Friday, 20 April 2018

"Chicago" A new novel by David Mamet (2018)

I nearly gave up - the first 40 odd pages are interminable Mamet-babble. However, verbal virtuosity becomes more meaty story-telling by Chapter 5. Chicago in the mid 1920's - the bustling newsroom of the Chicago Tribune, florists, funerals, gun-running, speakeasies, bordellos and nightclubs - is evocatively captured. Mamet co-wrote the screenplay for De Palma's "The Untouchables".

Mike Hodge is the guilt-ridden, Great War-obsessed central character; Parlow, the cynical friend and fellow-reporter. Peekaboo is the wise madam and confidante to Mike. There is a fascinating account of aviator Bessie Colman. Colourful minor characters - con artists, burglars, police officers - give the story more substance.
About two-thirds in, it loses pace again.
If you are expecting mob violence and gangland machinations a la "Boardwalk Empire", you will be sorely disappointed. Much like the New York reporter's long-winded anecdote about adultery and a hunting rifle - the resolution, when it finally comes, is a bit of a fizzer.
Though interesting, I was perplexed by the insertion of a lengthy anecdote concerning Darrow and the Leopold & Loeb court case in the final chapter.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

"A Game of Ghosts" John Connolly (2017) Charlie Parker #15

Even though "A Game of Ghosts" is the fifteenth Charlie Parker novel, Connolly's thriller is as compelling and intriguing as ever. It even surpasses his last, "A Time of Torment".
Who knew Family Guy's Providence, R.I. was a hotbed of secrets and corruption? So many fascinating characters; both old (the Collector and Eldritch, his ailing father; loquacious lawyer Moxie Castin; Charlie's daughter Sam - possessing untapped powers, communing with her half sister, Jennifer -  and of course, Angel & Louis) and new (the grotesque Mother and her insane son Philip; the Brethren, another arcane religious community - supported by the "Baptist" Bruckers; likeable nosy neighbour David Ferrier; psychic and discount furniture king Tobey Thayer). Thayer talks about exploring "...a crawl space between worlds."
Connolly's rich, atmospheric prose is sprinkled with punchy banter like:
" 'Vincent Garronne is dead.' said Mother.
'Ah,' said Louis. 'Was it sudden?'
'It was when he hit the ground,' said Philip."

I enjoyed Charlie's theory about why he preferred McCarthy over Lennon.

Saying this book is about just a ghost story is like saying "The Godfather" is just about Italian immigrants.
Parker talks about "darkness, and the creatures that move(d) through the honeycomb world."
In this world, Charlie's dead daughter, Jennifer sits on a rock " the departed flow past, an endless river of souls flowing into the waiting sea."
I get the feeling that the next book will deal more with Sam's powers. Are Charlie Parker's cases drawing to a close?  If so, he's going out on a high.
So much to savour in this book.

 As a side note, midway in the book Connolly talks about Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. This links with disgraced FBI agent John (Joseph) Connolly (Jr).

Thursday, 12 April 2018

"The Terror" AMC Episode 10, final episode - series review

The North West Passage

This ambitious undertaking is definitely worth nearly 10 hours of your time. A slow burn in parts, the production was more BBC than AMC.
More a historical drama and a tale of conflicting (and conflicted) characters facing unbearable hardship than a horror epic. One critic has said it's "Alien" in the Arctic - referring to Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi. (Scott was one of the executive producers, along with Dan Simmons, author of the 2007 novel).
While there are some genuinely horrific scenes - the diver's visions while inspecting the hull in Episode 1, the creature's attack on Blanky in Episode 5, Hickey's cannibalism, the frozen heads on the ice, the Tuunbaq's final confrontation in Episode 10 - it's the setting (computer generated or not) and the quality of the acting that makes you stick with this mini-series.
Jared Harris (so good as King George VI in "The Crown") is riveting as Crozier, Captain of "The Terror". Richard Harris is his dad, by the way.
The bleak rocky expanse was actually Pag (an island in Croatia).
The final mystical scene, with Crozier's heroic pose on the ice, was a totally satisfying way concluding the series.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

"Plebs" Season 4 Vale Stylax

A block of marble, a dopey builder and Stylax is written out of Season 4.
After Joel Fry's appearances in "Game of Thrones" and BBC/Netflix's "Requiem", he has bigger fish to ... fry...I'll move on.
It was a bit sad seeing only 2 plebs romping around the pillars in the opening credits.

Stylax's replacement, Jason (Jonathan Pointing) looks straight out of TOWIE, a bit colourless in the opening episode, but he might grow on me.
Aurelius/Water boy... er man (co-writer Tom Basden) is going to have more to do in this season.
Robert Lindsay has fun as a dodgy property developer (Cassius) with a soft spot for his pet turtle.

Opening a new pub in a former "latrina" should ensure more potty humour.
In coming episodes, looking forward to seeing the versatile Aisling Bea (Mineva) and the return of Maureen Lipman (Landlady). Anybody remember ITV's wonderful "Agony" (1979-1981)?

Thursday, 8 March 2018

From the Video Vault: "Master of the World" (1961)

Lowly studio American International Pictures produced this campy steampunk delight. Seven years after Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea", this is Captain Nemo in the air. The film adapts two novels by Jules Verne, "Robur the Conqueror" and "Master of the World". Vincent Price is perfect as Robur, captain, world idealist and creator of the "Albatross", part zeppelin - part helicopter, zipping around the world at 150 mph with his message of peace, well sort of. Robur's airship is decorated a la Nemo (albeit on a smaller budget). I love the coffin-shaped cabin doors, though.

Hayao Mijazaki must have been influenced by Verne's vision (the airship in "Laputa Castle in the Sky").
"Master of the World" Courtesy YouTube

Courtesy Studio Ghibli

Charles Bronson is the unlikely hero of the piece. Vito Scotti, the unnecessary comic-relief as the chef on the "Albatross". Veteran actor, Henry Hull ("Werewolves of London", "Lifeboat"), plays Prudent, an annoying old fart. Screenplay is by horror/sci fi supremo, Richard Matheson.

You can see the film's limited budget by the use of stock footage. This was AIP's most expensive production to date, though. Considering it was around one-tenth of the budget of Disney's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea", Critic Leonard Maltin described the film as "very well done".

Vincent Price was to continue with AIP in Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe-inspired horror flicks in the 1960's. He'd already hit pay dirt with "The House of Usher".

Random observations:

  • Early scene with doings in the volcano reminded me of vintage Bond "You Only Live Twice"(1967).
  • Daniel Haller's art direction - vivid colours used with ship interiors - see later Roger Corman 60's horror.
  • Sumptuous Les Baxter musical score, punching above his weight. Another AIP regular.
  • What's the go with the bare-chested bosuns while everybody else is dressed like a gondolier or in a three-piece suit?
  • The ending is surprisingly poignant.
Catch "Master of the World" on YouTube, although it is missing at least 5 mins of original theatrical running time.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Booking Russian trains - avoid the middle man - go direct with Russian Railways (RZD), price comparison

If you google "Russian Trains" you are going to get a third party company, It is a slick, user-friendly website but you will be royally ripped-off. You will also be paying more than double the price. They even add "Taxes" to the ticket price. The only advantage is you can book for longer than 60 days in advance.

Book directly with the official website for the state-owned Russian Railways (RZD):

  • It accepts different web browsers.
  • Click Registration to make an account (easy to do). Your future bookings will be stored under "My Orders" if you lose the printed tickets.
  • When you get to the passenger info section, click "Foreign Document" not "International Passport" before you put your passport number.
  • You can choose seats, forward pacing seats, proximity to toilets/luggage storage/power plugs/dining.
  • When you get to Pay section, choose left hand option NOT right hand (yellow Yandex option). Left button takes you to credit card payment. Pay with Visa/MasterCard (it didn't like my AMEX because it had a 4 digit CVV).
  • Once payment is successful, you get PDF tickets to print out to take to the station. 
Main page RZD - Passengers

"Allegro" high speed train St-Petersberg to Helsinki
Once you have chosen date and time of day, the page drops down for car and seat selection.


For the same journey time, same class, same seats, same train, high speed "Sapsan"
Moscow - St Petersberg:
Russiantrains - 4722 ruble  ($AUD107, $US83)
Russian Railways - 2000 ruble  ($AUD45, $US35)

St Petersberg - Helsinki "Allegro":
Russiantrains - 11901 rubles ($AUD269, $US208, 169 euros)
Russian Railways - 5488 rubles ($AUD124, $US96, 78 euros)

Ticket prices vary greatly according to seasons. Travelling on the weekend we booked St Petersberg - Helsinki for 2034 rubles (29 euros).
It is the same price if you book online with Finnish Railways ( but no seat selection is possible.

Background: My wife and I are retired. This will be our first trip to Russia. We are English speaking and hardly computer-savvy.

Another useful website for Russian newbies: (also invaluable for Australians and New Zealanders applying for a Russian visa).

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Britrail Passes are a rip-off. Save $100's by booking online direct

My wife and I were going to buy Britrail passes from a third-party (the only way non-UK citizens can buy them). A flexible 8 day pass (Senior, Standard Class) was going to be $539 AUD each.
We had our itinerary worked out, so we decided to try booking individual journeys online.
NationalRail website
Choose your time and fare

  • Go to  
  • You can book up to 12 weeks in advance.
  • You can get an overview of the cheapest tickets possible. 
  • After you select the cheapest, you will be redirected to the local rail company's booking website (e.g. Virgin Trains, CrossCountry Trains)
  • Prices can be as low as 5 pounds (e.g. Inverness to Edinburgh). Sometimes First Class is the same price.
  • When you choose your journey, you can select seats as well. You are emailed a booking reference number with your itinerary. You simply take this number, as well as the credit card you used to pay for the trip to a ticket machine at the station. 
Tallying up the 9 journeys around England and Scotland, we saved over $400 by booking directly. 
The train guru website: has a similar topic.
Plan ahead and save heaps. Avoid Travel Agents.

Another tip. Accommodation on a Saturday night can be ridiculously expensive. Either travel on a night sleeper or check out B&B's for a fraction of the price.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

White Night, Melbourne 2018

More consistent than previous years. No 'dead areas'. More performers. Excellent crowd control. 
Tip to avoid the crowds and the queuing: 
Arrive in the early hours of the morning. Trains and trams run all night. 
We arrived at 3:40 a.m. (from Parliament Station - closest to Exhibition Building) then headed south on Swanston Street, finishing at N.G.V. and Alexandra Gardens, leaving on 7:00 a.m. train from Flinders Street.
Town Hall, with opera performance from balcony

National Gallery of Victoria

"The Secret Life of Books" projections inside Reading Room, State Library

Retro projections, Forum Theatre

State Library