Sunday, March 21, 2021

I finally buy another piano

When we knew we were moving house back in September last year, I also knew I'd have to sell the Broadwood baby grand I'd had for about twelve years. This was tough, because I'd used it continually, and I was very fond of it, in spite of its upper register having a couple of notes that were very bright - brighter than their fellows - and the middle section of the keyboard requiring considerable strength to make it play well and evenly. 

In the end I bit the bullet and advertised it on Trade Me, after asking the two remaining piano companies in Dunedin if either of them were interested in buying it. The first said they had too much stock already, the second, Alexander Pianos, also said he had a lot in hand at the moment, but at least told me how much it would cost to shift it. 

And then he put a question on the Trade Me page and after a bit of back and forth, I sold it directly to him for NZ$2,500.  

Adrian Mann is a bit of a unassuming genius. Not only did he build, from scratch, the longest piano in the world - but he tunes pianos, repairs them, does them up, trades in them, shifts them round the region mostly on his own. Yesterday, I even discovered that he'd built the trailer he carries them in: a big metal box affair with all sorts of innovations he's installed himself. He made it so that it's slightly narrower than his car, which means that if he can get his car in a driveway he can get the trailer in too. 

The trailer has a flap at the back that folds down to form a platform which can be electrically lowered and raised as required. 

When he picked up my grand, he brought his muscle man with him. I was expecting someone who at least appeared to have muscles, but in fact the guy was skinny and taller than Adrian, and is another pianist, who teaches piano. Adrian himself is only about my height (five foot six, or roughly 167 centimetres), and appears to be slightly built. But he can shift a piano into your house - or out of it - on his own, on a trolley, as though he was just bringing in the groceries. 

After we moved I kept putting off getting another piano for no good reason, using my digital piano in the meantime. A good instrument in its way, but not as flexible as a piano in terms of how easily you can move round the keys. Still it's sustained me in the interim. Finally I decided I needed to get on and find another one, and so when I was down in Dunedin last weekend I went in to see Adrian and he showed me a couple of possibilities. 

The first was a Danemann piano. I liked it but it felt a bit blurry when I used the pedal. This may have been because when you used the pedal on the digital piano it had almost no resonance. The Danemann was very bright in the upper register which didn't feel quite comfortable. 

The second piano was a Welmar and it was much more my style. Don't know how to explain why that was the case. It played easily, had grunt, was still brightish up top but not overwhelmingly, and generally said to me, 'Look, mate, don't hang about thinking about this; just get on and buy me.' So I did. It cost me the same price as I'd got for the grand by the time $200 was added on for the shift to Oamaru. This is an hour and a half's drive, but Adrian said he'd bring my piano up next time he was coming in our direction with other jobs. I seem to remember that when the grand was shifted into our house twelve years or so ago, it cost $180, so with inflation, $200 is not a bad price, especially when you take into account the distance. 

It arrived yesterday afternoon, eight days after I'd bought it - which in itself was a nice surprise and a bonus. Adrian came on his own - he'd already dropped another piano off about twenty minutes out of Dunedin (a loan one, so presumably he'll have to pick it up again); and was going on from our place to do two tunings, and possibly pick up another piano, and then going over to Queenstown, which is about four hours away to tune another piano - urgently. A lot of work for one day!

He had the Welmar into our house in a matter of minutes, once he'd got it unhooked from its straps and such, and we mostly stood and watched him, only lending a hand when he was getting off the trolley. Even that was mostly done by him. (It took four guys to get the grand into our old house, and only one of them really seemed to know what he was doing!)

I had a good long play on the piano yesterday afternoon - mostly Mozart sonatas - and we got acquainted with each other. It always seems that pianos and their owners take a bit of time getting used to each other's quirks. 

I looked up how old the Welmar is this morning. It was built in London, and its individual number is 50122, which means it was made in 1950. It was therefore built just a couple of years before I started learning the piano, which makes it almost as old as I am, and possibly in better condition! 

*The longest piano sat in the Otago Museum for a couple of years, and was played by various pianists while it was there. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Not quite satisfying...

I Care a Lot
is a new movie that's just arrived on Netflix. Brilliantly directed and shot, but it has no heart. Rosamund Pike plays an amoral woman running a business that claims to care for the elderly by making herself their guardian. It's a scam, helped along by a number of other scammers, and the end result is that the old people wind up in a rest home against their will and all their income, that is, what's left over they've forked out for all their weekly costs, goes to Pike's character, Marla Grayson. 

She mistakenly takes one independent old lady away, seemingly all in a moment. Apparently in real life this couldn't - or shouldn't - happen. The old lady turns out to have unknown connections rather than being someone without any living relatives, and the main connection has a heart even less moral than Marla's. If that's possible. 

Initially it's a cat and mouse game, but in the last half hour or so it becomes ridiculous after Marla survives a certain death and takes her revenge. The ending, though satisfying and just in dramatic terms, leaves the viewer wondering what they've just seen. Two evil people trying to outdo each other, mostly. 

Pike, on a recent chat show, touted the film as a comedy. Certainly it has its moments of humour, but the thing is hardly a comedy. When the old lady is first removed from her home, there's nothing but horror for the viewer. Could this happen in real life? The movie makes it seems possible. 

Netflix also likes to dredge up movies that have mostly been forgotten, such as Daniel Radcliffe's first major movie outside the Harry Potter series. The December Boys was shot in Australia, with a mostly Australian cast. It came out in 2007. 

Radcliffe somehow sticks out like a sore thumb. His character is already older than the other three boys who feature (and he was around 18 when the movie came out). He tries to play gawky and awkward and looks overly gawky and awkward doing so. He has a near sex scene, which plainly didn't feature in the Harry Potter advertising when he had his first kiss in one those movies. And he is, in fact, not the main character, but because of his billing and celebrity by that time, tends to take over more of the movie than he should. 

It's difficult at the beginning of the movie to figure the character out; is he supposed to be a similar age
to the other three boys, who all look around twelve, possibly thirteen. He trots along with them as though he was near their age, playing like a younger child. He doesn't appear to have a leadership role with this group even though he's plainly the oldest. 

In due course we see his role in the scheme of things, but by that time it's hard to get past the Harry Potter persona Radcliffe brings with him: the same habit of talking with his mouth nearly closed, the eyes that squint when he doesn't have glasses on (and he doesn't wear glasses in this movie so it looks as though he's perpetually squinting); the sense that he doesn't really inhabit a role but does all the right moves. 

A poster that misinterprets 
the story in favour of 
promoting the big name actor.
It's a pity, because there's a good story at the heart of this movie; it just isn't Radcliffe's. Far better to have cast a relatively unknown actor, as the other three boys are, in the role, and hope that the thing would take off without a celebrity name on the billing. As so often is the case when a 'star' is brought into a role that doesn't require one, a sense of unevenness pervades the film. 

When I say the other three boys are unknown, I mean that they were mostly unfamiliar to audiences at the time. All three have had successful careers in the movies, the one playing Misty, already fairly experienced by the time this movie came along. 

The actors apart, the photography is outstanding, and the movie is worth seeing for this alone. It's a story that takes a while to warm up, and for once, even though it features an orphanage run by Catholic nuns, there's none of that anti-Catholic feeling about it that so often pervades any movie with that sort of setting. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Weak week on Netflix

It's been a couple of weeks of poor selections on Netflix NZ. We watched the first episode of Daughters of Destiny, about a school for lower caste children in India. Each one is selected and their education is paid for. It was interesting but quite slow, and so far we haven't watched any more of it. 

We gave up on Operation Buffalo, a dreadfully overacted and overdone Australian series which didn't seem to know whether it was a comedy or a drama. Set in the Australian desert where scientists were testing atom bombs, it quickly got sidetracked into a subplot about a rapist. The actors were working hard, but something just wasn't quite coming together. 

A Suitable Boy was all very pretty and colourful, but unengaging. Based on a now classic 20th century novel, it should have had everything going for it. Survived one episode. 

Another story mostly set in India, White Tiger, was about a young man who was doing his best to become successful when his family and village were dragging him down. Again it couldn't work out whether it wanted to play for laughs or for drama, and kept falling between the two stools. Not only that the crude language used not only by the main character but also by a gang of drivers kept getting in the way of any enjoyment. Along with crude behaviour. We didn't manage to finish the first episode. 

I've mentioned The Girl on the Train in another post. It was perhaps the worst piece to come from this week though we watched it right through. Oceans Eight wasn't quite up to the mark of the others in the Ocean series but with some stellar actresses in the cast, it couldn't fail completely. 

And finally, as of this moment, an adaptation of Agatha Christie's murder mystery, Crooked House. According to some sources this was one of her two favourite novels amongst those she'd written. Sadly, the film comes nowhere near being a favourite. The story remains somewhat the same, but has made some odd choices in terms of changing the source material. 

Charles Haywood acts as the kind of glue that holds the story together, but for some reason he's played by Max Irons (son of Jeremy Irons) as a dull, stolid character with almost no charm. Perhaps this was the director's decision, since the film as a whole is dull and stolid. Various top actors do their best to enliven the proceedings, including Glenn Close and Gillian Anderson (in one of her typical disguises) but even they can't keep the film from sinking and sinking. 

The biggest mystery in this story, compared to Christie's original, is why this family would allow an outsider to wander round the house, barging into rooms, accosting people with questions and ignoring their requests for him to go. Character aspects of the original novel are dropped completely: the second wife's lover who's supposed to be tutor to the children though there's never any sign of it, was originally a conscientious objector as well; this has been removed from the film, as has the science background of younger brother's wife. Neither of these is a great omission, but considering the length of the film, and the slowness of the pace of much of it, it would have benefitted the actors to have had more backstories and not just each be presented as yet another jealous member of disgruntled family. 

The child in the book is ugly-looking, not just ugly-natured as in the film. This gives the ending of the movie a real awkwardness, quite apart from the fact that the writer chose to reverse the placing of some of the final revelations, so that we know too much too early. The film ends with a literal bang (and one of the worst pieces of CGI you'll see in a while) but that's followed by a whimper. There's barely any climax, and the words The End suddenly truncate the movie as a whole. 

It's hard to believe that anyone could fail to produce an interesting and exciting film of an Agatha Christie story, but Gilles Paquet-Brenner manages with ease. He seems to think this is a film noir - many of the interiors are darkly lit, and there's little sunshine in the exteriors. He lacks the light touch that's required to make Christie's story believable when dramatised, and so we never really get into sympathy with any of the characters, including the two young leads. 

Monday, March 08, 2021

How not to make a movie, even in Hindi

I used to post a lot of movie reviews on this blog, but for some reason that no longer happens, even though we possibly watch more films and series than ever due to Netflix and the like. 

Having got a little irritated with the way Netflix presents what it thinks you should watch on its main screen, we hopped off to the search section last night looking for something a bit different. We got something different all right. The Girl on the Train, an adaptation of the novel by Paula Hawkins. 

Oh, yes, you say, that was the movie with Emily Blunt, and it wasn't too bad. Except this wasn't the movie with Emily Blunt. This was another movie adaptation, in this case a Hindi production with a mostly Hindi cast. And it was bad. 

The story made little sense, especially since the director decided to flick back and forth between the present, the immediate past, the possible past, the definite past past, and possibly some other variations. Much of the time you had no idea where you were. 

The main actress, Parineeti Chopra, may be able to act - I really don't know. If this was the only movie of hers you ever saw, you would think she'd come out of the 19th century melodrama period, when overacting was the order of the day. She spends an inordinate amount of time emoting, bursting into tears, getting drunk and drunker (but in fact she's not actually drunk as much as it appears, as we learn), getting hit by a car, getting hit on the head (which requires a dodgy piece of makeup that never quite looks real and which Chopra seems to forget about frequently), screaming at mirrors, threatening to kill the person she supposedly had sympathy for, and for some reason videoing this on her phone and keeping it there, in spite of it being a thing likely to put her in prison. 

The list goes on and on. Not everything is Chopra's fault; the script is absurd. In better hands, perhaps (I haven't seen the Emily Blunt version) the story might work. Here it's nothing but a series of coincidences, and it seems as though the writer is pushing everything to work even when it can't possibly. So much makes no sense at all. 

And then characters spend half there time speaking Hindi and half English, even though they live in London. In fact they're likely to switch between the two languages mid-sentence. Fortunately there are subtitles almost throughout because otherwise you'd have no idea which language the characters were speaking. Characters are introduced without any giving the viewer any idea who they are, and they vanish just as easily. 

The production crew plainly did little research as to the way police detectives in London dress, or how they behave (slapping a suspect on the face?); the number of inane things the main detective does make you wonder if she'd ever been trained as a detective.

Amnesia is used as a convenient way of keeping vital information from the viewer. And from Chopra's character. Too convenient for words. 

And then, the three main male characters all look alike enough as to completely confuse the viewer. I thought there were only two main male characters and later wondered who the third guy was since he had a different name from the previous time we'd met him. In fact I thought it was Chopra's husband in the story who was having an affair with the woman Chopra keeps seeing from a train (a train that goes alongside the Thames in the middle of London?) Nope, it was the woman's own husband, who mostly vanishes from the story without anyone making any comment, after having confused me by looking like Chopra's husband. 

Is there anything to commend this movie? If you like a bit of Bollywood there's a dance scene at a wedding at the beginning. The fact that it's completely different in tone to anything else in the movie makes it stick out like a sore thumb. Other than that it's all dark and gloomy. 

I'm writing a book at present that has some intricate aspects to the plot. In fact, I've been writing it for some time because of these intricacies. So I know how difficult it can be to create a mystery and find yourself getting stuck or tangled. The writers of this movie had no qualms about getting stuck: they just sailed through come what may, and assumed the audience would sail along with them. I can't imagine anyone doing so.