Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Safety not guaranteed

Now, quite a quirky one, this. Safety Not Guaranteed is about a grumpy young intern in a Seattle magazine who goes to a small town on an assignment to investigate a guy who has put in a personal ad looking for someone to time-travel with him. Is this all bogus? Is the guy crazy? Or a genius? How will she persuade him that she is genuine and get him to take her on as his time-travel companion?

I love these movies that stay away from the Hollywood stereotypes. It's quirky, it's funny, it's human. It could have done without the special effects at the end, but it gets my vote all the same. And it's got the cute guy from New Girl!

Bottles and Twigs

I'm almost sorry I did this painting on cheap practice paper - I was planning to try out different techniques, and then do the proper painting on good paper. But it turned out better than I thought, and now I'm not sure I would be able to achieve anything better on expensive paper.

This watercolour was inspired by two photographs stored on Pinterest (1 & 2) and by my latest Shirley Trevena book, Breaking the Rules of Watercolour. I love my art technique books!

And I'm already thinking of the next project, so maybe I'll leave it at that.

Some useful techniques that I must try to remember for again:

  • masking detail first (love my new Schmincke masking fluid), 
  • applying highlights with white wax (I just rub the paper with a candle), 
  • using a watercolour pencil to draw initial outlines rather than a lead pencil (I used a red watercolour pencil), 
  • lifting paint with a tissue to create shapes, 
  • adding wet paint to create backruns, 
  • leaving some details unfinished for a dreamy look (the 3 pieces of garlic), 
  • throwing paint at the paper with a brush for a more random effect

It's not earth-shattering, but I like the bottles and the stripes and the 3 pieces of garlic at the front.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Smilla's Sense of Snow

I'm pretty sure I had read the book, but I had no memory of it whatsoever. Just as well, as Smilla's Sense of Snow is quite a thriller, with dark plots and gruesome murders.

The movie starts with a little boy's tragic accidental death - he falls off the roof of his apartment building. But his neighbour and friend, Smilla, does not think he was playing on the roof. Based on the footprints in the snow, she thinks he was running. But from what? From whom?

The movie takes quite a few turns, some more unlikely than others. Somehow, I think the book was better. I wonder do I still have it?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Big Picture

I don't know how long it's going to take me to finish all my movie reviews. Lots of French movies, by the way. The Big Picture, or "L'Homme qui Voulait Vivre sa Vie" took me by surprise. Initially, I thought we were back in "Les Petits Mouchoirs" French movie territory - a man with the perfect life, the perfect wife, the perfect children, the perfect job, the perfect house, who suddenly discovers his wife is having an affair.

But it all takes a dramatic turn, and he gets a second chance at life. Not a bad movie. Far from perfect, but quite watchable.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Pleasures of Winter

I am probably the only woman in Ireland who hasn't read Fifty Shades of Grey! I read so many bad reviews about the writing that I decided not to waste my time.

On the other hand, The Pleasures of Winter was recommended to me. And I had read some of the books published by one half of Evie Hunter- yes, this book is a collaboration - by two Irish writers, Eileen Gormley and Caroline McCall.

Now, I don't normally read erotica, but this book is more than simple erotic fiction. It's a good story and it's a love story (OK, I'm a romantic - I need a good romantic story to keep me interested!). While there are plenty of hot sex scenes, and lots of spanking, it wasn't the single purpose of the story. In other words, there is a story, with sex in it. But it's not a story tacked onto the sex. Abbie, the main female character, is three-dimensional, if a bit stereotyped. An independent-minded journalist, with a wishy-washy fiancé, she finds herself on a private plane out of Honduras, where she was following a drug-trafficking story. After the plane crashes in the jungle, she discovers a passion for Jack Winter, a Hollywood actor with a reputation, and a dark secret. (He saves her life a few times too). She finds out, much to her surprise, that being dominated turns her on. She tries to resist Winter's pull, but his love and obsession for her are magnetic!

As I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey, I can't really compare, but I thought that The Pleasures of Winter was well written and was a good story (and I will read the sequel, if there is one). The sex was a bit tamer than I had expected, though. I did read The Ages of Lulu many years ago, and I did find the sex scenes in that book a lot hotter, I have to admit! So maybe that was the yardstick I was using. Must dig that book up and read it again. I was a lot younger when I read it after all!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cirque du Soleil, Quidam

OK. This is not a movie. But Quidam, from the Cirque du Soleil, was part of our Christmas viewings, so it deserves a place here too.

We had gone to O when we were in Las Vegas a few years ago. Fabulous show. Quidam is one of the many shows created by Cirque du Soleil. From my perspectives, not as good as O, but then again, it's hard to compare a TV experience against a live performance. The O stage was a deep pool after all. Hard to beat  that!

But Quidam was perfect entertainment for the family at Christmas. It was enjoyed by all. What I love about Cirque du Soleil is the richness, the interweaving of sensations - it's a bit like opera - it's a complete experience - it's not just about the athletes and the acrobatics, but also the music, the costumes, the make-up, the clowns, the underlying story.

My favourite act in this show was the Statue. Amazing strength and precision!

If you haven't seen a Cirque du Soleil show yet, book a ticket next time they're in town. And there is plenty to choose from! It's a real treat.

PS: website is great if you want to know all sorts of geeky details - like this: there are 200,000 perforations in the stage floor of Quidam, allowing for special lighting effects! Or the costumes are washed daily. Or the shoes are painted to match the costumes and they are touched up before every performance!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

L'Illusioniste - YouTube clip

Here is a little taster:


Now, I really liked this one. L'Illusioniste is a cartoon movie. Nothing fancy like Tintin. Just a beautiful, simple story, lovely drawings, and gorgeous watercolour backgrounds.

Like The Artist, it's about what happens when yesterday's stars become obsolete in today's world. Based on  a scenario by Jacques Tati, it's full of allusions to Tati himself.
And it's a really sweet story. The eponymous Illusionist finds that his work - essentially, pulling a rabbit out of a hat -  is drying up, as the audiences are looking for new forms of entertainment. He ends up in a remote town in Scotland, where a young girl takes a shine to him. But not in that way. More like a father-daughter relationship. When he leaves the town, she goes with him to the city. She is fascinated by everything, the shops, the fashionable clothes, the busy streets,... While he struggles to find work for himself and his rabbit.

There is no dialog, but the feelings and emotions are portrayed with a delicate touch and with humour. There is a sadness that runs throughout, the end of an era, the struggle to stay relevant, but also there is the sparkle of a new world seen through the eyes of a young woman. It's beautifully done. Loved it. Will definitely watch it again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Artist

Also French, The Artist doesn't need introducing.

Now, I have to admit I haven't seen the whole movie yet. I watched about as far as the house fire. After that, I was busy helping BB get the Christmas dinner organised.

Hard to see how it got so many Oscars (5 according to Wikipedia). It's nice. And the dog is cute. But it's pretty slim stuff. If I wanted proper nostalgia, I could watch a real silent movie, or an old musical?

Let's reserve judgment until I watch it all, which could be a while.

Trivia: the main actor, Jean Dujardin, plays the guy who had the road accident in Les Petits Mouchoirs! But you wouldn't recognise him!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Les Petits Mouchoirs

OK - A movie a day is going to be hard to do.

Les Petits Mouchoirs is about a group of friends who always go on holidays together - they stay in a house that belongs to one of them, and use his boat.Yep, the friendship is not one of equals, and the cracks start to appear when they all decide to go for their holidays despite one of them ending up in hospital after a serious road accident.
Very French. Good acting. It's all about relationships. But the storyline did nothing for me - They lost me early on, when one of the younger men (who is married with one child) declares his undying love for the alpha male of the pack (also married with children) but says he is not gay.

I often had this dream of renting a house in the South of France with friends and family. It all sounds so idyllic. Well, after watching this movie, I've changed my mind.

Monday, January 21, 2013


OK, I'd better start on the Christmas movies - if I do one a day, I'll be done in a couple of weeks! We did watch a lot of movies over the Christmas holidays.
Although they are part of my childhood, and I probably read every single one of them many times over, I am not a fan of Tintin - plenty of adventure and exotic locations, lots of slapstick fun with the Thompson twins, no doubt, but Tintin is just too square for me. It's really for boys only. The only female character is the Castafiore opera singer, and she is hardly a role model for little girls! I was more a Yoko Tsuno fan. Girl Power before it had a name!
That said, Spielberg's cartoon/movie version is done pretty well. Great graphics, sweeping story (which according to my father is a combination of two books).
Would I keep it for the next time my little nephew is over? Maybe.
Will I watch it again? No.

Twigs in a bottle

Not sure which version I prefer ...
Which one is your favourite?

Wagner concert -NCH

I've been busy these last few weeks - but here I am. I haven't forgotten about you blog-readers of the world!

I have so many movies to review, I'm going to lose sleep if I think about it too much. I'll just have to do what I always do - park my worries and anxieties and enjoy a good night's sleep! I think my secret is To-Do Lists - I have one for work things, one for home things, one for art ideas, and even one with ten songs to play at my funeral! I can't remember how that one started! I'm in good health and not one bit morbid. But it's a useful thing to have, don't you think?

So, back to Wagner - on the occasion of Wagner's 200th birthday celebration, there was a concert in the National Concert Hall on Friday 4th January, with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Matthias Bamert, with Irish soprano Miriam Murphy.

I had been invited by a friend. Let's call her V. And along with a friend of hers, let's call her A, we had a wonderful evening of food and music.

We started the evening in the NCH restaurant - beautiful surroundings, great buzz. I had the fish and chips. Gorgeous fish, with a hint of curry flavour in the batter I think. The chips were a bit small and dry for my Belgian palate, but I ate them anyway! A good start to the evening.

We then moved upstairs to the lecture - it was an interview of the conductor, Matthias Bamert. The room was full and we had to stand, but thankfully, the "conversation", as they call it, wasn't overly long. I found it interesting to hear about a conductor's career, a subject I knew nothing about.

But of course, when it comes to it, it's all about the music. And what a treat! It's a few years since I've been to a live concert, and I had forgotten how I find it fascinating to watch an orchestra at work - the visual impact, to my mind, really adds to the impression made by the music.There was one piece, was it the Ride of the Valkyries?, where the bows of one set of violins were going in one direction while the other set was going in the opposite way. Powerful! V & A didn't like the pace of the Ride of the Valkyries too much - they found it too heavy. And I have to agree that it was slower than what I had expected, but I got engrossed in the power of it, all the same! The Tannhauser Overture and the Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg were beautiful beautiful pieces. As was the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde.

And of course, Miriam Murphy enchanted us with the Wesendonck Lieder and the Liebestod. A fantastic voice, soft and delicate and full of power all at the same time! A voice to die for!

Speaking of which, I've just added the Liebestod to my "ten songs to play at my funeral" (actually, it's eighteen songs long already - it won't be a short affair, be warned!)

Siobhan Ryan, 20 January, black dress

Unusual shape for this black dress. But Siobhan is so slim she carries it off.

Winter pond

I had a special request from my Mum for a watercolour I painted last year. It also happens to be one of BB's favourite ones, so I'm trying to reproduce it, so we can have a version in both locations. As is often the case, it's hard to achieve the same spontaneity the second time round! I feel the colours are quite good and the actual trees work ok - they're quite dreamy -, but my reflections are dreadful. I went far too chunky with my oil pastel stick! Here is a cropped version of it. I think I'll have another go. What do you think?

Acrylic abstract

I'm currently working on an acrylic abstract, based on a painting I found via Pinterest. I'm just using plain acrylics, no medium of any kind added. And I'm applying with a dry brush. I think I have more layering to do, as it's not looking quite right yet. What I would like to achieve is something like this photograph here, which is brighter than what I have on canvas so far, but I'm not sure how to get there! Maybe I need to add some gloss medium and paint a few glazing layers to bring the colours out better?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Why is the water bill so high?

This is an old one, and it's done the rounds many times. It was sent to me by Mariette a few years ago, and I just found it again - and it is still so funny. This couple were wondering why their water bills were so high. One day, one of them stayed home, and found out why!

Grand Canal

One of the last walks we took over the holidays - along the Grand Canal - It was another lovely mild and sunny day. We didn't go very far, but it was better than staying at home eating chocolates!

Monday, January 07, 2013

Trinity College, Dublin

With the mild weather we've had lately, we've done a good bit of walking over the last two weeks. Maybe going into town doesn't really count as a walk? Or maybe it does, if you step onto the grounds of Trinity College, a haven of peace in the middle of the city. It was a particularly nice morning - I think it was New Year's Eve? -  with this strange light quite unique to Ireland - between sunshine and rain!

And did I tell you that Trinity is now high-heel friendly (and wheelchair accessible)? - they've build flat walkways among the cobbles!

We're back at work today, so no more relaxing mornings to enjoy the sights of Dublin! We had a busy first day, and a busy week ahead. All is well in the world of computer repairs (www.pcmedic.ie), it would appear!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Les Troyens

The first word that comes to mind about Les Troyens, is "epic". Five hours + of opera, with two intervals. Not for the faint-hearted. And I thought that Wagner was tough-going! Why did Berlioz not make this into two operas - actually two operas and a ballet. Maybe they hadn't invented serialisation in his days?

  • The first part - about the prophetess Cassandra (sung by the beautiful and mighty Deborah Voigt) and the fall of Troy.
  • The second part - about Aeneas (Brian Hymel, for whom this was a triumphant Met debut) arriving in Carthage and his love for, and betrayal of, Dido (sung by the gorgeous Susan Graham). And what chemistry between these two!
  • The ballet? - Most of Act IV actually - I have to admit that if I was a movie director, this is the bit I would have cut, apart from the beautiful and passionate duet of Dido and Aeneas! Maybe I needed a sugar boost, but my eyes were closing and I could feel my head rolling. Beautiful music and gorgeous dancing, but not enough to keep me awake after nearly 4 hours in a dark cinema, despite BB's bento box. I bought an ice cream at the interval after this and felt a whole lot better for the fifth and final act, which was action-packed!

I wasn't familiar with Berlioz's opera. So, I had prepared myself by listening to a recording on Spotify, but of course I had listened while working on the computer, pausing any time I wanted to get up! Very different from the live experience! I think I will need to listen to it again, or maybe watch it on Sky Arts 2 whenever it comes up - They're showing Satyagraha tomorrow at 8pm, from last year's Met HD broadcasts, so I might have to wait a while!


Loved the set and the lighting - the sky going from day to night behind the big circle! Beautiful costumes too. The white tunics over pants in Carthage, the purple depicting Dido and Aeneas's love for each other, the soldiers's khaki and rust and black. I wasn't crazy about Cassandra's dress, though - I thought it was quite restrictive - Maybe that was intentional - Cassandra's movements are bound by the dress, maybe as she is bound by her role as a princess in Troy's society, or maybe she is bound by the curse that makes it that nobody believes her predictions. I suppose, like all characters in a tragedy, ultimately, she is bound by her fate. I thought that Voigt portrayed her with great sensitivity, though - hers is a desperate situation, but we do see a glimpse of the young woman as she kisses her beloved, Coroebus.

And a big bravo to the chorus, who had such a central role in this opera!

And a note to say that the three principal singers had excellent French diction!

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Pour, pour, pour

And another one!

It's pouring cats and dogs

No, it's not, actually, but I wanted to share with you this byproduct of pouring acrylic - I put down a sheet of plastic on a board to protect my desk (I used a dry cleaner bag). And when the paint that drips from the little squares that I paint, it forms pools of colour. And each drip pushes the previous one out and tighter, making these beautiful ripples. When it's dry, it lifts easily from the plastic sheet. I wonder what I will do with these? But they are too lovely to throw out! BB suggest makes brooches. What do you think?

Sunrise over mountains

I was working on this project for quite a while. December was a busy month. And there are quite a few layers, which needed to dry fully before I could apply the next. I took a few pictures on the way, as you can see below:

I'm sorry to say I can't find the original website with the photogaph. I thought I had it on Pinterest, but no, it's not there. Then I had this vague memory that it was from Cheap Joes - it's the kind of landscape I imagine they have in North Carolina!, but I can't find it there either. I normally like to acknowledge my sources! Actually, I can't even find the digital picture - I just have a fairly poor printout. So, it's just as well I painted it. Otherwise there would be no trace of this lovely sky and mountains!

PS: I was right, it was a Cheap Joes scene! They just posted a new photo of the same location on their Facebook page!

Water Themes

Back to watercolours - Genearally, I use the Masquepen masking fluid, but the last one I got dried very quickly - it might have been in the shop too long, plus I don't use them every day.

So I bought a little bottle of Schmincke masquing fluid the other day, and it was really easy to use. It applies white, and dries to a shiny transparent gloss. It comes off easily too - I was using cheap paper and it didn't tear at all. No need for brushes or other applicators, as it's built in, and it's easy to clear with a stretched paper clip. So, hopefully, it will keep for a while, but just to be on the safe side, I think I'm going to do a few more watercolours in the next few weeks.

This little painting was inspired by a photo I found on Flickr, via Pinterest - a great source of new ideas!

(PS: now that I look at the original, I think it would be a perfect subject for acrylic pouring medium! Will I be able to resist?!!)

Jean Byrne, black and copper dress, 31 December

A sober festive look for Jean this year - no sign of the tin foil dress that was so popular last Christmas!

Jean Byrne, black basque top, silver necklace, 1 January 2013

A favourite of Jean's, this black top with basque - but a new necklace - quite a piece!

It's Pouring again!

I can't promise this is the last one. I had so much fun mixing colours and waiting to see how it would all work out!

New Year Resolutions!

Just watching this I'm feeling slimmer! Badly needed after the last two weeks of over-eating!

Friday, January 04, 2013

More pouring

I did a lot of pouring during this holiday. It can become quite obsessive! I tried to also use string gel, although it didn't quite work out as I had expected. I was hoping for lovely fine squiggles. Maybe the air temperature is too cold? Still, the string gel blobs added an interesting effect to this little square.

Le Havre

We watched plenty of French movies over Christmas. Some better than others.
Le Havre, I thought was lovely. Quirky little story of a shoeshine man whose wife is taken ill, and who helps a young African illegal refugee to stay one step ahead of the police and one step closer to his mother, who lives in London and is waiting for him there.
The colours are all over-exposed and cartoonish, and the characters are two-dimensional, but it's all very sweet.

Dun Laoghaire pier

The mast at Three Rock is just peeping through the clouds!