Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris 8ème arrdt

Should you happen to an admirer of French rococo, this private hotel of an art-collectioning couple now turned museum is probably a dream come true.

Fortunately for the rest of us, there are also a few lovely Rembrandt-portraits as well as two rooms of Italian quattrocento-art.

At present, the museum also houses a temporary exhibition of French Eugène Boudin, which we did not look into. (A lot of ederly ladies did, though.)

Supper at Emmaus, Rembrandt Van Rijn, 1606

Monday, April 29, 2013

Freakonomics - Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner

My skill with numbers has always been faulty, at best, and so I have rarely even considered reading books about economics. This one, however, seemed like fun - possibly because of its raunchy cover - and indeed turned out to be.

Admittedly, it can be described as much as social studies as economics.
Levitt applies data to various everyday items (drug dealers, dog poop, real estate agents, teachers...) and comes up with entertaining and rational conclusions.

His pièce de résistance is his theory that the legalization of abortion in 1973 20 years later led to a decrease in crime. It sounds far-flung at first, but as Levitt explicits his theories and bolsters them with ample studies he refers to in 20 pages of footnotes, it ultimately seems plausible!

And yet... A Swedish proverb claims there are three sorts of lies; lies, damn lies and statistics. The one thing I do consider as absolutely unquestionable is the inherently flimsy nature of statistics.

Bonus : Revised second edition of the book : 100 additional pages of interest!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Good Wife

When Alicia Florrick finally left her philandering politician of a husband, this series turned into more of a classic courtroom drama, albeit a good one!

True, her love life still deliciously complicated, but to be honest, the frustration-couple device is growing somewhat old and tired.

The producing Scott brothers being who they are - whatever other differences of opinion we may have on film-making - 'the Good Wife' remains high-quality TV.

Plus, seeing competent ladies kick ass is a largely underestimated pleasure.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Äkta människor (Real Humans)

I was slow to catch on to this, perhaps because it felt a bit twisted to watch a Swedish TV-show in France, but that was my loss, as I recently realized.

Indeed, to have real-life robots living among everyday people is a fertile idea which with a modest budget allows you to pry into metaphysical issues such as 'what is human'? 

Plus, it's entertaining.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The People vs George Lucas - A. Philippe (2010)

90 minutes of interviews with Star Wars fans all wearing funny t-shirts, 98% male, interspersed with cuts from various Star Wars fanmovies (and a few quotes from George himself) may not sound exactly spine-tingling, but it was actually kind of fun.

The downside to a diehard fanbase becomes manifest whenever you bring up the new Star Wars-trilogy : The zealots have taken such hold of the first three films, that they simply refused to accept the prequels.
It might have helped if 'the Phantom Menace' had not been so soporific, but I'm not sure.

Basically, this is a documentary about what one of the fans astutely calls "super-nerd nitpicking". I got the same sense I get viewing certain films on YouTube : Some people just have waaayy too much time on their hands...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shit That's On The Radio - Robbie Williams

Have not listened to the whole album, nor do I intend to as I find this song particularly aptly named.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

La Vie Passera Comme Un Rêve - Gilles Jacob

Jacob has been at the head of the Cannes Film festival since the early 1970s and so obviously has hoarded a trove of juicy anecdotes I would have loved to read about.

Sadly, he seems intent on maintaining good relations to all the A-listers he has been rubbing shoulders with, and so this autobiography consists in a lengthy account of his childhood, followed by flourishing descriptions of his love for films (certainly genuine) and directors.

What struck me most in this book was how natural it seems to be for him to treat the stars with awed deference, and how natural it seems to them that it should be that way. Not sure whether it's due to my social-democratic origins or my Lutherian roots, but it's something I have a very hard time accepting. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

127 hours - D. Boyle (2010)

Extreme sports is SO not my thing - I'm more of a couch potato kind of person... - I am experiencing great difficulty not to chafe too much at daredevil James Franco's thoughtless rock-climbing adventure. 

When he gets stuck literally between a rock and a hard place (brilliant title of the autobiographical novel by real Aron Ralston) without so much as a cell-phone on him, it was hard to feel it didn't somehow serve him right. (Instead of wasting energy running around in circles, save Africa instead?!)

Still, to be fair : In true-to-himself style, although not at his best, Boyle of course got my heart rate up. No small feat, considering the guy is immobilized for 80% of the film.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Revelation, chapter 1 - B. Condon (2011)

Several years ago, on the advice of one of my students, I spent half a night immersed in the first 'Twilight' book. Not everlasting literature, perhaps, but dreadfully unputdownable.

I quit after that first book, however, and hadn't seen any of the films before this one.
Nor did seeing it really make me feel I had missed out on anything.

I can see the attraction it holds for young teenagers, but as for me; give me a headstrong and independent Eliza Bennet or Jane Eyre any day! Basket-case Bella creeps me out.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How Do You Know - J. Brooks (2010)

Oh, well; a colorless romcom every now and then can't really do any harm, can it?

Besides : How cute is Paul Rudd?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Great Rock n Roll Swindle - J. Temple (1980)

Today, this music-packed illustration of the Sex Pistols' short career, narrated by their iconic manager ,would be called a mockumentary of sorts.

The film actually shares a whole lot of common features with the music : It's loud, grisly, cynical, high-powered, straightforward, brutal and at times slightly nauseating.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

L'Art face à l'Histoire - Martin & Rousseau

Drawing parallels between works of art and historical events is a promising approach and this book is decidedly stimulating.

Nevertheless, the lack of in-depth analysis left me a bit disheartened.
On account of the layout and short texts, I suppose it targets a pre-teen audience, and so I guess what I really want is the same book in an adult version.

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

Monday, April 15, 2013

Elle s'appelait Sarah (Sarah's Key) - G. Paquet-Brenner (2010)

My 15-year-old revels in real-life agony stories of all sorts (Go figure) so that she'd sit misty-eyed in front of this was, so to speak, a foregone conclusion. 

Kristin Scott-Thomas's delving into past secrets leading her back to 1942 Paris and orphan Jews was indeed a heartrending account, and with a true ring to it.

Personally, I feel I am pretty much done with holocaust desolation - I KNOW what happened, and have been a card-carrying pacifist since high school - so I prefer more cheerful films.

However : 'Elle s'appelait Sarah' (Why is it that all titles containing proper names always sound horrendously cheap?) passes the Bechdel-test with flying colours!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Kopps - J. Fares (2003)

'Family comedy' as a concept generally means comedy for pre-teens.
I, for one, generally have a hard time finding anything at all comic in most of them.

This Swedish specimen about smalltown cops doing their best to improve the local crime rate was actually an exception to that rule. (I have to admit; the low-expectations principle proved helpful, as ever!)

Me and my 9-year-olds giggled in unison, although perhaps not always at the same jokes.
Simple, but not simplistic.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Pale Fire - Vladimir Nabokov

At the risk of stating the very obvious, but for the not-yet-initiated :
Nabokov is not your average, conventional writer and his books are as extraordinarily atypical as they are nonconformist.

The very structure of 'Pale Fire' follows no commonplace outline : A fictional foreword is followed by a 999-line long poem in iambic pentameter ensued by a lengthy commentary - shedding precious little light on the poem - telling three different plots, piecemeal.  

Needless to say, reading it required concentration!
It also left me frustrated, as the crisscross of references, the multidimensional stories, the patent unreliability of the principal narrator and the luxuriance of the text make it very plain that this is a book that wants to be read several times, in several ways - the linear way, but also skipping between poem, textual references and commentary - and above all properly analyzed.
I. e. give me a university course and some extra time, and I'll live it up!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dark Shadows - T. Burton (2012)

Contrary to what I had expected, the concept of my one-time paragon Johnny Depp as a grossly over-elaborate vampire in a 1970s setting just isn't very convincing.

But then, I guess even Tim Burton can't get it right every time, can he?

But then again, on second thoughts; when WAS the last time he actually got it right?
Had to imdb.com it and realized it was 'Sleepy Hollow', so far back as 1999.
Distressing, sort of.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Margaret Thatcher

It seems safe to say Ken Loach, author of the text below, was no great fan of old Maggie.
I'm not sure all this misery can be put down to just her (I reckon the pendulum had just swung; after a time of leftist ideologies, it was time for the right to dominate) but it is well-penned, particularly the part about her funeral.

"Margaret Thatcher was the most divisive and destructive Prime Minister of modern times.
Mass Unemployment, factory closures, communities destroyed – this is her legacy. She was a fighter and her enemy was the British working class. Her victories were aided by the politically corrupt leaders of the Labour Party and of many Trades Unions. It is because of policies begun by her that we are in this mess today.
Other prime ministers have followed her path, notably Tony Blair. She was the organ grinder, he was the monkey.
Remember she called Mandela a terrorist and took tea with the torturer and murderer Pinochet.
How should we honor her? Let’s privatize her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It’s what she would have wanted."

Ken Loach

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Marley - K. MacDonald (2012)

In my first-year classes, I often work on Bob Marley and always end up amazed at how well-liked he is even among students relatively unfamiliar with his music.

I figured my Marley-sequence needed some brushing up, so I purchased Mac Donald's documentary to spice it up a little.

The footage of Marley in the film is rather scarce (I suspect there isn't much to come by, actually) but that is counter-balanced by a number of interviews with friends, girlfriends and collaborators, plus of course music galore.

Mac Donald circumvents the trap of rendering Marley too saint-like by allowing two of his children to bear witness of an indeed imperfect father.

I'm not certain whether that will suffice to make my students like him any less, though.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Former Frasier, Kelsey Grammer, co-produces (with Gus Van Sant, among others) and takes manifest pleasure in embodying a ruthless mayor of Chicago.
The development of his neurological disease - obviously kept a secret, else where would the fun be? - adds spice to this large collection of depraved, power-hungry careerists.

If it reminds you of 'The West Wing' that is probably no coincidence, but the mood is utterly different. No witty punchlines or cheerful bantering in the corridors here!
More of evil glares, muted sneering and, eventually, hallucinations.

Despite the conspicuous absence of likeable characters, I enjoy this!
Sadly, it was cancelled after the 2nd season, due to low ratings.
But then, I figure one season is enough of most TV-shows, anyway.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Piscine Josephine Baker, Paris 13ème arrdt

The one major advantage with this indoor swimming pool is that it is situated at about 3 minutes' walking distance from my apartment.
That compensates for a lot, which is all the more fortunate as most of its other advantages tend to turn into inconveniences :

It is glassed-in, so it's bright! = On any even remotely sunny day, I need sunshades.

In warm weather, the roof is retractable, so it becomes an outdoor pool with a sundeck! = The draughts make it freezing cold in winter (and I do mean f-r-e-e-z-i-n-g!).

It is comparatively clean. = But for some odd reason, the cleaning staff often display a strangely peevish mood.

Admittedly, I may not be the most impartial of judges here.
I am not much for pools at all. No pools. Ever.
This one at least lies conveniently close to my home.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - Peter Jackson, J.R.R. Tolkien

According to a Swedish saying, all rules require an exception every now and then, which is why my 9-year-olds have been granted a major deviation from the 'Read First, Then Watch'-rule for 'Lord of the Rings'.

The fact of the matter is, I wonder whether anyone at all will take the trouble to read these three books any more?

Another fact of the matter is, I'm skeptical as to whether that is actually any major loss to mankind?

Misunderstand me correctly here : However much I enjoyed plowing through the trilogy as a teenager (and as a virtual teenager, a decade later) I am simply not convinced there is enough literary quality to Tolkien's text to justify our reading it - not when the films are so accomplished.

... Accomplished, but lengthy!!
The aforementioned 9-year-olds think the world of all three films, and have, I believe, found the ultimate way to view them : In 45-minute portions, one a day, like a TV-series. And in English!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Billionaire Boy - Mark Zuckerberg in his own words, edited by George Beahm

As a general rule, I like to take my time with things, and when I do, I mostly manage to avoid the sort of mistakes this book represents.
I was in a bit of a rush at WH Smith's, at St Pancras, and somehow deluded myself into thinking it was a biography.
It's not.

What it is, is a hodgepodge of quotes from disparate sources - letters, interviews, speeches... - all out of context, by and on the subject of Zuckerberg, entrepreneurship and Facebook.

Rather nonsensical, on the whole.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Beautiful Fall, Lagerfeld, St Laurent And Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris - Alicia Drake

The overlong title says it all, really; summaries and descriptions of this book are 100% superfluous.
(The French title, though, bears witness of a lack of either consideration or knowledge of a certain witty department store decorator. Doonan, call your lawyers!http://ingelaonstuff.blogspot.fr/2012/12/beautiful-people-simon-doonan.html )

Drake's depiction of these gentlemen's frolicking over the years had me on my toes (or in my couch, more precisely) most of the week-end.
It is crammed with well-documented facts; it is articulate, interestingly written and even adequatly translated! 

I may be a fashion dim-wit, having settled for admiring YSL from afar, albeit for a long time, but I had no idea he suffered from bipolar disease, although it was apparently no big secret.

My one complaint is the conspicuous lack of photos. Seeing the number of pictures and people Drake takes great pains to describe, it would have been nice not to have to google Loulou de la Falaise, Pierre Bergé or Jacques de Bascher.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chagall, entre Guerre et Paix, Musée du Luxembourg, Paris 5ème

Being familiar with Marc Chagall mostly as a painter of lovers (chiefly himself and his first wife Bella) this exhibit disclosed new aspects of his work to me, as for instance his Bible-illustrations, the depictions of his Russian hometown or his representations of Russian Jews during the world wars.

Musée du Luxembourg is no Grand Palais, but in point of fact rather diminutive so the number of canvases was limited.
Then, on the other hand, the crowd was fairly imposing, so that may have been just as well.

Words of advice :

a) Do go, but not for another couple of weeks, so as to avoid the stampede.
Not being able to view the paintings from a distance is a drawback.

b) Do take the audioguide if you feel like it, but brush up on Chagall beforehand.
His abundant use of recurrent symbols, for example, is explicited only partially, which is a pity.

Les Amoureux en Vert, Marc Chagall, 1916-17
Can't help it; I still prefer the lovers!