Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Ducks ~ and the training of a sheep dog

New Zealand has a long history in sheep farming in which highly skilled herding dogs play an important role.  Sheep dog trials are a classical form of rural competition and televised to the nation: a small flock of sheep is herded around an obstacle course by a sheep dog which is directed by its trainer in a series of called and whistled commands.  These shows could be likened to horses being put through their paces in show jumping.  But how do you train a sheep dog if there are no sheep handy?  Don Stuart uses ducks!  

I adore ducks.  From long association and observation I know that they are clever, funny, and bursting with personality.  I also know that they are curious and enjoy social interaction so I cheerfully accept Don Stuart's assertion that they seem to enjoy being herded around a course by a trainee sheep dog.  And yes, they love playing in the spray of a garden hose...

Later Note:
For those interested in reading more about sheep dog trials I include this link to a story about long-time competitor, Russell Peek which appeared in the ODT on 31st Dec 2010.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

"Richard Hammond's Invisible Worlds" ~ a television delight

I hope everyone in New Zealand watched this show last evening.  I sat spellbound for a full hour watching the first episode.  As a keen photographer, nature watcher and writer, I was entranced by the detail, the fabulous visuals and well thought-out commentary.

Richard Hammond is familiar to New Zealand viewers as a presenter of "Top Gear" and for his appearance in recent Telecom advertisements.  His role as front man for a nature show came as a surprise and a very pleasant one, I must say.  He's a first rate presenter. 

Subject matter ranged from the shock waves from explosions to the speed at which fungal spores shoot out from horse manure, how bumblebees and moths fly, images of atmospheric 'sprites' following certain electrical storms, lightning that travels upwards and much more.

Richard points out that the human eye is capable of seeing in great detail, but that our brains take longer to process than our eyes do to see things.  This means that there are things that we can see but which we don't register because things are moving too fast.  Other things are too small for us to see with the naked eye.  We are shown how the modern technologies of powerful magnification and extremely high speed film played back slowly enable us to see and learn about things in a new way.  The camera work is superb.

If you did miss it all is not lost - there are two more episodes in store which screen on TV1 on Mondays at 8.30pm.

The DVD is available from Amazon.co.uk
Note the five star ratings from all three reviewers!

"The Real Dirt on Farmer John" ~ a documentary about organic farming and an extraordinary man

I love this film and recommend it most highly to anyone interested in the quality of the food they eat, the source of their food, organics, sustainability, farming and so on.

It is the story of farmer John Peterson, who presents a compelling story of growing up on a farm in America's mid-west, inheriting it, giving it up twice - and going back one more time.   Finally  he arrived at style of farming that worked for him, biodynamics, a form of organic agriculture. 

He certainly is an unusual man.  At a time in history when the display of natural emotions still incurs censure he generously lets us into his private world: his joys and sorrows, anger and frustration, his relationships, and ultimately his celebration of farming life, the people who make it happen and the land itself.

Movie trailer:

For my full review of this film click on this link to my Pursuit of Wisdom site.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

"The Power of Community: how Cuba survived peak oil" ~ a documentary about sustainability in action

To seriously contemplate severe oil shortages invites anxiety, yet there are societies which have managed to adapt their lifestyles accordingly and done so with flair.

Cuba is one of them.  This documentary is an eye-opener and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It includes the historic context, factual discussion and presents solutions that have worked.  In the absence of an official trailer, I've embedded a clip from YouTube.  Other related clips become apparent once it has played.

Here is "The Power of Community" website which provides good background information.

My full review of this film can be found in my "Pursuit of Wisdom" site.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

"The Choir" ~ a documentary featuring the choir of Leeukwop Prison

I rank this film as a 'Must See'.  As it's more likely to be screened on television than in cinemas it's definitely worth making time to watch it whenever and wherever it is screened.  It was filmed over a number of years and follows the progress of a choir, a group of prisoners, at the overcrowded Leeukwop Prison.

Here is the trailer:   

My full review can be found in my Rushleigh - The Pursuit of Wisdom blog - click here to read more.

The Choir is available for purchase - click here

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Kiwiana ~ a fun Radio NZ promotion

All these supposed radios are models created by the esteemed model making company, Weta Workshop, which created the special effects for the Lord of the Rings series.  These are my three favourites from a group of ten:

The others can be explored here.  To move through the group go to the Kiwiana Radios Menu which is in the clay coloured box at the left of the screen.

To click through to YouTube and find other Kiwiana videos click on the title bar of any of the videos shown above.  

Thanks to Grace of Rata Weekly for sharing this find.

House of Memories

A sensory journey based on the world of visual impairment
directed by the Caroline Plummer Community Dance Fellow

Come and enjoy these talented performers, both visually impaired and physical education students.
Sorry folks, all sold out!

Performances are July 2nd and 3rd at 551 Castle St, Dunedin
No charge but bookings are essential
Limited spaces for showings at 7, 8, and 9pm
a department of Otago University.

Read more about it in Suzanne's blog:
Read the Otago Daily Times article of 1st June 2010 here.

Note: The memorable image above was Suzanne's concept. The photograph was taken by a friend and is of the house in which the performances are to take place.  The final image was created by graphic artist Peter Scott. 

Sunday, 14 March 2010

TV3 Plus 1 - delayed second broadcast available on Freeview

There are lots of good things about Freeview, and one of the less well known ones is the option to watch TV3s time-delayed broadcast on  TV3 Plus 1. Here identical broadcasts are made an hour after the initial one, so if for example, you want to watch the six o'clock news but are busy until seven you can watch it then. I don't know why the channel doesn't make this excellent feature more widely know. It's  especially handy on Saturday nights when the few decent shows broadcast across our screens tend to all be scheduled for 7.30! On our television set TV3 Plus 1 is on channel 29; on yours it may be different. I'm not technically enough minded to give you any more information other than this.

Also not well known is TV3s broadcast of the 6 o'clock news on Radio Pacific which is broadcast on both AM and FM frequencies.

I've attempted to find this information on the TV3 website, but found it completely impenetrable.  If you have better information let me know!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The 27 dresses of a long-suffering bridesmaid

27 dresses (2008) is a movie of pure escapism, something you could fall asleep in front of without any worries about the characters or the storyline - nothing (irredeemably) bad happens.  Having said that, it is entertaining in its way and I was glad I turned the television on when I did.  It was a pleasant way to while away an evening when I was feeling flat, and left me with some nice images and a good feeling.

Katherine Heigl is very beautiful and winsome as Jane, the seemingly eternal bridesmaid. Her collection of bridesmaids dresses in itself provides an amusing commentary about weddings and wedding gear - dress-ups are fun and the costume designer must have enjoyed putting this very mixed collection together!

Jane is burning with love for her boss, played by Edward Burns, who finds her indispensable as his ever-obliging personal assistant without noticing her obvious devotion. Enter her sister, played by Malin Akerman, and things hot up immediately - but not for Jane. James Marsden, as cynical wedding reporter Kevin Doyle, is perhaps the most believable character and his style and freshness kept me interested in watching. Yes, the conclusion is predictable, but for a bit of time out, this is a safe and pleasantly goofy choice.

Book shop link for interested NZ viewers:

 27 Dresses

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Oh, those ads!

The New Zealand Film Archive has a website of favourite advertisements, dating from the 1960s to the 90s. Looking back over some of the most popular ones can bring on a stiff dose of nostalgia: remember Fluffy the cat? But of course you do!

For those of you who have never been to New Zealand, you'll find a unique slice of history and more than a passing glance at some local sights. Here you can see a little of what some of our small towns are like: this one is Paeroa. Charming, isn't it? Okay, so maybe we've progressed a bit since then, but I hope not too much!

As the archive hasn't yet caught up with more recent advertisements, I've included this one of the Pukekos from another source, and yes, the feet are real, just as nature intended them to be - this is a wetland bird.

And to make it clear we're not completely parochial, remember this one for Old Spice?

So there's a lot to be said for the art of the thirty second movie - enjoy!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

"In the shadow of the Moon" ~ an extraordinary documentary

This 2007 documentary is one of the best I've seen. It chronicles the American venture of getting astronauts on the Moon and is all the more remarkable in that it contains no reconstructed footage: all of it was shot during the space missions just as you see it. The footage is awe-inspiring and the sound track and editing match this quality.

The contemporary commentary is provided by the astronauts themselves, many years older now and certainly their faces have aged, but all showed a mental alertness and emotional candour that amazed me. For me this exemplifies the maturity one would look for in those of advanced age which I haven't often seen. In conversational language they describe their backgrounds as aeroplane test pilots, their preparation for the space missions, and the thoughts and emotions each experienced during them.

What made this documentary truly memorable for me was what the astronauts said about how the space flights affected their world views: for each it was a transformational experience, both in how much more they appreciated 'the good Earth' and how they felt about universal and spiritual truths. For each this took a different form. These were unlooked for and what the astronauts say about them are no trite recitations. In a world that struggles for any sense of purpose, this kind of testimony is important.

What was sad, as well as sobering, was the observation that the magical blues, whites and subtle colours of Earth as seen from outer space are no longer clean, but increasing discoloured by pollution - shame on us all. Animals and the natural world haven't created this, people have, and politicians and business people continue to dispute 'climate change' as a reason for putting on the brakes. Climate change be blowed - isn't the mess we've made so far enough reason, or do we meekly accept the fate of an existence in a rubbish tip rather than fighting for the survival of our living breathing paradise?

Here is the film trailer:

Further details of the film can be found on this IMDB webpage
And in case you can't easily find the link there to other people's reviews here they are.

Later Note:

Friday, 29 January 2010

Fun films for dull days ~ or nights

An enjoyable movie, like a good book, provides a gateway to another world for a time.  Here are four lightweight movies I enjoyed this summer:

"Intolerable cruelty" (2003) starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones:
This is a farce about divorce, a subject which will not be to everyone's taste but is nonetheless rich in dramatic scenarios, and if we can laugh at this usually painful subject, I say so much the better.
    Older viewers may remember Zeta-Jones as the seductive Mariette in the television series "The Darling Buds of May".  In this movie she is more beautiful and seductive than ever and an alluring match in looks and temperament to Clooney.  Her character, Marilyn Rexroth, is diligently working her way to financial independence by way of serial divorce.
    Clooney's character, Miles Massey, is the divorce lawyer acting for her husband.  They each have some marvellous lines!  Mr Rexroth confides to Miles that his wife has him between a rock and a hard place, to which Miles responds crisply "That's her job - you should respect that," which is, shall we say, refreshingly unexpected!  He's the man in charge and no one is likely to forget it.  I'm not easily impressed by good-looking men but was very much entertained by Clooney's interpretation of this quick-witted, dental-hygiene-obsessed and somewhat supercilious character.  Clooney clearly enjoyed the role and sends it up just enough to make Miles funny rather than aggravating. And I must confess that the sight of him in green and red tartan took even my breath away. Must be my Scottish ancestry getting the better of me!
    During the course of the story Miles and Marilyn take turns at stalking each other like a pair of wary yet designing felines, with the predictable drawing of claws and flying of fur.
    One disappointment was that the movie was not longer and more complex but I found it fun all the same, and was pleased to be able to watch portions of it several times over.

Note: I've seen Clooney in two other movies, "Burn after reading" which was supposed to be funny but which I found so dull I watched only about a third of it, and "Up in the air", which I thought started with brilliant opening credits, footage and music and went downhill all the way from there.  Clooney didn't seem to have much to do in either movie, a waste of his talent.
    The biography of George Clooney in Wikipedia is an interesting read, especially his comments about the Iraq war which you can read under the heading Politics and Advocacy.

"Mad dogs and Englishmen" also known as "How to kill your neighbours dog" (2000) starring Kenneth Branagh and Robin Wright Penn:
I liked Branagh in this movie.  His character, Peter McGowan, is a playwright in the doldrums, and at this point in his career he doesn't seem to be able to write, sleep or satisfy his wife, and then the neighbour gets a dog - which barks at night.  I think most of us can identify with at least one of these problems, possibly more.  As an Englishman domiciled in the leafy suburbs of Los Angeles, our thwarted playwright vents his frustrations in a blisteringly un-American manner very much at odds with those around him.  Clearly he has a sufficiently substantial reputation and wealth not to be inconvenienced by those he might offend!  The scene in which he is interviewed on television is one to treasure!  Coming the other way, his chance meeting with a dis-affected screenplay writer shows the boot on the other foot.  McGowan, while surprised and taken a-back, takes it in his stride.
    There are interesting theatrical devices used, such as the doppelgänger character who stalks him, and is fittingly believable.
    The sub-plot about the little girl who comes to live next door added a softer touch without becoming mushy.
    What I particularly liked about this movie was that Branagh and Penn portray a couple who clearly love each other and want to be together despite their difficulties, which you don't often see in movies - usually the storyline is either entirely given over to the chase, or it's all on - or all off.  This is a very nicely crafted movie and of these four seemed the closest to real life.

"Something's gotta give" (2003) starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton:
I should think that any fan of either of these actors would enjoy this movie: Nicholson, as Harry Sanborn, is his flamboyantly womanising and satirical self, and Keaton, as Erica Barry,  is as nervy, engaging and ambiguous as ever - edging awkwardly between laughter and anger, stormy tears and enchantment.  Harry sets her all on end, and visa versa, and yet...
    By chance I watched this movie after the one above, and it is also about a languishing playwright! This time that role goes to the woman.  While I enjoyed watching these two great actors I never forgot I was watching a movie made up about two fictional characters, so it lacked the realism of the Branagh movie.  Good entertainment though.

"Whatever works" (2009) written and directed by Woody Allen; starring Larry David (of "Curb your Enthusiasm" fame) and Evan Rachel Wood, supported by Patricia Clarkson:
I loved this movie - it's so Jewish, so Woody Allen.  He's scathingly intelligent, determinedly depressed, tied up in anguished knots about the meaningless randomness of life, yet still possessing an off-beat generosity - if of a morose variety!  Woody expresses himself through the character of Boris, played by Larry David, a man of advanced middle age and decidedly knobbly knees, who invariably sings Happy Birthday as he washes his hands, an eccentric.
    An essential feature of any Woody Allen movie is the innocent and as yet unformed young woman, in this case played by Evan Rachel Wood, who is the perfect foil for this disaffected older man.  She carries off the role with an ingenuousness as convincing as it is delightful.  By slow degrees she invades his world, and then, surprise, surprise, his heart.  All goes well until the entrance on the scene of her mother, splendidly portrayed by Patricia Clarkson, at which point upsets occur in many directions one after another.
    As with the Branagh movie I enjoyed the use of theatrical devices such as the repeated use of the opening chords of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony which heralds especially dramatic moments. The deliberately stagy quality of some of the acting is another case in point, as in Boris' recollection of a row he had with his first wife, which is precisely the manner in which we mentally re-enact our memories of difficult situations, time after time after time - like set pieces.
    Woody Allen has a lot to say, and he is determined not to leave anything out, so this is a movie packed with his particular style of intellectual content and leaves the viewer in no doubt as to how he has reached the conclusion that the best way to live is to do "whatever works".  His characters as lined up at the end are so far removed in disposition and circumstance from where they started out that I laughingly agreed! 

Book shop links for interested NZ viewers:
"Mad dogs and Englishmen": also entitled: "How to kill your neighbours dog"
The locally available version is entitled: "Mad dogs and Englishmen" - much more civilised!
 Mad Dogs and Englishmen

"Something's gotta give"
 Somethings Gotta Give

"Whatever works"
Whatever Works