Sunday, December 30, 2018

Indie Australia Sampler Vol. 9

It is nearly the end of another year, which means it's time for my annual compilation of my favorite Australian songs from 2018. As in previous years there is a mix of different genres, with this year's being a bit more of a mellow track list. Hopefully you will enjoy it and maybe discover an artist you weren't aware of before.

1. Sarah Blasko - "Phantom"

2. The Harpoons - "Set Me Up To Fall"

3. Mojo Juju - "Native Tongue"

4. Sampa The Great - "Energy"

5. Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders - "Susan"

6. The Living End - "Don't Lose It"

7. Emilee South - "Heartbreaker"

8. Bloods - "Penny's Song"

9. Olympia - "Star City"

10. Oh Mercy - "Keep A Light On"

11. Emma Russack & Lachlan Denton - "I'm Right Here"

12. The Ocean Party - "Let Go"

13. Glenn Richards - "Cossack Tide"

Friday, December 28, 2018

To Jesus, Thanks For Everything! Jinkx and DeLa

I was fortunate that while I was home I got to attend the holiday-themed show To Jesus, Thanks For Everything! Jinkx and DeLa by two of my favorite RuPaul's Drag Race alums Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme. My cousin Leilani joined me and we first had a yummy Mexican dinner at Papito Hayes before walking to the Herbst Theatre at the San Francisco War Memorial for the last show of this tour.

As Ben and Jinkx pointed out, December is a very popular month for drag-themed holiday shows. This one was written by both of them and played on their drag personalities, with the upbeat DeLa being a Christmas tour de force while Jinkx was dragged along for the ride, drinking side of stage and trying to get DeLa to acknowledge her Jewish heritage. There were many musical numbers and costume changes throughout the show, with my favorite being DeLa as a Christmas tree and Jinkx in a Star of David blue dress with menorah strapped to her back.

To Jesus, Thanks for Everything! Jinkx and DeLa
The show touched on a lot of different topics in a really intelligent way, including religion, politics, cultural appropriation, and toxic masculinity and misogyny. It was all very funny and we were laughing out loud throughout, especially when the tables turned and Jinkx had to motivate a despondent DeLa to finish the show. I also enjoyed the clips of DeLa's attempt to create a Rudolph-like stop motion animation that were interspersed through the evening.

I am so happy I was able to go to this show, and finally get to see DeLa perform live. I hope that both them will bring either their solo shows or do one together in Australia in 2019.

Santa Cruz

Today was my final day with Leilani and Fiorella so we headed down to Santa Cruz to wander around. Our first stop was the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History where they had a big toy train set with multiple tracks set up in the lobby for kids to play with. Fiorella enjoyed controlling the trains, particularly the Disney themed one.

Next we went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which I haven’t been to in many years. It was such a beautiful winter day that we sat down on a bench by the beach to eat some lunch in the sunshine. Then we walked around the boardwalk to take in the sights and sounds of the games, roller coasters and food stalls. Fiorella really enjoyed watching people go by on the roller coaster cars. We stopped and had some sweet and savory crepes before calling it a day.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Roaring Camp Railroads Redwood Forest Steam Train

The Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton take you back in time with its recreated 1880s logging camp and steam engine trains. This morning Lei, Fiorella and I rode the Redwood Forest Steam Train up to Bear Mountain and back. The nearly 90 minutes trip in the open air passenger cars takes you on the narrow-gauge tracks that wind through the redwood groves to the summit. A conductor narrates the journey, telling everyone about the history of the railroad and the forest.

It was amazing to be so close to the redwoods as we wound up and down Bear Mountain. The steam from the train created some great shots as the sunlight shone through the forest. We were also very lucky to have chosen the 11am train as the wind picked up and when we returned to Roaring Camp they announced the subsequent trains were cancelled.

Afterwards we stopped at the Italian restaurant Casa Nostra in Ben Lomond for lunch. While the name and logo were slightly unfortunate, the food was delicious. I had a chicken parmigiana with roasted vegetables.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Last night I drove down with my cousin Leilani and her daughter Fiorella to their new home in Boulder Creek, which is located in between San Jose and Santa Cruz. It’s a cute little town surrounded by redwoods, so it was appropriate that today we ventured to the local tourist attraction, Big Basin Redwoods State Park (which thankfully was open and not impacted by the federal government shutdown).

The park was established in 1902 as the first ever state park in California. It features different trails going through ancient old-growth redwoods and other vegetation spread across over 18,000 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We wandered around the Redwood Loop Trail, which is a flat half mile trail that loops around some of the significant trees in the park, including the Mother and Father of the Forest. The trail has different sign posts along the way where you can read the trail brochure to learn about the forest environment and adaptation of the redwoods to survive. It's a great trail if you have small children or mobility issues.

Here are just a few of the many photos I took while we walked around the park:

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas 2018

Happy holidays from the USA! I arrived home on 16 December and have been busy finishing up Christmas shopping, catching up with family and friends, and baking up a storm for tonight’s annual Christmas dinner. This year it was a full house with my aunt and cousins, and my brother and his family (including in-laws).

We started with hors d’oeuvres of cheese and crackers, grapes, olives and Camembert cheese and cranberry sauce filo bites. My cousin Leilani and I also enjoyed a few cups of mulled cider, as is tradition.

Due to the number of people, dinner seating was split between the dining room and kitchen table. Leilani and I were on kid wrangling duties with Lei’s daughter and my niece and nephew. For dinner we had a buffet set up in the kitchen with pear and walnut salad, bread rolls, roast turkey breast, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans, scalloped potatoes, and tamales. It was all very yummy.

After opening presents (and there were a lot of them around the tree) we had dessert. I made mini gingerbread houses, sugar cookies, snowball cookies and apple pie. We also had Belgian mini cream puffs and my sister-in-law made peanut cookies with Hershey’s kisses. Everyone was very full and a lot of dessert was taken home for eating in the coming days. It’s always nice to be able to spend the holidays with family, especially with the younger ones.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Breeders- All Nerve Tour

Tonight was The Breeders second sold out show in Melbourne, this time at The Forum. They are touring in support of their latest album All Nerve, which features the early 1990s Last Splash line up. Opening the evening was Melbourne-based four piece band Hachiku, who played a fantastic set of dreamy indie pop music.

It was quite surreal to finally get to see The Breeders play live for the first time after all these years. They started their set with "Saints," which was one of many tracks played off Last Splash, an all time favorite album of mine. Other songs from that album included "No Aloha," "Divine Hammer," "Do You Love Me Now?," "New Year," the monster hit "Cannonball" and the country-tinged "Drivin' On 9" with Kelly Deal doing the violin solo vocally. They also did a few songs off of the 1990 album Pod with "Fortunately Gone," "Glorious" and "When I Was A Painter."

Of course the set also featured tracks off of All Nerve, with highlights being "Wait In The Car," "Walking With A Killer," "Skinhead #2" and "Howl At The Summit," which featured Courtney Barnett and Hachiku on vocals for the chorus. Courtney also came out to play guitar on "Off You." They finished the main set with The Pixies' track "Gigantic," and then for the encore started with a Guided By Voices cover before playing "I Just Wanna Get Along." The show nearly closed with the slow track "Dawn: Making An Effort," but the band came back out on stage and finished the night with the more lively "Iris." All in all it was a fantastic evening, and seeing Kelly Deal singing up on stage just brought back so many memories of all the great female led 1990s alternative bands that I listened to in high school.

Here's the video for "Spacewoman"

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The Songroom- Season 3

I have spent the past two Tuesday nights at the Northcote Social Club for tapings of Season 3 of The Songroom. While Jess McGuire has returned as host, Kris Schroeder and Tim Heath from The Basics are now overseeing things from behind the scenes. The new house band features Brett Wolfenden on percussion and Benji Miu on guitar. As with the previous seasons, veteran and newer artists come together on the day of the show, and each person gets to play two originals and two covers as they take turns singing in the round.

27 November
Brett and Benji came out first and played a couple instrumental versions of songs to warm up, including Chris Issak’s "Wicked Game." Jess McGuire then introduced each of this week's guests one by one: New South Wales singer-songwriters William Crighton and Melanie Horsnell, and Melbourne hip-hop artist Sirak Abu. The magic of The Songroom is how everyone plays on each other's songs and the unexpected things that can happen. William Crighton decided to change songs last minute, and played his song "Fire In The Empire" about a massacre of Aboriginal people on the land he had been camping on. As a response to that song, Melanie Horsnell switched up her next song and played "Sugar And White Man" about the stolen generation and loss of culture. It was an amazing moment to hear those two songs back to back. There were also some great covers with Melanie doing Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose" and William singing Leonard Cohen's "Bird On The Wire" and Neil Young's "Roll Another Number (For The Road)," which finished off the night.

4 December
This evening's guests were Melbourne music royalty Dave Graney and his long-time partner Clare Moore, and the band Rudely Interrupted, which features Rory Burnside on lead vocals. It was quite an upbeat show with lots of humorous moments both through the song lyrics of Dave and Clare's songs and Rory's stories. Highlights included Clare Moore's "A Lot To Drink About," Dave Graney's "Apollo 69" (which is from my favorite mid-90s Graney era), and Rudely Interrupted's "No Goodbyes." There were also some interesting covers, with Clare playing John and Beverley Martyn's "Auntie Aviator," Dave doing The Rolling Stones' "Time Waits For No One," and Rory playing Modern English's "I Melt With You." They all finished the evening playing the Rudely Interrupted track "Calculus & Tea."

Here's The Songroom episode featuring Gotye and Monty Cotton, which was taped in late December 2016 (see if you can spot me in the crowd):

Thursday, November 22, 2018

An Intimate, Reimagined Evening With Kimbra

Kimbra is currently on tour in Australia opening for David Byrne, but decided to do two intimate shows in Melbourne tonight at The Gasometer Hotel to celebrate the released of her new EP Songs from Primal Heart: Reimagined. I attended the second sold out show for the evening, and it was a very stripped back and jazzy sounding set with just Kimbra on the microphone accompanied by a bass player and keyboard player.

Kimbra spoke about the origins of many of the songs that were played before launching into each track. The four songs off the new EP were featured with "The Good War," "Everybody Knows," "Hi Def Distance Romance" and "Black Sky." She also played some deep cuts from throughout her catalogue, including "Past Love" off Primal Heart, "Rescue Him" and "Waltz Me To The Grave" off The Golden Echo, and "Plain Gold Ring," "Withdraw," "Old Flame" and my favorite "Cameo Lover" off of Vows. For an encore she did a heartfelt rendition of "Version Of Me" to finish the evening. It was very special to get to hear these reworked versions of her songs, and her voice shined strongly throughout the night (even though it was the second show). This tour now heads to the US in December and Europe in March 2019 so if Kimbra is coming to your city make sure you go to see her.

Here's the video for "Version Of Me"

Friday, November 16, 2018

Fahrenheit 11/9

I have been wanting to see Michael Moore's latest film Fahrenheit 11/9 for a while now, but it only recently opened with a limited release here in Australia. Going into the movie after the mid-term elections meant I was feeling slightly more optimistic about things because of the blue wave and the Democrats winning control of the House (and therefore being a check on Trump).

The film began with the 2016 Presidential election and that horrible night when Donald Trump became America's 45th President. It spends some time on Trump, but the main focus of the film is on the corrupt and criminal behaviour that has led to some major issues in the country such as the Flint water crisis in Michigan, the West Virginia teacher's strike, and the Parkland school shooting in Florida. He also focuses on the political, from the disenfranchisement of Bernie Sanders delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention to meeting with several of the new wave of progressive candidates that ran for office this year. This is one of Michael Moore's stronger films and I highly recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

The Living End- Wunderbar Tour

The Living End recently released their eighth studio album Wunderbar and tonight's gig at the Forum was the first of their two shows in Melbourne. The opening act for the evening was South Australian seven piece band West Thebarton. They put on a very energetic set of Aussie rock as their charismatic front man Reverend Ray roamed around the stage.

The Living End began their set with "Wake Up The Vampires" and "Don't Lose It," two of the many tracks from Wunderbar that were played throughout the evening. Other highlights from the album were "Otherside," "Death Of The American Dream," "Proton Pill" and "Drop The Needle."

Considering the band's extensive back catalogue, it's always interesting to see what unexpected tracks will make the set list. Tonight we were treated to "'Til The End," "Bloody Mary," "Loaded Gun," "End Of The World," "Wake Up" and "One Said To The Other." They also played usual favorites such as "Roll On," "All Torn Down," "Second Solution," "White Noise" and "Prisoner Of Society," which had the mosh pit going and finished off the main set. For the encore Chris came out and played "Amsterdam" solo and then the band joined him for the epic "The Room" and a raucous version of "Uncle Harry." Once again The Living End proved they are still one of the top Australian live acts out there.

Here's the video for the latest single "Otherside"

Friday, November 02, 2018

Dave Dobbyn- The Evelyn Hotel

Dave Dobbyn returned to Melbourne tonight for a sold out show at The Evelyn Hotel. I got there as Adam McGrath from The Eastern was finishing his solo set for the mainly Kiwi crowd. It was packed and very hot in the venue by the time Dave Dobbyn and his band took to the stage. They began with "You Get So Lonely" off his latest album Harmony House, and played songs from throughout his long career. It was great to be able to hear so many of my favorites, including "Language," "Whaling," "Devil You Know," "Maybe The Rain," "Be Mine Tonight" and "Love You Like I Should."

Dave was chatty and telling stories throughout the night, while the crowd was in full voice singing along, especially when "Slice Of Heaven" was played to closed the main set. For an encore they played "Outlook For Thursday" and then invited Adam McGrath back onto the stage for the beautiful "Welcome Home" to finish the night. It's always a pleasure to see Dave live and he seemed to really enjoy getting to play in Australia again.

Here's a te reo Maori version of "Welcome Home"

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Bang On Live

Bang On is the weekly podcast hosted by Myf Warhurst and Zan Rowe that covers all things music, art, life and "farshun." As part of the Darebin Music Feast they did a live taping of the podcast at The Thornbury Theatre this afternoon, which was a sold out gathering of the Melbourne #BangFam.

Warming up the crowd was ABC journalist Virginia Trioli, who did a DJ set that had some members of the audience up and dancing. Then Myf and Zan came out and taped this week's podcast (episode 82), which covered topics such as the new movie A Star Is Born, Rihanna turning down the Super Bowl halftime show in support of Colin Kaepernick, and the pink fur Fendi scarf. Zan banged on about Holly Throsby's new novel Cedar Valley, and Myf reminded us about the real people behind true crime podcasts. They also had Virginia Trioli come up for a chat, and she encouraged us all to do something new every day.

We were also treated to a couple of extra things, including Myf and Zan's Year in Review, where they picked their celebrity of the year, think piece of the year, and farshun of the year. Then we got to watch an entertaining denim themed farshun parade of audience members, with the winner receiving a pair of flap chaps made by Myf (inspired by Janelle Monae's "Pynk" video). All in all it was a very fun afternoon and exciting to get to be a part of a live taping of Bang On.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Olympia- Star City Tour

Last night Belinda and I attended the second sold out Melbourne date at Northcote Social Club in support of Olympia's new single "Star City." It was nice to have an entire bill of female musicians for a change. We caught the second half of the set by opening act Merpire, who played as a duo. I really enjoyed their atmospheric and dreamy pop music. Next up was Eilish Gilligan, who started solo on piano for a few songs and then had her band join her for a more 80s electronic sound for the rest of her set.

Olympia kicked off the evening with "Somewhere To Disappear" off her last album Self Talk. The first half of the set featured other songs from the album, including "Tourists," "Honey" and my favorites "Different Cities" and "Smoke Signals." Once Olivia removed her kimono to reveal a sequin dress she started to preview songs from her upcoming album, which all sounded fantastic. Her band was made up of a bunch of veterans from the Australian music scene with Richard Bradbeer on bass, Ryan Strathie on drums and Sarah Belkner on keyboard, percussion and backing vocals. They finished the main set with the new single "Star City," and then for the encore Olivia played a new track solo and then had the band come back on for one of her older songs "Atlantis" to end the night. It was great to see her live again and I look forward to the new album coming out next year.

Here's the video for "Star City"

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fire Gardens

The Melbourne International Arts Festival is currently happening from 3 - 21 October 2018 at different sites around the city. One of the special events at this year's festival is the transformation of the Royal Botanical Gardens into the Fire Gardens over the next four evenings by French artists Compagnie Carabosse. As you entered the gardens there were burning clay pots to light the pathways as you walked around.

At the beginning were moving metal sculptures and rings of fire to walk through as you made your way down to the lake where there were many floating platforms with different lit sculptures. As it was a windy night they were moving around a bit on the water. There was also a solo guitarist, Steph LaRose, playing music which added to the atmosphere as people stood around and watched the sculptures.

2018 Melbourne International Arts Festival

2018 Melbourne International Arts Festival

Further along the path were sculptures that shot out flames, and a bunch of lit piles of charcoal both in tubes spaced out in the ponds and in giant snaking sculptures on the hill, which due to the wind resulted in sparks flying out of them whenever a gust came along (and at one point people were having to stamp out a little fire on the ground).

2018 Melbourne International Arts Festival

Within the Fern Gully were little white tank tops hanging among the trees that looked like floating lanterns. There were also these rocket looking sculptures on the grass that you could see different designs on when the flames would shoot through them.

2018 Melbourne International Arts Festival

Overall it was a great experience to be able to walk around the Fire Gardens. Thankfully the festival had three set entry times and limited the number of tickets to 7,000 total for the whole night so it wasn't too crowded. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket for this sold out event I'm sure you will enjoy it.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

MoMA At NGV: 130 Years Of Modern And Contemporary Art

This year's Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition is MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art. It features over 200 works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York grouped into eight chronologically themed rooms.

Works from many of the world's best known artists are featured in the exhibition. My favorites included the works from the Bauhaus and Pop Art movements, and the paintings by abstract expressionists. If you have visited modern art museums overseas you will have probably seen examples of many of these artists' works. For those who haven't been able to travel though, this exhibition is a great opportunity to see key works by many of the great artists in one place.



MoMa at NGV

MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art runs until 7 October 2018.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

MWF- Ta-Nehisi Coates: Writing Yourself Into History

Tonight as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival I went to see Ta-Nehisi Coates: Writing Yourself Into History at the Athenaeum Theatre. Hosted by journalist and filmmaker Santilla Chingaipe, this hour and half long discussion with American writer and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates mainly focused on race and politics in the US. Ta-Nehisi began the evening by reading a passage from one of his books about growing up in Baltimore. He spoke about his upbringing with his parents, how he read a lot of books, and how his father, a former Black Panther, forbid the celebration of Thanksgiving due to colonialism and the genocide of Native American people.

As a journalist he has mainly focused his writing on race and culture, and his essays written during the Obama presidency became his most recent book We Were Eight Years In Power. He talked about the two times he was invited to the White House with other journalist after certain articles he had written were published. On his second visit he got into a bit of a heated discussion with President Obama. In discussing Trump's presidential victory, Ta-Nehisi felt it was the result of white supremacy and a backlash by racists against the Obama presidency, not due to anything in particular that Obama had done while in office.

I liked that he spoke about his writing process, and how his publisher made him write one of his books three times before considering it to be at the level for publishing. He also spoke about writing the Black Panther and Captain America comic books and how different it is to writing books as it is a visual medium. The words have to serve the illustrations, and he compared it to writing poetry. Overall it was really interesting to hear Ta-Nehisi speak and also good to see a diverse crowd come out to see him.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Twin Peaks: Conversation With The Stars

I have been a massive fan of Twin Peaks since it first aired in the early 1990s while I was in high school. I even had a series finale party for the final episode with coffee, doughnuts and cherry pie on offer. When the show was resurrected last year for Twin Peaks: The Return I eagerly watched each week's episode and was happy to be returned to the intricate world created by David Lynch and Mark Frost.

Therefore it was very exciting when it was announced some of the stars of the show would be coming to New Zealand and Australia for the first time for Twin Peaks: Conversation with the Stars. The panel discussion featured Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer), Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs), Kimmy Robertson (Lucy Moran), Michael Horse (Deputy Hawk), Al Strobel (Phillip Gerard) and executive producer Sabrina S. Sutherland.

Tonight Sally and I headed down to the Palais Theatre as the doors opened in order to catch the music of Twin Peaks being performed by Brisbane's Electric Moon while photos from the show were shown on a screen at the back of the stage. The cast then came out onto the stage to big cheers from the crowd before we were treated to David Lynch himself on the screen as he skyped into the event to answer questions posed by fans who bought VIP tickets. His answers to each question were short and cryptic, with interesting tidbits about letting things go into the air, and that he wants to take up sewing.

After saying goodbye to David the panel discussion began in full. It was hosted by Melbourne writer and Twin Peaks super fan Andy Hazel. He started back at the very beginning and asked everyone how they were originally cast in the show and what it was like to shoot the pilot episode. They then talked about what it was like for them during the first season as the show became super popular. I found it interesting that Dana thought it was the marketing of the show by ABC around "Who Killed Laura Palmer?" that drove that to be the main focus of the first season, because he felt it wasn't the key story line when they were shooting the show. Al spoke about the woods almost being like another main character in the show (despite the fact they shot most of the series on a sound stage in LA).

The panel spoke fondly about those cast members that have died over the years. Michael and Al talked about Jack Nance (Pete Martell and a longtime Lynch collaborator) and how they would go to him to interpret what the script meant when they didn't understand it. Sabrina also discussed Catherine Coulson (the Log Lady) and how they had to send up a film crew to her house to film her scenes for Twin Peaks: The Return because she was terminally ill with cancer (she ended up dying four days later).

Sabrina shared that on the original series she was responsible for numbering all the scripts for each actor so they could prevent any leaks. The cast members often didn't have a full picture of the storylines until they watched the show because they only knew what happened in their own scenes. It was lovely to hear the different stories from the cast, with Kimmy Robertson being particularly funny. You can tell they all have a great fondness for each other and felt honored to get to work with David Lynch on all the various incarnations of Twin Peaks.

When the panel discussion was finished we were treated to a half hour of short films by David Lynch. This one for David Lynch Signature Coffee featuring Barbie was my favorite:

MWF- The Fifth Estate: Masha Gessen

The Melbourne Writers Festival is currently on from 24 August - 2 September 2018, with the theme this year being "A matter of life and death." This afternoon Sally and I went to Deakin Edge at Federation Square to see author, staff writer for The New Yorker, and occasional guest on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee Masha Gessen. Hosted by Sally Warhaft as part of The Wheeler Centre's journalism series the Fifth Estate, this hour-long discussion explored Masha's 2017 book The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.

The book charts the lives of four different Russians born in the 1980s and the impact of historical events in Russia as they come of age. I haven't read the book but it sounded really interesting, particularly the psychological effects of living under totalitarianism (similar to torture) and how that impacts the way people behave. Masha spoke about the resurgence of what sociologist Yuri Levada termed homo sovieticus, where under communism people were fearful, isolated and authority-loving. Through all these changes in the country over the past few decades, people have craved order and stability, which has been provided by the state. Masha felt that Putin's Russia has become a less extreme version of a totalitarian state, although that could change over time.

Comedy Queens 2018

Last night I was fortunate enough to get to see the sold out Comedy Queens 2018 Australian tour at 170 Russell. The show was hosted by Australia's Maxi Shield and featured American drag queen legends and newer queens from different seasons of Ru Paul's Drag Race doing a mix of comedy, songs and lip syncs. The three legendary drag performers on the bill Lady Bunny, Sherry Vine and Jackie Beat each took turns performing stand-up and their own parody songs. My favorite was Sherry and Jackie's duet of "I Got You Bitch" (sung to Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe").

The two Season 10 girls Monet X Change and Monique Heart each gave really high energy lip sync performances. Monet also had a funny stand-up set, and gave a shout out to a girl in the crowd who created her own sponge dress. Ginger Minj from Season 7 and All Stars 2 did a stand-up set, which unfortunately fell a bit flat with the crowd, as well as a great telephone-themed lip sync mash-up based around Adele's "Hello." Even with the technical difficulty of her track dropping out in the last 30 seconds, the crowd clapped along so she could sing and finish the performance.

The other Season 7 queen and All Stars 3 winner on the bill was my favorite skinny legend Trixie Mattel. Trixie, who was celebrating her 29th birthday, had a tight set of comedy and music. She sang a mix of her own material and mash-up covers of Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi" and Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," alongside Oasis' "Wonderwall" and a hint of Eminem's "Lose Yourself" for all the white people in the crowd. Trixie was so funny and you can tell all her time on the road has made her such a fantastic and engaging performer.

Comedy Queens 2018

This was also my first time getting to see another favorite of mine, Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon. She sang a fantastic cabaret version of Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" and then did a whole set about being a high functioning alcoholic and slut, and the influence of different Disney films on sexual preferences. Overall it was an entertaining but long three hour show, which I'm sure will tighten up as they do the other two shows of the tour in Sydney and Brisbane this weekend.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

MIFF- Won't You Be My Neighbor? and McQueen

My last two films for this year's MIFF were appropriately both documentaries. I started my afternoon at Hoyts Melbourne Central with Morgan Neville's film Won't You Be My Neighbor? about the children's television host Fred Rogers. I grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood on PBS, so this film was like reliving my childhood. It mixed archival footage with interviews of family, friends and crew members. It was amazing to see how trailblazing the show was, from teaching children about kindness and empathy to addressing serious topics such as death, divorce and war. During the Civil Rights movement Mister Rogers made a point to share a wading pool with Officer Clemmons, played by Francois Clemmons who was African American. In addition, through national tragedies such as Bobby Kennedy's assassination and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Mister Rogers was there to help children make sense of it all. It was an emotional film to watch, but a great tribute to Fred Rogers and the important role he played in educating children for over 30 years.

My other film for the afternoon was Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui's documentary McQueen about the British fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen. Using his personal archives, fashion show footage, and interviews with family, friends and those who worked with him, the film told the story of how McQueen went from an apprenticeship on Savile Row to being one of the great fashion designers and couturiers of the 1990s and early 2000s. The film was broken up into different sections based around key collections for his McQueen label and Givenchy. It gave you a glimpse of his life as became more popular, and how he kept pushing the envelope with his often controversial runway shows. After the screening Dr Hannah McCann, a lecturer in gender studies from the University of Melbourne, read a short essay about the film and McQueen himself.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

MIFF- I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story

This afternoon I headed to the Comedy Theatre for the MIFF film I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story. This documentary by Jessica Leski takes an empathetic look at four generations of female fans of US and British boybands. US teenager Elif was the main focus of the movie as she was followed across her later teenage years during her fandom of One Direction. The other three participants, Australians Susan (The Beatles) and Dara (Take That), and American Sadia (Backstreet Boys), looked back and spoke fondly about those core years of fandom and what the bands meant and still mean to them. Their honesty about their lives and fandom was a reflection of the filmmakers taking this topic seriously and really exploring things with no judgement. I absolutely loved this film and could relate my own fandom for Crowded House/Neil Finn to what they all experienced, from collecting memorabilia (everyone has a box of treasures) to making lifelong friendships with other fans and travelling around the world to see my favorite artists play.

We were fortunate to have a Q&A after the film hosted by Brodie Lancaster with the filmmakers Jessica Leski and Rita Walsh and two Australian participants Susan and Dara. They spoke about the making of the film, how they picked the participants and did a bit of an update about everyone (which I won't say because it will spoil things that happen in the film). If you have ever been part of a fandom, I highly recommend checking out this film.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

MIFF- Kusama: Infinity, Rafiki and Hearts Beat Loud

Today I took the day off work so I could attend three MIFF films throughout the day. I began my morning at the Forum Theatre for the documentary Kusama: Infinity on Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It covered her entire career, from a troubled childhood that has influenced her art, to her decision to move to the US in the 1950s where she became an innovative artist in the 1960s New York Pop-Art scene. Kusama was the first artist to exhibit work with soft sculptures, mirrored infinity rooms and room-scale wall installations, but her male peers copied those ideas for their own shows and gained more popularity. She also led a lot of happenings and anti-war protests around New York before her mental illness made her decide to move back to Japan in the early 1970s. It wasn't until later through a couple of retrospective exhibitions of her work and being chosen to represent Japan at the 1992 Venice Biennale that Kusama's talents were finally recognised on a broader scale. This resurrected her career and resulted in her becoming the top-selling female artist in the world. It's an honest and engaging portrait of this trailblazing artist. I was fortunate enough to see her interactive piece Flower obsession at the recent NGV Triennial, which was one of the most popular parts of the exhibition.

My next film in the afternoon was the controversial Kenyan film Rafiki at ACMI. In this drama, written and directed by Wanuri Kahiu, tomboyish teen Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) is drawn to and strikes up a friendship with the outgoing Ziki (Sheila Munyiva). Their main problem is that they are both the daughters of rival candidates running for local office. As the town gossips catch wind of their romance, it results in horrible consequences for both girls and their futures. This simple coming of age love story screened at Cannes, but has been banned in Kenya due to its theme of homosexuality.

I then met up with Ebony at Hoyts Melbourne Central for my final film of the day, the US dramedy (and my second Gen-X mid-life crisis film) Hearts Beat Loud. Starring Nick Offerman as Frank, a former musician and record store owner, it's about his last summer with his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) before she heads off to UCLA in the fall. While Frank is dealing with closing his record store and finding something else to do with his life, his jam sessions with his daughter bring him the most joy. They result in a song, which he uploads to Spotify under the moniker We're Not A Band that then gets picked up on a new indie playlist. Finally getting a glimpse of possible musical success, he pushes his daughter to write more songs with him. It's a sweet and funny little film that captures key transitional stages in both of the main characters' lives, with some pretty good songs as an added bonus.

Monday, August 13, 2018

MIFF- Woman At War and Three Identical Strangers

This evening I began my MIFF films at ACMI with the quirky Icelandic movie Woman At War by director Benedikt Erlingsson. Halla (Halldora Geirharosdottir) is a one woman eco-activist trying to stop multinationals taking over Iceland's energy utilities. She heads out on her own to rural areas to repeatedly sabotage power lines using simple tools such as a bow and arrow or hand power saw. She ultimately releases her manifesto as the Mountain Woman as the pressure mounts from authorities try to figure out who Mountain Woman is. While all this is happening Halla gets word from an adoption agency that an application she put in four years ago was successful and she will soon be the mother to a four year old girl from Ukraine. There is a lot of humor and funny plot twists throughout the film, which are enhanced by the soundtrack of Icelandic folk musicians and female Ukrainian singers who appear in scenes at various time as Halla wanders through.

Next I headed over to the Comedy Theatre to meet up with Sally for the incredible documentary Three Identical Strangers. It tells the amazing story of Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman who learned at the age of 19 that they were identical triplets separated shortly after they were born. While they became media sensations and the toast of New York, it's the darker truth of why they were separated in the first place that turns this initial good news story into an investigative thriller about the ethics of the adoption agency and a long-term psychological study on nature vs nurture. If you get a chance to see this film check it out as it's amazing.

Friday, August 10, 2018

MIFF- Karrabing Film Collective New Works and Now Sound: Melbourne's Listening

One of the great things about attending MIFF each year is getting to see Australian stories on the big screen. My first session for the evening was the Karrabing Film Collective New Works at the Kino Cinema, which consisted of three short films lasting around 30 minutes each. Night Time Go used manipulated archival footage to tell an alternative story of WWII where the Karrabing drive away the colonists trying to remove them from their lands in the Top End. The Jealous One was about fighting government bureaucracy to get on your own land, as well as a spirit jealous of his wife spending time with others. The final film, The Mermaids, or Aiden in Wonderland, was set at the end of the world where only Indigenous people can survive in the toxic landscape. After the screening elder female members of the Karrabing Collective did a Q&A with the audience, and talked about doing these films as a way to keep young people engaged and out of trouble, and be able to tell their own stories.

My other film for the evening was the world premiere of Now Sound: Melbourne's Listening at the Forum Theatre. This film was a documentary about Melbourne's music scene from 2016 to 2018. It covered a lot of different styles of music from indie to electronic and the various artists and subcultures around each scene. The film also explored specific issues such as the fight against gentrification and closure of venues, sexism and harassment in the industry, and the role of independent radio, labels and record shops in championing local music. As director Tobias Willis said before the film started, it's hard to capture Melbourne's entire music scene in around 90 minutes. A lot of the artists that I follow didn't make it into the film. I think the most interesting parts of the film though were when it explored the newer emerging scenes that to this point have been underrepresented in Melbourne.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

MIFF- Yellow Is Forbidden and Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

Tonight I attended two MIFF films that were both fashion documentaries. First I went to the Kino Cinema to see Yellow Is Forbidden about Chinese designer Guo Pei. New Zealand filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly was at the screening and spoke about flying to China to get her to agree to do the documentary. Best known in the West for her yellow dress worn by Rihanna at the 2015 Met Gala, the film focused on the lead up to Guo's first Paris fashion show Legend, which was inspired by cathedrals and featured recently at the NGV Triennial. While in Paris she also applied and was accepted into the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Referring to herself as the world's slowest fashion designer, her runway shows are filled with the most intricate and amazing creations that are often so heavy they are difficult for the models to walk in. I really enjoyed the film and learning more about how Guo Pei runs her fashion business in order to fund her true passion, haute couture designs.

Next I met up with Megan at Hoyts Melbourne Central for Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist about the life and career of British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. Director Lorna Tucker wove together archival footage alongside present day interviews with family and the main players in Westwood's fashion business over the years. She had to fight for her independence from ex-partner Malcolm McLaren, as well as have her talents taken seriously by the British fashion establishment. Currently she co-designs her fashion line with husband Andreas Kronthaler, and has turned her focus in recent years to combating climate change. At the start of the film Westwood was reluctant to speak about past events she considered "boring" and by the end, the film raised more questions than answers on aspects of Westwood's life.

Friday, August 03, 2018

MIFF- Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. and Juliet, Naked

One of the big events in Melbourne during the winter is the Melbourne International Film Festival, which is running from 2-19 August 2018. Tonight were my first two MIFF films, which had a bit of a music theme. I began the evening at Hoyts Melbourne Central for the documentary Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. about the life and career of the Sri Lankan/British rapper Matangi "Maya" Arulpragasam, best known as M.I.A. Drawing on her own personal footage and that shot by longtime friend Stephen Loveridge, it showed her teen years as a Sri Lankan refugee in London (her father, a leader of the Tamil resistant movement, remained in Sri Lanka), time in art school, filming on the road with Justine Frischmann of Elastica, trips back to Sri Lanka, and rise as a musician. While her debut album Arular was critically acclaimed, it was the global success of the Grammy nominated song "Paper Planes" off her second album Kala that made her well known worldwide. M.I.A.'s political activism, particularly around Tamil people in Sri Lanka, has often caused media controversy for her career, with a key flash point also being her performance with Madonna at the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show where she flipped off the camera. This film was an insightful portrait on M.I.A. and gave me a better understanding of her art, activism and music.

Next I headed over to the Comedy Theatre to meet up with Ebony for the romantic comedy Juliet, Naked, which was adapted from Nick Hornby's novel. Set in the British coastal town of Sandcliff, the film stars Chris O'Dowd as Duncan, an obsessive fan of 90's alternative US rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) who has long since disappeared from music. One day Duncan's long suffering girlfriend Annie (Rose Byrne) opens a package addressed to Duncan that contains the demo recording of Crowe's album Juliet (titled Juliet, Naked). While she listens to it and thinks it's insipid, Duncan loves it and posts a long review about it to the fan site/forum he runs. When Annie then posts a negative review, Tucker Crowe himself gets in touch with her to say he agrees with her assessment, and they begin to secretly correspond with each other about their lives. Duncan and Annie break up shortly thereafter, and Tucker ends up coming to London to visit his daughter who is having a baby and arranges to meet Annie. It's not all smooth sailing, but this Gen-X midlife crisis film was quite funny and sweet, with great performances by the whole cast.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The Breaker Upperers and RBG

Over the last two nights I went to see a couple new films that opened in Australia this past week. The first was the New Zealand comedy The Breaker Upperers. The film was written, directed and stars Madeleine Sami (Mel) and Jackie van Beak (Jen) as two friends who run an agency that breaks up couples through the use of different scenarios. Their main rule is to not get attached to clients, but that fails when Mel becomes friends with Anna (Celia Pacquola) and starts a relationship with young rugby player Jordan (James Rolleston). This leads to a breakdown in Jen and Mel's friendship, and the rest of the film focuses on the fall out. The movie did have some funny moments, including bit parts by Jemaine Clement as Jen's Tinder date and Elroy Finn (Neil Finn's son) as a client of the agency, but overall it was a bit hit and miss with the storyline.

Tonight I saw the documentary RBG, about the life of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With open access to Ginsburg, her family, friends and associates, the film details her remarkable life. Ginsburg was one of the few females in her law class in the 1950s, and argued a series of cases to the Supreme Court around gender equality in the 1970s. Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, she has now served for 25 years, and is one of the few liberal justices left. As the Court becomes more conservative she has increasingly had to write powerful dissenting opinions on a number of cases. Ginsburg has also become popular with younger generations through the "Notorious R.B.G." internet memes, merchandise and portrayal by Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live. Now at 85 years of age everyone is hoping she can hold on until the 2020 Presidential election when hopefully she can be replaced by a Democratic president. This is a fantastic documentary that I highly recommend checking out.
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