Friday, 28 June 2013

Weird photo collections - manhole covers in Japan

Travelling around the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, Japan we were bowled over by these beautiful drain covers in city streets. These beautiful designs feature motifs or stories from each city. Photos from Kobe, Tokyo, Nagoya, Takayama, Kyoto, Okayama, Nagasaki and Kamakura. Trust the Japanese to put beauty into even sewerage covers.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

"King Kong" The Musical Melbourne World Premiere, review

Picture Source: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Unique, groundbreaking, overblown, a mishmash of styles, poignant, ambitious - all of the above. The sheer scale of the production means that Australians will only see this in Melbourne. Who knows whether it will play in Broadway or London. This is no traditional musical comedy. Sometimes you think you are watching a hi tech rock concert spectacular - the incredible mega screens and projections.
It's like Baz Luhrmann has hijacked the proceedings. But for 95% of the time, it works. There are some mind blowing scenes that you won't forget in a hurry. "Full Moon Lullaby" is the standout song. "Rise" sung by the urban prophet of doom (Queenie Van De Zandt) is also good. The first song with its references to the iconic N.Y. skyscaper construction workers photograph (see below) and the German cult film "Metropolis".
The 30's chorus girls motif is overused but this is a minor quibble. Sound (I bet the guests next door at The Westin can hear the performance, especially the BOOMS), lighting, eclectic score, sets, myriad costumes, vocal talent -  all top shelf. Where has Esther Hannaford been? She was Tracy's best friend in "Hairspray". Now the leading lady, Esther Hannaford is a star as AnneDarrow. Her interplay with Kong is compelling.
This is state of the art musical theatre. In two and a half hours you are in midtown New York, on board ship, on Skull Island, backstage, atop the Empire State Building.

Oh.... not forgetting the simian star, Kong. The band of 13 puppeteers got one of the biggest rounds of applause on curtain call. The facial expressions on the mammoth (6 metre tall) beast are incredible. The 15 metre serpent fighting Kong will knock your socks off. The trippy mega screens, undulating stage, creepy Skull Island denizens (crawling from the ceiling), techno music made me think I was at a rave party. This is a new breed of musical theatre.
So many things could have gone wrong - all the cables, moving stages, electronics, hydraulics - this is only a month into its run - everything was flawless.
The clincher is premiering in The Regent, Melbourne's most opulent (1929) picture palace.

A little question: bit surprised about the muted applause after each song, during some of the matinee performance. Was it too loud for the old dears?
Seating tip: get a seat in the centre (to appreciate the trippy projections and screen effects), not too close (we sat 7 rows from the front in the Stalls). Perfect, but first 15 rows in the centre would be good. The Dress Circle balcony starts way back in the auditorium. Last 10 rows of Stalls, beware (the overhang means your view of the top part of stage is obstructed). Google seating plan of The Regent.

"When artisans were real men" Source:Slideshare

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Best shows on television in 2013? "Les Revenants" ("The Returned") & "In The Flesh" BBC

One's French! One's English. Both about the undead.
"Les Revenants" ("The Returned"), originally shown in late 2012 on Canal +. Now we get the English (well subtitled) version in 8 parts on Channel 4. It's so good, I'm gobsmacked - makes "Top of the Lake" look like "Home and Away". Beautifully filmed, intricately structured and creepy as Hell. Less is more. Only seen two eps so far.
I will not give anything away. This is no zombie opus. A teenager is scary and unpredictable, so what would a dead teenager be like? Relationships, rather than horror, is the focus here.
Watching the opening titles should be enough to confirm that this is television drama as good as you get.
Watched the final episode. It posed more questions than it answered. After 8 episodes I felt a bit cheated. Have to wait until next year for Series 2.

On the other hand....
The BBC's excellent zombies (or should I say "PDS persons - Partially Deceased Syndrome") mini-series "In the Flesh" was an economical three parter. Highly recommended. Intelligent, poignant and beautifully produced. It deserves to be repeated. Streets ahead of US cable's "The Walking Dead".

Friday, 21 June 2013

"Hannibal" NBC Episode 13 Series 1 final "Savoureux" review, spoilers

Don't expect fast moving action in this series final. This is a mood piece. The beautifully executed final scene between Will and Hannibal (with Mads Mikkelsen's glimmer of a smile). He knows that he knows. And he knows that he knows....
Dr Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) certainly knows heaps about Lecter's past.
No graphic violence, apart from a regurgitated ear in Will's kitchen sink. Toward the end, Will sees Hannibal as the darkly demonic deer creature he has been dreaming of throughout this series - the realisation of who and what Lecter is. Now you realise what Lecter was doing with Will's fishing lures in an early episode.
I suppose some viewers might be getting a bit toey (restless) - waiting for a confrontation. But I think the tension is delicious - as delicious as Hannibal's weekly gourmet treats.
Series 2 must feature the missing Abigail (Kacey Rohl).

Thursday, 20 June 2013

It's winter and the ocean is warm - northern beaches, New South Wales, Australia

Byron Bay late June
Just travelled from Sunshine Coast down to Sydney. It's one third into winter and the ocean temperature is 20-21 degrees C. Same story wherever you swim - Gold Coast, Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay, Port Macquarie or as far south as Port Stephens - it's like a bath. The combination between warm ocean temperatures and cooler air temperatures is making the waves bigger too.
In the early morning, as you approach the water's edge you feel a faint warm draught from the ocean mass - spooky. Daytime maximum temperatures in these places: 19-21 degrees C, compared to 12-16 degrees C in Melbourne. Brrrr!

No wetsuit needed. My wetsuit had a lovely holiday in my suitcase, all the way from Melbourne.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

"Hannibal" NBC Series 1, Episode 12 "Releves" review

This penultimate episode started with a horrific incineration scene. The comb of death reminded me of the comb the queen/witch/pedlar gives to Snow White in the longer version of the fairy tale.
This series has featured some stunningly conceived set pieces – Will’s surreal dream sequences are highlights. Lots of morphing and weirdly moving/speaking humans(David Lynch “Twin Peaks” territory).
Will (Hugh Dancy) has made the big link between all the copycat killings. But will he be believed? Who was the patient swallowing his tongue with Dr Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson)?  She definitely knows more about Hannibal than anyone else – apart from Abigail, but I don’t think Abigail is long for this world , from watching the final scene.
Jack (Laurence Fishburne) confiding in Hannibal, telling him his latest theories makes for delicious viewing. No, there were no extravagant dinner party scenes this week, except for Chef Lecter brewing up some exotic, but medicinal chicken soup for the disturbed Will.
Gillian Anderson is much in demand on telly at the moment. She seems to have the sexy, but knowing ice queen down pat, if you have seen BBC’s “The Fall” series. Note the lush greenery feature wall in the female psychiatrist’s office (similar to Hannibal’s dining room).  A link or just the style of the set designer?
Liked it when she tells her patient, Lecter, that he needs to “maintain the boundaries”.  Just when you think the FBI is getting closer to cracking the case, the cool, unflappable Hannibal is one step ahead, playing his trump card: Poor Will. Perhaps not that poor – he can afford Business Class seats for 2 (his misguided jaunt with Abigail).

Looking forward to final episode of Series 1.  

Sunday, 16 June 2013

How to get max page views on your blog (I jest)

I reviewed the "Da Vinci's Demons" episode, the one with the well-endowed chap in the Renaissance-styled sauna. Should have seen the page views, top stats for the month.  I didn't insert an image or video clip (paranoid about copyright infringements). Anyway, big dongers are a hit.
It seems the posts you spend a lot of time on often have the least page views. I should tag "dicks" more often. Perhaps I'll try boobs and bums next.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Port Stephens, Australia - let's keep this place a secret

Port Stephens is about 2.5 hour drive north from Sydney. It seems to be a secret only the locals know about.  People from New South Wales holiday there, but few interstate or overseas tourists. 
Fishing, whale watching (winter), surfing, bushwalking though national parks and rugged coastal scenery, dolphin watching (year round).  Just walking around a local track 5 minutes from our accommodation, we saw a dolphin dart out of the water. 
Quiet harbours and inlets, clear water, powder white sand, stunning sunrises, picturesque headlands, bushland, native birds galore.  A surprising lack of litter (unlike many resorts, especially Asia – the curse of the plastic bags and bottles).

As Dale Kernigan from “The Castle” would say, “How’s the serenity?”

The battle of the i-pod playlists

On a road trip at the moment, travelling from Melbourne, north to Sunshine Coast, around 4000 km round trip.  It is the battle of the i-pod playlists in the car.
My wife’s playlist is a lot broader than mine and a lot more hard core:
The Beat, House of Pain, Cypress Hill, Sex Pistols, Stranglers, Joy Division, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Models, Hunters And Collectors, The Clash, Ian Dury, Roxy Music, UB 40, Simple Minds, Echo and the Bunnymen,  The Smiths, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Nick Cave, Butthole Surfers, Wall of Voodoo, Nina Hagen, Malcolm McLaren, The Cure,  Souxie and the Banshees , Rammstein - mainly 70’s and 80’s alternative (like being stuck in a John Hughes movie),  with a smattering of 90’s and newer stuff.  Some opera, “Ride of the Valkeries” and “Madam Butterfly” is in the mix too.

My playlist sounds very gay in comparison – some musical soundtracks (mainly Sondheim), Pet Shop Boys, The Presets, Scritti Politti, Heaven 17, New Order, Culture Club (“Time”), Mental As Anything (“Berserk Warriors”), EMF (“Unbelievable”) Hurts, Blur, Kate Bush, The Police,

We have some overlaps:
U.K. Squeeze “Kool  for Kats”, Lou Reed “Walk on the Wild Side”, New Order “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “World in Motion”, The Clash “Rock the Casbah”, The Church “Under the Milky Way”, Amy Whitehouse “Back in Black”, Violent Femmes  “Blister in the Sun”, Duran Duran “Planet Earth”, The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony"

Anyway, it made the kilometres pass.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Best thing on television this week - Adam Hills

Wonderful bit of telly on last week's "Adam Hills Tonight" (ABC1).
Adam recited Banjo Paterson's "The Man from Ironbark" while his wife, opera soprano, Ali McGregor sang The Church's "Under the Milky Way". Sent shivers up your shine. Two classics combined. Banjo would have approved.
After this stunning performance, the self-deprecating Hills passed it off as a bit of nothing he and his partner did in their spare time. No wonder the poms love him.
It's probably on You Tube now, or it should be.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

"Hannibal" NBC Series 1, Episode 11 "Roti" review

It is novel to find a lead character in a prime time show who is truly disturbed. Will is the real deal. As usual, the show serves up some stunning images - glaciers, tidal waves and the corpse totem. Let's not forget Will's 'wet dream'. Use of colour is powerful - wintry greys and white contrasted with deep greens and blood red.

The scene on the operating table ("Ms Lounds will be assisting") combined the gruesome with the comic - shades of the 1985 cult movie "Re-Animator". Nice to see Dr Gideon (Eddie Izzard) back (Bryan Fuller worked with Izzard in the "Mockingbird Lane" pilot). "Hannibal" raises the issue of the power of psychiatrists    can wield with their patients.
Check out the thriller cliche - the killer waiting in the car's rear seat - nice switcheroo - this time the killer is in the front seat.
The final scene with Gillian Anderson as Hannibal's savvy shrink was good value.

Friday, 7 June 2013

"Da Vinci's Demons" Series 1 final, Episode 8 "The Lovers" review

A ripper cliffhanger!
Loads of tension builds up as the Medici family prepare for Holy Communion. Showdown in the cathedral, blood-daubed priests, poisonous wafers, the lovely Vanessa carries on the Giuliano's name, Lucrezia earns her stripes and Leo saves the day for Lorenzo and Florence.
Nice to see mascara-boy back - cool flashback reuniting the Sons of Mithras in Constantinople. Nice astrolabe, dude.
I was looking forward to seeing the three amigos (Leo, Zor and Nico) sail off on their New World adventures.  Singing, "We're off on the road to El Dorado"??? Perhaps Series 2.

This series has benefitted from some very complex characters - like Dragonetti and Lucrezia.
A shame Joel Grey/Roman Polanski lookalike Pazzi escaped at the end. Glad Riario (Fab shades, by the way) can be evil in the next season.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Movies you can see again .... and again

I normally watch a movie once, never wishing to repeat the experience. But there are a few special films that are worth revisiting. Some are classics, some just damn good entertainment. I am ignoring cult movies like the overrated "Rocky Horror Picture Show".
Here's my list. I could probably add more musicals but I will restrain myself....

  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Gypsy (1962)
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)
  • Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
  • Tootsie (1982) It has to have the best cast ever assembled for a comedy (let's not talk about Kramer's misfire, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World)
  • Goldfinger (1964)
  • M*A*S*H (1970)
  • Bring It On (2000)
  • any film from the Austin Powers trilogy (just scratch Fat Bastard - unfunny)
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) - if my tearducts are up to it
  • You Only Live Twice" (1967) - yes, I am a Bond tragic
  • The French Connection (1971)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • All about Eve (1950)
  • The African Queen (1952)
  • Young Frankenstein (1975)
  • Blazing Saddles (1974)
  • My Favourite Year (1982) - Loosely based on '50s live TV comedy show "Your Show of Shows", featuring Peter O'Toole as boozy Errol Flynn-ish character, Lainie Kazan steals scenes, warm and funny script, Mel Brooks produced.
  • The Producers (1968) - yes, I am a Mel Brooks fan also
  • Some Like It Hot (1959)
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955) Sublime Southern gothic/German Expressionist influenced, Charles Laughton pulling out all the stops as director, Mitchum is chilling.
  • Jaws (1975)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)
  • The Godfather (1972)
any suggestions?

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Prostate cancer .... a serious post for a change

This could be useful to any bloke who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.This is my tale for what it's worth....
Despite getting the usual finger up the jacksy by my GP in my mid 40's (as recommended), I was diagnosed with cancer of the prostate (after getting a biopsy in late 2008). I was aged 52.
Getting a blood test (a PSA test) after 50 years of age is crucial.
A few months later, in February 2009, I had a radical prostatectomy. For someone who has never been in hospital, this was definitely radical. Thank Christ I had a private room in a good hospital. Due to internal bleeding they opened me up a few days later. My nether regions resembled a swollen eggplant... much to my wife's horror and my amusement (you get this pain-killer drip - press the button on your bedside - you live in a "what the f*ck" haze for a few days).
Scariest word I know: catheter (inserted you know where).
Yes, the side effects suck (although incontinence isn't an issue now), but, touch wood, after over four years, I have no sign of the big C.
Regrets - you hear about the less intrusive keyhole surgery some surgeons offer - well, it's water under the bridge now. I know if someone says you have cancer, any radical measures seem justified.
I have to get a blood test on a yearly basis, that's all.

Enough of this, my next post will be back to more trivia and prattle.

"Up the Women" BBC4 TV series Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3 review

You think, O God, is this going to be a Frankie Howerd spinoff? No, it's a brave (could have been a train wreck) sitcom (1910 suffragettes) that is ten times better written and funnier than ITV's new sitcom "Vicious".
Don't forget the message, we seem to take this for granted these days, but feminism needs a kick in the pants after watching that reactionary 'sister' on "10 O'clock Live" last week.
After a rocky first scene, I settled back to enjoy this, as each character entered the Banbury Church Hall. The live audience is not as obtrusive after the first few minutes.
The lovable daffy nun (Judy Parfitt) from "Call the Midwife" has the best lines. I think I spied the sexy receptionist (Emma Pierson) from "Hotel Babylon" too. Adding to the fun, a very different Ryan Sampson (Grumio in Plebs). Boy, this guy is versatile.
Anyway I was won over by the end of the episode. This is Jessica Hynes's baby. Nice to see BBC has given bub a second series in 2014 (this time with 6 episodes). For good reason.

UPDATE: just watched this first episode again, few days later, this time with the's definitely a winner. Nicely written, sitcom with a heart. Episode 2 had more Ryan Sampson, too! Emma Pierson had a brilliant scene about her multitude of sprogs. It was as consistently funny as the first episode.

Third and final episode of the series featured a Monty Python-ish bit with the tiny Emmeline Pankhurst (Sandy Toksvig hiding under an enormous bonnet) portrayed as a school bully. This final half hour episode pulled out all the stops. I laughed out loud one moment, and was moved the next by the warm and well-drawn characters. Jessica Hynes's plaintive, tremulous voice is quite stirring.

7 classic television shows they CAN'T bring back

It would be impossible to revive these shows because of the unique contribution of the leading actors:
  • "Columbo" = Peter Falk
  • "Dad's Army" R.I.P. John Le Mesurier, Arthur Lowe, Clive Dunn, Bill Pertwee.
  • "Steptoe and Son"  Unique blend of humour and pathos
  • "Up Pompeii"  Frankie Howard, tailor made vehicle
  • "The Honeymooners"  Jackie Gleason+Art Carney+Audrey Meadows=TV magic
  • "The Odd Couple"  Who was the genius who cast Tony Randall and Jack Klugman?
  • "Fawlty Towers"  unimaginable

"Hannibal" NBC Series 1, Episode 10 "Buffet Froid" review

Great to see NBC have commissioned Series 2. Shades of the supernatural in this disturbing episode. But then, aren't they all disturbing?
Hannibal capitalises on poor Will's mental state, again. Will's actual drawing of the clock face was a nice touch, well researched. The cadaverous girl under the bed and the opening up of the face (think Batman's The Joker meets a Pez fliptop pack) will cause nightmares for some young ones.
Liked the bit about Lecter's acute sense of smell and his medical colleague saying that Hannibal is the sanest man he knows (later Hannibal opens up the  good doctor's face with a pair of scissors).
Three observations:
Jack (Laurence Fishburne) is the boss everybody would love to have - loyal and principled.
The curse of thrillers: the victim always does dumb things - would you follow the wet footprints back to your bedroom?
For a gourmand, Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) has atrocious table manners. Watch what he does with his left hand when using a fork. Eeeek!

Trivia: In Australia, "Hannibal" is struggling in the ratings, the Seven Network have buried the show after 10:45 p.m. mid week.