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Pub Review: The Exeter, Adelaide

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The beer is fresh and cold, if unspectacular. Coopers features, but otherwise it has a decidedly pedestrian array of beer taps. And the food’s fine although I can’t recall an amazing meal I’ve had in its quirky beer garden.

Ultimately, none of these matter when deconstructing Adelaide’s mighty Exeter Hotel.

Some pubs offer accessibility as their key attraction. A vital yet drearily utilitarian function when you get home after a tough day on the hamster wheel and realise you forgot to take out the chops to defrost, so you barrel down to your local for some cheap schnitzels.

This is not the raison d’être of the X.

Set amidships at 246 Rundle Street in the city’s East End alongside the restaurants, cafes and retailers, a visit to this peerless boozer can set you on the road to Damascus, or at least Kent Town.

Beyond the usual, but still praiseworthy self-promotion of “No Pokies!” the X also positions itself by quietly announcing that pub crawls (Adelaide Uni Engineers: they’re lookin’ at you!), buck’s and hen’s nights and misshapen birthdayers younger than 21 can look elsewhere to celebrate.

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This is a pub that knows its mind. It won’t listen to an hour of AM radio talkback, or watch Q&A and suddenly change its view. It’s a pub that wins the toss on a muggy day, ignores the hectoring of its opening bowlers, and decides to bat.

Just like it always does.

The front bar of the Exeter is an Adelaidean experience par excellence but the grungy microcosm within is removed from the monolithic culture of the day: there’s no which school did you attend? Crows or Port? Mix or Nova? Fruchocs or FUIC? Nonsense you might encounter at other more nakedly aspirational pubs.

Indeed, this incongruity is most welcome and isn’t incompatible with the genteel surrounds: it’s an earthy compulsion. The X, in roaring, bursting flight with its eclectic denizens, is more Soho or Camden Town or Hammersmith pub. As a point of difference, it’s wholly life-affirming.

If the Exeter didn’t exist, it would be necessary to build it.

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Decades back our mate Chris was emigrating to Queensland to work for a software company. So, to mark this, we dined on curry and Kingfisher lager, and then galloped across to the Exeter.

Dawn’s closer than dusk. Only Nick and I remained, our Doc Martins moored to the floorboards. He’s from a farm in Shea-Oak Log. Years ago, we saw the Rolling Stones at Footy Park.

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As always, we navigated travel and bands and film, and our discussion arrived at Harper Lee’s autobiographical masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Over and through our Coopers, we pondered the novel’s last lines, and admired their uncomplicated elegance. They’re among the finest words printed. After the rush of the climax, we’re left with a painterly scene, a world profoundly restored by the love of Atticus

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He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.

This is why I love the Exeter.

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Among my favourite writers is the Adelaide Hills-based wine scribe Philip White. Early in my career a highlight was opening Wednesday’s Advertiser in the English faculty office with my then boss and old mate Digby. We’d devour Whitey’s column and belly-laugh and nod. He’s a magnificent author, and naturally, his articles were not about grog, but stories. People, places, events both happy and poignant.

Some years later I finally met Whitey in the Exeter. We yarned at length about much including the account he wrote of the Darwin Stubby Drinking Competition held, of course, at the Humpty Doo pub.

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“I loved the character at the centre of that story, Dave Gaston”, I stated.

Whitey replied. “Yeah, I reckon I compared him to Mick Jagger saying he’d ‘carefree elegance.’”

“You did. And it was great that while Dave won the prize you put a twist in the tail.”

“It was true,” the plonk critic nodded, “The quickest Darwin Stubby guzzler on the day was Norman. A Brahman bull.”

This is why I love the Exeter.

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So, the X can be curmudgeonly. But safely within its ageless walls- check out the TOURIST DIES OF THIRST newspaper billboard behind the bar- you’ll be at this town’s ragged, charming heart and in a place of conversation and character and cheer.

It’s that most rare of locations: the destination pub.

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Ten Terrific Films- Part Two

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5. Lantana
Great line- What are you doing here? Most of the guys in this place aren’t much older than our son.

This is a mesmerising, sumptuous mix of sex and death with a stellar cast including Barbara Hershey, Geoffrey Rush, Anthony La Paglia and Russell Coight Glenn Robbins. Written by South Australian resident Andrew Bovell it’s mysterious and gripping and sad. Paul Kelly provides the suitably atmospheric score.

Set in Sydney the film engages us visually and aurally, and I can almost feel the uncomfortable humidity of both the setting and the relationships.

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4. Groundhog Day
Great line- Ned… Ryerson. “Needlenose Ned”? “Ned the Head”? C’mon, buddy. Case Western High. Ned Ryerson: I did the whistling belly-button trick at the high school talent show? Bing! Ned Ryerson: got the shingles real bad senior year, almost didn’t graduate? Bing, again. Ned Ryerson: I dated your sister Mary Pat a couple times until you told me not to anymore? Well?

With its themes of redemption and finding joy in every moment this is a favourite among Buddhists, and as cynical weatherman Phil Connors, arguably Bill Murray’s finest performance.

A magnificent comedy the film also appeals with its life-affirming messages although it’s impossible to now hear Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” without an involuntary twinge.

Not only is Groundhog Day- February 2- my wife’s birthday, but I recall legendary Australian sports-caster Bruce McAvaney struggling uncharacteristically to say the name of a race horse called Punxsutawney Phil (a gelding). It’s the only time I’ve heard Bruce frustrated. The horse had a mercifully short career.

It’s a film I like to see annually, just to luxuriate in the fun of a Pennsylvanian town called Punxsutawney. Last February 2 a British pay TV channel showed the movie. On a loop. All day. Genius.

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3. GoodFellas
Great line- You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?

I know we’re all supposed to love The Godfather, and I do, but GoodFellas is my favourite mob movie. Again, it’s a film with a great, laconic narration, by the doomed protagonist Henry Hill, and based upon a true story, which concluded in witness protection as these things often do.

In a curious tribute one of The Sopranos producer called this movie his “Koran” and I love Scorsese’s soundtrack. His rule was if a scene was set, for example, in 1973 then it couldn’t feature a song from after then.

There’s a gruesome montage with bodies turning up in cars, garbage trucks and a meat freezer van set to the gorgeous slide guitar and piano coda from “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes. The disconnect between image and sound emphasises the absurdity and horror of this barbaric landscape.

With Aretha Franklin, The Who and The Rolling Stones the soundtrack evokes the broad historic sweep of this magnificent movie.

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2. Apocalypse Now
Great line- Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?
Willard: I don’t see any method at all, sir.

In many ways this is beyond a war movie as it’s a journey into the deep horror residing within our human condition. The physical action is set within Vietnam and Cambodia but the real conflict occurs within the psyches of the characters and us.

Among the questions it asks and demands we also ask is who has the moral supremacy? Kurtz? Willard? Kilgore? Dennis Hopper’s photojournalist? It also asks questions of American imperialism and war.

The mythology of making this film is a story in itself that nearly approaches Coppola’s epic. Hearts of Darkness documents the troubled production with the health issues of both Sheen and Brando; typhoons; financial blow-outs and more.

The Doors’ “The End” has been used in many films but none approach the impact it has here.

Years ago, before our boys arrived I went to our local cinema on a Sunday night to see the then newly-released Redux version. For a thrilling, brief interlude, I thought I would achieve that geeky nirvana: I’d have the entire theatre to myself and would take in the 180 minute spectacle in a private screening. Yeah, I know.

But, as the film finally opened two other punters came in, broke the spell and took their seats. Oh, well.

For the record this version is inferior. Coppola got it right first time as none of the additional scenes contribute to the original. It’s a film for a murky, wintry afternoon.

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1. Pulp Fiction
Great line-
Jules: Tell him, Vincent.
Vincent: Royale with cheese.
Jules: Royale with cheese. Do you know why they call it a Royale with cheese?
Brett: Because of the metric system?
Jules: Check out the big brain on Brett. You’re one smart motherfucker.

I’ve only ever seen one film three times in the cinema. Pulp Fiction. Upon seeing it in January 1995 it stayed with me for weeks and months. Key in this was the Elmore Leonard-inspired dialogue with its pop culture references that was at odds with the on-screen action of gangsters and violence. The film lived and thrived in this space and, to this day, colours many of my conversations.

One Sunday when we lived in St Albans just out of London we were visiting friends. The boys Joey and Laurence, had had a big night out, and had just finished their midday breakfast. I asked them what they’d eaten.
“Burgers,” came the reply.
That was my cue. “Burgers. The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.”

While not invented by Tarantino the technique of chopping up the narrative so the story is delivered in a way that heightens our response to the characters and plot. So, instead of the film ending with Butch and his girlfriend riding off on Zed’s chopper just after killing Vincent Vega it concludes triumphantly after the coffee shop hold-up.

Like many I also bought the soundtrack and maintain that Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” splicing into Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” is the most exhilarating opening credits and frames the movie perfectly.

Thanks for reading.

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Ten Terrific Films- Part One

 

I was recently invited by Footy Almanacker Rick Kane to post ten of my favourite films. I enjoyed the challenge, and now offer some personal commentary on these.

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  1. Cane toads: An Unnatural History

Great line- Cane toads are comin’

Thirty years on, this documentary still ranks among the biggest grossing of those made in Australia. It’s a gonzo folktale on that beast of FNQ, the cane toad. The director Mark Lewis conjures sympathy for these amphibians with clever point of view camera angles and a weird contrast to the humans who find strange pride in their relationships with these repulsive creatures.

A triumph of editing is the scene where a local politician spruiks of a future statue to the cane toad which then cuts superbly to a grizzled farmer retorting that, “Surely, this bastard’s not in his right frame of mind.”

I love that the theme of the film is while we might find the toad an odd, peculiar animal, we humans are just as peculiar.

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  1. Psycho

Great line- Norman Bates: A boy’s best friend is his mother.

I loved teaching this remarkable cultural phenomenon.

The class would invariably groan as one at the thought of a black and white film from 1960, but within the first hour all were drawn into its hypnotic embrace.

Most had never seen a movie in which the main character is dead half-way through, and how Hitchcock effects sympathy for a thief in the form of Marion, and then for Norman, a murderer, is a lesson in filmic art of the highest order.

Visiting Universal Studios in LA, a highlight for me was the presentation exploring how the week-long shoot of the shower scene was completed, with, of course, chocolate syrup standing in for blood.

Among the many taboos broken are the first instance in a Hollywood release of a flushing toilet.

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  1. Koyaanisqatsi

Great line- Near the day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky (Hopi Indian prophecy featured in the closing scene)

I had not long left teenage-hood when I saw this film in North Adelaide with my girlfriend’s sister. My tiny world was expanding and this documentary, with its majestic and terrifying vision of our planet, kicked off my passion for non-verbal cinema such as Microcosmos and Baraka. All make expert and haunting use of juxtaposition between the natural and constructed worlds.

A critic noted that the film is satirising how we don’t use technology, but we live it.

This visual poem compromised largely of slow motion and time lapse sequences features a mesmerising Phillip Glass score, as do the two sequels, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi. I once owned these on CD, and when I lived in Wudinna in a secluded farm house, played them quite obsessively, to the barren, uninterested paddocks.

To watch Koyaanisqatsi is to view our world afresh with wonder, but also fear.

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  1. The Big Lebowski

Great line- Walter Sobchak: [shouting] Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules? Mark it zero!

Inspired by The Big Sleep, this shaggy dog story, with its meandering plot and eccentric characters is unyielding fun. I’ve realised that I love films with a voice-over narration, and Sam Elliot’s is a perfect baritone drawl.

A measure of its personal impact is how often it bobs up in my everyday life. From Maud’s ultimate reference: “A good man- and thorough” to Walter’s interior design critiques: “That rug really tied the room together” it has tremendous longevity.

Against stiff competition like King Pin it’s the best bowling movie and for mine, Townes Van Zandt’s version of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Dead Flowers” is a peerless closing credit song. A laconic, cool ending to a laconic, cool film.

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  1. The Royal Tenenbaums

Great line- He started buying real estate in his early teens and seemed to have an almost preternatural understanding of international finance.

I’m a spoken word, auditory type of chap, with little native grasp of visual beauty, but Wes Anderson’s filmography is wonderful to look at. It’s sumptuous. I love his use of palette and the painterly nature of his shot composition in The Grand Hotel Budapest, for example. There’s also an exquisite use of symmetry in his work that renders it irresistible.

The opening sequence of The Royal Tenenbaums employs the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” to jubilant effect and establishes an uplifting tone to what could otherwise be dismal material. Alec Baldwin’s narration offers both a comic and sensitive tone, and throughout, the Tenenbaum family and its hangers-on bounce off each other with such joyous ridiculousness that despite all I’m left with a huge sense of fun and heart.

It’s a great ensemble performance.

Up next, my top five!

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Jesus was born at Christmas, and died at Easter: what’s the odds?

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Of course, you’re all a-blubbin’ watching festive favourite Love Actually, and by the film’s finish in Heathrow with “God Only Knows” on an endless loop, and all the happy folk hugging and crying you’re a cheerfully sodden mess.

Me too.

My first story is also set in Heathrow and features not one but two, sodden messes.

Many hate it, but for me, London’s biggest airport’s a place of excitement and marvel, forever connected to the thrill of exploring Europe. 700,000 people fly out during the holiday week.

Christmas Day, 2005 was our final day living in England, and having visited the Cathedral in the morning to hear the carols, and taken our last lunch at The Spotted Bull we speared down the M25.

In one of many airport queues they presented themselves quickly. Two women: stinking of smoke, shitty wine and undying stupidity, attracting the attention of Terminal 2 with their selfish behaviour. Let’s nod to Dr Seuss in calling them, with appropriate affection, Slapper 1 and Slapper 2.

While they unknowingly auditioned for Heathrow’s Most Horrific Harpies (coming soon to Channel 9) I whispered to the wife, “Gee, I wouldn’t want to be on the same flight as those two.”

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Boarding our overnight plane to Bangkok we left S1 and S2 to their unholy squawking and drunken flailing. I anticipated a meal and a beer, a film, and a long sleep as we slipped across Eastern Europe, Turkmenistan, and India.

I heard, and then smelt them before I saw them. Not only were they on our flight, but they were in the seats directly behind us, now an aeronautical Ground Zero, and dumping their fetid carcasses the trouble, as the English say, kicked off, when S1 thought it within her Lutonian rights to not only bang our chairs, but having detached her grog-soaked shoes, she plonked her gangrenous feet on top of the wife’s seat, right by her ear, and asked to remove these hoofs, both S1 and S2 made some throaty, threatening remarks infused with toxic spittle, tooth decay and, at least to my mind, a lingering, unconscious displeasure at their own massively moronic selves.

This continued for several horrendous hours.

Flying over the Black Sea, after BA belatedly moved us for our own safety, the flight attendants mentioned potential police action so I can only hope both were booked into a Thai prison with cockroaches for festive company. Cheers!

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At 4am we’re all awake. Our Singaporean body clocks reckon it’s midmorning. The room in Munich is tiny and we’ve enjoyed more space on a Tiger flight, despite it being a well-known chain I won’t mention, but I’ll give you a hint- it rhymes with Novotel.

To sedate the boys, we try TV and of course flick past innumerable soft-porn channels so beloved in the Fatherland. I take them to the hotel playroom, but their noise and energy are seismic. Continental Europe seems too small for us.

After a Bavarian week, it happens. Is anything better than falling snow? On Christmas night, after an unusually warm spell, it cascades down, and bedspreads the city and us. It’s bliss.

Rushing down to the carpark there’s dancing flurries, and these swirling, silent flakes form a carpet across the pavers. All is now magic. The boys shape a snowman. We heave some snow about, and at each other beneath the tumbling sky.

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We’re a long way from baking and dusty Australia, and getting here has been significant, but for this enchanted hour, in the dark of a Munich Christmas, it’s simple, joyous fun. I hope the boys remember this. I will.

Later, with Alex and Max asleep, Kerry opens a window, thrusts her paw at the ledge, and makes a vodka and fresh snow! You can’t buy one of these from a Peel Street mixologist. Our snowy pilgrimage is complete. It’s the perfect coda to our week in Munich.

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Christmas across the globe can be memorable, but back in Australia I’m especially looking forward to this one. Stretched, languid days; too much ham; staccato splashing from swimming pools; a good book; backyard cricket with a fuzzy tennis ball; kindly blue sky; and afternoon naps as the Boxing Day Test wanders along.

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Film Review- The Trip to Spain

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Enticing Spanish food, gorgeous cinematography and two actors playing fictionalised versions of themselves perpetually engaged in battles over career, family and who does the best Michael Caine impression.

Yes, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have returned with the third in director Michael Winterbottom’s now anticipated film series.

With a typically thin premise- Coogan insists he’s writing a book inspired by Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning along with the usual contract to write a set of restaurant reviews for the Observer our team departs from Plymouth by overnight ferry for the north of Spain.

The comic energy of the film comes from the endless cockfight between the characters over their impersonations of actors and celebrities. Their stable includes Michael Caine, Robert De Niro and celebrated BBC Radio announcers Terry Wogan and Ken Bruce. Brydon’s impersonation is so uncanny- “Up next: The Doobie Brothers! – that he once took over Bruce’s Radio 2 morning show and most listeners only knew what had happened when the real host appeared at the end!

Mick Jagger is a welcome addition to their repertoire, having snuck in following Coogan and Brydon’s early discussion of older men having kids. He stunningly captures the Stones’ front man and his nasal almost public schoolboy tones, along with the hysterical clapping trope associated with Jagger’s onstage performances. It’s funny, and early on we have Coogan 1, Brydon 0.

Beyond the aural fun it’s also an essay on middle-aged masculinity. The ebb and flow of careers- Coogan now sees himself primarily as a writer, and the scenes with him sitting morosely at his laptop indicate how dismally this is travelling, through to meditations on death and the struggles with family and love. Coogan’s Dad-joke-sad attempts to flirt with an attractive ferry attendant establishes this middle-aged loss early. Happily, Steve later announces that “Fifty is a sweet spot” but of course there’s an underscored doubt about his optimism.

With Emma, Steve’s assistant and Yolanda, the photographer, joining them late in their journey a shared lunch gives the leads the attractive female audience they need for a final showdown in which Coogan and Brydon duel over who can do the best Roger Moore with the Welsh star taking this to maddening yet terrific excess. It’s magnificent.

In the previous films we had literary assistance in Keats, Shelley and Bryon, and here in Spain it’s Don Quixote and his assistant Sancho Panza which somehow reaches its ridiculous zenith in them duetting on “Windmills of Your Mind” as their Range Rover speeds towards Malaga.

The film is part travelogue too with the countryside as well as the restaurants in luscious prominence. The Alhambra is used to highlight Coogan’s latest existential crisis as he wanders through this stunning palace, his haunted, hunched self in contrast to the natural and Moorish architectural wonder.

“She was only nineteen years old!” is the overdue vocal joust- I thought Michael Caine might be unforgivably absent- at their final restaurant in which their shouting match somehow remains unheard by those at the surrounding tables. This impossibility adds to the film’s absurdity.

The Trip to Spain is huge fun and already I’m guessing where they’ll next venture. I suspect a French tour.

Regardless, I’m sure that Caine, Moore, De Niro and co will be along too.

The Trip to Spain is in Australian cinemas now.