Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Farewell Dad

The last two days have been spent saying our goodbyes to Dad with his funeral mass for family and friends yesterday and a private interment at the cemetery today. We have been well supported by everyone as we go through this difficult time of mourning. My brother James and I took turns delivering the following remembrance of Dad at the funeral mass:

Our Dad was born and raised in the Sunset in San Francisco as the only child to Ralph and Cathryne Ellis. His entrepreneurial spirit kicked in during his high school years as he bought old cars, fixed them up and then sold them. This entrepreneurism continued during his life as he built an apartment building on the lot of his parents’ house after they passed, and started his own business out of our garage, Motion Enterprises, which sold welding products.

Dad and Mom were married in the early 1970s and moved from the City to live in Marin. Dad married into a large extended family, and I wonder what it was like for him to all of a sudden have all these new brothers and sisters-in-law (and later nieces and nephews) and the many cousins on both sides of my Mom’s family who referred to him as “The Big E.”

I was born in the mid-1970s and James came along four years later. Since Dad worked in San Rafael, he was the one who would pick us up from school or day care in his old orange Chevy pic-up truck, which we could hear coming up the street. Dad also cooked the family dinner most nights as we were growing up, since Mom worked in the City. Dad loved to cook and was always searching for new recipes to try out, with the ones that worked well marked “keep” and making repeat appearances on our plates. He loved a kitchen gadget, from barbecues to various kitchen utensils and tools that would make food preparation and cooking easier. The internet made finding these gadgets and devices quite easy, and as a result finding places to store them all in the house became a long-standing challenge.

Dad’s love of cars meant there was usually a project going on in the garage or on top of the driveway. I was fortunate enough to be able to work alongside my father in tricking out my vehicles. When I was a teenager we worked together on an El Camino and a Chevy S10 pick-up truck. Dad’s latest project was his 1934 Ford roadster, which he built from scratch. Unfortunately, due to his declining health he was unable to completely finish it, but don’t worry, I swore to him that I will get it done.

One thing I am going to miss is cruising with Dad to the Goodguys car shows in Pleasanton. It was so fun looking at all the cars and trucks with him. After the shows he would take me to In-N-Out Burger for a special treat, as that was his favorite burger place.

Dad and Mom both loved to watch sports on tv and we would often spend our Sundays watching the 49ers play football. They were also big fans of the San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors. Dad was a huge supporter of my youth sports career as he attended my soccer games and helped coach my CYO basketball team. He was also in the stands each week to cheer me on in high school when I played football and basketball.

Dad did like a drink or two. His favorite was red wine out of a box or the “red paint” as it would be referred to at family parties. When Dad was in hospital James messaged me to say that Dad wanted a bourbon and 7UP – I told him to give Dad the drink (although I don’t think the hospital staff would have let that occur). When we brought Dad’s urn back to the house last week we thought it was only fitting that it be placed on the bar.

We have learned many things from our Dad. He loved watching car races – from Formula 1 to Indy cars to drag racing. He taught us life skills such as how to swim, drive and take care of our cars, do home renovations, cook, and manage our money responsibly. Dad always encouraged us to pursue what we loved and were interested in, as his only concern was our happiness. He supported us every step of the way through our education and careers, and always said we could return home if we needed to. He got so much joy from his daughter-in-law Simi and grandchildren, Logan and Kylie, and the time he was able to spend with them.

Dad’s health had been in decline over the past decade, and I know that it frustrated him that he couldn’t do all the things he was used to doing. Mom did an amazing job looking after him and taking him to numerous doctors’ appointments, which I would get to hear about when I called from Australia to talk to them on the phone. Over the past couple of years Dad’s health had been pretty stable, so it was a surprise to us that he suddenly deteriorated so quickly. Dad appreciated the full life he had led and was ready to go. We are grateful that we were able to say our goodbyes and be with him at his bedside as he passed on. Dad, we love you and will miss you so much, but are happy that you are now at peace.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Jojo Rabbit

One benefit of being in the States at the moment is that I had the opportunity tonight to go with my friend Lynne to see Taika Waititi's new film Jojo Rabbit, which doesn't open in Australia until Boxing Day. Billed as an anti-hate satire, it is based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens.

The movie is set in Germany towards the end of World War II and centers around young boy Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), who is being raised by his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). Jojo becomes part of the Hitler Youth, and is cheered on by his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (hilariously played by Taika Waititi). As the movie progresses Jojo discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa (Tomasin McKenzie), in the attic of their house. Jojo realises that he needs to keep this secret to protect himself and his mother, and ends up becoming friends with Elsa as time goes on.

While the movie has some absurd and funny parts, it also has some quite dramatic moments, and is a more serious film than people might expect from Taika Waititi. Both Lynne and I really enjoyed it and it will have you thinking about the correlations to the present times we are living through as you leave the movie theater.

Friday, November 01, 2019


My Dad's health has not been the best over the past decade after he had his first heart attack and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. There was a point a few years ago where he was entering hospital every couple months with fluid build up. But the doctors managed to get his medications working to a point where his body stabilised and he was doing much better than in the past - so much so that I figured I wouldn't travel to the States this year for Christmas.

Unfortunately two weeks ago Dad took a sudden turn for the worse. His AFib starting acting up again and Mom took him to hospital. They attempted to stabilise him but after a few days his blood pressure dropped and he ended up in ICU, where they did a cardioversion to try and restore normal heart rhythm. His heart was weak though and the rest of his organs were starting to fail. I can tell you that this is not the news you want to receive when you live half way around the world. It was a wait and see game for a couple of days of whether I should fly home as they tried kidney dialysis to see if that would help. However, after a few days of doing that Dad had had enough and decided to stop treatment.

On Wednesday I booked a flight to San Francisco and was on a plane six hours later. Dad had been moved into step-down care and was still alert but tired by the time I arrived. He felt he had had a good life and made the call that he was ready to pass on. We were all able to say our goodbyes and be with him as he was unhooked from the machines and moved into comfort care to ensure he wasn't in any pain. It took longer than he or us probably expected, but he finally took his last breath this morning with me, my Mom and brother at his side. I am grateful I was able to make it back home in time to say goodbye and spend these last couple days with him. I know he is in a better place now and I will miss him greatly.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Emma Russack and Lachlan Denton- Noisy Ritual

Noisy Ritual in East Brunswick bills itself as an urban winery as they make their own premium wines with grapes sourced from vineyards all around Victoria. The space itself is a big hall with barrels lining the walls around the room, a bar, small stage at the front, and tables and benches to sit on to enjoy your glass of wine along with a light selection of bar food.

On Thursday evenings Noisy Ritual hosts the event School Night, which features live music. Sean and I headed over there tonight for a glass of wine and to catch Emma Russack and Lachlan Denton (formerly The Ocean Party) play some songs they have recorded together as a duo. Their new album Take The Reigns just came out last week, and they played some songs off of it including "Cake," "Love For Myself," and "When You Wake Up." They also played songs from their previous two releases, including a couple of my favorites from Lachlan with "I'm Right Here" and "I'll Be The Rock." The banter between the two of them in between songs was hilarious and also revealing about personal incidents (e.g. Lachlan's woodworking accident) as well as their friendship.

Here's a live video of them playing "The Heatwave (Eloise)" and "I'll Be The Rock"

Friday, October 18, 2019

John Waters- Make Trouble

This evening Sean and I headed to Hamer Hall at the Arts Centre to see the legendary cult American filmmaker John Waters in his one man show Make Trouble. We weren't sure what to expect but John just took to the stage by himself with a microphone and told stories for around an hour. He spoke about growing up in Baltimore, the making of his many films and the actors he has worked with over the years, as well as his observations on the state of global affairs, including the United States and Trump. As expected there were moments of filth and subversive humor, which extended into an interesting Q&A session with the audience, where he dealt with some oddball questions like a pro.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Pokey LaFarge- Australian Solo Tour 2019

Tonight was the final date of American musician Pokey LaFarge's Australian tour at the Northcote Social Club. Opening the evening was Nashville resident Sierra Ferrell, who played an amazing solo set on acoustic guitar. She had a unique old-timey style of singing, and her guitar fingerpicking on her faster country/bluegrass songs was impressive. Her newer tracks sounded more like classic country and were slower and melancholy. She was really great and I highly recommend checking her out if you get the chance.

Pokey LaFarge was greeted with big cheers from the sold out crowd as he came out on stage to play his solo set. He was in a really great mood and hyped up on Red Bull (and then a couple shots of tequila). He played a range of songs from his back catalogue on acoustic guitar, as well as a few unreleased tracks from his upcoming album due out in the first half of 2020. Highlights for me included "Wanna Be Your Man," "Something In The Water," "Goodbye, Barcelona" and "The Devil Ain't Lazy." It was amazing to watch him play the guitar and he really interacted well with the crowd and got everyone to sing along. For the encore he came out into the middle of the floor and stood on a crate to play unplugged, which included a cover of Roger Miller's "King Of The Road," "Bad Girl" and one of his earliest song "Josephine" to finish. It was a really fantastic and special gig, and such a pleasure to see these two talented musicians in person.

Here's the video for "Riot In The Streets"

Monday, September 23, 2019

Arj Barker's Safe Space

Comedian Arj Barker is developing his new show and testing out material in front of a live audience each Monday in the basement of the European Bier Cafe. Belinda and I attended this evening's "Safe Space" performance and it was a packed and intimate show. Arj covered a wide range of topics, including differences between America and Australia (which set up a funny call back later in the show) married life, climate change, space and aliens, and his love of true crime. Demonstrating his years in stand up, he hilariously shot down a couple of chatty audience members and dealt well with a broken glass incident midway through the show.

As we were walking out I had to stop and introduce myself to Arj as a fellow Marinite, and we had a brief chat about Marin and Melbourne. While Arj said to the crowd that the material is not likely to change much from week to week,  I think it would be interesting to attend again towards the end of the run to see how the show has developed.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Dazza And Keif Go Viral In Space WIth Ya Mum

The Melbourne Fringe Festival is currently happening over the next couple weeks, and tonight Sean and I headed to the Trades Hall in Carlton to see the latest show from Dazza and Keif called Dazza and Keif Go Viral In Space With Ya Mum. Dazza and Keif are still living in Dazza's mum's basement and uploading videos of their sick dance routines online in the hopes of going viral. After showing a compilation of them trying to pick up chicks, they came out in glow in the dark tracksuits and did an impressive dance routine to NSYNC's "I Want You Back."

Frustrated with their lack of success on Earth, the boys decide to enter a contest called "Penetrate the Sky" where 20 citizens from around the world will be selected to settle the moon. Unfortunately only Keif made the cut, and the rest of show dealt with the stress this put on their friendship. There were some funny and vulnerable moments from each of them (including a recorder solo from Keif) and a big space-themed dance routine to the Beastie Boys "Intergalactic." While the show was enjoyable, we felt the storyline wasn't as strong as their MICF show earlier this year.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Karen From Finance- Out Of Office

Tonight Sean and I headed to The Melba Spiegeltent in Collingwood for the second of two sold out shows for Karen From Finance’s one woman show Out Of Office. It started with a hilarious video of Karen getting ready for work to Dolly Parton’s “Working Girl.” Karen deals with a lot of misogyny at work, but she loves her job and is the first to arrive and last one to leave each day.

One morning she receives a call from HR and is told that she must take four months leave to use up her entitlements. Karen doesn’t know how to process this news, so she heads off to a bar and one drink leads into a four month bender (again with some hilarious video footage of her adventures). Karen wakes up in an unfamiliar location and has to find a way to get some money in order to get back home in time for work. Logically, she decides to enters a lip sync contest, but things don't quite turn out as expected.

The show was well written and mixed comedy, video clips, lip syncing and some great costumes. I'm really glad that In The Dark supported this tour for an Australian queen, and I hope we’ll get to see more local girls touring shows in the future (which is likely as it looks like Drag Race Australia will be confirmed shortly).

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Ride- Australian Tour 2019

It has been 25 years since British shoegaze band Ride last toured in Australia, so Belinda and I were really looking forward to tonight's show at the Forum Theatre. Opening the evening was Melbourne four piece Shiva and the Hazards, who attempted to evoke the sounds of previous eras of British rock.

Ride came out to big cheers from the capacity crowd and opened with "Jump Jet" off their new album This Is Not A Safe Place. Their hour and a half set was a mix of newer and older material that all seemed to cohere together despite the decades between some tracks. Of course, it was great to hear those older songs I was so familiar with from the early 1990s, particularly "Seagull," "Taste" and "Vapour Trail" from the Nowhere album, which is an all time favorite of mine. Overall it was a really amazing gig and they were so powerful live, with some songs turning into a wall of sound at points throughout the night. The band seems to be firing on all cylinders even after all these years.

Here's the video for "Future Love"

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Comedy Queens 2019

Last night I headed to 170 Russell to catch this year's Comedy Queens tour, which was a mix of queens from Australia, RuPaul's Drag Race, and a couple iconic drag pioneers. Local favorite Karen From Finance opened the evening with a medley around names and also MC'd the show throughout the night. Next was Australian legend Trevor Ashley, who spoke about her stage career and life, and sang a song about all the famous Aussies she's been with.

The drag icon Miss Coco Peru then hit the stage and did a stand up set with stories about growing up gay in the US, and also sang a parody song to Frank Sinatra's "That's Life." Next up were two stars from RuPaul's Drag Race and the hosts of the fantastic podcast Race Chaser Willam and Alaska Thunderfuck. Willam did some funny jokes, called out audience members trying to take photos from bad angles, and then did his Britney Spears parody to "Oops!... I Did It Again" about fellow queen and Britney impersonator Derrick Barry. Alaska was next on stage in a leopard print outfit, questioning why she was on the tour since she considers herself a glamour queen. Alaska took out her glasses and did some library reads, and then invited an audience member up to sing along with her to her new song "Walking Into The Club."

After a short intermission the legendary Jackie Beat hit the stage. She did a set of stand up and had a great punchline about wearing flats because her feet are tired from paving the way for everyone else. She also sang two parody songs, including one to Jennifer Holiday's "You're Gonna Love Me." The show then took a strange turn when Vanessa Vanjie Mateo from seasons 10 and 11 of RuPaul's Drag Race came out and didn’t really do much except wander around the stage and the front of the crowd as she dedicated Taylor Swift’s "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" to her ex and fellow season 11 contestant Brooke Lynn Hytes. Karen From Finance had to pop out on stage to keep things moving as Vanjie got a couple guys from the crowd up for a twerking contest.

Thankfully season 8 winner Bob The Drag Queen was up next and just mastered the crowd with a hilarious stand up routine that touched on many topics, including White Night, RuPaul's Drag Race, and the things that are shared between straight girls and their gay friends. Bob also did lip sync mashup around how to detect guys who are cheating. We were then treated to a joint performance by Willam and Alaska of their parody of Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" called "A Lacefront Like This" that included several wig reveals and a name-check of Sydney's own Wigs By Vanity.

The show finished with everyone coming back out on stage one by one to RuPaul's "Sissy That Walk" for a final bow. I thought this year's show was much better run to time than last year's, and I love that this tour features such a diverse range of queens, many of whom you wouldn't otherwise get to see in Australia.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Marlon Williams with The Impossible Orchestra: Make Way For Love

Tonight was the start of the three day Supersense: Festival of the Ecstatic at Arts Centre Melbourne. Mary and I headed down to Hamer Hall to see Marlon Williams and The Yarra Benders play the album Make Way For Love with The Impossible Orchestra, conducted by Brett Kelly. We had amazing seats in the second row, which made the performance feel quite intimate. The band came out on stage all wearing suits for the occasion, with Marlon wearing a blue suit with a black lapel and bow tie.

It was great to hear these songs reinterpreted with the addition of the orchestra as they added even more melancholy and drama to each track. Highlights were "Come To Me," "What's Chasing You," "Make Way For Love" and his duet with Aldous Harding "Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore," in which he sang both parts (despite her being in the Arts Centre for her own show later that evening). We were treated to a brand new unreleased song, as well as some old favorites like "Dark Child," "I'm Lost Without You" and a spine-tingling version of "When I Was A Young Girl." They finished the main set with their usual cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "Portrait Of A Man."

For the encore, Marlon ditched his suit top for a singlet and asked us to indulge his opera fantasy as he sang in French "Je Crois Entendres Encore" from Georges Bizet's opera Les Pecheurs de Perles. Then they finished the night by inviting everyone in the audience to sing along to Harry Nilsson's "Without You" (perhaps best known from Mariah Carey's version of the song). This was such a special show to be able to attend and hear in the acoustics of Hamer Hall and a great way to kick off the weekend.

Here's the video for "Come To Me"

Thursday, August 22, 2019

White Night Reimagined 2019

White Night Melbourne has gone through a few changes this year. Now called White Night Reimagined, it is being run over three nights during the winter on 22 - 24 August 2019 from 7pm to midnight (2am on Saturday) instead of over one whole night in the summer. The footprint is also smaller, with the program mainly contained to three park precincts: Birrarung Marr, Treasury Gardens and Carlton Gardens.

I started my White Night evening tonight in Treasury Gardens, which was themed the Sensory Realm. It was one of the few sites that had large scale light projections, which were done on the building facade of 2 Treasury Place by DAE White Night and The Electric Canvas in a piece called Sensoria.

White Night Reimagined

White Night Reimagined

White Night Reimagined

There were a few experiential pieces in the Gardens, but considering the time constraints of the night I wasn't willing to waste time waiting in line. The other pieces I liked were the audio-visual installation Cluster by Playmodes Studio and the human brain like Synapse by Jack Burton, Monica Lim, Josh McAuliffe and Patrick Telfer.

White Night Reimagined

My next stop was Birrarung Marr, which was themed the Physical Realm. The absolute highlight was the Dutch street theatre company Close-Act, who had The Odd Platoon and Drummers roaming through the crowd strapped to bobbing cranes and the 40 minutes long acrobatic performance Globe, where they performed on a globe shaped scaffolding structure as well as in the crowd.

White Night Reimagined

White Night Reimagined

White Night Reimagined

My last stop for the evening was up in Carlton Gardens, which was themed the Spiritual Realm. This precinct was pretty similar in scale and scope to last year. I really liked the Spirit Creatures by The Lanternist, which were similar to animals done at the Taronga Zoo for Vivid Sydney.

White Night Reimagined

White Night Reimagined

The Guardian by A Blanck Canvas was a giant roving puppet that looked like a lion. Awakened by Balooga Entertainment was another giant puppet, this time of a meditating spiritual being that had audio-visual components.

White Night Reimagined

White Night Reimagined

The big attraction though was the Mad Max Fury Road vehicles, light projections on the back of the Royal Exhibition Building and live performance in the Melbourne Museum forecourt. The vehicles were spread around so you could get an up close look at them, and the performance had people dressed as the characters get up onto the vehicles. However, because it was so spread out it was a bit hard to follow and see all of the performance.

White Night Reimagined

My final stop on the way out was for the neon Love Triangle by Carla O'Brien and the aerial performance Loved by Acrobatica.

White Night Reimagined

White Night Reimagined

Overall the crowds weren't too big on the first night and I managed to cover pretty much everything in around four hours. This is not the White Night of old though, and with limited time you have to make choices about what you want to see and try to time things so you don't miss any performances. It felt more like Vivid Sydney than the all encompassing White Night experience, which I think is an unfortunate development. Who knows what will happen when it is merged with the Melbourne International Arts Festival in 2020.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

MIFF- The Dead Don't Die

MIFF 2019
Tonight was the last of my films for MIFF this year as Belinda and I met up at Hoyts Melbourne Central for Jim Jarmusch's latest movie The Dead Don't Die. This comedy/zombie horror film contains an all star cast and revolves around the small town of Centerville. Polar fracking has caused the Earth to tilt off its axis, and as a result it has thrown out electronics and when day and night time occur. Zombies start to gradually emerge from the local cemetery, and the local cops (Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevingy) along with a small band of locals (including Danny Glover who runs the local hardware store and Tilda Swinton as a samurai sword toting coroner) try and fight off the zombies and prevent themselves from being eaten. It's a very deadpan film with some recurring gags, breaking down of the fourth wall, and a lot of blood and gore.

Boy & Bear- Hold Your Nerve Australian Tour

Last night was the triumphant return of Boy & Bear to the live stage with a sold out show at the Forum Theatre to celebrate their new single "Hold Your Nerve" and the upcoming release of new album Suck On Light. Mary and I got there for the second opening act Tia Gostelow, who played a good set with her band that had a few standout tracks, including their Triple J Like A Version cover of Empire Of The Sun's "We Are The People."

Boy & Bear came out on stage and opened their set with "Old Town Blues". They played songs from across their career, ranging from "Rabbit Song" off the With Emperor Antarctica EP, "Milk & Sticks," "Part Time Believer," "Feeding Line" and "Big Man" off Moonfire, "Three Headed Woman," "Bridges," "Harlequin Dream," and "A Moment's Grace" off Harlequin Dream, and "Breakdown Slow" and "Walk The Wire" off Limit of Love.

It has been four long years between albums and there were questions about whether the band could continue due to lead singer Dave Hosking's health issues, but thankfully they are back with the new album Suck On Light. We got a preview of a few of the tracks as they did "Work Of Art," "Suck On Light" and "Hold Your Nerve." The big surprise of the night though was that in this new era of Boy & Bear they have shockingly reversed their long held rule never to do an encore. The band came back out on stage after the main set to play "Limit Of Love," their cover of Crowded House's "Fall At Your Feet" (along with a verse of Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold") and then finished the night with "Southern Sun." I'm really happy the band is back and able to tour again, and I'm looking forward to the release of the new album at the end of September.

Here's the video for "Hold Your Nerve"

Friday, August 16, 2019

MIFF- A Family, Skin, Judy & Punch, and Martha: A Picture Story

MIFF 2019
In order to fully take advantage of my MIFF mini pass I took a few days off work so I could attend some daytime sessions. On Thursday afternoon I went to see the Australian film A Family, which was shot in Ukraine in a local Ukrainian dialect. Director Jayden Stephens was there to open the film and do a Q&A afterwards. The film centers around a man who hires actors to play his family. He writes up scripts and then films the interactions like home movies. I thought the premise would be funny, but the overall tone of the film was creepy, and I didn't feel any empathy for him or get an understanding of why he was doing all this.

MIFF 2019
Today I started my afternoon of movies at the Sofitel Auditorium with Guy Nattiv's film Skin. Based on a true story about reformed white supremacist Byron Widner, the film jumps back and forth from Widner (Jamie Bell) getting his racist tattoos removed to flash back scenes of how he tried to extricate himself from the Vinlanders Social Club and start a new life with his girlfriend Julie (Danielle Macdonald) and her three daughters. The film obviously had strong parallels to what we're facing in the world today, and both Bell and Macdonald gave great acting performances.

MIFF 2019
Next I headed over to The Capitol for the Australian film Judy & Punch by Mirrah Foulkes. A feminist retelling of Punch and Judy, the film stars Mia Wasikowska as Judy and Damon Harriman as Punch, two puppeteers who return to Judy's hometown of Seaside with their baby daughter. In this black comedy, Judy manages to battle the misogyny she and the other women in the town face, and after nearly being killed by Punch works with inhabitants of the hidden heretics camp in the woods to get her ultimate revenge against the abusive Punch. It was a well done and entertaining movie.

MIFF 2019
My final film for today, also at The Capitol, was the documentary Martha: A Picture Story about US photographer Martha Cooper. Australian director Selina Miles and US Consul General Michael Kleine introduced the film, which tells the story of Cooper's amazing career photographing people for National Geographic, the New York Post and as a freelancer. She manages to build relationships with the people she photographs, and has focused a lot of her work on capturing American gentrification and street art around the world. Her 1984 book with Henry Chalfant Subway Art is considered a bible for street artists, and she still travels globally to photograph street artists at work. Her archives are simply amazing, and she captured a historic period of time in 1970s and 1980s New York City with the emergence of street art and hip hop culture. After the film there was a Q&A led by Melbourne artist Rone with Cooper, Miles and producer Daniel Joyce. She was just as lovely in person as in the film, and admitted one of her main reasons for coming to Australia was to catch some rare Pokemon Go characters.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Chills: The Triumph & Tragedy Of Martin Phillipps

Not only is it currently MIFF in Melbourne, but Palace Cinemas are also holding a Music Film Festival at its cinemas around Australia featuring music films from the past 40 years. Tonight was the closing night of the festival with a screening at the Palace Westgarth of the documentary The Chills: The Triumph & Tragedy Of Martin Phillipps.

The Chills are one of the great bands to come out of the Dunedin music scene in New Zealand in the 1980s on Flying Nun Records. The documentary is a brutally honest accounting of the history of the band, which has had 21 different line ups over the years as founder and lead singer Martin Phillipps pursued his musical vision. There are interviews with Martin and many of the former members of The Chills about their experiences in the band and on the road, which for some were still raw and painful. It also showed the highs and lows of the band with the breakout success of the 1990 album Submarine Bells (one of my favorites of all time by any artist) and trying to surpass those heights with subsequent releases.

The other overarching story line of the film was Martin's health issues. A former drug addict and alcoholic, he has had hepatitis C for over 20 years. At the start of the film we watch his doctor give him the grim news that due to his poor liver function he has a 30% chance of dying within 12 months. While put onto an experimental drug treatment to cure his Hepatitis C, the news sets Martin in motion creatively to finish off music ideas and go through the many massive collections of things in his house, some of which fed into an exhibition on The Chills at the Otago Museum. Overall it was a fantastic music documentary with insights into the creative genius of Martin Phillipps and just how much the music industry has changed over the years.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Sensory Underground: An Immersive Dining Experience Featuring Tokyo Tina

Tonight Mary and I got to attend Sensory Underground, which was billed as an immersive dining experience featuring the food of the restaurant Tokyo Tina. We entered the dining space under Fed Square through a door on Platform 13 of Flinders Street Station. On arrival we were given a little cocktail in a glass jar before being shown to our seats on one of the long communal dining tables.

As this was a multisensory dining experience set in the future, we were treated to different performances during the evening, including lighting installations by Kit Webster, an electronic soundtrack by Rival Consoles, and a robots den curated by Paul Findlay as we left the building.

The dinner by Tokyo Tina was four courses and themed around environmental sustainability. The entree was about finding new sources of food and included a bag with some very tasty crickets.

The first course of tinned fish and sashimi was themed around not wasting anything. It had a tin can that contained diced salmon belly, crispy fish skin, and salmon roe on a bed of salmon liver mousse with kombu crackers. There was also kingfish and salmon sashimi with yuzukosho dressing. All of it was yummy.

The main course was themed around being plant-based and wasting nothing through having it served on a sesame cracker plate. The two dishes were miso roasted cauliflower, walnut and tofu cream, and crispy Jerusalem artichoke, and a pork terrine under a blanket of pickled persimmon.

The final course was dessert, which was themed around future food. It had a 3D printed piece of chocolate along with a yuzu curd doughnut, which was very light and fluffy.

Overall it was a fun experience over the 90 minutes of the dinner, although it felt a bit rushed as we were the first seating for the evening. I'm not sure if the whole immersive experience was as fully realised as it could have been, especially considering the $129 cost (which didn't include drinks).

Monday, August 12, 2019

MIFF- It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story and We Are Little Zombies

MIFF 2019
My first MIFF film for the evening was with Sally at the Kino Cinemas for Eric Friedler's documentary It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story about the famous jazz label. I had no idea that it was founded by two Jewish/German immigrants who escaped the Nazis in Berlin. Childhood best friends Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff had a deep love of jazz music and set up the label in 1939. They both took care of the musicians who worked for the label during a time of racial segregation, and those musicians considered them to be friends. The label's distinctive album covers were due to Francis Wolff's amazing photographs and some cutting edge graphic design. It's a wonderful story of friendship and features some amazing music and interviews with key people in the history of Blue Note Records.

MIFF 2019
Next I headed to Hoyts Melbourne Central for the Japanese film We Are Little Zombies. This incredibly creative film by Makoto Nagahisa is about four young teens who meet at a crematorium after the deaths of their parents from different circumstances. The film is structured like a video game as you learn about Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi and Takemura and their lives. The four end up forming a pop band that becomes a viral sensation with their very catchy songs, but it's all short lived. The film is visually exciting with a unique storytelling structure. Definitely check it out if you get the chance.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

MIFF- Suede and Extra Ordinary

MIFF 2019
This afternoon I continued my MIFF journey at Hoyts Cinema with the British documentary Suede: The Insatiable Ones. Belinda and I were both big fans of Suede back in the day, so it was interesting to watch the story of the band's history, which included unexpected people like Mike Joyce of The Smiths auditioning for the band, and Ricky Gervais, who managed them at the start for a short period. The film contained interviews with many of the key players and band members over the years as well as archival footage from the studio and on the road shot by drummer Simon Gilbert. I didn't know lead singer Brett Anderson had such a bad drug addition in the late 1990s that it led to the band breaking up. They did reform in 2010 for a charity gig, which went so well that eventually the band started recording together again. It's a really good film and those early songs still stand the test of time.

MIFF 2019
After dinner at Cookie I headed back to Hoyts and met up with Sally for the quirky Irish comedy Extra Ordinary. Rose (Maeve Higgins) is a driving instructor in her small town, but she also has a not so secret past in dealing with paranormal activity. It is only when she meets widower Martin (Barry Ward) who is being haunted by his dead wife, that she agrees to use her talents to help him and his teenage daughter Sarah out. However, things get a bit more serious when one hit wonder Christian Winter (Will Forte) decides to resurrect his music career through doing a virgin sacrifice, and targets Sarah as his victim. Rose and Martin team up to help save Sarah, and the movie really kicks into gear once they end up at Christian's castle to fight for Sarah's soul. It was a funny little film and very entertaining.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

MIFF- Watergate and What You Gonna Do When The World Is On Fire?

MIFF 2019
The latest two films I saw at MIFF were both American documentaries. On Sunday afternoon Sally and I met up at the newly renovated, beautiful art deco Capitol Theatre on Swanston Street for the *four and a half hour* documentary Watergate - Or: How We Learned To Stop An Out Of Control President by Charles Ferguson. The films used a mix of archival footage from the news and Congressional hearings, interviews with many of the key players, and re-enactments of the Nixon tapes with actors to tell the story of Watergate and how it all unfolded. Despite the length it was quite engrossing, and of course there are many parallels to what we are currently living through with the Trump administration.

MIFF 2019
This evening Megan and I went to the Forum Theatre to see Roberto Minervini's documentary What You Gonna Do When The World Is On Fire? about New Orleans. Shot in high contrast black and white, the film follows four different members of the black community in the city over a summer. There's Judy who owns a local bar, brothers Ronaldo and Titus, Mardi Gras chief Kevin, and members of the New Black Panther Party who are fighting for social justice. The film cuts back and forth between the different people, and there isn't much of a cohesive narrative to bring all the different threads together. The highlight of the film for me was the lovely relationship between the brothers as Ronaldo looked after and taught his younger brother Titus about the realities of life they face.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

MIFF- Beats and Come To Daddy

MIFF 2019
Last night I attended another two films at MIFF. I started my evening at the Kino Cinemas for the Scottish film Beats, based on the play by Kieran Hurley and shot in black and white by director Brian Welsh. Set during the mid-1990s rave scene in Scotland, childhood best friends Johnno (Christian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn MacDonald), who have very different home lives, are in search of an illegal rave warehouse party advertised via pirate radio. They make some friends along the way and have a night to remember, although not entirely as they planned. It was a really enjoyable film although the thick Scottish accents were at times difficult to understand.

MIFF 2019
Next I headed to the Sofitel Auditorium where I was joined by Belinda for the late night showing of the comedy/horror film Come To Daddy. There was a brief intro by the director Ant Timpson, which gave us a glimpse of what was to come. The movie stars Elijah Wood as Norval, a thirty-something hipster who after receiving a handwritten letter travels to the remote coastal home of his father, who abandoned him as a child. It's a bit of a slow burn at the start but there are lots of twist and turns in the plot (which I don't want to give away) and it became a comedic bloodbath towards the end with some completely over the top ways of killing off the villains.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

MIFF- Matthias & Maxime and The Australian Dream

MIFF 2019
It is time once again for one of my favorite winter events in the city- the Melbourne International Film Festival. This year's festival runs from 1-18 August, and I have even become a MIFF member this year to make my moving going experience even easier. I began my festival last night at Hoyts Melbourne Central for French-Canadian film director Xavier Dolan's latest film Matthias & Maxime. It focused on twenty-something childhood best friends Matthias (Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas) and Maxime (Dolan) and their circle of friends over a few months before Maxime moves away for two years to Melbourne (which was an amusing subplot for those of us in the audience). While up at a summer cabin the two agree to appear in a short student film by Matthias' sister in which they have to kiss, and this event triggers underlying dormant feelings that drive the plot for the rest of the film. The film was good and has some recurring familial themes from Dolan's previous films, but I think it didn't have the same cinematic beauty of some of his earlier works.

MIFF 2019
This morning Sally and Megan joined me at The Plenary in the Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre for the film that opened MIFF, the Adam Goodes documentary The Australian Dream. While the other current documentary out about Adam, The Final Quarter, pulled together media and archival footage from the last few years of Adam's AFL playing career when constant booing forced him from the game, this documentary involves Adam himself. It focuses on his life story, from his family life growing up to his AFL playing career, and sets his story within the broader context of racism in Australia and how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been treated since European settlement. The film has interviews with with a wide variety of people involved in Adam's life as well as journalist Stan Grant, who was a screenwriter for the film and did the fantastic speech in 2016 that really set the broader context of what Adam was dealing with to the Australian public. After the film there was a Q&A with the British director Daniel Gordon, and their goal is for this film to have an international release.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2019

After a year hiatus, the Gertrude Street Projection Festival has returned in 2019 with artists exploring the theme of Persist. Resist. Shift. It was a quiet Tuesday evening as I walked down Gertrude Street tonight and it felt like there were a smaller number of pieces than in previous years. One of the first large scale projections I saw was Yandell Walton's Voice, which focused on images of young climate activists.

Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2019

One of my favorite things in the festival each year are the projections on the Atherton Towers, and this year they were done by Atong Atem in her piece Looking On, which explored othering and the gaze that accompanies it.

Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2019

Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2019

Another piece that I really liked were the aerial landscapes of Taloi Havini's Habitat on the Builders Arms Hotel. This piece explored the cultural and environmental contexts of Bougainville during Papua New Guinea's independence period.

Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2019

Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2019

The Gertrude Street Projection Festival runs until Saturday, 3 August 2019.
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