Saturday, August 1, 2020


What I've Been Reading

The Loudness of Unsaid Things by Hilde Hinton – this is Hilde’s debut novel and it is a gem. Hilde is the older sister of Samuel Johnson, and knowing their family story I suspect some of it is semi-autobiographical. It is about a young girl, Susie living with her Dad and her Mum is in the 'Mind Hospital'. It delves into the deep and disturbed mind of Susie, riding her beloved second-hand bike through her neighbourhood rating houses out of 10. Hinton writes such an evocative world, that you can see it clearly in your mind’s eye. The story follows Susie as she meanders through life in the most clumsiest of ways. Her mistakes, her failures, and the odd triumph. What will become of Susie? This is so beautifully written, funny and melancholy. I loved entering this world, and I cannot wait to see what Hilde writes next.

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld – I have been sitting on this book of short stories for a couple of years after it was recommended to me. But with her new novel coming out, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon (grrr, I hate that). So I finally delved into it, and was so impressed. Her writing is great, sharp and observational of modern behaviour. It is inclusive, feminist and political. I laughed out loud a lot, many of the stories were satire, and I knew a lot of the people she was writing about. Her characters are really honest and interesting and insightful. I cannot wait for Rodham!

After Australia edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad – this is a great compilation of short stories and poetry from a range of indigenous and poc Australian writers. They imagine an alternative Australia in terms of race and other issues. The stories stop and make you think, they make you smile and they make you frown. They are beautifully written, mostly by up and coming authors too. Really worth a look at.

Born-again Blakfella by Jack Charles with Namila Benson – This was a fascinating and honest read. It tells the tragic story of Jack’s upbringing, he was a stolen child. His time in and out of jail and how he got into acting. His like is full of great luck and extremely bad luck, and is utterly enchanting.

Going Back by Munjed Al Muderis with Patrick Weaver – this is the follow up for Munjed’s first memoir, Walking Free. This time he goes into more depth about the people he helps walk again with his amazing T2 technology and prosthetics. Munjed actually operated on and did the prosthetic for my brother-in-law and is a hero in our family, a remarkable and kind man. The stories within the book are heart-breaking but uplifting. He also returns to Iraq to work with soldiers and others who have lost limbs due to war. He finds himself up against the government over there and once again shows what a fierce, determined, and brave man he is! 

Broken Open by Craig Hamilton with Neil Jameson – after ‘working’ with Craig Hamilton on air the other month, I thought it was timely to revisit his memoir from 2004. It is the memoir of his life so far, but it is really about his breakdown in 2000, what led up to it, and how he has dealt with it since. This is a really honest account of a very confronting time and it is an important read, especially for men. Men often ignore their mental health, so this is a great read to show what can happen and that it is ok and you can resolve things. In these Covid times, when everyone is experiencing some kind of change, this is a timely read for everyone.

Notre-Dame de Paris: history, art, and revival from 1163 to tomorrow by Antonia Felix – this is a lovely coffee table book full of stunning photography from over the years. It covers the history of the Notre-Dame, the art within, what is has been and is used for and the recent fire. There are also little stories, and references to movies and songs and other arts that feature the cathedral.

The Body: a guide for occupants by Bill Bryson - I love Bill, I love his dry sense of humour and his interest in the minutiae. I love listening to him read his books even more. So I was very excited to get his latest on talking book, but I had to abandon it halfway. He was Bill, it was dry and it was interesting, but The Body is a challenging subject, and a lot of the information was dire, especially in these Covid times. I simply found it too depressing to listen to. I will pick it up another time for sure. It was interesting and full of amazing detail, but it was just too much.

Growing up Gay in Australia, edited by Benjamin Law - a great compilation of hilarious, and heart breaking in equal measures. Short stories, edited by Benjamin Law, and featuring a wonderful list of famous and not so famous writers. I listened the the talking book and didn't want it to end, highly recommend.

What I've Been Watching

Curb Your Enthusiasm S10 - my love for Larry knows no bounds, and this feels like the best season yet. So much to laugh out loud at, and that is rare generally but especially in recent times. At that beginning Larry - the original social distancer - realises wearing a Make America Great Again cap ensures people stay clear from him and hilarity ensues. There are a lot of cameos this season from a hilarious turn by Clive Owens (Possibly the best episode of the bunch), to Isla Fisher, Sean Penn, Chris Martin, Fred Armisen, Laverne Cox and Jane Krakowski. Jon Ham researching Larry to play a Larry type showed us a buddy comedy we didn't know we needed, and Alan Tudyk's mad German inventor with a dog called Adolph was shades of Dr Strangelove. The supporting cast, as always brilliant. I love that this show is going from strengths to strengths all these years on.

Outnumbered S1-5 – I’ve been bingeing this great UK comedy. It is about a decade old now and one I missed, probably as it is about a suburban family and that isn’t really my thing. But clips of it kept popping up on my FB feed and it always made me laugh so when the boxset came through at work I had to give it a go. It is a simple story of a Mum and Dad struggling with work and 3 children. The eldest, Jake, about 11 when the show starts is probably the most intelligent of the entire family, he is quiet and interested in school and music and just starting to recognise girls. The middle child, Ben, is about 6 and a curly headed, science-mad tornado. Always running about, doing inappropriate things, being cheeky, and absolutely hilarious. But the star of the show is the youngest, Karen, about 4 or 5 and highly intelligent in a kinda bad way, very argumentative and also hilarious. She is a completely unique character, and just steals every single scene. She has a LOT of dialogue and is constantly catching her parents and siblings out, leaving them speechless. 

What I found out about the show, as if it wasn’t funny and clever enough, is a lot of the dialogue is improvised and mostly by the kids. The creators wanted the show to be a realistic portrayal of kids, and that – I think – it is. The adults are given a basic outline of a script with dialogue to learn. The kids are given ideas and what each scene is to be about just before filming, there are some lines they need to land on, but other than that it is up to them what to come up with. The adults also improvise in their reactions to what the kids say. This gives the show it’s realistic feel. It is glorious to watch the kids stump the adults, and sometimes vice versa and see how each of them wrangle themselves verbally out of the situation. 

The first 4 seasons are solid gold, but the final season – which came after a gap of a few years – not so much. The kids had grown up, and no longer really suited the style of the show. Jake was a typical teen, but he had always been a quieter character. Ben had grown really big, tall and hulking, but was still a bit cute with the curls and a deep deep voice, his storyline of playing Spartacus in Spartacus the musical pretty much kept the season going. It is worth it for that! But the most disappointing is Karen, 12 and turning into a sulking dark haired misfit teen. Her argumentative ways going against her in high school and landing her in trouble with no friends. I thought this was such a shame that such a brilliant character ended up this way. I am unsure whether it was the actress changing or the writing, but it was a lost opportunity I think. Either way, I cannot recommend this highly enough. It is a rare show that makes you laugh out loud, but this does in abundance.

The Trouble with Maggie Cole - I really wanted to love this mini series starring Dawn French. I did enjoy it, but I didn’t love it. Set in a small town, Dawn’s character works as a local historian of sorts and is married to the local school principal. Her son is grown up and married. She is interviewed by a neighbouring radio for a fluff piece but the interviewer gets her drunk and she blabbers a lot of the towns secrets (true and not so much) which gets aired much to the town’s disgust. The fact she holds a large party with all the people she spoke about to listen to the interview didn’t help. She becomes the most hated person in the town and desperately tries to make up for it to no avail. But in time all her gossip forces a lot of change – some for the better – for people so maybe it is not so bad after all…or is it! French is a delight, as are a lot of the characters, but the story felt strung out and forced, especially some of the minor storylines.  For French fans only.

Bad Education – made for tele movie with Hugh Jackman, Ray Romano, and Allison Janney, about a large school embezzlement. The most remarkable story, showing that truth is stranger than fiction. The story was broken by a student reporter, writing a story about a ‘skywalk’ the school was building, and she uncovers more than she bargained for. This was really great, totally sucks you in, amazing ensemble cast, and just a fascinating story.

Quiz – this was a fascinating look into what happened in the UK scandal of cheating on the show, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. It follows a family hell bent on winning the million and going to every length to achieve that. But ultimately getting caught. It has great behind the scenes of the show and some marvellous performances. Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant is remarkable.

Trip to Greece –  I love Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and together in this brilliant series they are perfection. Greece is supposedly the final in the series, I guess we shall see. I really loved this as I have the others, though I think this is probably the weakest link in the series. That doesn’t mean it is bad, far from it, just not quite as good. Maybe it is the absence of…spoilers…Michael Caine. But the lush landscapes and history of Greece are there, the food, the comradery, the laughter, and the pathos and melancholy. I love it best when they are riffing off each other, trying to make each other laugh. Such a nice escape, especially when travel seems light years away.

Dumbo  - I struggled with this, the animation of the elephants felt wrong. I cannot say why, but it was a little off. I love Tim Burton and his vision and world and this was presented well in terms of the world around the circus and the elephants. Things definitely improved when Eva Green turned up, there is something luminous about her on screen. And whilst I made it through the movie and didn’t mind it, I didn’t love it and wonder why it needed to be remade.

Kalifornia - this did not hold up too well, it feels too aware of itself. The story of a man obsessed with murder, who takes a road trip to some murder sites so he can write a book. He takes 2 locals, an odd couple (Brad Pitt and Juliet Lewis) with him (Duchovny) and his girlfriend, to help pay for petrol etc. They begin to realise the couple have some serious issues and one of them is possibly a murderer. 

Hairdresser’s Husband - rewatched this modern French classic thanks to SBS World Movies. Written and directed by the great Patrice Leconte with Jean Rochefort as the older Antoine. As a child Antonie falls in love with his hairdresser and that is his only wish in life and at 50 he meets Mathilde, a hairdresser, and they embark on a love affair. But all is not as rosy in Leconte’s world. This is a gorgeous, melancholy film with a  twist that haunts…much like many of his films. I have not seen this film in years and it holds up beautifully.

Country Music - this was a long form documentary but the master, Ken Burns, and it was extraordinary, from the very beginning to the mid 90s and everything in between. Lots of appropriate country artists talking about each other and the music, the glorious music. This is for lovers of music, and if you don't like classic country, you will be the end.

Top Ten Treasures of Pompeii – this was one of the best documentaries on Pompeii I have seen. It's number one is people and they show the devastating casts and actual bodies they were made from. It took me straight back to that hot day almost 8 years ago when I visited Pompeii, and was in tears. It is difficult to explain how upsetting seeing those figure was. The doco uses VR goggle to bring the streets to life quite marvelously and the presenter is flown above the city in a heicopter so you got to see the city from above and down into the crater of Vesuvius. The helicopter pilot says I come Napoli, this is my city and - referring to Vesuvius - this is my boss. E very day I need to respect it, my boss!         

Wendy Sharpe: the imagined life – great little documentary about Wendy and her remarkable art. It follows her at home and in the studio, looking at her unique style. Her partner (in life and art – they share a studio space) Bernard is also interviewed. It follows her to Venice and what she paints there, and also a 2013 Archibald entry.

Australia’s Lost Impressionist: John Russell – this was an excellent documentary about the Australian impressionist, John Russell. I have heard of him and when they started to show some of his beautiful works, I had seen them in galleries. It tells his remarkable story with interviews from relatives and art critics and still photography and of course his work. He moved to France and worked mostly there, befriending Monet, Van Gogh, and others. He was prolific and his work as good as his famous contemporaries and yet, sadly, his name isn’t as well known as them, here in Australia or elsewhere. This was a great insight into the man and his work.

Jeffery Smart: master of stillness – this is a short documentary around the 2012 retrospective of his work (just before he died). It talks to those that knew him and features interviews with the man himself. It was a good solid little doco, but could have been much more.

The Leunig Fragments – this is a perplexing documentary, it is obviously trying to get to the bottom of Michael Leunig, but doesn’t quite get there. I don’t think anyone ever will. A thoroughly unique talent and National Treasure, Leunig has challenged thinking all of his life, but particularly so in recent years. So much so, he has really torn apart a lot of the love he has created. I find this difficult to articulate. His recent controversies, and cartoons are definitely upsetting to me, but part within character, part not so much. A man who is estranged from most of his family, and yet seems very hurt and upset about it, but never says why. I think as an Idealist, he lives a vicarious and difficult life. And I think he has given me so much joy, a few brain farts won’t push me away. And I say brain farts, as these controversies happened just before serious brain disease, a tumour found on his brain that needed operating. I am not creating excuses, but maybe, just maybe this was causing mental issues for the controversies to appear. Life is complex, he has annoyed me absolutely with some recent cartoons but he has held my hand, comforted me, and made me smile far more.

The Gospel According to Andre: a film about Andre Leon Talley – Andre is the extraordinary and larger-than-life Fashion Director/Editor/Commentator/Icon for Vogue. Growing up in the South, it tells his childhood and how he got into Fashion and became a superstar. Loads of interviews with fashion insiders, and with the great man himself. This is fun and interesting, and full of delightful design and beauty. Also worth it to see him and Maureen Dowd live tweeting Trump’s inauguration.

PJ Harvey: a dog called money – this is an ‘interesting’ documentary about the process of recording her 2016 album, The Hope Six Demolitian Project. A lot of the songs are political and taken from her travels. The intent and desire is there, and the songs are quire wonderful but there is something empty about the whole process. The footage of Harvey in these countries, mostly third world and middle eastern, doesn’t really show her connecting with anyone despite being there and taking copious notes. She is never really interviewed in why she has written what she has, possibly thinking the songs will speak for themselves. In some ways they do, in others not so much. Her musicians/band do not even seem to be connecting with her, saying on a previous album they were getting close to a tour and hadn’t heard a single song and were getting worried, and she turns up with a  fully made album, leaves them the CD to play, makes a cuppa tea and leaves them alone. I guess this is telling to her personality. It was fascinating to watch, and the music varied and sublime, but there was too much distance.

Camino Skies – this is a documentary about some people walking The Camino, a pilgrimage between France and Spain. These kind of walks really fascinate me and I have watched and read a lot about them. This wasn’t the best example of walking The Camino, and whilst the people were inspiring and interesting, the editing was too choppy and montagey to really show anything of substance.

What I've Been Listening To

Respect All Lifeforms By Custard – this is such a return to form for Custard and possibly their best album yet. Thrasy, funky, poppy, Irreverent, they sound tight and great. Their first single, Funky Again, pretty much sums up the album.

Chromatica  by Lady GaGa – I am not a huge GaGa fan, but I don’t mind her singing, especially when she sings properly – she has a lovely operatic voice. The new album was good, poppy and a good groove, not too over produced.

Love is here to stay by Tony Bennett and Diana Krall – stunning album of standards from the masters. Their voices sound sublime together and then there is Diana’s unique piano playing. Jazz at its best.

I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This by Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra – another fine outing from Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. Featuring an eclectic mix on female vocals including Fiona Apple, Miley Cyrus, Sharon Van Etten and Gregory Porter. This album is more fusion jazz and out there than the last but still brilliant!

Ultimate Collection by Katie Melua – a brilliant double album chock full of beauty and all her hits. That voice, like butter and honey mixed, will always bring a tear to my eye. She adds in some lovely covers to round it all out. You really cannot go wrong with Katie. 

Coming Home by Leon Bridges – Bridges takes you back to 60s soul with his debut album and gorgeous  voice. His songs are other wordly, and feel immediately familiar. Some have a gospel feel. This is a great album, but he’s young, so there should be even greater to come.

At Least For Now by Benjamin Clementine – Benjamin was discovered busking on the Paris Metro. He is a mix of soul and blues and jazz and classical with a melancholy feel but cites his influences as Antony Hegarty and Rufus Wainwright which makes sense. His voice is exceptional, this is a great album

Gon’ Boogaloo by C.W. Stoneking – CW is an Australian blues singer in his mid 40s, born in the Northern Territory, but if you listened to him you’d think he was a swampy blues singer from the South in the US in the  30s or 40s. He is remarkable and his voice is so unique and unusual. I could listen to him all day, just a delight.

Alice Cooper’s Vintage Vault – this is a newish ‘podcast’ from Alice. He has had a late night radio show for years, delving into his favourite music and interviewing musicians. This is a pastiche of his faves with interviews and added asides or background information by Alice on the artist. They were all great but stand outs were Debbie Harry, Paul McCartney (Alice worships Paul), Dave Grohl, Suzi Quatro. Added bonus in this world of Podcast overload, they range in time from 15-40 minutes!

The Plot Thickens – this is a new podcast about movies and the people who make them. It is affiliated with TCM, which gives it some cudos. Season 1 is about Peter Bogdanovich and is based on a series of interviews between Peter and TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz, and yes Ben is related to those Mankiewiczs’. It follows Peter through his career, the ups and downs, and delves into his relationships with other directors, particularly Orson Welles. This is a film buffs dream and it doesn’t drag on. Each episode is between 30-40 minutes with no fluff. I thoroughly enjoyed this, with a lot of finite detail and information I did not know presented.

WTF with Marc Maron and Helen Mirren - Marc is still mourning his girlfriend, he is freaked out about Covid, and his long dying cat is still with him. I worry about him, but boy he has been churning out some solid podcasts and this one with Helen Mirren is wonderful. She was generous and warm and funny, as you would expect. You could feel him just heal in talking to her, and maybe even flirt a little. They had an immediate rapport and chewed the fat with ease, they covered a wide range of subject matter and it is totally worth a listen. 

He also interview Jim Carrey, after trying to get him for years, and it also was stunning. Jim also aligns to the melancholy and it was definitely a meeting of the minds. Another one worth listening to.

Julia and Hilary - I am loving Julia Gillard's podcast, she interviews a whole range of fascinating women but her interview with Hilary Clinton was the female partnership I didn't know I needed. Absolutely brilliant, go and listen to it now!

Unspooled Finale - Casablanca and recap -  I have been listening to this podcast for about 2 years now. The premise was to take the AFI (American Film Industry) Top 100, rewatch each film randomly and then review them. Amy and Paul are young, and in the film industry as reviewers and participants. I loved it when they loved films I loved, and got cranky when they got stuck into films I really liked. They looked at things from today;s perspective and they made decisions on whether each film was worthy of being on the list, what they would replace it with and so on. I also loved it when they reviewed a film they had never seen before, especially if they loved it, it almost was like re-discovering old friends. Often they interviewed people involved in the films. and they always looked to The Simpsons for a recreation, lol!  The final film was Casablanca and what a fitting end, my all time favourite film. I have not watched it for a long time and I was actually in tears through a lot of their chatter, they loved it so much. And I was sad to see the end, the very last podcast was a recap on their findings which was also fascinating. If you love classic film, or want to know more about it, this is THE podcast to listen too. They are returning with a new season, looking at the films they would add into the top 100, so that will be fun I am sure. Cannot wait.

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