Friday, February 28, 2014

Terre des Ours - G. Vincent 2014

A 90-minute documentary on bears on the Kamchatka peninsula. 
Watching animals is always strangely soothing, and the imagery is breathtaking.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


This BBC/Cymru series merrily mingles Greek mythology and historical characters in the fictitious city of Atlantis.
My ten-year-olds seem to constitute the main target group, and indeed both boy & girl watch avidly, and learn a lot, doing so.
Thanks to the Britishly witty dialogue (I reckon I could stomach even porn, or sports, provided it had punchy dialogue!) parents and older sister can also watch without puking.

(To the teenager, who is having a hard time swallowing inconsistencies with the mythology she knows by heart, I say it is for the greater good : The bambini learn a lot. And ancient mythology is so darn complicated, the histories are impossible to retain, anyway...)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Homeland, season 3

The problem with 'Homeland' is the very same as the Problem With Prince : 
It still surpasses most of the other stuff that's out there, in its genre. 
It's just that after having flaunted genius at the outset of your career, there is really nowhere to go, but downhill.

In a nutshell, 'Homeland' is still good; it's just not as good, any longer.

Monday, February 24, 2014

S - J.J. Abrams, Doug Horst

J.J. Abrams is a director, writer and producer of both TV ('Lost') and film (the first of the upcoming 'Star Wars' trilogy, for instance). 
That may explain why 'S' is more of a very atypical experiment than a classic narrative.

The slipover cover contains an imitation of a 1950s library-book, 'Ship of Theseus' by 'V. M. Straka. 
The plot of this 'Theseus' is then  
a) commented by the footnotes made by a Straka-specialist (think Alfred Appel commenting on Vladimir Nabokov), and 
b) doubled by numerous notes scribbled in the margins by two other people, corresponding with each other through this particular copy of 'Theseus'
That equals four narrative voices, in all.

The hand-written notes correspond to five different time periods, each represented in a different colour of ink (colorblind readers abstain from this one) but all liable to appear on the same page. (Obviously, no explanation is provided. That would spoil the fun, I guess?)

Add to that loose papers folded between the pages; postcards, letters, telegrams and paper clippings, all relevant to the two penpals' hunt for the identity of the (fictive!) author, Straka.
They crack codes in the novel and footnotes, they rival with another literary researcher and are increasingly persecuted by threatening strangers.

The plot in 'Theseus' parallels the plot panning out in the margins.

= Complicated only begins to describe it!

It is a tribute to Abrams's genius that it still reads fairly well, and is entertaining! 
For a book about literature, the style is exceedingly straightforward (Abrams is a writer; not a novelist. Apparently, neither is Horst.) which is a pity. 

It is also a bit frustrating that a lot of loose ends are left hanging in the end, but then after 450 pages of keeping two plots, four narrators and seven (in all!) time spans in mind simultaneously, I was also rather thankful to get to move on to something else.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Château de Chambord, Loire Valley

A Friday in February is the optimal time to visit a Renaissance chateau if your priority is avoiding the frenzied tourist stampede and queuing.

If, however, you don't mind being pushed around by hordes of visitors but wish your stroll in the park to take place in sunny weather, then the icy winter rain may make you want to select a more propitious moment.

Regarding the chateau itself, I don't have that much to say : While the architecture is elegant, 17th century interior decoration is just hideous.

Sub-zero temperatures indoors (well, that's what it felt like, anyways) but a lovely (heated) gift-shop.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Les Mouvements Dans la Peinture - P. Fride-Carrassat, I. Marcadé

Before reading this, I was familiar with expressionism, surrealism, the renaissance and even the Barbizon school, but had not yet heard of artistic movements such as atticism, eclectism or the macchiaioli, among others.

The thing is, even after having digested Marcadé and Fride-Carrassat's opus, I still feel pretty clueless. 
I have great faith in language and books, but describing art in words will only take you so far. For several art movements, there is not a single illustration; and I, for one, could have used several to get the hang of, say, the Malassi cooperative or B.M.P.T or Mec art...
In short, what this book needs is more paintings to illustrate the entries. 
A LOT more paintings!! (Easily fixed for later editions, it seems to me?)


Friday, February 21, 2014

The Guilt Trip - A. Fletcher 2012

Streisand as Rogen's overprotective mother on a roadtrip with her adult son is an auspicious prospect for a comedy. 

Indeed, it coulda, shoulda, woulda been great fun, if only the dialogues had been punchier.
As it is, this was just a waste of financial resources.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Night Visions - Imagine Dragons

Some time after everyone else, I discovered these Americans at the Grammy awards, where they performed 'Radioactive' with Kendrick Lamar, and were strikingly good.

The album, much to my disappointment, proved more streamlined and subdued. 
This is way too much Coldplay for me.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Big C, season four

Final season for this light and dark and witty and clever show about cancer.

About 50% of its savvy is due to the resourceful scriptwriters. 
The other half is down to Linney's brilliantly ambivalent portrayal of an increasingly agonizing cancer patient, consistently refusing all the stereotypes.

Love this!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Silver Linings Playbook - D. O Russell 2012

Contrary to what seems like most everyone else, I did not like this.

Some of the reasons why :

- Everyone is screaming at each other all the time...

- No one addresses the fathers obsessive / compulsive disorder and irritating use of his sons as lucky charms.

- Bipolar disease is cured with love and / or dancing. How convenient!

The upside : I suddenly no longer feel any need to go see 'American Hustle' at all!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Blak and Blue - Gary Clark Jr

There is nothing even remotely avant-garde or inventive about this, but BY JOVE it ROCKS!
Sounds like an updated John Lee Hooker!

I LOVE it!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Escape From Camp 14 - Blaine Harden

I will state from the outset that I have NOT read this one myself. (My 16-year-old is the one with a penchant for true stories of misery. Don't ask me why.)

Still, it feels urgent to use even this modest blog to convey information on human rights-issues in North Korea, especially as the situation is finally growing concrete enough to attract attention from Western media :

The book is a personal account from a young boy, born and bred (well... born, anyway) in a North Korean work camp, until he managed to escape at age 23. 
Obviously, the veracity of his story is near-impossible to prove, but as you will be made aware by the UN report, enough testimonies concur to create a profoundly disturbing state of affairs.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Bad Porn Movie Trax - Shaka Ponk

Crushes on French bands have been so exceedingly rare over the last 25 years (yes; twenty-five!!) that I am at a total loss on how to deal with the fact that my (admittedly, a bit half-hearted) research of runner-friendly rock music has resulted in only two bands, both of which are French.

Having already sated myself on their latest albums, I now find myself downloading stuff from 2009. Remarkably relishable!!

(The other band is Skip the Use )

The Cold Song - Liv Ullmann

Every time I read one of Ullmann's books, I marvel at the fact that despite being a Daughter Of (Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann), she can actually write! And I don't just mean assemble enough letters in a row, I mean Write Actual Literature.

That said, this one was a bit of a letdown. 
It is a pageturner, but it sticks too closely to the whodunit dogma, which is a giant leap back from her previous, more ambitious, novels.

Had she been one of my students, I would have commented this 'You can do better!'


Thursday, February 13, 2014

I Give It A Year - D. Mazer 2013

Director Dan Mazer and Sacha Baron Cohen go back all the way to Ali G together, so the low-expectations principle was a no-go from the outset, on this one.

Regrettably, their lowest common denominator turned out to be Anna Faris, and much as I do dote on her, she cannot all by herself hold up a film that has no plot. 
Witty dialogue, yes. But no plot.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Snows of Kilimanjaro - Ernest Hemingway

Short stories are what Hemingway excelled at, and indeed, this collection is about as remote from Roald Dahl or Saki as conceivable, though they share their taste for simplicity.

Hemingway's simplicity, however, is deceptive, as this reads a lot like poetry : You need to leaf back and forth in the book, check data, compare scenes, pause to meditate and digest to comprehend what you just read. Every phrase is ripe with meaning. 
Ezra Pound's brilliant quote is exceedingly well-suited : "language charged with meaning to its utmost possible degree."

Sadly, I have never one for poetry and as a consequence, have never really felt Hemingway to be my cup of tea, either. At a loss to determine why.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hope Springs - D. Frankel 2012

Superb actors in a comedy about sex therapy - I admit I did get my hopes up. (The French title applied perfectly.).

Much to my disappointment, however, it all came pretty much to nothing. 
There is no way you can talk about sex and have the film work as a family comedy at the same time; it just feels as if you are not taking your own subject matter seriously.
And I am not saying you can't treat serious subjects lightly - I'm saying it's challenging, and David Frankel does not measure up to the task.


Monday, February 10, 2014

King Kong - P. Jackson, 2005

As expected, this turned out very ten-year-old-friendly (though I doubt it would have been on a wide silver screen, with THX surround sound.)

As a parent, I appreciated the pretty scenery and the gorgeous 1930s costumes, felt gutted at the damsel-in-distress's role as a passive but wearyingly screaming victim.  
(And yes, I do realize it is a bit vain to expect feminism in a story dating from 1933. But still.)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Wind Rises - H. Miyazake 2013

A cartoon biopic about a Japanese, turn of the (last) century airplane engineer may not sound like an obvious chef d'oeuvre, and truth be told, despite the Miyazake mold, nor was it.

It was, of course, poetic and aesthetically appealing, as always, and it combined two of his recurrent leitmotifs - technology and war - but it was still hard to whip up sufficient interest for the lead character, notwithstanding his underlying moral ambiguity, to last for two full hours.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

David Cameron Fick Nyligen Sin Cykel Stulen - Andres Lokko

Lokko is a Swedish journalist specializing in popular culture, here publishing a series of explicitely political columns from his exile in London. 
He muses upon various subjects, such as Susan Boyle, the British class system, the British National Party, John Galliano, the London riots and the moral correctness of the politically correct. He does so in a well-wrought, articulate style which makes this a pleasure to read.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Racine Carrée - Stromae

I have nothing to add, really, to my previous musings on this charming young Belgian

except to point out that I have now downloaded and listened to the album, and advise you to do the same.


Monday, February 3, 2014

The 56th Grammy Awards

Memorable moments : Kendrick Lamarr and Imagine Dragons' performance. Pharrell Williams (and his hat), Stevie Wonder and Daft Punk all together. Steven Tyler's open fly. Macklemore rapping about tolerance while Mary J Blige married 33 couples in the audience. And Dave Grohl (forever attempting new things! Admirable).

Not so much for me, thank you : Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney (Note To Self : You do not want dyed hair to look like a monolith, especially after 65! You need highlights!!). Lorde. All the country artists (zzz zzz zzz).


Sunday, February 2, 2014

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Despite extensive studies in English and American civilisation, I had never read anything but extracts from this iconic novel. Seeing as how 350 million Americans all appear to love it dearly, I anticipated some sort of 'It's A Wonderful Life'.

... And it was, more or less! An upgraded and improved version; more nuanced and resting on an infinitely superior narrative structure.

Admittedly, this is yet another coming-of-age story, but a female one, and one skilfully told from a child's point of view, depicting racial tension in the deep South of the 1930s.

Almost as endearing as the novel itself is its author; Harper Lee never published anything but this autobiographical story ('Dill' = Truman Capote!) and has made very few public appearances. That is fascinating behaviour.