Crime Factory 10

This is how they do it down under…

The Crime Factory issue #10 is out, with an interview with Megan Abbott, a deposition by Josh Stallings and my story “Lefty,” about some goombahs on a fishing trip to the Louisiana bayou. It is available as a PDF from their website (Follow the Crime Factory link) and will soon be available for Kindle. I wish it was available in print, but they only do that for special issues like Kung Fu Factory. I wonder if Createspace could turn this PDF into a print on demand zine, or Lulu? I think it would be worth the trouble. So read it on your PC or your e-reader, it’s free and they always get a great line-up of contributors!

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
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Young Einstein

After spending three hours watching Australia, I decided to watch an Aussie movie from the ’80s I remember enjoying- Young Einstein, where comedian Yahoo Serious decides to steal some of Paul Hogan’s didgeridoo thunder and make a silly spoof of the lives of Albert Einstein and Madame Curie. Einstein didn’t just come up with the theory of relativity, he also invented beer, rock ‘n roll, and surfing. It’s pretty stupid, but entertaining in the same way corny Cheech and Chong movies are.

Discovering gravity

Young Albert Einstein is a gangly, likeable fellow whose hair looks like he humped a light socket. He hails from Tasmania, where his family harvests and lives entirely on apples. A little in joke there, Tasmania is a big apple producer. His father fends off the Tasmanian devils, who look a lot like the Warner Brothers cartoon character. Albert’s first scientific discovery is putting the first bubbles in beer, by splitting the beer atom. E=mc2, or “emc,” makes his father urge him to leave Tasmania for the mainland, and he undergoes a montage through snow, jungle and other unlikely locales.

Splitting the beer atom

He finally comes along an abandoned rail line, and waits by a skeleton holding a timetable until a train carrying Marie Curie, and patent officer Preston Preston- a stereotypical effete British snob- going to Sydney arrives. Preston immediately steals “Emc” and tries to peddle it to another brewing company, but Albert is already applying his theory to music. He needs to jolt acoustic music to light speed, and electrifies a hopped up violin into the first electric guitar.

Working at the patent office

Part of the fun is just in the backgrounds. There are kangaroos and wallabies everywhere, even on the campus of Sydney U. Which also has a sheep farming department, and flocks of them barge around like the cattle in Blazing Saddles town of Rock Ridge. The movie is very charming and silly, and has a great soundtrack of ’80s Aussie rock interspersed with motifs of “Waltzing Matilda,” “Wild Colonial Boy,” and “Powerhouse.” Mme. Curie speaks in an endearingly ridiculous French accent, Albert wears clodhopper boots, and overall shorts.

Tasmanian devil

Marie Curie (a delightfully cute Odile Le Clezio) is smitten by Albert’s quirky earnest genius, even though he lives in a brothel he thinks is a hotel. This irks Preston Preston, who not only wants to steal Al’s ideas, but also his girl. So he has him tossed in the loony bin, in the Mad Scientists Ward. He languishes there with the madman, finetuning his theory while the kitchen bakes kittens into pies, until Marie sneaks in to rescue him, and challenge him into fighting back against Preston Preston. With his mastery of the electric violin, he is able to blast his way out with rock ‘n roll, in time to save the kittens of course.

Hotter than radium

He takes Marie to the Scientist Academy Award Ceremony in Paris, where Preston is demonstrating his enormous atomic brewing reactor. Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and his overbearing mom, the Wright Brothers- who knew Orville was black?- and others are present, and when Preston activates the reactor, it is of course an atomic bomb- so there’s only one way to drain the power- by inventing rock ‘n roll! This gives Yahoo Serious another chance to get in full blackface, and somehow not be terribly offensive.

Rock ‘n roll saves the world

First time director-actor-writer Yahoo Serious does a fine job, with silly homages to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly among other things. It’s a quietly funny movie that dips into cartoonish humor when it needs to. The movie is never boring, and remains amusing 20 years later. It looks like they had a lot of fun making it, with lots of self-effacing gags and a Tall Tale feel throughout. Young Einstein is the kind of silly movie everywhere in the ’80s, and rare today. It made Yahoo Serious a brief star in the U.S., he even interviewed himself on 60 Minutes, though he only had 15.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2 (with bubbles)
Could it be remade today? no way
Quotability Rating: decent
Cheese Factor: Roaring Forties Blue (the only Australian cheese I know of, and it’s a good one)
High Points: Inventing beer, surfing & rock ‘n roll
Low Point: a bit slow to start, but always fun
Gratuitous Boobies: Marie Curie in her undiewear


Australia got panned before it was even released, because it stars Nicole Kidman- a fine actress and classic beauty- who made the mistake of marrying Tom Cruise, and thus earned the ire of entertainment rags everywhere. The film isn’t great; the visionary director Baz Luhrmann bites off more than he can chew, and the screenplay is badly constructed, but it is an enjoyable epic and a gorgeously filmed classic romance. It is overlong, but makes for a good “lazy Sunday” movie.
The story revolves around Lady Ashley (Kidman) whose husband was murdered, apparently by the rebel Aborigine King George, while he tried to build a cattle ranch in the outback near Darwin. He would be the only competition to King Carney (Brian Brown, F/X) in delivering beef to the Allied forces, and Carney has his head man Fletcher playing dirty to ensure his monopoly. Lady Ashley shows up to meet her guide- a gruff scoundrel known only as The Drover (Jackman)- and they are introduced while he’s in a bar fight, using her suitcase of unmentionables to bash a rowdy’s face in.
It’s the inauspicious meeting that always foreshadows a steamy affair, and Luhrmann wisely directs this classic tale with a wink or two. When they arrive at the Ashley ranch Far Away Downs, we meet a young “half-caste” boy named Nullah who tells her of Fletcher’s dirty dealings; so they help hide him from the coppers who will ship him to the Missions. If you didn’t know, many Aboriginal children, especially those of mixed race, were stolen from their mothers and shipped to missions that would “educate and breed the black out of them” up until 1973 in Australia. The best movie to learn about that is Rabbit Proof Fence, and things are handled with clumsy melodrama here.
But that is part of the point; we’ll see King George (David Gulpilil, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Proposition) and little Nullah do what can only be called magic, but it didn’t seem unbelievable or mystical to me. When Lady Ashley and the Drover join to drive 1500 cattle across the outback and beat King Carney out of his monopoly, they will be led across the desert to water, and stampeding cattle will be “sung down.” Many reviewers found this patronizing, but it’s no different than how Hollywood treats Native Americans as noble savages with mystical nature powers, and since the movie is set during World War 2 against the outback, it worked for me.
What did not work was the length and structure. After the cattle drive, we have another hour to go, as they want to tell us more and more about the Stolen Generations and how the Japanese bombed Australia. These are events worthy of our interest, but they belong throughout the story arc. As the movie stands it has two emotional climaxes- one when they complete the cattle drive, and another when Lady Ashley tries to save Nullah from the Mission, and the Japanese bombers. I would have liked it more if Nullah was taken during the drive, and they had to rescue him; and if the bombers came soon after the success of the drive. I kept falling asleep during the long third act and didn’t feel like I was missing much. I’d suggest Rabbit Proof Fence if you want to learn about the Stolen Generations. It has a much stronger emotional impact. As a 60’s-style epic, Australia is decent viewing, but not as cool as Baz Luhrmann’s other movies- Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet. Next week I’m watching a real Aussie movie, Young Einstein with Yahoo Serious, for 80’s Trash of the Week.

Rating: Enh.

Open Water – The Real Story

This may be old news, a movie that came out five years ago, based on people who died in ’98; I popped it in my queue after vacationing in Hawaii. We didn’t go scuba diving, but we snorkeled. I also popped in Joe Versus the Volcano, and had no intentions of leaping into lava.

Open Water is an effective existential horror film. It’s not Jaws, though sharks certainly appear. It’s about a busy couple who take a spontaneous vacation, and go on a diving trip. It has no shaky-cam but still feels like vacation footage- claustrophobic and centered on them, as they relax and mess around in their hotel room. It plays with our expectations a little; they go out on the dive, and the boat crew is adamant about safety regulations, butting heads with an arrogant Aussie who forgot his mask but demands a dive.

Even we forget about the couple, Susan and Daniel, who stick to themselves and could be anybody. The boat crew readies to leave, miscounts the number of people… and leaves them alone in a reef where sharks are known to feed.

They rise and think they drifted, and wait for one of the two boats they see in the distance to realize they’re missing, and come pick them up. Typical entitled tourists, but aren’t we all? The underlying question is, what would you do? I had a high school pal named Fred who’d say that. Usually when pointing at a babe in spandex, and preceded by “If she got nekked right now…”

“What would you do?”

(Well, Fred, she does get naked in the prologue.)
The mounting sense of dread comes when the speck-size boats disappear over the horizon, and we’re reminded just how unimportant our lives are to the world and strangers, and how easily we could be forgotten. It comes from imagining a long, drawn out death spanning hours or days, adrift at sea with monsters below and an infinity of emptiness all around you.

Now imagine that this was loosely based on the true story of two LSU grads who just came back from 4 years of volunteering for the Peace Corps, and rewarded themselves with a trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Imagine they paid hundreds of dollars to be ferried out there with a group of 20 people, none of whom realized they were left behind, not even the crew who were responsible for counting them.

Pretty horrible, huh? Now think that when they got back, the shuttle bus operator told the crew they were missing, but nothing was done. Not until two days later, when they cleaned the boat and found their wallets. A massive search operation was mounted, but because the area they were in, “Fish City,” is cruised nightly by tiger sharks, no remains or clues were ever found. (Lesson: don’t dive on a Sunday.)

Their parents had their day in court. The dive industry in Australia is a $50 million a year business and brings much-needed economy to some towns. The boat owner was acquitted of manslaughter, even though it took him 2 days to report them missing. According to the article linked above, they even claimed that the couple faked their own death, to “start over.” Classy!

The industry likes to compare how few diving deaths Australia has, and how safe diving is compared to getting struck by lightning. The fact is, there’s a simple solution to the moronic tragedy of leaving people in shark-infested waters: Write their fucking names down and do a roll call instead of counting people. What pissed me off about this article where the industry shill cries about possible losses is that he doesn’t talk about any improvements to procedures by members of the dive industry.

I won’t ruin the movie for you, but let’s just say that no helicopter swooped in to save the Lonergans, either. Open Water may not be about them, but it drives home the horror they must have felt. Some may find it boring, but I have a deep and abiding respect for the immensity of the ocean. I like to joke, “I ain’t afraid of heights, I’m afraid of depths!” If you fall off a building, you’ve got 10 exciting seconds to live. Out at sea… you’ve got a lot of waiting for that hideous undersea creature to start nibbling on you.

The movie is filmed completed without CG effects. They used shark experts constantly feeding the animals tuna to keep them from attacking anybody. You see them incredibly close to the actors or stunt doubles. Sharks are scary, but the sense of helplessness and regret is what overwhelms you here. Ebert compared it to the mountain-climbing documentary, Into the Void, which will appeal to those with fear of heights. If you’re agoraphobic, this is the one for you. After this movie, If you’re ever in a situation like this, you’ll be dropping the scuba tanks and swimming after those far-away boats, hollering the whole time.

What would you do?

P.S. 22’s choir rocks a Crowded House

Saw the Aussie band Crowded House last night at the Fillmore, and they put on a pretty good show. Most famous for “Don’t Dream it’s Over,” aka the “Hey now, hey now” song, they’re a solid late 80’s band who put on good set of hits and new songs.
The concert got to a late start with doors at 8 and a folk singer with an unpronounceable name as the opener. He was a New Zealander and played a good set, and had some good humor with the audience. Aussie bands, like Scottish bands, have the tallest audiences outside of a Masai jazz fusion quintet. We couldn’t score our favorite spot behind the upstairs soundboard because there were a bunch of kids sitting there- at the time we didn’t know why. So we staked out a spot in front of the downstairs one, and a crowd of 6’7″ Aussie football players, crocodile wrestlers, shark molesters and their Amazon women stood in front of us.
Before the band came on, that gaggle of kids came onstage, and we learned they were the choir from P.S. 22. They sang “Personal Universe” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” by themselves, and then backed up the band on a few other songs, which was pretty cool. It’s too bad they couldn’t come back to sing behind “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” which would have been great, but it was past their bedtime by then, I’m sure.
Afterwards they launched into an hour-long set. I remember “Weather with You,” “Catherine Wheels,” “Four Seasons in a Day” … “Mean to Me,” “Something so Strong” and “The World Where you Live…”
The last encore was of course “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” which was a deserving worldwide hit back in the day. They’ve still got it, it sounded like it would have 20 years ago. It was a great show, and I’m glad they’re touring their reunion album here in the states.

Short clip of the choir singing.