Thursday, 8 March 2018

From the Video Vault: "Master of the World" (1961)

Lowly studio American International Pictures produced this campy steampunk delight. Seven years after Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea", this is Captain Nemo in the air. The film adapts two novels by Jules Verne, "Robur the Conqueror" and "Master of the World". Vincent Price is perfect as Robur, captain, world idealist and creator of the "Albatross", part zeppelin - part helicopter, zipping around the world at 150 mph with his message of peace, well sort of. Robur's airship is decorated a la Nemo (albeit on a smaller budget). I love the coffin-shaped cabin doors, though.

Hayao Mijazaki must have been influenced by Verne's vision (the airship in "Laputa Castle in the Sky").
"Master of the World" Courtesy YouTube

Courtesy Studio Ghibli

Charles Bronson is the unlikely hero of the piece. Vito Scotti, the unnecessary comic-relief as the chef on the "Albatross". Veteran actor, Henry Hull ("Werewolves of London", "Lifeboat"), plays Prudent, an annoying old fart. Screenplay is by horror/sci fi supremo, Richard Matheson.

You can see the film's limited budget by the use of stock footage. This was AIP's most expensive production to date, though. Considering it was around one-tenth of the budget of Disney's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea", Critic Leonard Maltin described the film as "very well done".

Vincent Price was to continue with AIP in Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe-inspired horror flicks in the 1960's. He'd already hit pay dirt with "The House of Usher".

Random observations:

  • Early scene with doings in the volcano reminded me of vintage Bond "You Only Live Twice"(1967).
  • Daniel Haller's art direction - vivid colours used with ship interiors - see later Roger Corman 60's horror.
  • Sumptuous Les Baxter musical score, punching above his weight. Another AIP regular.
  • What's the go with the bare-chested bosuns while everybody else is dressed like a gondolier or in a three-piece suit?
  • The ending is surprisingly poignant.
Catch "Master of the World" on YouTube, although it is missing at least 5 mins of original theatrical running time.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Booking Russian trains - avoid the middle man - go direct with Russian Railways (RZD), price comparison

If you google "Russian Trains" you are going to get a third party company, It is a slick, user-friendly website but you will be royally ripped-off. You will also be paying more than double the price. They even add "Taxes" to the ticket price. The only advantage is you can book for longer than 60 days in advance.

Book directly with the official website for the state-owned Russian Railways (RZD):

  • It accepts different web browsers.
  • Click Registration to make an account (easy to do). Your future bookings will be stored under "My Orders" if you lose the printed tickets.
  • When you get to the passenger info section, click "Foreign Document" not "International Passport" before you put your passport number.
  • You can choose seats, forward pacing seats, proximity to toilets/luggage storage/power plugs/dining.
  • When you get to Pay section, choose left hand option NOT right hand (yellow Yandex option). Left button takes you to credit card payment. Pay with Visa/MasterCard (it didn't like my AMEX because it had a 4 digit CVV).
  • Once payment is successful, you get PDF tickets to print out to take to the station. 
Main page RZD - Passengers

"Allegro" high speed train St-Petersberg to Helsinki
Once you have chosen date and time of day, the page drops down for car and seat selection.


For the same journey time, same class, same seats, same train, high speed "Sapsan"
Moscow - St Petersberg:
Russiantrains - 4722 ruble  ($AUD107, $US83)
Russian Railways - 2000 ruble  ($AUD45, $US35)

St Petersberg - Helsinki "Allegro":
Russiantrains - 11901 rubles ($AUD269, $US208, 169 euros)
Russian Railways - 5488 rubles ($AUD124, $US96, 78 euros)

Ticket prices vary greatly according to seasons. Travelling on the weekend we booked St Petersberg - Helsinki for 2034 rubles (29 euros).
It is the same price if you book online with Finnish Railways ( but no seat selection is possible.

Background: My wife and I are retired. This will be our first trip to Russia. We are English speaking and hardly computer-savvy.

Another useful website for Russian newbies: (also invaluable for Australians and New Zealanders applying for a Russian visa).

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Britrail Passes are a rip-off. Save $100's by booking online direct

My wife and I were going to buy Britrail passes from a third-party (the only way non-UK citizens can buy them). A flexible 8 day pass (Senior, Standard Class) was going to be $539 AUD each.
We had our itinerary worked out, so we decided to try booking individual journeys online.
NationalRail website
Choose your time and fare

  • Go to  
  • You can book up to 12 weeks in advance.
  • You can get an overview of the cheapest tickets possible. 
  • After you select the cheapest, you will be redirected to the local rail company's booking website (e.g. Virgin Trains, CrossCountry Trains)
  • Prices can be as low as 5 pounds (e.g. Inverness to Edinburgh). Sometimes First Class is the same price.
  • When you choose your journey, you can select seats as well. You are emailed a booking reference number with your itinerary. You simply take this number, as well as the credit card you used to pay for the trip to a ticket machine at the station. 
Tallying up the 9 journeys around England and Scotland, we saved over $400 by booking directly. 
The train guru website: has a similar topic.
Plan ahead and save heaps. Avoid Travel Agents.

Another tip. Accommodation on a Saturday night can be ridiculously expensive. Either travel on a night sleeper or check out B&B's for a fraction of the price.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

White Night, Melbourne 2018

More consistent than previous years. No 'dead areas'. More performers. Excellent crowd control. 
Tip to avoid the crowds and the queuing: 
Arrive in the early hours of the morning. Trains and trams run all night. 
We arrived at 3:40 a.m. (from Parliament Station - closest to Exhibition Building) then headed south on Swanston Street, finishing at N.G.V. and Alexandra Gardens, leaving on 7:00 a.m. train from Flinders Street.
Town Hall, with opera performance from balcony

National Gallery of Victoria

"The Secret Life of Books" projections inside Reading Room, State Library

Retro projections, Forum Theatre

State Library

Friday, 16 February 2018

"Vicious Circle" Joe Pickett #17 by C. J. Box - review

The immensely enjoyable crime-fiction series about the Wyoming Game Warden has not run out of puff after seventeen books. The latest instalment is one of C. J. Box's best.

Published 2017, 367 pages
Missy Vankueren, the mother-in-law from Hell is back. Retired assassin and master falconer, Nate Romanowski, returns half way through the book. Joe's knack of attracting trouble is an understatement in "Vicious Circle" - there's a plethora of varmints and villains.
Whether you are a first time visitor to Saddlestring, Wyoming or a regular, you will enjoy this read.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

"The Shadow District" A Reykjavik Wartime Mystery by Arnaldur Indridason

Book 1 published 2017
You know what to expect with an Indridason thriller. Recurring themes are: secrets, guilt, loneliness, social class, old age, the past meeting the present, folklore and the power of the Icelandic landscape.

This new series introduces the 1940's detective, Flovent, part of the city's fledgling C.I.D. and Thorson, a liaison officer for the occupying U.S. forces and the Icelandic police.
Flovent has a fascinating backstory comprising an abusive father, dodgy seances and a spell in Edinburgh studying criminology. Thorson is a loner and closet homosexual with a passionate sense of  honour and justice. Flovent seems to be an ongoing character. I do hope we return to Thorson in later books. This character is as rich as the aging detective Erlendur (from previous novels).

"The Shadow District" is cleverly structured. Present day (retired) detective Konrad investigates an old crime - a young woman is found strangled in 1944 (prior to Iceland's independence).
Past melds with present as both Thorson and Konrad carry out parallel investigations 70 years apart. A simple murder in a shady part of Reykjavik escalates into a tangled tale of rape, sexual mores, misfits, superstition, political intrigue and family secrets.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

National Gallery of Victoria Triennial 2018

Guo Pei's cathedral-inspired gowns "White Goddess"

"Luminous Spirit"
"Manga Chairs" designed by Oki Sato

"Eternity-Buddha in Nirvana" by Xu Zhen

Yamagami Yukihiro’s installation "Shinjuku calling" Meticulously drawn in pencil, superimposed with moving image.

Ron Mueck's "Mass" Over 100 giant skulls hidden away on Level 3 amongst the European Masters Collection.
Melbourne's NGV free-entry blockbuster finishes April 15, 2018. Allow yourself at least 3 hours if you want to take in Virtual Reality installation and cinematic productions ("Incoming" and "Wilson Must Go").

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Queensland's cheap public transport - Go Card Senior

It even comes with a card wallet and instruction leaflet

Our Senior Go Cards just arrived in the mail. Couldn't have easier.
My wife and I are living in Melbourne, Victoria. We plan to use public transport in Brisbane when we visit next month. We applied online, citing our Victorian Seniors Card numbers. The system in Sydney is more complicated and your Opal Card (Senior) only last 2 months for interstate visitors.
The card is free (you pay $10, but the $5 deposit is refundable and the card comes with $5 of pre-stored value).
You can use the card for 50% off travel on trains, buses, light rail (new Gold Coast link) and Brisbane River ferries/Citycats. If you travel off-peak ( between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., after 7 p.m. on weekdays and all on weekends) it is a further 20% discount.
You can use the card in Queensland tourist areas (Sunshine Coast and Cairns). Once you get your card (posted to any state or territory in Australia within 10 business days,) you can register online for auto top-ups. Validity of the Go Card Senior is 10 years. Queensland is certainly tourist-friendly.

Go to
Comfortable train journey to Brisbane from Varsity Lakes (closest station to Gold Coast Airport). Easy bus transfer from airport (Route 760).

City Cat ferry - great way to explore Brisbane 
You can travel to all stops on the Brisbane River for around $1.30 (round trip, if you stay on board). The red "City Hopper" ferry (limited stops) is a free service.
City Cat interior