Wednesday, May 31, 2017

TED on Tuesday: Curiosity, Cinema, and a Trek to the South Pole

Last week in my regular TED on Tuesday post, Ben Saunders -  Trek to The North Pole or Stay at Home? I featured two inspiring talks by Ben Saunders, an English adventurer who has pushed his body to the limits while trekking to both the North and South Poles. In that post I only included his TED Talk recounting his trek on skis to the North Pole. In todays post I have decided to include his talk recounting the extreme challenges he and his companion faced trekking to the South Pole

To the South Pole and Back [17.00]
This year, explorer Ben Saunders attempted his most ambitious trek yet. He set out to complete Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s failed 1912 polar expedition — a four-month, 1,800-mile round trip journey from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back. In the first talk given after his adventure, just five weeks after his return, Saunders offers a raw, honest look at this “hubris”-tinged mission that brought him to the most difficult decision of his life.

More Information

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TED on Tuesday: Curiosity and Cinema: The Story of “The Eagle Huntress”
The second talk is by Otto Bell, the film maker behind the highly successful documentary, The Eagle Huntress. My review of this film, At The Movies: The Eagle Huntress, has been quite popular since I first posted it, and I thought readers would be interested to learn the story behind the film from the director himself.

In this TEDx talk at Wake Forest University, Otto Bell explains just how curious he was about the Kazakh culture and why he felt the need to document the Kazakh way of life.

Bell is the director of more than 15 documentary films, which have taken him all over the world. Most recently, he directed “The Eagle Huntress,” a documentary about a 13-year-old Mongolian girl who challenges the male-dominated Kazakh tradition of male eagle hunters. This film, which won eight awards and 18 nominations, is being remade as an animated feature at 20th Century Fox, and was recently named to the Oscar documentary feature shortlist. Bell holds and maintains a Green Card for “Outstanding Contribution to American Arts and Media.” 

This talk was given at a TEDx event at Wake Forest University using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Big Apple: Summer In The City

With a little more than two weeks left before I depart for New York City, you can be sure that I am fully engaged in all aspects of planning for the summer that is currently getting underway.

One of the reasons I love New York City so much, is the amazing range of free events that take place right across the five boroughs every summer. Once flights, accommodation, and food is accounted for, I will spend very little on high-priced events and activities during my stay. Having said that, I have already booked a series of concerts that have caught my attention at the City Winery and Highline Ballroom, but apart from these, and maybe one or two others, most of my entertainment will come from low cost music venues or the incredible array of free events available to every visitor and New Yorker.

The official New York City visitors site, NYCgo should be at the top of everyone’s list of websites when researching things to do—not just over the summer, but all year round. Here is a sampling of some of the summer concerts, movies and theatre events on offer, the vast majority of which are completely free:

You can watch a free movie every night of the week somewhere across the five boroughs. More than 130 sessions are currently scheduled, but be quick, in some instances the free summer film series have already begun. What you can expect to see: La La Land, Life of Pi, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Lego Batman Movie, The Big Lebowski, Blazing Saddles, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Muppet Movie, Logan, The Secret Life of Pets, Finding Dory, Selma, and Hidden Figures, just to name a baker’s dozen from the extensive smorgasbord on offer.

If you don’t want to spend your evenings watching movies, you can always catch some live music.

The best things in life really are free, especially when it comes to NYC's summer concerts. Every May through August (Yes, the free summer concert season has also begun), you can hear live music of all kinds across the City without spending a dime. Whether it's punk on Staten Island, indie rock on the Manhattan waterfront, a classy night outdoors with the Metropolitan Opera or a diverse lineup of jazz and world music at SummerStage and Celebrate Brooklyn!, New York City's free open air performances are sure to please music lovers of all tastes. So what are you waiting for? Get out your digital calendars and start booking in your full summer concert schedule.

Other Free Concert Seasons
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I’m not sure what it is about Brookfield Place… that draws me in like a magnet whenever I find myself in Lower Manhattan. One of the attractions is definitely the relief from the city’s heat and humidity that the vast atrium provides. Other draws are the numerous food outlets on site, clean restrooms (Yay!), and the schedule of free events programmed over the summer, which include art installations and music events. While not as extensive as other free musical offerings around the city, the location of Brookfield Place by the Hudson River still makes it a fine spot to rest and recuperate while enjoying the live music on offer. 

The stunning setting for the annual Lowdown Hudson Music Fest

The main events at Brookfield Place are the gigs at the annual Lowdown Hudson Music Fest:

Lowdown Hudson Music Fest Presents Common, and OK GO
Arts Brookfield’s annual summer music festival, the Lowdown Hudson Music Fest, returns to the heart of downtown New York for its seventh summer on July 18 and 19. Bringing fun, lively, world-class musical talent to the picturesque Waterfront Plaza at Brookfield Place, this year’s festival will be headlined by rapper and producer Common on Tuesday, July 18, and quirky veteran rockers OK GO on Wednesday, July 19. Both shows are free to attend and open to the public. In keeping with the summer festival vibe, shows are standing room only and will feature a festival bar. Event is rain or shine, except for extreme weather conditions.

Tuesday, July 18: COMMON
Wednesday, July 19: OK GO

Other events at Brookfield Place

These free theatre shows include performances of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, on the Bryant Park lawn; and the Bard’s Richard III at Carroll Park, Brooklyn. Children can enjoy live performances of Charlotte’s Web, and Madagascar at the Sobelsohn Playground in Forest Park, Queens; and Cinderella Samba, at Dry Harbor Playground also in Forest Park, Queens.

And as if all the above were not enough, visitors can also join one of the many free tours that take place across the city. These include tours arranged by Big Apple Greeter, Central Park Conservancy, Tours by Foot, Grand Central Partnership, the Greenwich Village Alliance, and many others.

You can be sure dear reader, that the above collection represents just a fraction of the hundreds of events and activities, many of which are free or low cost, that will be taking place across New York City this, and every summer. Personally, I can't wait to immerse myself in the cultural heart of the this amazing metropolis once again.

Monday, May 29, 2017

My-52-Book-Year #23: The Virginian

The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, by Owen Wister was published in 1902, and is said to be the first ‘true Western’ ever written. As such it can also claim to have been the precursor to a new genre of novels that has since gone on to spawn a million others. 

The book is dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt who, judging from the dedication must have read early drafts of the book and provided comments and feedback to Wister.

The Dedication reads: Some of these pages you have seen, some you have praised, one stands new-written because you blamed it; and all, my dear critic, beg leave to remind you of their author’s changeless admiration.

The story begins with the arrival of an unnamed narrator (the Tenderfoot) in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, and his encounter with a tall, handsome stranger (the Virginian), who remains nameless throughout the novel—tho’ late in the book he is referred to as ‘Jeff’ by one of the other characters, although it is not clear if this is his real name. 

The novel revolves around the Virginian and the life he lives, first as a cowboy and general hand, and then later as a foreman on the ranch of Judge Henry Taylor. Woven throughout the book, which covers a period of around five years, is the Virginian’s barely controlled conflict with his arch enemy, a man called Trampas, as well as the Virginian’s romance with the pretty schoolteacher, Molly Stark Wood. 

All the Western tropes are here, gunfights, Indian raiders, cattle rustlers, rattlesnakes, hangings, and an on again/off again romance between two seemingly mismatched lovers from vastly different backgrounds and social classes. With all these elements to play with, Wister skilfully weaving together a tale of action, violence and betrayal, hate and revenge, and love and friendship.

By and large I enjoyed the story, and thought that Clint Eastwood in his younger days would have played the character perfectly. I’m surprised Eastwood never directed himself in the film. Actually, now that I think of it, Eastwood did direct himself in other variations of this story. While not always nameless, as played by Eastwood the tall, dark stranger turns up in movies like Pale Rider, High Plains Drifter, A Fistful of Dollars, For A few Dollars More, and other great Westerns.

But back to the novel. I did think the Virginian was just too perfect for the setting and the historical period in which the book is placed. He was slow to anger, rarely raising his voice about anything, and was calm and measured in his responses to whatever affront may have been directed at him. He was self-assured, knew his strengths and weaknesses (not that he had any weaknesses), was clear-headed, decisive, a complete gentleman and … on and on and on. Seriously, this guy was simply too perfect for the period being written about.

The only lapse in his demeanour came when he was frustrated enough about something or someone to occasional utter a curse or two, although always under his breath. The narrator/Wister however did not feel that it was proper to actually share these curses with readers. It seems that the delicate dispositions of readers at the turn of the 19th century would not have been able to cope with this. The closest we get to a real curse comes when Trampas calls the Virginian a son-of-a-bitch (although that curse is written “…son-of-a—.” Clearly the word ‘bitch’ was deemed too coarse to spell out for the delicate eyes of readers in 1902!

By the way, the Virginian’s response to this epithet has become quite famous in its own right. Laying his pistol on the table at which he, Trampas and other cowboys have been playing cards, the Virginian delivers the now classic line, “When you call me that, smile!

Several other passages from the book caught my attention, and I couldn’t help wondering at their origins. For example, in one passage of dialogue the character, “Scipio le Moyne, from Gallipolice, Ohio”, while referring to the villain Trampas says:
“Trampas is a rolling stone,” he said. “A rolling piece of mud,” corrected the Virginian. “Mud! That’s right. I’m a rolling stone. Sometimes I’d most like to quit being.”
Now I don’t for a minute assume that this is the first time the words, “I’m a rolling stone” are appearing for the first time in print—but then again who knows?

Some other brief quotes took my fancy as well. 
“When yu’ can’t have what you choose, yu’ just choose what you have.”
“In bets, in card games, in all horse transactions and other matters of similar business, a man must take care of himself, and wiser onlookers must suppress their wisdom and hold their peace.”
In other words, don't butt in when it's none of your business.

While the language of the novel is a little dated, The Virginian: A Horseman of The Plains is still worth setting aside some time for. The book is available as a free download from the Gutenberg Project website, as are eleven other titles by Owen Wister. Click here to download the eBook… 
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Note: The cover illustration above is from the Early Bird Books eBook edition. This is not free but can be download from the iBooks store for just ninety-nine cents (higher charges may apply via iBooks stores in countries other than the United States).

Sunday, May 28, 2017

NYC Arts Round-Up #5: MoMA, Barberini Tapestries, Studio Museum in Harlem

Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction
Through August 13, 2017
The Museum of Modern Art

The exhibition Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction shines a spotlight on the stunning achievements of women artists between the end of World War II (1945) and the start of the Feminist movement (around 1968). In the postwar era, societal shifts made it possible for larger numbers of women to work professionally as artists, yet their work was often dismissed in the male dominated art world, and few support networks existed for them. Abstraction dominated artistic practice during these years, as many artists working in the aftermath of World War II sought an international language that might transcend national and regional narratives—and for women artists, additionally, those relating to gender.

Drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection, the exhibition features nearly 100 paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, prints, textiles, and ceramics by more than 50 artists. Within a trajectory that is at once loosely chronological and synchronous, it includes works that range from the boldly gestural canvases of Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and Joan Mitchell; the radical geometries by Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, and Gego; and the reductive abstractions of Agnes Martin, Anne Truitt, and Jo Baer; to the fiber weavings of Magdalena Abakanowicz, Sheila Hicks, and Lenore Tawney; and the process-oriented sculptures of Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, and Eva Hesse.

"Making Space" shines a spotlight on the stunning achievements of women artists between the end of World War II (1945) and the start of the Feminist movement (around 1968). Join us for a conversation with MoMA director Glenn Lowry and curators Starr Figura and Sarah Hermanson Meister for a discussion on the opening of the exhibition.

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The Barberini tapestries, scenes from the Life of Christ.
Detail from "The Consignment of the Keys to St. Peter." Photo: John Bigelow Taylor

By Val Castronovo

Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679), nephew of Pope Urban VIII, commissioned the works, which were produced at the tapestry workshop he founded in Rome in 1627. The series was woven over a 13-year period from 1643 to 1656. The massive weavings measure roughly 16-feet high and 12-to-19-feet wide and stand testament to the political and cultural power of the Barberini family.

Ten tapestries from the 12-panel Life of Christ series adorn three of the chapels within the Cathedral. At the Chapel of St. James, seven of the wool-and-silk-woven panels are wrapped around the room, providing a panoramic view of scenes in the life of Jesus — namely “The Annunciation,” “The Nativity,” “The Adoration of the Magi,” “The Baptism of Christ,” “The Consignment of the Keys to St. Peter,” “The Agony in the Garden” and “The Crucifixion.”

The adjacent Chapel of St. Ambrose houses the complementary pieces, “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt” and “The Holy Land” (a woven map). Behind the high altar, the Chapel of St. Saviour concludes the exhibit with a single tapestry, “The Transfiguration,” depicting the ecstatic scene, described in the Gospels, after Jesus climbs a mountain and appears to three of his disciples in shining glory. (Two darkened fragments from “The Last Supper” are in a display case nearby.)

If You Go
“The Barberini Tapestries: Woven Monuments of Baroque Rome”
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Ave., at 112th Street
Now through June 25, 2017

How Radical Can a Portrait Be?
Vinson Cunningham writes about two new exhibitions, both at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
“One, “Regarding the Figure,” curated by Eric Booker, Connie H. Choi, Hallie Ringle, and Doris Zhao, and drawn largely from the museum’s permanent collection, is a reflection—mercifully free of neurosis or worry—on what faces and bodies have meant to art’s recent and distant past. Here, figures are art itself, no mere phase or moment in time. Henry Ossawa Tanner’s lithograph “The Three Marys” presents the women at Christ’s tomb as a study in developing sorrow: three faces, three stages of grief. The Mary closest to us—she must be the Virgin—is just in the middle of raising her hands.
The other exhibition is Rico Gatson’s Icons
“Icons,” a solo exhibition of recent works on paper by the artist Rico Gatson, curated by Hallie Ringle, takes this ecstasy in personhood and makes it as visible as people themselves. Gatson appropriates old photographic images of famous black Americans—Zora Neale Hurston, Gil Scott-Heron, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye—and surrounds them with bright, colorful lines that shoot outward from the personages to the borders of the page. Each of his titles is a simple, familiar first name. Purple, black, yellow, and red sprout from Zora’s scarved head. Bird’s horn shouts out black and white. Sam—Cooke, that is—has lines shooting out of his shoulders and his toes.
More Information
Now through August 6, 2017

Now through August 27, 2017

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Surfing The Web: Roller Coasters, Baby Elephants, Tips For The Travel Weary

A Shiny New Ride Above the Sand at the Jersey Shore
The repercussions of the shocking destruction wreaked by Hurricane Sandy late in 2012, is still being felt along the eastern seaboard of the United States, with some damaged infrastructure still waiting to be permanently fixed. Just in time for the coming summer season, one of these rebuilt projects sees the replacement to one of the Jersey Shore's most famous attractions. Nick Corasaniti takes up the story for the New York Times.
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. — It was one of the indelible images of the wrath of Hurricane Sandy: a famous Jersey Shore roller coaster reduced to a twisted, mangled wreck in the surf off Seaside Heights, its decades-old iron and steel slicing the coming waves.
It was removed months later, but the gash along the coast remained for years, the emptiness above the rehabilitated pier an ever-present reminder of the worst natural disaster to strike New Jersey in decades.
Now, perhaps quicker than some expected, there is a new coaster where the old one once stood. And this one is different. Gone are the classic dips and turns of the rickety old Jet Star, the thundering vibrations of its cars rippling through the boardwalk wood.
In its place is a shiny new ride that looks as if it was plucked from the fields in nearby Jackson, where the Six Flags Great Adventure theme park sprawls for acres. Called the Hydrus, it is a twisted green behemoth, featuring a steep inverted drop, a full loop and two more inversions. The coaster’s new tracks run eerily silent, the faint hums of the rail car often drowned out by the high-pitched squeals of riders.

Kenyans Work To Save Baby Elephants
Back in March, in a piece about ending the slaughter of elephants I wrote about the ongoing campaign to protect these magnificent creatures from poachers. The following article from the HuffPost continues the positive news about this vital fight.

“We take care of the elephants, and the elephants are taking care of us.” Jesselyn Cook, World News Reporter, HuffPost

Had the members of northern Kenya’s Samburu tribe encountered an injured or abandoned baby elephant a year ago, they likely would have left it to die. Today, with the support of the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, locals are working to save endangered calves.
Photojournalist Ami Vitale traveled to the baby elephant orphanage to document community relations with the animals for National Geographic. Reteti opened in August as part of a network of community groups in the region working to foster sustainable development and wildlife conservation. Elephant keepers there try to rehabilitate wounded calves and reunite them with their herds, when possible.
Elephants are ecosystem “engineers,” Vitale notes. They feed on low brush and bulldoze small trees, which promotes the growth of grasses and attracts other grazing animals.
But ivory poachers have caused elephant numbers to dwindle, with the African elephant population plummeting by more than 110,000 over the past decade, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. At least 33,000 elephants are killed for their tusks annually.

Travel Fatigue: 10 Tips for Road-Weary Travelers
My go to website for the Solo Traveller which I thought might be useful for those travellers who enjoy the luxury of extended travel.
To travel alone for two or three weeks is one thing. But to travel alone for two or three (or five or ten) months is quite another. It takes a different attitude and a different pace. And even when you do it well, it can result in you becoming road-weary.
Travel fatigue is a kind of rattled feeling. It’s a need for stability and a wish for home. Fortunately, there are things other than returning home that you can do to feel good. 
Among the eleven suggestions:
  • Stay still: that is, settle into one place for a while.
  • Settle where you can speak the language: the rationale is that you will feel more relaxed if you are not constantly struggling with language. Of course, if you are trying to learn the language of the country you are visiting, then the best way to do that is to immerse yourself in the life of the country you are in and work on those language skills.
  • Repeat yourself: return to a city you’ve already visited and loved.

Friday, May 26, 2017

S.A. Weekender #7: Dolphins, Pulitzer Prize Winners, Arts, Events, What's On...

One of four people rescued off Port Macdonnell after the Port Princess sank at sea. Picture: Simon Cross.

Back in April, in the second of my South Australian Weekender columns I wrote briefly about the Port River Dolphin Cruises. Little did I know at the time that one of the two cruise boats that have been plying the waters of the Port River for more than 20 years, the Port Princess, had recently been sold to a cruise operator in another state.

It was not until I saw a press article in the online edition of The Advertiser, our daily paper, that I not only learned this news but worse, the article reported that the Port Princess (while on its way to its new home port), had suffered engine problems at sea that had left it completely incapacitated, and that subsequently the vessel had been swamped to the point where the crew of four were forced to issue an urgent May Day appeal and seek emergency assistance.

Thankfully, all four people on board the Port Princess were rescued before the ill-fated vessel finally filled with water and sank along a stretch of coastline which has long been referred to as The Shipwreck Coast.

Wow. Who could have guessed? Here’s a screen shot of the first part of that story…

The good news for dolphin watchers is that the other Port River cruise vessel, the Dolphin Explorer is still making regular journeys up and down the river, and your chances of seeing wild dolphins is still as good as ever. So why not head down there this weekend and take a cruise? You’ll be happy you did.
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2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners Visiting Adelaide
A brief reminder of this Adelaide Writer’s Week special event, which sees three prize-winning authors discuss themes of family, love, loss and the quest for freedom. Man Booker Prize winning Irish author Anne Enright has already come and gone, but (assuming the events have not sold out), you are still able to attend the Colson Whitehead and Hisham Matar evenings. Both Colson and Hisham are Pulitzer Prize winning authors. Below is a brief recap of their upcoming events.

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad
A New York Times number one best seller and National Award winner, The Underground Railroad became one of the biggest hits of 2016 after Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club. It tells the story of young slave Cora’s desperate journey to escape from a cotton plantation in Georgia on the eve of the American Civil War. Her escape is via the legendary, albeit desperately risky “underground railroad”, here imagined as a secret network of racks and tunnels underneath the American South, a journey that promises freedom.

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad
Sunday 28 May, 5pm | Scott Theatre, Kintore Ave
TIX: Adult: $25; Friends/Concession/Under 30s: $20.00

Hisham Matar: The Return 
Named one of the top books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian, The Return is Matar’s third work. When Matar was 19 and studying in England, his father was kidnapped in Qaddafi’s Libya. He never saw him again, nor did he ever give up hope that he would. The Return tells the story of Matar’s return to his homeland 22 years later to search for him. Hishar was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his extraordinary memoir.

Hisham Matar: The Return
Monday 29 May, 6.30pm | Elder Hall, The University of Adelaide
TIX: Adult: $25; Friends/Concession/Under 30s: $20.00

Not Only, But Also…

At the Art Gallery of South Australia
North Terrace, Adelaide
Now through July 2, 2017

YIDAKI: Didjeridu and The Sound of Australia
At the South Australian Museum
Now through July 16, 2017
> Online: 

PLAY: Objects of Play 
State Library of South Australia
Now through May 28, 2017
Location: Treasures Wall, first floor Spence Wing
Note: Free entry; Open during library hours

In The Saddle — On The Wall
A Kimberley Aboriginal Artists touring exhibition
Flinders University City Gallery at the State Library of South Australia
Now through June 25, 2017

Tuesday—Friday: 11:00am—5:00pm 
Saturday & Sunday: 12:00—4:00pm

Raggers and Radicals: Student Activity and Activism from 1880
Level One, Barr Smith Library 
Adelaide University, North Terrace
Now through June 30

Kings, Queens & Courtiers
At the David Roche Foundation House Museum
Now through July, 2017

Now Get Out Of The House!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Move, Breathe, Fly, Float...

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
to gain all while you give,
to roam the roads of lands remote,
to travel is to live.
~ Hans Christian Andersen

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ten Desert Island Films

If you had to spend a year on a desert island, and could only take 10 movies with you, what would they be? Here, in no particular order are ten of my favourite films (by genre), with brief explanations for why I chose them. 

Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece. There as so many great moments in this movie. Everyone's favourite moment is when Robert Duvall's character, Col. Kilgore utters the famous, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning..." line. But my favourite line, also spoken by Duvall/Kilgore comes soon after that napalm line: "Someday this war's gonna end." There is so much regret in his voice when he says this, that you know Kilgore, and many people like him are going to miss the war, and the positions of power and influence it gives them.

I actually prefer the original version. The longer Redux version has lots of extra footage but much of it just gets in the way of the storytelling. While it was nice to see the much talked about French Plantation scene, and the Playboy Bunnies scene, I don't think they add a lot to the main story. In fact, I think the French Plantation scene actually makes the movie look dated when viewed today.

As for Marlon Brando's performance as Colonel Kurtz - I think it is great. It's perfectly fitting that this man Kurtz, who is slowly going crazy in his lair, deep in the Cambodian jungle, spends most of his time sitting in the dark brooding over his actions, while waiting to 'suffer the consequences' of these actions.

Favourite Scene: This movie is full of great scenes, but for sheer heart thumping excitement you can't go past Wagner's Ride of The Valkeryies as the choppers sweep in to attack the Vietnamese village early in the morning. I can never hear that music now, without thinking about that particular scene.

Other Contenders: Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket; and the brilliant German film about life on a German submarine during the Second World War, Das Boot (The Boat). If you are going to look for Das Boot online, do yourself a favour and find the original German language version, not the dubbed into English one.

Sci-Fi: Blade Runner
Why do I like this film so much? It is a combination of great acting, stunning sets and cinematography, and a story line with something real and meaningful to say. Ridley Scott's sci-fi noir masterpiece stars Harrison Ford, as the Blade Runner of the title, and Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Daryl Hannah as replicants (life-like robots), trying to find their maker before their working life runs out and they 'die'.

This is another movie I never get tired of re-watching. Of course, you should make sure you get the Directors Cut, which is probably the only version you can get on DVD anyway.

Favourite Scene: Batty/Rutger Hauer's final speech. "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain... Time to die..."

Other Contenders: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, is an obvious choice. Less well known is another of my favourite sci-fi movies, Dark Star, a precursor of sorts to Ridley Scott's obvious contender, Alien.

Drama: Brazil
Terry Gilliam's classic movie of a not too distant dystopian future where a huge monolithic bureaucracy (which seems remarkably close to the vision George Orwell created in his book, 1984), controls every aspect of daily life. Staring Jonathon Price, Michael Palin, and Robert DeNiro, is Brazil just a bizarre dream? A terrifying nightmare? A figment of Jonathon Price's over active imagination?

Whatever it is - you may never view the comic genius of Michael Palin in the same way again. But that's already telling you too much if you haven't yet seen the movie, which I urge you to do - not once, but many times. In fact, you will need to see it multiple times to pick up on all the things you missed the first and subsequent times you watched it.

Like all of the films on this list, I never tire of watching this movie, but I have to be in a certain frame of mind before I do so. It's not the sort of film that leaves you with a good feeling - however brilliant it undoubtedly is.

Favourite Scene: I'm not sure if it's possible to have a favourite scene in this movie. It is at times bizarre, hilarious, bleak, terrifying, hallucinogenic, and much more besides. In deed, Sam Lowry's (that is, Jonathon Price's) first day in Information Retrieval is probably all of those adjectives and more, so I will select that as my favourite, although every scene is a winner.

Other Contenders: Louis Malle's Days of Heaven; Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate.

I love musicals. I think this goes back to my childhood when I fell head over heels in love with Doris Day, after seeing her in the Western musical, Calamity Jane! In fact I was so besotted with her that my very first vinyl album (bought with the financial assistance of an older sister), was the soundtrack to that movie.

Little Shop Of Horrors is the musical version of the Roger Corman film of the same name which famously featured a cameo performance from a very young Jack Nicholson. This musical remake stars Rick Moranis, and Ellen Greene (who also starred in the original Broadway show). It also has cameo performances from Steve Martin, John Belushi, Bill Murray, and others.

I like it this movie so much I watch at least twice a year! Viewing it is guaranteed to brighten my day, and put me in a good mood if I'm feeling down, or put me in a super mood if I'm already feeling 'up' and looking to get really charged.

Favourite Scene: Bill Murray as the masochistic dental patient is an absolute scream, especially when pitted against Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist! Be warned. If you have a phobia about dentists, close your eyes and block your ears for the duration of this scene.

Other Contenders: The Rocky Horror Picture Show; and West Side Story.

The Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, could have been represented on this list several times, and in several genre's, but I've settled on this gangster epic because I love everything about this movie. The performances, the cinematography, the plotting, and especially John Turturro's "Look into your heart..." speech.

Favourite Scene: Have I mentioned John Turturro's gut wrenching "Look into your heart..." speech, as he is about to be shot and left to rot in a forest? Classic stuff, this.

Other Contenders: Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas; the other Coen Brothers classic, Blood Simple; Coppola's The Godfather; and one of my all time favourites, Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America.

Which is a good lead in to Sergio Leone's western masterpiece...

Sergio Leone was the director that made Clint Eastwood famous after he cast Eastwood in his trilogy of 'Dollars' films: A Fistful of Dollars; A Few Dollars More; and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. But as good as these films are, I think Leone was still working out what he really wanted to say about the American West and the people who populated it. For me, all this comes together perfectly in his epic masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in The West.

Right from the opening credits, you know you are in for an experience like no other. If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, it's almost impossible to adequately describe the first ten minutes of the film as three gunmen wait for a train at an isolated railway station.

Then there are the film's four main actors; Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, and Jason Robards. What a great line-up of stars. Henry Fonda playing 'against type' as Frank, the cold blooded killer is a revelation. All this, and Ennio Morricone's brilliant score make it one of my all time favourite movies.

In fact, I've watched this film more times than I can remember, and every time I watch it, I discover something new in it. If you haven't seen the movie, you are the poorer for it.

Favourite Scene: So many scenes - so many favourites. However, my most favourite scene is when Jill/Claudia Cardinale first gets off the train, and begins her walk along the station platform, into the station office (where she pauses briefly to talk to one of the staff), then out through the front door of the station, and out onto the dusty street of the western town she has just arrived in. All this shot in one long gorgeous take, set to Ennio Morricone's wonderful theme written especially for her character (all the main characters have their own musical theme). I never get tired of watching this scene. Never.

Other Contenders: Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven; Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch; and Sergio Leone's already mentioned, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

There are people around who can quote great tracts of dialogue verbatim from this film. I can't, but there is much to like about this movie and the motley crew of errant knights roaming the countryside in search of the Holy Grail.

Flying cows; the black knight and the black plague; witches and damsels in distress; Trojan rabbits; Knights who say, "Ni"; all this and much more, mixed together in a strange brew that only the Monty Python team would dare to concoct. If you don't find this film hilarious, you need a funny bone transplant.

Favourite Scene: Scene 4: Constitutional Peasants: wherein Michael Palin's peasant mud collector swaps some great lines with Graham Chapman's, King Arthur.
Palin: "Supreme executive power, derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!"
King Arthur: "Be quiet!"
Palin: "You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just cos some watery tart threw a sword at you."
Arthur: "Shut... up!"
Palin: "I mean, if I went round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away."
Arthur, (grabbing hold of Palin): "Shut up! Will you shut up?"
Palin: "Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system."
Other Contenders: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring Steve Martin and Michael Cain is a delight; and the Monty Python team's other classic, The Life of Brian.

This would almost qualify as a musical itself if there were a few more songs in it being performed by the actors. There is so much to like about this film, I'm almost embarrassed to go on about it in case I look like I'm gushing!

Julia Roberts, Rupert Everett, Dermot Mulroney, and Cameron Diaz bring so much to this movie that it's hard to imagine anyone else taking their places in the film.

I love the way Julia Robert's character is frustrated at every turn by her own attempts to stop the impending wedding of her 'best friend', Dermot Mulroney to Cameron Diaz. I love how Cameron Diaz's hopelessly out of tune attempt at karaoke is turned into a triumph (it's so bad, it's good). Then there is Rupert Everett's restaurant scene when he starts to sing Dione Warwick's, Say a Little Pray For You, and all the other customers in the restaurant join in. Then there is the...

Well you get the picture - or if you haven't already got it - you should. One of my all time favourites.

Favourite Scene: Apart from those mentioned above, I love the way the film ends with the phone call between Rupert Everett and Julia Roberts, and their final dance together. What a great way to end the movie.

Other Contenders: yet another Coen Brothers classic, Raising Arizona, and of course,that perennial favourite, The Princess Bride.

The newest addition to this list, Martin Scorsese's three and a half hour documentary exploring Bob Dylan's formative years in New York City is a revelation in every sense of the word. Containing lots of previously unseen footage of the young Dylan, including many great performances and interviews old and new, this doco is a must have for all Dylan aficionados.

Viewed together with D. A. Pennebaker's 1965 documentary, Don't Look Back, both films paint an extraordinary portrait of the artist as a young man as he reshapes the musical landscape around him. Watching this film you get a sense of the enormous pressure Dylan was under to shoulder the burden of 'spokesman of a generation'. A role he didn't ask for or want, and which he is still trying to fight against.

Even today, 40 years after turning his back on folk music, I know people who still haven't forgiven him for 'selling out' the folk protest movement, and carving out his own unique musical path. Thank God, he did ignore all the carping and criticisms; the constant booing from unthinking fans, and the stupid inane questioning of media reps to follow his Muse wherever it chose to lead him.

Favourite Scene: I was blown away by the power of some of the early concert performances we get to see in this film, especially Only a Pawn in Their Game. Dylan sings with such focus, such power and conviction, that it is easy to see why he garnered so much attention and interest in those early years in New York.

Other Contenders: Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz; and Woodstock (the original movie), for which incredibly, Scorsese also filmed some concert footage.

Drama: The Mission
Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons both star in this stunning movie. The fact that the film also has a wonderful score composed by Ennio Morricone only adds to the pleasure one gets from viewing this beautifully photographed film.

Made when the concept of Liberation Theology was gaining much prominence among the established western churches in the late 1970s and early 1980s (especially in the Catholic church), the film focuses on a small group of 18th Century Spanish Jesuits - played by Irons and DeNiro - who go into the South American wilderness to build a mission in the hope of converting the Indians of the region. When Spain sells the colony to Portugal, they are forced to defend all they have built against Portugese slave traders.

The ending will not leave you feeling good, but thankfully the makers of the film stayed true to the story, and resisted the typical happy Hollywood ending.

Favourite Scene: It's almost impossible not to be knocked out by the scene where Robert DeNiro, as the character Mendoza, a former slave trader, does penance for his past sins by dragging a huge and heavy bundle of swords, armor, helmet, and clothing to the top of a high valley as water spumes and pours down around him every step of his weary way.

- o0o -

This has been a real challenge, selecting ten of my favourite movies. As the alternative titles listed under Other Contenders indicate, for very movie chosen I could easily substitute several others in each category. Still, it was an interesting exercise. How about you, dear reader—what are your 10 most popular movies?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

TED on Tuesday: Ben Saunders - Trek to The North Pole or Stay at Home?

Ben Saunders is one of those all too rare individuals who has taken life ‘by the horns’, to use a well-known phrase, and pushed his mind, body and spirit to what the rest of us would consider to be the limits of human endurance. To Ben Saunders, his monumental treks to both the North and South Poles were about testing himself and his ability to live his life to its fullest.

The two TED talks below complement each other well. The first talk, Why did I ski to the North Pole?, was filmed in 2005, the year following this successful venture. In the second TED talk, Why bother leaving the house?, recorded in 2012, Saunders explains the reasons for embarking on his epic Arctic and Antarctic treks.

There are lessons in both these talks for everyone, and maybe the most important one of all is that we are all capable of far more than we have ever allowed ourselves to image. It is certainly true that the vast majority of the human race uses just a fraction of the huge potential inherent in each of us—and yes, I am including myself in this assessment.

Ben Saunders urges audiences to consider carefully how to spend the “tiny amount of time we each have on this planet.” And while we may never aspire to push ourselves to the same limits that Saunders has tested his own abilities, I hope these talks will inspire you (as they have me), to challenge yourself to do, and be more than you ever thought you could possibly be.

Ben Saunders is an explorer of limits, whether it's how far a human can be pushed physically and psychologically, or how technology works hundreds of miles from civilization, his message is one of inspiration, empowerment and boundless potential.
“Humbly framed as the ambitious undertakings of an ardent athlete, [Ben's treks offer] visceral first-hand accounts of just how much things are changing in the Arctic -- the 'barometer of global climate change.'” —

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