Sunday, June 30, 2013

Homeland, season 2

The enticing veil of ambiguity on returning war hero Brody is now officially lifted, as Carrie has revealed him as a Muslim fifth columnist and henceforth has had him cooperate with the CIA.

The spiriting boldness brought on by the voyeuristic aspect, the family drama of the  estranged soldier-slash-family father and the culture shock brought on by his return to the US are also nothing but memories.

What remains : A more conventional political thriller, skillfully crafted, yet necessarily disappointing. According to my teenager, it's all a matter of knowing to what extent he is lying and to whom. That pretty much sums it up, actually.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Vanity Fair, France

As a 100th anniversary gift, this prestigious magazine offers itself the luxury of a French edition, notwithstanding the current financial crisis.

Much like its American counterpart, this first French issue contains in-depth articles on a large array of subjects, ranging from an interview with the Bettencourt butler having bugged his employer's office, or a study of the hottest Parisian nightclub of the 1980s, les Bains Douches, to an article on Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal.

The photos, a hallmark of the US edition, are not yet comparable to Leibovitz's, nor even Ellen von Umwerth's celebrity shots for US 'Glamour', but then this is only the first issue.

It's a bit too soon, obviously, to determine whether this edition will measure up to the American - arguably one of the world's best magazines - but editor in chief Michel Denisot vows that no more than 20% photos / articles will be taken from the US, which augurs well.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami

... And YES here I go with my umpteenth coming-of-age novel!
It was not a deliberate choice, however : When grabbing this at my local 'Joseph Gibert' I had no idea what it was about.

Admittedly, a story about yet another young man and his girlfriends, this time set in Japan, in the late 1960s, may not sound all too tantalizing at first - nevertheless, Murakami's very idiosyncratic narrative style will render almost anything a reading experience. 
It brings to mind Kazuo Ishiguro's, which makes me wonder whether it is something typically Japanese (though Ishiguro was raised in England, and writes in English)?

Unfortunately, the translation felt a bit cumbersome - I don't think the old-fashioned turns of phrase were Murakami's fault, as they were absent from brilliant '1Q84'.

Parenthetically : What is to be deduced from the fact that these bildungsromans feel so significant when I supposedly came of age something like a quarter of a century ago?
Is it just the mark of great literature, or should I worry??

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nelson Mandela Tribute Exhibition - Mairie de Paris

There was nothing spectacular about the exhibition as such - photos, texts, videos and a real-size replica of the cell on Robben Island - but I was ecstatic and moved to the brink of tears by this opportunity to introduce my offspring to the singularity of Nelson Mandela.

The kids were, obviously, a bit less ecstatic, but interested enough for me not to lose my momentum.

Incidentally; I don't suppose the credit is due to Paris City Hall, who is hosting the homage, but you will admit this exhibition, right now, is the very epitome of serendipity.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Omens - 3OH!3

There is ample matter for controversy in the lyrics on this album - They all go along the lines of "I should have stayed sober / When you came over" and "I used to have two girlfriends / Now I got none / Cause my number two girl / Found out about one" - but suffice it to say they are in keeping with the music.

And as much as maturity is usually of benefit to written texts, it might even be a hindrance when it comes to creating this kind of bouncy, energetic music. (Wikipedia calls it "crunk rock" - I wonder if that is actually a word?)

Extremely runnable! Me like!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Coraline - H. Selick 2009

This animated story about a kooky - wonderfully expressive - girl and her parallel universe was a lot more unnerving than we had anticipated.

It was also a whole lot more poetic and clever, and it brought to light the fact that the accomplishment of 'A Nightmare Before Christmas' was due at least as much to director Selick as to writer / producer Tim Burton.

My film buff 9-year-old and myself were enthralled. And a little spooked.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Bling Ring - Sofia Coppola 2013

Little girls lost are Sofia Coppola's main trade, and you have to hand it to her; she outshines all the others (admittedly, the competition in precisely that field is none too fierce).

On the one hand, 'The Bling Ring' is a bit superficial - No answers are suggested, there is fairly little delving into the home situations or the intimate relations of this brat pack.
On the other hand, that is partly how Coppola steers mercifully clear of a certain number of stereotypes (not all, though).

Coppola knows her stuff and shrinks away from most of the common traps of filmmaking.
The only real problem with this film, as I see it, is that for a Coppola, there is no such thing as a low-expectations principle. When buying your ticket, you bargain for a masterpiece.

(Evidence of this is Nicholas Cage : Had he stuck to his birth name, most likely his career would be something entirely different from what it is today.)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

White Teeth - Zadie Smith

In short :
- More original than Smith's second novel, 'On Beauty', although I enjoyed that, too.
- More poetic than Jonathan Franzén, who writes high-brow bestsellers rather than immortal literature. There is the odd chance that 'White Teeth' actually might prove immortal. That is how good it is.
- More fun than Salman Rushdie, who also dabbles in beautiful language and convoluted plotlines, but lacks self-distance.

To finish, Smith's accuracy of tone is impressive, especially so as she, a young woman of 25, has chosen two middle-aged men as main focalizers.

Brilliant book!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rocky Horror Picture Show - J. Sharman 1975

Snug as a bug in my couch in front of my TV set is, unfortunately, not the superlative circumstances in which to drool over a young Tim Curry in fishnet stockings.

You really need to be sitting in a worn out seat in some dingy cinema (say the Studio Galande, for instance), throwing and receiving water and rice (not flour, please) in your hair and clothes and have someone on the stage conversing with the actors and, occasionally, doing the time-warp (again).
There is really no other way to enjoy this film, since it is extremely far from being an artistic masterpiece in itself.

A word of caution, however : The above-mentioned methods work to improve only the Rocky Horror Show. They are not to be attempted on other cheesy films.


Friday, June 21, 2013

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

Female coming-of-age stories are surprisingly hard to come by, for some reason.
Count on a feminist to provide one!

Not at all into poetry, I deeply regret that Plath never got round to writing any other novels.
It is largely autobiographical, which at least partly accounts for its intensity and power.

'The Bell Jar' shares many common features with Salinger's 'The Catcher in the Rye' : the zeitgeist, the bildungsroman theme and the curiously engaging narrator. Plath's sincere refusal to accept the prejudice against her gender is rendered with the same self-evidence as that of male superiority in these late 1950s.

The language is uncomplicated, yet poetic, and makes the book a pleasure to read.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Romeo & Juliet - La Tour Vagabonde

A collapsible (ok; dissemble-able) replica of an Elizabethan theatre, on display in central Paris (Pont Marie) hosting Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' - You will admit, the concept is alluring, to say the least.

As it turns out, it was alluring!
Perfection would have been attained, had not the performance of the play been such overblown melodrama. Trained actors bellowing, shrieking and howling at each other for three full hours, in a very restricted area = Tiring only begins to describe it.

An eyeful, though! (I could have gone without the earful.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lotus - Christina Aguilera

Though I am very reluctant to call myself a bona fide Aguilera-fan, I realize I have now downloaded more than half of this album, albeit on an irregular basis.

It is not half bad, as a matter of fact. There is nothing groundbreaking about her music, we will never see eye to eye on her passion for ballads (the only ballads I bear with are Barry Manilow's.) and her vehement yearning to be bad-ass is particularly taxing, but as running-music, it does the trick!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Saturday Night Fever - J. Badham 1977

This film is eons from what I pictured when, aged 9, I pored over the record sleeve with my friends, listening to the Bee Gees.

The glam disco stills never let on anything about Tony Manero's gloomy home situation, his demanding parents, the ratty job, his suicidal friend, the Brooklyn Bridge or the gang-rape scene. (She cries and doesn't want to. That is rape in my book.)
The record sleeve photos displayed only the other side of Tony's life; the 70s shirt collars, the hip-shaking, the neon lights and Travolta's puppy eyes.

All things considered, it is a surprisingly OK film!
It actually makes a statement about the lost youth in 1970s New York, not wholly unlike certain Scorsese-films. (Yes, indeed!)

Had to check up the director and realized I haven't seen a single one of his other films. Not even 'War Games'. Not that I have ever felt I missed out on anything, but last night, I started to wonder.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Twilight - C. Hardwicke 2008

Youth literature has come a long way since I was a teenager (and yet, that seems so recent..!). These days, you can get fiery, independent heroines in action-packed, thought-compelling plots, such as 'The Hunger Games', 'Cathy's Book', 'Uglies' or sadly overlooked 'Kiki Strike'.

In the light of the above, I'm even more befuddled as to the success of 'Twilight' :
And old-fashioned love-story of pining-ly chaste teenage love, with a suitably helpless heroine and a prince in shining armour, the Cro-Magnon view of male vs female sexuality, to boot.

... And don't come claiming any common points with Jane Austen!
In Austen, the plot serves mainly as an excuse for the social criticism in the subtext - Plus, her heroines are never anywhere near as passive as poor Bella (and that's despite the early 19th century context!).

Of the film, as opposed to the book, there is not much to be said.
When everyone in the audience has read and loved the book, it takes a confident director to dare put her own stamp on the film.
Hardwicke, clearly, is not one of those.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Live a Little - Florrie

When I say this reminds me uncannily of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman productions of the late 1980s, that may not immediately strike you as a compliment.

Please keep in mind, though, that the main reason that the Rick Astleys, Bananaramas, Kylie Minogues, Mel & Kims & co were so tiresome was that there were so many of them. That says more about these people's artistic integrity than it does about SAW's talents at producing butt-shakeable (or runnable!) hit music.

That said, Florrie is produced by another British team, called Xenomania.
Stock, Aitken & Waterman have split up.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Snow-White and the Huntsman - R. Sanders 2012

The tale of Snow-White re-moulded in a Lord of the Rings-medieval-fantasy aesthetic.
The fact of the matter is, it would have made more sense to film an entirely  new story, so extensive are the changes to the plot, and so burdensome is it to add psychological insight to a character who has to utter the famous "Mirror, Mirror on the wall..." It's not for lack of trying, though. 

The film was OK, my low-expectations principle being as always exceedingly helpful.
Remarkably, for a princess-starring fairy-tale, the film 1) passes the Bechdel-test, and 2) ends with a still single princess.

I spent most of the film thinking how curious I am to see what is to become of Kristen Stewart's career. I happen to think she is a lot more talented than her latest films have given her credit for. It remains to be seen whether 'Twilight' and cheating publicly on Edward Cullen was a fatal blow, or just a temporary setback. Fortunately, she is still young.

the Bechdel-test (a reminder) :
- Are there at least 2 female characters bearing first names?
- Do they speak together?
- Of other things than men?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Willpower - Will.I.Am

Running music shares a lot of common features with dance music, for obvious reasons.
A steady beat is extremely useful, but insufficient on its own - otherwise, you could just settle for Metallica. (I know some do, but not how.)
Innovating features are not essential, although creativity is no downside!

David Guetta is OK to run to, but I think I prefer Will. I. Am for the moment.
Where Guetta uses high-pitched female voices, Mr ex-Pea mostly sings himself, which avoids the somewhat soulless character of Guetta's work.

Hm. Uncannily, I seem to be developing an unexpected taste for hip-hop..!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pop Rédemption - M. Le Gall 2013

French comedy does not generally prompt me to abandon my couch and head for the cinema across the street. (Not much does, admittedly.)

But then, most French comedies  do not star a black metal band on the loose in the countryside, subsequently, and reluctantly, turning into the Beatles.
Astutely, the grand finale is set at the Hellfest, so the tables end up turned the other way round.

This was cheeky and witty. Which was a surprise!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Dune - Frank Herbert

... And here is the long-awaited part III in our series 'Revisiting the Classics'!

Like everyone else in my generation, I read this ecological sci-fi epic in my late teens. (Come to think of it, though, it would probably be labelled 'fantasy' by today's standards.)
I re-read it - and, stupidly, a couple of the sequels - in my early twenties.

This time around, I was amazed at how much I actually remembered! (Not that my twenties are THAT far away... are they?)
Especially the Arabic-sounding proper names seem to have made an impression, as I still knew almost all of them by heart. (And to think I'm having trouble recollecting my own phone number when I need it..!!)

'Dune' is a classic, even older than I am, and though I am unsure as to whether present-day youngsters still read it as a part of growing up, it had aged surprisingly little. Like me! And like most other classics.

I did see and despise David Lynch's 1984 film adaptation back in the days, but would probably need another take on that, too, so I'll reserve my judgment there.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Malcolm X - S. Lee 1992

One might be justified in expecting a bunch of 15 year old students to find this opus inconveniently drawn-out and exhaustive, especially after having spent several weeks of English lessons studying extracts of the film, therefore being already familiar with the unfolding of events.

I reckon a homage is due to Spike Lee's skillful film-making as they have, instead, sat quiet and wide-eyed through the whole film, not even yawning from the inexorable lack of class-room oxygen.

It IS good, for a biopic. But long!


Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Shining - S. Kubrick 1980

Revisiting the classics, part II :

Still brilliantly scary, using brilliantly simple means - the camera pursuing first the car during the opening credits, and then Danny on his little gokart in the Overlook hotel corridors is sheer genius for all its simplicity.
My teenager was beside herself and didn't want to go to sleep afterwards.

The plot is so accomplished I actually find it a little hard to accept that Stephen King penned it.
But then of course, remove Kubrick and Nicholson from this film, and I guess nothing much remains. (One would tend to think so as King, who did not exactly share my view on Kubrick's masterpiece, had his own version shot as a mini-series in 1997. This has yet to turn into a classic.)


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Big C, saison 3

The C has shrunk considerably since producer Laura Linney's main character's disease went into remission at the end of season 2. That is actually a pity, since it means we see less of Alan Alda's quirky oncologist.

On the other hand, we get to enjoy Susan Sarandon; the other secondary characters are given more space to evolve and Linney's ex-teacher is gaining in depth as she allows her personality to blossom.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hair - M. Forman 1979

Still crazy after all these years!

I warrant Forman has been cleverly scarce in his film-making and therefore has avoided failures. (His latest, 'Goya's Ghost' indeed is no masterpiece, but certainly no failure, either.)

Adapting this Broadway-musical on screen was not a sure-fire success, but in the end, 'Hair' is still irresistible, 25 years later, very much thanks to Treat Williams. (WTF happened to his career???)

My 15-year-old was almost as enraptured as I was, at twelve.
My 9-year-old was absolutely enthralled by all the dirty language and naked butts.
And me, this time, I hardly cried at all when that plane took off for Vietnam!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Thor - K. Branagh 2011

Regular readers may well wonder why I persist with the superheroes, against all better judgment.
The answer is I do not always have full command over the remote control.
Let's say I try to maintain an open mind.

The inception of this one was none too auspicious - men in tights are and remain men in tights - but then Thor (the Swedish pronunciation, by the bye, is Tor) surprisingly ends up on modern-day Earth, with fellow Swede Stellan Skarsgård, and things take on a more classic fish-out-of-water-comedy turn, albeit with a superhero twist.

Watchable, then.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Roman Polanski; Odd Man Out - M. Zenovich 2012

In 1977, Polanski administered drugs to, and then had sex with, a 13-year-old girl at a party with Jack Nicholson. Though no physical violence may have been involved, it was certainly statutory rape, and of course evidence of extremely poor judgement.

The rape victim in question has since moved on, and even forgiven Polanski.
He too wanted nothing rather than to move on; he pleaded guilty, then fled the US for Europe before being served a sentence.

In her 2008 documentary on Polanski, Marina Zenovich found evidence that both the judge and prosecutor in the case were guilty of misconduct. Though Polanski refused to cooperate with her documentary, it unexpectedly led to a reopening of the case in the US, and for some reason - but which? - Switzerland decided to follow suit and had Polanski arrested in 2009.

Zenovich's basic interrogation in this follow-up concerns the how and the why of the second arrest. The film, therefore, contains a lot of red tape; interviews with officials, lawyers and prosecutors; a (perfunctory) investigation of the US conflict with Switzerland on the Union Bank of Switzerland and the names it was supposed to give up at the end of Swiss bank secrecy. Interesting stuff!

The people involved in the inceptive rape case - Polanski and the girl - are hardly present at all, ironically. 
And sadly, as - incidentally - Polanski comes across as a particularly nice chap.