Wednesday, October 27, 2021

AUGUST/SEPTEMBER REVIEWS

 What I've Been Reading

The Believer: encounters with love, death and faith - Sarah Krasnostein - this the follow up book to The Trauma Cleaner. Sarah follows a range of interesting people who have firm beliefs. She explores what it means to believe. To believe in things others may not believe in, the paranormal, ghosts, UFOS. To believe in other things, how to have a good death. This was my favourite story of the compilation: the beautiful Buddhist, who is a death doula, has many stories about death to share, haunting, hilarious, and powerful. Krasnostein writes beautifully and without judgement, she queries things but ultimately presents. The stories are intertwined, utterly compelling and sometimes completely bizarre. But it is a cracking read and one I highly recommend.

How we live now: scenes from the pandemic by Bill Hayes - this is the follow up book to Insomniac City, which was my book of the year for 2018. Every one that has read that book loves it, so you will love this one too. My only issue with it is at not quite 200 pages it is far too short!!! Written in the same, easy-to-read, style as Insomniac City, this picks up a few years later and just before the pandemic hits New York. In his affable style Bill describes the city as it starts to fall prey to COVID, how it feels, what it looks like, how it affects everyone, but especially his neighbourhood. The book stops just before things get out of hand. Whilst it sounds dour, it is not, it is as uplifting and joyous as the other and you feel completely immersed in the city and his life. I loved this book, but I really wanted more!

The Time of Our Lives by Robert Dessaix - I listened to this on talking book, but not narrated by Dessaix which was a great shame. This is a narrative/memoir on ageing, the delights and the downfalls. It is witty and honest, albeit at times rambling in some kind of stream of consciousness. Niche reading, but entertaining all the same.

The Comfort Book By Matt Haig - latest 'self-help' by Haig. Loads of chapters, small and readable, full of ideas about comfort. From lists of movies and music, to stories of people and ways to be calm and comforted. This is a book for our times.

What I've Been Watching

White Lotus - this is everything you have read and then some. Superb cast, tight acting, especially from Jennifer Coolidge and Australian, Murray Bartlett. Set in an Hawaiian exclusive resort it is ultimately about rich white people and how awful they are. The set is stunning, the music palpable and almost another cast member. The stories are tasty. You are watching it, knowing something is going to unravel badly, but what!!?? Easily one of the best things I have seen this year, just do yourself a favour and watch it!!!

War of the Worlds S1/2 - I really enjoyed this new take on WOTW, once I got into the swing of it. Great cast headed up by Gabriel Byrne as a scientist who may be able to work out how to erradicate these evil aliens. Anything more is spoilers, but this is pretty excellent sci fi viewing.

The Duchess - this was a load of fun, based around comedian, Katherine Ryan. She is a single Mum to a precocious pre-teen and is deciding whether to have another child with her ex, who she loathes. This was a lot of fun, even though most of the characters were not exactly likeable.

Modern Love S1 - finally got around to catching up with this! Single episodes about love in NYC, funny, poignant, sad, clever, with a fabulous cast. To say anymore would be giving it all away.

Arrested Development S5 - to say I worship this show is an understatement. BUt S4 and S5 just were not up to the high bar set by the original 3 series. Having said this S5 was far better than S4. This show works best as an ensemble and for that to work you need all the characters working off each other. Of course since the original 3 pretty much every actor has become a big star so I guess wrangling them is more difficult. I still got deep laughs out of this (mostly from the brilliant Tony Hale as Buster) and some of the stories still made me smile but disappointing when you think about what went before it.

In Treatment -  this is a rejig of the fabulous drama starring Gabriel Bryne. 5 episodes a week about a therapist, the first 4 show the therapy and the final showed him in therapy. This series stars the brilliant Uzo Aduba as the therapist with a lot of issues herself. Only 4 a week with her various clients and no actual therapy. She is in limbo and her therapist keeps calling her but she is avoiding him. She calls him Paul, so you presume that is Gabriel Bryne as his character was Paul. Clever. It is as good as the original, and her acting top notch. Totally worth checking out.

Brooklyn 99 - final series of this beloved show. I love these guys and the humour but I found it a little forced this season, so probably time to end. Having said that it is said to see them go, but hey, I can always rewatch the whole thing!

Newsreader- this was a great Australian short series (way too short, I really hope they do more) about a news room in the 80s in Melbourne. The great thing about this show, whilst fictitious, they used real Australian or International news items to report on, eg Lindy Chamberlain, AIDS, Chernobyl, Royal Weddings, Russell Street Bombing etc. The cast was fabulous, with a big nod to William McInnes as the news chief, always cracking his shit and looking like he is going to stroke out. But everyone was really great, and the attention to detail in set design and costumes and music etc was superb. If you didn't watch this you are missing out big time, see if it is on iview!

How to Talk to Girls at Parties - this is a screenplay by John Cameron Mitchell based on a short story by Neil Gaiman and it is utterly bizarre but good-ish. A alien lands in Croydon circa 70s and gets caught up in the punk/goth scene. A lot of cameos as other aliens trying to lure their stray alien back along with some humans. Nicole Kidman is the doyen of the scene (desperately channelling Bowie and possibly miscast lol but it did amuse me). This is odd, but also oddly compelling.

Into the Night - An unknown (to me) Jeff Goldblum film from 1985 directed by Jojn Landis with Michelle Pfeiffer. Look it is not great, but it isn't bad either. Jeff's character is down on his luck and he is in his car in the carpark of an airport thinking about just jumping on a plan and getting away when an attractive woman jumps into his car, enter Pfeiffer. She is on the run from a gang and he finds himself caught up in it all and falling in love...of course. It is funny, it does have action, the cast are great, but the sum of the parts don't quite make it.

The Goldfinch - I loved this book so very much, it is up there as an all-time favourite. When they said they were going to make it into a movie I was confounded. This is a multi decade, sprawling film with a lot going on, a lot of characters, and a lot of internal thought. They are never going to nail it was my strongest thought, but what if they do was my Pollyanna side coming through.

Sadly, they did not nail it, a lot was edited out or stripped back and the movie is just lacklustre. The casting should have been brilliant, it was a great cast, but somehow it didn't work. This should have been a mini series, to give it the depth it needs. I mean if they can stretch out trashy crap like Liane Moriarty, they really should offer similar to a writer like Donna Tartt, who got THE PULITZER PRIZE for The Goldfinch!!!  OK off the soap box!

Travels with my Father - Jack and Michael Whitehall - I cannot recommend this highly enough, especially if you like a laugh. I find most things that are supposedly comedy may amuse me but rarely make me laugh out loud, this does and regularly. Jack Whitehall is an English comedian, in his 30s, and rather attractive and posh. His father is much much older than him, in his late 70s and incredibly posh and snooty. They are definitely an odd couple and Jack is constantly trying to push his father into awkward situations AND get closer to him and gain his approval and love. The series is Jack taking his father away on trips, quite often well out of Michael's comfort zone. His reactions are priceless and the thing is as time goes on, whilst he is being genuine you can tell he is loving every minute of it, especially if he can manage to get his son back in some awkward way. This is the odd couple situation but heightened. Plus it is a great travel show. I was so said when I got through all the series, but I can always go back and watch them again. There is one set in Australia which is hilarious. His mother often turns up and she is a crack up, and a real daredevil which ups the ante big time and then there is Winston, Jack's adopted younger brother, one of the funniest jokes of the entire series, but to say more would be spoilers!!!

Ms Represented - this was phenomenal, a 4 part mini series about females in Australian politics. Annabel Crabb did a grand job presenting this history with most of those still alive to tell their story. I had no idea about the earlier women and how hard they worked to get things close to what they are now. What utter guts and brilliance, then there were a whole load of names of women I knew but maybe didn't know their whole story. I learnt so much, it made me feel so very proud and so very very pissed off. The latter being at how poorly women have been treated, even up until today. Now I guess I knew a lot of it, but to have it presented so beautifully and compactly and directly really brought it all home. This is stunning, and if you have not seen it you owe it to yourself to have a look, I am sure it is still on iview.

The Parisian Agency - fabulous real estate show set in Paris amongst the richer than rich. Stunning houses, fabulous family dynamics behind the real estate agency, and loads of Paris...what more could you want!!??

Inside the Met - fabulous series about behind the scenes of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, a magnificent and sprawling gallery. It is during the time of COVID and shows how the gallery managed. Fascinating, especially as I have been to that museum or rather swooned through it in one afternoon!

9/11: One day in America - this is a National Geographic mini series that was made for the 20th anniversary. It was very full on and went through the whole day piece by piece with a lot of unprecedented footage. Sometimes i felt like a thriller that had you hanging on and other times pure horror and I had to take a break. Ultimately I was totally worth watching.

Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers - a live concert in a small theatre from 2015 where they played Sticky Fingers in it's entirety with some additional songs thrown in. They still kick arse and there are little interview every now and then.

Happy Birthday Me Bean - 30 years of Mr Bean in one documentary and it was pure joy. Focusing on the lead up to the TV show and all the players, this showed how much hard work and skill and quite frankly, genius went into this show. Recent interviews with everyone reminiscing were wonderful plus a few other comedians talking about how much they loved it. They go into the behind the scenes of a lot of the skits too. This is really worth watching.

Agatha Christie Code - Joanna Lumley and some researchers look at Agatha's books scientifically by looking at words, sentence structure, story area, poisons, red herring clues and so forth. This research and scientific evidence show how similar each book actually was yet never felt repetitive. Interesting!

Firestarter: the story of Bangarra - this was a wonderful documentary about the Page Brothers and Bangarra Dance Company. What a remarkable family, if you already know their history, you know there are some sad parts to it. Amazing theatre and dance and plenty of back story. This is a must.

Dubboo: life of a songman - this documentary was about David Page and a melancholy companion piece to Firestarter. Again what a talent, and what a sad story. Again, a must.

Jim and Andy - this is possibly one of the most remarkable documentaries I have ever seen. I read about it a few years back and it took a while to track it down, and I was worried it would not live up to expectations. But it did and then some. So when Jim Carrey did the movie about Andy Kaufman, The Man on the Moon, he allowed someone to film a lot of the behind the scenes. He also went full rogue/method and pretty much became Andy. Which is equal parts thrilling and equal parts frightening. 

I am a huge Andy Kaufman fan and loved the movie, Jim was exceptional. He fought hard to get the role and I think Milos Forman wondered why he gave it to him on more than one occasion. Jim did become Andy, and a lot of the Taxi actors came back to play themselves, and they were all doing double takes. There is a lot of Jim at the time of putting the documentary together looking back at the filming. When viewing a lot of the footage, he has no recollection and freely admits he had serious mental health issues at the time and because of his role in that film. 

I guess this is for fans only or those interested in acting. i was transfixed by this, it does give you a potted history of Andy AND of Jim. You can see the appeal of both men, both of whom I do adore. There is a lot of amazing footage, some of it truly cringeworthy (usually when Jim was playing Andy as Tony Clifton, which is as meta as it can be). But it is wonderful.

What I've Been Listening To

SWF: Great Expectations, Margaret and David return - David and Margaret return for the SWF this year and the session was taped! They discuss books made in to film (mostly Australian) including Candy, The Great Gatsby, Breath, The Dry, Ladies in Black and Picnic at Hanging Rock. Absolutely joyful, like popping on a comfy old cardi. I miss their views and their chatter, and Margaret's laugh and David's snark. National treasures, I wanted more!

Ms Represented - a 6 part podcast to go with the series, thoroughly enjoyable. It covers the key points from the TV series and then goes into some stories that didn't make it to air. Absolutely necessary!

Smartless with Daniel Riciardo - Smartless is Will Arnett, Jason Bateman and Sean Hayes. it is exactly as you imagine, their interview with Riciardo was hilarious and informative.

You Am I - later albums - love this band, and spending a bit of time with their later catalogue, always great.

Bleach - Nirvana -  got a lovely new copy on vinyl. What more can I say, brilliant!

Johnny Cash - American Recordings - there is so much to say, first of all I scored all 6 on vinyl and they are a thing of beauty. Every track brings you to your knees, his voice is better than it ever was. The covers are amazing. If you haven't listened to this, you simply must!

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Live  - this just made me mad I have never seen Petty live, and never will. It is a great album.

Peter Gabriel 1 and 2- picked up these 2 earlier Gabriel albums and they are great. Nice atmospheric touch of Genesis with some pop sensibility and a little hint at the world music he will morph into.

Jimmy and the Boys - Not like everybody else - punk caberet band Jimmy and the Boys had a few hits and were often on Countdown in the early days. I was always drawn to the obscure and odd, even as a young kid. The song I Am Not Like Everybody Else really sung to me, even way back then. Of course, the band and their music were highly sexualised and that went over my young head but it was great to pick this album up second hand and give it a spin. Holds up really well.

Greenfields: The Gibb Brother’s Songbook, Vol. 1 - this is a compilation album featuring the last Gibb brother, Barry, and a handful of musicians he choose to redo some of his greatest hits with. Keith Urban, Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert, Sheryl Crowe, and Olivia Newton John are some of the artists featured. And most of the songs sound great.


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