Portrait

Catching up with 'That Movie Guy'. By Chris Flynn.

Author and film critic Marc Fennell

Nerves are beginning to fray outside the Playhouse on Newcastle’s Hunter Street. The whereabouts of a key performer are unknown. No one has heard from him. He has not responded to emails. With another of the main players absent with a migraine, the evening’s five scheduled speakers are threatening to become three.

I know exactly where he is. He posted a selfie on Instagram not two hours earlier. In the photograph, Marc Fennell grimaces apologetically, clutching his laptop under Popeye-esque forearms. He is on a train. The window behind him has been tagged by someone determined enough to spend half an hour scratching the letters RAKM into the polycarbonate glass. The caption reads, “Look at this right wanker heading to Newcastle ... Ugh. This guy. The worst.”

Fennell now sits on the edge of a table in the green room of the theatre, wearing a bemused expression and a horizontally striped T-shirt that appears to be square rather than rectangular. As the maxim goes, he is shorter in person than he is on television, but makes up for it in muscle mass. Fennell is ripped. I knew he was a fan of the gymnasium from his Instagram feed, but this is ridiculous. His arms are twice the circumference of my own, and his barrel chest would be the envy of any 18th-century sea captain.

He orders a gin and tonic and scrolls through a Hollywood Reporter article on his iPhone. It is an older model, and the screen is so badly cracked it looks as though it has stopped a bullet. He is frowning and shaking his head at the piece, on the fabricated Hello! magazine George Clooney interview.

“I don’t understand how magazines work,” he says. “We could never get away with this on TV, nor would we want to.”

Knowing that he adored the film 10 Cloverfield Lane, I ask if he has read about the Thai promotional poster, which reveals the twist. He instantly becomes animated. Movies are his wheelhouse and like any film buff, he is obsessed with trivia.

“Lately, I’ve been double-screening when I’m on Netflix, usually around 4am.”

Unfamiliar with the term, I assume he means watching two films at once.

“No, I have my laptop open to find out more about the movie while I’m watching it on the big screen.”

I am guilty of this myself, on a smaller scale, looking up familiar actors to see what else they have been in, or to consult the “Did You Know?” section on IMDb, so I can show off.

Fennell is an IMDb all his own. He was 17 when he won the inaugural AFI young film critics competition in 2002, and since then has become a familiar presence on radio and television, his confident, naturalistic onscreen delivery in stark contrast with his frenetic, whirling humour on Triple J and in person. He has also penned two very funny books – Planet According to the Movies and That Movie Book. He is probably best known as the main presenter on SBS2’s The Feed, where his swanky fashion choices have spawned their own hashtag – #MarcFennellOutfits.

Having extinguished the multitude of choices on streaming services, Fennell has recently resorted to seeking out very obscure, usually unauthorised Asian sequels to Hollywood hits.

“Have you seen Lady Terminator?” he says at one point. “It’s unreal.”

Fennell speaks so fast and incorporates so many jokes into his speech that I can barely keep up. From what I can gather, Lady Terminator is a 1989 Indonesian horror action film that involves an islander queen who has a snake living in her vagina, which bites off the quivering members of any suitors foolish enough to attempt a consummation of the relationship. Also, something about a stolen magic dagger. It has a respectable 50 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, or, to employ Fennell’s own catchphrase, is “a solid three-and-a-half stars”.

Fennell’s appearances in social media photos over the course of a Newcastle weekend carry a common theme. In each, he is working, editing an interview he has conducted with Jon Favreau, the director of Iron Man and the new version of The Jungle Book. The interview, when it airs that Monday, is a slick and entertaining package, belying the fact it was cut together on the fly, in cafes and a hotel room.

In the weekend’s last image, posted on Fennell’s own Instagram feed, he is back on the train to Sydney. His laptop is open on a complex Adobe Premiere screen. A blur of palm trees can be seen out of the carriage window. The sun is going down, behind distant, anonymous mountains.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 9, 2016 as "Fennell vision". Subscribe here.

Chris Flynn
is an author. His most recent novel is The Glass Kingdom.

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