Month: November 2015

Marlon Williams & The Yarra Benders @ Prince Bandroom

bannerImage3Checked out this young New Zealander and his band last Friday. Because the venue’s parking was full and I wasted time looking for a street parking that would allow me to use a credit card, I missed out on the opening act. Honestly who’s got $10 in coins in their wallet? But maybe it was a blessing in disguise since I seem to get tired a lot more quickly these days standing at a concert.

The show was heaps of fun – I’ve paid a lot more for concerts that weren’t anywhere near as good. Williams’ greatest strength on his debut album was his extraordinary voice, in the vein of Elvis/Roy Orbison/Chris Isaak, which made me overlook the fact that his original songs, while good, aren’t quite great yet. In a live setting, in addition to his spine-tingling voice and the astonishing control he’s got over it, his other strength is the fact that he’s a damn great entertainer. He’s got the confidence and charisma of a performer who’s been doing this live stuff for decades, chatting comfortably with the audience and the rest of the band, who came and went and came back again depending on the song. It doesn’t hurt that he’s quite easy on the eye as well – a bit like a blend of his famous film namesake and a young Vince Vaughn maybe. The band was a tight unit throughout and did wonderful job on vocal harmonies; other than picks from the album they did some excellent country and bluegrass covers. The highlight of the evening was a stripped-down version of When I Was a Young Girl, a real vocal showcase that made even the chatty patrons at the bar pipe down.

Spectre

daniel-craig-in-spectre-1940x1293I’ve resigned myself to the idea that I’ll probably never love another Bond movie like I did Casino Royale. Other than the movie’s own merits, it had the never-can-be-repeated revelation of Daniel Craig’s gritty, physical Bond who still had the heart that could be broken. Even so, Quantum of Solace was a huge disappointment and while Skyfall took the franchise into the billion dollar club, earned critical raves and had terrific cinematography, for me it was let down by the contrived, weak writing. So at this point my expectations were set low and I just wanted some decent entertainment. And for the first hour or so, the movie really delivered.

It opens with a truly magnificent sequence set in Mexico City, with Bond chasing a bad guy through the Day of the Dead festivities, which ends in a spectacular fight involving a helicopter and some amazing stuntwork. As exciting as it all was, I almost wished the camera would stop and linger for a while so I could perve at the intricate costumes and the parade props, and while initially I questioned the choice of sepia-toned cinematography which muted down the colours of the festival, it gives the proceedings a somewhat otherworldly feel. Then it’s time for the usual, lavishly animated credit sequence, with a rather insipid ballad from Sam Smith… but hey at least it’s better than that Jack White/Alicia Keys trainwreck from Quantum of Solace and the octopus-themed imagery is rather creepy and cool.

Back in London, Bond gets cuffed around the ears for creating an international scandal by M, once again played by Ralph Fiennes. M has other worries on his mind, as there’s a new initiative in town spearheaded by a cocky young bastard Bond names C, who aims to supplant MI6’s old-fashioned spying with a global surveillance network. Because C is played by Moriarty from BBC’s Sherlock series, you immediately know that he’s a villain. Bond also reveals the reason for his troublemaking in Mexico – a message from his dear departed M (Judi Dench) sent him on a trail that eventually leads him to a sinister organisation named Spectre. Other than plotting usual villainy, it seems that Bond has some kind of personal link to the man heading Spectre, Franz Oberhauser, which is telegraphed early on in the film in a not-too-subtle manner.

For a while, I was along for the ride. Bond has some amusing scenes with the young Q, whose role has been expanded here, and there’s a very well-shot secret meeting which ends with a cool car chase through the streets of Rome. Though one of the women who speaks at the meeting reminded me so much of Frau Farbissina from Austin Powers movies it added some unintended hilarity. But at some point, I began to feel that most of that initial adrenaline and energy has worn off, and lethargy started to set in. The movie was still watchable – it’s always beautifully shot and features stunning international locations, but the momentum and urgency drained away somehow.

I didn’t think much of Skyfall, but at least that movie had a clear-eyed view of its themes and tried to do something interesting. The main theme of Spectre seems to be, it’s all connected! Because serialisation and franchise building is all the rage now, someone had the bright idea of pretending that all the previous Craig films were in fact parts of a bigger story and that Bond had a character arc spanning four movies, instead of writers just throwing in whatever was convenient for the movie they were making at the time. And by god the movie hammers that connection in, by constantly shoving in the faces of Bond’s enemies and loved ones from the previous movies every chance it gets. It’s the kind of contrived storytelling in modern blockbusters I hate with passion. It also reheats some of the “is Bond relevant anymore” angst that Skyfall, in retrospect, did so much better, and there’s some stuff about how surveillance is bad m’kay, but it doesn’t amount to anything much.

Despite the pre-release hype about Bond getting it on with a woman closer to his own age, Monica Belucci’s role is virtually a cameo, and the main love interest is played by the much younger Lea Seydoux. She’s beautiful and feline, but unfortunately there’s not a whiff of chemistry between her and Craig, and the writers give them none of the verbal zing he shared with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Their romance is of the “characters kiss now because that’s the spot in the script where they’re supposed to kiss” variety. Plus she’s a prime example of a female character who we’re told is smart and capable, and who the film then proceeds to treat mostly as a damsel-in-distress.

Daniel Craig is still great to watch as Bond, even if he does look a tad weary in some of the scenes. By far the biggest disappointment was Christoph Waltz, who is terribly wasted as the chief villain. His personal connection to Bond is the kind of thing you’d expect in an episode of Bold and the Beautiful, and his character, who seems to aim for the same creepy effeminate type, just doesn’t have the colour and personality of Javier Bardem’s baddie in Skyfall (good god this movie makes me say nice things about Skyfall!) His character also serves to bring in the sillier elements of the earlier Bond films which don’t really gel with this real-life take on Bond. Actually, nothing in the movie was as silly as Oberhauser’s silly short pants late in the movie; I’m sorry but I can’t be scared by a bad guy whose ankles and calves are there on display. The movie is also short on memorable dialogue and one-liners; the joke involving C’s name was the only time I sorta chuckled, and even then it was because of what it implied rather than what’s said out loud. There no doubt will be more Bond movies after this, but it’s rather hard to see what else they can do at this point that feels fresh.

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

91isHIYCq1LA sequel to Red Rising and a middle book in the planned trilogy, Golden Son is, to borrow the novel’s own speak, a bloodydamn great improvement on its predecessor and does everything a sequel should do. It broadens the scope and stakes, introduces new memorable characters and deepens the old ones, while also being very exciting to read.

At the end of the first book, our hero Darrow, a lowborn Red at the very bottom of the society’s pyramid disguised as one of the ruling Golds, firmly embeds himself into the caste he means to bring down, and makes a name for himself as one of its brightest rising stars. Along the way, he makes friends as well as sworn enemies, and encounters an unlikely chance of a second great love in his life. At the start of the book, two years have passed since and Darrow seems on a verge of yet another triumph which will bring him closer to real power and his ultimate goal of overturning the society. But things go well and truly pear-shaped, and Darrow looks to lose everything he’s worked for while his enemies are sharpening their blades in anticipation.

If Red Rising was a bit like Hunger Games on Mars, then this book is a bit like Game of Thrones in Space (minus nudity and sex, surprisingly so for a world that has an entire class of people bred specifically for sensual pleasures). It’s chockful of plot twists, blood feuds, screwed up families, intrigue, betrayals and shocking and nasty violence galore. If anything sometimes the plot twists come on too quickly: just when it looks like there’s an intriguing new course set for Darrow, boom shit happens and everything changes again. Also, there was one particular development near the end which I felt was a tad too convenient – it takes you out of the story when the plotting mechanism is exposed too much and something feels like it happens purely so that this other important thing could happen later on. My main complaint with the first book was that it kept most of the action confined to a small corner of the world I was itching to explore, which is not an issue here because now there are giant spaceships in this story baby! We also learn more about some of the other Colours, most notably Blues and Obsidians, and there’s more of the cool future technologies and weapons. I also appreciated the fact that the fighting/action scenes, of which there are many in this book, didn’t feel repetitive and were easy to follow. If there’s ever a movie adaptation, they should make for some spectacular stuff.

Darrow must make some terrible decisions in order to survive and advance, and the novel does a good job portraying the costs of his mission, as well as the tricky relationships with his Gold friends. He has a genuine affection for them and is ready to risk his life for their sakes, but he also must manipulate them at times, and his secret creates a yawning gulf that some of his closest friends can’t help but feel. If there’s a problem in this series it’s that, despite him narrating the whole thing, I still have frustratingly little sense of Darrow as a person and for the most part it was hard to have a true emotional connection with his character. That said, the last 50 pages of the book have some of the most moving scenes in the series so far and it finishes with an ice cold bucket of a cliffhanger which made me realise that I got attached to Darrow after all. Sheesh writers, you can’t just finish your book with something like this and make me wait months for the next installment! It should be illegal or something.

Artwork in Progress

Four out of thirteen figures are now done. Pretty happy with the results so far. I’ve used a mix of matte and shiny fabrics like satin and silk, and you can get different shades out of the same fabric depending on the angle. Very annoyed though that Lincraft now will not sell cuts of fabric less than 1 metre… damn you Lincraft!

RvB_Nov15

Music I got recently

JackWhite-LAZARETTO_AlbumArt_Front1_zps9804205eJack White Lazaretto

Sounds exactly like you’d imagine a Jack White album to sound like at this point, which is no bad thing at all. I’m a huge fan of The White Stripes and his solo output has the same sense of eccentricity and weirdness, which I like a lot. Though his music is arguably less special and idiosyncratic without the simplicity and innocence of Meg White’s drumming, it’s still a fun, genre-blurring mix of blues, funk, folksy strumming and much more, topped off with quirky lyrics.

AlbumCover-Szymon_Tigersapp_1600x1600-640x640Szymon – Tigersapp

When I saw the minimalist cover and the Scandinavian-sounding title while browsing at my local JB Hi-Fi, I thought this album was by some Icelandic dude or whatever, but it’s actually the first and only recording of a 19-year-old Aussie musician who took his own life before its completion. His family finished and released his work this year, nearly three years after his death. Albums rarely come with a story more tragic than this, but the music itself is actually quite upbeat, a whimsical and shimmering blend of electronica, folk and pop. Good music to listen to on a warm summer day.

81+ry2l58QL._SL1500_David Gilmour – Rattle That Lock

With all due respect to Roger Waters, when it comes to Pink Floyders I’ve always been a Gilmour Girl, and it’s great to see him put out quality music at nearly 70 years of age, even if his gorgeous vocal sounds a tad more frail these days. This album is not as cohesive as On An Island and doesn’t have its melancholic, dreamy romanticism, and its cover art is frankly… ehh. But it’s a fine collection nevertheless. A couple of songs have a strong jazzy vibe, and daaaamn when that unmistakable guitar kicks in it just makes my heart soar. It definitely recalls Pink Floyd, but on a much smaller, more personal and intimate scale.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

bridget-jones-diaryThe 2001 film adaptation with Renee Zellweger is one of my favorite romcoms, so when I spied the original novel on the book shelf at my Mum’s I decided to give it a go. With some reservations, as I’ve read a couple of other books my favourite chick flicks were based on, which turned out to be very disappointing. I ended up gulping down the book in a space of one evening, while waiting for the drying machine to finish its business, it was that readable. Like the movie, it chronicles a year in the life of Bridget, an adorably neurotic 30-something woman living in London, who obsesses over her weight and her rakish boss Daniel, and makes a New Year’s resolution to sort her life out. It’s written in the pronoun-skipping diary form and each entry begins with a daily tally of alcohol, cigarettes and calories (and occasionally coffee).

Fielding’s writing is light, fun and breezy and humour was the best thing about the book, it had me chuckling throughout with some real laugh-out-loud moments here and there. Though I admit that there were some peculiarly British references that sailed right over my head. While the book exaggerates many things for the sake of comedy, I think most women can relate to at least some aspects of Bridget’s life. The novel was originally published in 1996, so it was interesting to see the total lack of social media in the characters’ lives; ah the simple days of phone, text, emails and video tapes. Naturally, because I’ve seen the film so many times, I had Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in my head throughout. Which got weird at one point when the book directly referenced Colin Firth and the Pride and Prejudice TV series, where he of course played Mr Darcy, but then he also played Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’ Diary… arghh too much collision between the film and book worlds.