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Saturday, July 30, 2011
I'm always getting invitations (though not often via invitationbox.com party invitations) to link up with somebody who seems unfamiliar until I discover they know people I also know - and it's sometimes a surprise to find which of my friends know each other.
And then on another day, you discover someone you've never heard of, someone, that you ought, you think, to have heard of.
TVNZ 7, which focuses strongly on the artistic community in New Zealand, (and which we've only been able to access since we got Freeview included with the new telly) is great for bringing the names of artists in front of you who are quite unfamiliar. (Or, as in a piece yesterday, where they talked about the thriving comicbook community in NZ; thriving in the sense of there being plenty of people working at it, and interested in it, but not in the sense of it being a lucrative area to work in.)
Or in another situation entirely, you meet someone who again ought to be familiar, you'd expect, and isn't. (We had the privilege of having artistic neighbours who ran their own gallery when we were young parents, so we became familiar with a lot of up and coming NZ names and works then.)
I came across the NZ artist, Allie Eagle, (not to be confused with the American artist, Ellen Eagle) who was at a conference I attended yesterday. "Attended" in the sense that I went to the morning sessions, and the first half of the afternoon, and then had had enough of sitting and went home, getting soaked in the rain in the process. Having had enough of a conference before it's half finished is normal with me these days: I can't sit comfortably for that long, and my concentration goes mid-afternoon...
I'd never heard of Allie Eagle at all, that I can remember, but the short introduction to her art - and to herself - yesterday was plenty enough to make me want to know more. [The photo shows her in front of a work she produced for the Waitakere City Council’s chamber building in 2007.] Eagle was strongly (and angrily) involved with the women's movement in the 70s, but has moved some of her thinking around in the last number of years. I warmed to her as a person and an artist. She often works collaboratively these days (using the 'atelier' method of employing other artists to work on different sections of large works - see the article the photo accompanied) and is doing a series of portraits of men, getting to know each individual sitter in a detailed way.
A 54-minute DVD has also been made about her life and art and is available through her website.
I didn't have the money on me yesterday to get a copy, but I think I will.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
This is good news for those with an IRA (Individual Retirement Account), especially if it's a gold IRA. It's not so good news for those who (a) don't have gold and (b) don't have a retirement plan.
I've written about IRAs on a previous occasion. It was a couple of months before I retired, when I was forced to admit that I didn't have much in the way of a retirement plan, having chopped and changed jobs over my working life, and often been in jobs where there wasn't any retirement plan. If it ain't there, you can't do much about it.
Ways of planning ahead such as the gold 401k approach are fine if you have money to invest, or have stayed in a job for a long period of time. For those of us who don't or haven't, then we just have to take what comes, and count the pennies a bit more carefully than we used to do. This takes some doing, actually, as the tendency, I've found, once you retire, is to keep functioning at the same level as before. Because we had a bit of money still in the bank when I finished up, and have had a bit more come in via things like Trade Me, we're okay. If those dried up, we'd really have to turn off the heat pump and stay in bed all day. (Well, in winter at least.)
I really missed out in my younger days, by not buying gold, either as bars or coins. So shortsighted of me. Seemingly, if I had purchased $25,000 of gold bullion coins in the early 70’s and held on to it during the oil crisis, inflation, devaluation of the U.S. dollar, Savings and Loan scandal, recession, tech and internet bubble, cooked books, 911, and a real estate bubble - after that lot I'd be lucky to holding onto anything - I could sell my gold today for $524,999.00.
And if I had purchased $25,000 of limited mintage investor gold coins over the same time line, I could sell that gold today for $1,377,257.00. Now that probably would have allowed me to keep the heat pump on over the winter at full bore...! Or move to somewhere where it's always warm.
This is always the issue: in order to make money from investments like a gold IRA transfer you have to have something to invest in the first place. If I had managed to put anything aside in the 70s, there would have been no chance of holding onto it during kids' schooling, clothing, eating food, going occasionally to the movies, paying various unexpected bills, replacing the wrecked car with a not-so wrecked one, let alone oil crises, devalutions, recessions, bursting bubbles and anything else you might care to name.
Some of us just have to keep holding in faith to our Father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, as he reminds us in one of the Psalms. (I think it's more likely he actually owns the cattle on a billion hills, but that's pushing the poetic licence.) In the long run, he's the only one who'll get us through all the crises etc. If you think that's being a bit naive, then you'll just have to believe me that He's done it so far and there's no reason not to think that he won't in future.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
One of photos intrigued us and with a bit of Google flitting hither and yon we finally discovered what the building was. In their original photo, they'd shown the building side on with other buildings reflected in it. The photo below is a more 'official' photo, one that appears on a site called Construction Photography.
The building is in Newcastle-on-Tyne, and is the SAGE Music Centre, a shell-shaped form encompassing three large music chambers with seating for over 2000 spectators.
Spectacular, eh? You can get a different perspective on it at this site, where there's a slide show of various angles. I particularly like number one in the series, with this extremely modern building overlooking a variety of old houses and their upstanding chimney pots.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
We watched Air Force One again last night; I’d forgotten how jingoistic it is.
Near the beginning Harrison Ford (playing the President of the USA) gives a speech (in Russia) saying how he won’t stand for little terrorists taking over as presidents of little countries and the US will step in and stop them! And it goes on in like fashion throughout.
We’ve already seen the US SAS-equivalent flying in and capturing one of these little terrorists while shooting everyone else in sight (of course these people don't count; they're just unnamed guards 1 through to 20, and no one cares that they might be real human beings). One never gets to sympathise in any way with the baddies: Gary Oldman is the main baddie and he has some very nasty scenes, which only make us hate him more and more.
Of course it’s very excitingly done, and is full of tension (Wolfgang Petersen at his best). Harrison Ford does his usual steely-eyed stuff at the crucial moments (see picture), and it’s a wonder the baddies don’t turn into butter and melt away. And not only is he the President he’s also a Father and a Husband. Oldman tries to get in a word edgeways about being a 'father' too (with three little kiddies), but you know he doesn’t have a capital F on his version of 'father.'
A couple of quotes from reviews about this movie:
The two hours of this movie felt like such an eternity that I was certain my clothes were going to be out of style by the time it was over. [Charles Taylor in Salon.com]
The movie also resurrects that ancient and dependable standby, the Choosing of the Wires. In countless other movies, the bomb squad hesitates between ``Red . . . or black? Red . . . or black''). This is a big-budget movie and presents us with five wires. It's an emergency, and the president needs to decide which two he should connect. See if you can guess the right two colors. The choices are green, yellow, red, white and blue. [Roger Ebert]
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Suite for Cor Anglais and strings second movement by mike-crowl
Halle Berry does her best with the role, but her character isn't one you have much sympathy for - she rants and raves when she doesn't get her own way, she supposedly takes up investigating her long-time friend's murder because she's her long-time friend, and then runs round believing that the Willis character is the murderer in spite of nothing more than some circumstantial evidence. Willis does his sleaze-bag look, something he's done better in one or two other movies, and Giovanni Ribisi, he of the shifty eyes, plays "one of those convenient nerdy tech-savant characters who can hack into ultra-secure databases with dizzying speed" as Peter Bradshaw noted in his review.
I seem to remember that I've seen the end of this movie somewhere...maybe on TV. If I recall, Berry kills off Ribisi, who's doing some two-timing of his own. It's all nonsense, and doesn't warrant anyone actually staying in the theatre (or on the couch) to watch this high-class garbage.
Suite for Cor Anglais and Strings third movement by mike-crowl
I've just tested this out and it works. Takes a bit of time to download, but it gets there. I'd remembered that SoundCloud has a 'share' section on each music/audio file you upload to them, and guessed there might be a way of embedding a file. There is. And here it is...
I'll have to do some more...!
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Well, the last of the Harry Potter movies is upon us, and my wife and I went to an early morning session (along with about 20 other people) yesterday to catch up on it.
Yes, you still need to know the backstories if you're to make complete sense of things, and some high points from the last book get a little less room than they deserve (no doubt through constraints of time - the twin's death consists almost entirely of Ron in mourning, and the battle between Molly Weasley and Bellatrix is truncated to the point where it's just another fight with wands. Both of these are losses). The backstory about Severus Snape and his deep love for Harry's mother is done in moment after moment and succeeds, in spite of being whipped past your eye at a rate of knots. Again, it helps if you have some understanding of what's being said and shown here. Other things seem to take longer than necessary: the opening scene with John Hurt seems quite slow to me, for instance.
But there are delights as well: Helena Bonham Carter playing Emma Watson playing HBC was one of the highlights. (The three almost unknown actors who played Ministry of Magic workers in the previous episode who were supposed to be the three main actors in disguise were also fun in this regard.) Maggie Smith saying in her inimitable way - after having cast a spell she's never had to use before - 'I've always wanted to say that!' And seeing Neville Longbottom come into his own (after having been unduly neglected by the directors in some of the other episodes) is great.
The CGI is impeccable, and so believable that you no longer give any thought to how it's all done. Many of the huge range of British actors who've appeared throughout the series reappear briefly - some get no more than a single shot - and it's like a coming-together of the cast for a final fling at the thing.
The story has room enough to breathe, although I'm not sure if the audience always has the same amount of breath: I found the film made me fell quite tense, which is probably an intended plus (!) It even seemed more emotionally strong than some of the others, though I can't tell you now which particular bits made me feel that way. The woman sitting next to me seemed to be finding it moving enough to be wiping her eyes a good deal at one stage.
All up this is a strong contendor in the series, and perhaps shows how far the the movies have progressed from the original Chris Columbus episodes. This isn't a movie for small children, however much they may enjoy Harry Potter. I wouldn't take them near it unless you want to contend with nightmares for a week.
And the epilogue, with the characters grown up, actually gave them all a chance to look like they really are. For once Ron actually looked reasonably respectable - the hair had been combed back off his face. And the Potter 'son' is very appealing....
PS: Does the poster above make Harry look like something out of some violent action movie - or is it just my reading of it?
Monday, July 18, 2011
Noted by Michael Quinion in his latest World Wide Words newsletter.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
After reading about Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks on Agatha Christie.com yesterday I checked our public library and found they had a copy - and a fairly unused one as well.
It's quite a large book, but in fact doesn't take a lot of reading - the print is not small (unlike the print in most of the Christie paperbacks I've got) and the layout is such that there's a lot of white space.
There's also not all that much in it to interest me, unfortunately, and I've given up about halfway through. I thought it might give some background to the way Christie wrote, but it's quite skimpy on this. The author, John Curran, does his best to work out how Christie put her novels together, but he's hampered by having some seventy notebooks that are anything but complete in their info. They're a very haphazard bunch, and though he's done his best with them, they don't actually give much information into how Christie wrote. Or maybe I was just expecting something more.
He does say that she has told us elsewhere (not in the notebooks) that her plotting was done a great deal in her head, and that she didn't write out full outlines for her books. But in contradistinction to that he also says that some of the notebooks have fairly complete outlines of a few of the books: but they come at a stage when all the thinking has been done.
So just how Christie worked out her often intricate stories remains a bit of a mystery. There are plenty of very sketchy one-line notes reproduced in the book, but they're so sketchy that they need Hercule Poirot to unravel them.
The book is useful in the way it cross-references the books themselves, telling us how Christie reused plots and ideas, and that would be interesting if I'd read more of the books recently. But I haven't, and I think rather than read more of Mr Curran's book, I'll move onto reading the novels themselves - or at least the ones I have on my shelves.
It has some gung-ho humour and some tender moments (usually undercut by Jack Black's Panda character) and occasionally some wit. The story's not bad, though fairly uncomplicated, and even though it's as predicatable as the average cowboys and indians movie used to be, it's entertaining.
I think its greatest achievement however has little to do with the action or story. This is something that's quite subtle in its own way and something that's actually unnecessary. I'm referring to the design of the film, the look. From the outset this is a beautiful film with backdrops and scenery so finely executed and with such artistry that the movie is worth watching for these alone. Yes, of course, it's quite amazing to see the individual bits of fur on the Panda, for example, wafting in the breeze, but these are a textual feature that's been done well for some time in animated movies. What I found most striking was the sense of realness in much of the texture: the clothing hangs and looks like real material; daft items like the knitting wool that sits on the Ping the goose's head is tangible - even more than the creature it's sitting on. The water dripping in the Shifu the Master's first scene has the look and feel of real water. The roofs on the houses look like real tiles. And there are dozens of other examples.
Again all these things may not be new to modern animation, but they're done with a finesse here that's quite extraordinary. (They were a distinctive feature of another animated feature, one that didn't become a big hit - Fantastic Mr Fox - but I don't remember them being as vivid as these ones are.)
This movie also makes a feature of telling two backstories in different visual styles (as the tale of the three brothers is told in the second-to-last Harry Potter movie). Near the beginning it fills us in on the way in which the Peacock (voiced by Gary Oldman) became a villain; this section has the look of Chinese paper puppetry rather than animation, and is a delight to the eye. The other story tells how Po came to be adopted by the Goose. This is done is a sketchier style, somewhat more akin to the approach used by Japanese animation artists.
I'd be happy to see this movie again, just for the breathtaking look of it all.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
So even though I no longer work there I'm always interested in checking out places that offer managed hosting just to see what they have available.
One I've just come across offers something called colocation - or co-location if you're not yet up to joining the prefix to the rest of the word. (Apropos of that, I can never decide whether cooperate needs a hyphen or not - cooperate looks to be such an odd word that my mind immediately reads as coop-erate.)
Though I had an inkling of its meaning, I didn't really know what colocation was, so I had to check it up. Apparently (according to Wikipedia) it allows multiple customers to locate network, server, and storage gear—and connect them to a variety of telecommunications and network service providers—with a minimum of cost and complexity. Well, there you go. Seemingly, as one company puts it, it's like sending your 'little treasures off to boarding school.' It also presumably relies on fast broadband, which is still a bit of an issue itself here in NZ.
Cost is also an issue with getting someone to host your server: you have to be convinced in your own mind that what you're putting up online is really worth those dollars per month. I'm not sure that we got to that point at our office, and in terms of having a site of my own, I've never been keen to part out cash just to have space available for my vast and opinionated musings - or for anything else I might jot down either. But small businesses, especially those that are highly driven by their computer side, certainly need to consider how their data is looked after. Whether they keep it in-house or send it off to 'boarding school.' If you keep your little treasures at home you have all the hassles of making sure your server is working and not going AWOL when you most need it. If you send the data elsewhere, you have to make sure the company looking after it is secure and concerned for your business to the extent that it at least feels as though they think only of you.
So, it's always a bit of a juggling act.
My grandson brought home a book from his school library which turned out to be a bit beyond his reading level. So his mother read it. And I read it.
The title was Rowan and the Keeper of the Crystal by Emily Rodda. Rodda is the penname of an Australian author, Jennifer June Rowe (born in 1948). She writes crime fiction for adults under her own name, but her children's fiction is published under two pseudonyms: Emily Rodda and Mary-Anne Dickinson. She has written several children's fantasy series: Deltora Quest, Rowan of Rin, Fairy Realm and Teen Power Inc., and recently the Rondo trilogy.
The book I read last night comes third in the Rowan of Rin series. It's nicely plotted, stylishly-written and requires the hero and the three young people he encounters to use their wits to overcome several difficult but connected problems. My daughter enjoyed it enough to say she might check out the school library and see if the rest of the series is there!
I'm in agreement: I often find children and young people's books are more imaginative and better written than some of the adult fiction I've encountered.
I started another book yesterday as well. It's a very early (1922) Agatha Christie called The Secret Adversary. It has a joie de vivre that's sometimes missing from her later mysteries, and is full of Bolsheviks and Sinn Fein and the overthrow of the civilised world, and stars a couple of her early characters, Tommy and Tuppence. Yup, that's what they're called. I've come across them before in another one of her books - if I remember rightly it had a very P G Wodehouse style about it. This one lacks that sense of humour (although Christie could be surprisingly witty when she wanted) but it zips along at a cracking pace and even if it's almost entirely unbelievable, it's very entertaining.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Being retired and living off a pension isn't too bad as long as you don't have any large bills to deal with. Last year, before I retired, both of us had dental bills that chewed up a good deal of the ready money. Since I've retired we haven't had any dental issues, but the car has done its best to bankrupt us!
Going to the dentist in NZ has always been an expensive business, and it's not surprising many people put it off as long as they can. Roll on the day when it becomes a subsidised part of the economy, as medical care is.
In the States you can get a dental plan just as you can get a medical plan. I suppose it's a better option being able to dripfeed your payments to an insurance company rather than having a horrendous bill foisted upon you, but it's still going to cost. I didn't know there were any similar dental insurance plans available in New Zealand, but apparently there are. Seemingly they're not over-popular with the dentists: it requires them to do extra paperwork and, apparently, may bring them in a lesser income. Dear me - that would be awful!
I've had some great dentists over the years, people I've been happy to pay to have work done. I've also had some not-so-great ones: my first dentist was of the old school that thought that taking teeth out was always the best option, even when you were in your teenage years! Crikey. It must have been the trend at that time. I read the sequel to Plumb recently (it's called Meg). In that there's a scene in which the husband goes out (at the suggestion of his mother) and gets all his teeth removed to save himself future dental problems. His young wife is appalled.
Fortunately that awful dentist didn't manage to remove many teeth, but by the time I got to England in the 60s I was having some real problems with my upper set of teeth, and finished up having to go to a friendly Australian dentist who sorted things out. I can't remember if he was the one who removed some of my upper front teeth, but he certainly was the one who put crowns in - at huge expense. I kid you: under the National Health system in England the whole process cost me no more then ten pounds!
Which might explain why the National Health struggles to make ends meet.
The photo of the young man with lolly teeth was taken by Broken Piggy Bank
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
And then, while we sat inside the pub having our meal, the snow vanished completely (it hadn't settled on the ground at all) and it was sunshine again.
Meanwhile, I've just had a look at the first official trailer for Tintin. He wasn't ever a great favourite of mine, but I must have read some of the books at some point, as the characters presented here all look fairly familiar. But where's the personality behind them? If the trailer's anything to go by, the CGI process presented here is no better than the one in Polar Express in terms of characterization. Where's the real Jamie Bell under all this, or Andy Serkis? There was a great deal more life in the latter's Gollum or even in his King Kong. These characters lack something which I can't quite put my finger on. The various comments on the Guardian article put it down to a deadness in the eyes, which, when you think about it, is odd, because there are real actors involved in the production of what is essentially an animation process. Why should there be any deadness?
The trailer looks very hustle and bustle and not terribly enticing, to be honest. Maybe it just presents all the fast bits and none of the slow...
Monday, July 11, 2011
I’ve been finding it quite hard to settle down and read anything book-wise since I retired: reading lots of stuff on the Net. But I skim a lot there too.
The books and magazines I’ve got from the Library Bus (which conveniently stops just around the corner from our house every Monday afternoon) have all been pretty much fizzlers, stuff I can't be bothered getting into.
So I’ll just have to go through my own bookshelves and see what I haven’t read – or haven’t read for a long time. In the light of that, I picked up and read Ian Rankin’s Let it bleed over the last couple of days. That was good. It was one of the bunch of Rankin titles we bought and read in England, back in 2007, I think, and by the time it was its turn to be read I’d had enough of Rankin and Rebus for the time being (having read five or six in a row).
It’s a bit shorter than some of his other books, I think, but it’s very fast-paced, and as always there are a heap of things going on and gradually connecting together. It's less gruesome than some of his other stories, which was also a plus. He’s very good at plotting, as well as providing strong characterisations. And he seems to know so much. Seemingly some of his earlier books had police procedural errors – but who would know, except a policeman. By the time this book was written he had someone on hand to check those details.
I’ve obviously read the series all out of order...just looking at Rankin’s (excellent) website, I can see that Let it Bleed comes in the middle somewhere of about twenty Rebus titles, and I’ve read some of the later ones. Not to worry. They’re all fairly self-contained, and you remember as you go along who's who.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Saboteur is, in part, a road movie: Cummings is falsely accused of being a saboteur and goes on the run, picking up Lane on the way. The script is full of speeches about Freedom and Liberty and such (effective in the year the movie was made  no doubt, but a little ironic now) and the baddies, all 'American' citizens, are a nasty undermining group. (One of them is called 'Mr Freeman'). The script is credited to Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison and Dorothy Parker, but it's full of Hitchcock touches. In fact it was Viertel's first script, and, as was often the case with Hitchcock's movies, was written greatly in collaboration with Hitchcock. Parker hones some of the dialogue scenes: the truckdriver going on about his wife, the circus performers arguments and so. Originally she and Hitchcock appeared in the movie as the couple who stop by Cummings and Lane when the two are fighting by the roadside, and Parker delivered the line: They must be very much in love. However, this shot was later replaced with other actors, since it seemed too intrusive to use such well-known faces at that point.
The ending takes place (for no particular real reason, although one of the characters gives it a rather lame explanation) on the Statue of Liberty (the name is thematic, of course, and Lane reads out the stirring words that were written when the statue was gifted to the US by the French). The real saboteur, played by Norman Lloyd (he went on to collaborate with Hitchcock in a variety of other ways), hardly appears in the movie: he's there at the beginning briefly, and then doesn't turn up until the final showdown, plummeting off the Statue in one of Hitchcock's cleverer trick shots.
But it's the characters who are met along the way that make this movie interesting: the garrulous truckdriver, Lane's blind uncle (who can hear and sense things better than the rest of us, of course), the circus troup disturbed in the night (these characters get about ten minutes of the movie, and are strongly delineated both by the writers and the actors), and a bunch of menacing baddies who mouth platitudes about 'real' freedom and so on. Hitchcock has a gift for bringing a character to life in a few moments of screen time.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable Hitchcock piece.
Saturday, July 09, 2011
My lack of interest in snow has to be balanced against the requirements of ski-fields and such for snow and more snow. Personally, while snow is beautiful, it's something I can do without. (I remember as a child walking for about 45 minutes to school the snow - no 'snow days' then - and arriving so frozen I was in tears; which didn't endear me either to my classmates or the teacher!)
But I realise a lot of people in this country thrive on snow - and a lot of the visitors too - which is no doubt why they like to read things like ski goggle reviews, things that hold no interest for me whatsoever.
Maybe that day of being frozen in the snow has traumatised me forever when it comes to snow....
Photo of Whakapapa by Ben Gertzfield
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
I thought getting this done would be a piece of cake: I worked at it fairly solidly for two days and only got the first four scenes updated. Phew. Admittedly on Sunday morning I woke up thinking I needed to make yet another alteration to a secton in the second scene that's been bugging me for a while. However, whether the change I've now made is the right one is still not settled....
Actually I wasn't intending to write about the musical here this time, but about the sad news that the wonderful UK online bookshop, Book Depository, has been acquired by Amazon. At present Book Depository is great to shop at because it charges no postage anywhere in the world. (Well, 'anywhere' covers at least a 100 countries.) And still gives discounts on the original prices - not as big as Amazon's, but then Amazon compensates by charging a fearsome US$12 per book, and that usually wipes any discount off the map.
Supposedly, at this time, there won't be any changes to Book Depository's approach. Cynic that I am, I can't believe the good times will last....
Friday, July 01, 2011
I don't know how long the current movie will be available on the site, but it's a daft piece of work from a Dunedin group (including Dave Gooselink and Matt Landreth) with familiar Dunedin locations. It's a musical based on the story of Trevor Bain (no guesses as to which Bain this really refers to) and it's a non-stop piece of nonsense - almost entirely done to music. It won the prize in 2007.
Unfortunately I can't embed it, so check it out quickly....!