Thursday, March 31, 2016

Friday Night Lights, season 2

After the brilliant first season, this follow-up was as unsettling as it was disappointing.

The characters are still there, but they derive in various & curious fashions; the murder of a rapist, the concealment of his body, theft and death threats from a drug pusher... 'Curious' is putting it mildly!

Upon inquiry, I learnt that the shooting was curtailed (15 episodes instead of the planned 22) and evidently severely influenced by the 2007 Writer's Guild strike. 
That both sort of explained everything and encouraged me to bear with Justice Coach Taylor and his families, close and extended, for another season.
On which I will get back to you as soon as we have finished.

Still a brilliant show to watch with your teenagers. Ample food for thought and discussion.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Brooklyn - J. Crowley 2015

I went to see this because Nick Hornby adapted the screenplay and I worship Nick Hornby.
So I knew I was in for a treat, and I figured I had a pretty good idea of what that treat would be; a coming-of-age story much in the line of his previous, brilliant, 'An Education'.
That was forgetting Hornby wouldn't, of course, be the virtuoso I claim him to be if he didn't always take me by surprise.

For however much the 'Brooklyn' plot does, indeed, revolve around a young girl, she seems mature enough from the outset, and it's more a matter of making choices than of growing into womanhood (altough yes, obviously, she does that along the way..!).

The setting is breathtaking yet not so striking as to completely take over the film (Looking at you, 'Carol'). 
The absence of villains was another source of astonishment - down to the final ten minutes, when the single evil person in the whole film caused its peripeteia, and everything fell into place...
In a nutshell; brilliant!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, live at Bercy, Paris

Well yes, the Macklemore energy is all but irresistible : I reckon him alone on a stage would be fairly entertaining in itself. At Bercy, he was accompanied not only by Lewis (celebrating his birthday, sung for by a crowd of 12,000) but also by dancers, background singers, strings and brass musicians = It was a concert with a lot going on.

Moreover, higher artistic ambitions and political pretensions, particularly well-combined, are always most welcome in my book!

On the downside : Pre-recorded tracks (of Ed Sheeran's voice, for instance, rendering his absence on stage violently conspicuous) and overall the very selfsame sound on stage as on the albums. Not much point in going to the restaurant, I say, if you are served the same dishes as you get cheaper from the takeaway.

Altogether; more on the upside than on the downside, as you can see.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Dwarves of Death - Jonathan Coe

In the mailbox room of my apartment building, we have a book swap of sorts : When you get around to sorting out your stuff, you then put down whatever isn't too crappy in the mailbox room, hoping that some other tenant (or whoever else happens to be passing by, really!) finds it to their taste and adopts it.

That is how I came by this book. An extract of it was used in the baccalauréat (high school exam) a couple of years ago; I found the title really brilliant and it was in English. 
Those are my only excuses.

It wasn't that bad, actually! 
It is one of Coe's first works and I do believe he has moved on to even greater things since this was published in 1990. It is a first-person narrative about a London musician in the days before and after his witnessing a gruesome murder. 
The style is fair enough, and it's all fine and dandy until the dénouement of the plot, which is totally out of order, unfortunately, defying all logic and causing me to shamefully abandon the book in an empty classroom, hoping some other teacher (or whoever else happens to be passing by) will find it to their taste and adopt it.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Narcos, season 1

Somewhere halfway between documentary and fiction is apparently the right place to be!
The sad reality of the onscreen events is reinforced by recurrent cuts to authentic, familiar images of Bush, Noriega and even the real Escobar and DEA agents tracking him. It's actually quite a ballsy move, as it is a bit disconcerting to have a second - albeit real - face given to the protagonists.

But then, these cuts are not the only ballsy move here; a good 40% of the dialogue is in Spanish, forcing audiences to read subtitles in English. The benefits on the veracity of the storyline are obvious and enormous.

Notwithstanding the talented storytelling, this is also a powerful and important report on a commerce that wreaked havoc on a whole country, helplessly struggling with both the narcos and US interference. (Yep, that's a third ballsy move for an American series!)

The downside, however, (why does there always have to be one??) to the documentary take is that some of the characters lack depth and motivation. Despite DEA agent Murphy's status as one of the main characters and definitely the only one you like to identify with, I never felt close to him or thought I understood what pushed him to go to the lengths he did. I suppose that is a consequence of the producers' refusal to fictionalize him (although the real Murphy did cooperate with the production).

Another downside, of a more unexpected nature (not to say tacky, distasteful, shameless) : Dutch retailer C&A marketing these classy t-shirts. I can only assume no one at C&A has seen the TV show and/or have any idea of how cocaine has affected Columbia, not to mention millions of users? (Thug life, C&A?..)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Show Me Your Soul

'The Soul Train' was a black version of the classic TV show 'American Bandstand' : Well-dressed youngsters dancing while hot artists performed their latest hits.
This hour-long documentary recounts the three decades of the show, commented by producers, dancers, viewers and Bobby Womack!

'The Soul Train' constituted a breakthrough in so far that it was one of the first black TV shows, providing vital role models, and even modestly promoting the equal-rights message. Not to mention the music! (Not that I in any way want to look down on Dick Clark's wholesome family entertainment - but the Motown artists were something entirely different!)

The documentary explicits how disco was born partly from the soul scene, federating black and white culture for the very first time, which then opened up for the breakdance / hiphop wave of the early 1980s.
It was awesome, though I'd be at a loss to tell you whether I'm referring to the documentary or to its subject-matter.

What is NOT awesome, however, is that the Arte Channel - overtly claiming to promote culture! - does not offer its shows in Version Originale. I had to watch this dubbed to French. Get your stuff sorted, Arte!!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Post Pop Depression - Iggy Pop

Though this is not quite my cup of tea, I salute Iggy's creativity and verve. 
His hints that this may be his last opus probably account for the Bowie-in-Berlin sound that does this album no harm at all, to my mind. 

It's no fault of the Iguana's, of course, but I have to point out how excruciatingly unfair it seems to me that the Jaggers and Pops still alive in this world so easily get away with skin-tight leather pants and hip-thrusting, while Madonna is so often and so publicly snorted at when doing the same thing.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mary Queen of Scots - Antonia Fraser

Though this biography is a recent newprint and Fraser no novice in the field, it felt very conventional, no doubt because it is almost as old as I am.

On the plus-side : Rich in detail and local colour .

(Just as an illustration of the general atmosphere in 16th century Westeros Scotland, Fraser mentions the Protestant preacher who was burned to death in the forecastle of St Andrew's, the cardinal and his bishops watching from the castle walls. The subsequent punitive expedition ferreted out the cardinal after a night with his mistress, killed him and hung his mutilated body naked from the castle foretower before pickling him in salt and keeping his corpse in a barrel for over a year... Edifying!) 

On the down-side : Fraser shamelessly and ceaselessly advocates Mary's cause, excusing every one of her exceedingly stupid choices.

Just like Mary's life, the book falls into three major parts :

1. Her youth in the French court, adored and admired fiancée then wife (and soon widow) to the French Dauphin, Francis II.

2. Her tumultuous love life, once returned to and Queen of Scotland : Her passion and ensuing disgust for her second husband, Darnley; the stabbing (in her presence!) of her secretary David Riccio; Darnley's murder; her abduction and rape by, then marriage to, one of his murderers, Bothwell (who ended his days insane in a dungeon in Denmark).

3. Her 20 years as a prisoner in England, before Queen Elizabeth finally plucked up her courage to have Mary beheaded. She probably had good reasons to do so, what with Mary plotting to take the English throne, even though Fraser takes considerable pains to defend the Queen of Scots.

The first and second parts were compelling, the third was someting of a yawn, for obvious reasons.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Friday Night Lights, s. 1

A ten-year old series based on real events, revolving around a smalltown football team deep down in Texas may not sound like an obvious hit, yet in point of fact my pre-teen and myself binge-watched the first season in a couple of days and Taylor Kitsch was not the only reason.

Multi-layered characters, continually unfolding + an increasingly quick-witted dialogue + a plot balancing skilfully between the banal and the life-changing : Somehow this show is about life! 
It is also about rural America and its two core beliefs; God and football. 
And it manages - God or football may know how, I'm sure I don't - to be penetrating and kind (clear eyes, full heart..!) without an ounce of cynicism. A feat in itself.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Death of a Bachelor - Panic! At The Disco

Taking up on a review in a youth magazine (albeit a good one) is risky business, yet to the youngster reporting on 'Death of a Bachelor' I owe my heartfelt thanks.
He/she described it as related to sadly terminated 'My Chemical Romance', which was a fairly apt comparison : Runner-friendly, pop-ish American mainstream rock music, full of 'ooh-oh-oh's' and fast guitars.

I do, however, find the production a bit lacking in ambition or talent (Where is Desmond Child when you need him?) and consequently suspect they sound better on stage. 
For those with better contacts than me, the opportunity to find out will present itself on May 24th when they will be performing at a Paris venue. (Tickets all sold out. Not a single one in my possession. Bummer.)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ja Jag Har Mens, Hurså? - Clara Henry

Since Giulia Enders's book about bowels is only about a year old, I suppose there is some logic to the fact that this Swedish superstar Youtuber's first book deals with monthly periods.
It feels very 21st century, which is not a day too soon, if you ask me.

Even apart from the bold choice of subject-matter AND my personal, quite considerable, experience in the field of menstruation, this turned out to be a good read!

Admittedly, I didn't learn as much as the target audience of, I guess, pre-teen girls certainly will, yet I had fun reading. Partly because Henry, much like her older sisters Silverman, Dunham & co, is a funny lady, and partly because I take Such Joy in the fact that this kind of book actually exists, is edited and has become a bestseller! Society IS making progress, thank God!

(Clara Henry's videos are in Swedish but very readably subtitled in English!)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sunset Boulevard - B. Wilder, 1950

Although I sometimes fail to agree with Time when it dubs something a masterpiece (When I think that Wilder went on from this to 'Some Like It Hot', for instance...) there is no denying that 'Sunset Boulevard' remains immortal.

The stylish noir imagery and flamboyant yet convincing acting are only part of the secret.

To me, Wilder's storyline is absolute genius, for all its misogyny. Multi-layered only begins to describe it : You may view it as a reverse 'Pretty Woman', highlighted by the inherent ridicule of a middle-aged woman still eager to please. You can also read it as a not-so-subtle statement on how the Hollywood dream factory consumes not only people but also their dreams. (Hollywood on Hollywood : So mise en abyme it hurts!) Moreover, it is a comment on mental disorder. And on love. And probably a lot more that I didn't perceive.

A masterpiece, I tell you.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Autant En Emporte l'Histoire (podcast)

Whereas Europe 1's 'Au Coeur de l'Histoire' felt old-town and rather stuffy, this France Inter competitor is a podcast aimed at entertainment as well as education. 

Each episode begins with a brief dialogue between the show's hostess and the invited expert. Follows a half-hour radio drama illustrating the topic under study (I didn't say it wasn't old-fashioned; I said it doesn't feel that way!). Then comes a song of some sort (which I don't always see the point of, but I reckon someone does?) and it is all rounded up by a return to the two people in the studio = Things happen and speakers vary throughout the show, making it a lot easier to keep track of the subject.

Extra applause for their ambition to look into less mainstream issues, such as Nicolas de Condorcet or the expatriated 1871 Paris Communards. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Keep the Village Alive - Stereophonics

Very much as was the case with Shaka Ponk, I though I was on to something new when I came across this on the radio.
Picture my dismay, then, when Stereophonics turned out to be a 25-year-old band (from Wales, but still!) having already won prizes and sold loads of records, albeit most of them in Britain. Nothing innovative, but slick, professional rockmusic.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

This Unruly Mess I've Made - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

I suppose this is what I mean when I talk about adult rap, although admittedly there are other ways of being an adult than joining the white, Western middle-class.

The melodies may not remain among us eternally, but there is an energy to the music and a humorous thoughtfulness that make this pretty irresistible.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Tour Jean sans Peur, Paris 2nd arrdt

You'd think a medieval tower in central Paris would be rather conspicuous, yet this early 15th century structure timidly blends in among its more recent neighbouring buildings.

Once inside, you can visit a temporary exhibition on the dukes of Burgundy in the basement - Jean sans Peur being one of many - or climb the stairs to read numerous signs about daily life in the Middle Ages. As a museum, it felt a bit old-fashioned (Reading signs requires attentive visitors. As a teacher, I know not all visitors always are. Attentive, that is.) though as a quirky Paris oddity, it's just fine. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Moan Snake Moan - Bror Gunnar Jansson

Hardcore modern blues! Brilliant!
(From a Swede! Though strange enough, his origins actually seem more dissuading than appealing...)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Cougar Town

I just hate stupid dialogue. And stereotypes. And cosmetic fillers.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Aquaboulevard, Paris 15eme arrdt

I maintain all the views I aired on this place last time I went, and wish to add that their restaurant is probably one of the worst in Paris, though definitely not the cheapest.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Vägar Till Visdom -Stefan Einhorn

I expected an easy-read help-yourself-book and though this was certainly not exactly academic, it was still more sophisticated and theoretical than I had anticipated.

Still, I was only moderately impressed. 'Wisdom', to begin with, feels like a somewhat archaic notion, much as I do dote on the Gandalfey/Dumbledoresque types of this world; a quick look in a thesaurus could have informed Einhorn there are plenty of more up-to-date synonyms to pick from (not that he doesn't seem to know his way round a book).
Moreover, his whole reasoning, despite enlightening anecdotes to bolster his theories, felt a bit passé yet self-evident.

I ought perhaps to have gone for something even more mainstream?