Stu’s First Film Review: The Best Movie of the Decade…and Birdman

This blog has never featured a movie review.

Well, I’m about to write two. Why have a blog at all if you can’t indulge in the things you secretly think you’ve always been a bit awesome at? I have always thought I’d be an awesome film reviewer, maybe we all do. But I especially have thought I possess superior gifts of film analysis. Which is strange because I don’t actually see a lot of films. I’m not a guy who goes and catches the latest Scandy dramas or art house classics, or even the dodgy blockbusters. Hell, I haven’t even seen Casablanca or any of the Godfathers. So I might actually be a cruddy reviewer cos I can’t contextualise … But who cares. My blog.

So I’m writing this in a place where I do in fact watch most of my movies. On board a plane. And just now I have watched the best movie I’ve seen in a decade. And then I watched Birdman.

The best movie I’ve seen in a decade (probably longer) is called Ex Machina. It’s written and directed by a bloke I’ve never heard of (Alex Garland) and stars absolutely no one. Well that’s not true. It stars actors, not stars.

And it’s absolutely f***ing brilliant. I seriously can’t put it any other way – and I know by being sweary I will be in trouble with my wife and my kids will snigger but this movie deserves the ultimate approbation. A simple premise about artificial intelligence, an almost paralysingly brilliant script and the most magnificently tense anxiety-inducing direction. This is a film that restores your belief in film. I’ve no idea if it has won or will win any awards. But it wins Stuey Gregor’s film of the decade, and that’s good enough for me. See it.

And then I watched Birdman. Birdman has won lots of awards yet has split those I know including my wife and bestie Polly who both loathed it, calling it self indulgent baloney, or words to that effect. I see where they are coming from.

Birdman is Hollywood doing quirk at its highest level. The directing and production are pretty bloody stunning granted and yet… And yet… It just doesn’t ring true. Sure, they’re trying to say something about celebrity, but they do it in such a magnificently Hollywood way the whole thing is laced in its own self-induced and self-involved irony. And shit I hate monologues. Who ever speaks like that? Who speaks like Emma Stone spoke to her dad? Who deliveries soliloquies like the Birdman did way too many times? I know it’s a fantasy but it’s also a bit bloody rubbish. Writing great words is one thing, writing great dialogue another thing entirely. And just as an aside, it’s not easy for me to pan a film with both Naomi Watts AND Emma Stone in it….

But Birdman isn’t all bad I reckon. People much smarter and more learned than me in the craft of film thought it brilliant. But in my mind it was show-offy and hyper produced. Put simply, it’s no Ex Machina. And I bet that’s not been said on the movie pages before.

Ex Machina. 5 stars

Birdman. 3.5 stars

What does Real Strength mean for a modern Aussie man? This is what I (Stu) reckon.

Stu emceed the launch of Dove Men's #RealStrength campaign, which featured five of the Qantas Wallabies sharing their thoughts on feelings, fear and fatherhood.

Stu emceed the launch of Dove Men+Care’s latest campaign, which featured five of the Qantas Wallabies sharing their thoughts on feelings, fear and fatherhood.

I wouldn’t normally blur the lines between my personal blog and work stuff but Liquid Ideas has been working on a campaign for Dove Men+Care that has actually stirred me. Apart from the TV ads making me cry, it has really got me thinking about what it means, what it takes, to be a real man in today’s society. We all hear a lot about women’s place in society and its need for (r)evolution but too often we blokes just get on with it, don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to be seen as “soft”.

Well as I’ve grown older I‘ve become less concerned about what people think of me – to be honest, I think I revel in contradictions and challenging stereotypes, but I think we need a conversation. So here I go and (blatant client plug coming) go to YouTube and type in “Dove Men care” and if a couple of those videos don’t resonate (and make you cry) well you’re a harder nut than me.

The other day I was on a Qantas flight and we had only one of those screens to watch telly on (my God how OLD school) and I really didn’t want to do any work (not rare) so I tuned in…

After the obligatory Sky News (with all reference to airborne tragedies expunged, naturally), there was a nice looking lady introducing what looked like an Aussie documentary series where two people talk of their special relationship. Think of it as a televisual version of the excellent Two of Us column in the Good Weekend.

The lady then introduced frock designer Alex Perry and his Creative Director Trevor Stones as “not your stereotypical Australian male partnership.”

And I wondered, what the hell did she mean? Two blokes, who’ve known each other a long time, who clearly have a great respect for each other and care for each other, two smart blokes taking an Aussie brand to the world . . . so what was ‘un-stereotypical’ about it? I was quite surprised by my own reaction to the introduction. I was actually, truly a bit pissed off.

Was it because they made frocks and styled photo shoots? Was that ‘un-manly’? Was it because fashion is a bit ‘gay’ and Aussie blokes are ‘straight’? Was it because two Aussie blokes shouldn’t tell each other and the world how much they trust each other and care about each other and how much they value the others’ directness, kindness and honesty?

What was the ‘stereotype’ to which she was referring? Was she thinking a more typical intro might be ‘Here are Des and Graham, two Aussie builders who went to school together, drink beer together on a Friday and support the same footy team. Des and Graham are two typical Aussie blokes…’ It’s rubbish, it’s bullshit and it’s so thoroughly outdated it makes me mad even referencing it. Surely our modern day Australian society recognises there is more to being a man than muscles and a love of sport?

I’m an Aussie male who fulfills a few stereotypes and challenges many.  A bloke who works in a ‘lightweight/unmanly’ industry like public relations yet is a vocal footy and cricket fan. I have gay friends and work colleagues – I have straight ones, conservative ones and ones who are batshit, mad hippies. Which makes me just like most other blokes I know.

I have just a few close mates (in fact maybe two) with whom I’d confide my closest held fears and I know that’s several fewer than most of my female counterparts – and I’ll be honest, I wish I had more.

I’m not a great communicator about my feelings and I probably always think things can be sorted out over a few beers and a laugh. But I know that’s a bit old-school and it’s something I’m trying to change. I am the father of a son who is eight, who liked to wear dresses as a kid but who now obsesses about cricket and rugby; an eight year old who freely admitted to me the other night that he’s still a bit afraid of the dark. I know his favourite uncle is gay Uncle Glenby, who is as flamboyant as a drag queen but who also defies stereotypes. Mardi Gras stalwart, tick. Racehorse owner, tick. Mad golf buff, tick.

I love my son. Not more than my father loved me, but different. I hug him and tell him how much I care about him all the time and I’ve cried in front of him on many occasions, including watching those damn Dove ads. I warn him never to judge, always to be kind and caring, and to accept everyone on face value. I reckon that’s the true measure of a man – being comfortable with who you are and how you feel, no matter if it’s the ‘norm’ or not.

Male stereotypes, whatever they are, are AWFUL. If you make one young man uncomfortable in his skin, make him feel “weird” or worse, unloved, then we have failed.

We blokes are all full of contradiction and confusion, and we don’t deserve to be told we don’t fit the ‘bill’. If we can move away from these confining, stereotypical ideas of what a ‘real man’ is, then we’ll be creating a better place for our kids to grow up. And we’ll be creating a better place for ourselves too.

Each to their own my friends. Each to their own.

To support the Dove Men+Care initiative, share your thoughts on today’s modern man using the hashtag #RealStrength on Twitter or Instagram. And be sure to check out the Dove Men+Care #RealStrength podcast series, the first of which features Wallabies and Waratahs rugby coach Michael Cheika: