Saturday, January 31, 2015

Howl's Moving Castle - H. Miyazake 2004

Despite their six year age difference, 100% of my offspring adore this film, and watched it approximately a couple of hundred times up until a year or so ago. 
Yesterday, we dived into it again, much with the same delectation.

I personally also consider it one of Miyazake's best! The plot is, as always, rather convoluted, but revolves around a young girl's arrival at a mysterious, mobile home along with a highly eclectic adoptive family. This film contains almost all of Miyazake's pet peeves - war, the opposition between technology and nature, a nasty elderly witch, a strong female leading lady, flying, dark, invasive shadows - plus a strangely seductive young sorcerer...

Friday, January 30, 2015

Downton Abbey, season 5

What I do find quite extraordinary about this show is not its high quality in dialogue and plot, nor the beauty of its costumes and setting, but rather how it has managed to remain the same without appearing monotone for such a long time. Most of the time, I find series start to decline somewhere around the fourth or fifth season.

Few characters have left Downton - though at the end of this season, several seem to be about to depart - which may be the key. Also, times they are a-changing, what with the twenties beginning to roar; illegitimate children, socialism, a new bob hairdo and a kitchen maid developing a taste for studies, amongst others.

Still brilliant, then!

NOT brilliant, though : TMC network! Get your subtitle-act straight and join the 21st century!! You are a disgrace for French television! 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Queen + Adam Lambert, Zénith de Paris

A die-hard, if slightly over-aged, Adam Lambert-fan, I was quite excited about finally seeing him live, even if I did realize the Queen-songs would probably dominate.

The closer I got to the venue, though, the more I saw of the rest of the audience, and the greater were my misgivings.

And yeah, sure enough, this was indeed a Queen-concert, with die-hard, perfectly aged Queen-fans, there to hear Brian May and Roger Taylor.

And yeah, Lambert held his own, as far as it's possible to spend an evening singing Queen-songs without actually impersonating Freddie Mercury.

And yeah, May and Taylor have been playing - together! - for half a century, so the sound was airtight. It did rock. (Though I personally can only take so many guitar and drum-solos in one evening.)

But no, it was not what I had hoped for. 
A solo Adam next time, please.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Battle of the Five Armies - P. Jackson 2014

There were most certainly better films to choose from at my local movie complex ('Foxcatcher' or 'Interstellar' for instance) (but then I almost decided on 'Mortdecai' as well, before I viewed the trailer and changed my mind!) but as this exceptionally bleak winter has created a pressing need for escapism (and I had my ten-year-old with me) I ended up in front of 'The Hobbit'.

Escapism it was, of course! Pretty pictures. Not much of a plot. (The story is all in the title, really.) A bit long, especially considering you know all along how will end. Orlando Bloom looks middle-aged and overweight, although he is neither.

In short, although this is indeed not a great film, it is definitely a great show.  


Friday, January 23, 2015

Hunting And Gathering - C. Berri 2007

 Half a decade or so has passed since I read the book below (My parents both loved it. That may not mean anything to you lot, yet it is highly significant to me.) but as far as I recall, it was a lot like this film; cute, heartfelt, rather shallow and a little sickening toward the end. 
Kind of Disneyesque, in a word, but in a French way.

It is about three lonely young people, how they find their way to each other, and learn about friendship and intimacy.
Guillaume Canet is overpoweringly charming. 
Audrey Tautou is Audrey Hepburn.
It's all very, very cute.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Some Like It Hot - B. Wilder 1959

I know this counts as a comedy masterpiece, and some aspects of the script are quirky enough ("Nobody's perfect" is as unlikely a line as it is brilliant, for instance.) yet I can't really bring myself to see it as a 'real film'. I thought at first it might be because Monroe didn't get her way and had the film shot in colour - it appears Lemmon and Curtis's make-up looked ludicrous in technicolor - but then I saw 'High Society' just the next day, and wasn't all too impressed with that, either. (Admittedly, I have never heard that one referred to as a masterpiece...)

So : Isn't it sort of sad to have a piece of art grow out of fashion in this manner? 
Or am I just being superficial?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Girl Most Likely - Berman & Pulcini, 2012

I totally love Kristen Wiig. I know I'm not alone in that, and indeed, I don't really see how it is possible not to totally love someone who is so utterly talented at portraying confused women, constantly saying the wrong things at parties and generally making you cringe with embarrassment. (Although, yes; she can play other parts, as well!)

This particular confused woman makes her return from New York to her birthplace, New Jersey, and her estranged family (much too rare Annette Bening).
It's the type of indie film where the actors look like almost-real people, the settings look like real American homes and they are surrounded by what looks like real (American!) people.

Now, if all this sounds a tiny bit like 'Bridesmaids', that may be because these two films do have quite a lot in common. But then, I figure they still have less in common than any random two action blockbusters do, and that seems to work out just fine for most people, so...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mirage 38 - Kjell Westö

Finland is a peculiar little country, probably due to its particular geographical situation, squeezed in as it is between America-friendly Sweden and Communist Russia.
It was Swedish up til 1809, when it became part of the Russian empire. That ended a century later with the Russian Revolution and a subsequent Finnish civil war between pro-Russians and Germany-supported Conservatives. 

The country's history weighs heavily on this well-penned novel, set in 1938. 
The pangs of the civil war are still vivid, and war is brewing in Europe, for the second time in merely a few decades.

The story is dense for other reasons, as well : The main characters - a man and a woman, forming a virtual sort of couple - lead lives laden with secrets and unspoken tension. 
In the end, the past catches up with them, but long before that the reader has sensed disaster ahead.

The writing felt terribly masculine (I can't make up my mind as to whether that is a good thing or not?), with a distinct tendency to political lecturing and babbling, yet I enjoyed this, both because of the skilled writing and the subject matter. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Uptown Special - Mark Ronson

The name of this British DJ and musician promptly conjures up images in my mind of a long-haired guitarist in 1970s flares. It just so happens that is not so awfully far from the truth, although this Ronson here is closer to 1970s James Brown and Stevie Wonder (before calamities like 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' hit the charts) than the Spiders From Mars.

Funky musik, then! 
A little tiring at times, admittedly, but it will, to quote Bruno Mars on the first hit single off the album indeed "funk you up". 


Saturday, January 17, 2015

48:13 - Kasabian

Britrock at its best! 
Rough and unpolished, yet finely wrought and upbeat all at the same time.
Suitable both for running and as background music while lounging at home.

Irritatingly, these masterly fellows played in Paris last November, so as usual I discover them a tiny bit too late. Same thing happened about Macklemore. Something tells me, next time he comes to Paris, he won't be playing at cosy 'Zénith' like last time (when I refused to accompany my daughter as I had never yet heard of him) but at some considerably larger venue...)


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Comment Regarder un Tableau - F. Barbe-Gall

 The title - how to observe a work of art - is slightly presumptuous, and contains innuendo that I find resentful : 
          1. There is ONE accurate way of observing a work of art. and 
          2. I am going to teach you how.

Moreover, Barbe-Gall didn't actually teach me much in this book, at least nothing that feels indispensable. Mostly, she blabbers on (and she does blabber!) and on, in a notably poetic style, focusing mainly on imagining the artist's thoughts. (Or is that blabbering perhaps what spectator-me am supposed to be thinking??)

What I did learn was the reason why the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture determined historical paintings to be the highest form of art. Indeed, that notion of degrees in sophistication had always appeared random to me, but was actually founded on their impression that historical painting contained all other sorts of painting; portraits, landscapes, still lifes and genre painting. Plus, it demanded great bookish knowledge from the painter.
 Not that I necessarily agree with that idea, but at least I know now there is some thought behind it.
Francisco de Goya, 'Viejas' / Time, 1820

Monday, January 12, 2015

One Summer, America, 1927 - Bill Bryson

Bryson is ordinarily a writer of travel literature - and a sterling one, at that - yet he occasionally also goes historian on us. 
Here, his sense of witty phrasing renders this opus considerably more intelligible than most historians. At the same time, his incapacity to purge his text from taxing details makes for 600 fairly dense pages.

An original take on history, though! Especially as the summer of 1927 in America allows him to go into, among many others, Charles Lindbergh's Atlantic crossing, baseball legend Babe Ruth, executed anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti (according to Bryson perhaps "not quite so innocent as history has wished to make them"), the first talking films, flagpole-sitting, flappers, eugenism and the first Red Scare.

Finally, a quote to explain the importance of the summer of 1927 in Bryson's own words : "Americans in the 1920s had grown up in a world in which most of the most important things happened in Europe. Now suddenly America was dominant in nearly every field..."

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Paraît-il - Christophe Willem

Outmoded, upbeat, fluffy, Kylie-style disco music. 

Not necessarily precisely my cup of tea - though as running music it keeps me on my toes (ha!) until the upcoming Adam Lambert-album - but kudos to Willem for persisting in what I guess is following his artistic convictions. (Forgive me if I was not quite as keen on Ms Minogue's latest album; her artistic convictions don't seem to have budged an inch in the last two decades, which I have a bit of a problem with.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hello Ladies, the movie - S. Merchant 2014

This is the TV movie special of a series I am not familiar with.
It was entertaining although based on stereotype, convention and predictability...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Pas Très Normales Activités - M. Barthélémy 2013

Norman Thavaud is my kids' favourite youtuber (and I assure you, they have explored the market thoroughly!). Even us parents have warmed up to him, which obviously vouches for a certain talent.
Norman's youtube-manners (addresses to the camera, swift cuts and a large amount of spontaneity) feel tailor-made for this parody of a certain faux home-made horror-film.

Poltergeist pigs and the pragmatic countryside surroundings make it more fun than scary; quite the thing to lure the ten-year-olds away from Lord Of the Rings Online for 1h20.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Bridge, season 2

The detectives - a classic odd couple dream team - this time consists in a Swedish socially handicapped (Asperger's?) woman and a Danish loose cannon teddy bear of a man. Nice chemistry.

The plot is separate from the first series (I've been told) and kept us on our toes for all ten hours of the show. Environmentalist terrorists and plenty of blood-splattering.

The imagery is basically fifty shades of grey, and so bleak you'd be forgiven for starting to wonder about the Scandinavian suicide rate (which is high, admittedly). Yet the general mood of the show feels less whiny than Mankell's Kurt Wallander-character, who I personally would like to send off to Mozambique to join his creator.

In all, a fair enough detective show, as they go. Third season in the making as we speak.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Vestiaires, season 4

Although I do watch the news at eight like any other self-respecting Frenchwoman, I find the various mini-sitcoms broadcast between the weather and the prime time feature exceedingly tedious.

The one exception ever found hitherto in French TV history, and mine, is 'Vestiaires'.
The pitch is daring genius in itself : No happy nuclear families, tired stereotypes or sassy, blue-eyed children, but a bunch of disabled men, chit-chatting in the local swimming pool locker rooms. General self-deprecation and a highly refreshing lack of respect for pretty much everything.

And I SWEAR I would think so even if I had not known the producers to the show!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Asterix et le Domaine des Dieux - A. Astier, 2014

Not Marsupilami-rolling-down-the-aisles fun, admittedly, but pleasant enough to while away a leisurely winter afternoon. A lot of tongue-in-cheek punchlines destined to the (numerous!) adults in the audience.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Musée de l'Archeologie, Strasbourg

Aspiring merely at some respite from the blighting cold and ongoing blizzard (I am hardly exaggerating at all, I assure you!) we were agreeably surprised to find a vast, well-stocked and nicely displayed museum in an 18th century, baroque hotel particulier.

Exhibits ranged from the paleolithic (or whatever?) up to the recent dig-out of a group of World War One German soldiers, immured in an underground mining gallery.
We stayed longer than expected and when we were done, so was the snowfall.