She loves the environment so much she probably lives there!

Posted by Bel. The time is 8:53pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Slapping the eco-friendly label on anything possible has become increasingly popular. John Key has recently dug himself a hole by stating that New Zealand is committed to climate change and then refusing to meet with those seeking to instigate action. FYI, Mr PM: treating Keisha Castle-Hughes like a whiny kid was not a good look. Many of us think she has a point.

Our country has long prided itself on its 'clean, green' image and the good causes we hold close. The weeks of hype building up to the reinstated 'Telethon' were soured by revelations within hours that high administrations costs meant the underprivileged kids would only actually be receiving a small percentage of every dollar raised.

Having in the last month been involved with coordinating fundraising for a 'not-for-profit', I know this is no easy job. But the focus must be on the end result - helping those in need. Whether it be in the community or from an environmental angle, some of that onus also falls on the general public.

Check out who you give your money to. Make sure they are a registered charity or incorporated society. There will be information available on exactly how and where they spend the money they receive. If you are motivated to donate, then make sure your cash is going where you want it to! Then get committed and set up an AP. Even just a monthly $5 would be appreciated by any of the organisations or community groups that you come in to contact with or have been supported by.

On the lighter side of things, this video puts a spin on the issue, mocking those who throw themselves into saving the world - to about ankle deep: has taken heart at this style satire of Stiles', particularly in light of recent comments from US supermodel Erin Wasson:

"The people with the best style, for me, are the people that are the poorest. Like, when I go down to like Venice Beach and I see the homeless, I'm like, oh my god, you're pulling out like crazy looks".

Wasson has worked for everyone from Vogue to Maybelline over the last decade and just launched her own range of designer clothing. No word yet on just what the carbon footprint will be, or on how she intends to make accessible to those 'poorest people' her new line of products.

District 9 is not a 10/10

Posted by Bel. The time is 8:03am here in Wellington, NZ.

When the midas touch of Peter JAckson is extended to a first-time director the world has never heard of, we all sit up and take notice. This is what has happened with Neill Blomkamp and his debut District 9, one of the most anticipated films of the year. (Yes, I would say it is up there with Harry Potter.) (Haha, somewhere out there, a nerd just lost their wings.)

And District 9 has a lot going for it. The special effects are seamless, just mindblowing. If you are even considering seeing this movie, then go now and check it out on the biggest screen you can. The international release of this film within days of the Avatar trailer also hitting our screens signals some of the big technological steps forward the industry is taking.

But filmmaking is not a technologically-driven medium. The purpose of a film should be to tell a story, and this is where I feel District 9 has missed its final goal. It doesn't know whether it's going to be a sci-fi film or a splatter movie or a scathing documentary. Much has been said about the 'social issues' that are incorporated in the plot, however this is so transparent and unfulfilled that it becomes defeatist.

The film is hardly 'The Power of One meets Alien'. It is neither as original or confronting as either of those, but owes a lot to them. Without all the bells and whistles of the latest technology, people would have a lot less to say about District 9.

Lou escapes to tropical resort for sordid weekend with Pulitzer-winner

Posted by Lou. The time is 1.45pm here in London, UK.

Title by Bel, book review by Lou.

I love Michael Chabon. I have Bel to thank for this, as it was here who urged me to read his Pulitzer-winner The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Since then I've gotten through half of his brilliant contribution to contemporary literature, and enjoyed every minute. Of them all, this is definitely one of my favourites. His prose is absolute perfection - every sentence is like a mini work of art. You don't read his books for the plot - you read it for his words, his vivid characters (that you really think he cares for - none of this "convenience to the plot" shit), the world of the story, and glorious pleasure of reading the best-of-the-best (of-the-best-of-the-best) of contemporary writing. He is witty, self-deprecating, empathetic, sympathetic, and so very intelligent, but intelligent in a way that makes you think he's probably a loveable, down-to-earth guy who just wants you to like his writing... and happens to be a fucken genius. I love him.

This novel features three cathartic days in the life of some particularly eccentric characters - even by Chabon standards - but characters that nonetheless feel real. Our primary focus is Grady Tripp (oh God, that is such a great name for a protagonist!), a novelist who has been writing the difficult "follow-up to a success" book The Wonder Boys for seven years - as you can imagine it has run out of control into the thousands of pages and he knows underneath it all that it'll never be finished, but he just can't quite give it up. His editor/ best friend arrives in town wanting to see the novel, on his arm a transvestite he met on the plane, somehow a tuba becomes involved, his love-life explodes in several different ways, he finds one of his students about to top himself, and things rollick along from there.

The whole thing - of course, how else could it be so witty and wonderful? - emerged from Chabon's own experiences of writing the follow-up novel (to his successful Mysteries of Pittsburgh) Fountain City, which over 5-years spiralled out of control. Let's allow wiki and Chabon to elaborate:

At one point , Chabon submitted a 672-page draft to his agent and editor, who disliked the work. Chabon had problems dropping the novel, though. "It was really scary," he said later. "I'd already signed a contract and been paid all this money. And then I'd gotten a divorce and half the money was already with my ex-wife. My instincts were telling me, This book is fucked. Just drop it. But I didn't, because I thought, What if I have to give the money back?" ... "I used to go down to my office and fantasize about all the books I could write instead.

When he finally decided to abandon Fountain City, Chabon recalls staring at his blank computer for hours, before suddenly picturing "a 'straitlaced, troubled young man with a tendency toward melodrama' trying to end it all." He began writing, and within a couple of days, had written 50 pages of what would become his second novel, Wonder Boys. Chabon drew on his experiences with Fountain City for the character of Grady Tripp, a frustrated novelist who has spent years working on an immense fourth novel. The author wrote Wonder Boys in a dizzy seven-month streak, without telling his agent or publisher he'd abandoned Fountain City. The book, published in 1995, was a commercial and critical success.

Read this book. If you haven't read any Chabon, why not start chronilogically and fit in the short and sweet Mysteries of Pittsburgh (quickly, before the film comes out - and don't look up the cast, just read it), then move on to this glorious creature. After that you'll be ready for the big one - Kavalier and Clay.

A note on covers:
I buy most of my books on Amazon so have limited control over the covers, but if you do actual-physical-shop-buying I would recommend looking out for this range of Chabon covers because they are truly the most exquisite book covers you will ever see. I am the proud owner of three of them (unfortunately not Kavalier and Clay, darnit). They are embossed and absolutely gorgeous. Bel also gave me a gorgeous Mysteries of Pittsburgh in another brilliant style, but I haven't seen any of its companions so aren't sure if it's a series or was a one-off. Either way, just don't buy the frickin' film version or both of us will hunt you down and throw it into a fire.

Another book review: "Runaway"

Posted by Bel. The time is 8:01am here in Wellington, NZ.

I've found it's quite good to get out a novel and some short stories simultaneously, because then when you feel like you need a bit of a break from your book, you can dip into something else, without having to pick up the narrative thread again and get all confused. At least, that's how I work.

This is definitely the best collection of short stories I have read so far. I became so enthralled in one story ('Trespasses') that I realised that I was trying to carry with reading it in my lap as I worked on a spreadsheet in the office. Shocking!! But quite an indication that it was a good read.

I presume Alice Munro is Canadian, as all of the stories are set there. (Is anyone else appaulled at the lack of research I do? Ehhh, fuck it.) This was quite a refreshing change, considering how many books on 'The List' are American. It seemed that the landscapes were an integral part of the storytelling, setting the scene in more than just a physical way.

I enjoyed the psychological intracicies that were so deftly drawn in these stories - the way parents were shown as flawed and immature, how someone's fate could tip due to a moment's crushing hesitancy, the disparity of a relationship viewed from outside looking in.

Highly recommended, particularly to those who aren't that keen on short stories. The writing is so good that I am sure you will be won over!

Book review: "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn"

Posted by Bel. The time is 4:09pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Brooklyn is somewhere I associate more with the Beastie Boys, Mos Def and hipsters than anything else. To plunge into a novel set in the poverty stricken world of new immigrants living in turn-of-20th-century Brooklyn meant shedding a lot - no, all - of those connoations.

Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" brings this time period to life in an amazing way. It is so authentic, soaked in detail that make me think that it must be autobiographical (rather than researched in a finicky souless way). The actions and events are driven by the characters, with some now obscure references mentioned by them in a casual way that comes from it being their natural environment.

I get the feeling that I am not making much sense right now - so I'll give an example. At the opening of the book, our protagonist Francie is collecting scrap metal with her younger brother of a Saturday morning, as the few dimes gleamed from the exchange is their only spending money for the week. This is told without pity and without seeking sympathy, but instead revelling in the joy that you felt as a kid earning your own cash and then the equal torment of having to choose how to spend it.

For me, the book explored wonderfully some themes that have grown richer with time: gender roles in the home and the importance of education. Again, this is not done in a heavy handed way, but simply through the characters and how their lives progress due to the circumstances. Francie is determined to finish high school - to start high school even! The dynamics in the family, and the form her mother's support takes becomes engrossing.

I have just done some belated googling and discovered there is a film version directed by Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden). Swoon!

As this is a ye olde book, I thought I'd better get a photo of the cover. It was a little harder to get our bookcase in the background though as we were moving at the time! Shame! However, I hope I get bonus points for managing to get Jeebus, Audrey Hepburn and a nerdy typography book in shot.

This is one of the most amazing things you'll ever see

Posted by Lou. The time is 2.34pm here in London, UK.

A sand artist has won Ukraine's Got Talent. Yes, a sand artist. It's amazing.

Media Guardian describe what she is drawing:
Here, she recounts Germany conquering Ukraine in the second world war. She brings calm, then conflict. A couple on a bench become a woman's face; a peaceful walkway becomes a conflagration; a weeping widow morphs into an obelisk for an unknown soldier. Simonova looks like some vengeful Old Testament deity as she destroys then recreates her scenes - with deft strokes, sprinkles and sweeps she keeps the narrative going. She moves the judges to tears as she subtitles the final scene "you are always near".

(one wonders what the result would be if she took on the medium of porn to take carnal pleasures to a whole new level of art)

In which a Stuff poll doesn't infuriate me for once

Posted by Bel. The time is 11:17am here in Wellington, NZ.

Usually the polls on are along the lines of 'Is Megan Fox really the new Angelina Jolie?' with the options to click 'Yes', 'No', or 'I Don't Care As Long As They Get It OOOOON'.

But a few days ago, they had a topic close to my popcorn-scoffing heart: "Which behaviour is least acceptable at the movies?". Even the options to select from sensibly covered most cinematic grudge starter...

Using mobile phones
This is pretty high on my list. I've never been at the movies when someone has answered their phone in the midst, but there are dreadful rumours of such a thing happened. I hate it when someone has their phone on vibrate. Fuck! You can still hear vibrate! I will scowl (somewhat futilely) at someone's wee screen lighting up if it is on silent, but lordy me the tiny growl of a vibrating phone does my head in.

Discussing the plot
Depends to what extent.
Monmentarial whispered clarification = ok.
Continual mindless banter proving you do not have the intelligence capability to follow a film with 1930s intertitles = not ok.

Laughing at the wrong moments
Totally fine. We all have our weaknesses.

Kicking the chair in front
As someone of above average height and shoe size, I know that seating arrangements at a cinema can be at times less than comfortable. Does this gives anyone an excuse to wage warfare on another patron's spine? No. Sit still for fuck's sake.

Loud eating
In Transformers? Game on. I believe I even got into a burping contest after my 4th beer. But in anything where nothing is exploding, please be dignified. Open all that kai you smuggled in as quietly as possible.

Monopolising the armrest
Tricky situation. Usually it is a case of the person on your left has decided they want their right armrest, and the person on your right has decided they want their left armrest. Then you're pretty much fucked. Unless you can spark up some spontaneous hand-holding or something.

Amorous displays
Tolerable in the back row only. Sheesh, everyone knows that.

Clapping? Clapping? What could be wrong with that?? Perhaps coming from somewhat of a live performance background, I have no problem with the occasional outburst of spontaneous applause. I'm always so caught up in a movie I don't even think about it - not that I would stand up and give an ovation because of some awesome thing Mel Gibson said about stuff they could never take off us, but you know.

Are there any other pet hates they've missed?

Harry Podder and the Half-Blood Prince

Posted by Lou. The time is 4.08pm here in London, UK.

A note on my subject line: an American guy at work has insistently been saying "do you want to come to my Harry Potter dress-up party?" in imitation of a line from Rhys Darby (assumedly in FotC, but who knows) - everyone was like "ha ha - great accent!"... until we found out he was trying to do Kiwi, not British. I've tried to teach him to drop the correctly pronounced T's in Potter but he just. doesn't. geddit. (Yes, I refer to the Banal De Jeebus himself.) Anyhoo...

I'd like to commence this review by giving a round of applause to Rupert Grint - he continues to be the shining star of the young portion of the cast of the HP films, bringing humour and warmth to every scene he's in. I'd then like to give Daniel Radcliffe a bit of a pat on the arm for having improved a bit, and definitely developed a bit of a talent for comedy. Emma... oh Emma... you seem so sweet, so lovely, such a great role model - I like you, I really do... but dear god... you really can't act, can you? I mean, I'd probably give you a standing ovation for just managing to develop a second facial expression by the final scene of the final film. How about becoming a writer/ director/ producer of strong female-centric films for younger generations, or something? Wouldn't that be a wonderful use of your money/ power/ facial-expressions? (I'd also like to do a quick shout-out to Alan Rickman - I love you.)

The HP films have been growing on me - each one seemed to get better, develop more of a unique style and look, and feel more authentically like a real, proper film. This one certainly continued the upward trek - I enjoyed it immensely and only had a couple of moments of criiiiinge (oh Emma... Emma Emma Emma...). I thought it looked great, moved along nicely thanks to Grint's comedy genius, and as ever they have brought in a Proper Serious Award-winning Actor to magnificently portray the role of the new, eccentric character (this time Jim Broadbent). Being a river-dwelling Londoner, it was great seeing Millennium Bridge get a starring role in the opening sequence. The emotional element was also well-played - though our frickin' cinema did a good job of trying to spoil it with G.I. Joe from the neighbouring cinema blaring through the walls during the climactic you-know-what occurred.

Obviously only one for HP fans, but a good one indeed.

Notes on Notes From An Exhibition

Posted by Lou. The time is 12.55pm here in London, UK.

In a random "here, read this" recommendation I spent the weekend absorbed in Patrick Gale's Notes From An Exhibition. The novel begins with the death of successful and well-known painter Rachel, a mother of four children and wife to Antony. As those left behind seek to understand more about her (nothing is known of her life before she arrived in the UK in early adulthood), a story of the family unravels with changing time and perspective - each chapter headed by the notecard of an item in a posthumous exhibition.

What makes the novel unique is the combination of Rachel being bi-polar - suffering serious bouts of mania and depression - and Antony being a Quaker - steady, even and always reliable. The writer is extremely empathetic, showing the effects of Rachel's bi-polar on herself and her family, including capturing the fact that it has been responsible for much of her greatest work and thus has a seductive pull for the artist.

The narrative style is one that draws the reader in and makes you want to keep turning the pages, but not for purposes of plot - rather the desire is to understand. Much of the family's past is foreshadowed, but as you have confidence that in time you will find out it isn't frustrating nor does it feel false as the device often can.

I would definitely recommend it as a read that is both easy and feels like a bit more than the average bestseller.

Bookmark note: I have a collection of bookmarks that I loosely customise to whatever I am reading. For this one I was using one I bought in Montreal that is of a local artist - when reading the novel of Rachel's later years producing mainstream art for tourists I couldn't help but feel a little bit sorry for the artist whose bookmark I was using. I guess that turned out to be an extremely appropriate choice.

That it should come to this... Jude Law as Hamlet (luckily not acting most foul)

Posted by Lou. The time is 11.50am here in London, UK.

The day of my tickets to Hamlet, the 4th of Donmar Warehouse's year-long season of plays in Wyndham Theatre, finally arrived with a mixture of trepidation of excitement. Despite having eagerly read the play (this is big for me - I've never enjoyed reading Shakespeare (though hope the recent spate of excellent productions may finally bring me to it)) and lapped up cinematic adaptations, I've never seen it in its true form - on stage. Kenneth Brannagh had disappointingly stood aside as director, but the brilliant and capable Michael Grandage stood up to the plate to replace him.

And Jude Law... well, for starters I was concerned - his cinema work of late having been whingy, self-pitying, dislikeable characters and performances - but then I realised that this a potentially interesting Hamlet it would make. Well, he far exceeded my expectations - his Hamlet was not whingy or self-pitying at all, but rather a ball of despair and rage at the state of Elsinor, and anger and deteriorating self-respect at himself for failing to turn his thought into action. His physicality is charasmatic and energetic - spasmodic even - whilst also seeming pitiably contained, constantly dropping to his knees as if he might collapse into himself... or pounce. His delivery of the soliloquies [is there anything more pressured for a film star than the moment of delivering the most known of soliloquies to a full house?] was superb, absolutely fulfilling the 15 years of expectation since I memorised them in 4th form. He came across as a much better stage actor than he ever has on screen*, though I see has been criticised for the lack of wit and humour (I liked the earnestness, personally).

The supporting cast were almost wholly brilliant - Gertrude in particular stood out, and Polonius was hilarious. Ophelia unfortunately, though, provided a major disappointment. The performance completely lacked interpretation, seeming merely like a drama student delivering the lines in her best voice. A small mercy was her singing of her final scenes of madness to at least do them some justice.

The art direction was wonderful - the colour palette was all variations of slate grey with the exception of the glowing white play-within-a-play. This and the stone floor and walls conjured the immensity, cold and isolation of a stone castle to frame Hamlet's sense of being trapped.

Overall I thought it was a brilliant production, totally dominated by Jude's Danish Prince. Pray love, I'll remember.

*for the record, I actually loved him in Cold Mountain


Posted by Lou. The time is 12.30pm here in London, UK.

Harry Patch, the last of Britain's WWI veterans and a committed, outspoken pacifist passed away last month. The BBC have put his words about WWI to images from the battle to create this extremely moving video:
Why did they die?

Particularly worthy of note is his attitude that all the soldiers fighting the Great War were victims no matter what side they fought on. As such, two soldiers representing the armies of Germany, France and Belgium are serving as pallbearers at his funeral.

Radiohead have written a typically beautiful-and-sad song based on one of his radio interviews, downloadable from their website for £1, all profits going to the Royal British Legion (UK's RSA).

*crosses fingers* please don't suck! please don't suck!

Posted by Bel. The time is 9:50pm here in Wellington, NZ.

The official trailer for The Lovely Bones is up. You can go view it over on (click here for direct link) in either small, medium or whoops there goes our GBs for the month.

I'll wait here while you go check it out.


Ok what did you think?

Apparently the release was quite a big deal in the States, with Entertainment Tonight doing a screening of a trailer of the trailer. This however resulted in much online mockery, rather than exultant hype, including some speculation on just how awful Mark Wahlburg's wig is going to look.

For me, it was a narrative heavy trailer, blatantly laying out the storyline as opposed to creating a sense of atmosphere. Peter Jackson has been quoted as saying the optimism of the novel drew him to the project, but there are some pretty cliched horror shots in there. It will be interesting to see how this balances out - but I think many people have forgotten how brilliant a film Heavenly Creatures is, and I hope this will be the same kind of mix.

At least we know it won't be as bad as - you know - that other upcoming film. The other adaptation of which we have vowed to never speak. *wipes away a tear*

PS Here is some speculation on why Ryan Gosling was booted off The Lovely Bones back in the early days.

PPS I can't believe I'm the first to put a Ryan Gosling tag in here.

The Bard, 2009 styles

Posted by Lou. The time is 8.53pm here in London, UK.

In the weekend I headed out to Stratford-Upon-Avon to enjoy unbeatable Englishness and see an RSC production of As You Like It. The production was, of course, magnificent. As were the giftshops...

Here is me reading one of my purchases, a manga version of Romeo and Juliet:

"O, I am fortune's fool!"

It's pretty cool - original text, but a cut down version of, set in modern day Japan.

My friend picked up the graphic novel of King Lear, which uses the full text, allowing me to acquaint myself with the storyline on the train home.

I love that they're continuing to adapt and evolve Shaky-spear's works for a new and modern audience without losing the original words.

PS yes, the primary purpose of this post was indeed to copy Bel and insert a photo of me looking all bookish too, with the secondary purpose of capturing my new haircut but it's not really that clear in the photo

Book review x 2

Posted by Bel. The time is 4:15pm here in Wellington, NZ.

I'm doubling this one up because they were both quite little books and I banged through them and am already onto a third.

Getting these books out was quite an excitement because they both came up as being 'stack' on the library computer. (Haha I accidentally typed 'stank'.) So I had to go and ask the librarian to get them for me and imagined that they were being fetched from some Hogwarts-like room of towering dusty shelves and a cool ladder than goes along on wheels and other such things which nerds like me fantasise about.

In reality, it meant that one of the book had pages so worn-out and soft I had to be careful turning them for fear they would rip in my fingers and the other wouldn't open right up properly, so I had to kind of guess what word was at the end of each line on the left-hand page, and at the start of each line on the right-hand page. Which, as you can imagine, was hugely annoying. So, stack is stank.

Of the two books, Rebecca West's "The Harsh Voice" is my nomination for Purchase of Shiny New Copy for Library Public Shelves.

Myself reading a book, with books in background. (Books. I love em.)

This was a collection of four novellas, an unusual length - but I liked it as it was long enough to properly get something going, but the restrictions meant that there was real craft to the narrative too. If I had to guess, I'd say that ever-true parable "the love of money is the root of all evil" is the linking theme between each of the tales. This helped them to seem fresh despite the decades which have passed since their writing, due to today's fraught economic climate.

There was some stunningly beautiful writing - I was surprised by descriptions that leapt off the page, such as comparing a young woman's good looks to that of sweet canned fruit, dripping with syrup. Okay, I'm botching it here, but in the book, it totally worked and was brilliant to read. I love when tactile senses are summoned by an author, as well as the visual, and West did this wonderfully.

Grace Paley's "The Little Disturbances of Man" was a short story collection even more strongly thematically linked. Men and women, the relationships that tie them together and the aching distances which continue to keep them apart was the common ground again and again.

I will admit to skipping a couple of the stories, as I found the somewhat repetitous nature of it a little draining. You can only read so much about couples letting each other down, about being in an affair at cross-purposes, about someone being determined to leave for their own benefit, but then deciding to stay anyway. Personally I found taking stupid photos of myself far more entertaining, but that is probably because I am a doofus.

This is me reading a not freaky bit.

This is me reading a freaky bit!!

"The Harsh Voice" by Rebecca West,published 1935 UK.
Recommended (if you can get a good copy). #32 on 'The List'.

"The Little Disturbances of Man" by Grace Paley, published 1959 USA.
Not recommended. #33 on 'The List'.

Book review: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

Posted by Bel. The time is 3:35pm here in Wellington, NZ.

When I began reading this, I thought it was a short story collection. It begins with the first chapter focusing on two deaf-mutes, their lives so closely meshed I wasn't sure if they were friends or lovers. Then the next chapter switches to another person, living in the same town. I realised they'd been briefly mentioned earlier - and then the next chapter did the same thing, each time expanding on their lives and making the fragments vivid and cohesive.

Soon you have met a circle of small town folk, their lives linked and their destinies somehow mapped out. I grew to be immersed in the narrative and neighbourhood, as each character came to life - from the teenage girl yearning for music that might lift her out of the drudgery of being so poor, to the black doctor ill-suited to a time period where racial divides were still so apparent.

It is a book about people trapped in the hard slog and although I found moments of it uplifting, and decided that ultimately the ending is positive, there are some twists in the book that one would generally refer to as a "downer", though I suppose the title "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter" is a warning there. I really enjoyed the style of writing though and found the atmosphere and characterisation so evocative and appealing that it was a joy to read regardless.

A note on the cover (as always). The image above is taken from the wikipedia page, which says it was the first edition's cover. A stunner and a fine example of classy design. The copy I had from from our blessed Wellington Central Library was none of those things. It was a prime example of typical mid-1980s design. Imagine a Napoleon Dynamite style illustration, done with neon coloured pencils. Yup, on a hard cover even. Foolishly I neglected to photograph this monstrocity before I returned it, but I have entertained myself doing self portraits of the two books I have more recently finished. Stay tuned!!

PS Carson McCullers was 23 years old when she wrote this...biiiitch.