Thursday, February 24, 2005

Seducing Doctor Lewis

Wow, what a beautifully realised film this one is, it is close to being the perfect small movie. It comes as no surprise that it outsold such movies as LOTR and Matrix on its home turf, and has picked up a few awards. I tried to see it in last year's Festival but something went wrong and I never got there. The extra bonus tonight was that it was free - Rialto and Stella Artois were putting it on as a private screeing as some kind of promotion but such is the smartness of the Rialto management that they advertised it on their website. So they were all "well we can't charge you, just duck in and watch it". Sweet as! Most of the people in there seemed to be older people (as were most of the people in the movie) who really enjoyed it: there was a continuous sound of belly laughter once the film started.

The movie was very Northern Exposurish in its story but imbued with the spirit of Waking Ned Devine. Reviewers far more familiar with Ealing comedies than I see it is a transplanted Ealing Comedy. Quite a transplant! It is set in a tiny fishing village of 120 people on an island off the coast of Quebec (Harrington Harbour) to which access is first by ferry and then fishing boat. Fishing has dried up, so to help get the inhabitants off welfare, they try to get a plastic container factory started. As you do. To do that, they need a doctor, but no doctor would willingly go there - they prove that by sending out a letter to every doctor in Quebec. But then its their lucky day - an Islander is a policeman in Montreal and just happens to bust a doctor for carrying drugs: he informally sentnces the doctor to a month back home.

Of course, the islanders are all keen to make him stay, thus the "seducing" of Doctor Lewis. They miss the truly obvious ploy (setting a beautiful woman to woo him, and man is Lucie Laurier a beautiful woman (unfortunately, she is nude in the only other photos I have found of her, its very sad). They think that setting up a cricket match for his enjoyment (despite the fact that none of them had ever heard of the game - that's almost enough to make it paradise itself - so that when the good doctor turns up, they're in the embarrassing position of having a fully equipped cricket team with no clues as to how to play), dropping random bits of money for him to find and bugging his telephone so they can find out what he likes and supply it (again, their ignorance gets in the way when they don't know what beef stroganoff is, leading to the village cook being asked to make beef bugger off) will do the trick. Now - that's a complex sentence. Oh, and then there's the fishing, which leads to them having to explain to Dr Lewis how he came to catch a dead frozen fish (put on his line by a scuba diver, since he was so bad at fishing).

Being a comedy, it naturally all works out nicely - he's having a good time and all, but grandad's ancient folk lore comes to the fore: its easy enough to hook a fish, but to land him, he's got to want to jump into the dinghy. Again, there's no deployment of their best weapon (and by now he's certainly interested in her): showing him he's not wanted is the way to make him want to stay.

There's other good stuff that happens along the way, quite a lot of gentle humour of the "you have to be there" variety and, also echoing Ned Devine, trickery against (a) the bank to get the money to help establish the factory and (b) the plastics company, who won't come unless there are 200 plus people. The problem is that there are 120 inhabitants, tops, and the factory people want to see 200. There are several couple of great pictures on the US distributor's website, including one of the two old timer main characters and another of Dr Lewis, Eve and a bit of the scenery.

Ooh - there's one other thing I have to mention from the opening scenes. The film opens when the villagers are still gainfully employed in their fishing: they come home, they eat dinner and then, all at the same time, the men go upstairs with their wives and satisfy them simultaneously, and then have a smoke. Cute. Cut to when the fishing is gone: now their synchronised action is going by the post office to pick up the dole cheque and cashing it at the bank.

I do believe that this film is about to get a release, I know its about to hit the Cinema Gold thingey in Palmerston North (and Oh My God, Invercargill has a Readings Cinema! Invercargill!).

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring

When people asked me about this movie, after I announced I was going to see it, I found it very difficult to give a straight answer as to why I was going, or what it was about. My more vague answer was that it was about this Buddhist monk and his disciple, and they go fishing, and it looks kind of cool. Alternatively, I'd say I saw this really interesting film in last year's festival, Travellers and Magicians, about a young fellow from a remote village in Bhutan, who gets so annoyed with the limitations of his life that he decides to go to America. That made the movie into a road movie, Bhutan style: he had to hitch to the nearest city and it takes him three days solid slog in which he manages to get about 20 miles, then he decides that what he really wants is to be with the chick he's met as he hitches, and she just happens to come from his village. I'd say that Spring, Summer... seemed to have the same mood. Truth is, I really had very little idea of what to expect.

I know now: this movie is enchanting. It does involve a young fellow and his master. There is very little dialogue. Most of the action involves just the two of them, and it mostly takes place in the Master's Pagoda style cottage on a floating barge about the size of a tennis court. Everything else happens on the lake shore. Hard to see how something interesting could come out of that, although there were a lot of long lingering shots of the spectacular location - a nature reserve in southern Korea.

As the title suggests, the film follows a cycle, not just through the seasons of the year but of a man's life. In the first segment, the pupil is a wee boy of maybe 6 or 7. By the fifth segment, the Master has died and the pupil is, in turn Master to a young boy. Still not sounding too hot as films go! But the interest, and yes the humour, in the film is in what happens in these segments. In the first, the pupil occupies himself by tying stones to, first, a fish then a frog and, finally, a snake. The master teaches him a lesson he'll never forget by tying a rock to the pupil while he sleeps and then instructing him to find and release his victims, warning him if one dies, he'll have the stone of regret around his heart until he dies.

So, with that kind of punishment for transgression, I was very curious to find out what would happen to our pupil, now in his teens, in the next segment when he transgresses once again. This time it is with the teenage girl who has been left with the Master to heal, possibly the first girl the pupil had ever seen. Certainly, his behaviour was less than civilized: finding her asleep on the floor, he does the good thing of covering her up but takes the chance of a bit of a grope as he does so, for which he gets a good slapping. No matter, they end up bonding, which leads to one of the most uncomfortable looking sex scenes I've ever seen - he's, um, very energetic and she's lying on bare rock. When she leaves, he follows despite his master's warning that lust leads to possession, and possession to murder. Not sure I get that, but it seems to be how things work, at least in this movie.

So, the third segment was pretty harrowing - and its probably more appropriate that it carries its American translation of the season - fall. The pupil kills his wife when he found that she had been unfaithful. He comes back to the Master who, after punishing him, wants him to reacquire some sort of inner piece. Apparently, this is achieved by having the pupil carve this huge (I take it) religious passage into the floor of the barge - this takes 24 hours of solid carving, morbidly enough with the knife he had killed his wife with. There's a nice sense of atonement and repentance here: two cops have turned up to arrest the pupil, but not only do they await his completion of his task but they paint where he carves. Then comes a pretty horrible scene, one I don't fully understand, in which the Master dies, and that's the end of the segment.

Winter is basically about the pupil coming back and starting the process of his own enlightenment and the cycle regenerating by a woman bringing her baby to this newly minted holy one. The lake is iced up, as is a waterfall, which was absolutely beautiful to see. So too was the Master's head the pupil carved out of clear ice. Then there's a very short segment of spring, in which we see the pupil turned master with his own pupil.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Dick the Phone, DJ Jester the Filipino Fist and Lederhosen Lucil.

(Arc Cafe, February 18)

So, Dick the Phone, what the hell has happened to you since I last saw you? Either you've found your groove or I've finally recognised it. You were great. In China Miéville's King Rat, the Pied Piper is reincarnated as a London DJ, who uses deep house and break beats to control the audience for his own nefarious purpose: the beat is so insistent they simply MUST do his bidding. Your gig tonight was like that. No, you're not DJ's, you just have a drum and guitar, but by about the third song, I was up and dancing and nothing could stop me, not even the rather bulky fellow who kept lurching around me. I still have no idea what you were singing about, but maybe that doesn't matter, although I've heard your lyrics described as "resonant". But anyway, do another gig like tonight's and I'll buy your CD.

Of course, the main event was visiting Canadian Lederhosen Lucil, supported by DJ Jester the Filipino Fist. I must say, it was odd turning up to Arc to hear music I'd not heard for years: I don't know when I last listened to the Eagles. Since I've not listened to commercial radio since I had to put up with KCC in Whangarei, I can't have heard them for well over ten years. Music of that vintage featured strongly in his set: its interesting how there can be all these songs that you don't particularly like, but all it takes is a few bars and they come flooding back.

The star of the show was Lederhosen Lucil, with her trusty Yamaha which was name checked on pretty much every song. It was a bit of a punt going along to see her, as I'd heard a total of one of her songs, and that was during her R1 interview before the show. She's a classic entertainer, tricked out in lederhosen, speaking with a German accent but making me think of Swedish milkmaids, what with her super blonde pigtails and all. She covers a hell of a territory in her songs; rock'n'roll, '60s French swing, reggae/dub, straight reggae, electroclash, polka... and pumps them out at between 24 and 240 BPM. Yes, she tells you that kind of thing as part of her act.

The opening song was a cheery wee number called Throwing Up Leaves, it has a lovely bass line on the CD but that got a bit lost in the live version and is lyrically sharper than the upbeat style might make you think. Other songs I remember are the rock song about a ganglion(!), which was preceeded by her telling us what they are and challenging anyone from the audience who had one to come forward, another about automatic weapons of the world, the very slow (24 bpm) song which was basically her singing a French lesson about reflexive verbs(!), the one song I really couldn't keep up with because it was at 240 bpm, the electroclash song she devoted to all the mums in the audience (called Best Dishwasher I ever had) and the last song,
which was about textured vegetable product. To add entertainment value, she gave out prizes: a DJ Jester whoopie cushion and a Lederhosen Lucil frisbee.

I have to confess that when she had to sing a straight vocal like in that last song, her voice did let her down a bit. She was far stronger when there was no need to sing seriously and she could alternate styles from one phrase to the next, or she could use a more spoken word style. So, my favourite song was the Best dishwasher one: it and many others are on her website.

I love the whimsy of the lyrics, yet they're quite serious:
Its not easy to play the part when you
eat bean burritoes and you have to
Its not easy to look real good when
there's gum in your hair and its stuck to wood
And the wood is in your boss's backyard
at the company picnic but you just got fired...
It was nice having an evening back at Arc, my first time for the year, and my first full on dancing since the Onanon gig with the Chills in the Cook before Christmas. A lot of the familiar Arc crew turned out: even though none of them know me, it still feels like home. I could have done without the long interruptions when a woman the age of my mother kept talking to "Lucil", not heckling but having those embarrasingly inappropriate conversations that mothers seem to be particularly good at - I could see her daughter trying to pretend she wasn't even there.

Oh, and thanks to Mystery Girl for bringing her down, particularly to Dunedin, as we miss out a bit. Maybe you could get Ember Swift to come: she's more political, but has a very similar appeal.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Sun in My Eyes

(by Josie Dew, 2001)

She has just been to New Zealand and is frantically writing up the tales of her exploits here. I am sure it will be as charming as her earlier works, although I wonder how New Zealand treated her. I know that she found the drivers hard to cope with and, poor her, was battling her way to Wellington in February 2004. For those not in the loop - that was a period of 1 in 100 year floods which devastated the Manawatu, and then she was battered by Antarctic wind gusts up to 170 km/hour. Not good. Oh - forgot to mention: she was cycling.

Anyway, several years ago, I read a couple of her books, The Wind in My Wheels and A Ride in the Neon Sun - the latter being her account of cycling around the southern part of Japan. Since the New Zealand book is still coming, I thought reading the second Japan travel book would be a nice way of reconnecting with her. It seems she really is crap at picking the weather: all her research suggested that it wouldn't rain in Hokkaido. But then, just before she crosses over on a ferry, she's told to expect rain for the entire month that she plans to be there. In fact, one fellow, the operator of the ferry terminal, is so concerned that he insists that she put her tent up inside the terminal after it is closed for the night and gives her free run of the place. He even suggests that maybe she'd like to live in the terminal for the month, until the weather settles.

This sort of thing happens to Josie throughout her travels in Japan. And the guys are not dodgy, either. She reports on a couple of occasions where she was really freaked, because she found herself bathing naked with a bunch of naked men (or, perhaps more scarily, with a solitary naked man) and yet it turns out to be really peaceful with no cause for alarm. The guys have their bath, drive off up the road, and as often as not, wait at the nearest vending machine so they can give her a can of Pocara Sweat - the oddly named cold drink which seems to be popular throughout Japan. As do vending machines. And electronic toilets. But the prevailing motif is one of generosity - it seems she hardly ever has to buy food, is often randomly asked to stay in people's houses, or hotels, or schools or, yes, their ferry terminals. I couldn't believe the amount of things she was given - not just cans of drink, or beer, and lots of food and candy bars but also, for example, a pot plant. She's on a bicycle, remember: she is very discreet concerning the fate of that particular gift. And as she cycles, people yell out encouragement - ganbatte! (do your best, have strength, good luck).

The scariest event of her entire trip is the night she's securely snuggled up in her tent, sound asleep out in the middle of nowhere, and a bunch of drunk guys turn up and start making strange noises outside her tent. This is, like, four in the morning. She looks outside to find them playing croquet around her tent!

Cycling around Japan is probably no-one's idea of a walk in the park, and there are times it is hard on her, her knee basically cracks up completely on her at one point. While I feel briefly inspired after reading one of her books to go and buy a bike and cycle to, say, Westport I know the reality is that I'd get as far as, say Mosgeil and that would be it. So, doing something like cycle around Japan (plus the fact that she's cycled a lot of Europe, Norhern Africa, the USA, New Zealand and Australia) - that's huge. She simply grits her teeth (actually she probably smiles) and says shikata ga nai (what can be done? it can't be helped. it has to be.) And she's a lovely friendly person to read along with. Although I must say I don't think I'd want to do group work with her! Her journey actually started in Hong Kong. She resisted the idea of flying to Japan, and eventually found her way there on an Outward Bound ship. She thought she'd be crew, but she was a trainee, put into a group with incessantly inane team building exercises in an attempt to "learn a circle of communication":
Try as I might, though, I just couldn't seem to get into the swing of making multi-legged monsters from the limbs of foreign strangers. Why couldn't I? Everyone else seemed to be having a hoot and coping incredibly well... Finally, monster mission accomplished, Tintin delivered the coup de grace. He instructed us to compose a rallying team chant that could be used to buoy up our spirits and bond our watch for the forthcoming voyage ahoy. Inwardly cringing and dying a death, I found myself being chivvied into a circle ('I like circles') to have my reluctant arm hoisted by an enthusiastic Blue Nine [yes they were numbered, and their teams were denoted by a colour] to join forces with a raised palm-clasping bond of everyone's sweaty monster mits as the new team motto was cried with lusty lung.
Some people like that kind of thing. They probably watch Bum Fighting on the tele. Josie lasted a few days, and then begged to just join the crew and work her passage.

And, of course, since this trip of hers was to the north, she got to see Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where there are very sobering reminders of the bomb - the low key, less flashy memorial in Nagasaki seemed to affect Josie far more dramatically than what was done in Hiroshima, particularly the statistics and photographs of the people affected, and the notice saying that the temperature caused by the bomb was around 4000 degrees (the sun's is 6000).

I do think I'd like to go to Japan, a lot of it sounds really nice, even some of the cities.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

TV Week

God, I seriously love ER. The new series started with a hiss and a roar - Dr Pratt, the Asian Dr and their kid are run off the road into the lake - the parents are OK but bubs is never to be seen again. Seela wanders back from Michigan and, despite being told she no longer works at County General, seems to have lots to do. Random things happened to Sam and Carter that I couldn't really follow, because I missed most of the last series.

Tonight's show was great. Seela' s parents turn up determined to take her home, saying that she owes them - and she probably does, as they've sacrificed a lot to put her through med school. But is it really what she wanted to do, was it ever? That's the dilemma she's working through and Dad's pressure is not helping. Maybe it is being selfish, but she can't really be expected to live out her parents' dream for her, can she? If she wants to improvise for a bit, why not? It may even lead to her committing to being a doctor. It is this sort of back-storying that makes ER so good - in a few deft conversations, so much is made clear. Then there was Abi - her first real day as a doctor, and the transition from being a nurse was not easy for her. Had to laugh when her little new sidekick, Penny, told her off for not recognising the importance of nurses. She had two main patients - a fellow who was pretty much beaten to death for being gay and a young Mexican girl who was abducted and used as a sex slave. Of course, Abi rescues her, not just from her "aunt" but also from the Child Protection people, reunites her with her family and sends her off to Mexico. The girl is, unsurprisingly, terrified about the long trip back. It was really sweet to see the show end, with the girl on the train home, asleep on Seela's shoulder.

There has been a lot of talk about the new show on 2, Lost. I saw it for the first time last week and can't say it made much of an impression on me. Jack, who seems to be the central character, reminded me of the older brother off Party of Five and there was some random story about a girl who had killed someone stuck on the island with a fellow who was somehow taking her to justice. I guess the one interesting point was Jack pontificating about how they were all leaving their lives behind, getting a fresh start on the island - which is true, but not enough. Much the same for the Amazing Race - the finalists were all so bland and whiny it was hard to tell them apart. At least the guy with the hair too stupid to be true didn't win.

Ah well, the new Brit comedy on One made up for it. Doc Green is the new vehicle for Martin Clunes (of Men Behaving Badly fame). He's a brilliant surgeon going for a sea-change - taking up a position as GP in a tiny Cornish (?) village. The committee appointing him is blown away to get a man of his calibre, although the hot school teacher chick votes against him because he has no social skills. And, certainly, he manages to get pretty much everyone offside very quickly. The show looks like it has promise - apart from Martin hanging woefully around the school teacher, there is the depressed policeman, the know-it-all but useless plumber, the receptionist with attitude and the dog which seems to have adopted Martin. His first case is a man presenting with over-developed breasts, which Martin quickly works out is the result of using his wife's HRT cream as a lubricant. At least, he thinks so until the young surfer dude comes in with the same problem.

Not TV, but I'm really getting sick of Nine To Noon. It was a real pleasure having Eva Radich running it, even Maggie Barry was OK if a bit soft. But Linda Clark is just so annoying: today's show was a classic illustration. She had a story about a 15 year old girl who had run away, but had seen a couple of doctors and made use of her bank accounts. Linda had the bit between the teeth, saying that the doctor should have got in touch with the parents. She started with the mum, who was complaining about the doctors fobbing her off with a citing of the Privacy Act. Linda agreed, and brought in a doctor, saying that surely it was commonsense that parents be told if their kids have seen a doctor. Last in the sequence was the Privacy Commissioner - who finally said what some of us already knew - the Privacy Act does allow discolsure of personal information about kids under 16. Now, shouldn't Linda have started her interviews armed with that information, rather than going off half cocked and relying upon "commonsense"? The Privacy Commissioner closed Linda down pretty quickly when she started saying that because the parents were guaranteeing the kids bank account, it was only commonsense that the parents should be given information about their kid's operating of the account.

Speaking of radio - Kiwi FM started last week. Somehow, Brent Impey thinks that that answers any need NZ might have for a national youth network, despite it not being aimed at the youth or nation-wide. I actually think that we have a greater need for a national, state funded, NZ music network than a youth one - since a lot of the commercial stations seem to be aimed at the juvenile audience and then there are the student stations. Frontseat was asking about all this last week: I've written in, hoping to win the prize for best letter.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Black Dahlia (by James Ellroy)

Somewhere, maybe on the interweb, maybe in a newspaper, I read about how James Ellroy is the most literary crime writer and that his growth as a writer can be tracked through his four crime novels set in Los Angeles, the first of which is the Black Dahlia. Now, this is a reference to a gruesome true crime: in 1947, the body of nascent actress Liz Short was found, hacked in half with a butcher’s knife, possibly while alive, and with various defilements. She was a young woman who had moved in from small town America to Hollywood, hoping to make it big. It is not that little is known about her life so much as there are so many stories, the reality is hard to discern, although it is accepted that she’d hit the spots, dressed in black, trying to make out with servicemen and, reputedly, Marilyn Monroe. It is possible that she was a cheap prostitute who was killed by some fellow she annoyed. This is unlikely if one story about her is true: it is alleged that she lacked female genitalia. The last known fact about her life is that she was picked up by a man from the Biltmore hotel. The crime has never been solved, although more than 50 confessed, out of guilt for other stuff they’d done, to get their moment of fame, the result of an obsession, whatever. In his book, Severed, John Gilmour claims that the killer was identified by the LAPD but died before they could get him.

This provided the stuff of Ellroy’s novel. His narrative ultimately provides an answer to the question of who killed Liz. Like many crime thrillers, the killer’s identity is never obvious until near the end and in fact, the killer barely gets a mention until the final chapters. As you’d expect, there is a close focus on the actual investigation, so there are elements of the police procedural here. But the story is really focused on one policeman, Bucky Bleichert, and his relationship with the force and obsession with getting the answer. The start reminded me so forcibly of a recent NYPD Blue episode that I think there must have been a borrowing: the first 50 pages are devoted to a boxing match between Bucky and fellow cop Lee Blanchard and the pressures brought to bear on Bucky to make sure he’d fight. Post-fight, they are united as dream partners “Fire” and Ice” with a plum assignment working for the DA, until all hell breaks loose when Liz’s body is found.

All hell breaks loose with the storyline as well, with Ellroy following up multiple threads. Lee become totally obsessed with tracking down Liz’s killer – this trail leads him off to
Mexico, where his own past catches up with him. Bucky is reluctant to get involved, as he wants to keep on with what they’d been doing. Not that he has any choice. Being the “star”, he of course gets the best leads, and we follow him as he tracks Liz’s life: the three major elements being guys from the armed forces, “lezzies” and a porn film. This is all against the internal politics of the police: the DA doesn’t want any publicity about things that might make their victim lose public sympathy or make him look bad (he’s up for promotion). Things get real bad for Bucky when he implicates colleagues in some dodgy dealings: he’s put on foot patrol but by this time has caught the bug to solve the crime himself. Another motif played out is the way in which the early building developers really ripped people off, with their shoddy building techniques and dodgy deals with the city council. Not easy how this might all fit in with finding the killer, but it does: for a start, it is when some of these crappy buildings are being torn down that they find the spot where Liz had actually been killed. There’s more.

Oh, and being a fairly masculine sort of novel, Bucky has to be either a complete bitter loner or there has to be a woman or two involved. Two as it happens, both with their own complications: Kay, who just happens to be the wife of his partner, Lee and Madelaine is the daughter of one of the property developers and just happens to like going out of an evening dressed up as the Black Dahlia. Her sister, Martha, is actually my favourite character even if Bucky didn’t think much of her (at first):

I shook her firm hand feeling sorry for her; she caught what I was thinking immediately. Her pale eyes fired up as she yanked her paw away.

Next up in the quartet is the Big Nowhere, a phrase that pops up twice in the Black Dahlia (being able to search within books can be useful! Thanks, Amazon.) as indicating space beyond the control of the LAPD.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Organic Sounds from the Swamp

(a Palmerston North compilation, Dodgy Records)

When a friend sends you a CD that his friend has put together, it can lead to a certain awkwardness: she has no doubt spent a little piece of her soul getting it just right, along with all of the blood sweat and tears that goes into the actual production. So, if when it turn up and your reaction is less than enthusiastic, a little muted or maybe even one of downright distaste, it leaves you with the difficult task of saying “mmm, that was a lot of effort, wasn’t it?”.

Luckily, I don’t have that problem with this compilation, so - big ups to Shanna, you've done a great job with this, even though it was nothing like what I was expecting. After all, eight years in Palmy taught me that swamp music was lo fi, rickety drum kits, lots of noise, big hairy men and decidedly indie rock influenced - in other words "Full Nelson". Yes, there is one rock song here, sounding a lot like Look Blue Go Purple, but the predominant flavour was electronica, with dashings of folk and dub. And it was good, some bits very good.

  • Tryk Logic – Asphyxiated Intoxication: a nice wee piece of downbeat, with subtle piano tonings or, in the musician’s own words at “chilled out ambient dubbish beat”.
  • Module – Mangapower: this one picks up the pace a little, has a bit of vocal (in Japanese) – the guy behind Module, Jeremiah, is a man to watch – he helped Rhombus transcend their limitations and has most recently been in the company of Rhian Sheehan.
  • DJ 20/40 – My Style: more of a hiphop track, this one brings in a bit of rap “I fucken reprazent”.
  • Dub Arkestra – Freedom Fist: the name’s a bit of a giveaway – quite a mellow piece of dub from this ten-headed group, with vocals by Liz, who also has a solo track later on.
  • Rafsta – In the Van. Hmm – I really shouldn’t like this one, since there’s a bit of personal history here, but its GREAT! Over an electronic beat, we get nice acoustic guitar and a whimsical homage to freedom and a yellow Datsun C20 “we don’t have any plan, we just rolling in the van, we don’t like making plans…”.
  • Captain Relaxo – Blue Dayze: good old Steve, singing about a 17 year old girl - “If you have one wish/ you probably want to put me on the list/ of all the fools in town”. This is really nice, albeit melancholy, given that he’s just swallowed a bunch of pills.
  • Cygna – Vast Iron Meses: this is what is left of Sleep/Kill, a great group of up to a dozen people, who’d sit in a circle and play these wonderful jazz/goth influenced sounds. Now they are three, still making subtle noises.
  • Haluciagea – Mellow: Tracey on vocal, “Now you know how it feels to be in love” – this is the most “pop” of all the tracks, and not bad – reminds me a little of Nelson band Yellow7.
  • Sorted – Strange Passenger: seeing the track name, I thought immediately of Jordan Reyne’s most recent album, and indeed there is a slight similarity in the sampled vocals in the beginning and the musician intended us to think of the Palmy train station. The underlying music, however, is just too slick and upbeat to have that effect.
  • Tom Firth – Downturn: is this electro-folk? Beats’n’acoustic guitar, with Tom singing – the closest connection is to Gramsci, but a wee way to go!
  • DJ Toibi feat Wizard E and Borcman. Every so often, Palmy turns out a decent hiphop song – this is one of them.
  • DJ Random – That Itch: “This record is made entirely from records”, I’ve heard a few of this sort of thing, where there are samples of vocals commenting on sampling to make music – it never really wakes up.
  • Mechanical Noise Theory – Reconstruction of the Leasure Desk; not how I’d spell it but there you go. This is the only straight drum’n’bass track, with weird electronic sounds – I guess its OK, picks up once the screaming starts!
  • Rogue State – A New Beginning: One of the guys from Hellborne, and a fellow called Rob Spleen, so you just know this will be from the heavy metal tip, with a bit of sampling – how original.
  • Hoopla! – Philosophy (what do you study?) – this is the one rock song, the one that makes me think Look Blue, Go Purple, a song I’d often heard on Radio Control but never known it was made by a mate, Steph, and the lovely Sarah Dingle.
  • Liz – Butterfly: a nice wee folkie.
  • Grayson Gilmour – Key Hole Confessions: he used to be in a really good local outfit called Faker, then went into heavy metal, and is now trying for piano accented folk. The song was over before I got a grip on what it was about.
  • Cheshire Cat – Mushroom … the Stars. Hippy music! Here’s the blurb – “Mind expanding waves of sound that encompasses all above, and so below, undulating in slow synchronicity toward a singularity that lies at the edge of time. Further beyond stand some trees, you can see the river flowing, and on the green banks lies a 50,000 year old tuatara, relaxing with a water pipe.” The reality is some fellow tapping a bongo, some sort of sampled muttering and some atmospheric electronica.

Sunday, February 06, 2005


I don't know why, but I seem to have watched an abnormal amount of TV over the past week or two, perhaps it is just my sub-conscious ensuring that I rest up before the year starts again. Very little, unfortunately, stands out as being good or worthwhile viewing - it has been nice catching up with Felicity again, and astonishing to see just how precocious the Olsen twins were before they were even teenagers, but I am sure there much better things I could have been doing with my time.

One thing I did not know is that TV3 has started showing M*A*S*H, yet again, right from the beginning - certainly from the period before I was even watching TV. The episodes I saw this week were dated 1972; they still had Henry Blake in charge, Hawkeye and Trapper John were running the place and Klinger only made one appearance. Yep - checking out the episode guide, I have seen the very first episode aired (if you ignore the pilot). That is cool, because it is a major programme in the history of TV and, while I didn't really recognise this until I saw a documentary about the anniversary of M*A*S*H, they were quite innovative - some of those shots in the hospital anticipate the moving action shots in ER, for example.

And as one programme starts, another finishes: we are at the end of the second series of Teachers and TV1 are giving it a rest, putting on a pretty weak comedy
Two Pints Of Lager in its place. The episode two weeks ago seemed to lack direction and spark - Simon was gone, and the focus seemed to be on Jenny regaining her status as uber-teacher: she had this plan to keep a chart of all the information various teachers learnt about their pupils, as she (rightly, I would have though) claimed it was good for kids if their teachers had some clues to them as people. Of coure, the others, led by JP, sabotaged her plan. The final focussed on the end of year piss-up and lots of casual sex - Susan asked Bryan if he'd mind shagging her, the new teacher made a grand entrance by scoring Penny, even Kurt gets to sleep with Liz (to her dissappointment). But it wasn't all bad - Kurt started to see Carol as attractive again and Bob has managed to re-ignite something with his wife.

Of course, Wednesday night was a big night in NZ TV land, with the new friends spin-off Joey, the new series of Scrubs and then the new Gilligan's Isle-like Lost. I was out to dinner and saw none of them.

Two other programmes really stand out - last Friday, there was a ridiculous film called Almost Heroes, in which Matthew Perry led an expedition across America in an attempt to hit the Pacific before Lewis & Clark. I really liked the part where he was laid up and needed an eagle egg to be cured. His fat co-leader (Chris Farley) gets the job of going back down the Rocky mountains and climbing a tree to fetch an egg. By the time he's attacked by the eagle and is back on the ground, his need to eat is stronger than his loyalty to his colleague - and fried eagle egg looked rather tasty. So, he goes up for another egg (and eagle attack) and again eats the egg, and then goes for the last one. This time he takes it back, with many longing looks at the egg, trips and breaks the egg - only to be told it was the shell needed. Not exactly cutting edge comedy, I know, but it was a nice way to relax.

Today, in some really bad timing, given that Nepal is under direct rule, martial law is imposed, all communications with the outside world are cut, the Intrepid Journey was Craig Parker's trip to Nepal, tracing his way through many of the places I went to (plus doing a bit of a trek above the snowline). The thing that really got to me, just like Pio's trip of a couple of weeks ago, was the food. Afterwards, I had an urgent need for Indian food - not your fancy rogan josh or chicken korma, but the kind of place that only has two choices: veg or non-veg. Some dhaal, rice and small servings of chicken and veg curry would be so good. I did go down town to find something suitable, but ended up with a very average chicken kedai at Mr India. Perhaps 2005 is the year to actually learn to make some of the indian food I crave.

The Time Traveller's Wife (III) (by Audrey Niffenegger)

Shelley told me this might happen. When I picked the book up last night to read a bit more, I found myself more and more compelled to just keep reading, right to the finish. It turns out that the book is a tragedy, it had me on both sides of the edge of crying for about 100 pages but at the same time was utterly beautiful in the way the story unfolded. Although I didn't quite go that far, I can understand the heaving sobs that this reviewer confesses to.

I absolutely love the game that friends of Clare and Henry invent, called Modern Capitalist Mindfuck, based upon the Monopoly board but with very special elements of chance introduced. They get to answer questions like what modern technological invention should be discarded for the sake of society (which produces strange suggestions like fabric softener and motion detectors - a Henry answer that makes him go "backward three spaces for valuing the needs of the individual over the collective good") and which of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Rosa Luxembourg and Alan Greenspan they most want to have dinner with (the correct answer is Rosa because she had the most interesting death). No I don't know who she is, except that she was caught up in a Spartacist revolt and murdered by anti-socialist soldiers in 1919. I think I'd pick Adam Smith, actually: despite his reputation for being an economist, "the invisible hand of the market" fellow, he was so much more than that.

But the great thing about the game is how natural it all seems: it is easy to imagine a group of people like Clare, Henry, Charisse and Gomez, people like us, sitting around and doing something like this. And that's somethng that Niffenegger manages to do throughout the book, create a believable reality, with recognisable relationships and problems within them. Although Henry's problem with time travel puts an extra strain on the relationship, it also adds an extra dimension, and introduces the idea of this love story being fated - he meets Clare when she is six because he is married to her (the nature of his time travel is to take him back to things that mean the most to him) and he gets to marry her because he met her and stayed in her life from the tiome she was six. Of course, there are logical problems with that, but they really do not matter.

In this last half of the book, Henry and Clare are finally married, so they do the things that normal married couples do - they find a house (of course, not any old house, because Henry has already seen their house - luckily, when Clare finally sees it, she has an overwhelming sense of something fitting and buys it on the spot) and they want to have kids. Again - that's problematic: can they? Will any kid have Henry's problem? Would they wish that on anyone? This brings in another character - geneticist/philospher Dr Kendrick, who becomes a firm family friend (once he is convinced that Henry is not a loon) and does some cool experimenting with time travelling mice.

But things get very very sad: first, because it is extraordinarily difficult for Clare to have a baby, she has six miscarriages, either because her body sees the fetus as alien, or they are time travelling. Things in the narrative get a bit tangled at this point: Henry knows they in fact have a child, but can't tell Clare, but then he gets so worried the effort to have a child will kill Clare, he makes sure he can't. Presumably he knows that a past Henry has come forward and has sex with Clare. But Alba, their daughter, is also a time traveller: I'm very glad that the story stops where it does, because it is hard enough having the idea put in my head what might happen to an attractive female who turns up naked randomly all over Chicago. And would you want that to happen to anyone, let alone someone who, as a ten year old kid, explains why a fellow named Joseph Cornell made some aviary boxes in this way:
He made the boxes because he was lonely. he didn't have anyone to love, and he made the boxes so he could love them, and so people would know that he existed, and because birds are free and the boxes are hiding places for the birds so they will feel safe, and he wanted to be fee and be safe. The boxes are for him so he can be a bird.
The other reason for sadness is Henry himself: while Kendrick might develop a way to arrest the time travel, he is too old for it to help him. He learns, fairly soon after marrying Clare, that his time is limited. This is another feature that makes the book a bit different: the author is continually introducing spoilers like this, at quite an early stage. So, for example, we get a fairly heart-rending scene where Henry zooms forward 10 years and sees Alba: she bursts into tears at seeing her five-years-since-dead father. It takes a clever writer to give readers that level of information and yet tell the story in a compelling way of how it happens. Niffenegger pulls it off, and at the same time has created a wonderful ove story. Here are some of Henry's last words:
Clare, I want to tell you, again, I love you. Our love has been the thread through the labyrinth, the net under the high-wire walker, the only real thing in this strange life of mine that I could ever trust. Tonight I feel that my love for you has more density in this world than I do, myself: as though it could linger on after me and surround you, keep you, hold you.
I think I quite like the author - she's a proclaimed "spinster, but with a permanent boyfriend". After reading a few of them around the place, especially this one, being a spinster seems to be quite cool, and having the boyfriend on the side solves a few problems with loneliness and perhaps longing for sex. I also find it fascinating that, after worrying about what Nicholson Baker might have done with the time travelling, one of his books shows up on Niffenegger's top ten books list. I know from reading the book that she and I enjoy a lot of the same music - in fact, reading this book was the last straw, I just had to get another copy of Patti Smith's Horses, one that I could actually find and play. I look forward to her next book:
A new novel, Her Fearful Symmetry. It's set in London, near Highgate Cemetery. I'm trying to include all the clichés of nineteenth century English writing: mirror image twins, mistaken identity, mysterious death, obsessive-compulsive disorder. And I want all these things in there, and I want to make them new, and interesting, and contemporary.
But then Amazon have a completely different book listed as upcoming, about three sisters.

Wierd - I have just gone back to the LJ of the first person to really bring this book to my attention: she comments on many of the same things as I have. She had one other commenter: in a strange little warp, I have met her IRL in the last few weeks.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Time Traveller's Wife (II) (by Audrey Niffenegger)

In a book about a fellow who time travels up and down his life line, hangs out with a 6 year old when he's 36, meets that same girl in real time when he's 28 and yet she's known him for 14 years, you'd think a little thing like this wouldn't bother me, but it does, to the point that it stopped me in my tracks:
The waiter brings Celia's coffee and I point at my cup. He refills it and I carefully measure a teaspoon of sugar in and stir. Celia stands a demitasse spoon straight up in the tiny cup of Turkish coffee.
I just don't get this - Clare is obviously drinking perc coffee, yet the waiter is delivering Turkish coffee to Celia. Is he carrying around a jug of perc coffee as well? Perhaps I shouldn't be such a coffee geek: in the course I've been in for the last two days, my fellow attendees have already worked out that I have programmed regular intakes of coffee into my sytem.

Anyway, the book is going fine - the long anticipated wedding between Henry and Clare is about to happen, one that took place in time displaced Henry's life 6 years before he met her in real time. This wedding is no surprise to us readers, as way back when Clare was 12 or 13, she'd been talking to Henry and got it out of him that he was married to a "very beautiful, patient, talented, smart woman". Poor Clare bursts into tears at that and eventually reveals that "I thought maybe you were married to me."

One thing I am increasingly unsure about is the place that his time travelling plays in the book - there is a good chance it is going to be like Titanic, where the sinking of the ship was merely incidental to the love story. So, there are a lot of things you might find in a conventional boy-girl book to give it spice: alcoholic father (his), psychotic mother (hers), a life changing car accident (his) and a lot of the narrative is simply devoted to a telling of their life.

I hope the time travel thing isn't just a gimmick and has a real purpose. So far, there has been a bit of musing on how he can't do things in the past that might change the future, can't tell Clare things about their respective future because that might alter the way things pan out and we've seen the ways in which Henry has had to adapt in order to cope with his time shifts, which leave him naked. So - the need to fend off bullies and obtain clothes mean that he's pretty good at fighting and breaking into places. We do know he was a bit of a shit in the years before he met Clare, causing a lot of pain to a lot of women, but so far there is little insight into how time travel has affected who he is. Ah well, I still have half the book to read.