Sunday, 31 July 2016

Homeward bound

The weekend, or at least that part of it spent in get together, is over too quickly.

A morning breakfast of scrambled eggs, grilled tomato, bacon and mushrooms always tastes so good when prepared by someone else. It did again this morning.

Some more leisurely banter and sitting around completed the morning until the not so mad dash to the nearby airport for my flight home.

Back on the tarmac in Sydney a little more than an hour later with the mundane tasks of laundry and ironing ahead.

Taxiing towards Terminal 2 at Sydney Airport

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The farm and an oriental touch

This morning was spent at The Farm Byron Bay which is a'working farm' turned into a leisure enterprise with retail and food/cafe outlets.

There were plenty of families about as well as obviously locals identifiable (if I may comment so) by their mode of fashionable attire (trendy shorts, casually draped tops, and up market sandals) and sun/wind touched yet curiously unblemished faces.

A couple of snaps.





Afterwards we shopped at the local mall for this evening's meal, the theme of which was decided as oriental in respect of our Beijing connections. The meal comprised Mongolian Lamb, Crispy Beef strips and Curried Prawns.


Dessert was a Panna Cotta which as dictated by Masterchef judges as a requirement did wobble impressively.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Ballina bound

My few loyal regular readers will know that I regularly have get togethers with some close friends from our days working as expatriates in Beijing.

In our case we meet two, sometimes three, times in a year across the three locations of our residences, namely Sydney (myself), Brisbane (Ll & Fd) and Ballina (Mt).

This weekend Mt is hosting us in Ballina. The flight up was uneventful and punctual. The Jetstar aircraft, as usual, was tightly packed in both respects. Most seats taken and the one (economy) class structure leaving little leg or wriggle room for tall people like me.

Mt met me at the airport and we were at home ten minutes later. Ease of traffic and short travel tines being one of the joys of living in a regional town like Ballina. Ll & Fd arrived from Brisbane by car a few hours after my arrival. As is often the case were also joined by Rs & Gg, good friends who were not Beijing expatriates but whose company we all enjoy.

Menu this evening courtesy of Mt was Parsnip Soup, Lamb slow cooked in red wine served with healthy vegetables and store bought cheese cake for dessert.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Love & Friendship


'Love & Friendship' is adapted from a Jane Austen short story called Lady Susan. It is a comedy, and I suppose satire, of manners and relationships amongst titled families in 18th Century England.

A sharp tongued widow, still of marriageable age, engages in intrigues and manipulates relationships to find suitable husbands for herself and her daughter.

The dialogue is often witty and performances are sound in this period piece. I found the single tone and pace a little dull at times and struggled to maintain my focus. Aficionados of Austen and the period, however, will be delighted.

★★1/2

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Funny Girl


The musical 'Funny Girl' is one of those works that is inextricably linked with a specific artist. In this case Barbra Streisand. I have never seen a stage version of it previously and all my memories and images of the work are of the film version with Streisand's Academy Award winning (sharing, in fact) performance.

This was also the first time I have seen a show staged by 'The Production Company'. That company presents three musical works each year for limited performances (ten for each show, I believe) and I was interested to see the quality of their presentations.

Their productions are more than a concert version but not quite a full staging. Although the orchestra (of about twenty six musicians) remains on stage throughout the performance I was fully engrossed in what was as close as you could get to a fully staged show.

The three principals, Caroline O'Connor, David Hobson and the veteran Nancye Hayes were all superb in this story of the rise to stardom and personal life of Fanny Brice. The entire ensemble and the orchestra were as professional in standard as you could wish for.

I was very impressed, so much so that immediately after the performance I booked for the next production in August.

★★★★

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Catching the High Riser

In Melbourne for a brief weekend visit I caught up with Andrew and his partner R for coffee (actually in my case, hot chocolate) at Riverland Bar and Cafe adjacent to Federation Square.

Riverland Bar and Cafe
The weather was rather cool although at that time sunny and thankfully not as dire as the forecast had promised. Hail had been a possibility.

I was on my way to see a performance of 'Funny Girl' just across the bridge visible in the photograph. It was, as always, a pleasure spending time with them.

Friday, 22 July 2016

A technician called to deal with my complaint of pixellation, frozen screens and jumped scenes in recordings through my subscription television service.

I kept several recordings online as examples. He conducted some tests and identified several problems. One being that my signal strength was low; he quoted a reading of 'minus 2'. The other problem in his view was that the original installation provide a 'five way splitter', when all I require is a 'three way splitter'. That is, I only require a signal to split three ways (one to each of the two subscription services I run and one for the internet connection itself.

He replaced the 'splitter' and did whatever it was that produced a signal strength of 'plus 7'.

Whilst he was investigating the problem I asked if he could cut the excess cabling I was left with from the installation. For three years I have had literally metres and metres of excess cabling on my lounge room floor from the miscalculation the installer made of how much cabling I needed. The technician initially declined firmly to touch the cabling at all which was a disappointment but then when he found the jungle of cables overwhelming him as he worked to replace the splitter he changed his mind and to my delight cut much of the excess cabling. I was delighted.

Initially it seemed the technician had solved the recording problems. The first couple of programs recorded perfectly. Unfortunately problems have returned but to nowhere near the extent previously. I suspect the set top box itself, which was not examined by the technician, is playing up.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Our Kind of Traitor


In 'Our Kind of Traitor' a British academic on holiday in Morocco is persuaded to assist a Russian money launderer approach British Intelligence sources for asylum in exchange for exposing the activities of powerful Russian Oligarchs and their foreign accomplices.

Based on a John le Carre novel the film has the scenic advantages of exotic locations and a contemporary tale of complex intrigue. The comparative ease with which the academic is drawn into the plot does not quite ring true what ensues seems artificial at times but the film moves at pace and develops as a thriller towards its end.

★★★

Monday, 18 July 2016

Bridge

Tonight, 58.95%, 2/14

Ghostbusters


I never saw the original all male team of 'Ghostbusters' made 32 years ago which was a big success and left in its trace a catchy theme tune.

This time around the all female team of 'Ghostbusters' take on the task with the same catchy theme in tow. I can't say much for the plot which is minimal and apparently almost irrelevant. There is lots of noise and the special effects are reasonably impressive if rather repetitive. Each of the four women has a moment or two to shine without any of them leaving much of an impression. It is left to Chris Hemsworth to make the most of his participation in the gender stereotyping switch as a receptionist chosen for his looks rather than his skills (and his dance moves over the end credits).

Members of the original cast make cameo appearances for those with fond memories of the first movie.

Bland fun.

★★1/2

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Resident Alien


Paul Capsis plays the eccentric Englishman Quentin Crisp in the one person play 'Resident Alien' currently in a short season at the Seymour Centre.

Capsis portrays a day in Crisp's life spent in his New York flat. According to the program notes the text is derived from Crisp's published work and anecdotes. Capsis is a highly regarded performer often portraying cross gender or gender ambiguous characters. Whilst appreciating his skills I haven't always warmed to his performances but I think Capsis is very good in this theatre piece.

If I have a criticism it is that the work is a little one dimensional lacking a degree of light and shade  in subject matter.

★★★

Friday, 15 July 2016

Not a valid response from Foxtel

I'm having a problem with my subscription television service, Foxtel. Specifically, my recorded programs are being compromised by the intrusion of pixellation, frozen moments and jumps through scenes. Live television service is not affected. I suspect there is a problem with the personal recording  unit.

I first reported this problem back in April and it appeared to be remedied at that time by a system reset.

However the same problems returned gradually a few weeks later and have increased in frequency ever since.

Today I called the technical support call centre which by the accent of the operator handling my call and the voices I could hear in the background is located in India. I wasn't happy with the service I received.

The operator asked for my account number and when I failed to provide it immediately - I was scanning my documentation to locate that information - she repeated 'account number, account number, account number' perhaps a dozen times without a moment's pause. Once I had provided the number she excused herself for a conversation with a colleague in a local language which I could hear before returning to my call and then asking - as though for the first time - for the number again.

This sent her into bursts of laughter which continued for about a minute. Then followed a number of questions one of which didn't seem relevant to me. When I queried the question the operator offered no explanation for it and just moved on to other questions.

By this time I lost patience and asked several times to be transferred to another operator. This request was ignored totally. I didn't bother asking for a supervisor as from previous experience I know the answer always is that there isn't one available.

This was one occasion when I held on for the follow up call asking me to rate the service. To each rating my response was 'not satisfied'. Each of these was met with the automated system informing me that mine was 'not a valid response'. (A number system of ratings is used.)

I did comply with the numbered ratings at each prompt but Foxtel, I can tell you your call centre service is not a valid response to customer expectations.


Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Legend of Tarzan


Who knows how many films have been made about the mythical Tarzan, the son of an English aristocrat, brought up in the African jungle by Apes? I don't.

In 'The Legend of Tarzan' our hero is lured back to Africa to investigate corrupt behaviour by mining interests not knowing that his capture is the bargaining tool for those behind the corrupt activity. The plot also includes flashbacks to explain Tarzan's childhood and that of his wife Jane whose childhood was also spent in Africa.

Alexander Skarsgard makes for a handsome if somewhat reticent and uninteresting hero whilst Australian Margot Robbie as Jane is enchanting in yet another movie. The camera just loves her.

The best feature of the film are the images and camerawork which are captivating.

★★★

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Maggie's Plan


A 30s something single woman in New York City (Greta Gerwig) negotiates to receive the sperm of Pickle Entrepreneur friend in her quest to have a child when she meets a married academic to whom she becomes attracted.

'Maggie's Plan' is the type of film that Woody Allen would make and Gerwig is a young, white, Christian female equivalent of Allen.

I enjoy Allen in moderation and I enjoyed this Allen style movie. The scenes are conversational and filled with urban angst and self absorbed characters. The plot is minimal. The pacing is very slow. The outdoor New York City settings are wintery and, for me, thoroughly enticing.

For NYC and Allen aficionados. If that is not you then take a rain check.

★★★

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Goldstone


A new Australian film, 'Goldstone', is set in the Outback and depicts a situation of corruption and criminal activity involving mining interests.

The film contains some spectacular photography which brilliantly illustrates the dry, dusty, vastness, remoteness and isolation of outback communities. The performances are fine however the plot is slow to unfold and contains few surprises. At times the dialogue is clunky.

Interesting overall despite the shortcomings.

★★★

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Frankly Malcolm, we didn't give a damn

Yesterday evening as counting of votes in Australia's Federal Election 2016 was getting underway Turner Classic Movies channel was screening (for the umpteenth time) 'Gone With The Wind'.

I wonder if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull noticed the omen.



Oh, the irony. A majority dissipated and gone with the wind and we didn't give a damn.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The nation decides

A rather grand statement isn't it? 'The nation decides'. It is often used in relation to Australia's Federal Elections and today is election day.

A few nations have been deciding lately. The United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union much to everyone's surprise; not the least their own. Having made the decision, that nation appears in the process of a complete breakdown.

The United States is in the process of reaching a decision of its own and few of its citizens appear happy with the options. The rest of the world meanwhile is keeping our combined fingers crossed that the decision the USA makes is the 'right' one. In bridge playing terms we hope that a winning card isn't 'trumped'.

Returning to Australia our options appear uninspiring. The Prime Minister usurped his predecessor to take the position and so is looking to win the position by popular vote for the first time. Although most were relieved when he usurped the previous PM his performance since has been disappointing.

Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister

His opponent, the Leader of the Opposition is not averse to a spot of usurping himself having been involved in two such coups against two earlier PMs. To the surprise of many his performance in the election run up was more convincing than his earlier performance as the Opposition Leader although even that slipped in the late days of the campaign as both leaders resorted to negativity and mudslinging.

Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition


One of them may be the incoming PM by the time counting of the vote concludes for the night but if the neck and neck Polls beforehand prove accurate then we may not be certain for days.

One way or another one of the two will be PM in the next government. But will anything change?

Friday, 1 July 2016

Everybody Wants Some!!


'Everybody Wants Some!!' is set at a Texas University in 1980. The academic year is about to start and the baseball team is accommodated in two houses from which they are preparing to train ahead of their playing season.

And what is it that they want? Beer and women. In the event they are not available the team will settle for women and beer.

It is that sort of film.

Within a minute I was ruing my decision to see it. It is boring, gross and mostly pointless. Only in the  final quarter does the film lift and then only slightly once several of the characters start behaving remotely like adults.