MONTE CARLO BUT BETTER

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I saw the Selena Gomez tween holiday romance / mistaken identity vehicle MONTE CARLO on the plane from England to Singapore. I know what you’re thinking: THAT SOUNDS SWEET, and, doesn’t it? But the truth: it is a joyless misery-filled rollercoaster of dreariness, and the saddest thing is how much potential the whole gala possessed. So, with that in mind, I have quickly summarised Monte Carlo, with some constructive criticism included, because if there’s one thing none of us want, it’s for Selena Gomez to waste her time on lame pap when she could be in, I don’t know, something else.

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so three sisters go on vacation to SOMEWHERE

the oldest one is a trashy waitress type with a low-point scoring boyfriend and her eyes are firmly on the benjamins, she and her boyfriend have a fight before they leave and he seems like a deadbeat but so does she

the middle one is a high achieving university student with grief issues and plenty of uptightness, she is also a babe and my ability to objectively assess those parts of the movie in which she features were somewhat compromised by this fact

the youngest one is an earnest hardworking princess who has been dreaming of this holiday all the way through high school, which she has just graduated, also she is played by selena gomez but it is not clear whether this is in her favour or not

they are sisters but they don’t like each other, I got the impression that their parents got together recently, some of them are only half sisters and they may belong to different parents, it’s hard to be sure because although I think I’m smart enough to track the plot twists in a G-rated Disney film, it was explained really poorly, also someone’s mum appears to have died but I can’t tell whose, andie macdowell is also in this film as a parent but she is phoning it in from such a distance I swear she is translucent, they may have edited her in using discarded footage from other films

they start out on some shitty standard-ass tour being rushed through the sites

they are all bitching and complaining, other than the fact that the middle sister meets a charming australian backpacker briefly nothing interrupts the gloom

the backpacker by the way is a blond hunk channelling heath ledger so hard that I am willing to bet in the original script his name was OURHEATH, but out of respect or litigation they changed it to riley

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anyway they are climbing up the stairs to some french attraction and the middle sister is giving the older sister shit for wearing impractical high heels and the older sister stumbles and the backpacker grabs her arm to steady her and the middle sister shakes her head and walks after her

but then SHE stumbles at the exact same spot and the backpacker grabs HER arm to steady her and says ‘careful – precious cargo’ which made me a little bit ill inside but then she turns around and gives him a brief smile and it was like the sun coming out for a moment in the foggy shitstorm which was this movie

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ah…

anyway they miss their bus and lose their shitty tour group and it starts raining and they all have a fight and the youngest sister who is selena gomez who I think we’re supposed to identify with or feel for or something chucks a major tantrum, it is genuinely like an advertisement for not travelling with teenagers

if I had been one of the other two sisters at that point I would have set selena gomez on fire just for the hell of it, also it would have enlivened the movie which at this stage is nearly half an hour in and still nothing has happened, not one single key plot point has emerged, and I am on the verge of searching through the in-flight entertainment guide for something else, possibly the documentary in which U2 talk about why their videoclips are so good

(I watched it later it’s amazing how little those guys grasp the difference between a really good videoclip and their own videos

they congratulate themselves for the clip to NUMB which is the most vapid conceptless waste of four minutes I’ve ever seen, youtube it if you don’t believe me, I guarantee you won’t be able to watch it to the end, and if you can, you’re a fucking idiot)

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when suddenly the three sisters hustle into a hotel lobby and THERE

they encounter a rich british heiress who is identical in appearance to the younger sister who is in europe for a charity something something but instead she is going to pike off to ibiza to snort fifty drugs at once

anyway she fucks off and the youngest sister is mistaken for the heiress and they decide to roll with it

cue legions of servants and nobility rushing them between cities and into one conspicuous display of wealth after another

sure enough, as soon as they have swarms of people attending to their every need and are treated to millions of dollars worth of expense, the sisters cheer the fuck up

there is a set piece in which millions of clothes and makeups are delivered to them and they all transform, this happens relatively regularly throughout this film, it is fairly meh, I think it woulda been better for selena gomez to be an ugly wallflower before this point, possibly wearing glasses, to add a little punch to the transformative powers of the old transformation plot device, just saying

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(the idea in the scripting process was presumably that this moment would be better than it turned out to be)

the middle sister who is the brains of the outfit does research by reading Hello! magazine to find out details of their situation and then when the other sisters ask how she knows what she knows she says Hello! it’s called Hello magazine, this is a joke, this is Monte Carlo’s idea of a joke

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so the heiress was supposed to attend this charity auction in monte carlo and wear a particular necklace and by taking part in this charity event she will redeem herself for various unspecified crimes committed recently in reykjavik

(the movie doesn’t say what she did, and when the older sisters read the magazine explaining her crimes and selena gomez asks ‘what did I do?’ they coyly say ‘what DIDN’T you do?’ which to the scriptwriters may have seemed like an elegant way of describing any real criminal / amoral behaviour in a G-rated movie but to my eyes is a pathetic dodge and the obvious response would be ‘did I have sex with a horse?’ anyway that may have been in there but it got cut in the version I saw)

the main thing to note here is that selena gomez’s doppelganger is not a popstar or an actress, which are both the usual targets for this kind of tweengirl fantasy, but an heiress, a job which requires no skill other than standing still and looking blank, which while it may cater to selena gomez’s unique skillset, also shuts down an interesting finale in which (say) a character with no singing training is required to get out onstage and bust out a great concert

rich people are replaceable, the movie says, steal their identities and take what’s theirs

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this is a major issue with monte carlo, it sets up expectations of a journey in which selena gomez starts out pretending to be someone talented and important but by the end she’s grown and trained and she is able to do something pretty amazing herself, whether it’s perform a live concert or do a dance or something

anything

this is one of the reasons that camp rock is a better film than monte carlo, in camp rock demi lovato has to learn how to be a great singer and dancer and most importantly to be herself in order to perform an amazing set at final jam and impress joe jonas

in monte carlo selena gomez has to stand around various expensive function rooms looking pretty and keeping her mouth shut building up to a finale setpiece in which she has to stand around looking pretty and keeping her mouth shut, it’s not quite as good

in camp rock just about every scene is a song and dance number because the writers made the reasonable decision to set their film at a summer camp where young teenagers learn how to sing and dance in order to become trashy popstar wannabes

then they made the equally reasonable decision to feature the disney stable’s trio of reasonably popular teen musicians the jonas brothers as teachers at the camp

resulting in extraordinary scenes such as the one where joe jonas who is the brooding male lead storms into a class full of students and snaps ‘everybody grab a mic and a hat and follow me if you can’ before breaking into some seriously questionable hiphop dance moves

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just for reference, there is no cooler thing to say upon entering a room than that

anyway the middle sister puts up some token protests about the doomed criminal enterprise of impersonating a wealthy socialite for fun and profit, and with minimal delays they jump on a plane to monte carlo and start living this girl’s life in earnest

the first major event is a swanky ball or highbrow rich person disco or something, it’s hard to tell because they avoid any wide shots, presumably because they couldn’t be fucked getting more than five extras in, either way it’s confusing because they seem to be in a crowd but when you look it’s always the same five people, maybe they are having a fancy ball in a corridor

but here again the monte carlo team drop the ball by missing an awesome opportunity to make the consequences of the heiress’ shitty actions turn around to bite selena gomez on the ass in comical ways

like, when they are at the ball dancing with rich people, why not have a group of rich wasters come up to selena and say ‘hey, come inject some horse into your thigh with us

like you SAID YOU WOULD’

and she has to go along with it because she doesn’t want to break the illusion

but under the influence of tons of heroin she says some honest truths about the grossness of all this conspicuous consumption that makes everyone feel awkward

but also demonstrates to a ballroom full of highbrow fakes and an audience of jetlagged finigs that selena is legit and worth getting to know

oh before I forget there is a young prince named theo assigned to take care of the heiress, he is initially reluctant because she is apparently a class A bitch but he is pleasantly surprised and eventually won over by selena’s easy-going charm despite her awkwardness in situations such as wearing cowboy boots under a ballgown

the older sister is also picked up by a count or a something else named domenico and he invites her on his boat with a bunch of other fruity noblemen

the middle sister storms off in a hissy fit at some point and randomly runs into the australian backpacker again, who is all like ‘let me show you a variety of comparatively cheap delights and extoll the virtue of being free’

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being free inevitably involves a scooter ride at some point

so the key setpieces for the story are:

the young prince (who looks like he has gone mental at the plastic surgery buffet at age 14 and his face appears to have been carved out of sad clay) takes selena gomez to a polo match and she is awkward and is like OH NO, POLO?

but then the next shot is of her playing a perfectly respectable game of polo, which is fucking confusing

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it turns out after the game that she is a totally proficient horserider, because of coming from texas I guess, but this is neither mentioned in the film beforehand nor made a point of afterward, so you’re left to feel like an idiot for not somehow guessing that this random character about whom all we know is that she really wanted to go to paris during her high school years is actually a dedicated horserider

watching from the sidelines someone is like ‘she plays with spirit but not much technique’ and the heiress’ aunt is all suspicious because usually it’s the other way around

they both politely ignore the fact that even from a distance the girl on the horse is neither selena gomez the heiress or selena gomez the girl next door from texas but selena gomez the vaguely similar looking body double who they are so paranoid about showing up close that she may as well have been

I don’t know, any brunette chick

anyway after the match selena gomez is in the stable and prince fifty-nose-jobs-in-a-row tells her she’s different to how he imagined and he takes her on a walk after the polo match to his favourite rock and they sit on it and he talks about how real she seems, ignoring her discomfort because she is blatantly a fake and keeps losing the accent, and there are fireworks, and it is essentially an advertisement for being tremendously wealthy, because if you are poor you basically can’t show chicks the sort of luxury that they apparently require

meanwhile the older sister gets taken out to a boat party by the count but she is displeased with their snobbery and she starts clearing the plates at their dinner party and he tells her ‘there are people for that’ and she says ‘I know’ and then she fucks off and snivels a bit

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honestly this sister’s entire storyline is about her coming to terms with the fact that the nowhere boyfriend and dead-end life she leads in texas is the best she can expect from the world and she should just scale down her expectations until she’s happy with her steroid-munching douche

who may or may not have a soulpatch, I forget, but he seems like the type

frankly it depressed me and I tried to ignore it because a hollywood movie which yells DON’T GET IDEAS ABOVE YOUR STATION at ladies who haven’t gone to university may be realistic but it’s also patronising and not as uplifting as the writers seem to think

so while the first two sisters are experiencing the highs and lows of hooking up with wealthy dicks, the middle sister appears to have dropped a pill or five because the next eight scenes are all her splashing through fountains and reaching for the lasers on an outdoor dancefloor and necking her aussie bro in waist deep ocean and driving around on a scooter and generally agreeing that life is better when one is free

FREE

she steals him a rose and puts it behind his ear and I genuinely had such a crush on this girl that I think I may have sighed, in my defense we’d been on the plane for 12 hours at this point and it was 6am and we were roughly 800km east of mumbai

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hollywood just played me like a cheap piano with this character

anyway she rolls back to the hotel the next morning with the glow of a lady who has had a 4 hour tonguing in all the right places and then it’s the day of the BIG CHARITY AUCTION

oh at some point in the film the older sister’s hobo boyfriend gets on a plane to track his girlfriend down to apologise or propose or something, anyway he’s circling in

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HI THERE WHATEVER THE FUCK YOUR NAME WAS

and then the heiress shows up at the hotel and there’s a bit of creative hijinks all trying to keep things under wraps, which more or less go to hell when the three sisters forcibly kidnap and beat the shit out of the heiress

just by the way, the heiress is the most undeveloped part of this whole wretched film, it’s selena gomez’s chance to play an over-the-top scathing bitch, and neither the dialogue nor the storyline give her any chance to flex her muscles

for one, she’s always alone, we never see her in company

two, the most she does is snap at people and give them withering looks, it’s left to the cavalcade of bored cameo performers playing french hotel staff to convey that she’s scary by falling all over themselves trying to obey her

I mean why not give her a sidekick who puffs her up and displays weird tendencies of her own? and why not get her character to actually dish out some real punishments to people who get in her way? why is it up to me to suggest these things, monte carlo? you guys are supposed to be professionals

but when the heiress actually gets in their faces and is all like ‘I’m gonna call the police cause you’ve been impersonating me which is actually a crime and I don’t know why I shouldn’t’ they go for her

they really go for her

physical assault, forcing an apple in her mouth, tying her to a chair and then pushing it over backwards, saying ‘don’t mess with texas’ before punching her in the face, that kinda thing

there’s also some minor tension over the fact that the auction is intended to showcase some expensive necklace which one of the sisters has fucked off with by mistake, this part of the plot helps pad the movie out to a just respectable 100 minutes but no-one’s heart is really in it and thankfully the australian backpacker just ambles up with the necklace and puts everyone out of the misery of trying to invest some stakes in this arbitrary plot device

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NO-ONE REALLY CARES

and then the auction happens and midway through it selena blows her lid and confesses to being a fraud

no-one really seems that interested because to be fair she does look pretty similar, and in all likelihood they’re so well trained that when a lady opens her mouth to express an opinion they probably just hear a soft murmur like the distant buzzing of bees, and they more or less continue bidding for her necklace over the top of her

I think the prince is a bit upset because he takes his well-crafted nose and suspiciously symmetrical facial features out of the auction at this point, but it’s hard to tell because when your face has been reduced to a well-buffed plastic glaze the one thing the plastic surgeon cannot give you is the ability to register any kind of emotion

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IF YOU TOUCH IT BITS OF IT WILL BREAK OFF

so the necklace goes for six million euros to some wealthy bitch who turns out to be a good person because £££ and the money goes to build some schools

obscene gratuitous displays of wealth are justified in this film throughout as the means through which schools in kenya and romania get built

beyond that though there is the serious question of whether an auction is really the setpiece you want as your movie’s climactic finale

the answer, if we are to take monte carlo’s feeble fizzle-out as any kind of guide, is not fucking really

instead of making it a charity auction, make it a charity kickboxing match

I know

I KNOW

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the heiress by the way gets free and comes downstairs to have a hissy fit at the police chief saying that she’s been kidnapped, impersonated, beaten, her property has been stolen

the police chief kind of shrugs and says ‘that’s not my problem’ and that’s the resolution to the entire stolen identity plot arc, which is by the way the plot arc upon which the movie hangs

a dude shrugs awkwardly

that basically sums it up

anyway, the hobo takes the older sister home to his trailer and that’s really the end of her life

the middle sister and the australian backpacker just fuck off travelling and the next thing you see is them at macchu picchu screaming together because they’re free

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free

and selena gomez is volunteering at a school in romania (because it woulda been too hard/weird to film her volunteering at a school in kenya) and prince clay-face shows up on a tour to see how the charity money’s being spent and he chases after her while she rides away on a bike but she can’t hear him shouting because there is construction happening so he uses this whistle that she taught him after the polo match when she was teaching him about being real and she stops the bike and they shake hands and the camera zooms in and it is clear that they are going to be nailing each other by the end of the week and neither of them know the first thing about safe sex

the end

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what I’m saying here is:

I could do a better job of this

an 8 year old could do a better job of this

but I could do a better job than the 8 year old

Why I am in Manila in November 2011

Just hit the ground in Manila.


Adriatico Street, Manila. Image from Lonely Planet.

Farewelled London a couple of nights ago and leapt on a plane to the Philippines. My research residency at the Environment Institute of University College London is wrapped up (more on that soon), and now I’m in the red light district of Manila, mourning the disappearance of the Penguin Gallery on Remedios Circle (though apparently there’s a new Penguin on Adriatico street somewhere).

I’m in the Philippines for the next three weeks, working with Melbourne playwrights Sam Burns-Warr, Georgie Macauley and Jordan Prosser and Manila’s inestimable Sipat Lawin Ensemble, working on a new script inspired by Koushon Takami’s Battle Royale, which will be performed in February 2012 by Sipat Lawin in an old prison in Intramuros, the Spanish quarter of Manila.

In the confusing tangle of circumstance and projects that is my life, it’s worth sometimes trying to unravel the threads slightly to see why and how I came to be doing whatever the fuck it is I’m doing this month. In this case, the story starts in 2006, when I first travelled to Manila as Writer-in-Residence for Tanghalang Pilipino, the major government-funded theatre company in the Philippines. Working with artists including the TP Actors Ensemble, playwright Rogelio Braga and directors Tess Jamias and Issa Lopez, I produced several scripts – one of which, To heat you up and cool you down, continued to be performed in Manila after I left.


Isabelle Martinez (Christine) and Nina Rumbines (Onie) in Sipat Lawin’s 2009 production of To heat you up.

In February 2009, I returned to the Philippines to attend a new production of to heat you up (at the now vanished Penguin Gallery) by a company called Sipat Lawin. Chatting with director JK Anicoche, I learned that the company was interested in producing a new work inspired by Battle Royale. As it happened, I had on my computer at that time my proposed notes for a work inspired by the very same book. We agreed that if the opportunity came up, I should come across to the Philippines to work on their production.

The production was due to happen in 2010 and I wasn’t able to get across to Manila at all that year. And then it was likely to happen at the beginning of 2011, and again, I had no free time or money to make the trip. During that period, I was chatting with Melbourne writer/performer/directors The Landlords (aka Sam Burns-Warr and Jordan Prosser) and I suggested that if they ever got the chance, they should head to the Philippines. To my surprise, they were actually completely keen, and began investigating the possibility further.

At that time, JK got in touch to let me know that the performance dates for Battalia Royale had been locked in to February 2012, and to see if I was still keen. I first of all passed it along to Jordan and Sam – who brought in a third playwright, Georgie Macauley – and then doing a little wrangling of my own schedule, realised it might be a possibility for me to get to Manila in between London and Canberra.

And if you can be in Manila to work on a new play inspired by a wildly gory slab of Japanese pulp fiction, you should be in Manila to work on a new play inspired by a wildly gory slab of Japanese pulp fiction. I believed this then, and I believe it still now.

At some point, I think I stopped having any real control over my life. I make stupid, ill-informed, risky plans, and then I find myself in situations having to carry out what I promised. And it just keeps going and it shows no sign of letting up. And while this is a serious problem and continually puts me in  bizarre and terrifying circumstances, when I walk through Malate on a hot afternoon and see a sign for a club called MR WOMAN which promises ‘life music’ and ‘free entry for those wearing hat’, I feel like it’s all justified and it’s all going to be okay.

So: here we fucking go.

Birthday wishes

I’ve said before, and I think it’s true, that one of the loveliest things about my early years in theatre was that we were so free of older influences. In the early years of the 2000s, when Bohemian Productions, Opiate Productions, BKu and other affiliated companies were at their height, we hired theatres and produced shows with virtually no oversight or involvement from older practitioners or companies. That was a wonderful bubble to exist in, because while it meant that we made a lot of mistakes and reinvented the wheel several thousand times, it also left us free to experiment and form our own aesthetic, in relation to no-one but ourselves.

However, this too-neat description isn’t entirely true. We didn’t create totally in a vacuum, and if we were left to our own devices, it’s at least partly because there were people with the keys to theatres who had the vision and courage to hand their theatre keys over to a bunch of manic 18-year olds and look the other way. One of these people was Jan Wawrzynczak.

At this point in my life (twenty-fucking-eight, man), there are a few important people in the world who have mentored and supported me. Nicole Canham, Brenna Hobson, Paschal Berry, Sylvie Stern, lots of others… but especially, Jan Wawrzynczak.

In 2006, I was vacuuming the living room when I got a call from Jan, more or less out of the blue. Jan had been General Manager of Canberra Youth Theatre when I used to hire CYT’s C-Block Theatre. He was now working at Belconnen Theatre, and Max Barker and I had been in the space a few times trying out contact improvisation and some physical theatre skills. We’d crossed paths occasionally, but we didn’t know each other well. Anyway, on the phone, Jan told me that he had some admin work he needed doing at Belconnen, and would I like to work for him for a few hours a week?

It turned out I was not a good admin assistant, and I understand that I caused Jan more work than I saved him. However, sitting in his office and talking about the ACT theatre scene, and what we felt was missing and what we could provide. Out of that came the WET Season, a program of 10 new productions at Belconnen over 2007 which I programmed and which Jan and I produced. On the heels of that, we jointly applied for and received funding for a follow-up season, 2008’s Hunting Season.

Midway through 2008, Jan was hit by a car while riding his motorcycle. Several months later, he passed away. Boho was on tour performing A Prisoner’s Dilemma at the Brisbane Festival, and we got the news about fifteen minutes before going on stage. It was a strange show.

There’s a lot to be said about Jan, about the work he did across the course of a pretty incredible arts career, about his passion and generosity, about his achievements and his dedication, and about his contribution to the Canberra performing arts scene. Selfishly, I’m restricting myself – in this post at least – to talking about his impact on me.

That phone call in 2006 was the thing that lifted me out of my own bubble of theatre-making, and connected me to a wider scene – to the rest of the artsworld. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have happened otherwise, in some way, but for me when I think of my journey into becoming a practitioner who is part of the bigger community, I think of Jan as that link. He picked me out.

Jan taught me how to make a project budget in excel. He taught me how to use Google like a businessman and not like a chump. He taught me how to structure a working day when you are not a 9-5 kind of human being. He taught me to give a shit about artists making the kind of art that doesn’t, and never will, appeal to you, because it feeds the scene you’re a part of.

Jan played me Nighthawking by Tim Buckley and I listen to that song every couple of weeks at least and I think of sitting in his office listening to records and making plans.

Jan taught me how to handle people of lots of different temperaments in big group projects, and when to be worried about what other people think and when it doesn’t matter a damn. He knew what to say to people who were feeling confused and unsure and down, though he didn’t teach me that. So often these days I run into complicated problems and with no idea how to proceed I think to myself ‘Jan’d know’. And text him, usually.

Jan sat in on the early Boho Interactive rehearsals for A Prisoner’s Dilemma, and gave us some really valuable feedback on our very first fumbling experiments with interactive performance. Some of his advice has gone into Boho’s toolkit as part of the basis for all our performance work since then.

Jan had a vision for our collaboration. We started out producing the W.E.T. Season in 2007 (WET stands for Wave Edge Theory – Jan’s image for the experimental theatre fringe), then built on that with the Hunting Season in 2008. The culmination of this series would be a program called the Ice Age.

It’s Jan’s birthday today. Jan, IOU you one Ice Age. Expect it around March 2013.


in all seriousness, what is going on in this photo? reasons why I should not have a camera, ever.