Sunday, March 29, 2009
I'm not sure that it works as well as HTCH; the very different high comedy tone of the first half takes quite a bit of shifting into the realist stuff of the second, and while the actors work well at it, and achieve the shift, the script just seems to be a game of two very different halves. For which only Sturges himself can be to blame. It's not as if he doesn't warn us: the opening scene has Sullivan, the Hollywood director, trying to sell his recent social issues movie to two producers, without success. In a way it's a commentary on what's going to happen later. I'm just not sure that it all holds together.
I also watched Amazing Grace, the movie about the slave abolitionist, William Wilberforce - I'd heard it was pretty good (although my old friend, James Berardinelli didn't think much of it); certainly the production values are top quality. However, the script is straight out of the same historic period as Sullivan's Travels.
It's similar in tone to those biopics that Hollywood made by the score back in the forties, films that were always well done because they had big name stars in them, and plenty of money thrown at them, but which usually suffered from showing only the high points of a person's life and seldom had any forward-moving dramatic structure.
The only difference between those biopics and the new movie is that this one mucks about with the chronology, perhaps in order to show that it's more modern. All this does is keep the viewer at a distance, partly because it's hard to figure out where we are in terms of the progress of Wilberforce's career, and partly because it becomes difficult to get involved emotionally with his desire to see slavery come to an end.
I'm not sure why it's so uninvolving. Partly Ionn Grufford in in the lead role is inconsistent in tone: sometimes he carries us with him, other times you sense too strongly the 'performing' that's going on. But more than this, there's only one scene in which we are shown the horrors of what it was like to be a slave captured by the traders. And that's when Rufus Sewell (who mostly appears in the film as just slightly off his rocker) demonstrates the chains which bound the slaves. A later scene, with a narration about the way in which slaves were often burnt to death in the midst of the sugar fields, and another where a boatload of upper class people are told by Wilberforce to smell the smell of death, just don't work - not for me, at least. The first is a blurred visual approach to the horrors; the second is so predictable the film has lost you before it arrives.
And virtually the only African to appear in the movie - Equiano - is treated so well that it undercuts just how difficult it must have been for him to try and live amongst English people of the time.
Albert Finney and Michael Gambon rescue their scenes as best they can, along with a bunch of other well-known English character actors, Ciarán Hinds and Benedict Cumberbatch, to name just a couple. But there's very little pace, very little suspense, very little sense of the urgency of the task. And absolutely no mention at the end of the movie that the slave trade around the world is back with a vengeance, and that there are probably more people in slavery of one sort or another now than there ever were in the 18th century.
And, as a footnote, not one person looking as though they're in need of the best acne treatment available at the time.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I've been getting along fairly well with the course, and enjoying it, but I also got asked a couple of weeks ago to do a part in a play. It was a very small part, two scenes in which I would have been on the stage for no more than about three minutes in total. Achievable, I thought.
The play is When We Are Married, by J B Priestley. It dates back to the thirties, I think, but is actually set in the late 19th century. It has a cast of fourteen, so it's a big piece actor-wise. Several of the parts are relatively small (though none of them quite so small as what I was to be doing: the local chapel minister.)
Anyway, I went to the first read-through, and did my two bits, and thought this will fit in nicely with my Varsity work. And then yesterday got a call to say that the man playing the photographer in the play had had to pull out due to unexpected work commitments, and would I take over that role?
It's still not a large part, thank goodness (though it's a lot more fun) - he's on for a couple of minutes in the first act, and then doesn't appear again until two thirds of the way through the third act. The two scenes there are a bit more involved, but still not what you'd call huge. But the rehearsal schedule turns out to be very full on. Three nights a week, and we open on the 23rd May. Crikey.
Fortunately, not being in the second act at all, I have a couple of weeks off in the middle of the schedule, but after that it's going to be a fight to get the Varsity work done.
Well, live on the edge, they say. Not quite sure if that applies here, but it feels a bit like it.
Monday, March 23, 2009
When I worked in the bookstore, one of the perennially popular titles was Tuesdays with Morrie, which I never actually got round to reading completely. In fact, I may have only read the blurb and the first few pages. However, I knew pretty much what it was about, and it was always one of those books I thought I'd get around to sometime.
By chance I came across the DVD of the TV film version yesterday, and thought it would be worth a look. Though when I saw as the titles began that it was produced by Oprah, I began to wonder.
It turned out to be very emotional, and probably highly predictable, but it's saved by two marvellous performances. Jack Lemmon, in his last credited role (there's an uncredited one a year later) was 74 when he made it, and obviously still spry enough to do a fairly sedate tango. He plays a dying old man with huge dignity, integrity, humour and honesty, and never rings a sour note. It was a fitting role to go out on. Hank Azaria, whose face and name were both familiar, but I couldn't think from what (he is, of course, one of the regulars on The Simpsons) is equally good in a role that requires him much of the time to be the lead-in to a lot of Lemmon's lines. He has his own scenes away from Lemmon, and he's good in these too, but it's the combination that really fires.
I often find TV movies have a kind of slickness compared to the most well-made movies. This one doesn't seem to have that. Even the bit players are spot on.
The copy we borrowed from the library, however, must have had a scratch on it: it got about ten minutes in and wouldn't move forward. Fortunately, I managed to get it to skip the problem area, and the rest was fine.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Dunedin's relative newcomer on the newspaper scene, D Scene, seems to make up for what it lacks in real news by sensationalizing items that are fairly trivial.
The most recent example is entitled: Imported species escape. And in the first paragraph we find out: Imported exotic butterflies have been escaping from a popular Dunedin museum attraction, sparking a bio-security crackdown. Wow, you think, this is really serious. The paper goes on to say: Biosecurity New Zealand slapped warnings on Otago Museum after butterflies began bolting from its three-level Tropical Forest display.
Bolting? Butterflies? Come on. Fluttering, flittering, but scarcely bolting. Apparently the attraction came extremely close to temporary closure. (Yeah, like overnight.) Several 'critical situation non-compliance reports' were issued along with instructions for preventing further escapes.
It makes the butterflies sound like prisoners on the run, murderers, abusers, thieves, druggies.
None of these. Just butterflies, and as for the biosecurity alert, when the butterflies actually got out into the big wild world, they almost all dropped dead from the cold. Right outside the building. So no major escape into the wilds of Dunedin, infesting the local gardens with bright and beautiful colours. Nope, these little critturs didn't realise that the hothouse they normally live in isn't what it's like outside.
In fact, the biosecurity expert who was quoted above actually says, in paragraph seven, that the risk of some major disaster was 'negligible.' Of course it was.
A student gets in on the act. A Botany Department Masters student whose name I won't mention since his mana must have been much demoted after the way he's quoted in the paper.
"The butterflies were pouring out [of the building]. They just shimmy on through [the iron cladding]. Initially, there were tons."
Now even given the modern student's propensity for hyperbole, I have to ask: Tons?? To achieve tons of butterflies would require them to be present in their millions - billions perhaps. The Museum doesn't have millions of butterflies. This student was able to gather the ones who survived the escape and were sitting on the patio furniture (I'm kidding) in an icecream container (a large icecream container, no doubt). Then he took them back to the Botany Department. Doesn't that make him an aider and abetter of the escapees?
Further on this same student says he is 'confounded' that the Tropical Forest hasn't been shut down because of the escapes (which supposedly caused a 'panic' by the Museum staff - a panic that apparently took place over nearly two years). The Botany Department incurred a shut down. Over something. Apparently they work with frozen plant material, something that seems even less likely to escape, let alone survive, outside. Methinks there's more to that story than meets the eye.
One of the notorious escapees is pictured above (courtesy of the TF webpage); note the knotted sheets hidden beneath the wings, the bag with a change of clothes for after they've been through the sewer pipes, a wallet full of real money, the night goggles, and so on.
In spite of the title (which relates to the number of composers), there are 32 pieces in it, ranging in difficulty from moderate to difficult (John Psathas' Waiting for an aeroplane comes at difficult the end of the range), and though a few of the pieces are either beyond me in terms of just getting my brain and fingers to coordinate, and a very few are just not my cup of tea (Dorothy Buchanan, and my old bête noire, Jack Body), I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the rest. It's been my best music purchase for a long time.
One of the pieces is by Christopher Norton, who comes from Dunedin originally (his sister attends our church), and whose made a big name for himself by composing heaps of pieces in modern styles for people learning the piano. This piece is four, three (it swings back and forth between 4/4 and 3/4) and is a delight: tricky enough to require a bit of work, but very playable once you've got your fingers around it.
So, recently, when I discovered the Sheet Music Plus site, where you can buy music online at both full and sale price, I searched for the volume that four, three comes from, and ordered it. The Christopher Norton Rock Preludes Collection arrived yesterday, and again the pieces are tricky enough to make you work, but not hard to play once you've figured things out. Looks like I'll be getting my money's worth out of this lot too. It's a site I'll need to keep away from. Our local music shop has cut back on the amount of sheet music they have in stock these days, so I don't visit them much. Sheet Music Plus has virtually everything you'd want on the planet, it seems, which could get very pricey!
Apropos of nothing to do with the above, but I don't seem to have mentioned Howie Mandel and his brief videos for Buy.com that keep appearing on You Tube. They're annoyingly busy and Mandel is a bit like a frenetic wasp; furthermore they often border on the crude. Guess he's got to make his money somehow.
Friday, March 20, 2009
It's rather like a version of Google that focuses only on shopping (Yes, really! Did you think it might be otherwise?), the main difference being that it will only bring up retail items rather than the endless possibilities that Google enhances our world with whenever we go searching...! Apparently it also finds all items in the search range, rather than just ones that have paid to be seen. Interesting idea.
I don't know how obscure you can go, but I checked out Flann O'Brien (see the last post) and he came up without any difficulty. However, a difficulty that did arise when I tried that was that it kept on wiping out this page I'm working on at the moment. Fortunately Blogger saves stuff readily, so I didn't lose anything. But I can't see quite why there's a link between Blogger and ShopWiki. Odd.
You can specify how small or large a price range you want, sort from low to high or in reverse, and each item that comes up has enough information to show you whether it's worth pursuing or not. Curiously, if you checked out the lowest price on the strollers (in the first link above), you'll find a couple - at least at the moment - priced at 0.1c each. Unfortunately, when you click on that particular item you receive a message: This item cannot be ordered on the Web. You have to ring a number to find out more. Still, you can't have everything, obviously!
And doesn't that stroller in the picture remind you a bit of a lawn mower? I'm not sure what the visual link is.
Incidentally, I began reading some of Flann O'Brien's stuff yesterday. Found a collection of his Irish Times columns in the library - he takes a crazy idea and runs with it. Regrettably you have to read the book to see how funny he is, but one thing struck me that I want to record.
One of my (favourite) sayings when my children were growing up was: Talk to the wall, Michael, talk to the wall. My younger son delights in reminding me of this at every opportunity.
O'Brien writes (pg 39 of The Best of Myles) I might as well be talking to the wall, of course, though this phrase has always seemed strange in view of the belief that walls have ears.
I think only O'Brien (or possibly Chesterton) would have come up with something as quirky as that.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
[includes]....the animadversions of de Selby, the visionary polymath, who, among many other distinctions, designs alternatives to Dublin's row houses. One design
had the conventional slated roof but no walls save one, which was to be erected in the quarter of the prevailing wind; around the other sides were the inevitable tarpaulins loosely wound on rollers suspended from the gutters of the roof, the whole structure being surrounded by a diminutive moat or pit bearing some resemblance to military latrines. In the light of present-day theories of housing and hygiene, there can be no doubt that de Selby was much mistaken in these ideas but in his own remote day more than one sick person lost his life in an ill-advised quest for health in these fantastic dwellings.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
"Some books bite. Good books leave scars."
Sunday, March 15, 2009
It's a film with comedy elements - which mostly arise out of the characters. But there's no push towards comedy: the acting style throughout is so natural and low key that if you didn't know better you'd take these actors as being who they're portraying. And there are only a few scenes of real uplift: as when the couple paint the father's grocery van for instance. The lovemaking that follows only brings further hurt rather than further happiness. The scene in the morning over the breakfast table is a wondrous piece of cinema, with two characters circling each other, avoiding touching, the man wondering what it is that he's done wrong, the woman unable or unwilling to tell him.
I enjoyed this movie, found it a little slow, a little repetitive (there are a lot of scenes of groceries being sold from the van), but overall a film that sticks in the mind. Generally speaking, that's probably all you want.
While we're on things foreign, a piece of trivia has crossed my path: Machu Picchu is Peru's stunning lost city of the Incas. Apparently, f you're physically fit (and ambitious, according to one of the travel websites), you might choose the longest and most challenging way to get to Machu Picchu, which is by walking along famous the Inca Trail. This 28-mile hike takes you past villages, forests, valleys, and mountains, and is an excellent way to taste the flavor of the local culture. The Inca Trail hike takes about four days for most travelers.
Four days! Crikey!
If you'd rather not go by foot, consider taking the train. The train departs from the nearby town of Cuzco and takes about four hours (four hours to go 28 miles!). The bus offers another alternative, but without the same degree of breathtaking scenery as the train (we don't discover how long the bus takes). Finally, helicopter rides are available for privileged visitors who don't have the luxury of time. (Or who are not interested in the scenery!)
Machu Picchu travel sounds like something of a challenge all round....
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Local life may be as much endangered by those who would 'save the planet' as by those would 'conquer the world.' For 'saving the planet' calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know - and thus will destroy - the integrity of local nature and local community.
Proposition number XVII in Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse, an essay in the book, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community.
I suppose it could be said that Berry's own proposition deals with an abstraction: 'the enemy wherever it is found.' But I wouldn't dare to criticise the great essayist!
But with this approach true writing is impossible. Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us. The writing itself reveals what is alive.....The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know.
Henri Nouwen in Reflections on Theological Education.
Quoted on page 285 of Philip Yancey's Soul Survivor, without any page/chapter reference.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I'm enjoying it, though. It's called Research Methods, and it focuses on the way to do a research project, whether large or small. While I'm not actually planning on doing anything major in this line, it does relate to my work a good deal, and I'm learning some stuff that will be useful as I carry on working over the next couple of years.
When I could then retire - and may have to from this particular job. Time will tell. With the amount of money the superannuation brings in I'm not likely to be living it up too much. So I may have to do at least some small or short term jobs just to boost the income. My wife doesn't retire another five years, so unless she decides she can't stand to work anymore, we'll have a reasonable amount coming in - and the mortgage is finally paid off about the time I would officially retire. Which will be a relief after all these years.
Of course, if I can't get work, then I'll have to potter around in the garden dead-heading the perennials, or mowing the lawn more frequently, or tending the vegetables, or coming inside and...blogging (I mean: finishing my degree!)
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
He said, "Ruth Le Pla is quoted in in the magazine, "NZ Business" as saying:
What do HP, Sports Illustrated, Burger King Corp and the Wikipedia Foundation have in common?Vincent apparently continues to quote her by saying: They all started off in times of depression surviving the 1929/30 period, the tail end of the 53/54 hard times and the more recent post 9/11 difficulty. Many other very successful companies can alos be added to that list including Hyatt Groupa and Fed Ex."
This would give the impression that all these companies have been around since the late 1920s, and anyone would his head screwed on would realise this is nonsense: Wikipedia sticks out like a sore thumb from the list for a start.
The reality is that Hewlett Packard began in 1935, Sports Illustrated as we know it now didn't turn up till 1954 and neither did Burger King; and of course, Wikipedia began in 2001. Fed Ex dates from 1998; the Hyatt Group (Corporation) from 1957.
When you go back to Le Pla's original article, you find she says the following:
They all started off in times of recession [not depression]. Collectively they span the Great Depression which kicked off with the Black Tuesday Wall Street crash of October 1929, the tail end of the hard times in 1953-54, and the more recent post-9/11 recession in the US.
We could add to that list companies as diverse as giant international hotel chain Hyatt Corp, research hub LexisNexis, FedEx Corp and MTV Networks.
Slightly different. Still not as clear as it might be - the 'collectively they span' is a bit difficult to get in focus - but obviously not quite what Vincent is saying, and certainly not what he 'quotes.'
Sunday, March 08, 2009
I want to read these writers all over again - apart from Coles, whom I had never heard of before Yancey introduced him. But I'd like to read him.
Not that I've read everything by these authors, not by any means. I've begun War and Peace twice and failed to make it very far (perhaps I was spoilt by the movie with Audrey Hepburn and co), but it's a book I'd like to get into some time. Apart from that, I've never even opened anything else by him. I've read some Dostoevsky, mostly back when I was a lot younger. And at a time when I probably didn't appreciate him for what he is. He definitely needs to go back on the list again. I read Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov (struggling through the Russian names to such a degree that I wrote them down when they first appeared so I could figure out who was who!), and perhaps one other. I've started others, but I think I wasn't ready for them at the time.
Dillard and Buechner are two more authors I'd like to read more of than I have. It's years since I read Dillard's great book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but I remember finding it a wonder. I couldn't tell you off the top of my head what I've read of Buechner's, except that I know I have read several of his books. (Dillard's site, by the way, has a front page that is quite disarming. She says, amongst other things: Here is some information for scholars. I’ve posted this web-page in defense; a crook bought the name and printed dirty pictures, then offered to sell it to me. I bit. In the course of that I learned the web is full of misinformation. This is a corrective.) Dillard doesn't always appeal: I didn't much enjoy her Writer's Life. In fact, I think I gave up on it.
And then there's Chesterton, whom I have read a great deal of. I also have a reasonable number of his innumerable books on my shelves. He's not always easy to read: Chesterton can burble along at a rate of knots making you think he's saying something of value when in fact he's just being Chesterton on a roll. And then suddenly out of the blue he'll turn something upside down and a whole world opens up. To read all of Chesterton would be an indulgence, I suspect. He's always great, but not always great to read. Even some of his best books have their downtime. But when he's on a rolll, no one can match him. In fact, few authors can match him even when he's not on a roll! He's like Dickens. There's an awful lot of him, and a case could be made for everything being absolutely superb. It's not, but it's a world that no one else has ever come close to creating.
To go from these masters to the book I'm presently reading to review is like coming down off the top of the mountain. The book is by John Cairney, who, if I'm not mistaken, is the husband of a cousin of one of my oldest friends. Cairney and his wife were both actors, and it looks as though he may still be.
Anyway, Cairney has written this strange book called flashback forward (no capital letters on the cover). If the blurb hadn't told me that something unusual was going to happen at some point, I don't think I would have persisted with it. It takes a 100 pages for the odd thing to happen, and suddenly the story goes from being a fairly ordinary account of a family moving from Scotland to New Zealand in the late 19th century. The main character, Tom, is not particularly engaging.
And then Tom experiences the volcanic eruption that destroyed the Pink and White Terraces, and the book splits in two. Tom eventually goes back to Scotland and we next read of him as a 60-year-old or so. Tom number two wakes up after the Napier earthquake in 1931, 45 years after his previous disaster experience, and is still an 18-year-old. That's where I'm at currently, and certainly this part of the book has proved to be more effectively written than the earlier stuff, which could have been vastly abridged. No doubt more on it in due course.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
This is a very basic cartoon showing a guy sitting in front of his computer, and the only thing that changes is his expression as he narrates his relationship with Facebook.
Beautifully done, simple, and quite hilarious.
"How Inflation Swindles the Equity Investor" by Warren E. Buffett, Fortune May 1977
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
My only real quibble with it was that the photography had a slightly flat look to it, which meant that the actors sometimes merged partly into the background because the tonal range of the movie's design was all browns and other darker colours.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
He now responds:
First, my language in the video was less nuanced than it might have been in written form. That is my tendency in a spontaneous oral interview. I will try to be more precise here.
When I say that “virtual community” is not “community,” that does not mean it has no value. As I indicated in the interview, I know that all kinds of deeply meaningful connections and interactions happen online all the time. I have experienced them myself. Some may want to call this “community.” Fair enough. I just don’t call it “community.” That is not intended to dismiss or demean any one’s experience online.
The rest of the post is here.
And for more on the subject, including Twitter, Facebook et al, we have Anne Jackson's take on the subject.