Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review: Rage by Richard Bachman. 4/5

It's a fact of life in the modern world, in the years since Stephen King first penned this tome, and in the years since he first published it under his pseudonym of Richard Bachman, and finally before it sold a hundred times more copies once it was revealed that King had in fact written it, that shootings in schools have been an all too familiar story that spreads across our TV screens. They are a terrible indictment on our world and the people who perpetrate them, often leaving you with the feeling that 'why didn't they just shoot themselves and be done with it'? It is in this day and age that I once again revisited a story that I have always enjoyed reading, one that I have never really understood the final stanza of, and an age where this is no longer in print anywhere in the world.

When I first read this more than 25 years ago, it was as a teenager who knew of terrible acts that occurred around the world, but rarely gave them more than a seconds thought. Not because I didn't care, but because they didn't affect me directly, and in my young years those were the only things that really mattered. Those things change with time, with marriage, with family. It gives you a different perspective on most things in life, and this includes books and stories.

I've always enjoyed this book because the main protagonist, Charlie Decker, does not come across as a hero. He doesn't make excuses for where he is, and the predicament he gets himself and his classmates into. He is aware that he must have issues, mental problems, whether it be hereditary or by social comment or by environment. Despite this, he is still shown to be intelligent, and for the most part in control of his own actions. His conversational battles with the school principal, Mr Denver, the school shrink Mr Grace, and with the Police Chief Philbrick allows the reader to see that, and where he ends up at the conclusion of the story may only be of a consequence of the final actions of his classmates than anything that has gone on before this.

There are three sections to the story. The first is the lead up to Charlie taking control of the classroom, the middle is the back and forth within the classroom of Charlie and his elders and Charlie and his classmates, and the final section is the end game in the classroom and the aftermath of that.

It could make a study in itself this story, and as I've mentioned I've never really understood the way that the characters in the classroom fall into what they say and do within the short time frame that is available to them. I know it is all fictional, and the plot and characters are made to do what helps the story advance and reach its climax, but whenever I have read it in later years I have tried to imagine it being a real case scenario and how that could happen - how those characters could bloom so much that not only do they participate in Ted Jones' demise, but then in many cases carry that on into their lives following this, as is intimated in the letter from Joe to Charlie in his ward. And Ted himself - was he/could he be so messed up before this happened that he goes completely catatonic? It seems unlikely... surely... but King is so good at his craft, perhaps... just perhaps he has it right on the nose. Of course, in my younger carefree days I just read the story, loved it for what it was, and always enjoyed it for what it was - a story to be read and enjoyed, not torn apart and analysed at every turning point within the plot.

Suffice it to say, I still enjoy this story, but with a touch of reticence that my advancing years must ply into the storyline and its consequences. Of course, neither Richard Bachman nor Stephen King has encouraged anyone to go out and kill people in the way that happens during this book. The fact that King came up with it while in a class all those years ago is just the way ideas creep up on you. The sad part of it is that when killings similar to these occur, people will blame literature for encouraging those incidents occurring - so much so that King has now allowed this to lapse out of print. It's a sad state of affairs, especially when books like the Bible and the Koran have been an indirect cause for thousands more deaths than Rage has been, and yet only one can now not be bought in book stores around the world.

Rating:  A one room play that encourages open forums.  4/5

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Vale: Gene Wilder

In a year where, it appears, that so many talented and influential people have passed on, Gene Wilder's death this morning is no less significant.
Anyone who grew up in the 1970's and 1980's will have seen his movies, ones where he was the lead role, and others where he just stole the show.

He was nominated for an Academy Award for his first starring role in Mel Brooks' film "The Producers", and also starred in two other Brooks productions, as Dr Frankenstein in "Young Frankenstein" which he also co-wrote, and as the brilliant Waco Kid in the equally brilliant "Blazing Saddles". He appeared alongside Richard Pryor in the wonderful comedy romps of "Silver Streak", the excellent "Stir Crazy" and the farcical "See No Evil, Hear No Evil".

But Gene Wilder will forever be Willy Wonka. No one could ever read Roald Dahl's book, no one could ever imagine the character of Willy Wonka, without seeing Gene Wilder in that role. He made it his own, and in an ensemble cast where the story revolves around the children and their parents and the lessons that Dahl tries in invoke in his story, it is Gene Wilder that stands head and shoulders above it all with his wonderful, funny, endearing, brilliant performance. He was terrific in those other films listed above, but this was his masterpiece. "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" remains as one of my top ten films of all time, and I still wait for him to walk out of his door and limp down that path with anticipation.

He may have been a recluse in recent years, but anyone who has read his memoir "Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art", will understand why.

Vale Gene Wilder, thanks for the memories.

"Come with me, and you'll be, in a world of pure imagination"

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Late Show (ABC) Season 1 - Ep 1

This wonderful person has uploaded every episode of the excellent "The Late Show" series from 1992 and 1993 that was on the ABC. here is the first episode, but the same user has put up the other episodes for your viewing pleasure as well.

Stephen King Book #4: Rage

Book #4.  Rage.  First published September 13, 1977 as Richard Bachman.

Like most people I didn't happen upon the Richard Bachman titles until after it was revealed that it was indeed Stephen King writing under a pseudonym. I still have my copy of The Bachman Books that I purchased in the late 1980's which is when I first read the four novels within (it does not contain Thinner which I bought separately) which is extremely dog-eared and falling apart from being read and re-read over and over.

I wasn't sure, in the confines of this task I have set myself, whether I should be reading the Bachman titles at the time they were originally published within the framework of the King titles, or whether I should have done them at the chronological point of The Bachman Books when those first four Bachman books were parceled together. I finally decided to go with the chronological release date of each book individually, and thus it is Rage I will be reading before I get to the first collection of short stories that was bundled together to form the book Night Shift.

I have always loved Rage, though I have never really been able to decipher to why's and wherefore's and resulting carnage that occurs to its conclusion. No doubt others out there have it all sussed out, but for me what eventually comes to pass with Ted Jones and Charlie Decker seems a tad bit convenient to the plot, rather than what would have occurred in a real situation. But again, isn't that just the authors licence? Yes Bill, it is. Stop trying to read too much into it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Review: The Shining by Stephen King. 3/5

Today, after over twenty years of trying, I actually got through to the end of The Shining. It has been a long and difficult journey. On a number of occasions - and I really couldn't give you an accurate count, but let's settle on half a dozen as a ballpark figure - I have picked up this book from my favourite author, started to read it… and never made it to the conclusion. In fact I had never made it halfway into the second act before.

Why? Why have I had such trouble getting into this book, and such trouble holding interest in it so that I get to the final conclusion? I'm not really sure. And perhaps another question to answer now that I have actually made it is… why did I not enjoy it once I DID finish it?

Part of the problem I guess is that I have always known that Jack Torrance was not going to be around come the final pages, and I guess that was always a difficult thing for me to overcome; that this character was definitely going to meet his demise at the Overlook Hotel, and that it wasn't going to be pretty. Still, that hasn't stopped me getting through other King novels that appeared to have a similar fate awaiting the main character. Having said that, those books are the ones I don't often pick up again

Perhaps it is the case that there are parts of this story that cut too close to the bone. No, I am not an alcoholic, but I can relate far too closely to some of Jack's thoughts when he comes under the influence of the Outlook, such as when Jack feels as though he is being interrogated by his wife Wendy, and his anger begins bubbling to the surface, and it either comes out as annoyance or full blown shouting. King portrays these feelings by Jack too well not to have felt them himself, and I can only agree that at times in my own life I have felt almost the exact same thoughts. The fact that it made this uncomfortable to read, given these came so close to my own truths, certainly added to the difficulty I felt in getting through this novel.

In the long run, this just isn't a very nice story. All of the characters to me are unlikable. I could find very little in any of them to like, even the eternally suffering Danny. The fact that I couldn't invest myself in any of the characters meant that the story itself never really bonded with me. The difference between his first two novels and this one, for me, came down to the fact that those first two books had characters that you could empathise with within a larger cast of players, whereas here I found it difficult to find anything within the major three players that dominate this story. Also, the evil here is ghostly and unseen, lurking within the walls of the Outlook Hotel itself. It didn't work for me. We had already had deaths in the hotel, and the unexplained deaths of the Grady family that had been in the same position as the Torrance family were put here again. Even in a fictional world it seems unlikely. I had trouble getting around that. It just felt like hard work to slog through to discover what indeed was happening throughout. Even the ending felt predictable from the very start of the book, which meant when I got there and found it to be pretty much what I expected to occur, it was the icing on the cake.

Don't get me wrong. It was written well, and certainly the description of each character through the first two parts of the book, where each player was given their chapter to explore their thoughts and memories, made you feel as though you knew each of the main protagonists and how they were the people they were to the point when they reach the Outlook Hotel. It's just that the end game was unsatisfactory, or at least very unsatisfying.

Rating:  Having finally completed this book, I find it hard to believe I will ever pick it up once again.  3/5

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Hansen & Friends "Born Free" Official Music Video

You know, I don't really know why he felt he had to do this. Kai Hansen has been one of my music heroes for the said three decades of the song, but he's already been in Iron Savior as his side project for their first three albums, and he's also done two Unisonic albums with Michael Kiske. Is there a reason he feels as though he needs another side project from Gamma Ray? Is he not getting enough from that? And how do his bandmates feel about it?

Anyway, I will buy the album, because why wouldn't I? I do hope the rest of the material is not quite as cliched as this sounds - given I have only listened to this one time at the time of posting this.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Australian Cricket's Rendition of 'Eyes Wide Shut'

Last week I wrote of the 'catastrophic' Test loss by Australia against Sri Lanka in the 1st Test of the series in Sri Lanka. There was even left open for the possibility that it couldn't get that bad again. What we discovered in the past three days was that I probably used the word 'catastrophic' a little soon, because worse was indeed to come, and it was dreadfully, terribly painful. But only if you were an Australian.

This Test was won and lost in the last moment of Day 1 and the first 70 minutes of Day 2. David Warner's dismissal in the last over of the day was atrocious given the circumstances. Real opening batsmen would have seen out stumps - Cook, Vijay, Amla, Latham. There was nothing gain from continuing to attack in the final overs of the day, and the only thing Sri Lanka needed was his wicket, and he gave it to them. Thoughtless. This then was exacerbated by the ridiculous shots from Khawaja and Smith on Day 2, both playing back and almost giving their wickets away. The rest folded quickly, with Rangana Herath producing a hat-trick through the middle order of Voges, Nevill and Starc. The fact that technology awarded the final wicket of Starc, who was adjudged LBW by the video after the on field umpire had given him the benefit of the doubt after getting in a long stride forward and playing a shot to the ball, seemed to indicate it was not to be Australia's day. Being bowled out for 106, having restricted Sri Lanka to 281, meant the Test was decided in that short period of time on Day 2. Bowling the Sri Lankans out for 237 in their second innings in 60 overs was another terrific achievement by our pace bowlers, until Burns and Khawaja again failed miserably, leaving Australia at 3/25 at stumps on Day 2. It was all over before tea on Day 3, Sri Lanka taking the Test by a massive 229 runs, and sealing only their second series victory over Australia.

Entering into this series so confident of victory, Australia's top order has been made to look a shambles. Have a look at our batsmen floundering against the four pronged spin attack Sri Lanka has thrown at them. They are all lost at sea. Even our best player of spin Steve Smith has been made to look a goose at times. David Warner has decided that the way to go is to get as many runs as possible as quickly as possible before the inevitable boom is lowered. We can safely assume that boom comes at about 40, which is what he scored in both innings of the 2nd Test. The problem is that it doesn't build a lot of confidence in those coming in behind him. Adam Voges reverted to the reverse sweep to combat the bowling. Peter Nevill swept at everything. Mitch Marsh stood tall and drove. Usman Khawaja played everything off the back foot. Joe Burns looked to get forward to everything possible. Each variation of batsmen was quickly cut down by an attack who now believed it was only a matter of time before the next wicket fell, and they were right.

Then take a look at Australia's spinners. Completely one dimensional. No change of flight of speed of delivery. No attempt to change the turn or bounce. Each ball followed the next, much like a robot or ball machine. The occasional beaten bat or false stroke only hardened the view that this was the way to bowl. For a man lauded by his teammates and having taken over 200 Test wickets, Nathan Lyon is again proving to be easy meat on the sub continent. In Australia his method of nagging away on the same line and length for over after over has produced wickets by forcing the batsmen to play poor shots. On Australia's flatbed wickets with predictable turn and bounce it has worked for him. His opponents have shown him how he must bowl for success on these wickets - variety and change, not robotic ball after ball. Jon Holland did his best given the nature of his call up, but again there was no variation. Surely Fawad Ahmed, with his over the wrist leggies, top spinners and wrong 'uns, had to have been the better option to tour. Australia are now stuck with the same two spinners for the final Test.

On the other hand, the seamers were magnificent. Josh Hazelwood seems somewhat maligned, but in conditions that didn't suit him at all, he stuck to his task, made it hard to score, and picked up a wicket in each innings. Mitch Marsh, though not utilised as much, also beat the bat again and did his job of plugging up an end. Mitch Starc produced a Test that may be the one he recalls in later years as his turning point. After his petulant and thoughtless bowling in the 1st Test, here he was at his pinnacle. Fast, threatening, accurate, and punishing. he bowled longer spells than usual because he was the only bowler who looked like getting wickets. he beat the bat time and again but was able to retain his composure. He bowled full lengths, and he ripped out the tail through excellent bowling and not trying to knock their heads off. It was a wonderful display of fast bowling on an unresponsive track. What a shame that it was in the same Test where our batsmen failed to show the same application.

It would appear that everyone in Australia can see where the problem lies, but are afraid there is no way of fixing it. Up until ten years ago, Australia had the most diverse conditions in regards to prepared wickets for first class cricket anywhere in the world. If you played Sheffield Shield cricket, then you would face seam and swing in Brisbane, pave and bounce in Perth, a flat and true surface in Adelaide, slow, low and variable in Melbourne, and spin friendly conditions in Sydney. In essence, first class cricketers in Australia had the most well-rounded cricket education in the world, because you had to learn to bat and bowl on almost every possible surface. In meant that, while it didn't guarantee victories overseas, it gave our cricketers a much better chance to have played in the conditions that they faced.
This is no longer the case. Drop in pitches have replaced most year-long wickets areas on Australia's major arenas, as they become not only more multi-purpose stadiums, but require surfaces of a more benign nature. Of Australia's major cricket venues, only the W.A.C.A has been saved from this predicament. Each of the other four venues host AFL in the winter, and their wicket squares only go in once that season has been completed. It means that there is little time to prepare wickets for international cricket to the same standards. The drop in wickets, because they are no doubt grown in the same environments, also become like blocks of concrete, thus Australia has lost that diversity of wickets to play on. They all now play like roads, often becoming flatter and truer as a match wears on, rather than deteriorating and allowing for different styles to come into the game. It might be great for the T20 revolution of the Big Bash, but it is doing nothing for the growth and development of our longer-form cricketers.

As to the final Test here, what can be achieved, and what options do the selectors have? Those in the eleven will be desperate to keep their place, if not to prove they belong at this level, but to ensure their names are still there when they return to the safety and comfort of Australia's flat tracks where they will feel they are better suited to succeed. Given the lack of spinning substitutes, it would appear the bowling line will remain the same. It is likely that perennial one-Test fill in Shaun Marsh will get another crack at that title for either Burns or Khawaja. It would not be the worst decision to give Moises Henriques his chance either, given his ability against spin bowling. It appears unlikely this will occur, but slotting him in at number five in a dead rubber Test would at least give the selectors the chance to see him in these conditions and be able to rate his future accordingly.

No one would disagree that it is good for world cricket for Sri Lanka to have performed well and won this series against a good opponent, especially after the problems they themselves faced on their recent tour of England. It also now gives the Australian hierarchy an exact opinion on their team's abilities in sub-continent conditions. having lost 4-0 on their last tour of India in 2013, it gives the team only six months to find the answers to these problems before their next Test tour of India, where the opponent will likely be even less forgiving than the fighting men from Sri Lanka have been.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

944. Various Artists / Last Action Hero: Music From the Original Motion Picture. 1993. 3.5/5

The lead up to this movie being released was one of contained exuberance. I mean, Arnie had just come off Terminator 2: Judgement Day, so surely this movie that combined action and comedy had to be a hit, right? No. Sadly the answer to that question was a big fat no. It was very very average.
Anyway, I only bring this up because when I first heard about the soundtrack that was being put together for the album, I was actually more excited about this than the film. I mean, when you look at the bands that contributed songs to the soundtrack album, it had to be a hit... right?...


The list of the bands on here is impressive, and commensurate with what was happening in the music world at the time. Old faithful and rock solid AC/DC lead of the set with what can only be described as a typical AC/DC song. "Big Gun" is as catchy as any of their material had been in that past decade, and while it may not be outstanding it is everything you can expect from the band. The grunge extremities of Alice in Chains are favoured with two songs on this compilation, with "What the Hell Have I" being recorded on the sessions for their album DIRT, and followed up by "A Little Bitter" which comes towards the end of the album. Unlike their best material, this doesn't have the same edge and grind that those songs contain. The sitar-like sound of the first song, along with what sounds like an off-colour harmony on the vocals between Layne and Jerry, just doesn't work for me.
The star attraction is Megadeth's "Angry Again", which doesn't beat around the bush, jumping straight into that dual riff and great vocals from Dave Mustaine. Once again the band has produced a song on a soundtrack, that while it doesn't appear on any of their own albums, is still a memorable inclusion to their back catalogue of great songs. "Real World" by Queensryche, with some additional help from producer Michael Kamen, is endemic of where the band was at this stage of their career. The addition of orchestral pieces within the song, and the walk down the path of progressive rock without the kind of power that they had infused into their music in previous albums means this song doesn't really hold the attention as one would have hoped that it would. This is followed by "Two Steps Behind" by Def Leppard, again another atypical song of the band from this period, which again, as with all but AC/DC and Megadeth's contributions above, are mostly disappointing. This is somewhat rectified by a seven minute long piece of Anthrax magic, "Poison My Eyes", energised by the recent addition of John Bush on vocals.
Aerosmith's "Dream On" is actually a good song when done well, but this version is a live version, done at the ceremony celebrating the 10th anniversary of MTV, and it is a pretty limp, lame version which doesn't cause any great joy in the listening stakes. I have no love of bands such as Cypress Hill, whose well known "Cock the Hammer" is here, and Fishbone, whose "Swim" to me is just a time filler. Tesla contribute the title track to the movie "Last Action Hero" which is a reasonable enough song, before the track "Jack and the Ripper" closes out the album.

In almost every way, the soundtrack here mirrors the movie, in that the excitement beforehand is almost completely shattered by the actual product when it arrives. On the face of it, with the bands contributing to this album, it should be an absolute ripper. In the long run, it takes up room on your shelf as a dust collector.

Rating:   "Angry again, angry again, angry again..."  3.5/5.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Catastrophic Test Loss That Is Being Swept Under the Carpet

The most surprising part of Australia's capitulation in the First Test against Sri Lanka in Pallekele is that this isn't being seen as perhaps their most catastrophic failure in recent times. How is this not being treated as the horrific and somewhat unbelievable destruction of a team that is supposedly the best Test team in the world? How can you just throw your hands in the air, and accept that this is simply just another in a long line of failures by this team on the sub-continent, and move on with barely a whimper to prepare for the Second Test this week? This is a MAJOR BALLZUP, and some sort of action should be taken to make it known that this is completely unacceptable.

But of course, that won't happen. Heads will be buried in the sand once again.

A lot has been made of the failure of the batting line up to successfully bide their time and fight for their wickets against a spin attack that provided some concern, but was certainly not the most vicious of this kind that Australia has faced in recent times. But hells bells - what about the bowling? Sure, the attack did well to dismiss Sri Lanka for just 117 in that first innings to lay the platform for what should have been victory, but what happened in the second innings? When Matthews was dismissed, Sri Lanka was effectively 4 for 1. Six wickets to fall. Surely even another hundred runs was going to be a stretch for the last six bats to eke out. Well, that wasn't to be the case. Certainly there was brave batting from Kusal Mendis, whose 176 contains touches of brilliance mixed with the kind of strokes that on other days may have fallen safely into Australian hands. Those are the breaks. But should it have been so difficult to get wickets at the other end? The bowling seemed ill-prepared for Sri Lanka to fight back, and when they did, there appeared no plans to alter the course of the innings. Mendis and Chandimal added 117 runs, Mendis and De Silva another 71 runs. Australia's advantage, smaller than it should have been anyway, had gone, and now they were behind the eight ball. Even when Mendis finally fell at 7/290, with the lead now 204 runs, the scuttling of the tail quickly should have been achieved. Instead, through the brainless bowling of Mitchell Starc, who decided that the Brett Lee School of Bowling to Tailenders should be revitalised and as such try to knock out the tail with short pitched bowling instead of plucking their stumps out of the ground, and the ineffectiveness of Nathan Lyon, the last three wickets added another 63 invaluable runs. Seriously - when will Australia's bowlers learn?!? They are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to do this, and they still, on occasions, either have no idea or just lose the plot. When Mark Taylor or Steve Waugh had been captain, that kind of tripe would have been stopped in its tracks swiftly, either by telling the bowler to bowl at the stumps, or by removing him from the attack. Steve Smith, from where I sat, failed to take action. If not for sub fielder Moises Henriques' brilliant catch, that last wicket partnership could have stretched forever. Perhaps more fortunately for Sri Lanka than Australia, it did not.

The captain and vice captain have to shoulder a lot of the blame for the batting. Warner's two shots to be dismissed were completely against what he had preached just days earlier. "Patience" apparently. Well, he showed none. His record allows forgiveness for two major misjudgements, but he would want to be much more forthright from this point on. Smith's shot in the first innings, so early on Day Two when Australia needed to build a lead, was completely unforgivable. Again he has a heap of credits in the bank, but as the leader he lost his head and paid for it. The fact that the rest of the batsmen struggled is not terribly surprising, but it needed the team's leaders to show the way with the bat, and both failed under the spotlight.

Against a team that was trounced just weeks ago in England, Australia now lost only its Second Test against Sri Lanka, having scuttled them for just 117 in under two sessions on the first day. There is a lot wrong with that scenario, but hat will be done to fix it? By all accounts, probably nothing. The loss of O'Keefe for bowling for the second half of the last innings certainly contributed to Australia's problems, but bigger ones now face them. O'Keefe's replacement is Jon Holland, a similarly left arm orthodox spinner who has played very little cricket in the past two years. he has been selected ahead of the leg spinner Fawad Ahmed, who has been by far the most successful spinner in first class cricket in Australia over those same two years. Why he has been overlooked once again is a complete mystery. His experience and over-the-wrist bowling would surely have been of benefit, having seen the amount of purchase the young chinaman bowler Sandakan got in that 1st Test. Whether Holland plays, or if Australia pick a third seamer to support Starc and Hazelwood instead, and leave the back up spin options to Voges and Smith, would surely be a more likely option. Jackson Bird or Nathan Coulter-Nile are the two other pacemen in the squad.

No doubt Mitch Marsh will be retained, though it would have to be tempting to give Henriques his opportunity. I would.

The result of this Test has been buried underneath the football codes, Jason Day's run at the USPGA Championship and the approaching Olympic Games, and so the howl of disdain at the performance has been lost. And while the same will probably be the case no matter what the result of the Second Test is that starts this week, another performance like the last will have major ramifications for the futures of a number of Australia's current Test cricketers.