pretty much explains why I won't be:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The ETS is the 1999 Republic Referendum All Over Again

What is it with the Left and absolutely imploding?

In 1999, there was enough sentiment in the country for even John Howard to realise he needed to do something about the republic. And what happened? The Left were completely outplayed by Howard and the sycophantic inbred loving fools of the Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy. How did this happen? Well for starters those in favour of a republic gave a damn about trivialities – they thought people wanted to have a big debate about what type of republic there should be. r206454_786958

The people didn’t. The people wanted to be given a model to vote on and for everyone who wanted a republic to come out in favour of it. Instead John Howard was allowed to organise a Constitutional Convention which (get this!) included people who didn’t want a republic at all! Yep those debating what type of Republic we should have included people whose only goal in life was to ensure there would never ever be a republic. They quickly saw the way forward was to ensure the pro-Republic side would splinter. Which they did (and admittedly they needed very little help).

You had fools like Phil Cleary banging on about an elected president, and saying people should vote no to any other model. You get that? Here’s a guy massively in favour of a republic saying the people should vote no on the question of Australia becoming a republic. Gee why does that sound familiar?

In 2008, there was a strong sentiment in the country for something to be done on climate change. As with the republic, it was quite bi-partisan: there were people from both the ALP and Liberal parties in favour, and again as with the republic, the National Party was pretty much dead against it (oh and Malcolm Turnbull was playing a leading role). This time the Government came up with an ETS, they did some deals with the Liberal Party, but in the final analysis, what happened? The Greens, playing the role of Phil Cleary, despite their whole point in life being to do something about climate change voted against the Emission Trading Scheme because it was not the type of scheme they wanted and it didn’t go far enough.

So what was the result? Well as with the republic, the ETS was defeated (and never ever forget if the Greens had voted YES in the Senate it would have passed), and now it is looking even less likely that we’ll get any ETS  - exactly the same as with the republic.

The only good thing is now Phil Cleary can be joined by Bob Brown and his cohort as those who kept their principles and lost the war. (Golf clap everyone).

There are differences with the Republic: the madness of the constitutional convention was done in public. Yep each night we’d have people from the pro-Republic side go on TV and argue with each other! The ETS was mostly done behind doors. But other than that it is the same. And as the days go on it is becoming even more similar.

Look at the idiotic arguments coming from the climate change deniers. Lord Monkton gets wheeled out saying any old bullshit, and the media laps it up, just like the media never has nailed the constitutional monarchist. Think their arguments aren’t of the same calibre? Throughout the Republican debate we had to put up with the monarchists saying we needed the monarchy even though the Queen didn’t do anything, and we already have an Australian head of state because the Governor General has that role because the Queen doesn’t do anything, but we could not get rid of the Queen and have the PM appoint a President because the Queen performs a necessary role and besides that would not be democratic. Yes we had monarchists arguing that their system was more democratic. We had them arguing we already had an Australian Head of State. It was madness and it was eaten up by the media, and the pro-republicans were never able to counter it effectively because they were too busy fighting themselves.

 r420358_1996997Now listen to Barnaby Joyce – his contribution to the ETS debate with about one inch this side of insanity. He made stuff up, he pretty much fabricated every statement to such an extent that you wondered whether the National Party was employing CGI to create the effect – it was completely unbelievable. And yet he didn’t care. If lying and saying a roast leg of lamb will cost $400 is what he needs to say to defeat the ETS, then he’ll say it – and the media ate it up.

With the ETS we have the two parties who want an ETS – the ALP and Greens not working together at all – the ALP because the Senate maths being what it is, they figured it was better for them to get the Liberal Party vote; and the Greens, because God help them if they should ever settle for something imperfect now that can be improved later rather than voting for nothing now and perfection sometimes in the fairy-dust future.

Think back the the GST: do you recall any of the Right – whether it be the Liberal Party, National, or employer groups - saying that because food wasn’t going to be included in the tax it was better not to do it at all? Do you recall with Work Choices anyone of the employer groups quibbling with the laws, and suggesting the Liberal Party should vote against it because it didn’t go far enough?

The Right never vote no just because their plans aren't perfect (and yeah there is a joke there). The Left? Well hell, unless every little bloody group is looked after, unless every ambition of climate change policy is taken care of, unless every worker, pensioner, unemployed, child, and dead person is considered, well hell let’s vote no. Let’s argue among ourselves. Let’s splinter, and so the debate ends up being about minutiae of legislation.

The ETS debate should have been about one thing and one thing only – climate change. The Greens, the ALP, the sane people in the Liberal Party should have been all of one voice – this needs to be done for Australia to begin combating climate change. No it’s not perfect, but it is a necessary start and it must be done.

But where are we now? Tony Abbott – a bloke who (let’s put our cards on the table and say agrees with the science of climate change to the same level that John Howard believed we should become a Republic) is talking about combating climate change through a “green army”, through volunteer effort, through idiotic measures that have little logic, and less intelligence.

And guess what, the ALP has to counter them and explain why the ETS will do things better and blah blah blah, boring boring boring. And all the while the other side can throw out utter lies about whether or not we need to do anything anyway. Remember the Republic debate – the monarchists would say that the whole thing was all about “symbolism”, it was “too costly”, “there are more important things to worry about”. Heck you can damn near print off the arguments from 1999, change a couple phrases and voila there you go – you have your anti-ETS talking points. 

Will an ETS get passed? I don’t know. At this point I don’t hold out much hope. The ALP needs to get focussed on the big picture; the Greens need to get real and understand their best bet is to get something in place and to improve it later – that will be kid’s stuff compared to getting it there in the first place; and the media needs to stop giving fools with no qualifications oxygen on the TV or radio, and if they must, at least go into the interview with some knowledge so that unsubstantiated and outlandish statements don’t go unquestioned (ie, be an actual news organisation, rather than just a ratings-chasing-controversy machine – if you can’t wipe the floor with Monkton, then what the hell are you doing calling yourself a journalist?).

But most of all the Left needs to realise that noble defeats are defeats, and those on the Right don’t give a damn how they win, so long as they win.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

There’s Good, there’s Great, and then there’s Federer

Today was the match in the Australian Open I had long been dreading since seeing the draw – the match where Roger Federer was due to play Nikolai Davydenko. The problem was it was a quarter final, and that Davydenko had beaten Federer the last two times they had played – the last time in straight sets.

The reason I had dreaded this game is not that Federer might lose a game, but that he might lose in the quarter finals and thus end the most amazing streak in sport – Federer’s run of 22 straight semi final appearances in Grand Slams.

Prior to the game Davydenko was talking up his chances – he was saying in the press that Federer was scared of him. And in the first set and a half of the match it looked to be true. Federer was horrible to watch, and Davydenko looked like a man who not only thought he was going to win, but considered it a matter of course. He was hitting winners, serving strongly and generally blasting Federer off the court.  59419719

At this point Channel 7 in its wisdom decided to go to the news, Today Tonight and Home and Away. I went to watching the Australian Open scoreboard on the net. It was not good viewing. Federer lost the first set 6-2, and was down a break 3-1 in the second. At this point I noticed that my computer was running a bit sluggish and so decided to restart it as this often helps speed things up.

My computer then decided to freeze. Restart… freezes again… restart freezes again. I run Checkdisk… it takes forever to run. By the time I get the computer back working 40 odd minutes have past and I think oh well… maybe he might still be in it.. maybe the third set is still going.. maybe (but I know it can’t be – Davydenko was on fire; Federer, lousy… but where there’s life there’s ah bugger it let’s just find out the score…

And then I was as shocked as I have ever been in my time watching sport (and I didn’t even see it!). In the time that I had been buggering around with my computer, Federer had won 13 straight games. Thirteen in a row. How does someone do that? It’s hard enough to win thirteen straight when everything is going right in the world, but when you’re down and seemingly almost out? Amazing.

When I first saw the scoreboard Federer had a break point against him. I quickly switched it off. A few minutes later I checked again, he was down break point, and then lost. I switched it off, sure that I had jinxed him – he wins 13 games when my computer is down; when it comes back on he gets broken!! (Sport does these thing to people).

What followed was 20 minutes of hell as I checked back intermittently – he breaks back, is serving for the set.. he gets broken… he breaks Davydenko again… this time I don’t check back until I know the game will be over, and indeed it is: Federer prevails 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5.

The scoreboard does not do the feat justice.

And so the streak continues to 23 grand slams in a row.

How good is that streak? Well the second best ever such streak in men’s professional tennis is by Ivan Lendl of 10. Ten! That is, only 43 percent as long as Federer’s streak. The best ever since Federer began his streak is that of Nadal and Djokovic who have both got to 5 grand slam semis in a row before missing out. Here’s how hard the streak is: from the 2009 French Open semi-finals, other than Federer only Juan del Potro has made another semi final (and del Potro has only made one), from the 2009 Wimbledon semi-finals, none other than Federer made the US Open semi-finals, and only Andy Murray has been able to get to the semi-finals of this tournament.

But to really appreciate just how amazing his streak of 23 in a row is, we need to look at how many players have made the 23 semi finals in that time.

Since Wimbledon 2004, Federer has made 100 percent of the 23 semi finals; in effect his batting average is 100. The next best player (not surprisingly) is Nadal: he has made 11 of the 23 – or 47.8%. That gap is literally Bradmanesque (in fact better than Bradman). The next best are Novak Djokovicand Andy Roddick, who have each made 7 semis (30.4); and then Hewitt and Davydenko with 4 each. Four! Or in other words they have averaged getting to the semi finals of Grand Slams only 17.4% of the time – or worse than once every 5th Grand Slam.

In the time since Federer has started his streak 33 different players have made the semi finals of a Grand Slam. Names like Henman, Agassi, Bjorkman, Ljubicic, Tsonga, Verdasco, Haas, Nalbandian, and most recently Marin Cilic – essentially 3 generations of players.

And in that time only he, Nadal and Djokovic have made the semi finals of each of the Grand Slams (no small thing in itself – Sampras only made the French Open semi once). Djokovic has done the “career semis-grand slam” once (he’s only got to the Wimbledon semi-final once); Nadal has done it twice (has only got to the Australian and US Open semis twice each); Federer has done it five times – the worst he has done is the French Open of which he has “only” made the semi-final five times – the others he has reached more than 6 times.

So yeah, sure Nadal has a winning record against Federer, but let the maths do the talking. When you’re looking at careers, it’s Federer first, daylight second.

Monday, January 25, 2010

2010 Looking Good for Aussie films

2009 was a very strong year for Aussie films. They took a 5.0% share of the box office (up from the 10 year average of 4.4%), and we had 5 films that earned over $3 million at the local box office (Australia – in 2009 it added another $10.6m to its 2008 total – Mao’s Last Dancer, Knowing, Charlie and Boots and Samson and Delilah). There’s been some rhubarb in the press about the Alex Proyas film, Knowing being called “Australian”, but Proyas revealed today that it was granted the 40% tax rebate known as the Producer Offset (for which a film has to pass a Significant Australian Content test to get), so bugger it, it’s officially Australian, let’s not get too defensive and leave it out of the figures due to some pathetic cultural cringe.

bran_nue_dae2010 is looking to be just as good. Already Bran Nue Dae has earned $3.7 million in Australia after just 2 weeks.  This little film is proof positive that if you get a good cast and create a film that actually makes people feel good it has a bloody good chance of making some money. After all who would think that an Aboriginal musical would make more than a film starring Clive Owen and directed by Scott Hicks, or more than Jane Campion’s latest?

Make fun films people! (and fun doesn’t have to mean happy – it just means you come out of the cinema thinking, “wow! that was amazing”, not thinking “oh geez… that was very… err thought provoking and sad”).

Over in America the vampire action/horror flick Daybreakers has made US$28.2m – an excellent result given it cost around US$20m to make, hasn’t opened anywhere else yet, and has had to go up against Avatar

So that’s 2 hits this year for sure.

Also up this year is the big budget animation Guardians of Ga’Hoole, the long awaited movie adaptation of the John Marsden novel Tomorrow When the War Began. This one should be huge given the massive built in audience of the books; if it is any good it should go well past $10m in this country, and more overseas. Others of note is the World War I flick Beneath Hill 60 and the long awaited (ahem) sequel to The Wog Boy, Wog Boy 2 - Kings of Mykonos. Personally I don’t hold out much hopes for the film, but then again I hated the first, so what do I know.

Also worth looking forward to is Philip Noyce’s adaptation of Tim Winton’s Dirt Music – this has been in development for ages (how long? well it originally was going to star Heath Ledger, and it was first talked about in 2002), so if it actually gets on the screens let’s hope it is worth the wait. There’s also Nadia Tass and David Parker’s latest, Matching Jack, but they really haven’t done anything decent since The Big Steal in 1990, so this is a bit of a “we’ll see”.

Joel-animal-kingdom The one film I have real hopes for is the Melbourne crime film Animal Kingdom. Written and directed by David Michod, it’s set within the grimy world of crooked cops and Melbourne’s underworld. Underbelly on the big screen? Perhaps, and if so, about bloody time. It stars Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton, Jacki Weaver and newcomer James Frecheville.

It is currently screening in competition at the Sundance Film Festival, and it has garnered some amazing reviews. From movie website, Dark Horizon comes this:

There’s a touch of a young Scorsese evident in his film, but with a very distinctive Australian, laconic bent, coupled with episodes of uncompromising violence, all of which defines the film’s often narcissistic characters. Visually, the film is striking…

Animal Kingdom" has Shakespearean qualities in its portrait of betrayal and paranoia, yet its very definitive Australian tone sets it apart from its Hollywood counterparts. This is a smart, compelling masterwork, a wonderful feature debut and a film destined for both Australian domestic and international success.

Scorsese and Shakespeare  in the one review? Wow. How about influential film mag Movieline:

This first brush with the law results in a slow and total unraveling of multiple lives, which Michôd depicts with the poise, intellect and a minimum of the too-cool stylistic flourishes usually reserved for Michael Mann…

Add those subtle (and not-so-subtle) shocks to the sublime performances by Michôd’s ensemble and moody, expressive cinematography by Adam Arkapaw, and the reboot of the American crime saga — the birthright of heirs to Mann, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and select others — may actually have its roots Down Under. Who knew? Maybe everyone — and soon if Sundance buyers are smart.

Add Michael Mann (of Heat and Collateral fame) and Coppola?? Wow. OK, lastly, Screen Daily (which is very industry focussed):

Australian director David Michod makes an exciting and assured feature debut with Animal Kingdom, a wrenching Melbourne-set gangster saga about a teenager coming of age in a crime family. 

Michod’s accomplished film should rally critics in the US and other English-speaking territories, pushing it beyond the arthouse public. In the unlikely event that Animal Kingdom fails to crack the US market, Michod (whose short films have played at many festivals) has a persuasive calling card for work in Hollywood. Asian territories should also respond well to this gritty family saga.

Those are some amazing reviews for such a film by a relatively unknown director. It certainly has whet my appetite for the film, as does the brilliant teaser trailer, which despite using no dialogue is utterly gripping:

Two good years in a row for Aussie film? Next they’ll be calling it a Golden Age!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Oh the easy life of being a climate change denier

This week I was reading an article by UK journalist George Monbiot in which he demolishes line by line an opinion piece written Michigan columnist John Tomlinson in which Monbiot judges there are 38 errors (or one misleading statement per 26 words). Now admittedly the Tomlison piece was from a small paper in Flint, Michigan, but Monbiot correctly asserts it is just the worst example of many, many such articles written in just about every newspaper throughout the world.

Monbiot made this statement:

this astonishing wealth of disinformation means it has probably taken me 100 times longer to respond to his article than he took to write it.

This of course is the precise point of why it is so easy to be a climate change denier, and it is why such views have been making inroads into the public opinion. You see it is incredibly easy to deny climate change is real. Here, come with me I’ll show you how:

“The main difficulty for those who advocate Anthropogenic Global Warming is that the world has not warmed since 2001 though the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to increase. That they can’t explain why this is happening is proof that the whole thing is nothing more than a sham.

But look, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Consider the weather forecasters. Can anyone tell you what the temperature will be in 30 days time? Can they tell you whether it will be hotter than it is today? Can they get it right to a degree? How many times do you see the weather bureau prediction for tomorrow’s temperature out by over a degree? It happens all the time, and yet we’re expected to believe scientists can tell us what the temperature will be in fifty years? And this is important because these same scientists would tell you that the temperature has increased by only 0.8C since 1900. So if they can’t get the temperature right to within a degree for one day’s time, how can we believe they’ll be right when we’re talking about 50-100 years?

After all never forget that in 1970 most scientists thought the world was about to enter another ice age.

They were wrong then, and yet now we’re expected to ruin our economy and increase the prices of everyday groceries by 200% on the basis of a guess? A guess that was wrong before, and has been shown to be wrong ever since 1998.

Most scientists and politicians base their arguments on data which has long since been discredited such as the infamous hockey-stick graph, the work done by the University of East Anglia, and we now know that Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth was riddled with errors – despite the Government's continued holding him up as a guru on the issue (fortune teller is a better description!). The fact is it was warmer in 1000AD than it is now. Many scientists are now beginning to realise that the warming may be due to sun spot activity and climate change is merely a normal thing that happens every 1000 years or so.

And tell me this: are you really concerned that today could be 0.8C hotter than it was this time in 1900? Of course not.

It’s time to put and end to the snowjob (have you seen how cold it is in Britain this year?) of climate change. Far better the government spend our taxes on things that will produce jobs, rather than by bringing in a tax that won’t change the temperature one degree (no not even 0.8C) and will only kill our economy”.

Gee that was easy. It took no thought at all. No research. No supporting evidence. All it took was for me to make stuff up.

But to refute every statement I made? Well hell that will require evidence, data, research, graphs etc etc etc . I even want to discredit it all, and I wrote it and know that I just made it up (all except the bit about the earth increasing by 0.8C since 1900). But upon reading such an article, especially if you are reading it in your regular newspaper (remember newspapers contain facts), you can feel reassured that everything is ok, you can stop worrying.

People actually would love to discover that climate change is not real. I certainly would love for it to be false. No one really wants to hear that life as we know it will be drastically altered within 50 years. No one really wants to be told that their grandchildren will probably have to endure hardships because of things done over the past 100 years. 

Most people with regards to climate change are like smokers. They will ignore the “evidence” about cigarettes and cancer, and instead focus on the good news, for example news about some old actor who dies at the age of 80, and they think – see he smoked his whole life and he lived to 80! They ignore thinking about Humphrey Bogart dying at 57, or Yul Bryner only making it to 65, or Nat King Cole at 45. And if they do think of those guys, they rationalise by saying, well they smoked a pack or 2 a day and probably unfiltered cigarettes – that’s not me. They smoke “light” cigarettes, and feel good about it until they read that “light” cigarettes meant nothing, and in fact could lead to worse cancer due to the deeper inhaling done.

You see, smokers look for any evidence that you can smoke and still be ok. The evidence isn’t actually evidence, they are just exceptions to the rule – one guy they know who smoked dies at 80, whew, they can ignore all the science and all the other people who died at 50 and stop worrying. It is all total bull, but the same occurs with climate change. One assertion in the IPCC report about glaciers is wrong, whew we can now ignore everything else in the report and every other journal stop worrying.

People love to be told everything is alright; people want to believe it, and the worse things get, the more they want to believe the opposite. Coupled with this is that (as I have shown above) it is easy to write that there is nothing to worry about with climate change; it is hard to argue that there is – because that requires science.

Those who deny climate change exists thus have a lot easier time putting forward their case than those who would seek to argue the opposite. Take the utterly dumb argument I made about not being able to predict the weather in a month’s time. This is about as stupid a point as one could possibly make, and yet it is made time and time again, even by journalists who are otherwise regarded as having some intelligence. Take the ABC chief political reporter Chris Uhlman. Here he was on Insiders in July 2008:

When the weather department can tell me what the weather is going to be like next Friday with any certainty and Treasury can get within a million dollars of what the surplus is going to be next year, I'll believe an economic model that marries those two things and casts them out over 100 years.

Yep, get that, until the weather department can get next Friday’s weather right, the whole thing is bunkum. By that logic I hope Uhlmann doesn’t have any of his superannuation in shares. You see, I have no idea what the All Ordinaries index will be next Friday, neither with any great degree of certainty would any economist, financial advisor, treasury official, or journalist. But I tell you this, I will bet my superannuation that it will be higher in 20 years than it is now. What do I base this on? The evidence (sorry I can’t put the graph on the page).

trend bullBut logic is not the weapon of the climate change deniers – obfuscation is. Challenge them on the trends and they’ll produce a graph like the one on the left that looks like it means something.

When then it is explained at length that the graph is meaningless because a 9 year trend is far too small to show anything, they change tack and say well if you can’t show that it’s getting cooler, then you also can’t show that it’s getting warmer (and ignore the fact that no one was ever using the graph to try and prove the world is getting warmer).

HADCRUT3 30 year trend (10year running)If you then use a graph that shows 30 year trends in temperature, they will argue that we can’t trust that data because it is the HadCRUT data which in part comes from the East Anglia University and “we all know what they get up to”.  

So you then show them the graph from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies:


They will argue that the GISS always exaggerates, and we can’t trust them – after all Jim Hanson who is in charge of the GISS in 1988 said the world would be destroyed by climate change. (He didn’t, but have fun looking up everything he wrote and said in 1988 as you try to refute it).

And so it goes on and on. Arguing with them is like trying to pick up mercury. Their business isn’t about arguing the science, it’s about changing the goalposts whenever questioned. They’ll cite blogs, because the peer-reviewed journals are all controlled by a cabal of climate change believers. If they do cite a journal article it is usually from some unknown journal of some pissant little university, or they quote out of context something said by a climate change scientist, or they focus on a minor aspect of climate change in the belief that disproving that one minor aspect destroys the whole – kind of like focussing on Shakespeare’s anti-Semitic representation of Jews in an attempt to disprove he is English’s greatest writer. 

hockey-stickThey’ll keep making statements like the “hockey-stick graph  has been completely destroyed by Steve McIntyre”. And to refute the statement you have to show a boring bloody research paper which states:

Based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al. and this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium.

And so they go quiet, but then reiterate the statement that the hockey-stick graph is discredited a week later, and keep saying it again and again and again.

Now newspapers are supposed to correct errors, and yet because this is “disputed science” you can keep stating the hockey-stick graph has been discredited, global warming hasn’t occurred since 1998 etc etc without any worries or need for correction. 

And they keep doing it because it is an incredibly popular topic. Possum on Crikey normally gets about 20-30 comments on his blog posts about political polling numbers. The past week or so he has had 4 posts on climate change date. The posts have had 355, 120, 49 and 156 comments each. Now I’m not suggesting Possum did the posts to improve his hit count, but I sure as well know Andrew Bolt has made his blogging career out of putting out the crap he does on climate change day after day after day.

In the past week or so I have had a couple back and forths with some climate change deniers on the Crikey site, but it is all  futile. Nothing will prove to them that it is happening. They see the three graphs above and say you can’t trust them, instead they say we should trust the first graph shown. Ask them what data will prove to them that climate change is real and they won’t tell you. Climate change deniers wait for someone to produce some data and then they focus their energies on discrediting it. And even if they did say they would accept climate change is real if temperatures increased by X degrees over X number of years, when such figures were shown they’d say, “Oh but that comes from East Anglia and you can’t trust them”, or “Oh that’s Jim Hanson’s work, he’s a well known exaggerator”.

In other words you will never be able to persuade them.

The problem is that such denier columnists and politicians will persuade readers. They will keep stating things that have been disproved. Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen, Barnaby Joyce and Stephen Fielding (and others) will justify ignoring the entire IPCC report because of one error about the shrinking of glaciers, but will keep citing Ian Plimer as having disproved the climate change science, despite his book having page after page after page of mistakes, fubs, exaggerations and straight out falsehoods. They’ll keep making statements about scientists for eg thinking we were entering an ice age in the 70s, despite the evidence showing that such a statement is completely false.

N_timeseriesBecause remember the tactic of the deniers it to make statements that must be refuted – in depth. They’ll use graphs about arctic ice coverage but stop using them as soon as it doesn’t fit with the story they’re trying to sell. Real scientists see the data and try to work out why it is showing what it is showing. The East Anglia kerfuffle where Kevin Trenberth wrote: “The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't” was about trying to work out what is going on, not about ignoring what is going on. And what is always ignored by deniers is the response to that statement by Tom Wigley, who wrote:

At the risk of overload, here are some notes of mine on the recent lack of warming. I look at this in two ways. The first is to look at the difference between the observed and expected anthropogenic trend relative to the pdf for unforced variability. The second is to remove ENSO, volcanoes and TSI variations from the observed data. Both methods show that what we are seeing is not unusual. The second method leaves a significant warming over the past decade. These sums complement Kevin's energy work. Kevin says ... "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't". I do not agree with this. 

But ignore that, ignore it all! (And hell, it’s easy to! Have you read that paragraph above? It goes on and on, using big-wonk-science-boffin words).

Just keep ignoring the graphs, shrink the data to 10 years, 8 years, 25 months, whatever it takes to make it look like the world is cooling and just keep repeating it. Keep repeating it. Keep repeating it. And of course, those who agree with the science of climate change are expected to be able to refute every such statement every single time, and are expected to refute them using standards set by deniers that are impossible to meet.

Just remember the Surgeon General’s first report on the dangers of smoking was made in 1964. Think how long it took the public to not only agree with it, but to also be in such a mind that Government's could pass actual laws banning smoking in certain areas? A good 40 years in many states and countries. We don’t have 40 years from the 2004 IPCC report to get everyone on board and for governments to make laws – the planet in 40 years will be the equivalent of Humphrey Bogart at age 56. 

Remember as well, the same tactics used by the tobacco industry to discredit the surgeon general’s report (and others) are used now by climate change deniers (heck Stephen Fielding’s favourite, The Heartland Institute is still using them for tobacco!).

It’s easy they say, don’t worry, it’s all a scam, use your common sense, don’t trust scientists with their big words and fancy graphs (which by the way show the world has cooled since 2001 or 1998, take your pick). And so like the smoker who wants to be convinced they won’t die from smoking, it’s all too easy for people to smile and think “whew”.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

US Politics Makes No Sense

Today in America the election to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate was held in Massachusetts. The seat has been a Democratic Party one since 1953 when John F Kennedy beat Henry Cabot Lodge - and both of the state's Senators have been from the Democratic Party since 1979.

So of course today, as things are want to happen, it was won by the Republican Party candidate.

Now, normally this wouldn't matter too much, but by losing this seat it means the Democrats and the two independent Senators only account for 59 of the 100 Senate seats. And there needs to be 60 to be able to win a vote to stop anyone filibustering.

So what this means is that most pundits expect that the Republican Party Senators will line up to filibuster the Health Care Bill - effectively killing it by never allowing it to come to a vote.

What it really means is the Democratic Party needs to grow a pair.

That a Party with an historically massive majority in both houses of Congress gets all shook up about not having a majority of 60 in the Senate is the most stupid thing going. If the Republican Party filibusters, then the Democrats should absolutely rip into them and eviscerate them in the media, in the streets – ie convince the voters that the Republicans are effectively trying to overturn the notion of majority rule. .

But no, they get all sad and talk about how Fox News is so mean and nasty.

It's a bit like the Australian political scene. The ALP should wake up a bit and realise they won the last election, they have the lead in the polls and then get on the front foot over the ETS Bill. I'm not suggesting they "use up some of their popularity" like it is money in a bank (a dumb notion that has no basis in reality), I'm suggesting they should realise they have a majority support on the issue (or at least close to it) and carry the day – work hard and win the day (and I’m not talking in the Senate, because unfortunately our system means a complete and utter fool like Steve Fielding can essentially kill any ALP Bill). I’m talking win it in the public arena, so that come election time Abbott and the Liberals will be committing electoral suicide to oppose an ETS. The ETS Bill obviously won’t pass in this parliament, but the ALP should make the Liberal's decision to block it the one that reduces that party’s vote at the next election. And reduces it by a lot.

If Rudd and Co think the issue matters that much, they need to go out and win the day. And they should try using something other than fraking Departmental talking points to do it.

Perhaps they will - I do think they'll be pretty aggressive on the issue when parliament return - and they better be or Abbott will take control of the narrative on the issue.

But back to American politics. To be honest I don't get it most of the time - the fact that members of the House of Representatives only have 2 year terms is so utterly stupid that I pretty much just put up my hands in despair at the whole thing. 2 years? So basically the day after your election win, you start campaigning for your re-election (little wonder they are all so dependent on moneyed supporters and big lobby interests). So rather than have me discuss it, let's turn it over to Jon Stewart:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Newspoll ALP 54- LNP 46 (or so who won the preseason comp last year?)

Today the first Newspoll of the year came out. It showed the ALP had “slipped” from 56 to 54, and the LNP had increased from 44 to 46. Interestingly the LNP’s primary vote hadn’t changed a bit, which made some calls by the media that Tony Abbott has invigorated the Liberal Party base somewhat bizarre.

To be honest I thought it a tad weird that Newspoll were even polling at this time of the year – it’s holidays; no one gives a stuff. Heck I’m not even bothering to watch the 7:30 Report and I’m a card carrying politics nerd. Doing well in the polls now is like a footy team doing well in the March - it doesn’t really matter; all teams are really worried about is one of the star players getting injured.

Rudd has been on holidays for a couple weeks, and for the two weeks prior to that it was Christmas etc. Tony Abbott, on the other hand has been a bit of an energiser bunny, so I guess you’d figure that might account for some of the increase in vote, but probably not really – as the LNP primary vote didn’t increase at all.

Now obviously at 54-46, the ALP will win comfortably (in fact with an increased majority), but it’s not all smiles and sunshine for the ALP. Rudd’s satisfaction rating is on a bit of a slide. Possum over at Crikey has his usual great graphs.


It’s pretty obvious that Rudd’s net-satisfaction rating has been dropping since October, and even in a long term sense since December 08.

Still, it’s not quite panic stations – especially when Abbott’s first satisfaction rating is 40% and the dissatisfaction rating is 35%. But the fact is around the same amount percent of the voters are dissatisfied with Rudd (34%) and Abbott.

On the preferred PM number however the difference is stark – Rudd leads 57% to 25%. In my second ever post in July 2008 I wrote:

Nelson is still in the teens when it comes to preferred PM, and I don’t think any poll will matter until the opposition leader is within 15% of Rudd on preferred PM. If Rudd stays above 50%, and Nelson or Turnbull or whoever can’t get above 35%, then the election will be a rout.

I still hold to that. Incidentally, the Newspoll two Party Preferred figure back then was 55-45, which just shows that the Liberal Party really hasn’t moved much at all in 18 months. (Though they have moved through two leaders!)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Avatar sets a record for the 21st century

Last month I did a post about the difficulty for films to rely on word of mouth to build up a following – citing the Box Office Squeeze of big films, which meant there were now more different Number 1s each year at the box office than ever before.

Since then of course Avatar has been number one. In fact by winning the last weekend, it meant it had been Number 1 for five straight weeks.

My theory blown to bits I guess.

Actually, not a bit, because you see in getting to the five week straight mark, Avatar did what no other film has done this century. Not done by The Dark Knight, nor any of The Lord of the Rings films. The last film to be Number 1 for at least five weekends straight in the US was The Sixth Sense in 1999. The most recent film before that was Titanic in 1997-98 (it was at Number 1 for 15 straight weeks). Before that there were none until 1993. So in the past 16 years there have been only three films to have gone at least 5 weekends in a row at the Number 1 spot.

So how does this vindicate my assertion of the Box Office Squeeze? Well in the twelve years from 1982 to 1993 (inclusive) there were 21 films that made the 5 week in a row mark. There was not one year in that time span that did not have at least one film to reach that mark, and six of the years had more than one.image

You don’t need to have too much knowledge of statistics to see something different has occurred in the last decade. Heck, let’s break it down into decades (and bear in mind I only have data from 1982). In the 1980s there were 17 films to get to five weeks, in the 1990s – 6; in the 2000s – 1.

So what were these massive blockbusters of the 1980s that got to five weeks? Try Mr Mom, The Secret of My Success, The Golden Child, Stakeout. Yeah you’ve heard of them, and most likely even seen them, but when you think of them do you think of them as being as popular as Avatar is now?

But look, 5 weeks is probably being too tough – after all if even The Dark Knight can’t get there, then perhaps I’m setting the bar too high. So let’s look at the same time period but this time we’ll allow films that made it to just 4 weeks in a row at Number 1.

This figure allows us to include such films from this century as The Dark Knight, The Return of the King, The Fellowship of the Ring, National Treasure 2, Castaway and Meet the Parents.

Actually, that would be all the films to be included. In this century only seven films have got to that level. However, in the 1990s 20 films got there, and from 1982-1989 a whopping 28 films did.

(The line has been put in for those of you struggling to see if there is any trend!)

So what type of films in the 1980s got to 4 weeks in a row at Number 1? Try blockbusters like Uncle Buck, Beetlejuice, Rambo 2, Police Academy 2, Karate Kid 2, Tightrope, Never Say Never Again. Heck even in the 1990s such films as The Legends of the Fall, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Under Siege were able to do what Spiderman, any of the Harry Potter films, the Pirates of the Caribbean films, or Shrek 2 or 3 were unable to do in the 21st century.

So were will Avatar end up? Opening this week are Tooth Fairy (starring The Rock) and Extraordinary Measures (a drama with Harrison Ford). Both are expected to only take around $15m-$18m this weekend. Avatar made $41m last weekend, so it should get over the line.

If it gets past this weekend, next up is is Mel Gibson’s latest – Edge of Darkness (predicted to make around $20m in the opening weekend). The following weekend we see the thriller From Paris with Love (predicted to make about $15m), then there is on the Feb 12 weekend the US’s answer to Love Actually, Valentines Day (it looks God awful, but for some reason the pundits think it’ll take around $35m in its first 3 days) and also a kid friendly film Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief.

So it’s likely Avatar will get to 6 weeks straight at number 1, and even a chance of making it to 7 or 8, but by then it’s expected normalcy will resume.  And its chances of making 15 weeks like Titanic? Fuhgedabouditt.

Though somehow, I doubt James Cameron will care.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Flick of the Week: “Let me have a Three Musketeers, and a ball point pen, and one of those combs there, a pint of Old Harper, a couple of flash light batteries and some beef jerky.”

This week’s Flick of the Week takes us from The Graduate, to George Lucas’s classic coming of age tale, American Graffiti. American_graffiti_ver1The connection is Richard Dreyfus, who had an uncredited cameo in The Graduate as a guy in Dustin Hoffmann’s boarding house who says, “Do you want me to get the cops? I’ll get the cops.”

Back in 1990 when I noticed it was him, I felt pretty cool that I spotted it. Now of course you can find out about such things on imdb, which kind of takes away the joy of being a film buff. But oh well, on to 1962
American Graffiti could just about be called the most influential film of the 1970s. Just think of how many films were made in the 1970s and 1980s that were set in the 1950-60s in America. Everything from Dirty Dancing to Back to the Future mined that so called innocent period after Elvis Presley but before The Beatles and the JFK assassination. In actual fact such movies more recreate a Hollywood view of history than the reality of the time itself, and pretty much all of them don’t hold a candle to the original.

The film concerns the last night in town before two friends, Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfus) and Steve Bolander (Ron – or Ronny – Howard), leave for college. They hang out with their nerdy friend Terry ‘the Toad’ Fields (Charles Martin Smith), and hot-rod driver John Milner (Paul le Mat), before all go their separate ways over the course of the night, on various adventures. Curt gets mixed up with a gang of thugs as he tries to find out the identity of a blonde woman he fleetingly saw drive past; Steve tries to breakup with his girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams), only to be beaten to the punch; Toad tries in vain all night to score with air-head blonde Debbie Dunham (Candy Clark); and John gets stuck with young Carol (Mackenzie Phillips – who has the line of the film “Your car is uglier than I am. That didn't come out right.”) in his hot rod while he drives around looking for a Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) who is challenging him to a drag race.

americanGraffiti By the time the night has ended, the group have made some decisions about their futures, changed a bit, learned a bit… it is one of those nights that after which no one is the same again… and sure it’s a cliché, but when you’re young there are nights that can feel like that, and this film taps in to the feelings of youth as good as any film does.

George Lucas struggled to get financing for the film – Peter Biskand relates in his seminal work Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved HollywoodEasy Riders, Raging Bulls, that Warner Bros turned it down – a move that pretty much cost them any chance of working with Lucas in the future. United Artists had the rights to it and the next film Lucas wanted to do – some dopey space opera – but they passed on both. Universal Pictures finally came up with some money – but few thought it would be anything other than a small film; it ended up being the 3rd highest grossing film for the year, behind The Exorcist and The Sting). Lucas shot it in 28 days, and according to co-producer Francis Ford Coppola he got “lucky”, because Lucas (as you can tell from any of the Star Wars films he has directed) knows bugger all about how to direct actors, and yet everyone turns in a great performance.

Many of the actors in this film pretty much can thank it for starting their careers, and yet if you were to have asked filmgoers at the time who of the cast would be the most likely to become a huge star, few would have picked the bloke playing Bob Falfa (which is not much more than a bit part), and most would have lumped for Paul le Mat. The young Vietnam Veteran however never clicked it for a role in another big film, whereas Ford, after appearing in Coppola’s The Conversation and a couple made-for-TV films, got cast in that dopey sounding space opera as Han Solo, and well you know the rest…

photo_21The biggest influence of the film was its soundtrack. Taking a lead somewhat from Easy Rider, it used contemporary music rather than a score. But whereas Easy Rider was set in the present time, this was the first film to use it to convey the sense of a time past. It would of course be used again and again since then (ever heard of the soundtrack for The Big Chill?).  The soundtrack for the film was massively successful, and set a template for film marketing that would dominate the 1980s.

The other frequently copied aspect of the film was the ending which relates what happens to the characters after the film ends. Unfortunately we only find out what happens to the male leads, and have no idea what becomes of Carol or Debbie. The ending – especially given the news on what happens to the characters is rather downbeat. The film is actually a rather honest look at youth – the night is far from a glorious romp – in fact most of the time the characters are frustrated by being unable to do what they want to do. It is a look back that on the surface seems to be of the “oh things were so much better back then” but upon deeper inspection you see that the night was actually bloody long and often boring, and geez, you’d never want to go back.

The film has for me another nice connection – that of one of my favourite episodes of The Simpsons (Summer of 4ft 2) where Homer goes into a store to buy illegal fireworks. His method is brilliant parody of the Toad’s attempt in American Graffiti to get some alcohol (Old Harper). It always gets edited out whenever it is shown on TV (probably due to the “adult” items in Homer’s list of things he wants to buy:

Homer: Let me have one of those porno magazines, large box of condoms, a bottle of Old Harper, a couple of those panty shields, and some illegal fireworks, and one of those disposable enemas ... eh, make it two

The main problem of the edit is the next scene shows Marge looking at the shopping bags and saying: "I don't know what you have planned tonight, but count me out."

American Graffiti may have led to some pale imitation, and a very long running TV Show (Happy Days – not directly, but without the film’s success, the TV show would never have been made), but the original deserves re-watching. For those who have never seen it, seeing the young stars will surprise (Dreyfus in particular looks like a kid), and at the least you’ll be able to say you’ve seen the best film George Lucas ever made.

Previous Flicks of the Week:
The Graduate – Dustin Hoffman
All the President’s Men – Jason Robards 
Once Upon a Time in the West – Henry Fonda
Mister Roberts – Jack Lemmon
Some Like it Hot – Billy Wilder
Witness for the Prosecution – Marlene Dietrich
Touch of Evil – Orson Welles
The Third Man – Trevor Howard
Brief Encounter - David Lean
Lawrence of Arabia – Claude Reins
Casablanca – Humphrey Bogart
The Big Sleep – Howard Hawks
His Girl Friday – Cary Grant
Charade – John Williams
Schindler’s List – Liam Neeson
Love Actually – Emma Thompson
Sense and Sensibility – Ang Lee
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Michelle Yeoh
Tomorrow Never Dies – Pierce Brosnan
The Thomas Crown Affair – Renee Russo
In the Line of Fire – Clint Eastwood
Where Eagles Dare – Richard Burton
Zulu – Stanley Baker
The Guns of Navarone – Peter Yates
Breaking Away – Dennis Quaid
The Right Stuff – Ed Harris
The Rock – Sean Connery
The Longest Day – Richard Beymer
West Side Story – Ernest Lehmann
North By Northwest - The first one

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Australian Open: Embarrassing No More

When I was growing up I hated the Australian Open.  australianopenUp to it being moved to Melbourne Park in 1988 the tournament represented just about everything I hated about Australia. It was old, backward, provincial and boring.

God I hated  Kooyong. Even now I find it difficult to watch the “Kooyong Classic” as the site of those stupid boxes on the side of the court bring all the feelings of despair. Just look at the photo on the right – you can see the “centre court” is anything but – the stadium is little more than some stands that seem to have been erected just for the occasion. The light blue boxes for some old-fart officials and dignitaries to sit in just look embarrassing. There are people sitting on the court in temporary seating (hiding the fact that at other times of the year there are three courts in the “centre” court). The whole thing smacks of some slightly above average Sunday School picnic.

In 1987 my family went to a day at the Open – it was the last year it was held at Kooyong. I recall watching Ivan Lendl beat Dan Goldie in 4 sets. I found out from wikipedia that this was a fourth round match. My main memory of the occasion is that there were a lot of empty seats, and there was a complete lack of buzz in the air. I think I was more excited the day I watched my dad play on the centre court at Memorial Drive in the annual South Australian tennis country carnival.  

That’s because the Australian Open was bloody boring – nobody bothered to come. Lendl only came once Tony Roche started coaching him and only because he wanted to win a tournament on grass – and even then the event was essentially a practice for his efforts at Wimbledon later in the year.

The event was so boring and lacking in any stars that in both 1981 and 1982 Johan Kreik beat Steve Denton in the final. Both players only ever played in 2 Grand Slam finals. In 1982, things were so bad that Kriek (whose highest ever ranking was 7) was the top seed, Denton was the 2nd seed. Mark Edmondson was the 3rd seed! It didn’t even have a full field of 132. There were only 96 in the field so some players had a bye in the first round. By comparison in ’81 and ’82 Borg and Wilander won the French Opens, and Wimbledon and the US Opens were won by McEnroe and Connors.

God knows why or how it remained as a Grand Slam.

My guess is the Swedes helped. Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg came to play when they were at the top (both of them shared the event from 83 to 88), which got the event through the 80s until 1988 when it went hard-court and everyone started to come and play. The list of Men’s champions from the 90s is testimony to how improved the tournament became: Lendl, Becker, Courier, Sampras, Agassi, Kordr, Kafelnikov. Aside from Kordr each of them was a Number 1 in the world, and Lendl, Becker Sampras and Agassi are pretty much safely seated in the penthouse suite of the tennis pantheon. 

The Australian Open now is a thing of magnificence. Bill Simmons, the ESPN’s “Sports’ Guy” has written in the past that the Australian Open is the equivalent of the US PGA Golf tournament – ie the 4th major. Such thinking though is a couple decades old. No one now (or in fact for the last 21 years) ever misses out on the Australian Open – many players now come here hoping to be the year’s dark horse who breaks out and goes up a level – think Baghdatis, Tsonga, even Djokovic – as opposed to the olden days when journeymen players would come here thinking they could sneak an easy Grand Slam. australian-open-2009

In some ways the Australian Open is now the hardest of the Grand Slams to win, because as it is right at the start of the year it catches some players not quite prepared, still a little sore from the previous year, perhaps a bit stale from not enough tennis, and they suddenly find themselves facing some guy who is determined that this new year is going to be his year to zoom up the rankings – the US Open can be seen by some as a last chance to salvage something out of the year, which is a different intensity altogether.

The surface is also slower than the US Open, and thus the clay court players are more comfortable – meaning all 132 are very much on a level playing field.

But let’s compare the winners over the past decade at each of the Grand Slams to see if there is any reality to the “4th Grand Slam” tag. In colour are those players who have not won any of the other three slams:

 Australian Open:
Andre Agassi (x3)
Thomas Johansson
Roger Federer (x3)
Marat Safin
Novak Djokavic
Rafael Nadal

Not a hell of a lot of flab in that lot. Johansson won in 2002, which was a weird year in tennis. Hewitt was number 1, but not really dominating, Sampras was almost gone, Agassi who had won the two previous years was out injured, and Roger Federer (seeded 11) had yet to realise that he was Roger Federer. Johansson had a dream run – he was seeded 16, but due to results the only time he played an opponent seeded higher was in the final, when he beat Marat Safin (seeded 9). It should be remembered that this was the year Hewitt got knocked out in the first round. So yeah,Johansson had a fair bit of luck. As for Djokovic; well he hasn’t won any other Grand Slams yet, but as he beat Hewitt, David Ferrer (5th seed) and Federer on the way to winning the title, I doubt anyone would call that a soft win.

French Open:
Gustavo Kuertan (x2)
Albert Costa
Juan Carlos Ferraro
Gaston Gaudio
Rafael Nadal (x4)
Roger Federer

Kuertan was a great clay court player, but his best performance at the other Slams? The quarter finals of the US and Wimbledon. I’m betting most of you can’t even recall Gaudio. He won in 2004, which is important really only because it was the last time Roger Federer didn’t make the semi finals of a Grand Slam (yep that is 22 slams ago). The French Open  is such a niche event that it rules out over half the field before it begins. Unfortunately the European section of the ATP tour has been allowed to grow to absurd levels, and now clay court specialists can rise up the rankings, despite being all at sea on the hard-courts.

People want to win the French Open of course. But do you think someone like Andy Roddick, or Andy Murray or even Lleyton Hewitt goes to bed at night dreaming that they’ll win it? I doubt it. They play it of course, but only because of the ranking points involved, and out of blind hope that something might go well. But to them, it’s a tournament to be endured.

Pete Sampras
Goran Ivanisevic
Lleyton Hewitt
Roger Federer (x6)
Rafael Nadal

This is a class field (and it still hurts that it is Goran there and not Pat Rafter). Sure it’s on grass, and sure no one plays grass anymore. But you have to go back to 1996 and Richard Krajicek before you come across a Men’s Champion who wasn’t up there with the best for a good portion of his career. Sure clay court players struggle – but as Borg and Nadal showed, if you’re good enough, you’ll be good enough. And with the racquets nowadays and the resultant loss of serve-volley as a weapon it isn’t as bad for them as in the past, so arguably it is easier for a clay court player to win at Wimbledon, than for a big serving hard-court player to win at the French Open.

US Open:
Marat Safin
Lleyton Hewitt
Pete Sampras
Andy Roddick
Roger Federer (x5)
Juan Martin del Potro

Another good lot. Roddick was blighted to be born at the same time as Federer; and del Porto, like Djokovic, is likely to add to his tally (or not – but even then he is certainly not a nobody).

Basically now all four are equal – none is easier than the others, none suffers from too many weak champions (though the French will always have more winners who will never win on the faster courts).

This year’s Australian Open, starting on Monday, looks to be one for the ages. If Federer is to keep up his streak of semi-finals he will have to play great tennis from round one, as he is slated to meet the number 36 in the world Igor Andreev, then he may have to play Hewitt, Giles Simon or Marcos Baghdatis just to get to the quarter finals, and there he is due to meet Nikolay Davydenko who beat him the last two times they met (the latest just a couple weeks ago). It is a hot, hot field. (The women’s event will also be heavily contested, but I’ll admit to finding women’s tennis frustrating to watch – for the love of God could somebody hold her serve???).

So for the next fortnight, I’ll be losing as much sleep as during Wimbledon (why do night matches at the Australian Open night matches always seem to go for 5 sets?), and watch all the players put absolutely everything on the line in the hope of snaring one of the four greatest titles in the world – and no one will be thinking if he should lose – oh well it’s just the Australian Open, it doesn't really matter.