Saturday, 29 June 2013

Book Reviews - Just In Time To Be Too Late

I haven't added to my book reviews for a while so I thought it was time to catch up with them. I have been reading mostly non-fiction recently, I have tried a few fiction books lately that have been non-starters for me. I wouldn't say they have been duds but they have failed to hold my interest through to the end and I have had more than my fair share of 'did not finish' books lately.

The books I have finished have been worth the effort although a departure from my normal reading material. I will be posting reviews for the latest batch and as usual they won't contain spoilers or discuss themes, you are all smart people and can analyse books all you like if you choose but I'm not going to write an English essay on each book - I don't want to write an essay and I'm sure you don't want to read one.

Just In Time To Be Too Late - Why Men Are Like Buses by Peta Mathias 

This is a small book, perfect handbag size which is great as this is not the sort of book I would read for hours at a stretch but am more likely to dip in and out of so it's ideal for reading when you have a half hour wait somewhere or in your lunch hour.

Peta Mathias may not be a familiar figure outside New Zealand but here she is well known for her cooking programmes, bright red hair and her love of travel and gastronomy. This book is all about men - a follow up to her book about women 'We Can't Help It If We Are Fabulous' which I hope to read in the next few weeks when a friend has finished with it. 'Just In Time To Be Too Late' is part memoir, part advice and several interviews with male friends (not your typical 'kiwi blokes' however) along with a mattering of science (not too much thankfully as while I found these snippets interesting too much science has a tendency to put me too sleep). I am not normally a fan of memoirs and interviews - I prefer stories that are made up but I did enjoy this book. The mix was just right - not too many trips down memory lane to make my life sound embarrassingly mundane but enough to understand that Peta has created an interesting life and surrounded herself with some unusual characters.

If you are looking for a light read that will entertain you when you aren't in the mood for a heavy novel I recommend you give this book a try - you may even learn something about men and what goes on behind the glazed look in their eyes when you are trying to tell them something fascinating.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Movie Night: Life of Pi and Django Unchained

Our movie nights are not at the cinema but at home and involve the whole family and usually 5 or 6 films (these are movie marathons and often continue the next day). Of course that means we don't get to see newly released films but have to wait until they come out on DVD and are often the last people to see recent releases but we can live with that. We don't go to the movies very often (the last one was The Hobbit) for several reasons -

1, cost - for all 5 of us to go to the movies and get popcorn and drinks we have to spend around $100, that just doesn't add up for a couple of hours entertainment.

2, we are big fans of films and food, preferably together and the theatre managers aren't too keen on patrons bringing their dinner in with them.

3, along with films and food we also like plenty of fizzy drinks and the cinemas don't pause the film for toilet breaks.

4, while we all tend to go for similar film genres (horror, gore, action, comedy) as a family we make sure there is something for everyone in our selections, finding one film at the pictures that suits all ages and tastes is rare.

5, we make a family event out of visiting the DVD store, deciding the viewing order, organising the snacks, arranging cushions and blankets and the seating plan (dad always gets his favourite spot) thereby providing hours of family fun, especially useful during long winter weekends.

6, we don't have to put up with the noise and mess of strangers - quite frankly we make quite enough on our own and don't need any more of either.

7, when the going rough, tough and inappropriate we have the option to stop the movie and put the offenders to bed.

8, when the more mature audience can't keep awake any longer we can head for bed and pick up where we left off the next day.

9, just the hint of a movie night works magic by increasing the obedience in children for several hours preceding the festivities.

10, you can stretch out on the couch and cuddle the cat while watching.

Our most recent movie night involved only four of us as the youngest was away for the night which was the perfect opportunity to watch a couple of movies that we had been itching to see but were too long and unsuitable for the little one (we don't mean inappropriate with regards content as pretty much anything goes in our house but inappropriate meaning the little one would get bored and start annoying everyone else then have to be put to bed early making it not much fun for anyone). There were only two movies as they were both longer than most films and it wasn't an official family movie night. If you have seen The Life of Pi and/or Django Unchained feel free to skip the opinions below but if you haven't then the following should let you know if you are keen to give them a go. I promise no spoilers and no detailed plot synopsis - I hate it when you read a review and feel like you have already seen the film so I won't do it to you.


The Life of Pi

Remember when this film was released at the cinemas? The hype was huge which always feels like setting yourself up for disappointment when you finally get to see it. I had no real idea what the film was about prior to watching it (I had been told but had to ditch the memory to make room for more pressing bits of information such as shopping lists and school events) so I had no preconceived notions before watching the film and was prepared to be either blown away by it's brilliance or bewildered that the film had generated so much hype - it could have gone either way.

The very brief plotline is an Indian family are travelling by ship with the remaining animals from their zoo when the ship goes down with a handful of survivors and results in an unusual tale of a fight for survival across the Pacific Ocean.

We all really enjoyed this film told in flashback style with a very small number of characters which is a bonus for some of our family members who get a little lost with a large cast. The film was long (120 minutes) but not unnecessarily so as the length was needed to tell the story and no one got restless.

If you haven't yet seen the film and want something different from the usual sex and violence (why that would be I can't think but sometimes a change is good for the soul) then this is a goodie, highly recommended.

Django Unchained

Praise be to the God of film making Quentin Tarantino - he has yet again created a cinematic masterpiece. An even longer film (180 minutes) about a challenging subject - slavery in America but the story goes far beyond that. At the heart of this film is a love story ( I'm not a fan of love stories, the cynic in me finds them on the whole completely unbelievable and trite, sad but true) which somehow manages to portray the deep love and commitment of a marriage with the two romantic leads in only a few scenes together which is an amazing feat. There is a lot more going on of course but I promised no spoilers and I will leave the plot description there so as to leave it for you to uncover the whole story if you decide to watch it.

What I can't leave out however is the awesome acting. Leonardo DiCaprio is as usual immaculate and still unbelievably attractive whilst playing a hideous character (when is this man not fantastic?). Jamie Foxx was new to me but I am now a lifelong fan, love him, love him, love him! Not everyone can pull off one of his costumes and still look ubercool. Likewise Christoph Waltz who I haven't seen before, sublime performance, hopefully we will see more of him but I can't imagine how he will top playing this dream role which won him an Oscar. Samuel L Jackson has long been a favourite of mine (isn't he everyone's?) and in Django he is alternately screamingly funny (literally we screamed with laughter) and intensely vile, amazing work yet again.

Django was a delight to watch although there were some scenes which were hard to take but that is the nature of the subject matter. I have never laughed so hard at the KKK, if you are going to take the piss out of a group of people then at least make it entirely guilt free and laugh away - it is a glorious episode of the film and well worth watching for that alone.

I could go on and on about the gems in Django but really you need to see it for yourself if you haven't already. This one is in my top 10 films of all time, just thinking about it makes me want to see it again. If you do decide to give it a whirl don't get all uptight about historical detail, as they say in the special features 'never let authenticity get in the way of a good story' - amen to that! 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Old School vs New School

I don't usually discuss my children's coming and goings in public - they aren't that keen and you very quickly become a 'child bore' but as this incident effected all of us (except the other 2 kids of course - it was barely noticed in their busy lives) I think I can safely write about this from my perspective and call it 'a parenting experience', also it makes the lad look pretty cool and he is all for spreading the news of  his awesomeness by whatever means available.

It had been a funny week, short work weeks always throw me out and not only can I never remember what day it is, I feel like I have lived them all more than once. So while suffering 'Public Holiday Disorientation' I received a phone call from the school's deputy head advising my boy had a cut knee and probably shouldn't bike home, no biggie. After school we asked the boy what had happened to his knee and the following is the situation as we understand it and two different ways in which to deal with it - one is how my old school would have handled it when I was at primary and the other is how todays school dealt with it.

The Situation

Lunchtime at school, the class are outside munching away when Boy A decides to undo the blade from someone else's pencil sharpener and remove the blade. In the interests of science he wants to know 1, Does the blade cut? - yes, it does,  2, Do the cuts hurt? -yes, just a little bit and 3, Do the cuts bleed? - again yes, but not a lot as several cuts on his arm testify. He then decides to take the  experiment one step further - Does the blade have the same result on skin other than his own? - the answer is again yes, yes indeed it does as Boy B's leg is most certainly cut and bleeding a little although Boy A can't be sure of the pain level as Boy B is staunch. That's what happens when you are 10, bored and being a douche (new school) or a dork (old school). Boy B decides a plaster is in order and walks into the classroom looking for one but he can't find any so heads back out to finish his lunch. It is at this point the adults see the blood and get involved.

Old School Resolution.

As this never happened at my school that I was aware of (something this minor wouldn't even have blipped on my radar) I am making this up or in grown up speak 'giving my best guess scenario'.

Teacher sees Boy B and asks what he thinks he is doing inside at lunchtime (ie interrupting his quiet time). Boy B explains Boy A cut him and he now requires a plaster. Teacher advises Boy B to go to the office and get one then goes to see Boy A to get the lowdown (very old school). When the teacher sees the little blade he removes it from Boy A, calls him an idiot and returns to the classroom to continue eating his own lunch in peace. End of story, nothing to see here folks.

New School Resolution.

Boys A & B are sent to the deputy head to explain what has happened - easy really, Boy A cut Boy B because he had disengaged his brain as it was lunch time and the experiment had seemed like a good idea at the time. Then both sets of parents are notified and it gets really new school.

I can't be sure about Boy A's parents but Boy B's mother received the news via mobile phone on a busy street, in the rain with a woolly hat on making the receiving of quality information impossible, all she knew was her boy had a cut that may or may not need medical treatment and he wasn't in trouble - that's a relief then - the news can be so much worse when the deputy head phones. There was also the request for 'input about how to proceed with boy A' which sounded like a potential minefield so mother B defers the decision until 'both parents of Boy B can have a discussion'. The parents of  Boy B never really have that discussion however. Father B dresses the wound as he is good at that and mother B aims a few relevant questions at Boy B to get more background on the incident as she is good at that. Parents' B then put the children to bed and watch the final of Masterchef as they are equally talented at watching cooking shows. All good there.

The next morning Boy B does is civic duty on road patrol before school while mother B pops into the classroom to ask the teacher to excuse Boy B from P.E until his cut has healed and is greeted by the class teacher and the deputy head who clear the classroom of pupils leaving mother B feeling - 1, like she is infectious and 2, totally unprepared for any kind of official school business as parents B had failed to come to any conclusion the previous night other than agreeing that this years Masterchef title went to a worthy winner. Mother B has to wing it, luckily she has a small talent for this as she is often unprepared and it is often due to her larger talent for watching cooking shows on TV. She begins by stating that Boy A's parents are lovely people (this is not made up, they really are lovely people and the truth is always a good place to start when winging it) and they are sure to impose a penalty on their boy so 'lets not punish him twice', or something like that anyway. Thinking that was the end of it mother B prepares to leave but is then asked if she consents to meeting with the parents of Boy A which was a total curveball but mother B gamely agrees so she can set their minds at rest that Boy B was still attached to his leg and is such a tough cookie he was, as they spoke, bravely protecting the innocent at the school crossing (Boy B is old school tough) while she kept an eye on the time so as not to be late for work.

Mother B received a major shock when family B arrived into the office for a private meeting, they had clearly not been watching Masterchef the night before but had instead been up all night emotionally wringing themselves out over the situation - their child had self harmed and cut another child which does sound bad when you say it like that but family B saw it more as a kind of normal thing for kids to mess about with pencil sharpeners, compasses and the like - stationery can provide hours of schoolroom entertainment when the maths gets just too hard as plenty of my old school generation will attest to.

With family A obviously giving the situation far more thought then family B mother B was a little panicked and unsteadied from her previous position - had family B under reacted and publically  exposed their slack parental care? Mother B proceeded with a couple of badly aimed light hearted comments which, considering the audience were never going to fly but it did buy her some time to think and wonder if she ought to ask for a suspension or something - what is new school discipline anyway? It was obvious Boy A showed genuine remorse and the parents were living in fear of their son being forever known as 'The Schoolyard Slasher' and mother B insisting that he should be used as the class dartboard so all the kids could join in the fun with a game of 'divider darts' (remember dividers? Two holes for the effort of one, brilliant). The emotionally charged room put mother B off her stride a little but alls well that ends well with an agreement to 'learn the lesson and move on' which brought on sighs of relief all round - school, family A and mother B who was in danger of missing her bus.

Boy B is now almost completely healed and managed to 1, Collect another scar to show off (he didn't even have to make any effort to get this one - it shouldn't really count), 2, Has proved once and for all that he is the toughest kid in class (possibly the school - we will have to wait until the end of the year to see if anyone overtakes him for the title of  'toughest cookie') 3, Proved himself to be the most clear headed and mature of all the characters in the story and all whilst heading further up the awesomeness scale - he is pure gold that kid.

As for Boy A -  his parents had a lot more 'family discussions' in store for him and that seems punishment enough. He did write two letters of apology - one to Boy B and one to parents B who read it together and were very pleased to hear that Boy A 'never intended to hurt Boy B that badly', hhhmmmm.