ELVIS – Movie Review

I have never hidden the fact that I am a bit of an Elvis fan. Not one for collecting all of the records and memorabilia etc… but I thought he was a great entertainer. So when this film came out I knew I had to go and see it.

Movie Plot (as if you don’t know)

The movie is written, produced and directed by Baz Luhrmann. It’s a more or less complete biopic of the life of Elvis told through the eyes of the man who became his sole manager, (Colonel) Tom Parker. This man somehow managed Elvis through his whole career. The story of how Elvis rose to conquer the music world is relayed through Parker (played by Tom Hanks) who is on his deathbed in 1997.

Elvis is played by Austin Butler. Not easy (blue suede) shoes to fill for sure but Butler does a fine job overall. From what I have read he also sings (at least some songs) in the movie. If that is indeed true then very well played Mr. Butler.

The story (or plot) is well known. Young Elvis is into his music even before high school and has his own unique style based on various musical influences including Rhythm & Blues, country and gospel. When Tom Parker hears him sing he takes over his career which goes sky high. Then Elvis gets high – on all the various prescription drugs, uppers, downers the lot. He is given drugs to keep him awake or get him to sleep depending on which town he is travelling to for a performance although the film only gets into that late in his career (the Vegas years).

Elvis shocks America – which was incredibly quite prim and proper back in the 1950s – with his gyrating performances. Then he shocks the world. Threatened with prison (so they say) Parker thinks it is a great idea if he is conscripted into the US Army where he serves his time in (West) Germany. Just imagine if he came along a few years later. He could have ended up serving in Vietnam! Now that would have made for some interesting films – fact or fiction.

In Germany Elvis meets his soon to be wife and when he returns to the USA Parker has him making so many movies that he becomes the highest earning movie star (so the story says). But he misses performing in front of a live audience and soon makes a Christmas Special TV show. Following his ‘comeback’ show other outside influencers implant the idea that Elvis should tour Europe and Japan. Parker’s grip on the King of Rock n Roll is slipping until Elvis starts playing big shows in Las Vegas. Through a combination of sweet-talking and pure bullshit Tom Parker persuades Elvis to keep playing in Las Vegas. Elvis’ dream of a world tour is gone but the world just comes to Vegas to see him. The rest, as they say, is history.

There is so much to cover in a movie of a man who lived several lifetimes each year that he was famous. But the movie somehow manages to pack it all in. Largely by featuring several segments of scrapbook montages which handle it very well. Almost documentary style at times. There are times when original footage of his fans is mixed in with the actors during concerts – and it all works well.

In the end his demise is dealt with quite quickly – maybe too quickly. However right at the end there is real footage of Elvis performing on stage (in Vegas) only 3 weeks before he died. An overweight Elvis sat playing the piano while singing Unchained Melody, a real classic. At this point in time he could barely stand on his own feet yet he could still sing a great song perfectly. So much so that he still held the audience in the palm of his hand. Spellbound. The ultimate entertainer right to the end.

Critique

The first thing that strikes you is Hanks doing some ridiculous accent for Tom Parker. I have never heard Parker speak and i doubt many die-hard Elvis fans have either. And even if they had it doesn’t matter. It is both annoying and pathetic.

Now that is off my chest I have to say that as an Elvis fan (of sorts) I liked it. But I will try to be even handed here. I am sure many we saw at the Parkes Elvis Festival in Parkes a couple of months ago – for post click here – will rush to see it. No doubt it will be shown in Parkes cinema at the next festival.

As far as the movie goes it does not paint Parker in a good light at all. He is mostly devious (what showbiz promoters/managers aren’t) and even sinister at times. Not unlike the character of Louis Cyphre played by Robert De Niro in Angel Heart. Probably intentionally so.

Austin Butler was very good. It is a difficult to play such famous people especially entertainers with the stature of Elvis. I won’t get carried away and say he was excellent – judge that for yourselves – but it wouldn’t surprise me if he won an Oscar for this one. Let’s put it this way: If Rami Malik can win an Oscar for playing Freddie Mercury then Butler is a nailed on winner and worth a bet (not that I am encouraging gambling here – that’s just a tip). While the rest of the cast did very well no supporting roles stood out.

The overall production was very good and although the film was 2 hours and 40 minutes long the time flew by. Always a sign of a well made movie I say. Elvis fans will surely flock to see it and there will be plenty for them to debate for sure. As unreal as Elvis’ life was, there seemed to be some poetic licence at times. (I personally don’t know for sure though, maybe older cinema goers would.)

For anyone who even remotely likes Elvis or indeed anyone who simply knows his story, the ending is certain to be emotional. I had never seen that particular footage before.

I believe it will be enjoyed by those who like Elvis’ music and those who are not really bothered. I give this movie 4 stars (out of the usual 5).

Convict Trail & St. Albans (Part 2)

This is kind of a Part 2 to the Wisemans Ferry/Convict Trail post (for that one click here…). Crossing the Hawkesbury and heading in a slightly different direction takes you to the small old colonial village of St. Albans.

Wisemans Ferry to St. Albans

There are two ferry crossings at Wisemans Ferry. The first is the twin (bi-directional) ferry service from the north side of the town over to the area of the Devines Hill part of the Convict Trail. The second ferry crossing is a single ferry operation that also takes you over the Hawkesbury but to the other side of a major tributary – the McDonald River – and onto a road leading to the small village of St. Albans.

During the early colonial days the Macdonald Valley was an important agricultural area due of its accessibility by water. The village of St. Albans is surrounded by mountains and sits alongside the Macdonald River. However with the building of the railways and extensive agricultural development further west, the Macdonald Valley’s importance declined. For that reason the valley is often referred to by the locals as “The Forgotten Valley”.

Dani down by the McDonald river on the edge of the village of St. Albans

 The Settlers Arms Inn – Original Village Pub

The fantastic Settlers Arms Inn was built in 1836 from sandstone blocks excavated and cut by convicts. It remains a pub to this day and is a great example of Georgian simplicity.

The Settlers Arms Inn at St. Albans

Even the inside of the Inn still looks original

Around the Inn there are some great examples of classic abandoned vehicles.

An old VW ‘Kombi’
Another of several abandoned classic vehicles in St. Albans
An early Toyota Land Cruiser

Another interesting place is the Pickled Wombat café. Although the sign above the door suggests another name (The Fickle Wombat).

The Pickled Wombat sign
The café, which says ‘Fickle Wombat’ above the door.

The round trip back down the opposite side of the McDonald river brings you back to the double ferry crossing. Part of that road is unsealed but it is easily driveable in a 2-wheel drive car. It’s a great half day trip from/to Wisemans Ferry and you can have lunch or a snack in St. Albans

Classic original architecture in the village
Ferry crossing for the St. Albans road

Plant a Tree, Have a Son, Write a Book – The Book Bit

The Book Bit – Done!

Although technically I had wrote a book last year, I never actually published it. I did finally publish (a different) one last month however. The ‘Write a Book’ part of that well known phrase has been achieved.

I realise it is a very niche subject so I am by no means expecting it to be a best seller – or anything close. But it is out there in the published world and (within reason) that is where it will now stay. A kind of legacy…

Fighting for Immortality

The book covers four huge boxing matches that span the first two decades of the millennium. Each fight involves a top British boxer and their (equally top class) American opponent. The action of the fights and the build up plus the back stories that brought the two combatants together in each of these battles.

Starting in April 2000 in Madison Square Garden New York, New York, with Lennox Lewis defending his heavyweight crown against the man who most Americans thought was the heir apparent; the huge Michael Grant.

The second section jumps forward seven years to MM 2007 and Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada. The story covers the American and arguably the greatest boxer of his generation, Floyd Mayweather Junior as he takes on the popular British boxer Ricky Hatton.

During the fight-week build up to the Mayweather-Hatton clash, another fight was spawned. Two older fighters would face off to decide who was the best at light-heavyweight. Bernard Hopkins met Joe Calzaghe in Vegas and got in to a heated discussion. when Hopkins shouted that he ‘would never lose to a white boy’ the whole world took notice and the fight was effectively sealed. The two seemingly unbeatable fighters met in April 2008 also in Las Vegas.

Finally to June 2019. Anthony Joshua, arguably at that time the sports biggest star, crossed the pond to make his American debut. It was meant to be a coming out party in the USA for Britain’s Joshua. After his original opponent failed several drug tests a replacement was hastily drafted in. That man was Andy Ruiz Jr. an American born fighter of Mexican heritage. Physically the two boxers could not look more different. This would be a walkover  for Joshua, surely? Yet what followed shocked the boxing world and indeed the whole sporting world.

The Book’s Covers

The great artwork on the front and back covers was done by my friend’s daughter (my God-daughter) Emily Rowley.

The book is available on Amazon in most countries so if sports, boxing and particularly the characters in and around boxing interest you, please go and buy a copy. Alternatively of course, if you know anyone who may be interested in such a book feel free to share this post or simply tell them about the book.

Exam Week Over

Last week was exam week for Dani and his fellow students. Mid year exams. There will be more to come before they finish for the summer in December. Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s a little bit too much, asking kids of that age to do exams. Still, what do I know?

This week the results are rolling in. He has done quite well up to now. Not that I am particularly bothered. Neither is he – which I actually think is a good thing, and here’s why…

Dani is 8 years old but there are some in his school year who are 10 years old. Most are 9. It seems that many of his colleagues have been under some sort of pressure (call it stress if you like) – judging from what he tells me. I asked him several times in the build up to exam week if he was in any way worried or concerned about the tests. He said clearly that he was not. I am glad about that. Proud of him in fact. I don’t want him worrying about school exams at eight years of age.

I asked about the other kids in his class/year. He thought there were quite a few who had admitted to being nervous about the exams. Also based on what he had overheard among small group discussions he got the impression there were some who were definitely worried. I think that’s fairly sad at their age. Is this really the world they are growing up in? I suppose it has always been competitive but not at such a young age – I think.

At that age we hardly had a care in the world. If we did it certainly wasn’t about school and exams. Maybe by doing these exams at such a young age they will just get used to it as they get older. I hope so. That’s too young to be worrying about school exams. They should be enjoying the learning process while being encouraged not to worry about the exams. They have lots of homework which is bad enough at that age. We never had that until we reached high school age. And we turned out fine. Didn’t we? Aha… That’s the million dollar question right there eh? Answers on a postcard please.

And that brings me to news of our first visitors since arriving in Australia. Dani’s abuelos are arriving late Thursday/early Friday. Dani can show them Sydney… That should be fun hahahaa…

The Convict Trail at Wisemans Ferry

The Old Great North Road and The Convict Trail

Last Monday  marked the Queen’s birthday – a bank holiday in most of Australia. So to get out of Sydney (any excuse for me!) but not have to travel too far, we headed up the historic Old Great North Road to the small town of Wisemans Ferry to see what has become known as The Convict Trail.

The Great North Road was built to link Sydney to the fertile Hunter valley in the north. The road was built by convicts between 1825 and 1836. It covers some 260 kilometres (162 miles) across some extremely rugged terrain. To put that into perspective, that’s about 26 kilometres per year or just over 2 kilometres per month. When you see (just part of) the old road and all of its support walls and drainage channels you will realise just how impressive that really is. Certainly impressive enough to be included on the Australian National Heritage List (added in August 2007) and also on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Looking down on the Hawkesbury river close to Wisemans Ferry.
Part of the old Great North Road as it is today

One of several points of interest for kids on the Convict Trail

A Little History

The road was a real feat of engineering but it was not exactly a success in practical terms. The steep gradients and the lack of water and horse feed along the route meant that it quickly fell into disuse. As soon as there were alternative means of getting to the Hunter Valley, such as new faster steamships and newer roads the Great North Road’s fate was basically sealed.

While much of the road was abandoned, parts of the original route has been overlaid by modern roads for the main route out of Sydney with only some evidence remaining. But once the other side of the Hawkesbury river a large section of the original road can be walked (or cycled) for some distance.

These were small structures. Some on the trail are much larger.
The retaining walls show how much work went into the construction.
Another retaining wall showing drainage outlet

As it was constructed using convict labour this route is also known as ‘The Convict Trail’. Remember; this road was built by hand. We only saw a small part of it, but trust me, it is bloody impressive!

Dani in old leg irons.
Tough times for the convicts. They were incentivised to work hard.
Hangman’s Rock – see main text

Hangman’s Rock was so called as it was thought that this place was used to hang convicts who tried to escape. A noose was hung from a tree above the hole in the rock formation and the prisoner was then pushed through the hole. Well that is what legend says but there is actually no real evidence that this did (or indeed did not) happen. But it was certainly used for something as steps were excavated up into the (mostly) covered area. Whatever this spot was used for it certainly makes for a great point of interest on the trail.

Wisemans Ferry

The small town of Wisemans Ferry sits on the banks of the Hawkesbury river about an hour and a half from the centre of Sydney. As close as it is to the metropolis, it could be a million miles away. The town (originally called Lower Portland Headland) was named Wisemans Ferry, after Solomon Wiseman, who was a former convict.

The huge Hawkesbury river dominates the area and boats are a big part of this town. Especially the ferry services which run 24/7 taking cars across the river. The crossings are free. Well, “free” unless you are a tax payer I suppose…

This was a bank holiday weekend so it was fairly busy. (I guess. I have nothing to measure it against this being the first time we had been there.)

Historic Post Office at Wisemans Ferry

Bi-directional ferries at the 24/7 crossing

Solomon Wiseman

Solomon Wiseman is one of those characters who would surely have made his mark in any era of history.

Statue of Solomon Wiseman in the heart of the town

Wiseman was born in England in 1777 and had several jobs including working on barges on the river Thames and being employed by the British government to carry spies to France. In 1805 he was found guilty of stealing wood and was sentenced to death. As was quite common back then his sentence was commuted to ‘Transportation for Life’ in the new penal colony in New South Wales, Australia. On arrival he was almost immediately given conditional liberty and lived with his wife and two sons who had travelled to Australia with him. In 1810 he was given parole and in 1812 a full pardon.

Clearly a natural entrepreneur Wiseman wasted no time and built and ran a shipping business ferrying coal and timber up and down the coast. In 1817 Wiseman received a land grant in the area (from the then Governor Macquarie) and when he learned that the government was planing to build The Great North Road (so the story goes) he persuaded them to build it passing through his land. He later set up a ferry service crossing the Hawkesbury River and in 1827 he spotted the opportunity for the transport of produce and provisions to the convicts building the Great North Road. Unsurprisingly he later became known as King of the Hawkesbury.

Wisemans Ferry Inn. Once the home of Solomon Wiseman, now a pub

Wiseman is buried in the town’s old cemetery a few kilometres downstream from the present day town. Like all of these old cemeteries – especially in these frontier/pioneer locations – there is a lot of nostalgia and history buried here…

Wisemans Ferry old cemetery
The grave of Solomon Wiseman
There is something fascinating about these places…

Melbourne – Then and Now

I first visited Melbourne a long time ago. 1990s. I can’t even remember the exact year. 1994? 1993? Something like that. It must be an age thing… As if that is not bad enough I can hardly remember anything about the place. Last weekend I made a whistle-stop trip over to Sydney’s rival city to see a boxing match.

The “Marvel” Stadium
Glass and steel structures dominate the docklands area around the Marvel Stadium

Melbourne in the 1990s

I only remember a few things about Melbourne from my first visit all those years ago. The old Victorian swimming baths, the Old Gaol and watching my first Aussie rules football match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The rest is a blur apart from one thing. I do recall thinking that I liked Melbourne a lot more than Sydney. Strange thing that eh?

Sydney has the geographical beauty of the harbour and the city beaches but I definitely thought Melbourne was a better city. More ‘liveable’ I think was the term I would have used.

Another thing I remembered was the wonderful tram system that Melbourne had. Somehow the city managed to retain the original (and extensive) tram network while other cities around the world (Sydney included) thought that it was a good idea to rip them up. Progress anyone?

Town Hall
A blast from the past. These classic underground toilets are still going.

Melbourne Now…

Back then Melbourne regularly topped those stupid “World’s Most Liveable City” lists. Not anymore. I thought Melbourne was not a particularly nice place. Again that may seem an odd thing to say but then I am not a fan of Sydney either. My love (‘liking’ might be a better word) of big cities has taken a tumble in recent years. Give me the outback any day!

So what has changed? Apart from myself of course. Well, much like Sydney, Melbourne has grown. Upwards more than anything, from what I saw. Huge new skyscraper-like buildings are all over the city centre. Any historic buildings are struggling for survival. Similar yet opposite to nature. Like new plants beneath the the huge canopy of older established trees in a rainforest, it is the older buildings that seem to be under constant threat. When the real estate value beneath you feet is only a fraction of what can be made when you look up to the sky it is not difficult to see where it will all end. Sydney is going the same way of course as are many cities the world over. It’s called “progress” but believe me, it is not. Oh the cynicism of middle age eh? LOL. But seriously… It is funny how your perceptions change as you get older.

Old and new
More old vs new

The city has lost much of its quaintness (if that’s the right word). The centre never needed to change that much as there are enough new areas on the outskirts that have risen towards the clouds. But it seems there is no stopping the ‘developments’. A real shame because I definitely remember liking the city.

On one corner this old building…
Diagonally opposite was this lot…

There also seemed to be a lack of old pubs. Back in the 90s I would have definitely visited a few (even if I can’t remember them LOL). There were very few in the centre now and mostly kind of hidden. I am sure there would have been more typical corner plot hotel/pubs. Or am I wrong? If anyone knows more about this please let me know.

Some fascinating structures but how many do they need?

A word on the Trams

The tram system is still great. In fact it even has a free zone right in the city centre where you do not need to pay. How good is that for tourists who just want to see the centre? Especially with young kids!

But when you give people something for nothing they will always abuse it. You give them an inch, they will take a mile. Take liberties. My hotel was outside the free zone so naturally I would  ‘tap on’ and ‘tap off’ with my travel card when required. Yeah. Spot the tourist eh!

I hardly saw anyone else do it however. I think the locals were genuinely taking the piss! I am sure there are quite a lot doing the right (honest) thing but I never saw many. That free tram ride thing must be costing the city a lot of money.

All that aside however, the Melbourne tram system is probably worth the visit by itself. It really shows how backwards so many cities have gone – even when they think they are being “progressive”.

Not exactly a glowing advertisement for Melbourne tourism eh? Well I just have to call it like I see it. Despite all of the above it looks like we will be making a short trip to Melbourne in the near future when Dani’s cousins come over to visit (with their parents of course). More on that one when it happens however…