Thursday, November 27, 2008
Reading the audience's faces is as much fun as watching Gungor. Some of them seem unwilling to let themselves go and laugh at what is plainly just fun, some of them are checking out their spouses to see whether they 'approve' and some are just having a ball.
Thanks to Blair for alerting me to this video.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Anyway, The Secret Life of Bees has hit the big screen now, and Dakota Fanning is the star. Fanning is one of those extraordinary child actors who seems to be able to take on any role and invest it with an intensity that's beyond the ordinary. She's been in movies (or TV) most of her life; in fact, they've been her life. How's she as down to earth as she seems is quite a miracle. She has the ability to be very ordinary, and yet continue to move us. She even managed to make the nasty movie, Hide and Seek, watchable.
I'm not sure that I'll go and see The Secret Life of Bees. Even though it wasn't one of my favourite books, it left memories behind that I don't particularly want overlaid by a movie version. This has happened a few times, with The Shipping News, The Horse Whisperer, and, worst of all, the TV version of Middlemarch, in which the main role was miscast - at least as far as my reading of the book was concerned. (The main role of the TV version of Bleak House was similarly miscast, but it's all a matter of perception - these actors weren't the way I'd imagined the characters, and they spoilt my imaginative version.)
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Someone remarked that I only appeared when there was food - I then remembered that I'd also been to the original breakfast meeting of this latest group. Hmm, that could be the case!
Anyway, I mostly knew all the guys there, and pricked my ears up at one point when I heard one of them say he has a blog. We then discussed what we both wrote about - quite different subject matter for the most part.
Anyway, let me recommend True Paradigm to you. It covers more than one field: I note on the page that's current there are posts on NZ Politics, Calvinist views of predestination, atheists, physics, and various other topics that require you to use your brain more than you'll need to on this site (!)
I suspect the direction is at fault in a good deal of the movie. George Sidney directed dozens of film musicals, many of them successfully, but something's lacking in Kiss Me Kate. Maybe it's the source material (a stage show) that's been hacked around for the movie (checking out the layout of the original stage version this seems likely). Whatever it is, it only occasionally lights up. Ann Miller does a frenetic tap dance in the opening sequence, but has to do it in a room in an apartment where there's very little space. She winds up dancing on the furniture just to give herself some variety. Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson sing their opening duet as a squabble rather than a love duet, while Cole Porter - played by Ron Randall - appears in this scene and then is never heard from again.
Perhaps the problem was that the film was made in 3-D and opportunities to throw things at the camera were taken so often that other things suffer. Grayson sings all fourteen verses of I Hate Men (fourteen, or maybe twenty), and does the same thing with it each time - until she throws the metal tankard she's been thumping on the table at the camera. Wunderbar is performed in a cramped dressing room in a theatre that apparently has a stage the size of a stadium - sometimes. And people talking backstage all shout at the top of their voices, as though the audience couldn't possibly hear them.
The camera dolly has a distinct wobble on it, andthere are several shots in which the camera moves are quite juddery. Then there are the costumes for the 'play' they're doing. Someone decided that all the men should be dressed in clothes that reveal pretty much everything. Walter Plunkett, who was one of Hollywood's top designers, didn't usually make such a botch-up as this; was it all part of something not quite going right during production? Who knows.
So what did I like about the movie? The dancing is just superb. Miller's table-top tapping is top-notch, but the best dancing takes place in two major scenes, and both of them have Tommy Rall in them. In the first, he and Miller perform: Why Can't You Behave? Rall doesn't sing in this one, but he does some whizz-bang acrobatic dancing. (Miller isn't too bad, either!). In the second scene, just before the finale, Rall and Miller, Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, Carol Haney and Jeanne Coyne perform an extended piece to From This Moment On (sung in the stage show by totally different characters). Between the acrobatic dancing of the men, and wonderful energy of the women, this is a show-stopper and a half. Everything about this scene is right (except again for that blasted camera dolly) and it deserves to be in the top ten of Hollywood musical dance sequences.
Kiss Me Kate isn't unenjoyable; just a bit flawed. The great advantage of the DVD version is that you can leave out the bits you don't like...
Saturday, November 22, 2008
It ought to creak with age. Certainly David Farrar plays the bad boy Englishman with the typical stiffness of English male actors of the time, but that can't be held against him: it's the way the did things then, and he's almost the only actor in the movie to play in that cinema-theatrical way. Kathleen Byron as the mentally intense Sister Ruth has a few similar scenes, but they work because of who she is and because of the super-charged atmosphere. But the other nuns, and the rest of the characters, come across as up-to-date as most of those in movies these days. Deborah Kerr is superb, her face constantly showing depths behind the spoken words.
But the thing that continues to stand out is the cinemaphotography (Jack Cardiff) and art work, all of it done in England, most of it done in the studio. You know you're not up in the mountains as you watch it, but your eye struggles to tell you the truth of what you're seeing. Furthermore, shot after shot is a work of art, the colour wonderfully balanced, and contributing to the intensity of the drama. This film is a pleasure to watch quite apart from its story.
Made in 1947 in vibrant Technicolor, Black Narcissus is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful films ever made. The fact that all but a few scenes were shot on sets, with matte paintings used for the backdrops, makes it all the more remarkable.
Saw a couple of movies while on Retreat. One was The Gospel, which I'd watched several months ago and enjoyed mostly for its music. The story and acting are a bit weak, but the music keeps the thing alive.
Also saw Hot Fuzz, which I'd heard about from my brother-in-law in England. He and his wife had walked out of it (!) I didn't walk out, but I must say that the last twenty minutes of so are just so frenetic that all the subtle humour that's gone before is outweighed by noise and chaos and a try-hard approach that doesn't quite work. Simon Pegg does a great job in the main role, and he's surrounded by a bunch of well-known British actors, several of whom come to very unpleasant ends. In fact, the black humour is too grisly for my taste. The scene where the reporter has a piece of the church tower fall on his head is sickening rather than funny in any way.
But I think the piece falls over by trying to make itself into some clever murder mystery, when it's really a spoof for the first hour or more. And it's not helped by schoolboy use of dirty words; these just take away from the real humour.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
While sitting behind a van today, waiting for the lights to change, I noticed that it was called O'Neill Rentals. Down the bottom of the back door was the website: oneillrentals.co.nz.
Because of the spelling of O'Neill, my eye read this as: one ill rentals. A fellow traveller in the car said: this rental has a leaky valve, this one has no exhaust pipe, and so on. I'm sure O'Neill Rentals are fine....don't be put off by my misreading of their website name in any way whatsoever!
Saturday, November 15, 2008
The story’s not exactly suspense-filled, but it’s enjoyable enough to watch. Two veteran actors of this calibre are always worth watching. They give life to anything.
Spoiler: It’s a bit odd that Morgan Freeman tells the story, since he dies before Nicholson, and yet tells us about the latter’s death. Writer’s license maybe, but not one that stands up to too much scrutiny.
Friday, November 14, 2008
At work I often read The Tall Skinny Kiwi blog, and recently he referred back to an older post from Dec 5th, 2003 (which is practically in the primeval times of blogging) in which he looked at the word/idea/concept of 'postmodernism' with The Princess Bride in mind.
It begins like this:
Postmodernism. I do not think it means what people think it means. This is the topic of Brian MacLaren's response to Charles Colson's latest attempt to dismiss the word "postmodern".
His response is gentle and polite. One might have expected more reaction. There could have been the swishing of swords or, at the very least, a strong cautionary warning like, “I would not say such things if I were you”. Or, even harsher, “You killed my favourite word. Prepare to dialogue.”
In the March 2008 Investigate magazine, Ian Wishart reviews a book called, The Irrational Atheist, by Vox Day, a Mensa member and columnist for WorldNetDaily (not a site I'm familiar with, and one that seems to have its fair share of ranters).
Anyway, Vox Day (a bloke, for those who didn't guess) has written a searing indictment of the New Atheists, particularly Dawkins, Hitchens and Sam Harris. Perhaps the most interesting comment quoted in the review is this:
There is even evidence to suggest that in some cases...atheism may be little more than a mental disorder taking the form of a literal autism. On one of the more popular atheist internet sites, the average self-reported result on an Asperger Quotient test was 27.9. The threshold for this syndrome, described as 'autistic psychopathy' by its discoverer, Dr Hans Asperger, is 32, whereas the average normal individual scores 16.5.
Wishart comments that: Sam Harris doesn't make it out of the book alive, Dawkins is touch and go and Hitchens is left reeling by the end.
And in case you think Wishart is a bit of a ranter himself (as he can be), check out the New Oxford Review on the book: ...columnist Vox Day uses logic and facts (not theology) to refute the "unholy trinity" of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.
Perhaps the most engaging chapters in this book are those about war. The high-church atheists assert that religion causes war, but Day proves otherwise. He shows that over the past 232 years, 671,070 American soldiers have died in 17 wars, of which only one-half of one percent can reasonably be attributed to religion. This amounts to the deaths of 14 soldiers per year. Turning next to the Encyclopedia of Wars compiled by C. Phillips and A. Axelrod, Day examines 1,763 wars fought from 2325 B.C. to modern times. Of these wars, only 123 can reasonably be attributed to religion -- 6.92 percent of those recorded. Since half of these religious wars were waged by Muslims, this means that, apart from Islam, the world's religions are responsible for only 3.35 percent of all wars. "The historical evidence is conclusive," Day concludes. "Religion is not a primary cause of war."
There's a good deal more, but it's better to read the lengthy review for yourself. It's by
Anne Barbeau Gardiner, Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
I began to read an earlier Phryne Fisher mystery a few years ago, but between dealing with the main character’s name and an atmosphere that reeked of the knowing the right thing to eat and the right thing to drink, I didn’t get very far.
However, Phryne Fisher is more charming than her name (though no easier to spell than Dalgliesh), her taste in everything that smacks of money is up with the best, and her creator has a nice line in wit and humour. This last undercuts the otherwise hothouse atmosphere of a world in which nearly everyone has plenty of money, and those that don’t speak funny. So I gave her a second try.
In this, Fisher’s 17th outing, she solves two mysteries at once, one to do with a ‘lost’ child, and the other the murder of a young antique dealer. Neither mystery is quite up to the mark of an Agatha Christie, but the details are interesting enough, and the journey towards solving them has plenty of curiosities and side-turns along the way.
If you like mysteries that don’t tax the brain too much, this will do nicely.
Just finished reading The Private Patient (an Adam Dalgliesh mystery) by P D James.
The pervading tone of this latest James’ mystery is Gloom. It’s a while since I read any of her other books (The Murder Room was the last, I think), but I can’t recall there being previously quite such a bleak atmosphere. It’s as if with her exalted age (going on 90) she feels that not only is everything going to the dogs (as one of her characters also feels) but that there isn’t much that’s good in the world. We’re constantly reminded, for instance, whilst in the beautiful Dorset countryside, that small animals are being killed by larger.
Dalgliesh(he of the easily misspelt name) eventually gets married in this one, but there’s little sense of joy about the approaching marriage. Or rather, though James tells us that he experiences joy, as a reader I didn’t feel he did.
And there’s virtually no humour to leaven the gloom; the characters almost all have a kind of dourness about them, or an ugliness. Even the attractive young man, Robin Boyton, is regarded by his friend, Rhoda Gradwyn, as typical of people on whom beauty is wasted, because, in her experience, such people are often mundane, ignorant or stupid. He isn’t, but James gives the impression that he might as well be.
For some reason, James gives us Gradwyn's 'exit signs' in the first paragraph - we know she's going to be the murder victim from the outset, which seems to undermine any suspense.
The plot is convoluted in a typical Jamesian way, almost to the extent that I gave up trying to figure out who did what (let alone whodunit). By the time I’d finished I was still rather puzzled about the murderer’s motives, and what half the other people had to do with it all.
James is a stylish writer, but few of the characters in this book seem to breathe real life. Two or three of those in minor roles briefly give things a lift, (particularly Mrs Skeffington) but the bulk of the main characters talk in such well-ordered language that you strain to think of any real person who’s quite so articulate. (The supposedly 'comic' character, Mogworthy - "Nobody can be called Mogworthy" complains Gradwyn - is as dull as ditchwater.)
Along with Dalgliesh and his bride, another couple gets married at the end. This couple ties the knot without having given the slightest hint throughout the rest of the book of being in the least bit interested in each other.
I know how they felt.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The movie we saw at home (see the previous post) was Second Hand Wedding, a NZ film with Geraldine Brophy in the lead. It stands or falls on her skills, basically, as she’s the focus of a good deal of it. And she does a great job. Her acting is full of subtlety and humour, and pathos in the scenes where she faces how her daughter truly sees her.
The story is simple. Brophy plays a woman (almost) obsessed with garage sales. But she’s crafty and clever and knows how to strike a bargain, as well as knowing what’s worth getting. Her house is chocker with acquired goods, and somehow she and her ever-patient and retired husband manage to live peacefully in the midst of it all. Her daughter gets engaged, but doesn’t want to tell her mother because she thinks the latter will take over the wedding and bring all her specifically-acquired bargains along with her. There are a couple of minor subplots, but the story sticks to a pretty straightforward telling of events, and does it well.
Ryan O’Kane (whose face is very familiar, but I can’t see why, since the only thing I might recognise him from is Out of the Blue, the film about the Aramoana mass murder) and Holly Shanahan make a pleasant young couple; Patrick Rose, who’s been in a host of NZ films and TV, plays the long-suffering husband, and there are various other familiar faces amongst the cast, including Ray Henwood.
The film is set in Wellington's Kapiti Coast apparently (I'd thought it was Auckland!) and nicely shot amongst the persimmon trees and the rata and all the other typical suburban foliage. Fun viewing.
You can watch a scene from the film on Flicks.co.nz
Anyway, that aside, the one we saw at the Rialto was Young at Heart. I’ve just been on the Net looking to see if I could find some background info about the choir that features in the movie, and there’s obviously quite a bit at the FoxSearchlight site – if I can dig my way through all the links. Might leave it till later since there are reviews and videos galore, with the choir hiving hither and yon, including, no doubt, going to places like Las Vegas (although I couldn’t see that when I searched).
The movie: it’s kind of a rough grainy doco, with a sometimes wavering camera (to make sure you know it’s being taken ‘live’ no doubt) but it would almost not matter what the director and cameraman did, these old folk take over the screen time after time. From the first full-in-your-face song to the poignancy of the last moments, when we learn that the same singer who opened the show has died since the making of the movie, this is a life-empowering, soul-engaging heck of a film. Not because it’s particularly well-made (though it probably hides its craft more skilfully than we realise) but because the people in it are just so endearingly alive. Mostly in their eighties, and full of aches and pains and all sorts of chronic illnesses, they come utterly alive when they start performing for an audience. There’s no holding them back. And some are so keen they’ll get up off their sickbed, practically, in order to make it to the show.
Only a few of them can actually sing particularly well – but it isn’t the professionalism of the singing that’s of interest here. These people sing from the heart, and communicate life to their audiences. The sense of spirit within their singing is so strong that they reduce young men a quarter their age to tears in the concert they do in a prison. And wondrously, that scene avoids all the worst things non-Americans dislike about Americans; for once there’s no performing for the camera by the prisoners. They’re engrossed in the singing to the extent that what they’re thinking and feeling is written all over their faces. I found this to be one of the most moving parts of the film.
The two deaths in the film are wrenching as well; two wonderful characters just don’t manage to make the final concert, two guys as different as possible but both with an enormous strength and a willingness to put their lives on the line to try and get through their illnesses. It must have been tough on the Bob Cilman, the choir’s director over the 25 or so years he’s been running it, to see one after another of his people die on him, often in difficult circumstances. Hard-nosed as he sometimes seems when working with the choir, he’s a softie at heart, and must have had his heart broken a number of times.
But the sadness is alleviated time after time with the wonderful humour, the kind of humour only people who’ve been through eighty years of life and grief can summon up. In scene after scene one of the ‘cast’ will drop a complete non sequiter into the conversation, leaving us laughing, or offer a throwaway line that beats anything the average comedian can do.
I’d love to see it again, even knowing that some of the cast don’t make it. They affirm life to such a degree that they make you realise that while growing old might make you look like that least attractive creature on earth, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Notice the exclamation mark.
Currently you’ll find they’re ‘reviewing’ Relacore. Interestingly enough, they actually don’t give it a rave review. I don’t know whether there are other Relacore reviews on the Net – I haven’t looked because diet pills don’t greatly excite me as a subject – but I suspect, if there are, they’re a little more positive than this!
Actually, having said that, I thought I’d check a little further, and in doing so find another site with a very similar name to ConsumerPriceWatch.net: consumerdietreview.com. plainly reviewing diet pills is big business (though not necessarily for the makers of the pills in question).
The scariest thing is just how many weight loss pills there are out there. The first of these two sites lists dozens. And the scarier thing is that none of them really seem to work. At least not for long. As soon as people go back to normal eating, the pills might as well not have done anything.
In the end these things may have a use in bringing weight down far enough to get the person back on their feet in terms of exercise and healthier eating. It’s the discipline required to go beyond that that’s the measure.
One of the scariest things I’ve seen on TV recently – sorry to keep using the word ‘scary’ – was in yet another one of the endless round of obesity programmes we’re being inflicted with. A grandfather had his stomach stapled, after he and his family had spent years eating junk food. He was pretty much at death’s door, couldn’t get himself around, and was in a vile state.
The scary thing was that when he got home, his family – teenagers and older kids – were all still eating junk food, and one of the teenage mothers was giving her baby pure unadulterated junk food.
Joan Cusack is a classic match for Black's antic personality. She seems all together, but just every so often some weird look comes into her eyes, and you know there's another maniac just waiting to break out. She never quite gets the chance to do it, even though she's primed a little with some beer in one scene, and later on meets a rock bandsman with a brain as speedy as a snail's, and almost seems to be about to leap all over his superb body (which he invitingly keeps on touching!).
There isn't a member of the cast who puts a foot wrong: the kids are great, the parents have their own manic style (the moment when it's announced that their teacher is a fraud is wonderful, as they all melt into: there's an axe murderer teaching our children), and the various rock band players are as dopey as they come - but endearing.
Mike White wrote the script, and plays the slow-witted flat mate. Brilliantly.
I loved it.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
A lot of people put interesting things in their signature at the bottom of emails. However, Family First, the New Zealand group that aims to focus on family issues, has one that takes the cake. (I've copied it with their permission.)
Any mistakes in this email can be put down to professional oversight, hormonal imbalances or the weather. Please overlook any errors, omissions or admissions. If you should not have received this email please return and don't read.
Unless the word absquatulation has been used in its correct context somewhere other than in this warning, it does not have any legal or grammatical use and may be ignored. No animals were harmed in the transmission of this email, although the poodle next door is living on borrowed time, let me tell you! Those of you with an overwhelming fear of the unknown will be gratified to learn that there is no hidden message revealed by reading this backwards, so just ignore that Alert Notice from Microsoft.However, by pouring a complete circle of salt around yourself and your computer you can ensure that no harm befalls you and your pets. If you have received this email in error, please add some nutmeg and egg whites, whisk, and place in a warm oven for 40 minutes.
Monday, November 03, 2008
I've been writing music this year with the intention of doing another concert, as I've no doubt mentioned previously, and was pleasantly surprised to discover over the last couple of days that I had several other songs that would be suitable. I'd written three children's songs back in 2000 that have never been performed, as far as I know, plus a song that did get one performance in 2006; another that was written at the same time, that didn't get any performance - at least I've never heard that it did, and two other songs to the same set of words. These were written for a couple who wanted to be able to sing a poem they enjoyed reciting to their toddler at that time. I wrote a slow version and a fast one. What's happened to them since, I don't know.
Anyway, with those six songs, the eight Peter Olds ones, the four piano pieces, another song called The Cockerel and the waltz I wrote for my wife, I've got a fair amount of material for a concert. Might need to have a few other things - perhaps an instrumental piece - to round the thing out and give a bit of variety. I have been writing instrumental music - suite for Brass Band, and a string quartet, and a suite for cor anglais and strings, but I can't see any of these getting performed in a rush. What I need is an impresario to look after my 'marketing'. It's something I'm not good at.
The fancy-looking cockerel was photographed by SteveB
Saturday, November 01, 2008
The time-shifting is clever, and works. The photography is excellent - even allowing us to see every chink and crevice in Redford's aging face. He was 68 when the movie came out, and he looks it. It's almost as if the moviemakers decided for once not to pretend that he was anything but the age he is, which makes it a bit odd that he's still going off to work each day. (For the record, Mirren was 59 at the time, and Dafoe, the baby, was only 49.)
In the end the thing is disappointing. You're hoping for some denouement. It never quite comes, and it's almost as if the movie hasn't made up its mind whether it's a clever psychological thriller or a love story. It seems to opt for the latter in the end, leaving the thriller out in the cold.