What I've Been Watching
The Sixties – this is a great series about the 60s and all that happened, it is an American production, so mostly concentrates on that, but was still an excellent watch. Music, television, politics, Kennedy, King, race riots, the space race and on it goes. It is informative and entertaining.
The Blacklist S1 - I really enjoyed this when it was on tele, but as always the station fucked around with the scheduling and I missed episodes and eventually gave up. So with the DVD I could start at the beginning and really appreciate it. It's a basic crime of the week scenario but the criminals are part of a Blacklist, the worst of the worst. The very worst being Raymond Reddington or Red, played most deliciously by James Spader. He appears in the first episode and turns himself in saying he will help capture those on the Blacklist if he can work with Lizzie Keen (Megan Boone) a rookie detective who happens to be starting that very day. The criminals caught each week are interesting, but really it's about Spader's character and what is he really up to and why he chose Lizzie that makes the series intriguing, a few minutes each week added to the mystery, and of course nothing was resolved and now I need to see S2! Stat! (my theory is that he is her supposedly dead father)
Orphan Black S1/S2 - I've heard good things about this series but wasn't sure what it was about. Sarah Manning is returning home after a brief stint in gaol, and when someone who looks remarkably likes her jumps in front of a train at the subway, Sarah, a hustler, decides this is the break she needs and decides to impersonate the deceased. But it's a case of being careful what you wish for when she finds out she is a detective, who is in a bit of trouble and has people trying to kill her. But that's just the beginning...and I do love a show with a strong female character as it's lead, kicking arse...it's very much in the vein of Buffy...but instead of vampires there are...well I won't give it away! S2 was as good, if not better than S1.
Parks and Recreation S6 - I love this show so much, every character is just perfect, and Amy Poehler is fabulous as the winsome local government worker come councilor. Oh how I relate with her at times. But it's Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson I love the most in this penultimate season.
Nurse Jackie S6 - I think Nurse Jackie is getting tired, I read there is only one more season and I am pleased. I hate it when good shows feel stretched. This one certainly did, Jackie is still up her old habits and really crossed some boundaries this time, it is awful to watch, which I guess is the point, possibly the writers needed to have taken her here sooner. I still enjoyed the show and it's fabulous cast of interesting characters but it's lost a little of it's spark.
Modern Family S5 - I've also been slowly making my way through this one as I always forget when they show it. It is light entertainment for sure but it never fails to make me laugh.
Mad Men final season - This is my favourite show. I love everything about it, and I've written about it before. The stunning attention to detail, the costumes, the perfect choices of music, the historical nods, the characters, the actors, the stories, and the writing, the amazing writing! I wanted a fine ending for this fine show, but I wasn't quite so sure what that would be. I think all I really wanted was for Don and Peggy to be together (working) as equals, at least one more great scene between those amazing actors, I wanted to see Pete get some kind of comeuppance, and Joan to get some kind of peace of mind and happiness. Not of that really happened, yet I am not sure it is that that has left me feeling so meh about the ending. It was almost like nothing really happened., and I guess sometimes that is life. Everyone got an ending of sorts, but it just didn't feel satisfying. I think I need more time to ponder it all. The final scene was actually good, but it was everything leading up to it that felt like something was missing, but I just cannot put my finger on what. Maybe I am just sad there will be no more, and that also means no more Don Draper...sigh.
Skeleton Twins - the trailer to this film looked good; funny, dry, a little melancholy. It never actually turned up at the cinemas so I guess that should have been a sign. This was dull, depressing, and only mildly amusing in parts. An interesting cast (Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader and, Luke Wilson) but it just didn't gel.
The Immigrant – set in New York in the early 1900s, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) is an immigrant, escaping from Poland with her sick sister. Upon arriving at Ellis Island, her sister is quarantined and Ewa is told her family who were meant to be receiving her were not there. Ewa is ‘rescued’ by Bruno (Joaqin Phoenix) a hustler, and her so called new life is not looking good. But Orlando (Jeremy Renner) arrives, he is Bruno’s cousin and a magician and falls in love with Ewa. Will she get her happily ever after? This is beautifully shot is a glum and dreary part of New York in the prohibition era. Cotillard shines as the down on her luck Ewa. She has this chameleon style of acting that is stunning, I've yet to see her do something bad.
The Babadook - I am not a fan of horror or scary movies, but I had heard good things about this so I bravely gave it a go. Of course I couldn’t watch it at night, that would be crazy! It is an excellent film and scared the absolute bejesus out of me. Amelia (the fabulous Essie Davis) is a single mum to a challenging kid, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). His Dad died in a car accident taking Amelia to hospital to give birth to Samuel. Whilst he has always been challenging, something strange has started happening, and he is certain there is a monster in the house. Amelia finds a book, The Babadook, and it is chilling, unsure where it came from, she hides it on the top of the cupboard. But when things from the book start to manifest into her subconscious, she is certain she is imagining things, but rips up the book and tosses it in the bin all the same. Then really strange and creepy things start to happen, and she wonders whether it is all real. The Babadook is very clever, though I got dejavu watching it in parts (It reminded me of something I’ve seen before but cannot think what). The acting is excellent, it’s basically Davis and Wiseman, and they are amazing, especially the kid. It’s shot very well, and the tension builds from huh to creepy to scary to horror quite beautifully.
RocKwiz - my favourite Aussie show is back and this time trying something new, and tackling the decades. Starting with the 50s, guests (young and old) sang songs from that period and the quiz focused around questions. The 50s was by far the best, the 60s and 70s disapppointing, I think with decades so large and varied in terms of music it was really difficult to get an even mix, the 80s was a close second to the 50s with bright performances by Dave Faulkner and Kate Ceberano and loads of fun questions.
The Secret River (two-part series) - this was a shortened version of the book. It had a LOT cut from it, but worked ok, I think the bits cut gave the piece it's depth. It was well acted and I think if you hadn't read the book the impact would still work. For those that don't know the story, it's one every Australian should read (or at least see the series). It tells the story of a convict freed from his shackles and is now settling on the Hawkesbury River with his young family, but the 'natives' keep hanging around and upsetting the settlers. Things give way to traumatic circumstances and history is made.
What I've Been Reading
Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - Rachel catches the same train every morning and night, and it almost always stops by the same house and she watches the lovely young couple who live there and fantasises about their lives. But one day as she is watching, something is amiss and very wrong, she must see if she can work out what is going on. Around the same time much is revealed about Rachel's life which is slowly unraveling, can helping solve the mystery of the young couple help her resolve her own issues or will she unravel even more. This starts fast and you are swiftly turning pages, but it becomes very predictable very quickly. No one in the story is likeable, which doesn't normally bother me, but there is no real redeeming features. It's a schlocky read in my opinion, but sometimes it's good to read something quickly that clears the head for better literature out there.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - I read this for work bookclub, a favourite since I was a teen, I had not read it since then. I always worry about re-reading favourites later in life for fear of them losing their value, but I need not have worried with this. Once I got into the rhythm of Bronte's prose I was back in that time and loving every minute of it. A gothic romance for sure, but more detail and depth than I originally remembered. Also a lot longer than I remembered, giving me pause for thought that I may have read a shorted edition back then. Jane Eyre is equal parts romance and equal parts fierce feminism and whilst the cynic in me thinks her ultimate choice of Rochester in the end goes against some of her feminist ways, the romantic in me sobbed. Cause that's how well it is written. A masterpiece and a true classic.
We’ll Always Have Paris: sex and love in the city of light by John Baxter -John Baxter writes a lot of books on film stars and Paris, and he is entertaining and informative. This is an older title and about all things love and sex in Paris from his point of view. It was an easy read and an absolute joy.
New treehouses of the world - my love of trees knows no bounds, but treehouses...wow, that's another thing altogether! This was a glorious book of different treehouses built all over the world, and it was the stuff of dreams.
Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo - this was a huge but delightful read, borrowed from The State Library for me especially. Zollo, a musician, photographer and writer is mostly known for writing about songwriting. In fact his work on songwriting is so universally loved his books are called bibles and used as texts for songwriting in universities. And when you read this, his biggest anthology (almost 800 pages), you can see why. It is a stunning read from to Pete Seeger to Meshell NdegeOcello and also includes Lenny Kravitz, Lou Reed, Madonna, REM, Susanne Vega, Tom Petty, David Byrne, Dave Brubeck, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Brian Wilson, Carole King, Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman, Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and that only tips the iceberg!
I love hearing about how songwriters work at their craft and everyone is different. The format of the book are shortish essay style chapters, starting with a few pages of information about the songwriter by Zollo (Zollo himself is a superb writer), then a question and answer style with the actual artist. Some of the things I learnt was Tom Petty actually met Elvis, his uncle worked on his films and the young Tom got to meet him and it really impacted him. Also about how Stevie Nicks harassed him to write a song for her, he finally gave in and gifted her Stop Draggin' My Heart Around. David Byrne likes to write lyrics on graph paper, he likes that he can write whole song on one piece of paper, that Heaven was about New York, and he has no idea why people like Psycho Killer as it was written as a joke.
Susanne Vega said all the mysteries of life come in A minor! Amen Susanne! Neil Young said, "Usually I sit down and I go until I'm trying to think. As soon as I start thinking I quit." I love that so much. k d lang says she struggles with words, she will take hours sometimes on one word, she says she hates it but when she gets it right it's rewarding. Jimmy Webb loves titles, he is always gathering great titles and seeing what he can do to work a song around them sometimes the title changes, but he feels if he starts out with something more tangible the whole song stays focused.
Of all the songwriters mentioned by other songwriters in the book, this is the top five in order Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, and Jimmy Webb - as it should be! Dylan loves Newman (everyone loves Newman, I do too!) and says he writes very good songs and there are not many in his class, which is high praise indeed. Dylan also says Brian Wilson writes great melodies, Morrison was a poet (Dylan is very particular about poets, when suggested he is one, he made all sorts of jokes about that, basically proclaiming he isn't...I think most would beg to differ), and he likes Madonna.
This books was a sheer delight to read, I smiled my way through it and marveled at the beauty behind these masters. Songwriting is beautiful, an artform, great lyrics are pure forms of poetry in my mind. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Kundera on spoken word - I've been listening to some of Milan Kundera's essays on art (film, photography, art, music, literature) on spoken word. Intensely intellectual, fabulous concepts, and beautiful words...as you would expect.
What I've been listening to
How big , how blue, how beautiful by Florence and the Machine - I do love the sweeping drama of her voice, and I enjoyed this. It did seem a bit quieter and more still than previous albums, but worth listening to all the same.
Wilder Mind by Mumford and Sons - with so many other bands seemingly copying this original band it was lovely to hear new music by them. This new one also seemed like it had been toned back a little but was a great listen.
Shine on by Sarah McLachlan - The first few songs are a little more pop and whilst fun, don’t suit Sarah’s stunning voice, but after that her usual sweeping ballads come into play and goosebumps rise as her voice takes on its stunning angelic sound.