Sing Street, Beautiful Ruins, My Dad Wrote a Porno

Winter 2016 Media Picks

 

Winter can be a bastard

 

Rain getting all over your shoes and making your socks wet? Oh fuck that noise. Waking up and feeling the chill of the air as you walk to the bathroom. A nice hot shower is a temporary reprieve sure, then what happens when you turn the stream off and the mist clears, leaving you to tiptoe around the bathroom, drying yourself as quickly as you can so you can put on the underwear you’ve left draped over the heater? The small frustrations and discomforts of the cold season can be thwarted and overcome by the clever consumer. No, not a heater, although those help. A crackling fire in the grate will always do the trick but that luxury has become rare.

 

To warm the heart, a romance is needed. To warm the brain, an intellectually stimulating idea or discussion. To warm the torso, a comedy. I can do you two for three.

 

FILM: SING STREET (2016)

 

Sing Street poster

Directed by John Carney. Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (who?), Lucy Boynton (who?), Jack Reynor (some people might know him).

 

Carney, the writer and director, has written and directed two other films, both featuring romance and music at the forefront. Once (2006), made on a very small budget, and Begin Again (2013) when he had a big more clout. Enough clout to get Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo to star. Both of these films are charming and have great tunes, but Sing Street is a massive step ahead of them. There’s something irresistible about the enthusiasm and fearlessness of the lead character Cosmo, a high school kid who starts a band in order to get a pretty girl to hang out with him.

 

The film looks great too. Set in 1980s Ireland, there are plenty of muted tones during scenes at the uniformed school, but when the makeshift teenage band film their music videos out in the streets and by the ocean, the film is filled with blues and oranges and wind in hair and clothes, making things feel alive and exciting.

 

 

And of course, young love. Who can beat it? The chemistry is great between the actors. The dialogue made me laugh every minute. The story of Cosmo and his dysfunctional family going through hard times compliments the coming of age story as he finds out what turns himself on. Music. Pop rock music in the 80s.

 

I rated Sing Street 10/10 on IMDb, something that took a great deal of thought as I take my movie rating very seriously. When it comes down to it, this film made me feel love. I felt nostalgic for a time I haven’t even lived in, nostalgic for a group of friends I never had, and a girl I’d never met. And the music! I like 80s pop sure, but it’s not my favoured genre. Despite this, the Sing Street single Drive It Like You Stole It is quickly becoming my most played track of the year. I can’t recommend this film highly enough.

 

 

BOOK: BEAUTIFUL RUINS

 

 

Beautiful Ruins Jess Walter

 

Written by Jess Walter.

Jess Walter is an American writer who’s written six novels to date, over a dozen short stories and plenty of poetry. He runs a podcast with an author friend where they discuss literature, music and other art and have guests perform poetry and music. Beautiful Ruins is currently being adapted into a film.

 

Beautiful Ruins was released in 2012 and I have sentimental history with it. I was in Bali with my partner at the time and she was suffering from a fever. I had borrowed the book from a friend with her high recommendation. I started reading it in the cheap hotel we were staying, pausing every sixty seconds to run hot water over a flannel for my poor girlfriend. Facing the full night in the hotel room, I bought a pack of Guinness and settled in. I absolutely devoured it.

 

Four years later, I’m struggling to enjoy reading. I put down my third book in a row that I can’t finish. I’m bored. Nothing is getting to me. I can’t seem to enjoy prose or character or plot, choosing to swipe through Facebook instead of finishing the chapter. I decide, like any good reader should, to reread something that touched me in the past. I choose Beautiful Ruins. I’ve bought this book a few times for gifts in the past, intending to read it again but never getting around to it. Of course, part of me is concerned. What if I don’t like it as much as I remember? Will the memory of reading it beat out the actual experience of reading it?

 

I needn’t have worried. Without giving away anything important about the plot, this book is about love. Spanning over multiple continents and decades, the cast of characters as they weave through each other’s lives ensures you’re never bored. Walter has written in a variety of forms. You’ve got your usual third person narrative, then we have a chapter of first person thought, a stream of consciousness movie pitch in Hollywood, the opening chapter of a character’s autobiography, an opening chapter of another character’s unfinished novel.

 

Beautiful Ruins Pasquale Dee

Pasquale and Dee as portrayed by cover art

 

The story is about Pasquale, an Italian hotel owner in his twenties on a remote island, who meets and falls for American actress Dee Moray during a short stay of hers. I really liked it when I read it the first time, but the second time I read it I loved it. Passionately. I was bawling, tears streaming down my face and blurring my vision so much I had to take a break, breathe through it, before I could continue reading. It’s a fulfilling book.

 

PODCAST: MY DAD WROTE A PORNO

 

 

Belinda Blinked My Dad Wrote a Porno

 

Recorded by James cooper, Jamie Morton and Alice Levine

 

Whether you’re big on podcasts or not, this is a must listen. It’s a phenomenally funny piece of pop culture, quickly gaining more and more listeners world wide. It started off simply enough. Morton, upon discovering his father had written an entire erotic novel, enlisted his friends James and Alice to listen to him read it, chime in with thoughts and feelings they experienced, and recorded it.

 

The book itself is at once hilariously cringe-worthy, explicitly sexual, anatomically misguided, poorly written yet strangely addictive and absorbing. The story follows Belinda Blumenthal as she’s hired at ‘Steeles Pots and Pans’ and attempts to rise in the business world while having a vast amount of strange and colourful sex with an eclectic mix of partners.

 

Jamie Morton, James Cooper and Alice Levine

James Cooper, Jamie Morton and Alice Levine

 

The friendship of Cooper, Morton and Levine makes the podcast what it is. Levine is often disgusted but always quick to joke, Cooper enjoys the lurid details of female body from the safe vantage of homosexuality, while Morton reads on, playing Devil’s advocate when necessary to salvage what he can of his father’s reputation (pen name Rocky Flintstone). The camaraderie and quick wit of the team combined with the icky and outlandish source material make listening to the latest episode of My Dad Wrote a Porno the funnest hour of your week.

 

Bring on Spring

Those three things have been lifesavers during this cold blue season. All things considered, we are lucky people to be alive and able to consume media at such a time that these three exist.

 

I’m looking forward to the second season of My Dad Wrote a Porno, as well as Carney’s next film and Walter’s next book. In the meantime, we can busy ourselves with rereading, rewatching and relistening to the magic that is Beautiful Ruins, Sing Street and My Dad Wrote a Porno.

 

Cheers and enjoy your winter!

Duffy trip south island

Duffy Books Trip 2 – Queenstown and Dunedin

It’s cool to read. It’s cool to achieve. Books rock.

That’s the Duffy motto. Another thing I found myself saying a lot over my time down South to the kids was

If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything

I assure you I didn’t plagiarise the phrase from Doc Emit Brown from Back to the Future, I credited the hell out of him as Back to the Future was a recurring star in my yarn.

“Who wants to guess my favourite movie?”

“ME ME ME ME ME!”

“It’s got a really cool dude in it who plays guitar and skateboards, and he goes back in time and meets his parents when they’re his age…”

Single out a raised hand. “Yes?”

“Ben 10?”

“Nope… yes?”

“Barbie and the Crystal Unicorn?”

“… nope. It’s got a time traveling car in it…”

“BACK TO THE FUTURE!” a few would shout at once.

Interesting what kids remember.

 

moody southland

Moody early morning shot on the way to Queenstown for the day

 

I had the weekend off so spent all Saturday in Queenstown, the most touristy and gorgeous place in New Zealand. Action packed with bungy, skydiving, tourists and cafes up the wazoo, I love visiting Queenstown whenever I get the chance.

I rose at 6am, showered and hit the road. Once there, I ate a whole lotta food and drank a whole lotta coffee and read my book. I walked around too, but I spent 80% of my time stationary and reading.

 

Queenstown beach

Sun made Queenstown even more beautiful than usual. Lying on the sand and hearing kids play made it funny.

 

After walking through the shops, around the frisbee golf course and through the rose gardens, I drove to Historic Arrowtown, a gold rush settlement twenty minutes drive away, and wandered through the curious, eerie old Chinese opium huts, imagining what it may have been like in the 1800s.

 

Chinese huts Arrowtown

These huts reminded me of The Luminaries, Man Booker Prize winning book written by 26 year old Eleanor Catton. Which I read all 1000 pages of – goal!

 

I finished the book I was reading, I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, while chowing down on a steak sandwich from an Arrowtown pub. The 900 page detective thriller novel had snuck up on me. I enjoyed reading it and barely noticed how much I thought about it, craving it when I was at work, wishing I could read it while driving, letting my coffee and toast go cold over breakfast as I pored over it.

It’s now one of my all-time favourite books. I am Pilgrim. Check it out. Apparently the author is writing another two books centred around the character Pilgrim and there is talk of a film adaptation. Which makes me very happy.

 

Hayden J. Weal Oteri beach

Oteri Beach – Burt Munro used to race his Indian motorcycle here, setting a world record of 136 mph.

 

I got back to Invercargill late at night and stayed up until 5am binge-watching Masters of Sex, the drama comedy TV show starring and produced by Michael Sheen. Dr. William Masters, a well respected obstetrician, finds himself ostracised by the scientific community after choosing to study sexual arousal.

After a deliciously fatty feast at The Bach cafe (Invercargill’s best cafe, Southland populace unanimously agrees), I drove to Oteri Beach. Ten kms West of Invercargill, the sand is hard enough to drive on so you can have a ball speeding around the 26km-long beach, the same sand Burt Munro used to drive upon.

 

Invercargill winter gardens

The Invercargill gardens are a joy to walk through. The best bits are the colourful flowers.

 

I wandered through the gardens, amusing myself by lying to children. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Sunday is the most popular day to walk through the gardens and I passed by many families, the young children playing in the fountains or pushing each other on the swings. Two little girls were playing with the brass statues that surround the fountain. Three squirrels, frozen in place hovering over their brass nuts, were being prodded and poked by them.

“Did you know,” I started, getting the girls’ attention. “These squirrels used to be real, but they were turned into statues by an evil witch because they were greedy?”

“No,” the braver of the girls said loudly. “They’re just ornaments.”

“Ah, I wish it were true,” I said. “They might come back to life one day, once they’ve learnt their lesson. See, they used to steal nuts from other squirrels, so the witch decided they’d learn a lesson if they were forced to stand here and watch all the kids playing. She thought maybe they’d see how to share and be more compassionate.”

“And that one,” I went on, pointing to the giant eagle who faced the playground. “He used to flap his wings, frightening people and making them fall over. So the witch made him be the Watcher of the playground. Now he has to look out for any bullies and make sure everyone is safe when they’re playing.”

The girls shrugged and kept on playing.

 

Clockwise from top left: New River School, Lumsden school, Tisbury School, Mataura School.

Clockwise from top left: New River School, Lumsden school, Tisbury School, Mataura School.

 

Monday brought with it two schools, and Tuesday three. The kids were as enthusiastic as I hoped, asking hilarious questions I could never have expected like, “What did you eat for breakfast?” and “Do you have a sister or brother and do you like them?”

No children were scared of my video, they all cheered when the building exploded in Hot Rob and laughed when the picture of me as fat dwarf in The Hobbit came up. My throat had began to itch and my voice was fading by this time, from the constant talking or late nights, I couldn’t tell. I was eating fairly well, treating myself to large salads and fizzy Berocca drinks every day, but I couldn’t deny it; it was getting worse. I felt myself sink into the world of the sick.

On Tuesday after being interviewed for the EnSign, Mataura’s local newspaper, I set off to Dunedin. By the time I got there, my head was throbbing and my vision blurring. I drank as much water as I could and attempted to convince myself I was okay.

 

Dunedin Hayden

Dunedin’s Signal Hill lookout is amazing!

 

A good friend’s little sister Sarah took me up to Signal Hill lookout. You can see all of Dunedin from up there, she said. Aha, she was wrong. The mist had rolled in, a drizzle had dampened my festive spirits and the view was nothing but a grey miasma. Instead, we went to Nova, a restaurant in the Octagon and treated ourselves to chocolate desserts and caught up.

I retired early, one hundred pages in to the new book I was reading, I Know This Much Is True, a psychological family drama gifted to me by someone I met on my travels. After talking about books and movies and music, she promised me it was a good read. She was not wrong.

 

The view from my motel room. Despite all the activities Dunedin has to offer, I couldn't drag myself from the floor.

The view from my motel room. Despite all the activities Dunedin has to offer, I couldn’t drag myself from the floor.

 

I woke with an aching back, searing throat and delicate skin. Pitching my coat tightly around me, I sprinted to the corner store and loaded up on lozenges, pills, salves and medicine, then dosed up. Time had sped up strangely and I noted with shock that I was due at St. Joseph’s so I rushed into the car and swerved through the traffic in the pouring rain.

The students of St. Joseph’s were finishing Kapa haka practice when I arrived so I sat in and admired their loud voices, envy creeping over me. However, would you believe it, fate threw me a solid; St. Joseph’s was the first school I visited with a microphone! Where before I was feeling close to fainting, as soon as I stood in front of the hundred or so smiling faces and heard them greet me in a collective chant, adrenalin threw me strength.

I talked and talked, the croaky voice lending me a mystique reserved only for grandfathers, giving my stories a fireplace glow. The video went down a treat and the kids were buzzing about the boxes of books they were being gifted.

I figured out at the second school to give the books out last. The kids couldn’t concentrate on a thing once the book’s had be given, it was trouble enough saying ka kite.

 

Hayden J. Weal dunedin

7am view. Frostily gorgeous.

 

I did finally make it up Signal Hill to admire Dunedin from above. What photography fails to describe is the roaring wind and sub zero temperature. Regardless of the flu and cold, it was beautiful and I stayed for long enough to balance the camera precariously on a stone turret and set the ten second timer. When this was done I hobbled back to the car and turned the heater up to full.

 

Dunedin moody beach

Moody and rough, it was the perfect place to sit for a lemon honey ginger drink and read

 

Bathgate, Carisbrook, Pine Hill, Brockville and Concord schools were all a lot of fun. By rule, I should’ve been blending the memories of the schools together but I still remember the nuances of each school and the unique kids that went there, especially their questions.

“Did you see How To Train Your Dragon 2?”

“I did and I loved it. Did you see it?”

They all yell “YES!”, and I can tell that even those who didn’t see it join in. Even those who are more interested in wedging the glob of snot from their nostrils yell “YES!” because that’s what their peers are doing.

This herd mentality worked to my advantage when I showed the kids my work. I’d explain that the video I was about to show them was ‘funny and scary and very exciting’. After that seed was planted, it ensured they’d laugh, hide behind their hands and cheer. The power to manipulate children is too easily granted and we must wield it with discerning care.

 

Duffy Carisbrook, Brockville, Concord

Carisbrook, Brockville and Concord school.

 

Getting back on the plane to Wellington, I found myself experiencing the same strange sense of loss I get after finishing a particularly good book or film. Like I’d gotten to know heaps of friends and I’d already had to say goodbye without knowing if I’d ever see them again.

I hope to catch up with all of these kids in the future and the way the world works, it’s not an outlandish hope. Fingers crossed for another trip soon! Thanks Duffy!

 

PART ONE OF MY TRIP HERE

 

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Duffy Books Trip Part 1 – Invercargill and Bluff

I’m traveling the deep south of New Zealand in a hired car, staying in motels and chatting to young kiwi kids about reading and filmmaking every day.

It’s like a genie appeared, “What’s your ideal way to spend your time, Hayden J.?”

And it’s granted.

I’ll tell you how, and why, I’m here. Duffy Books in Homes.

 

Hayden J. Weal Bluff hill

I got to walk around Bluff hill!

 

Duffy Books in Homes is a charitable foundation started by Alan Duff, author of Once Were Warriors (yeesh – grisly kiwi story there) which provides a minimum of five books a year to over 100,000 kiwi kids scattered throughout 530 low decile schools.

 

St Teresa's School Bluff duffy

Enthusiastic kids at St. Teresa’s school in Bluff were stoked on the books

 

Basically, Alan Duff wanted more adults to encourage more kids to read, and the key to getting that happening was hooking the kids young. Get them reading. Get them educating themselves unknowingly so they can grow into the kinds of people who encourage more kids to read and educate themselves and so on and so on.

 

My sexy hire car. The challenge was keeping the girls away.

My sexy hire car. At that point I knew: my biggest challenge would be keeping the girls away.

 

Duffy Heroes

 

Duffy Heroes (or Duffy Role Models) are people who’ve achieved a dream and who love reading and want to pass on their love of reading to the young ‘uns.

Grant Roa Uncle Rawiri

Grant is Uncle Rawiri in masterpiece NZ film Whale Rider

Having achieved my lifelong dream of becoming stunningly gorgeous, muscular and modest, I was put forward by a very good friend (and fantastic actor) Grant Roa to be a Duffy Role Model.

Needless to say, I was honoured and jumped at the chance.

My first school, Newfield Park School in Invercargill, were a good crowd... except for the 5 year olds who cried through my video

My first school, Newfield Park School in Invercargill, were a good crowd… except for the 5 year olds who cried through the video I showed them. Jack and Chops freaked them out.

 

I did a mini tour around the Wairarapa region last year and had a whale of a time. It’s so much fun, even though I don’t personally buy these books for the kids, or even pick them (the kids themselves pick them – a great many generous sponsor buy the books), I feel like Santa Claus rocking in there, yarning about being Bilbo and how cool reading is, then reaching into my sack and handing out books to super pumped kids.

 

This horrible woman works for parliament. She turned her phone on before landing then sniggered when I asked her to obey the rules. I reported her.

This horrible woman sat next to me on the plane. She works for parliament. She turned her phone on before landing then sniggered when I asked her to obey the rules. I reported her with pleasure.

 

They have a special Duffy song and a special assembly for the book giving. It’s an event. The schools Duffy supply for are selected from areas ‘where the children are most likely to come from bookless homes’ so imagine how much getting free books means to them. Back in my day, books were books and we’d shrug at them. These guys are genuinely excited about being gifted their very own books to take home.

 

Bluff School Duffy books in homes

An awesome class of readers at Bluff School plus a creepy dude in the middle

 

This year, Duffy celebrated it’s twenty year anniversary and the donation of TEN MILLION BOOKS viagra kaufen im internet. They held a governmental breakfast at Parliament and Dr. Ben Carson, along with the honourable Hekia Parata span some yarns for us.

 

Bluff sign post

This is mandatory in Bluff, okay? Even the locals do it.

 

There was one guy who spoke at the anniversary. Sometimes you know when you’re hearing something that you’ll never forget. Well, this guy and his speech was one of those times. He was one of the first Duffy kids ever. His school – a poor school – had been chosen for the first year of Duffy. And this guy – a young boy who was being abused at home and struggling to learn – had been gifted a book.

 

fernworth school invercargill

Sweet crowd at Fernworth school give me what they call a ‘ferny’ welcome

 

This young boy grew up into a young man, cherishing the books he received from the Duffy program, and he became an opera singer and traveled all over the world. He spoke about his life and we were all transfixed, hanging on his every word. Then he turned to Alan Duff, who was as enraptured as the rest of us, smoked salmon and hash brown breakfast going cold, untouched, and said, “I want to say – because I’ve never had the chance to say this – thank you, Alan. I don’t know if even you know how much those books meant to me.”

 

This is my sunset from the motel I'm staying in

This is my sunset from the motel I’m staying in

This is me looking at the sunset from my motel in Invercargill

This is me looking at the sunset from the motel I’m staying in

 

I was a mess, my smoked salmon extra salty from the tears drizzling down my cheeks and through my messy beard.

Weeks later, when Jacqui Whyte, Duffy Theatre administrator, asked if I’d consider a trip to the South Island to tour some schools, I couldn’t email back fast enough. With YES in capitals.

 

Takitimu school in Nightcaps win the award for the most remote location in the world

Takitimu school in Nightcaps win the award for the most remote location in the world. Drove for an hour and a half through rolling farmlands to get to them

 

Eight days. Sixteen schools. That was the plan. Easy.

The schools would be mixed sizes and the students, as usual, an eclectic variety. And it’s strange, I’ve found that at every school, no matter how big or small, there’s always one student that calls out, interrupts, disrupts, jeers, jokes, jibes or jips me. And it’s usually because they’re excited.

I must extend my thanks to all the teachers who delicately rebuked the children I struggled to deal with. The deserve a pay raise.

 

Stormy beach at Taramea point, just past Riverton.

Stormy beach at Taramea point, out of Invercargill, past Riverton.

 

In the afternoons I explore Invercargill, walk around the heritage trails and indulge in unhealthy but delicious food. I read my book, I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (and wow, it’s SUCH a good book) and edit the photos I’ve taken in the day. I’m living the dream.

I have made a short video to show the kids. It features some of Jack and Chops, Hot Rob, and some stills from The Hobbit featuring me as a number of different characters. On my first day, at Newfield school, some of the younger pupils got very scared and started crying. The principal had a few stern words to me, so I’ve added a verbal disclaimer and you know what’s strange? Saying the video might be scary gets the kids even more excited to see it.

 

St Patrick's school in Nightcaps has a total of 14 students. You see all sorts.

St Patrick’s school in Nightcaps has a total of 14 students.

 

It started raining today. I took a photo of it.

 

Raindrops on the window

 

I’m halfway through the trip and already I’ve been blown away by the enthusiasm of these kids. Stay tuned because there are more photos on the way.

 

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