Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion

In late autumn and winter especially, I enjoy books that make me laugh out aloud on the metro.

Didion's autobiographical novel about her year of mourning begins with her husband's fatal heart attack and only goes downhill from there : Her year of mourning is further burdened by the severe illness of her adult daughter (who ultimately died, after the publishing of '... Magical Thinking'.)

So much for laughter on public transport.

Strangely though, these philosophical meanderings on mourning and death are almost as uplifting as comical books.

Partly, the sheer inspiring brilliance of Didion's writing tends to put me in high spirits. Good literature can have that effect.
Also, there is nothing quite like a truly doleful story of someone else's woe to make you thankful for your own state of affairs.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Source Code - D. Jones (2011)

Gorgeous Jake Gyllenhaal rousing from a nap with someone else's - inevitably plainer - face may not sound like the best of takeoffs for this drama in what a protagonist terms "quantum mechanics". (Or "time reassignment". Much clearer, yeah?)

However, to the best of my knowledge recollection, not that many films have the courage to play the same scene over and over, varying only slightly, as is the case here, where my favourite hunk has eight minutes on a train to prevent two bombs from exploding.

'Groundhog Day' comes to mind, but I have to say Gyllenhaal beats Murray as eyecandy, though marmots are most certainly more fun than ticking bombs.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Malik Bendjelloul

His documentary 'Searching for Sugar Man' yet unseen (by me, that is!) I am nonetheless terribly pleased Bendjelloul received the Award for Best Documentary the other night!

He seems like such a nice person, plus he has apparently conceived just about the whole film by himself (produced, written, directed, edited, composed... I reckon everything you CAN do to a film).

And, of course, he IS from Sweden..!
(Well, the south of Sweden. But still!)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Terminator Renaissance - Mc G (Not Yet)

Kevin Costner has spent today shooting above-mentioned film three minutes' walking distance from my apartment, on quai de Bercy (Paris 13ème arrdt).

Poor man is reported to have been freezing in fashionable suit (snow & sub-zero - Celsius! - temperature), but still to have been smiling and "joli comme un coeur" (according to my neighbour Nathalie).

There have also been cars crashing into the Seine, and night-time shootings.
All very promising...

Had I been a conscientious and detail-minded blogger, I would have gone down and taken some pictures for you. But it was just too cold. Sorry.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Small Time Crooks - W. Allen (2000)

Not a Woody Allen-masterpiece, but watchable. Not the least for raising a crucial question : Whatever happened to Tracey Ullman??

(Have now googled her and may report she had a sketch comedy series on US cable TV from 2008 to 2010. News to me.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lincoln - S. Spielberg (2012)

Finely wrought, but far too long.

Nothing like this post.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Descendants - A. Payne (2011)

Despite - or because of - the consensual critical acclaim for this family drama, my expectations were peculiarly low.

Clooney is the father dealing with an unconscious spouse on life support, her preceding infidelity and their bereaved daughters.

Low expectations are the best!
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was in point of fact rather touched by the characters, all multidimensional and actually looking and feeling more or less like real people.

My reaction was reinforced by the focus given to the Hawaiian setting, partly part of the plot, and partly serving as a contrast to the family's inner turmoil, the paradisaical surroundings continually darkened by overcast skies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Nos Histoires de France - Daniel Picouly

In 1958, ten-year-old Daniel is being punished by his esteemed school-teacher, Monsieur Brulé, and subsequently shut up in the history storage room.
There, he is surrounded by those kitschy, giant posters illustrating key moments of French history found in all French state schools from the 1950s and well into the 70s.

The plotline, thus, consists in the author's youngster self commenting l'histoire de France.
To the reader, it is more of a witty reminder than an educational text, but as such it is very entertaining.

Moreover, the illustrations are numerous, overwrought and presumably dripping with nostalgia to most adult Frenchmen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cathy's Book - Steward, Weissman, Brigg

One of the major upsides to teaching is learning stuff from students.
Had it not been for Kimberley's book essay last week, most likely I would never have come across 'Cathy's Book'.
(Especially seeing how my own teenager barely seems to average 6 books a year.)
(Dear God, where did I go wrong, and how do I fix it???)

'Cathy's book' is smart, thought-provoking, action-packed and written in a sleek and innovative style. There is a blog to go with it..! (Figured I was too old for that, though.)

Cathy herself feels closely related to Katniss Everdeen or Kiki Strike, another young adult-literature favourite of mine. Their personality is sort of the opposite to passive and submissive Bella Swan.

Wiser from my 'Uglies'-experience, I can't make up my mind whether I also want to read the two sequels to 'Cathy's Book', however. I'm going to ask Kimberley for advice.

Monday, February 18, 2013

La Cité de la Peur - A. Berbérian (1994)

My love for all things Alain Chabat is rather newfound, so I had not seen this film before.
It is a second degree satire of detective films, about a mysterious serial killer, wreaking havoc among projectionists during the Cannes film festival (ultimately caught in a giant mousetrap).

It is obvious Chabat and his band of buddies had fun making this film, but unfortunately that does not necessarily make it a good film. It is diverting but slightly immature, like something you would expect from a group of university students.

P.S. Can't help wondering : With Farrugia at the head of a cable network (Comédie +), and Chabat making hugely enjoyable films every now and then, what is Lauby up to these days, except walking her lapdog along the Seine (I have ocular proof of that one)??

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gay Men Don't Get Fat - Simon Doonan

After doting on Doonan's autobiography (
I purchased his latest opus, administering style tips and his quirky, idiosyncratic axioms.

By his own account, gay men are deft at this, as "Secrecy and codified communications are part of our way of life... The ability to decode those around us at great speed can mean the difference between an evening of fine dining and an evening at the emergency room."

Frankly, the "we gays" approach tend to feel a little old school to me, but then for all his flair in style, Doonan is 60 so maybe that is only to be expected.

This was not as much fun as 'Beautiful People' but still witty and well-expressed.

The high points were the name-dropping parts; after designing the auction installation of Marilyn Monroe's long-boxed personal estate, for instance, Doonan reports she owned more first edition books than jewelry and clothes.
(I had always thought her intellectual side was more of a wish to be taken seriously.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Alvin and the Chipmunks 3 - M. Mitchell (2011)

Am having a hard time determining which is worst :

... that this kind of junk actually gets made and distributed?
... that my very own offspring actually enjoys watching it?

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Chimney Sweeper(s) - William Blake

I was going to copy the whole text so you could read it, but as one of my goals with this blog is to keep the posts short, I think I might just stick it to the end of this post instead...

Suffice it to say that despite its origin in the 'Songs of Innocence' (1789) and the solace he finds in his dream of heaven, the first tale of the chimney sweeper remains a tragic one, and though he may be fooled by the Angel's promise of Heaven, you somehow sense that Blake is not.

We have studied the first poem in class, and I am now handing out the second 'Chimney Sweeper', from 'Songs of Experience' (1794) for them to analyze on their own.

Songs of Innocence
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved: so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet; and that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, -
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.

And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, and never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.
Songs of Experience
A little black thing among the snow,
Crying "'weep! 'weep!" in notes of woe!
"Where are thy father and mother? Say!"--
"They are both gone up to the church to pray.

"Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smiled among the winter's snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

"And because I am happy and dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and his priest and king,
Who make up a heaven of our misery."

No hope of heaven whatsoever, here, even illusory..!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Prisonnier de Guerre au Stalag IIB - Tardi

Graphic novel artist and illustrator Jacques Tardi (creator of Adèle Blanc-Sec) goes 'Maus' on us, telling the story of his father, who spent almost the entire World War II in a German prison camp.

Personal accounts of war prisoners are surprisingly hard to come by, as opposed to those of soldiers and concentration camp survivors.
The content is absorbing, therefore; at least at first...

Not personally an avid reader of war literature, the truth is I soon tired of this.
Finished it anyway, but can't say I am eagerly anticipating part II.

The pictures are artistic, and the narrative structure interesting - Tardi senior walks around Stalag IIB, reciting his mémoirs to Tardi junior walking by his side, questioning and commenting. An educational read, at any rate.

'Maus' :

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Wire

I knew Barack and I had things in common! Despite my aversion to police-shows, and despite this being a decade old, there is no escaping the fact that this true-to-life story of a narcotics department of the Baltimore police is state-of-the art TV!

As a general rule, police investigations on TV quickly turn to routine, but here the tension mounts continually throughout the whole first season after the inevitable confusion of the first few episodes. (Initial befuddlement is unavoidable in any show that is not based on stereotypes.)

The plotline is demanding and the action unfolds in minute detail; small talk with your couch-neighbor and you'll lose the thread (no pun intended) (though you have to admit, it was pretty good?!).

More structured than 'Treme', by the same creators :

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Oshin - DIIV

On a desperate whim, I downloaded this because running in the cold is sad enough without also being fed up with the contents of my ipod.

It is some sort of dreamy electro-pop (from Brooklyn) not altogether different from Swedish Adrian Lux. Accomplished and all, but... a bit boring, perhaps?

Isn't it kind of pathetic that what I still listen to is :
Shaka Ponk
Swedish House Mafia
Adam Lambert

Any suggestions will be seriously considered and much appreciated.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sur la Piste du Marsupilami - A. Chabat (2012)

This was my third viewing of this film, and it still had me rolling down the aisles.
I highly recommend it!

The animal itself is more glimpsed than overexposed, which is genius of course, however much of a jerk Jamel Debbouze may be in private, his comical timing is impeccable and above all; writer, producer and director Alain Chabat is extremely adroit at conceiving clever comedies.

My hallelujah moment : High-brow actor Lambert Wilson impersonating Céline Dion, lip-synching to 'I'm Alive' in a sequined dress and a wig.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Apocalypse Bébé - Virginie Despentes

A female odd couple of PIs hunt down a runaway teenager in this well-wrought, passably original pageturner.

The narrative voices are multiple; the sidekick detective serves as a first person narrator, whose account is peppered with the life stories of various protagonists, using the 3rd person.
Slightly remindful of Jennifer Egan's 'A Visit from the Goon Squad'.

This type of literature is fairly recent; a rock'n'roll yet (though why should there be a contradiction?..) very skillful type of writing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Oliver Twist - R. Polanski (2005)

After witnessing his parents' being deported, Polanski, then a young boy, survived on his own for several years first in the Krakow ghetto and later in the Polish countryside.

Obviously, there is no way his childhood experiences can have failed to influence his perception of 'Oliver Twist' (the same is true of 'The Pianist', of course) though most likely the film is none the worse for it, perhaps even the contrary.

I have only recently started warming up to Dickens, whom I have long disliked and likened to a Victorian Spielberg (because of their undeniable know-how and a shared lack of refinement).

This recent thaw and my long-standing deference for Polanski made yesterday night quite pleasant.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Barack Obama on Rosa Parks bus (Pete Souza)

Apart from being aesthetic, this photo is so heavily laden with symbolism it would probably hurt if you dropped it on your feet.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Gravedigger's Daughter - Joyce Carol Oates

There is a sense of impending doom subtly tightening its grip throughout the first half of this imagined biography of Oates's grandmother.
Though life eventually lightens up for this immigrant Jewish woman - whose idiosyncrasy consists in obliterating her own past - the theme of death pervades every one of all six hundred pages.

Strangely, and despite the dreariness of the subject matter, this is ultimately an uplifting novel.
Partly that is thanks to Oates's skillful writing, which is a pleasure to read, and partly it's because of the ending; out of sheer will-power, the main character ultimately takes control of her own destiny.

And yes, I do see how the storyline might resemble a certain type of literature from the 1980s (Herman Wouk and Freda Bright spring to mind...) yet make no mistake about it : This is Real Literature.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Musée Rodin, Paris 7ème arrdt

Altogether not a statue aficionado, I nevertheless enjoy the disproportionate hands and feet of Auguste Rodin's bronzes.

They are particularly at their advantage in the garden, even in winter.
Despite the bleak weather, the outside is way more enjoyable than the inside (which is rather dusty and archaic).

The snag, though, is that in order to properly appreciate the statues in the garden, unless you are fairly familiar with Rodin's work, you need to go through the indoors exhibition, as there are no information signs on the outside statues, which is a minus. 

Le Penseur
(or "le réfléchisseur" as my 8-year-old has it. Only funny in French, though.)

Saturday, February 2, 2013