Journal articles

What I did, where I went, and what I thought of it.

An uncomfortable villanelle

I picked up a great book in the library the other day. A Kick in the Head – An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms is a children’s book describing and illustrating about 30 poetic forms. It includes obvious ones like the limerick, haiku, sonnet and couplet, but there were several that I hadn’t encountered before. I especially appreciate the forms with very rigid constraints, such as the villanelle, the triolet and the very tricky pantoum.

A few days later, I read an article by Michael Hofmann in the London Review of Books about the “professional controversialist and Austropathic ranter” Thomas Bernhard. Hofmann quoted a passage and said it “loops like a villanelle”. (The passage, a powerful yet demented diatribe, makes me want to read the book.) Encountering villanelles twice within a few days inspired me to write one. Very restrictive forms are easier to write in a way, since there are fewer choices to make.

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Here Comes Science — They Might Be Giants

Here comes science! This is a great CD/DVD for the young people in your life — and that includes you. I gave it to Jay for his 5th birthday recently. TMBG do a nice line in kids’ music and video, and this is the best so far.

I love TMBG’s regular albums, but their kids’ stuff is understandably not always my cup of tea. No! was pretty good, but Here Come the ABCs was just too simplistic for my sophisticated musical sensibilities. (My pre-school children quite liked it though.) But Here Comes Science is just about on a par with their best. I didn’t like all the “funny” voices on ABCs, but Science keeps them to a minimum.

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Break it Down — Lydia Davis

This is a collection of short stories; but mostly they are so short I would call them sketches rather than stories. Some are only a paragraph or two. Quite dense and evocative. Some are quite affecting, such as the title story.

Thanks to Leslie for lending me this on a long plane journey many years ago. (2000, if you must know.)

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(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer (500) Days of Summer (don’t forget the parentheses!) is a conventional boy-meets-girl story dressed up with a bundle of enjoyable and inventive extras. It’s a lot of fun.

The film-makers dug deep into their box of tricks for this film. The timeline zooms back and forth across the 500 days. A voiceover occasionally offers explanations. There’s a surreal moment when the thunderstruck protagonist turns into a drawing and gets erased, and an even more surreal song-and-dance number during an earlier happy moment.

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Sunny Disposish

Any time the thunder starts to rumble down
Don’t let hope tumble down
Or castles crumble down
If the blues appear just make the best of them
Just make a jest of them
Don’t be possessed of them

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Ghost Town

That guy from The OfficeThat guy from The Office (who despite many other noteworthy roles including this one is destined always to be known only as “That guy from The Office“) really is pretty funny. He’s much more likeable in this film than the painful idiots he plays in The Office and Extras.

(OK, his real name is Ricky Gervais. But I had to look it up.)

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Headless Chickens — live in Auckland

Headless Chickens played their first gig in almost a decade last Friday. The setlist was packed with great songs, the crowd was into it, the sound was excellent. They rocked.

Headless Chickens have been one of my favourite bands since the early ’90s, even though they pretty much called it a day in about 2000. I remember listening to their first recordings on BFM in New Zealand 20 years ago, and then the splash they made in Australia a few years later with their Body Blow album. I still listen to their music now, so imagine my surprise when the Fiona McDonald we met when we moved back to Auckland turned out to be Fiona Headless Chicken, whose sweet yet gutsy voice helped make the Chooks such a unique band. And imagine my even more surprised surprise when I found out that the band were going to re-form for a tour of Australia and New Zealand.

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Earth From Space — The Bads

Earth From Space, by The BadsMellow mellifluous melodies. The Bads are a girl/boy duo from New Zealand; you could call them a guitar-based pop/rock group, or even a “popular beat combo” (as John Peel used to say). But that would just be lazy pigeonholing, so if you pretend you didn’t read that then I will pretend I didn’t write it. Anyway, it seems that of the two Bads, Diane does most of the singing, with Brett singing backup and breaking into the lead occasionally. I can’t find any information on what they each play, so I suppose they are both prodigious multi-instrumentalist polymaths.

Song titles such as Feels Like Rain, Trouble Rides A Fast Horse and Bush Fire Sunset make this sound like good ol’ country music. The first of these songs does sound pretty much like that, with its lazy drawl and twangin’ guitar, but the rest of the album shows some nice variation. The opening song Off The Rails has just the most irresistible chorus — I find it tremendously uplifting, in a minor-key sort of way. The driving Carry The Weight is another of my favourites, with powerful guitar and nice male/female harmonies.

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Horton Hears a Who!

Horton the Elephant

I had a great time at this big, fun and loud film about a big, fun and loud elephant. The story of Horton and the Whos is one of my 2-year-old son‘s favourite stories, so this was a good choice as his first ever cinema experience. He enjoyed it, and so did we. In the manner of kids’ films these days, there were lots of jokes for the adults. During the anime sequence I was crying tears of laughter. That doesn’t happen to me that often — maybe because I don’t go to very many films.

Anyway, this is definitely worth seeing. And it confirmed to me that any film is improved by watching it with a 2-year-old.

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Ben Kemp & Uminari / Anna Coddington

Ben Kemp looks like a rugby player, but he has the most delicate falsetto voice and a rather poetic songwriting touch. His band, Uminari, are tight and very cool in a quirky Japanese way, especially the drummer who is so cool he doesn’t need drumsticks. We saw these guys at the Classic Comedy Bar and they put on a great show. But they were supported by local singer-songwriter Anna Coddington, and I liked her set even more.

Ben Kemp is a very nice Kiwi musician who has lived in Japan for some time now. He has gotten together with a group of Japanese musicians to form his band. The music works really well live — they go for extended soundscapes built around each song, with Kemp’s voice sometimes acting as another instrument. The mood ranges from gentle and contemplative to a bit more noisy and experimental on some tracks, where they might try to evoke the sound of the sea or a storm. It’s hypnotic stuff.

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Perfume

Now this was an excellent adaptation of an unusual novel. Very cinematic and dark and not at all blockbustery. It was about 6 years ago that I read Patrick Suskind’s novel, but I still remember it quite well and the film captured its tone nicely.

I saw the film with Joanne at the Sky City Gold Class cinema, which was quite appropriate: as we watched the film we were able to relax in our armchairs and enjoy the aromas of our chicken nibbles and glasses of wine.

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The Matsugane Potshot Affair

“The Matsugane Potshot Affair” is your classic Festival film: amusing, but also with many uneasy moments. Weird. A bit pervy. Very non-mainstream; even more so than its very different predecessor “Linda Linda Linda” (directed by the same gentleman).

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Razzle Dazzle

This film is a funny mockumentary about competing Australian children’s dance schools. “Mr Jonathan” the main character, was hilarious in an Alan Partridge sort of way. The whole cast including the kids were good and the tone was mostly pretty convincing. And there was even some pretty good dancing.

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The History Boys

This was both inspirational and nostalgic, inasmuch as one can be nostalgic for things that never happened. Such clever and learned teachers and classmates would have made school much more stimulating. I’d like to read the script of the movie sometime.

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Linda Linda Linda

Linda Linda Linda

Linda Linda Linda is a great movie about the Redemptive Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll. This may sound like a contradiction — surely most films about RPRR are pap. But Linda Linda Linda is a wonderful combination of arthouse weirdness, raw energy, social commentary and Japanese schoolgirls. With ingredients like that, it’s no wonder the result is so much fun.

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Out of the Moon — Goldenhorse

Out of the Moon by GoldenhorseGoldenhorse are the best pop band in the universe right now, and their two albums are a microcosm of all that’s good in music. Their jaunty melodies with dark undertones and the sometimes-sweet, sometimes twisted lyrics form an irresistible combination. Listen to Goldenhorse now and make yourself into a better person. Continue reading

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Kate Bush — new single and album

Kate Bush Aerial album cover

I am listening to the new Kate Bush single, King of the Mountain. This is very exciting because her last album came out in 1993 — clearly bands like Nine Inch Nails are mere amateurs as far as releasing long-awaited albums is concerned. So Aerial will be her next album, released later this year, and the first since The Red Shoes 12 years ago. As if to make up for the long wait, Aerial will be a double CD.

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No! — They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Gients No! album coverMy 2-month-old son loves this album, and so do his thirtysomething parents. That’s all you really need to know!

As a long-time They Might Be Giants fan, I was excited a couple of years ago when I saw this album in a shop; I was disappointed when I saw that it was a “children’s” album so I didn’t buy it. Well, now that I have a child of my own I thought it was time; and if little Jay is going to listen to childish songs, I’d prefer he listen to TMBG rather than endless repetitions of “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”. So I bought a copy of “No!” for us.

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Coffee and Cigarettes

Coffee and Cigarettes

Coffee and Cigarettes is a quirky and amusing film by Jim Jarmusch. It’s divided up into about a dozen segments; each one features a couple of people sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking. The segments are mostly unrelated, but some themes and even dialogue recur throughout the film. It’s fun seeing so many famous faces in such a downbeat film — there are players from acting’s A-list (Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray), musicians old and new (Iggy Pop, the White Stripes and others) and one or two that I had never heard of.

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Kiwiberries

I found these tasty treats in the supermarket a while ago. I never really enjoyed the larger kiwifruit (known as the “kiwi” in some parts of the world, which amuses us New Zealanders no end), but these little ones are great.

Kiwiberries

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Reclaiming Felix the Cat

Felix the cat! The wonderful, wonderful cat. You’ll laugh so much your sides will ache, your heart will go pit-a-pat, watching Felix the wonderful cat!

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Julius Caesar — William Shakespeare

The Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Julius Caesar might give you a fresh perspective on this play if you are a jaded Shakespeare watcher. If you are not, then the many quirks and production trickery might leave you first irritated, then bored, and finally both.

I often write a little review of plays or films that I see. But in this case, I will leave the commentary to the elderly orange-haired lady who was sitting in front of me. She spoke continually throughout the play, so clearly considered her opinions to be not only more important than mine, but more important than the play itself.

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With Teeth — Nine Inch Nails (after)

A few days ago I talked about the new Nine Inch Nails album, With Teeth. Even though I had the CD, at that time I maintained my objectivity by carefully avoiding listening to it before reviewing it.

With Teeth album cover

Since then I have listened to With Teeth several times (and The Hand That Feeds several thousand times in my head). I now feel able to report in more detail. Continue reading

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With Teeth — Nine Inch Nails (before)

With Teeth is Nine Inch Nails’ new long-anticipated five-years-in-the-making album. I loved The Fragile, their previous long-anticipated five-years-in-the-making album, and I had heard that this new one is quite different. Unfortunately, it is.

With Teeth album cover

Initial reports were that this album goes straight for the jugular. “The is the album they should have released five years ago,” they said. It was meant to be the album that would get a wide audience after the long meandering The Fragile. Pop music fan that I am, I was looking forward to a set of punchy tracks like those on the Broken EP from last decade.

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Old Times — Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter’s Old Times portrays unsettling mind games played amongst a middle-aged couple and a visiting friend from their separate pasts. Last weekend I saw the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of this classic play.

Deeley and Kate play host to Anna, Kate’s old friend. Almost from the beginning, Anna seems to engage Deeley in a contest for Kate’s intimacy, almost like a grown-up version of a schoolyard “bestest friend” competition. Anna mixes up the past and present while Deeley looks frustratedly on. But in the end it looks as if Anna is not in control after all.

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Frank Moorhouse — Sydney Writers’ Festival

Last week, Australian writer Frank Moorhouse spoke at the University of Wollongong as a spin-off of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Alerted by the microscopic notice in the local newspaper, we went off to see him. We arrived just in time, negotiated with the ladies at the door, and went in. Arming ourselves with red wine and spring rolls, we sat down with about 80 others to listen to what Mr Moorhouse had to say.

I have read about Frank Moorhouse and his work before, but somehow have still never read any of his writing. Unfortunately, the last I had heard of him was in an uncomplimentary review of The Best Australian Stories 2004, which he edited; the reviewer thought the stories were too stylish rather than substantial. But I had also read glowing reviews of his recent novel Dark Palace and his humorous collection The Inspector-General of Misconception. As for the man himself, I didn’t really know what to expect.

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Thunder, Lightning, Strike — The Go! Team

Half bouncy and exciting, half pleasant and inconsequential. Like so much in life.

Thunder Lightning Strike album cover

This album isn’t as good as I was expecting. About half the tracks sound like instrumental fillers from indie pop albums; they’re all worth a listen, but they don’t really hold the attention. Other tracks are better: there are a few energetic, lo-fi hip hop pieces with a bit of rapping. They sound old-skool in a good way to me, though why you’d trust the opinion of somebody who can’t even spell “school” is anybody’s guess.

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Democracy — Michael Frayn

This absorbing drama follows the rise and fall of the man who brought down the Berlin Wall. Well, perhaps I am overstating things, but Willy Brandt, West German Chancellor in the early ’70s, was a crucial figure in the years leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The play depicts the political manoeuvring going on around Brandt, particularly by his secretary Guenter Guillaume, who was also an East German double agent.

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Over My Dead Body — Mona Hatoum

I went to see the Mona Hatoum exhibition “Over My Dead Body” at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art on the weekend. I had seen some of her work before, at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art several years ago. This new exhibition includes a lot of material from her performance art pieces — videos and preparatory notes — as well as some of her sculptures and installations. Very interesting stuff, though a lot of her work has an unsettling underlying violence. Particularly the performance where she cuts out her own entrails and serves them up on dinner plates.

The exhibition included the preparatory notes for a piece called “Live Work for the Black Room”, which consisted of the artist, dressed in black in a completely black room, repeatedly falling on the floor, chalking the outline of her body on the floor, and then getting up and lighting a candle in the outline. Much as I like the idea of this piece, the thing that really stuck in my mind from the whole exhibition was this sentence from the notes.

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Sideways

Two friends take a road trip through the wine country of California. One is trying to escape his past; the other is trying to escape his future. They meet a couple of women who open their eyes to the possibility of better things. Will they seize the opportunity, or will they go back to their old ways and dream forever of what might have been? They become a bit annoying as their foibles are revealed, but are ultimately endearing, despite both being losers in their own way.

There are many moments of humour and of pathos in this engaging film, but I was left with one overwhelming emotion: the desire to drink several bottles of fine red wine. If you can find a civilised cinema that serves wine, I would strongly recommend having a glass or two while you watch the film.

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