Wednesday, 31 July 2013

"Count Arthur Strong" BBC2 Episode 4 review

This episode was all over the shop. Or should I say, at the back of the caf.
Youth riots, Eggy's sudden pathos then an over long Michel Legrand tribute. Very patchy. A few funny bits - the medley of show tunes, Hilter/Twitter confusion, Bulert as the human cocoon, the flatulent pills and the 'Faux-lympics'.  The "we band of brothers" soliloquy finishing with a reprise of "The Windmills of Your Mind" kind-of worked. Not a great episode, but worth 28 minutes of my time. Rory Kinnear is really making this inconsistent show.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Things I really miss...

  • my much loved Tin Tin tee-shirts,Thailand circa 1990 (getting a bit ragged around the collar), turned into cushions by my other half. They look good, but ....
  • Windows XP (thank God my old laptop still has it, Windows 8 is an acquired taste)
  • Watching Bill Collins give his rapturous spiel on "The Golden Years of Hollywood" before each movie.
  • When kids brought a box of coloured pencils and building blocks to gran and pop's place (rather than an i-pod or mum's smartphone to play with).
  • plastic bags that open easily
  • Watching black and white movies on free-to-air television
  • Reading to my daughter at bedtime
  • W-i-d-e  seats in Business Class
  • In Australia, the only bottled water for sale was Mineral, Soda or Tonic Water. Buying drinking water in Australia is a ludicrous waste of money and resources. Don't get me started about the litter.
  • Groceries being packed in brown paper bags.
  • Going to the cinema when people were considerate and .... silent.

  • This is a work in progress....

Friday, 26 July 2013

"The Ship" by Stefan Mani - Good read? How did I get on to John Carpenter?

Opening a new book by a new author (to me, anyway) is like exploring a new land. I know that sounds a bit of a wank but books are a great escape and a great way to travel in the mind. I saw on last night's TV news a volunteer program called "Footpath Library" where each night a van drops off a range of books free to the homeless in central Sydney. The rationale being so these people, living on the street, can escape into a good book. But I digress.
I grabbed "The Ship" from my local library. The blurb said the author, Stefan Mani, was "the Icelandic Stephen King". That sealed the deal. Scandi-noir is all the rage and Stephen King used to be my go-to author for spooky thrillers. The first 70 pages introduces the characters through cleverly interwoven incidents in Reykjavik. Then it moves on board the huge freighter, bound for South America. You know there is something evil afoot.
In the movies, having characters stuck in one place, whether it's an Arctic research station, like "The Thing", or a besieged police station in "Assault on Precinct 13" or a interplanetary vessel, like "Dark Star" or later "Alien") is a juicy suspense setup.
Stefan Mani writes a very 'cinematic' novel. He dips his lid to Stephen King with a quick reference to "Christine", comparing the book with the movie). Anyway, I'm only a quarter of way through, but things are chugging along nicely. Hope I'm not disappointed by such a flashy start. The stormy descriptions onboard are so vivid, it may cause the reader to feel a bit seasick.
I just realized all the movies I just mentioned (except "Alien") were directed by John Carpenter. Hope he buys the movie rights to "The Ship".
Finished book. Perplexed by the ending, but definitely kept my interest. Icelandic writers do bleak very well.

Get the full story before you sign up: Accor Vacation Club

This is not to be confused with Advantage Plus and Le Club Accor.

We went to one of those hard sell Accor Vacation Club information sessions during a stay at a Queensland resort.  We had a morning to kill and the offer of $150 credit for your hotel bill was enticing. You have to sit and listen to the spiel for at least 90 minutes. These guys are professionals, they know every trick in the book. You need your wits about you.
They have to give you a Product Disclosure Statement, but they don't want you to read it while they are doing their 'smoke and mirrors' floor show. They have a choreographed patter to deliver. If you ask questions like "How much?"- you will be told, "Later, later, let me tell you this first ..."
Read the Product Disclosure Statement.
They want you to sign up on the day.... hurry hurry, think quick, you get bonuses if you sign today... look at all the money you'll be these this slick video.... let me draw another enticing multi-coloured graph. When we seemed a bit restless after 75 minutes, our chirpy consultant turned a bit narky with the line, "I've got you until 10:30 you know!" The veneer was slipping.
It's not what they say, it's what they DON'T say.
Extra fees
There is an annual club fee (which could be over $1000 yearly). This will increase over the years. You might have to pay for special club fees and rooms servicing (starting at $85 per room). When making an international booking, getting the room you want, in the place you want, at the time of year you want, could incur hefty costs.
Only 21 Accor properties are offered in Australia, N.Z. and Bali (only one, and that's in a crap part of Nusa Dua, away from the beach). We have already stopped at most of these properties, we would only return to 2-3 of these resorts. Accor may pull out of this arrangement down the track, if you read the PDS.
Anyway, you can get better deals through internet special, particular out of school holidays through Accor Advantage Plus and Le Club Accor, without being tied down for decades. We do belong to Accor Advantage Plus (Asia Pacific). For $300 per year we get half priced dining, a free night and killer deals (e.g. $75-$120 a night). This blitzes the AVC idea.
Other considerations
Points expire if you don't use them after two years, so beware.What about if your circumstances or travel preferences change?
It's time share, let's face it. They want your money NOW ($46000 was the suggested quote for our needs, this was a mid range quote). They then invest this money ... remember compound interest).
I am no financial wiz but a careful read of the PDS will put a sour taste in your mouth compared to the euphoric chat that your sales rep gives you.
Once you sign, you have it for life, so be damn sure what you are doing. If it is so great, why use such a big carrot for you to attend these sign up sessions?
The big argument touted is that you are inflation-proofing your money. But if you put $46000 in a low risk/conservation superannuation account, after 20 years compound interest, you'd have more money that 20 years of AVC membership.
Trying to sell your points/membership
You only have to look at all the people (5 pages) who desperately (e.g. "ONO", "reduced for quick sale", "negotiable", "for family reasons") want to sell their membership on the Vacation Club Resales website.
Buyer beware.
My wife and I stopped at the same Queensland resort this year. We were approached to do the 90 minute sales pitch again. We were given even less accurate information after 100 minutes. Lots of prattling on about the consultant's overseas jaunts. No mention of annual fees/maintenance. Doing our own research (staying in some of these properties and using the Accor website) revealed three things:
1. Not all Accor Vacation Club properties are now managed by Accor (e.g. Legends in Surfers Paradise, Queensland and The Links Lady Bay, South Australia).
2. Some of the units are on low floors with limited views.
3. "Exclusive" Flight Centre "bargains" on flights (an extra 'benefit' if you signed up on the day) weren't that great, we could beat them going directly through the airlines' websites.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

"Count Arthur Strong" BBC2 Episode 3, "The Radio Play" review

I'm getting used to Steve Delaney's daffy Count now. Being a buffet pilferer from way back, I nearly wet myself with Arthur exploits at the BBC - stuffing biscuits in his pocket, salmon swiping. Also liked when he asked the female staff, "Are any of you going to make the tea?"
The bit of business with Michael in the caf was pure Abbott and Costello. Rough diamond, John the Watch, is a real find ("Sorry, I have pilates"). The character of Michael (the great actor, Rory Kinnear) was fleshed out in this episode - the ping pong story and his little tizzy in the cafe over author rivalry. Got a giggle out of Michael in the cellar with the stuffed fauna in search of Elvis (or should I say, the other chap, Tommy Steele).
Favourite bit: "Who's Colonel Vesuvius?" (after the wanker actor said "carnal Vesuvius"). Dame Agnes (Lindsay Duncan - seen her in loads of Brit stuff) looked suitably perplexed.
The show is building nicely. Wonder why the Beeb changed the show to a different night? Not rating?
Don't miss the final bit after the credits. "Salmon in the Toilet"  - Lovely stuff.

Monday, 22 July 2013

It's not easy being green - energy saving devices installed in your home/solar power - the drawbacks

Have you been visited by the polite young man who offers you free energy saving devices? This Victorian Government (Australia) is commendable and sounds good on paper but...
Being a whingeing old fart, here is my rant.
We already had been visited by another friendly young man with free devices to save electricity – powerboards that turn off automatically, you have to keep pressing your remote each hour or the television goes off.
Yesterday another visit from another energy saver. My wife said yes. Because this dude also offered some good stuff: weather seals on front and back doors and a nifty inflatable damper that fits up your chimney to stop heat loss (free pump – looks like a sex aid – I think).
This stupid balloon thing spread soot everywhere each time you removed it and deflated over time.

The not so good stuff:
He replaced our low water pressure shower head with his version (boring and no adjustable flow). The replacement shower head in our daughter’s bathroom leaked, not much of a water saver, so I had to reinstall it when he left.

Now the really crappy stuff:
He took all our light bulbs, replacing them with 24 of his, except the dimmers he couldn’t change – thank Christ for that! The new bulbs are so dim it is like mood lighting, tough luck if you drop a tiny object and want to search for it. The ceiling recessed downlights used to have globes that fitted perfectly. These new screwy, ugly looking bulbs leave a huge gap so draughts from the roof cancel out any energy saving from other means. So this morning I’m up in the ceiling placing cloth around these circular gaps to stem Melbourne’s wintry winds.

An extra word on solar power:
Unless you have at least 8 panels (2 person house) or 12+ panels for a large house/family the outlay isn't viable. It also concerns me that people cutting down north-facing trees so they can get more sun for their solar panels. In the Southern Hemisphere, surely north-facing (particularly deciduous) trees are environmentally (as well as aesthetically) desirable.

As a cute amphibian said once, “It’s not easy being green”.

Friday, 19 July 2013

This week's guilty pleasure: "Behind the Candelabra" Liberace biopic review

Released theatrically to the rest of the world, this HBO movie is fantastic. Michael Douglas is a revelation as the flamboyant but savvy showman, Matt Damon playing Liberace's lover (one of Steven Soderbergh's go-to actors) is always good and Rob Lowe, as the creepy plastic surgeon (who isn't a great advertisement for his own work), is worth the price of admission.
Clever casting - getting Debbie Reynolds as Li's mom, Frances. Nice to see Scott Bakula and Dan Aykroyd also.
Why the major studio's turned this one down is a puzzlement. Some steamy sex scenes, juicy dialogue, great 1970/80's Vegas decor and fancy keyboard work from Mr Douglas made it a diverting two hours. Let's hear it for HBO!

"Contagion" The thinking person's mega-budget zombie apocalyse movie

All right, it's not about zombies, but those scenes in Minnesota were damn close. "Contagion" was released a few years ago, but it's well worth a look.
Spoilers in last paragraph. Steven Soderbergh is an accomplished director (and versatile, compare this with Oceans trilogy, "The Informant!" and "Behind the Candelabra", but all starring Matt Damon). The stellar cast (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard), international locations, great Cliff Martinez musical score and believable situations make this an absorbing 100 minute film. Jude Law does a passable Australian accent as the opportunistic blogger.
You won't forget the Gwyneth Paltrow's early death scene and the subsequent skull removal. The scene with a dying Kate Winslet passing her coat to a fellow victim is touching, without being mawkish. The film starts with "Day 2" of the global pandemic and concludes with "Day 1", explaining the origin of the infection. This is a smart flick.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

"Count Arthur Strong" BBC2 Episode 2 review

You have to be in the right mood for this surreal little show. I must have been. The Christine Keeler reference in the life drawing class got me from the first scene. The running joke about the poor chap being mistaken for a newsagent, ending up being stalked by Jack the Ripper in an icecream van was like a bit of "Father Ted" lunacy. The slow motion shot of Michael through the window, with his finger to his lips as a gobsmacked kid watched the van glide away was the highlight of the episode.
The harried Michael continues to try to research his famous comedian dad (being played by the accomplished actor, Rory Kinnear, son of the comedy actor, Roy Kinnear). This is a tasty bit of casting.
I thought this episode worked better than the first.
But ignoramus Arthur, spouting malaprops could get a bit wearing, if you are not 'in the right mood'.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Why Showtime's "Ray Donovan" is good viewing

Just watched the first two episodes of "Ray Donovan". By now you know if a show is a fizzer or not. This is smart, involving, "water cooler" television drama. This show has got it all - juicy Hollywood goss on the surface, but underneath, themes like: regret, guilt, passion, the nature of evil.
Ann Biderman has written beautifully complex characters: the tormented, multi-layered Ray (Liev Schreiber); the charismatic but morally bankrupt Mickey (Jon Voight - normally playing Mr Nice Guy in movies); stalwart, but strident Bridget (Paula Malcomson), trying to hold her family together. Elliott Gould's (who was one of the biggest stars in the early 1970's) savvy but flaky, Ezra, is priceless.
Strange scenes that come out of nowhere: When Ray gives heartfelt advice (and later, cash) to the young transsexual or when Grandpa Donovan gives some prison wisdom to his teenage grandson "...don't take it up the ass". Looks like Conor is being groomed on the internet by the sex addicted movie star, Tommy.
The show looks great, LA locales, the mansions to the seedy gyms. Allen Coulter seems to be the go-to director for classy cable series - "Boardwalk Empire", "House of Cards", "Six feet Under", "The Sopranos". I also liked his work in the under appreciated flick "Hollywoodland" (2006).

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Odd Musical Collaborations, that worked (last century), from an old fart's point of view

Shirley Bassey + Propeller Heads "History Repeating Itself" (1997)
Run-DMC + Aerosmith "Walk This Way" (1986)
Dusty Springfield + Pet Shop Boys "Nothing Has Been Proved" (1989)
Tammy Wynette + KLF "Justified & Ancient" (1991)
Liza Minnelli + Pet Shop Boys "Results" album (1989). I think I was the only one who bought it in Australia (found it in a bargain bin of cassettes).
Bing Crosby + David Bowie "Little Drummer Boy" (1977)
David Bowie + Pet Shop Boys "Hallo Space Boy" (1996)

Any suggestions?

"Count Arthur Strong" BBC2 Episode 1 review

Hated the laugh track. There were few big laffs. The mucus bit at the eulogy didn't work. Liked Barry Cryer's cameo. Liked the one-legged Polish crone in the ambulance. ("Give her the Heineken Manoeuvre"). Liked the delightful caf characters, especially the frustrated Bulent. "Two teas?"

I didn't listen to the original Radio 4 show. Not sure where this is going, but I'll give it a go next week. Graham Linehan (The IT Crowd, Father Ted) has a good track record. He obviously likes quirky, eccentric (daft?) characters.
Do I want to spend 30 minutes with a silly old fart? (or is he?)
Bring back Father Jack.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Why Melbourne is the best place to live in Australia

  • The maritime climate means four definite seasons. My favourite season in Melbourne is Autumn, though.
  • we dress better (not necessarily me), the cooler weather means, cooler clothes
  • CBD streetscape - architecture, arcades, laneways, public spaces like Federation Square, wide streets, easy grid pattern to find your way around
  • sense of humour (Melbourne is the home of Barry Humphries), Melbourne Comedy Festival
  • live music scene
  • trams 
  • sporting venues and events - AFL Grand Final, Australian Open, The Melbourne Cup
  • best theatre venues - grand old theatres have been restored, not demolished
  • restaurants - multicultural mix
  • Southbank Arts precinct
  • parks and gardens
  • fabulous post-Gold Rush Victorian architecture - Treasury Buidling, Parliament House, State Library, Exhibition Buildings
  • edgy shopping precincts in inner suburbs - Fitzroy, South Yarra, Richmond, South Melbourne
  • Melbourne International Airport (Tullamarine) is the best in the country. Domestic and international terminals are combined. Compare the chaos of connecting from international to domestic terminals in Sydney.
  • Melbourne (like Brisbane) is a city where freeways actually go somewhere, not terminate in suburbia like Sydney's M2.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Melbourne vs Sydney....Views, fashion, laneways, TV and wearing black

I love winter. Reading a trashy novel by the open fire. It's bleak in Melbourne, Australia at the moment - 13 degrees MAX but the wind makes it feel like 5 degrees (Celsius). By the fire, this is my 'room with a view'.
Melbourne people dress well in winter (cool clothes, cool climate). You see some Sydney cashed up matrons swanning around Double Bay, trying to wear cool coats in Sydney's winter - it just doesn't work. You can slag off our chilly winters but you can't slag off our fashion sense (well, except mine).
I am going to make some gross generalisations here, but it's my blog so stuff it.
Melbourne people don't normally worry about views when they are dining - you only have to see the lines of alleyway cafes and bistros in the CBD. Sydney people crave views - around its beautiful harbour, waterways, from tall buildings. Once you're walking around downtown Sydney, it's pretty drab. No lanes, atmospheric alleyways, impressive 19th century architecture like Melbourne. But more Melbourne residents are quite happy at home watching the box. You only have to look at the higher viewer numbers in the Melbourne TV ratings (compared to the Harbour City).
Let's talk television some more. Melbourne also produces better quality television than Sydney. Made in Melbourne (mostly live) shows like "RocKwiz", "Adam Hills Tonight", "Spicks and Specks", "The Project", "This Week Live". Melbourne pioneered the live talk show/variety show in Australia with Graham Kennedy's IMT ("In Melbourne Tonight") in 1957.
David Williamson wrote a play about Sydney called "Emerald City" - style over substance, bling and banality. I'm probably pissing off Sydneysiders. I am a biased Melburnian. One last shot: Melburnians wear black better.
Back to the open fire.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

How to minimise arguments with your partner - 5 tips for domestic bliss?

After living together for nearly thirty years (as well as being in the same workplace for 20 of those years) I may have gleaned a few tips....

1.  Listen more. There is that great remark about some conversations - one person isn't listening to the other, only waiting for his/her turn to speak.
2.  Count to 5, before replying during an argument (this is hard, I know, if you are as impulsive as me).
3.  Don't try to 'have the last word', it never works. Point scoring, it never works. My wife is always 3 steps ahead of me in an argument. I can't multi-task either. By losing, you win.
4.  If in doubt, keep shtum.
5.  At home, the regular five o'clock cocktail hour.

If only I could follow these 5 tips more. I'm pretty good at the last one, though!

"Mr Shivers" by Robert Jackson Bennett, review

The first half really grabbed me. The premise is a doozy, Depression-era hobos on a quest for an evil entity. Think "The Grapes of Wrath" meets Homer's Odyssey. The Coen brother's movie with George Clooney "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" has already blended these two themes.  The Dust bowl setting is powerful. The hobo code sketches at the start of each chapter was nifty idea.
The language gets a bit self-indulgent (shit, I'm writing a mere blog, I'm no expert), but it's a debut novel, so you cut the guy some slack.
Bennett packs in some atmospheric and wildly cinematic scenes -  the fight in the train car, the night time carnival with the teenage fortune teller (very 40's film noir), the deserted town, the (Grimm's fairy tale) cottage in the middle of the forest where three prophetesses dwell (think Macbeth's three crones or mythical Stygian Witches). Connelly (the man on a quest) reminds me of Stephen King's Roland character, 'the Gunslinger' from "The Dark Tower".
The conclusion was a bit of a metaphysical mishmash, some would say cop-out but I'd still like to try Bennett's later novels. This young author (from hipster mecca, Austin TX) has something, though.

What is the story with Austin, Texas? Cool capital?

It's the state capital of Texas with a small population, compared to other U.S. cities (under 1.9 million). In recent years (2008-2009) more adults in their 20's and 30's moved to Austin than any other U.S. city. Why? Creative, divergent thinking people choose to live there? Hipster reputation? Arts and festival scene (e.g. SXSW)? Austin bills itself as "Austin, Live Music Capital of the World" so it must have a thriving live venue scene.
Take film directors - arty Terrence Malick, quirky Wes Anderson (Didn't you love "Moonrise Kingdom"?), Tarantino buddy and multi-tasking Robert Rodriguez, horror buff Tobe Hooper - all come from Austin or call it home.

I just finished a weird hobos-on-a-quest book ("Mr Shivers") written by Robert Jackson Bennett. Where does he live? You guessed it, Austin.
My 20 year old daughter's favourite Internet comedy group (at the moment) is Rooster Teeth - based in Austin, TX.
There is a pattern here.

Monday, 1 July 2013

From the video vault: "Death Line" (UK), "Raw Meat" (US) Low budget horror from 1972/1973

Let's get the negatives out of the way first.
It's under 90 minutes, but the uneven pacing makes it seem longer. The musical score is atrocious, the dialogue ranges from banal ("My shampoo, please!!!") to seemingly improvised (see Donald Pleasence in the pub) to surprisingly witty. The acting of the young couple is woeful.

Now the other side of the coin: it's wildly atmospheric, well photographed (the derelict station scenes make this low budget effort look amazing) and quite poignant in parts. The idea of descendants of the original tunnel workers surviving in a disused line (circa 1890's)of the London Underground is intriguing and original, being infected and reduced to cannibalism (tube commuters, beware) - gory, graphic and creepy. When the remaining mutant screams "Mind the doors!" you think: "Where was this line in those lists of memorable movie quotes?" This is a cult classic territory.
The decidedly odd tone of the film begins with the bowler hatted pervert doing a Soho tour of sleaze and continues with the bizarre cameo of Christopher Lee as a MI5 toff.  The underground tunnel home of the cannibals features an incredibly long tracking shot with dripping (blood, seepage) the only sound. Donald Pleasence (he has top billing) has great fun in the role of the manic police inspector - ranting Cockney-esque "this is my manor", berating the office's teabags, switching to a toffy accent, throwing darts at his door and making throwaway sardonic comments. He is a joy to behold.
Lots to like. Two Bond villains in the cast (Blofeld and Scaramanga), the settings look like actual tube stations, albeit disused.
Trivia: Russell Square is on the Piccadilly Line (but the platform sign reads "District Line"). The train is correctly labelled "Cockfosters". The director was American (Gary Sherman). Definitely worth devoting 87 minutes of your life to.

NB. God dag, to all my Swedish readers, why so many page views, or is this just a pesky spammer?