Sunday, December 17, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express - K. Branagh 2017

At the risk of stating the obvious :

- Agatha Christie's classic whodunit original is a masterpiece in its genre, albeit a literary lightweight and very entertaining one.

- Theatricality has been a Branagh trademark ever since 'Dead Again'. Though his financial and technological means have evolved, his basic patterns have not.

And so I suspect I didn't enjoy this as much as I could / should / would have, partly because I don't really fancy the Branagh approach and partly because I knew the plot much too well.
I hope you won't let that prevent you from going.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Evol - Shaka Ponk

This is a new album insofar as it was released mid-November. 
In musical terms, as far as I can tell, nothing much has changed since their previous masterpieces. 

Which is double, really!
On the one hand, I love this high-powered, melodious pop-rock.
On the other hand, renewal is the key to progress...


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Jim & Andy, The Great Beyond - C. Smith 2017

During the shooting of Forman's Jim Kaufman biopic 'The Man in the Moon' Carey allowed himself to be filmed off camera (so to speak). This was particularly brave of him as it turns out his obsession with Kaufman turned him into a very outlandish person (and I'm phrasing it nicely : Universal only recently released the footage as they feared it would "make him look like an asshole"). 
'Bizarre' is a frequently stated assessment of the situation and seems 100% adequate.

Quite fun to watch, therefore! Carey provides present-day, insightful comment and there is also ample archive footage of Kaufman himself, embodying the adjective 'bizarre' just as much as Carey did.

My one regret was not seeing more of one of my favourite directors, Milos Forman.

 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Like A Fading Shadow - Antonio Munoz Molina

A simple plot summary : The writer fictionalizes his younger self, blending his own past with that of the killer of Martin Luther King jr and his hideout in Europe after the murder, works his way up to his own present-day narrator self and the time of the shooting, in Memphis, 1968, culminating with a long chapter focusing on MLK. 
Not so simple? I agree.

Fortunately, it is also masterly well-penned and evolving around Lisbon, a city I found so stunningly beautiful I automatically enjoy reading about it. 

However : Stiflingly pretentious, despite the talent, and at least 200 pages too long.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Every Day Is Christmas - Sia

I love how unexpected this album was as a career move slightly more than I love the actual album.

I like Christmas songs to be always the same (you may call it repetitive, I call it traditional) and generally upbeat. This album is very much the opposite to both.



Thursday, December 7, 2017

You Make It Feel Like Christmas - Gwen Stefani

Old and new Christmas songs, nicely retro-sounding and Stefani's voice : This may not be the most innovative record this winter, but isn't that at least partly the point with traditions?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon

Do not allow yourself to be put off by the 10 euro entrance fee or by the surly lady at the ticket office. 
Once inside, this 16th century monastery will take your breath away.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Wonderful Wonderful - the Killers

Not until now do I realize I haven't written a line about the recent Killers album which is all the more shameful as I found it absolutely wonderful, wonderful!



Friday, December 1, 2017

Red Pill Blues - Maroon 5

O how I loved the inspired, dance-friendly pop-funk of their first three albums!

I listened so much and for so long to those that had they been vinyls, I would probably have worn them out.

It might be completely kosher, therefore, that these more low-key, introspective tunes don't sit quite as well with me. I'm not saying they are bad, mind you; just that they are not exactly my cup of tea.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The People vs OJ Simpson

For someone who so doggedly refused any renewed interest in the Simpson case, I have certainly backpedaled quite a lot.

This mini-series is well-made, just like the documentary, yet I didn't like this at all as well.

For one, ten one-hour episodes was way too much. Kill your darlings, make it shorter.

Moreover, the inescapable subjectivity becomes more palpable in a transposed version, fictionalizing dialogue as a matter of course. I felt this was a lot less temperate in its opinions, creating sets of conspicuously good and conspicuously bad guys.

In its favour, however, I'll say that for the reasons stated above, this version better highlights the two key issues of the Simpson case : 

- The perversion of the US legal system, enabling money to buy you the sharpest lawyers available to doctor your case.

- The abysmal gap still separating blacks from whites in the US, both in their understanding and their treatment of each other.
 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Shockaholic - Carrie Fisher

This was not my first bout with Fisher's autobiographical spoken-language books, so even if her electric shocks may not sound like a promising subject-matter I knew I was in for a treat. 

Entertaining as ever, indeed, she carries on (!) about her bi-polar disease, her addictions, her friends and family, Michael Jackson, her father and - throughout - celebrity.

Though she will certainly never be up for a posthumous Nobel Prize, this was highly entertaining; the perfectly light read for November!


(Amazing, isn't it, when you think about it, that ECT shocks can actually make someone feel better!?)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Death Note - A. Wingard 2017

The usual crowd of American high-schoolers + a mysterious notebook allowing its owner to supernaturally kill people undetected + an appending monster providing instructions = Very oddly not at all as silly as it sounds! Actually quite watchable.

Still, a caveat : I have no doubt this all worked a whole lot better in the original manga. 
Why do so many filmmakers seem to believe any story is automatically transposable to film? Each medium has its own specifics, it seems to me. 


Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Saga Continues - Wu Tang Clan

Having largely missed out on the moment the Wu Tang Saga peaked, I'm at a loss to say whether their music has really aged or not. 
Future or Kendrick Lamar they ain't, but then they're not YG nor Snoop either.

Fair enough hiphop of the kind I enjoy, yet not overly innovative or up to date.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Wisdom of Prince Philip - A. A. Butt


Reasonably, a selection of Duke of Edinburgh-blunders ought to be properly side-splitting.
He has indeed let a great number of gaffes slip out over the years.

Trouble is, there is no way to know for sure he is joking. For all I know - which, admittedly, is precious little on his subject - he may just as well consider it appropriate to ask someone "You ARE a woman, aren't you?" or say "It looks as though it was put in by an Indian."

To conclude, most likely his recent retirement was a perfectly good thing.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Gaga : Five Foot Two - C. Moukarbel 2017


The concept of watching behind-the-scenes celebs is a tricky one. When well done, it's like 'Madonna : Truth or Dare'. Tickling, but also featuring a hitherto hidden aspect of a well-known persona. (Which incidentally is at least 50% of Annie Leibowitz's genius, if you ask me.)

When not quite so elegantly carried out, I guess it's like 'Gaga : Five Foot Two'.
Tickling, yet not really making you feel privy to anything the world hasn't seen or heard before. Gaga comes off as an ambitious, perhaps not overly clever, woman who is surrounded by people saying "yeah" or "right" or possibly "they loved you". Not super-original.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Shardik - Richard Adams

After his bestselling 'Watership Down' (I'm sure you remember those rabbits), Adams came with this : A medieval fantasy novel, starring an enormous brown bear as a Jesus-like figure becoming the object of a cult. 

I was too young for literary criticism when I read it (a good ten years after it was published, I might add), but I loved this book dearly in my teens and agreed with George RR Martin's epitaph on Adams last year where he called 'Shardik' "a criminally underrated masterpiece". (I gather Stephen King also has referenced Shardik in one of his novels, so it's not just Martin and me.)
When I came across this copy in a British charity shop last summer, it became obvious Destiny felt it was time for a re-read.

Surprisingly, I actually think I enjoyed 'Shardik' even more this time!
Adams's storytelling is contained and controlled - very much contrary to Martin's unchecked narrative and disturbing infatuation with his own characters - and the plot has several levels you can choose whether you wish to focus on or not. 
It deals with religion, of course, but also on childhood, nature, hierarchy and social studies. 
Plus, it's a pageturner! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Detroit - K. Bigelow 2017

The film evolves around a very long key scene, depicting a police intervention going completely haywire during the 1967 Detroit racial riots.

Despite Bigelow's obvious skills, my issues with this are multiple :
1. The camera movements make me sick! Literally, physically queasy. 
Whether that is down to the steadycam or to my sense of balance I can't tell, but then who cares?
2. Two and a half hours is way too long. A restrained focus on the scene inside the hotel would have led to a tighter film and less nausea for me.
3. The choice not to provide motivation for the characters avoids speculation and subjectivity but it also makes for rather shallow all-good or all-bad guys whom I had a hard time rooting for.  

In short, I was not enthralled.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Fresh Meat s3

For all its initial freshness, 'Fresh Meat' turned into an accurate illustration of my principle 'Any series you like you quit after season one'.

Otherwise you go on - because you are smitten with the characters and the dialogue is a laugh - and then at some point, fairly soon, you realize that although you can't exactly pinpoint what, something is different. 
The characters are the same, the plot varies very little, the setting not at all - yet it's just not as good as it used to be.

Sad thing when it happens.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Kasabian at Zénith de Paris

In classic concert fashion, the second part felt a whole lot more inspired than the first - and so from somewhere around 10 pm last night this definitely lived up to the expectations I made up on hearing their last album


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Unquiet - Linn Ullmann

You'd think that even without Ullmann's customarily talented writing, the autobiographical nature of this novel stewed with her famous parents (Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann) would yield a tasty enough read, and yet I found this - actually, if truth be told, much to my amazement - rather boring.

PS The English title is still undecided, as the book isn't due for translated publication until 2018.

 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Stranger Things s 2

The supernatural forces emanating from the scientific lab leave the town of Hawkins no peace. 
Normally, I would steer clear of the second season of a series I so enjoyed the first time around. That was a no-go here, though, and it is with Great Relief I am able to green-light it to you : The second season rocks almost as much as the first!


Apart from rocking, this also :
- depicts the vulnerability of childhood.
- unnerves and rivets my whole family.
- shows a kickass mom in a manner which remains sadly unusual in mainstream media.
- normalizes outsidership and stresses the importance of friendship at the same time.

Loved it!


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Harry Potter, A History of Magic at the British Library, London

Set in rooms decorated as Hogwarts classrooms and evolving around the subjects tested in OWLS and NEWTS, this turned out to be a clever blend of Harry Potter paraphernalia and the sort of real-life historical documents you expect to find at a library exhibition.

I suppose most visitors learnt things they didn't know beforehand on historical takes on herbology, astronomy, potions, magical creatures etc, and at any rate the Harry Potter artworks by Jim Kay are a delight. 
Rowlings has lent pages of handwritten and typed scripts and her personal sketches, initially intended only as memory-joggers. What stuck with me was the extent to which these pre-publication drawings were similar to the figures as we know them from the films. Directors and scriptwriters must have followed Rowlings's lead very closely.

Despite the suggestive presentation, however, this remains a literary exhibition and as such focuses on ancient books, thereby making more suitable for adult potterheads than young children.

Book in advance. It seems to be very popular.

And should the two museum gift shops prove insufficient for your merch-cravings, the 9 3/4-shop at the King's Cross is just a stone's throw away...

 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Titus Andronicus - William Shakespeare

'Titus Andronicus' is not exactly 'Romeo and Juliet' or 'Hamlet' or even 'Julius Caesar' - It is a play of debated authorship (on rather loose grounds, though, according to Hughes's introduction) boasting a plot so bloodsoaked and murderous Tarantino could have come up with pretty much the same.

Most characters normally die at the end of a tragedy, yet most tragedies do not also contain a rape, three chopped-off hands, a tongue cut out and a father stabbing his daughter. 
However much I oppose violence as entertainment and would probably not be too keen on watching this on stage, Shakespeare is always Shakespeare, even when not totally on top of his game, so this was enjoyable (and, I'm ashamed to say, entertaining) anyway.  

Friday, November 3, 2017

Shakespeare's Globe, London

I have been here before (several times, actually) and yet this visit was every bit as enchanting as the previous. They are always the crowning moment of my London visits.

The Globe itself is magnificent, the guides are knowledgeable and nice, the gift shop is worth the detour on its own account.

My one regret is not having been able to at least peep into the brand new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, where plays are put up in the winter season.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A'dam LookOut 360°

It's 20 floors high - though the elevator taking you up there seems to believe it's the Empire State building - and offers a breathtaking view over all of Amsterdam. 

Should you like to dine at the turning restaurant, you need to book a table in advance.

Should you like to swing 'over the edge' you need a solid confidence in Dutch technology and a lot more courage than I have.

Otherwise, there is not much to do up there, except have a drink or a carrot cake in the bar.







Sunday, October 29, 2017

Torture Museum, Amsterdam

Tourist crap / trap.

Although it did provide ample opportunity to inform my son that christianism has also done its share in religious extremist violence. Amazing how creative the Spanish inquisition showed itself when it came to torturing without drawing blood (which, for some reason, men of the church were not supposed to be doing).


Friday, October 27, 2017

Rembrandtshuis, Amsterdam

It would be a lie to say this is the finest of all fine buildings in Amsterdam, but then as they are all of them pretty splendid, that doesn't say much. 

It is at any rate a beautiful home, bought by the painter when affluent and then sold as things didn't pan out so well (bankruptcy, legal proceedings and general poor management of just about everything). It has been well renovated, beautifully decorated and is commented in (free) audioguides.

All this amounts to an excellent history lesson even for someone (like, say, my son, for instance) who had never heard of Rembrandt before.

Next to the original house is a museum, currently housing an exhibition of two of Rembrandt's students, Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck. We didn't stay very long there, I admit, as I wasn't overly enthralled and also wanted to keep my even less enthralled teenager in a good mood.









Thursday, October 26, 2017

Swing Time - Zadie Smith

Smith deftly deals with poverty in Europe, poverty in Africa, poor relief of different kinds, motherhood, friendship and probably also a bunch of other topics I missed out on because I was too engrossed in the plot. 

For some reason the noncommittal narrator stuck with me. A young "brown" girl (Jamaican mother) and her life journey would not seem all that original, but Smith knows her stuff so this was riveting.

Superbly rich, superbly penned and superbly entertaining novel! 
I have loved everything I have read by Zadie Smith, and this just might be her best so far.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Centralmassivet - Thåström

Sweden's most distinguished and esteemed high-brow rock artist is now 60 and he knows his stuff. 
Very, very powerful. 

And very, very slow. (Where is Kygo when you need him?)


 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

David Hockney Retrospective at Centre Pompidou, Paris 3rd arrdt

One of the advantages to attending retrospectives of artists you are wholly unfamiliar with is that the low-expectations principle is a given.

I now know that though Hockney may never be a great favourite of mine, I do like his swimming pools and his portraits (but not his later landscapes and interiors).

Furthermore, I know that however firmly anchored his art may seem in the 1970s, it also has that timeless quality to it that is the hallmark of great art. 

 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Prophets of Rage - Prophets of Rage

Mix three members from Rage Against the Machine with two from Public Enemy and one from Cypress Hill, and apparently the outcome will be this kind of RHCP-inspired rap & rock music with - this is the best part! - political lyrics.

Highly enjoyable, although I will admit after I had downloaded my first song and heard "hatred... one nation... unification" I thought it was some neonazi crap. Turned out to be the opposite : "No hatred - Fuck racists... Unfuck the world"

 

The Girls - Emma Cline

For some reason - probably due to venal coverdesign - I expected this to be some feelgood / chicklit easy read.

It was no such thing, at least not in the conventional sense of those terms.

In the purest sense, however : Clever literature certainly makes me feel good, and chicks are at the core of everything here, so..! 

The style and the plot (a female-angled rewriting of the Manson murders) (probably extremely different from Tarantino's upcoming film) feel like they come from a younger cousin of Donna Tartt's. Brilliant!


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Fresh Meat season 2

Whereas I generally feel enjoying the first season of a show is an excellent reason to stop watching before it inevitably loses pace, I know most people don't agree with me on that. 

I might, therefore, be caving to the norm in that I actually not only went on to watch season two of this quirky UK sitcom but also enjoyed it practically as much as I did the first.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Victoria & Abdul - S. Frears 2017



For all his - rather irregular - talent, I've never really been a great admirer of Stephen Frears.
Nor, indeed, did I find this to be any cinematographic masterpiece despite splendid scenery and acting. 
It was, however, a very OK history lesson to watch in company of a teenager on a Sunday afternoon.
(See, it doesn't take much - whenever one of my teens takes an interest in history, I'm happy!)


Who Rules The World - Noam Chomsky

Reading Chomsky takes a certain amount of concentration; he is very knowledgeable and very thought-provoking, but his teaching skills need working on.

He grows a little repetitive around halfway through, but his biting criticism of American politics and discourse is so convincing I don't even feel like vacationing there anymore.

In short, he is pretty much the antithesis to the Trumpian take on what the US should be.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Romeo + Juliet - B. Luhrman 1996

Undeniably, it has aged a little - yet it remains appealing enough to keep my thirteen-year-old riveted up to the tragic ending. Di Caprio's youthful looks may have had something to do with her staying on, but still.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Rainbow - Kesha

A bit like last year's Gwen Stefani-album, or Martina Haag's divorce book, a large portion of this album's strength lies in the fact that it feels directly inspired from Kesha's own life and hardships (lengthy legal procedures eventually freed her from the contract binding her to the producer she accused of repeated abuse).

Though there is no 'Tik Tok' on here, it is a fairly OK pop album.


Friday, October 13, 2017

On Harvey Weinstein

Oy, all you people in the entertainment business who now seem all taken aback at the Weinstein way of dealing with women : Perhaps you should have had a look in Biskind's book 'Down and Dirty Pictures' which was already over a decade old when I read it last year?

Admittedly, it does not mention sexual assault, but it leaves little doubt as to his general personality. 
(If I knew, how could you not..?)


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fresh Meat s 1

A bit old (2011) and not overly original (six bonding roommates of different personalities) but oh! there is something to be said for British humour, isnt't there?! Charming!

 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dior, Couturier du Rêve at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris 1st arrdt

Despite pre-ordered tickets, there was quite a lot of queuing involved, the mob inside was exhausting and the air too stuffy for comfort. And still! SO worth it!

Room after room with outfits and accessories, sortied by colour, by style, by designer or chronologically (that's how many outfits there were). 
A commented Lady Dior handbag workshop. 
Four walls covered in real-life white patrons.
Famous photos and the dresses IRL, such as Avedon's Dovima with elephants.
Etc.

Truly breathtaking!!






Monday, October 9, 2017

Beth Ditto at the Bataclan, Paris 11th arrdt

Only once before have I left a concert with an itch to take the artist with me home - and that was Gossip at the Zénith a couple of years ago, so it's safe to say the Ditto stage persona has lost nothing of its appeal.

She remains irresistibly charming; and as the Bataclan houses only 1500, Saturday night she was not only closer, but also louder, cuter, sweatier, sweeter and generally even better than the last time.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Allied - R. Zemeckis (2016)

Remarkable that someone with the experience and know-how of a Robert Zemeckis has produced a film this conventional, uninspired and uninteresting.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Långt Borta Från Nifelheim - Majgull Axelsson

Today, Axelsson is one of Sweden's most successful writers, and though she may not yet be shortlisted for any Nobel Prize, she has been given at least one of most other major Swedish literary awards.

This opus is her literary début from 1997 (and yes, it won an award, too). 
The fact that this was her first published novel makes it particularly ambitious; multiple time spans and geographical settings; back and forth from present-day, smalltown Sweden, where the main character is caring for her agonizing mother, to the Philippines, where she spent time as a diplomat, and further flashbacks to different periods of her childhood. 
Just like in her latest novel ('Jag Heter Inte Miriam') the underlying theme is poverty, exclusion and their consequences, although strangely these motifs are much more elegantly treated here.

As an effect of Axelsson's elaborate narrative choices, reading this does require some concentration. But is so worth it! Skilfully, in tiny instalments, just like in a murder mystery, she distills the story in tiny parcels, the tension mounting as the Philippine volcano ash thickens in the air and the Swedish old mother dies.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Villains - Queens of the Stone Age

Two quick thoughts on this album :

1. I like this kind of old-school, savvy rock music. Unmistakably, the musicians go way back together (1996; I checked) and seem to enjoy what they do.

2. Producer Mark Ronson is as versatile as he is talented.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith

I don't suppose anyone really enjoys being taken for an idiot, so I can only assume that the other buyers to the 1.5 million copies sold of 'Child 44' did not read the same things into it as I did. Personally, it drives me up the wall to have the author doggedly spell out all the important facts to me, in short simple sentences, at least twice for each fact. Just to make sure, I assume, that I, the reader, won't miss out. Maddening!

Yet as all those other readers don't seem to have minded, I reckon they managed to focus on either the setting (1950s Soviet Union, described in well-researched detail) or the plot (Lo and behold! A serial killer! How unusual.). 
None of those had me precisely enthralled, unfortunately.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Nocturnal Animals - T. Ford 2016

Stylish (though perhaps less artificially so than 'A Single Man') and with a mind-spinning plot that is unsettling in the way of 'The Shining' or 'Twin Peaks'. (Or as my eldest said; "It creeps me out.")

And complicated! Blink and you will have missed something crucial.

Enjoyable, though!


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Atonement - Ian McEwan

This was an ambitious work! Elaborate metafiction, multiple focalization and parallel timespans overlapping each other make this novel rise well above your average bestseller.
Also, I found the story particularly wrecking, despite having seen (and enjoyed!) the film a couple of years ago.

In the first part, several characters give their version of a single hot day and night in a pre-war English mansion. 
The mounting tension and sense of impending doom are elegantly conveyed in a multitude of details. 
The second half of the book deals with the consequences of that night.

Sad and thoughtprovoking. And beautiful!