Sunday, December 17, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express - K. Branagh 2017

At the risk of stating the obvious :

- Agatha Christie's classic whodunit original is a masterpiece in its genre, albeit a literary lightweight and very entertaining one.

- Theatricality has been a Branagh trademark ever since 'Dead Again'. Though his financial and technological means have evolved, his basic patterns have not.

And so I suspect I didn't enjoy this as much as I could / should / would have, partly because I don't really fancy the Branagh approach and partly because I knew the plot much too well.
I hope you won't let that prevent you from going.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Evol - Shaka Ponk

This is a new album insofar as it was released mid-November. 
In musical terms, as far as I can tell, nothing much has changed since their previous masterpieces. 

Which is double, really!
On the one hand, I love this high-powered, melodious pop-rock.
On the other hand, renewal is the key to progress...

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Jim & Andy, The Great Beyond - C. Smith 2017

During the shooting of Forman's Jim Kaufman biopic 'The Man in the Moon' Carey allowed himself to be filmed off camera (so to speak). This was particularly brave of him as it turns out his obsession with Kaufman turned him into a very outlandish person (and I'm phrasing it nicely : Universal only recently released the footage as they feared it would "make him look like an asshole"). 
'Bizarre' is a frequently stated assessment of the situation and seems 100% adequate.

Quite fun to watch, therefore! Carey provides present-day, insightful comment and there is also ample archive footage of Kaufman himself, embodying the adjective 'bizarre' just as much as Carey did.

My one regret was not seeing more of one of my favourite directors, Milos Forman.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Like A Fading Shadow - Antonio Munoz Molina

A simple plot summary : The writer fictionalizes his younger self, blending his own past with that of the killer of Martin Luther King jr and his hideout in Europe after the murder, works his way up to his own present-day narrator self and the time of the shooting, in Memphis, 1968, culminating with a long chapter focusing on MLK. 
Not so simple? I agree.

Fortunately, it is also masterly well-penned and evolving around Lisbon, a city I found so stunningly beautiful I automatically enjoy reading about it. 

However : Stiflingly pretentious, despite the talent, and at least 200 pages too long.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Every Day Is Christmas - Sia

I love how unexpected this album was as a career move slightly more than I love the actual album.

I like Christmas songs to be always the same (you may call it repetitive, I call it traditional) and generally upbeat. This album is very much the opposite to both.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

You Make It Feel Like Christmas - Gwen Stefani

Old and new Christmas songs, nicely retro-sounding and Stefani's voice : This may not be the most innovative record this winter, but isn't that at least partly the point with traditions?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon

Do not allow yourself to be put off by the 10 euro entrance fee or by the surly lady at the ticket office. 
Once inside, this 16th century monastery will take your breath away.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Wonderful Wonderful - the Killers

Not until now do I realize I haven't written a line about the recent Killers album which is all the more shameful as I found it absolutely wonderful, wonderful!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Red Pill Blues - Maroon 5

O how I loved the inspired, dance-friendly pop-funk of their first three albums!

I listened so much and for so long to those that had they been vinyls, I would probably have worn them out.

It might be completely kosher, therefore, that these more low-key, introspective tunes don't sit quite as well with me. I'm not saying they are bad, mind you; just that they are not exactly my cup of tea.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The People vs OJ Simpson

For someone who so doggedly refused any renewed interest in the Simpson case, I have certainly backpedaled quite a lot.

This mini-series is well-made, just like the documentary, yet I didn't like this at all as well.

For one, ten one-hour episodes was way too much. Kill your darlings, make it shorter.

Moreover, the inescapable subjectivity becomes more palpable in a transposed version, fictionalizing dialogue as a matter of course. I felt this was a lot less temperate in its opinions, creating sets of conspicuously good and conspicuously bad guys.

In its favour, however, I'll say that for the reasons stated above, this version better highlights the two key issues of the Simpson case : 

- The perversion of the US legal system, enabling money to buy you the sharpest lawyers available to doctor your case.

- The abysmal gap still separating blacks from whites in the US, both in their understanding and their treatment of each other.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Shockaholic - Carrie Fisher

This was not my first bout with Fisher's autobiographical spoken-language books, so even if her electric shocks may not sound like a promising subject-matter I knew I was in for a treat. 

Entertaining as ever, indeed, she carries on (!) about her bi-polar disease, her addictions, her friends and family, Michael Jackson, her father and - throughout - celebrity.

Though she will certainly never be up for a posthumous Nobel Prize, this was highly entertaining; the perfectly light read for November!

(Amazing, isn't it, when you think about it, that ECT shocks can actually make someone feel better!?)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Death Note - A. Wingard 2017

The usual crowd of American high-schoolers + a mysterious notebook allowing its owner to supernaturally kill people undetected + an appending monster providing instructions = Very oddly not at all as silly as it sounds! Actually quite watchable.

Still, a caveat : I have no doubt this all worked a whole lot better in the original manga. 
Why do so many filmmakers seem to believe any story is automatically transposable to film? Each medium has its own specifics, it seems to me. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Saga Continues - Wu Tang Clan

Having largely missed out on the moment the Wu Tang Saga peaked, I'm at a loss to say whether their music has really aged or not. 
Future or Kendrick Lamar they ain't, but then they're not YG nor Snoop either.

Fair enough hiphop of the kind I enjoy, yet not overly innovative or up to date.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Wisdom of Prince Philip - A. A. Butt

Reasonably, a selection of Duke of Edinburgh-blunders ought to be properly side-splitting.
He has indeed let a great number of gaffes slip out over the years.

Trouble is, there is no way to know for sure he is joking. For all I know - which, admittedly, is precious little on his subject - he may just as well consider it appropriate to ask someone "You ARE a woman, aren't you?" or say "It looks as though it was put in by an Indian."

To conclude, most likely his recent retirement was a perfectly good thing.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Gaga : Five Foot Two - C. Moukarbel 2017

The concept of watching behind-the-scenes celebs is a tricky one. When well done, it's like 'Madonna : Truth or Dare'. Tickling, but also featuring a hitherto hidden aspect of a well-known persona. (Which incidentally is at least 50% of Annie Leibowitz's genius, if you ask me.)

When not quite so elegantly carried out, I guess it's like 'Gaga : Five Foot Two'.
Tickling, yet not really making you feel privy to anything the world hasn't seen or heard before. Gaga comes off as an ambitious, perhaps not overly clever, woman who is surrounded by people saying "yeah" or "right" or possibly "they loved you". Not super-original.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shardik - Richard Adams

After his bestselling 'Watership Down' (I'm sure you remember those rabbits), Adams came with this : A medieval fantasy novel, starring an enormous brown bear as a Jesus-like figure becoming the object of a cult. 

I was too young for literary criticism when I read it (a good ten years after it was published, I might add), but I loved this book dearly in my teens and agreed with George RR Martin's epitaph on Adams last year where he called 'Shardik' "a criminally underrated masterpiece". (I gather Stephen King also has referenced Shardik in one of his novels, so it's not just Martin and me.)
When I came across this copy in a British charity shop last summer, it became obvious Destiny felt it was time for a re-read.

Surprisingly, I actually think I enjoyed 'Shardik' even more this time!
Adams's storytelling is contained and controlled - very much contrary to Martin's unchecked narrative and disturbing infatuation with his own characters - and the plot has several levels you can choose whether you wish to focus on or not. 
It deals with religion, of course, but also on childhood, nature, hierarchy and social studies. 
Plus, it's a pageturner! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Detroit - K. Bigelow 2017

The film evolves around a very long key scene, depicting a police intervention going completely haywire during the 1967 Detroit racial riots.

Despite Bigelow's obvious skills, my issues with this are multiple :
1. The camera movements make me sick! Literally, physically queasy. 
Whether that is down to the steadycam or to my sense of balance I can't tell, but then who cares?
2. Two and a half hours is way too long. A restrained focus on the scene inside the hotel would have led to a tighter film and less nausea for me.
3. The choice not to provide motivation for the characters avoids speculation and subjectivity but it also makes for rather shallow all-good or all-bad guys whom I had a hard time rooting for.  

In short, I was not enthralled.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Fresh Meat s3

For all its initial freshness, 'Fresh Meat' turned into an accurate illustration of my principle 'Any series you like you quit after season one'.

Otherwise you go on - because you are smitten with the characters and the dialogue is a laugh - and then at some point, fairly soon, you realize that although you can't exactly pinpoint what, something is different. 
The characters are the same, the plot varies very little, the setting not at all - yet it's just not as good as it used to be.

Sad thing when it happens.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Kasabian at ZĂ©nith de Paris

In classic concert fashion, the second part felt a whole lot more inspired than the first - and so from somewhere around 10 pm last night this definitely lived up to the expectations I made up on hearing their last album

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Unquiet - Linn Ullmann

You'd think that even without Ullmann's customarily talented writing, the autobiographical nature of this novel stewed with her famous parents (Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann) would yield a tasty enough read, and yet I found this - actually, if truth be told, much to my amazement - rather boring.

PS The English title is still undecided, as the book isn't due for translated publication until 2018.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Stranger Things s 2

The supernatural forces emanating from the scientific lab leave the town of Hawkins no peace. 
Normally, I would steer clear of the second season of a series I so enjoyed the first time around. That was a no-go here, though, and it is with Great Relief I am able to green-light it to you : The second season rocks almost as much as the first!

Apart from rocking, this also :
- depicts the vulnerability of childhood.
- unnerves and rivets my whole family.
- shows a kickass mom in a manner which remains sadly unusual in mainstream media.
- normalizes outsidership and stresses the importance of friendship at the same time.

Loved it!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Harry Potter, A History of Magic at the British Library, London

Set in rooms decorated as Hogwarts classrooms and evolving around the subjects tested in OWLS and NEWTS, this turned out to be a clever blend of Harry Potter paraphernalia and the sort of real-life historical documents you expect to find at a library exhibition.

I suppose most visitors learnt things they didn't know beforehand on historical takes on herbology, astronomy, potions, magical creatures etc, and at any rate the Harry Potter artworks by Jim Kay are a delight. 
Rowlings has lent pages of handwritten and typed scripts and her personal sketches, initially intended only as memory-joggers. What stuck with me was the extent to which these pre-publication drawings were similar to the figures as we know them from the films. Directors and scriptwriters must have followed Rowlings's lead very closely.

Despite the suggestive presentation, however, this remains a literary exhibition and as such focuses on ancient books, thereby making more suitable for adult potterheads than young children.

Book in advance. It seems to be very popular.

And should the two museum gift shops prove insufficient for your merch-cravings, the 9 3/4-shop at the King's Cross is just a stone's throw away...


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Titus Andronicus - William Shakespeare

'Titus Andronicus' is not exactly 'Romeo and Juliet' or 'Hamlet' or even 'Julius Caesar' - It is a play of debated authorship (on rather loose grounds, though, according to Hughes's introduction) boasting a plot so bloodsoaked and murderous Tarantino could have come up with pretty much the same.

Most characters normally die at the end of a tragedy, yet most tragedies do not also contain a rape, three chopped-off hands, a tongue cut out and a father stabbing his daughter. 
However much I oppose violence as entertainment and would probably not be too keen on watching this on stage, Shakespeare is always Shakespeare, even when not totally on top of his game, so this was enjoyable (and, I'm ashamed to say, entertaining) anyway.  

Friday, November 3, 2017

Shakespeare's Globe, London

I have been here before (several times, actually) and yet this visit was every bit as enchanting as the previous. They are always the crowning moment of my London visits.

The Globe itself is magnificent, the guides are knowledgeable and nice, the gift shop is worth the detour on its own account.

My one regret is not having been able to at least peep into the brand new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, where plays are put up in the winter season.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A'dam LookOut 360°

It's 20 floors high - though the elevator taking you up there seems to believe it's the Empire State building - and offers a breathtaking view over all of Amsterdam. 

Should you like to dine at the turning restaurant, you need to book a table in advance.

Should you like to swing 'over the edge' you need a solid confidence in Dutch technology and a lot more courage than I have.

Otherwise, there is not much to do up there, except have a drink or a carrot cake in the bar.