Films you might not have seen but are surprisingly good

I'm happy to watch almost any type of movie. From brilliant to B-movie (or Bee Movie), classic to cash cow. Occasionally I stumble across a movie that I love but was previously unknown to me. Here's my subjective, growing list of those films, and why I think they're worth your time.

The Paper (1994)

Directed by Ron Howard, starring Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei (as well as Jason Alexander, Lynne Thigpen, Catherine O'Hara all wonderful in smaller roles). This fast-paced film is 24 hours in the life of an overworked editor at a New York tabloid newspaper. Michael Keaton is terrific and funny as his character tries to keep a dozen balls in the air. 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's on iTunes.

Michael Keaton in The Paper

Wait Until Dark (1967)

Audrey Hepburn stars as a blind woman who is conned and terrorised by men trying to steal a doll full of drugs. It's based on a play which has starred Lee Remick, Honor Blackman and Marisa Tomei. It features a wonderfully out-of-tune score by Henry Mancini. 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's on iTunes.

Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

I love a caper film, and this is one of the best. Robert Shaw leads a team including Martin Balsam as they steal a New York subway train. Their plan seems unclear but Walter Matthau and Jerry Stiller try to work it out from the subway control room. A brilliant serialist score by David Shire absolutely nails '70s New York. 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's on iTunes

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three artwork

36 Hours (1965)

War films aren't my favourite, but this is more of a spy thriller like a good episode of Mission: Impossible. It's WWII and a German doctor comes up with a scheme to trick an American officer that the war is over to give up some crucial intelligence. It's based on a short story by Roald Dahl and stars James Garner, Eva Marie Saint and Rod Taylor. I love the piano heavy score by Dimitri Tiomkin. Available on Amazon Video.

36 Hours film poster

Victor/Victoria (1983)

Julie Andrews pretending to be a drag queen, helped by Robert Preston playing her gay bestie with great sensitivity. This film is so full of heart and sadness that it's shocking it is so under appreciated. James Garner and Lesley Ann Warren are also terrific. Songs by Henry Mancini. I believe this is one of Blake Edwards' best film. 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. Available on iTunes.

Lesley Ann Warren in Victor/Victoria

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

I love a movie that feels hot, and I love a courtroom drama, and this is both. Led by James Stewart, Lee Remick and Ben Gazzara, this film deals with a rape case with surprising maturity and weight considering its age. James Stewart is never better than in this film. The jazz score is by Duke Ellington who also appears in the film. 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Available on iTunes.

Anatomy of a Murder poster

Broadway Pins

Sometimes a small pleasure grows into a great joy when you least expect it.

Earlier this year I was perusing Etsy looking at all the amazing, cute enamel pins people across the world have designed. These pins tap into niche pop culture artefacts (The Golden Girls, Beetlejuice, Mad Monster Party) to provide a relatively cheap way to show off your pop culture knowledge. They're also a great conversation starter with people, even if they don't know who or what the pin is.

It was odd, though, that I couldn't find any theatre-themed pins. Well that's a gap I could fill. You know, with my lack of drawing ability, and no knowledge of how to make these pins. Ideal fit, really.

I worked on my first sketch, a pin of Stephen Sondheim. I pretty much fluked the first design; it was, in my opinion, unmistakably Stephen Sondheim. What a case of beginner's luck.

I tracked down a pin manufacturer in the States. The unit cost seemed reasonable - I could make a small profit on each pin - so it seemed possible. The total cost for 100 pins was low enough that I could take a risk and even if I sold a handful I wouldn't be losing too much money; it would have just been a fun exercise. I ordered 100 pins and about a month later a box arrived from China. I was pleasantly surprised - they turned out so cute.

In the meantime I had built an eCommerce website for the pins (finally using a skill I actually had) and was ready to tell the world. I guessed the shipping costs, took some photos of the pins, sent out a tweet and went to bed. While I slept, things were going crazy. People were talking about the pin, sharing it and offering a lot of kind words. Orders started were flooding in. In 36 hours I had completely sold out, all 100 pins. I was blown away. I had a lot of packing to do.

It took me a few evenings to pack all of the pins, a process made longer by the decision to hand write a note on each of the original orders. I took them to the post office in one batch, and spent hours filling out customs forms until my hands ached. Thankfully now I've streamlined the processes with a stamp and doing all the paperwork at home, and have formed close, lifelong friends and nemeses with the various postal workers.

One of my many, very long post office receipts

I now have 7 different pin designs available with more in the works. I'll be restocking Lin Manuel Miranda and Stephen Sondheim (the latter for the second time) in the new year. I'm also using a different, cheaper supplier, cutting out the middle-man. Three cheers for globalism and the Internet.

What surprised me when talking to people about it was that they seemed to be taking it a lot more seriously than I was. People described it as a "venture", a "business" when I thought of it more like a fun little project. That's a large part of the joy for me (I haven't even minded going to the post office almost every second day); it was something that grew out of fun to become a tidy little business. I love seeing the photos people send of themselves wearing the pins, and it was a thrill to end up on the 2016 Playbill Holiday Gift Guide this year. Sure, it won't last forever, but while it does I'm going to enjoy it and take the chance to give a little too. In an effort to say "thank you for your support", I've donated $1000 USD to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids. Thank you, truly.

Amongst the smog of global disaster that clouded 2016, I was bestowed with a disproportionate number of delights and true joys. Broadway Pins has been one of those for me, and please know that I am extremely grateful for your support, attention and passing on your well-wishes. I am genuinely delighted by you. If you'd like to hear more, there's a mailing list sign-up on the Broadway Pins website where I'll announce new designs in the works for the new year. Lastly, I'll be in New York myself at the end of February if you'd like to have a coffee and talk theatre. I'll try to bring as many pins as my bag can fit!

Finally, some shelves

My CD collection was becoming a bit unruly, particularly after gratefully accepting the donation of a few hundred discs from a friend's collection. I had already outgrown the CD towers I had hastily bought from Officeworks when they stopped making them so it was time for some more efficient shelving. Now don't drag me for still buying and keeping CDs, often it's the only way to properly financially support the artists so new recordings can remain financially viable. Also, classic releases are often dumped at incredibly low prices so it's easy to fill gaps in classical and jazz libraries... but I digress.

CDs, CDs, CDs everywhere

This apartment doesn't have an enormous amount of wall space owing to the many windows, but I did keep an area clean for shelving for my CDs. Inspired by this fellow Melbournian's impressive CD collection, I looked wanted to do something a bit more humble albeit just as space-saving.

I looked into a bunch of shelving options including floating and steel, but ended up going with simple, store-bought track shelving. I wasn't sure if it was going to look messy (I removed the same shelving from the first apartment I rented because I hated it), but I looked up some examples and saw that it can indeed be attractive. It was also going to provide flexibility as my needs grow (or shrink) and was cheap. All boxes ticked.

I popped out to Bunnings looking for something else and came home with four 1.6m double tracks (the bits that screw onto the wall). Carrying those home on the tram was fun. This was basically me:

I sourced the brackets from The Shelving Shop online and had them posted to me as Bunnings didn't have enough stock. I have four spares just in case I need to squeeze in another shelf at some point.

Brackets for shelves up!

Finally, I chose simple 12mm thick MDF for the eight shelves themselves. Allboard Distributors took care of me here. I just emailed them what I was after (2 meters by 142mm) and they cut the wood and delivered it to my building. They even suggested a change that would save me some money (ordering 8 instead of 9 shelves would save me the cost of a whole board of MDF). It took about a week for my job to come up but then they threw it on a truck and got it out to me. I guess they're used to dealing with fit builders so the delivery guy just pointed to the wood on the truck when he arrived and I had to wrangle it off. I could handle eight. Nine might have done me in.

I used a stud finder to try to align the tracks up with the studs (essential unless you're using plasterboard anchors), but the stud finder reported the whole wall as being a stud. This is a bit of a mystery to me, but I can only assume that there's an additional wood panelling behind the plasterboard on this wall as it's a wall that adjoins another apartment. In short, I don't really know what I was screwing into behind there, but it seems totally sturdy. I'd love to know exactly what is in there. Bodies, maybe? Bags of old cash? A hidden room with someone else's shelving that I've just screwed into?

I had planned to prime and paint the shelves in Lexicon Quarter to match the walls but I didn't mind the look of the raw MDF. I still might paint them, but I've kinda had enough of painting recently.

Completed CD shelves

Here's the full cost:

4 x 1600mm shelving twin-slot tracks - $45.84
36 x 120mm twin-slot brackets - $79.20 (+ $19.80 delivery)
8 x 2000mm MDF shelves - $64 (+ $60 delivery)
A pack of wood screws - $7.80

TOTAL: $276.64

The pitter patter of little wheels

One of the most exciting things about moving into my own apartment is that a lot of the restrictions of renting no longer apply. It's quite possible that I could get a pet - a little dog perhaps - to mess up my floors and slobber on the couch. I considered it, however I'm not sure I can take on the responsibility of taking the pup for a walk each day, particularly when there aren't any off-the-leash parks nearby and some days my very objective is to avoid leaving my apartment.

Don't get too sad for me, however, because I've found a perfect substitute, and one that wont't mess up my floors. In fact, just the opposite! I am the now proud parent of a baby robot vacuum player. Introducing to the world: J. Edgar Roomba!

Me and my baby Roomba

When he first got home he mostly hid under my shelves and under my bed, but eventually started to explore his surroundings. Before long he was doing laps up and down the hallway banging into the skirting board at every opportunity. About 90 minutes later he coughed up a furball and went to bed. It was quite the productive first day.

It's fair to say there were a few teething problems. I hadn't Roomba-readied my apartment, so anything on the ground posed a danger to the Roomba, or more accurately in reverse. A stack of new picture frames from IKEA learning up against a wall came down in a crash as the Roomba slammed into them. Thankfully none of them broke. Less lucky was the large ceramic wrap-around pipe cover for my bathroom basin. I had removed it to get access to the pipes and placed it on the bathroom floor. The Roomba hit it and it toppled and smashed on the tiles. The cheeky bugger then just stayed there and circled around in its own mess. Toddlers, eh?

J. Edgar Roomba after smashing my bathroom basin pipe cover

Certain incidents aside, he's doing a great job. This particular Australian model can't be scheduled (otherwise it's the same as the American model), so I have to manually start it. That's not so bad, because I usually have to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't get itself trapped somehow (which occasionally happens). It does have the programmable interface, but that's pretty advanced. I don't need a HAL-style situation here. And although he won't touch my thick rug (carpet would probably be fine), he climbs the lip up to my bathroom quite easily.

They grow up so fast. He's currently whipping around and butting into all of my furniture with such confidence, collecting dust from places my vacuum would never venture (ie. everywhere). Now I just need one that will dust on top of things, clean my bathroom, maybe do a little cooking and every now and then tell me a story.

J. Edgar Roomba coming to steal your dust bunnies

Adorable doors

You know when they show old people in movies and they can only remember one thing about their youth and they sit in their wheelchair staring out the window repeating a reference which is understood only by people now deceased? Yes? Imagine now, if you will, that I'm in that chair, hair powdered white while softly repeating, "cornice cement, then sand, cornice cement, then sand..."

I am speaking about my doors again, of course. If the idea of more door talk doesn't thrill you, you might want to move on.

I've been removing the door trims on more doors in the apartment, then doing the ol' cement, sand and paint job on them. Some have turned out great, others not so great. It seems to depend on how flush the metal part of the door jam is with the plaster. If there's a bump, or it's on an angle, that's going to show up when I fill the gaps with plaster. I think I'm even getting a little better at the plastering. I've never quite been able to produce a perfectly flat smooth result, but with the low-sheen paint the inconsistencies just don't bother me.

Bedroom door with painted white trim

I had already painted the trim on the two doors in my bedroom until I had time/energy to do the full work (above), so they hadn't bothered me too much. One morning I was in bed and I looked at the door and it just had to go. Out came the hammer, the sandpaper, the sanding attachment for the drill, the paint and I finished up two doors over two days. I also took this opportunity to redo parts of the first door I worked on.

Finishing up the last coat on the bedroom door job

That's five doors down now, just two, maybe three to go (the laundry door is still a puzzle without a solution). It's still my favourite change to the apartment.

I also have a mix of chrome door handles throughout the apartment that make screeching, clunking and thumping sounds that would be more at home in a dungeon. I decided to replace them with simpler black handles, even though there's the usual 200% price increase on black coloured hardware. I bought one from Style Finish Design to see how it would look. It was quite the challenge to fit correctly to my thin doors. Firstly, the handle spindle (the square metal rod that goes through the door and turns when you turn the handle) was way too long. I had to cut it in half, and then screws were too long. They chose to describe the screws as "snap off screws", meaning you snap it to the length you want but I found that was a little optimistic. The hacksaw sorted that out. It turned out quite spiffy though.

Lounge room door with new black door handle

I'd like to say that this door is finished, but it probably never will be. It's my rosebud, or more appropriately my hunt for the Zodiac killer if I was Jake Gyllenhaal's character I guess.

The grass is always greener (when it's fake)

Works on the apartment have started to slow down. I'd like to blame the return of work, but the fact that I have a couch to sit on and watch my stories is probably equally to blame (finally finished Mad Men though, so some boxes are being ticked).

When I moved in I dumped all of my plants rather unceremoniously out on the larger of my two balconies, and it looked a mess. Some of the plants started to suffer burns from the couple of hours of direct sunlight they were now getting each day. The balconies were not pleasant places to be as the steel floors always felt dirty and a little bit unstable. I had to sort it out.

I had considered getting some fake grass for the balcony in my previous (rental) apartment, but it had always seemed very expensive in Bunnings, particularly for the tiled stuff. Now I was working with a different layout: two narrow but long balconies. I found a bunch of eBay sellers who would sell rolls of the stuff for a much better price. Rolls were either one or two metres wide. My balconies were about 900mm wide, so the one metre wide roll would cut down perfectly. Combined, the balconies were about 10.3 metres in length. I decided to go for a 10 metre roll and use some of the off to fill the gap (or just cover it with plants).

I chose the less "butcher shop window" looking of the two options. This type, described as "natural coloured" is made up of three colours of plastic rather than the super cheap stuff which only has one colour. It's a much better look, though still a little far from "natural" to really convince anyone (mostly because I would never have grass that looked that freshly mown).

Close-up of the grass

Laying the roll wasn't too hard, just slightly awkward as the roll didn't fit within the width of the balcony. I rolled it into position and then trimmed the excess with a stanley knife from the matting side. Trying to cut from the grass side was much harder as the knife just slid across the plastic grass knots.

The roll of grass before laying it on the balcony

As it turns out, the roll was a bit longer than 10 metres so I didn't need to use any offcuts to fill any gaps. It just worked a treat.

Fake grass on the balcony with plants

The grass is a big improvement over the steel. I don't need to wear shoes when watering the plants and the texture is quite nice. While I'm working at my desk or on the couch I can always see the green out of the corner of my eye. It's a nice addition to the place, and I wonder how much nicer it would look when not up against the weird orange floating floor in my apartment. Yes, about that...