Month: August 2015

The Fabulous Baker Boys

fabulous_baker_boysAnother DVD from Mum’s collection. I love films that revolve around music, and this one is about two brothers, Jack and Frank (real-life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges), who make ends meet playing piano together, a double lounge act they’ve kept up for over ten years. Frank is a responsible family man and something of a worrywart, who arranges the gigs and looks after the financial side of things; Jack is a sexy taciturn loser who lives in a crappy apartment with his dog, has numerous one-night stands, and goes through life with the general air of not giving a shit about anything. Which is of course an affectation, because deep down Jack really cares about jazz and only looks truly happy when he sneaks off by himself to play at some small club. But he’s just too inert and stuck into the Fabulous Baker Boys routine to change things.

Anyways, when the opportunities run dry and one of their regular clubs won’t reschedule them, the brothers realise that maybe their act got a bit too stale, and decide to hire a female singer. After some hilariously bad auditions, they finally decide on Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer), a former escort girl who is kinda rough around the edges and has no clue what to wear onstage for a refined lounge act, but is absolutely enchanting once she starts singing. You don’t see Michelle Pfeiffer onscreen all that often anymore, sadly, so this was a startling reminder what a magnetic, drop-dead gorgeous star she is. She apparently did all of her own singing, which is also impressive. The only thing I knew about this movie was that it had a classic scene in which Pfeiffer croons while lying on top of the piano in a slinky red velvet dress, and yeah you don’t even need to be a straight male to see why that scene was memorable.

The movie doesn’t do anything particularly original – you know that Jack and Susie are going to get it on at some point, no matter how hard they try to keep their relationship purely professional, that Susie will cause friction between the brothers, and that Jack will eventually take a long hard look at himself and his life. But what it does, it does very well; it made me care about the characters and their relationships, and the script is frequently very funny. There’s also a rather wonderful score, a brief appearance by Jennifer Tilly and some fabulously tasteless late 80s fashions – there was one scene in particular where I was constantly distracted from the drama by Susie’s giant, gaudy, shiny earrings that by all rights should have made her ears fall off. Ahhh poor 80s, the one decade that will never get a fashion revival.

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

VAcoverJodi Picoult’s novels are my comfort reading, probably in the same way Agatha Christie’s crime novels are. By all rights I should find them overly sentimental and cloying, but there’s just something fundamentally likable, cosy and wholesome about her style – even when she writes about murder, incest or prison rape – and her strong sense of family and friendship is always very appealing. Her penchant for a shocking ending doesn’t always work out and her particular writing ticks can get tiresome over a long run; how many times can you read yet another cutesy list of personal quirks and preferences that make a character soooo speshooool? Despite that, I’ve enjoyed most of her books, and while this one is not top-shelf it was still a good read.

Like many Picoult books the story is told from different perspectives, but the main character is Delia Hopkins, who lives with her fiance and a young daughter in New Hampshire, and has a fairly unusual occupation of finding missing persons with the help of her bloodhound. Through a chain of events that involve Delia’s flashbacks of her past life which don’t quite add up, her world comes crashing down when her father Andrew is arrested for kidnapping his daughter almost 30 years ago from her mother’s custody. He’s taken back for trial to Arizona where the kidnapping took place, and is followed by Delia and her daughter, her fiance Eric who now acts as Andrew’s lawyer, and her best friend Fitz who’s there officially to write a newspaper article on the trial, but who really harbours a long-time crush on Delia. On top of everything else, Delia finds out that her mother is still alive, and is not the perfect mother she’d fantasised about all her life.

Picoult’s novels usually tackle some kind of moral dilemma or social issue, and this one is mostly about what is legal vs. what is right, as well as alcoholism, what it means to be a parent, how people reinvent their lives and the importance of memories. All characters involved have their own point of view and bar one are all treated sympathetically, though none of them quite manages to have their own individual voice. Fitz in particular has little personality outside of the friendzoned trope. A lot of the book is taken up by a couple of sub-plots about Delia’s friendship with the local Hopi woman, and Andrew’s life in prison and his growing friendship with his cellmate. They both touch on the same legal vs. right themes in not so subtle ways, but then Picoult’s books are never really subtle about their messages and at least these side stories were interesting enough not to feel redundant. There’s a big bombshell reveal near the end – another Picoult staple; in some of her novels it feels like she’s trying way too hard to play a “gotcha!” trick on the reader, but here it feels like something that, in retrospect, has been foreshadowed and therefore doesn’t jar or feel like a cheat.

I really wish my book had the above cover. I don’t know who did mine but they should be kicked out of publishing for the ugliest Photoshop work I’ve seen in a while.

Phillip Island

Had a nice getaway at Phillip Island. Yesterday, it rained the entire two hours it took me to get there (managing to drown out Guns N’ Roses at one point), so I didn’t rate my chances for nice walks the next day, and consoled myself with the thought that at least I upgraded to a suite with an enormous spa bath (it was awesome). But miraculously, Melbourne weather for once didn’t behave like a bitch! Still cold and windy, but plenty of sunshine.

The Nobbies is one of my favourite walkways in Victoria. The coast in this area is ragged and dramatic and covered with weird succulent-type vegetation which creates an interesting texture of greens and reds.

Smith Beach looks nothing like it does in the summer, except for a couple of crazy surfers who’d probably go for a swim at the North Pole too. The nice thing about visiting it in winter is that, when you’re not distracted by the beachy things, you can actually look around the place and notice things you don’t when you’re busy getting a tan.

Favourite Rocks

I’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing rock formations on my trips in Australia and overseas:

Quote of the Day

Vanity Fair by William Thackeray is one of my favourite novels, and its last paragraph is one of my favourite conclusions to a book.

Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? – Come children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.

The very last sentence is memorable enough on its own, as it reminds the reader of the theatricality of the whole thing, but what sticks in my mind is how sad the ending actually is. That despite the fact that merely a few pages before we got our supposedly happy ending, complete with the dramatic last-minute dash and declaration of love from our heroine to the man who had hopelessly loved her for years. I love the BBC adaptation with Natasha Little as Becky Sharp (unlike the Reese Witherspoon version, it didn’t sugarcoat the fact that Becky is a horrible person), but I think it loses a lot by skipping over the sadness of the hero no longer caring for his most-cherished prize.

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

bergI don’t know if it can be called a subgenre, but there’s certainly a kind of scenario that often appears in fiction: a bunch of people with disparate personalities and lives, who share some kind of common past, reunite for an occasion that ends up changing their lives, with revelations and much soul-searching along the way. This book was about a group of former classmates who attend their fortieth high school reunion. The five main characters are a varied bunch whose paths in life took different turns after highschool, and who come to the reunion looking for different things. There’s loud and brash Dorothy who wants to hook up with Peter, the best looking guy in her class, who in turn wants a chance to win back his estranged wife. Lester is a contentedly single veterinarian and a former nerd; Mary Alice is another loner type who hasn’t had the best time at school but wants to see her former classmates anyway. Candy is a class beauty with a jerk of a husband, who’s been handed a fatal diagnosis by her doctor, and wishes to change her life.

The book was enjoyable to read, but to be honest it wasn’t as deep and perceptive as its author probably thought it was. The characters are distinct and fairly well-drawn, there are some good lines and observations on life, relationships, regrets and getting old, but I’ve seen the same themes done much better and with much more depth and subtlety elsewhere. There’s also a segment during the reunion where the characters decide to play the game of truth and talk about deep stuff, like “what scared you about coming to the reunion”, “did your life turn out to be anything like you thought it would” etc. The whole setup and the answers felt rather phony and forced and way too neat, probably because the book hasn’t really established an atmosphere of intimacy where this kind of soul-baring before virtual strangers would feel realistic. Also, apart from a few instances, the book is too eager to avoid any real dark stuff or unpleasantness; for example it keeps on hinting that Mary Alice was mistreated by her classmates but I don’t think it ever went into specifics of what exactly did they do to her. There’s also a resolution for two of the characters that happens offscreen in an abrupt manner, just when I thought that the book might take a refreshingly different path instead. My overall feeling from the book was, I want to be deep and meaningful and real but don’t worry! nothing too upsetting or confronting or different here! I can’t say this inspired me to read more books by Elizabeth Berg.

Artwork in progress

It’s been almost five months, but I’ve finally finished the templates for the figures.

It took me a couple of false starts to figure out how to approach this. At first I simply tried tracing the figures in Illustrator, but the original image was too pixellated, so everything blurred together when I zoomed in and I ended up with a bunch of ugly blobs. Then I decided to print out the enlarged figures on A3 sheets, trace over them with a pen, scan the drawings and trace over the pen lines in Illustrator. That resulted in more detailed figures, but they still looked too blobby. So the final solution was to redraw the figures from scratch, so that the planes of colour would look crisp, clean and angular. Sometimes there’s just no taking shortcuts unfortunately.

I am happy with the outcome though, let’s see how long it takes me to actually execute this in fabric! I might have to simplify this if the detailing is too small and fiddly.