Back in 1897 when Henry James published his novel What Maisie Knew shared parenting was a hot topic, at least in New York. Today it may be a commonplace, but the impact it has on so many lives makes this new film from directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel as contemporary as its modern setting.
The convoluted prose of the original has been replaced by clear modern dialogue and expressive acting to show just what happened when Julianne Moore’s fading rock singer Susanna and Steve Coogan’s inconstant art dealer Beale split up.
Caught up in a sequence of almost inevitable cause and effect are Maisie’s nanny Margo, played by Joanna Vanderham, and Alexander Skarsgård’s hapless Lincoln, Susanna’s new toy boy.
What is so fascinating about this drama is that the four principals act only according to their natures, nobody seems to stop to think about what they ought to do, the path of least resistance is always the one taken. Only Maisie, delightfully portrayed by Onata Aprile, is concerned about consequences, but there is little she can do to help.
Julianne Moore’s Susanna is the stand-out performance, utterly convincing as a talented musician, still vigorous if a bit frayed around the edges, keen to keep touring. The faded tattoos are a nice piece of observation. Lighting and low camera angles add to the impression of someone larger than life and not really on the same planet as anyone else. I can’t help feeling that the directors had a soft spot for her, when it would have been so easy to caricature her as egocentric and uncaring. Susanna means well, but is just not cut out for child rearing.
Beale is a slippery and plausible chameleon, with his eye on the main chance. Steve Coogan convinces in the role, ever optimistic, bluffing and smarming his way through life, careless or ignorant of the damage he leaves behind. It is curious how often Hollywood likes to make unsavoury characters English.
Joanna Vanderham uses her native Scots accent for cheerful, trusting, unsophisticated Margo. She is everything that Susanna is not, and very attached to Maisie. Lincoln is likewise quite unlike Beale, he distrusts ambition, and puts no value on wealth. He works in bar and seems to be a musician. Although Swedish by birth, Alexander Skarsgård has perfected his American accent and fits in perfectly here as a young man caught up in a whirlwind, and keeping his head.
The story is rather like a pinball machine, with Maisie the ball. Eventually things work out, everyone finds some kind of release as the conflicts fade, and Maisie, we hope, will grow up in happiness.

Geoffrey Rush adds another triumph to his list with a spell-binding performance as international art dealer Virgil Oldman in The Best Offer, a film about art and life, the true and the fake.
After a lifetime of buying and selling, Virgil Oldman has amassed, by underhand means and the assistance of Billy Whistler, played by Donald Sutherland with a big white beard, a huge collection of portraits of beautiful women. Such is Oldman’s love of beauty that he cannot bring himself touch it, wearing gloves most of the day, and remaining, at the age of around sixty, a virgin.
A potential client’s agent contacts Oldman’s company, insisting on dealing with him personally. The client is a woman who is reluctant to be seen, and keeps missing appointments. Oldman is at first irritated and then intrigued, and after he finds some antique clockwork that may be exceptionally rare, he becomes obsessed. Eventually he discovers her name, Claire, and gains her confidence.
Oldman is sailing in what are, for him, uncharted waters. The rest of the film is like the missing chart slowly being unfolded, giving hints as to what is around him, but it is only at the end that Oldman finally realises where he is.
Sylvia Hoeks, coming from a solid career in the Netherlands, is bewitching as Claire, and Jim Sturgess is perfect as Robert, Oldman’s universal repair man and advisor on matters romantic. Donald Sutherland’s role, Billy Whistler, does not take up much screen time, but he is a vital cog in the mechanism. A number of faces familiar from British TV play small but vital roles, this film has been made with the utmost care by director and writer Giuseppe Tornatore, best known for Cinema Paradiso. That this is not a mere mystery or romance is plainly flagged by the names of some of the characters; Virgil Oldman is a virginal old man, Claire is far from clear, and Billy (William) Whistler is the name of famous painter James McNeill Whistler’s brother. Is Robert a robber? See the film and make your own connections.
Music by Ennio Morricone blends beautifully with the visual, as with the best film music, after the opening credits it does not intrude, but becomes a part of the tapestry.
Critical reception to The Best Offer has been sharply divided. Several prominent critics consider it a failure, but it has won a number of awards, and most reviews range from the favourable to the ecstatic. It is the kind of film that you either relate to strongly, or simply can’t see the point of. If you like films that linger in the mind, you’ll like it. If you prefer cut and dried beginning, middle, end, problem solved dramas, don’t go.

Emma Ayres raised this on her morning ABC show. It’s a good question, but why do we call some music sad when we actually feel it is beautiful? The same effect can be found in art, how many of the most beautiful paintings are sad? Are we loading “sad” with too much meaning? Sad we can connect with, find beauty in, but when it gets to sorrow, and then anguish we are not there.

If you want to get from Oxford to the Uffington White Horse, don’t ask Bing, it will tell you it can’t find a road route. This is beacuse it thinks the White Horse is in Mexico, even though it admits the address is in Wiltshire.

Silly Bing!

Bing thinks that the Uffington White Horse in Wiltshire is at B, in Mexico, whereas it is a short drive from Eynsham, A, in Oxforshire.

Making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

My wife, inspired by childhood memories of seeing Liberace on the TV, insisted on our seeing this film. I wasn’t keen, I knew very little about Liberace, my lingering impression being of a kind of Benny Hill without the gags, an Edna Everage without the wit. Plus a bit of ivory tinkling.

The cinema was quite full, entirely of hetero couples like ourselves old enough to remember Liberace, or at least to recall his fame. I suspect that most of them were there out of nostalgia for long ago television shows and were hoping for more detail about Liberace’s music and career, and less about his private life. I don’t think anyone walked out, though my wife says she nearly did in the early part, when most of the sex happens.

I must commend the scriptwriter for drawing a coherent and mostly engaging story out of lives that were lived from moment to moment with little consideration for the future, dramatic adaptations or otherwise. Like many successful artists, Liberace seems to have lived mainly for his art, if you will pardon the expression, sex, and conspicuous consumption.

This is not promising material, and if it were not for the Scott Thorson story element the film would have been little more than a documentary. As it is, much use is made of anecdotal events to pad out the rather thin drama. Watching these short grabs from Liberace’s professional career, and the recreations of his performances, one has glimpses of the other film, the one that the audience came for. It might have made for a more interesting film, but it would not have been the creative imagining of Liberace’s world that director Steven Soderbergh has given us.

Michael Douglas brings depth to a character who tended to appear two dimensional in the actual filmed performances that I have seen. It is a performance to be proud of, and deserving of an Oscar. Matt Damon is impressively convincing as Scott Thorson, a young man utterly swept away in a tide of glitz, away from the life he had hoped for as a veterinarian. These two actors do manage to let us care what happens to their characters, when it would have been so easy to slide into cliché. Or perhaps I should say even further into cliché, as Liberace comes across as something of a parody of himself, and his glamorous lifestyle as essentially derivative and unoriginal.

The direction is good, unostentatious craftsmanship, the atmosphere becomes increasingly claustrophobic as the tensions rise, and the wonky plot lines are neatly traversed. To me the end feels tacked on, but I don’t think there was much option if the story was to remain within bow-shot of fact.

The constant close-ups of men you wouldn’t buy a used car from gets a bit wearing, especially in the latter half, but this, I presume, is what Mr Soderbergh intended. As the film drew on I began to thirst for a female face, and towards the end when some girl dancers appeared, out of focus, behind Liberace, I drank them in like a camel after a week in the desert.

The net impression this film makes is of lives and talents squandered. The audiences in the recreated nightclub performances are next to invisible, and only now and then audible. Liberace was, maybe, his own audience.

Not a film I would have chosen to see, but not time entirely wasted.

There has been a lot of fuss lately about government agencies in various countries tracking our every move online. While I have nothing much to hide, I don’t like it on principle, so I followed up a link on a post and found the Startpage search engine. Basically this routes your Google enquiries through a proxy. There’s more to it than that but from a user’s point of view it’s just like using Google but the spooks won’t know about it. Take a look.

Geodynamics Innamincka 1 MW Pilot Plant at Sunrise
Geodynamics has now commissioned its long awaited 1 megawatt Habanero pilot plant near Innamincka in South Australia.

Australia is fortunate in sitting on top of several vast masses of hot granite, enough to supply base load electricity for the foreseeable future.

I have been following the progress of this project for several years, it has not been an easy ride for them, but the successful commissioning of the pilot plant, and the recent Clean Energy Council (CEC) Innovation Award are pointers to the future.

Geodynamics is one of a number of companies pioneering geothermal energy, at home and in the Asian region, and is probably the furthest advanced at this stage.

Read up on it at the Geodynamics website or go straight to the Habanero video, which also serves as an excellent primer on geothermal power.

Mildred-2-web

A memory of Aunt Mildred, by Sue Goss

Mildred Berry was born in Hastings, England, two months before the Titanic went down. The large Berry family emigrated to Perth, Australia, when she was 20 and she spent several years as a family companion on a vast cattle station in the Kimberley – great adventurer! The station was (and still is) owned by the family of billionaire Andrew Forrest and the chaplain on the station was none other than the one who escaped from the Titanic!

Mildred was a radio operator in the WAAAF during World War Two and returned to England in the fifties as a seamstress to the Dashwood family at the stately home of West Wycombe Park which she adored, as she was not treated as a ‘servant’ but as part of the family. So she sat at table with the family (Sir John Dashwood, Bt, at the time) unless they were entertaining extremely important guests.

She adored the royal family and followed closely every royal wedding and birth but her heart was mainly with King George VI. She and her friend Deb happened to be in London on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and found a place to stand along the route. They had to stand in the rain with newspapers over their heads as no umbrellas were allowed so that everyone had a view. Giving her a calendar with English cottages or a bunch of roses was a pretty safe bet.

Back in Australia, Mildred became the third-time-lucky wife to Sidney (Jim) Bertram Wills Cooke, the tetchy father of six children from the age of 8 to 30 or so. She had no children of her own but loved his large family and cared for them all, taking a real interest in everything they did. I was one of them and she became a second mother to me, a different view of the world. I knew her for 54 years and for the first 50 years (until her sight began to fail) she was the most cheerful and positive person I have ever known. I never heard her say a negative word about anyone, and she never seemed to judge people. She was incapable of feeling depressed and she gave my father 30 years of idyllic happiness after too many years of morose survival. What a sunny and giving person! Her only complaints were the new push-button world of computers and i-pods. But she grew to understand the value of seeing our boy’s photos from England on Catherine’s laptop computer. She particularly loved the stories of what our boys were doing in England and positively rejoiced in our family re-union in Oxford after five years apart.

Mildred died at the age of 101. A few days before she went she remembered what a ‘funny little thing’ I was when she first met me at 11 and how she used to buy me dresses because I didn’t have any. That was many years ago. Yes – we were lucky to have her. A brave and inspiring lady.

Already a wonderful song, this a cappella version adds a bit of extra magic to the Leaving on a Mayday album track.

I was dozing through Classic Breakfast on ABC FM the other week when an extraordinary version of Purcell’s Dido’s Lament seeped into my brain. It was the “love it or leave it” segment of the program, mostly I can leave them, but this I love. Solo voice and double bass? Try it:

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