Sunday, 31 August 2014

Who's a pretty boy, then?

Me, me, me!

'We' all know about that movie 'Pretty Girl' with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere which was largely set in and around the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and Rodeo Drive.

Here is the hotel on Wilshire Boulevard at the junction with Rodeo Drive.


This morning, early Sunday, I took a wander down to the hotel. Minding my own business I took a photo of the entrance. Quite silently and unnoticed by me a very efficient Concierge (not the one from the movie) appeared by my side and offered to take my photo.

If you enlarge the photo you can more clearly see him approaching me reflected in the glass door.



Here is his a sample of his work. I thought he was pointing my camera in the wrong direction but when I saw the photos I knew I was wrong. I reckon he has taken a few of these photos before.


Seeing as the Concierge was so hospitable I decided to take a seat in the lobby and watch the world pass by for a while.

Beverly Wilshire Hotel lobby

Having made it inside I couldn't resist an admittedly genuine need to visit the hotel toilet. Of course, once there what does one do but take a photograph?

Typical of 5 star hotel toilets, I think

Later on I took a cheapie short tour of Beverly Hills on a stylised Trolley Bus. It only cost $5 and was all over in 45 minutes and served as a sample of the bigger, longer, more expansive and expensive tours on offer.

Of course, it included a tour of streets where the narrator pointed out film stars' homes - or rather former homes; if you believe what they are saying. I didn't bother to photo many of these but here are two just for an indication of the variety of homes. Of course many homes we passed were on massive properties invisible to we gawkers the way they are set behind high hedges and walls. We could just as easily been passing a cemetery or golf course for all I knew.

Gene Kelly's home...apparently, maybe, supposedly
Jackie Collins' home...allegedly, possibly, who knows
Debbie Reynold's & a young Carrie Fisher's home...could be, why not

Saturday, 30 August 2014

LAX

The bookings were made many months ago and the countdown seemed slow until this week but finally departure day has arrived (if you get my gist).

Departure from Sydney Airport was delayed nearly an hour because of congestion in outwards immigration (there I go again) and a different form of congestion with birds sucked into an engine, thankfully of another plane, not ours. Despite the delay we still managed to arrive at LAX (Los Angeles) before we had departed Sydney. It was about 2pm 30 August as we raced down the runway for takeoff at Sydney and it was 10.20am 30 August when we touched at Los Angeles today.

Having mentioned congestion at Sydney Airport I won't nonetheless accept criticism of our facilities without argument given the even worse crowding here. It took nearly an hour to navigate the snake queue for Border clearance and once there you are photographed and they take a print of every finger and thumb. After baggage collection and customs clearance I walked along a series of tunnels and into the public area.

I looked without success for any information on the options for getting to my hotel but there was no such assistance apart from several cursory overhead signs which frankly are of no help. I did notice there are upgrades of the airport in progress and maybe these facilities will come with time.

In the end I joined the taxi rank. An Iranian cab driver drove me efficiently - as best I could tell - to my hotel. He was a friendly fellow but the journey was somewhat ruined by his persistence in questioning me on how he could get to Australia for work. Interestingly he mentioned that his cousin had gone to Indonesia and from there by boat headed for Australia but that he had been taken to Manus Island. The Government may have 'stopped' the boats in its view but not the interest.

Anyway - enough of politics; this is not a political blog - on to the vacation.

This is my hotel right in the centre of (luxury) things on Rodeo Drive.


Brand names on every corner.



Brand names side by side.


Even on Rodeo Drive brand names have clearance sales; like Brooks Brothers here offering 60% off for the Labor Day holiday.


But even on Rodeo Drive there is the ominous sight of a vacant store.


So what purchase did I make as a memento of my stay on Rodeo Drive? What do you think about this subtle little number?


Only kidding!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sore throat

Look up 'sore throat' on Google Images and you will see a lot of rather gross images of...well...sore throats. I was looking for an image of a good looking male with a sore throat to illustrate this post but I didn't find any. I scrolled through many screens of 'sore throat' images until I reached this one...


...what does it have do with sore throats? I think, I'm not sure but I think, the band is playing a song called 'sore throat'. It will have to do.

With wilful, typical timing, nature - or someone - has given me a sore throat and cough on the eve of my overseas holiday which will involve many hours spent in aeroplanes. It is an itchy, dry cough, most annoying and has evolved into laryngitis and cough. Friends in as disparate locations as Brisbane have been laid low with similar symptoms. I am taking medication.

This happens to me too often. 'Big trip coming up?' 'Here, take a cold/cough with you.'

The longest of the flights is the first leg, this Saturday. Thirteen hours and forty minutes to Los Angeles. Subsequent flights will be five hours and thirty minutes to New York, eight hours and ten minutes to Helsinki, a mere three hours and five minutes to London, an even shorter two hours and fifty minutes back to Helsinki, nine hours and fifty minutes to Hong Kong and finally nine hours and twenty minutes home to Sydney.

Lots of opportunities for me to pass my sore throat on to others, lots of opportunities to catch a sore throat back from others.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Boyhood


'Boyhood' is a scripted drama which follows the life of a boy from the age of 5 to 18. It was filmed over a twelve years period using the same actors throughout so that we witness the real development from childhood to adulthood of the 'boy' Mason, portrayed by Ellar Coltrane.

It was a very ambitious project and the producers struck it lucky that Coltrane, only a child at the outset proved capable of acting out the drama as the years progressed. The same can be said for Lorelei Linklater who portrayed the sister over the same period.

At two and three quarter hours it is a very long film and whilst there is little plot in the early scenes the drama of family life, especially broken families, soon emerges. Without giving too much away I would observe that Mason had little luck with step fathers.

This quasi documentary style drama will not be to everyone's taste but I became quite engrossed.
★★★★

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Strictly Ballroom: The Musical


Strictly Ballroom: The Musical is Baz Lurhmann's stage musical iteration of his successful 1992 film 'Strictly Ballroom'. It depicts the shenanigans behind the management of competitive amateur dance and it contains an 'ugly duck' romance. The film was a bit of a surprise hit. It was very Australian in style, humour, language and theme which I would have thought might have precluded it from repeating its success overseas but successful worldwide it proved to be.

I was a bit ambivalent about seeing this stage version until last Monday night when I saw an excerpt from the production in the television screening of the Helpmann Awards and so thrilling was that excerpt that I immediately booked to see the show.

The musical opens with a 'MC' geeing up the audience in preparation for the show to follow. As best my memory serves me the show then follows pretty closely the plot and key moments of the movie. A large company fills the stage with seemingly endless dance action. It is all rather noisy and I did have difficulty at times hearing some of the dialogue and in focussing on the shifting locations of key action with so much happening simultaneously across the stage. A bit of a failure in the staging, I believe.

It seems essential in two act plays - musicals especially - that the first act conclude with a bang. You don't want the audience to have a reason not to return after interval even if most of what preceded it hasn't engaged their interest so that first act big finish is important. For an hour I found the first act of Strictly Ballroom: The Musical to be a bit disappointing. The large company worked hard, dancing very impressively, but at times the quality of the dialogue and situations portrayed didn't match their efforts.

Then came the first act climax; as it happens the scene that had so impressed me when staged at the Helpmanns. It was easily the best segment of the first act. Finally the audience was treated to some real drama and passion, fine music - Bizet's Carmen; in fact - and even better dancing.

The second act continued some of the theme introduced in that pre-interval climax and the second half of the show was all the better for that.

I'm loathe to mark the production down given how hard the large company works to deliver this show; their efforts really were impressive but it seems to me the musical needs some refinement.
★★1/2

Friday, 22 August 2014

Macbeth

(Sydney Theatre Company)

Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' about the General who kills to fulfil a prophesy that he will become King of Scotland then with his wife's encouragement continues to kill to maintain his position.

This production from the Sydney Theatre Company inverts the usual staging by placing the audience on the stage to look out upon an empty auditorium. The play itself is staged on a comparatively small extension of the stage into the auditorium. The advantages of this are probably that most of the audience is close to the action, the disadvantage being the discomfort of the tight, banked seating.

The staging here is simple in the extreme. Two long tables placed end to end, eight irregular chairs, a crown and a King's cloak constituting the set. Fans have been placed in the circle to blow smoke across the stage and over the audience for effect and light and sound do most of the rest.

For the first half an hour with the lit empty auditorium as the visible background I wondered why the production wasn't simply placed into a smaller theatre if the intention was to bring the audience close to the action. But then the auditorium went dark and from that point it became a part of the staging with coloured light denoting time of day and characters from time moving about the empty space, even sitting high in the upper circle, to deliver some of their lines. To my surprise I found the overall effect quite interesting.

An ensemble of eight play the various roles with Hugo Weaving striking as the title character.
★★★1/2

Monday, 18 August 2014

Bridge trumped by weather

Bridge didn't happen this evening. Well, actually it did, but with reduced numbers which did not include us.

We started off for bridge as usual with me driving up the road to collect Ce and then driving back around past my place heading for the club. But it was a very stormy night and New South Head Road was in traffic gridlock.

It took forty minutes to progress a couple of hundred metres and we assumed there was an accident or some similar incident ahead.


Finally we reached the Ocean Street crossroad (that is, after forty minutes - a journey that usually takes less than ten minutes) where police refused us further progress diverting us from our intended route right back to my front door.

I'd had enough. I drove Ce home and returned to my home and put my feet up for the evening watching television in the comfort of home. I learned later that fallen electrical wires just a block from my home was the incident that stopped traffic.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey


An Indian family with a background running restaurants in their home country decides to try their luck operating a restaurant in France immediately across the road from a hatted French restaurant. Culture, not to mention cuisines, clash in 'The Hundred-Foot Journey' a romantic drama set in an impossibly picturesque French village.

A high powered production coalition including Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey no less is behind this film which I suspect is the reason for casting Helen Mirren as a Frenchwoman. Mirren does well as usual but I suspect box office power rather than logic is behind that casting decision.

It is romance by numbers and the twists and outcomes are rarely a surprise but the cast and the images are sufficiently appealing to make this an enjoyable if slightly overlong treat. The food looks simply superb and for that alone I have added half a star.
★★★1/2

Saturday, 16 August 2014

It's all the same....

...peak or non peak hours, Sydney's traffic is often in grid lock.

This is Concord Road, heading north this morning (Saturday) at 10.25am.


Friday, 15 August 2014

Palo Alto


'Palo Alto' follows a group of teenaged high school students in California as they grapple with the relationships they have with their peers and with adults. Although a talented lot - musicians, artists and on the sporting field - they are a largely languid group who spend a lot of their time under the influence of alcohol and drugs and participating in loveless, often callous, sex.

There is not much plot to the film which is styled more like documentary glimpse into a week or so of their lives.

The film is based on a collection of short stories written by James Franco and I assume maybe partially biographical.

Franco also features in the film as a Physical Education Teacher and as with most of the other adults featured his character is frankly rather creepy.

The teenagers come across as very natural.

Its all slow and rather sad and a bit of a downer.
★★★

Thursday, 14 August 2014

There Will Never Be Another You

I go to the movies regularly at my favourite cinema the Randwick Ritz. Although a 'multiplex' with six screens, one of the screens being one of the few remaining art deco cinema auditoriums in Sydney, the complex is a family business and not one of the major chains.

So it is friendly and cheap and has many personal touches lacking in the major cinemas.

As used to be the case in all cinemas when I was a child, the Ritz displays slides advertising current and forthcoming attractions which are screened to a musical soundtrack that changes weekly and recalls the anniversary of some film of the past. It is a lovely practice.

This week's soundtrack is Nat King Cole singing 'There Will Never Be Another You'.



The slide which explains this choice mentions the song was featured in 'The World According to Garp' which starred Robin Williams as Garp. What a thoughtful selection.

Williams was not one of those lookalike celebrities indistinguishable from one another. He truly was one of a kind. Intelligent, witty, interesting but sadly suffering demons.

Robin Williams 1951 - 2014

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Effect

(Sydney Theatre Company)

'The Effect' is the current subscription play from the Sydney Theatre Company.

Two twenties something people enter a program testing the effects of a new drug and find themselves with a growing attraction to each other as the test dosages are steadily increased over time. Is their burgeoning love real or simply a side effect of the drug intake? Meanwhile the two professionals overseeing the test program are engaged in an examination of their own relationship and shared history as the testing progresses.

This very modern play is well acted by its cast of four. Anna McGahan and Mark Leonard Winter are impressive as the younger couple, the latter delivering a particularly striking performance.
★★★

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Flying home

The flight between Sydney and Ballina takes about one hour by an Airbus jet.

The Ballina Byron Gateway Airport is a small airport with I suppose 10 or so jet flights each day mostly to/from Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle. There are no air bridges and passengers walk across the tarmac on arrival and departure as was the case with even major airports in my youth.

I took these two snaps walking across the tarmac earlier today when joining my flight for the return flight to Sydney.



The aeroplane is an Airbus A320 in the Jetstar fleet.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Masterchef, not

Each July or thereabouts six friends, myself included, gather in the north coast town of Ballina for a weekend celebration of the birthday of our host who resides there. It is always a casual weekend of laughs and memories of times past. Three of our group usually concoct a meal for the Saturday evening which we fondly refer to our Masterchef meal.

The meal in fact would not satisfy the judges of that television series for most aspects but it the meal - homely and ordinary as it may be - is one that we always seem to enjoy immensely.

Last year my contribution was to laboriously cut up the vegetables for the soup. I have no pretensions to being a cook. This year I focussed on photographing the preparation and outcome whilst two others did the bulk of actual cooking.

Even as photographer I didn't completely succeed at my task somehow managing to completely fail to photograph the sweet potato and pear suit which was the delicious starter.

Here are the other two courses.

Home made beef pies

Pie, mashed potato, mushy peas and carrots

Baked Alaska (sponge, ice cram and meringue)

This may not be a meal to merit 'hats' but we love this annual treat.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Snowpiercer


'Snowpiercer' is set in the future but not that far ahead as it is only 2031; not even a generation away. An attempt to stabilise the planet's environment has gone awry plunging the planet into a severe ice age.

The only humans remaining alive on Earth are all circumnavigating planet endlessly on a train which is a microcosm of power and suppression. The most powerful are in the front carriages of the train enjoying increasingly improved conditions the further forward their position and the least powerful are in the end carriages subjugated the more severely the further back they are located.

This endless circumnavigation is needed as the passengers face death from freezing should the train stop.

An uprising breaks out amongst the subjugated passengers who fight they forward towards the powerful front of the train.

This is all a very fanciful metaphor for power, the powerless and how power corrupts. However I was put off by the extreme violence of the first half of the film. Although the violence is more suggested than real it was sufficiently effective visually to have me averting my eyes at times. I cant really enjoy a film when I can't bear to keep my eyes on the screen. (I suppose that is fairly self evident.)

It is a pity because the premise, as unlikely as it is, poses very interesting questions about the use and abuse of power; an issue that is more prominent in the film's second half when the focus on extreme violence finally abates.

Whilst I found Tilda Swinton's exaggerated performance as a sort of PR and propaganda official skilful its weird humour seemed out of place.

An interesting if uneven effort.
★★★

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

I'm in lust

How can someone be so beautiful?

This week's classic movie review on At The Movies was 'Plein Soleil' a French film from 1960 known here as 'Purple Noon' and which was an adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel The Talented Mr Ripley.

The young Alain Delon played Tom Ripley in the film. He was about 25 at the time and boy was he gorgeous.

Again I ask how can someone be so beautiful?


The poster for 'Plein Soleil'.


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Social manners



A few weeks back I was asked by a friend to accompany her to a function celebrating two anniversaries for a gay couple of her acquaintance. I know of the gay couple and have attended several large picnics where they were present but I have never spoken to them and frankly wouldn't recognise them if they were standing in front of me. I wasn't invited to the function by them as such, my friend was going to take me as the 'plus one' in her invitation.

In the meantime I received directly an invitation to attend a 90th birthday tea for a very dear friend of my late parents. I know the 'birthday boy' personally and we have met for coffee conversations on numerous occasions since my parents' deaths.

The two parties were scheduled for the same time.

In most situations I would not think of reneging from a prior arrangement but in this instance I felt a greater responsibility to mark the milestone of a cherished friend of my parents than to accompany an admittedly long-standing friend to a party hosted by people I don't really know and who haven't specifically invited me anyway.

I told my friend I was going to break my promise to her and go to the birthday party instead. My friend said that was OK with her but I sensed she wasn't entirely happy with me.

I attended the birthday party and was warmly welcomed by the 'birthday boy' who was clearly touched by my attendance. This morning, only a week following the birthday party, his son rang to inform me that his father passed away yesterday.

I'm so pleased that I let my heart rule over 'social manners'.

Monday, 4 August 2014

I don't want to play.....

Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx was a brilliant exponent of the one liner ad-lib. One of many of his ad-libs that has always appealed to me is 'I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member'. The exact wording of this ad-lib and its context remains uncertain but that he made a statement to this effect is not in dispute.

My mind turned to Groucho's comment after an exchange with my bridge partner tonight. Having picked up my bridge partner for the drive to the club I was asked about my day. I replied that I had woken with a cough but before I could add that the cough had cleared my bridge partner responded sharply 'well what are you doing here tonight'. An icy chill descended in the car and I could tell that my bridge partner was fuming at the thought that I was spreading germs around.

At the first set of traffic lights bridge partner turned to me and asked to be taken home. 'I don't want to be getting sick from your cough' explained bridge partner even though I hadn't coughed at all during the drive.

I wasn't going to argue. I don't want to play bridge with a partner who doesn't want to catch my cough, I thought.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

A Most Wanted Man


'A Most Wanted Man' based on the John Le Carre novel has various Intelligence agencies in Hamburg Germany monitoring the activities of a suspected militant Islamist, a perceived moderate fundraiser for Islamic charities and a banker who may or may not be knowingly involved in the financing of terrorist activities.

At the outset the film tells us that planning of the 9/11 attacks on the United States occurred undetected in Hamburg and so agencies there have remained vigilant ever since to prevent a reoccurrence. Hence the close and competitive agencies' monitoring depicted in the movie.

The clandestine agency from whose perspective we are viewing events is led by Philip Seymour Hoffman in what became his final completed movie role. It is a typically outstanding performance by Hoffman. Indeed the performances all round are excellent.

Events unfold slowly and at length and action lovers be warned, there is very little to excite your interest here. Whilst I was intrigued with the detailed slow moving depiction of Intelligence monitoring I did start to fear at one stage that the film might peter out aimlessly but patience is rewarded. The climax when it comes packs a punch.
★★★★

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Lucy


Science fiction movies are a bit hit and miss. By their nature they test your credulity and your willingness to go along with the premise - or perhaps I should say that my willingness to go along with it - depends on a range of changeable factors.

The more entertaining the movie, the more visually interesting it is, the more that I emphasise with a character, then the more likely it is that I will enjoy the offering.

Scarlett Johansson plays 'Lucy' who finds herself in the clutches of Taiwanese gangsters who forceably implant drugs in her stomach with the intention that these be secretly sent to overseas markets. At the same time that we see Lucy in this plight against her wishes we see Morgan Freeman delivering a learned lecture on the  wonders of the human brain which we wasteful people only use to about 10% of its capacity.

I always find Johansson interesting in movies and Freeman's glorious voice gives such authority to his fictional lecture that you half feel you are in the hands of a true educational experience.

What follows this set up is high speed action, violence and a fictional adventure that blends the two plot points but is mostly ridiculous. But in its own way the movie, with its two likeable leads is entertainingly ridiculous, in part because with a running time of ninety minutes it doesn't overstay its welcome.

A nice filler for those who enjoy their science fiction adventure laced with blood and gore.
★★★

Friday, 1 August 2014

Mobile phone set up

You know those movies where the villain changes mobile (cell) phones daily to avoid detection?

They never look like this....

Chris Evans in 'Cellular'

Well they never look like Chris Evans because he doesn't play villains but those who do it in movies - change phones daily, I mean - do it so easily.

I can understand that they can destroy a SIM card and the phone itself relatively easily; not that I have tried to do it myself but I assume a strong and angry person has that degree of strength.

But how do they get the new one working so quickly? What about the set up? And the connection to the Cloud? OK, I can see the Cloud would be out for villains but really it does take a little while to get a new phone connected and working. But they never show that in the movies.

I just purchased a second mobile phone to use for my trip overseas shortly. I know it is an expensive thing to do but I have decided on a second phone with an overseas purchased SIM card as my preference to playing around with my now number 1 phone whilst I am travelling. I've set the phone up myself and whilst that is a pretty easy process it does take a bit of time.

Of course I'm not setting up a phone clandestinely nor am I using the cheapest disposable handsets around. I suppose that's the point. I'm not a villain. Well not in the criminal sense anyway.