Tuesday, September 8, 2015


What I've Been Watching
Mortdecai - This should have been a funny pastiche in the vein of Austen Powers, but oh dear it was not. A crime caper with no real plot but interesting characters. Silly humour and a lot of slapstick, this should have been a blast but it just was lame. I blame Johnny Depp, he was just too ridiculous. Everyone else was not bad. Ewan McGregor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Goldblum, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn, were good, but Depp was so bad he dragged them all down with him. I have adored Depp since his early days, so many astonishing roles, but in recent years (since Pirates of the Caribbean) he has been hiding behind the ridiculous and I’ve found his performances lazy and tiresome. There is no heart in them, just silly. And look, one or two silly roles are ok, but role after role, I just cannot even. The Rum Diary was the last film I truly loved him in, and that was 2011. I have to say, he has definitely jumped the shark, come back Edward Scissorhands, come back Gilbert Grape, come back Ed Wood, come back Roux from Chocolat. Funnily enough this all coincides with him leaving Vanessa Paradis…

Words and Pictures - directed by Fred Schepisi and starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche sounded good in theory but just didn't work. Owen is an alcoholic English professor who loves words and Binoche a damaged Arts professor. There is immediate chemistry when Binoche joins the College but a clash of wills and subjects. Ultimately it is a love story, and you can see the connection, but the whole thing was unconvincing. Both can do better.

The Eye of the Storm - also directed by Fred Schepisi from a Patrick White novel. The classic tale of children (Geoffrey Rush and Judy David) rushing home to their mother in her last days (Charlotte Rampling). The mother has dementia and her mind keeps wandering back to the past and a key incident between her and her daughter set on the eve of a harsh storm. This is just a superb drama, Rush and Davis have never been finer and a simply deliciously sublime performance by Rampling. A couple of scenes with just Davis and Rampling had me enthralled, a powerhouse/masterclass of acting. Oh my!

Breach - starring Chris Cooper, Laura Linney, and Ryan Phillippe is true story greatest security breach in US history. It is a tight suspense/thriller with a great performance by Cooper and surprisingly Phillippe. Worth a look.

The Men Who Stare at Goats - is the filmed version of the book by Jon Ronson I listened to last month. Having read the book I would say it was close to unfilmable and part of me says I was correct and another part of me says they did ok with the movie. Starring George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, and Kevin Spacey it took the essence of the book and presented an interesting film.

Lucy - is a Luc Besson film with Scarlett Johansson as Lucy and Morgan Freeman as the scientist she helps. It is a far fetched concept film, fantasy for sure and got mixed reviews but I enjoyed it for what it was, a little bit camp, a little bit silly, but a fascinating concept. Lucy is a drug smuggler who has drugs inserted into her to smuggle but it goes wrong and the drugs enter her system. The drugs are based on what happens to a child developing in their mother's womb and supposedly help build intelligence. Freeman is a scientist who lectures and researches on the use of the brain and what happens when people start to exceed the average use of the brain (which is less than 10%). Of course over the movie Lucy's brain-use starts to fly past 10% and she becomes superhuman. Johansson was excellent and compelling and quite frankly kick arse as this happens. I have always like her and this film was a lot of fun. It also brought forth the idea that the smarter you become and the more you use the brain for such things, the less your brain relies on it's heart and soul. The brain becomes pure machine, so maybe being that smart isn't ideal, it leaves you empty. Like I said, fascinating!!

Jane Eyre - lovely recent version of the classic tale with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. Beautifully shot and acted it was shown out of sequence which added impact to a story I know so well. It starts with Jane wandering the moors and being found by the pastor, and then flashes back to all the key points of the story. It still is the same story of course, but I liked the playing with the timeline. Mia was an excellent Jane too, and Fassbender sizzled as Rochester.

Nightcrawler - is a creepy film starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a young dude trying to make a buck. He starts to video accidents to sell to local news shows and becomes obsessed with getting the best shots of the worst types of crimes. His ego feeds the film which is fed by the news outlets purchasing it off him. A creepy insight into how news and viewing the news may become, or possibly already is!

This is where I leave you  - is the classic story of a family reuniting for their father's funeral. Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Corey Stoll, and Adam Driver are the siblings living together under one roof for the first time in years at the request of their mother, Jane Fonda. This is a mostly dramatic film with some comedic moments and I quite enjoyed it. It covered all the usual ground, sibling rivalry, fights, lost loves, wrong turns and so forth but with a couple of interesting twist. Bateman and Fey made this movie, both being the least funny of the group and taking on more dramatic roles.

Veep S3 - This series gets better and better, the acting is superb, the writing sharp and tight. Under the helm of Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It) you know it has to be good. The cast is superb, every one of them, led by the supremely talented Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Tony Hale. They are simply  masters of physical comedy but they nail the dialogue too. My favourite line, and I cannot recall it exactly, is about political 'autobiographies'. JLD's Selina is on a book tour for her autobiography - that she didn't write - and escapes the long queues of signings back to the hotel room and is chatting with a colleague. He says you can tell how much shit is within these books by how many colons are in the title!!! This is so true!!! Anyway this season sees huge changes for Selina, not least an awful haircut! If you've not watched this wry gem, go now!

Masters of Sex S2 - I think this is my new favourite show. Or at least something to replace (although it is irreplaceable) Mad Men. It is less showy than Man Men, but it's design, dialogue, and feel are similar. Set in the 50s with great attention to detail, lovely music, stunning costumes (I want everything Lizzy Caplan wears), slow thoughtful dialogue, and a leading man of ambiguity. Michael Sheen is superb as the uptight and not quite right, yet somehow adorable Bill Masters. Although the heart of the show is Lizzy Caplan's Virginia, a woman well and truly ahead of her time who knows herself very well, we all should aspire to be Virginia!!! Yes, there is a lot of interesting sexuality within the show, that is it's subject matter, but it is shot beautifully and is thought provoking and it has much more than that.

What I've Been Reading
The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera - listened to this philosophical take on the novel and the world, as written in 1968. It examines the works of Cervantes, Rabelais, Sterne, Flaubert, Diderot, Tolstoy and Kafka plus his own work with view on historical events in fiction, the meaning of action, and the creation of characters in the post-psychological novel. Not a lot has changed in that time, and it is a fascinating read. Kundera always shies away from saying he is philosophical, which I always find amusing as I feel he is one of the best philosophical writers out there. Maybe he is not a philosopher per say, but he incorporates philosophical notions so very well and in an understandable and romantic way. I love his use of phrase, words, and ideas so very much. This was a pure delight. I think I will buy the book as I know this will be one I will continue to delve into time and time again, much like my favourite of his, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett - I was lucky enough to see Favel talk on a panel about wilderness and story at the NWF this year. She was on a panel with the impeccable Bob Brown and held her own and then some. Listening to her talk about this book, part of which was set in Antarctica was hypnotic and haunting. I was pleased to finally get around to reading this slow building, beautiful story of a young teenager in the mid-1980s and her yearning for the sea and all that comprises it. This is a lyrical book that slows you down with its breathtaking descriptions of Antarctica and Tasmania, set against the banality of life for a young girl growing up in a small town in less than exceptional circumstances. The story builds like a swell on the sea, and you read with the anticipation of what might happen next. This is Favel’s second book, I am about to start her first as I am hooked by her turn of phrase, her gentle yet strong descriptions of worlds I have never experienced. And that is what great writing should do.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson - Ronson is fast becoming my favourite writer. This is his latest set of essays with the theme of people who have been shamed online through Social Media. Ronson interviews and presents the stories of people who have had life changing moments, none of them good, from ill-thought through commentary online. As always he presents without comment, it is up to you to come to a conclusion or moral. As always he presents with great writing and wry observations. He is funny to read, without making fun of the subjects. I'm going to see him interviewed by John Safran in Melbourne next month, so I look forward to hearing him speak.

Between you and me: confessions of a comma queen by Mary Norris - Mary began working at The New Yorker in 1978 and is still there. She has been the page Ok’er for more than twenty years, a position that exists only at The New Yorker and Mary is a self professed comma queen. This might lead you to think this book, part memoir and part grammar guide, would be a stodgy, boring read. Luckily for us, Mary not only has a sharp eye but a polished and wry wit which makes this book not only informative but highly entertaining.
We get a padded history of how Mary unknowingly made her way to this organisation and job. Some of her early successes, dealing with writers of note, and other anecdotes are shared along side chapters on commas, hyphens, colon, and apostrophes. There is even a chapter on proofing swear words, Mary herself, loves a a good use of fuck. And my favourite chapter, her obsession with pencils and sharpeners.

Nothing to be frightened of - Julian Barnes - I listened to the author read this memoir and it was a delight. Well, it was mostly about death and the thought of dying, so maybe delight isn't quite the right word but I do love his work. This memoir is about various parts of his life and specifically his thoughts on his parents and their deaths. It was an interesting philosophical look into death, our thoughts on it, and how we deal with the death of others and when we look back on their or even our own lives, what we take comfort in.

Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden by Janet Hawley - this is an exquisite coffee table book about Wendy's stunning garden in Lavender Bay by close friend Janet Hawley. The book also has biographies of Brett and Wendy, how they met, reproductions of Brett's art, stories of his art, and of course how the garden came to be. The words are perfect - Hawley has been a long time friend of both Brett and Wendy's, and the photos are divine. This is a beautiful tribute to a beautiful piece of natural art.

What I've Been Listening To

Steve Nicks - 24 Karat Gold, Songs from the Vaults - I love this so much. The best thing Stevie has released in years. There are mostly songs she has written over her long life but never published. She has reworked them and put them all on this album, you can hear, musically, when they were originally written, some feel like Rumours or Tusk or her solo albums, yet they all work beautifully together as if they were meant to be on this one album. If you are a fan you will be beside yourself, this is a great album.

Madeleine Peyroux - The Blue Room - This is two years old now, I forgot I had bought it! Found it at the bottom of a pile of CDs! It is a covers album, but this is Peyroux so you know the choices will be superb, and they are - Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Leonard Cohen, Ray Charles! I just know Madeleine and I would be firm friends. The arrangements  - string orchestrations - are sublime but as always it is her remarkable voice that shines through.  Cannot get enough of this.

Megan Washington - There There  - pretty sure I have mentioned this before but I keep coming back to it. I am seeing Megan next month so looking forward to her mix of pop and ballads. This is a great showcase of her talents, a little bit jazz, a little bit pop, and a little bit torch-song, but always that smooth and beautiful voice.

Florence and the Machine - Unplugged - Love this and love her voice, will never tire of it. So anthemic and powerful, there is not much more to say!

Van Morrison - Duets - whilst Van chooses some oddbods to duet with - Michael Buble and Mick Hucknall (really?) - he also picks some great voices, Bobby Womack, Mavis Staples, Steve Winwood. He also has spent time picking lesser known tunes which makes it a great album. Listened to it about four times in a row, love it! Oh and his voice just gets better with age!!!

Neil Sedaka - I've been listening to Neil a bit this month, saw a dodgy movie with a song of his in, and I went down a Neil wormhole on Youtube. I've been a fan for a long time, and it was nice to revisit. I guess a lot of people think he is daggy, but I have never cared about such things. If I like music, I like music, and he writes the most amazing, lyrical, and catchy tunes. Bad Blood and Standing on the Inside being stand outs.

Led Zep I, II, III - been listening to these remastered albums, absolutely superb, cranking the sound up and rocking out to them.

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