Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Jihadi's Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising - Patrick Cockburn

Knowledgeable and experienced British war correspondent (writing for the Independent) attempts an explanation of the current Middle East conflict, responsible for the masses of refugees arriving in Europe as best they can.

Visibly, Cockburn knows his stuff, yet the situation is such a mess that even after finishing this, I was still giddy from trying to keep track of the Shiites, Sunni, Alawites, Salafists and the likes.
Quoth Cockburn : "The Syrian crisis is composed of five separate conflicts, all interfering with and aggravating each other."

He also examines the influence of the intense media coverage, rendering this a propaganda war as much as a traditional armed conflict.

In short : Interesting and educational, though all but ruined by a horrendous translation making him sound like a 1930s news-reel commentator.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Serial, season 1 (podcast)

Despite my relative aversion to murder mysteries in general and my intense love of the written word in particular, I confess to having treasured every minute of this twelve-episode podcast.

The pitch is unoriginal : A Baltimore journalist sets out to investigate a fifteen year old homicide case, unaided by all except the convict's friends and family.
And it's riveting! (I'm dying to call it a page-turner, but of course it doesn't seem appropriate.)

Now, you may argue there is something prurient and voyeuristic about delving into the death of a real-person young girl (always, always the murder victim is a young girl...) with real-person family and friends, and you will be partially right - though I don't really see how this investigation could be offensive to anyone, except perhaps to the teenager who took a life sentence for the killing. 

It's actually hard to review this without spoiling it, so I'll just provide the link to the website where you can download it all, free of charge :

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Anchorman - A. McKay 2004

I wanted to watch 'Elf' but as it wasn't available, I decided later is better than never and so finally got around to 'Anchorman' instead.

The title is self-evident - add the 1970s and the Apatow-posse - and the film très Saturday Night Live; sometimes blah, sometimes tasteless, mostly hilarious.
Above all, it's that general impression you get that the whole crew basically was in this for a few laughs and consequently had a great time together.

SNL as a movie, then. Definitely enjoyable though I can't help thinking a feature film should perhaps feel more polished than a weekly TV-show. Yet, if it did, that would probably come at the cost of the improvisations that are directly linked to that great time I just mentioned.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Xmas, God Jul, Bonnes fêtes

Most every Christmas Eve, like most other Swedes, I watch two TV shows.
(See, we like to do all the same things at pretty much the same time. That's the downside of social democracy, the way I see it.)

One of these is 'Karl-Bertil Jonsson's Julafton' which I wrote about two years ago.

The other is a mash-up of various Disney films that holds no real interest to anyone outside Sweden who hasn't already watched it every Christmas all their lives 
(You may well go ahead and laugh, but that just described 9 million Swedes, give or take a few.)

I will therefore settle for a peaceful Christmas greeting by Jenny Nyström.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Love Actually - R. Curtis 2003

It is quite remarkable how entertaining this still is, despite a substantial number of viewings.

This last viewing might actually have been one too many, I'll confess.
But then, it is after all Christmas. 
(And 'Elf', which I originally wanted, was unavailable...)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Tusen År Till Julafton

Swedish TV-tradition (OK, your homecountry may not have any of those, but in Sweden we are earnest about every kind of tradition) : 
Each December 1st sees the first episode of the julkalender. 
It can be about almost anything, mostly but not necessarily pertaining to Christmas, and it goes on until Christmas Eve, one instalment a day. 

Another julkalender is broadcast on the radio, though I'm not sure anyone actually listens to that any more. 
(Radio is so passé.) 
(Now podcasts are another matter entirely...!)

This year's kalender is SO my cup of tea! A group of children are taken to various periods in Swedish history, one era per day. The children wake up in the morning, globally unaware of how the day is going to pan out, and more or less go with the flow. They get to taste period food, wear period clothes, and are treated more or less (probably less) as children of the time they are in, sometimes rich, sometimes poor.
So far, they have for instance emigrated to America, narrowly escaped the plague, been evicted from their home, received a warchild from Finland and had their pet rabbit for dinner.

The food they have tasted I will not even go into. Most of the time, merely looking at it makes me want to puke. Kudos to the kids for actually tasting it!

History from a child's perspective, then! Love it!

(And PS yes my kids enjoy it too, by the way.)

Friday, December 18, 2015

The History of England II, The Tudors - Peter Ackroyd

The title of this opus is simultaneously accurate and a bit misleading. 
It is indeed a history of England, yet of the conventional kind - no new social realism drivel here. (On the other side, if it had been, it would have been 1500 pages long instead of 500.) As a result, it depicts Tudor dealings - in detail! - and not much else.

The Tudors being what they were (a colourful bunch!), there is much to be told!
My favourite anecdote to tell students is when Henry VIII said "F*ck off" to the Pope and created his own church, to marry Anne Boleyn and have a son, helping himself to the Church's wealth and lands all the while. A sweet deal, as they say.
This is of course then followed by all his other wives (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived), the succeeding monarchs in rapid succession - poor Edward VI who died at 15, the queen of nine days Lady Jane Grey, and 'Bloody' Mary Tudor - to finish with the long reign of majestic Elizabeth I.
Colourful only begins to describe it!

The downside, however, to King Harry's Act of Supremacy (there always is one, isn't there?) was the subsequent religious turmoil. Not only because it was hard on the English people to reform their religion pretty much on a whim, but also because religious wars are both tedious and so goddarn stupid you want to chuck the book through a window. ("Mass in Latin or mass in English? Hm. Let's fight it out! And burn a few heretics while we're at it!")

The subject-matter was mostly fun, then, and the writing was OK, though perhaps not Nobel Prize material. But then, that is not exactly what you want from a historian, either. 
(Though if you do, and if you read Swedish, I can recommend Peter Englund!)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Kingsman - M. Vaughn 2014

However Tarantinoesque, cinema-aficionado and reference-filled this action comedy may be, it also contains much of what I consider to be the very worst kind of entertainment violence, because actually intended to make you laugh. 

It is with some reluctance, therefore, that I must admit to finding this - despite a couple of drawn-out episodes during which I closed my eyes - in the end, all things considered, notwithstanding certain undeniable weaknesses, fairly entertaining. But violent. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Adam Lambert Original High Tour, Europe 2016

Seriously, Adam, WTF?!? 

Far be it from me to wish to find fault in your visiting tiny Scandinavian capitals (not everyone does, and believe me, I know what I'm talking about), but honestly, why must that exclude Paris??
Are you worried about terrorists? Offended that we haven't bought enough albums? Or is it me? Did it vex you that I found the album more of a Max Martin-album than anything else? Don't you want a woman to stand up for her opinions?

Please, reconsider!


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Curtain Call - Eminem

I'm having something of an Eminem-moment, as a logical spin-off to my recent 1980s festival.
That I didn't really listen to this much in the early 1990s may be the reason to my current enthusiasm - or it could just be that this is brilliant music and Eminem is a genius?

... And as a Christmas bonus : A brilliant remix of 'Business' (not on 'Curtain Call'). 
(Obviously brilliant : Remixed by Norwegian Matoma. Scandinavians have such class..!)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2015

I'm sorry if this sounds horrifyingly condescending, but I must confess there is something rather satisfactory about having already read the Nobel Prize winner before the award!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Walking Dead, season 1

OK, so I watched a mere two episodes of these, but truth be told, my opinion was all set even before the end of the first. 
(Yet I swear I walked into it with an open mind! I am not opposed to zombies on principle. Enjoyed 'World War Z' - on paper, that is.)

My opinion is this : Zombies and stereotypes both feel terribly outdated. 
I have simply watched too many good TV series to stick with this kind of crap.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Kylie Christmas - Kylie Minogue

This was certainly heaps better than Ariana Grande, though admittedly that is not saying much.

Both superficial and lightweight pop artists, Minogue benefits from her 30 year long experience and capacity to pick talented people to work, thus ensuring a higher overall quality. This is still not my type of Christmas album, but it's passable.

(That posthumous duet with Frank Sinatra, however... When you are an average talent, it's generally a good idea to stay away from immortal legends.)

Instead, listen to Michael Bublé, Mary J Blige, Babyface, Barry Manilow or Barbra Streisand!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Christmas Kisses - Ariana Grande

In case you wondered, this is precisely the type of Christmas music I, despite my love for all things Christmassy, have absolutely no stomach for. 
But then of course, I don't much care for Ariana Grande the rest of the year, either.

In case this is your cup of tea, though, you will perhaps also enjoy the album I will be reviewing tomorrow... /music of suspense/


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Christmas Market, Swedish Church in Paris

Not quite as crowded as usual, and plenty of Swedish candy, ginger snaps, Christmas decorations and hot dogs, though this morning they had already run out of gingerbread dough, which was basically what we came for. (Too lazy to bake, we had planned on following my 11-year-old's advice "Let's get dough and eat it.")

Should you be looking for some item less in demand, you may also want to have a peep at the Boutique Suédoise, right next to the Church. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

En Finir Avec Eddy Bellegueule - Edouard Louis

Every once in a while, it just happens : Everyone raves over a book, then I read it - and find it actually IS every inch as magnificent as it was claimed to be!

Yet, this opus did not have much going for it, storywise. Autobiographical accounts of an outsider intellectual in a boorish, underprivileged smalltown family aren't exactly on top of my reading list, I can tell you. 
I can't bear pessimism, and before this, I wouldn't have thought it possible to tell this kind of story in an objective mindset, without poring over the sordid parts, especially as the story is the author's own.

No whining, then! A clear-eyed, detached view on his family, expressed in a dispassionate but elegant voice. 
No wonder he has won so many awards. All well-deserved.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Allt Jag Inte Minns - Jonas Hassen Khemiri

Khemiri is, as I belive I may have mentioned before, Sweden's second best now living writer. And the hottest by far. There is absolutely no way in hell any low-expectations principle could be even remotely applicable to any of his works. 
Quite fortunately, there is no need, as he always meets even the highest of expectations.

There is an elegant fluidity and quirky idiosyncracy to his style that no other Swedish author comes near. He deals with subjects that are universal - here; love, friendship, personality, money, social exclusion - in characters that are generally underrepresented in Western literature. Plus an absolutely irresistible, subdued, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour!

The multiplicity of narrative voices relating the same events from conflicting point of views logically ought to render this somewhat cumbersome to read, yet the story is so addictive I gobbled it down in a couple of hours. 
Regrettably! It's already over now!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Daylight Gate - Jeanette Winterson

For all the giant print, ample margins and thick paper, there is no disguising the fact that this is more of a novella than a novel. A quick read, therefore, though you may also want to set aside some time for digestion!

Bold as ever, Winterson writes about a major witch-trial in early 17th century England, blending historical accuracy - most characters have really existed, and the context of religious upheaval is quite authentic - with fiction, as much is necessarily unknown, 400 years later, allowing for Winterson to take some liberties with the plot.

It certainly takes both courage and skill to pull off a book dealing in subjects such as witches, sorcery, talking severed body parts, satanic masses, paucity, torture, the devil and all sorts of gothic regalia, not to mention sex and violence. 
Winterson possessing both skill and courage, she not only carries it off, but also broaches issues of feminism and personal beliefs. All in flawless style!