Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Abominable Bride, Sherlock Holmes special

A free-standing episode to keep tempers up between seasons should not be a surprise in a series that has successfully combined classic whodunit with modernization for a couple of years now. (Still, it took me a while to get round to 'The Abominable Bride'.)

The new take in the narrative is some bold hopping between past and present, and adroit blending of historic events with the inevitable murder mystery. 
As per usual, many of the supporting characters are charmingly ambiguous. There is a real thrill to not quite knowing what to think, and it's all too rare in culture! (And way too common IRL.)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Cirkeln - L. Akin 2015

Not overly impressed with the book this film is based on - five teenage witches fighting evil in a humdrum Swedish small town - I nevertheless got the film for and viewed with my teenage film buff.
I won't pretend that the movie version was any sort of masterpiece (though co-produced by one of the B:s in ABBA) but then as the novel did not distinguish itself by its style of writing, the usual adaptation problems did not arise.

  What you will find :
- top notch girl power
- preteen-friendly horror elements
- sound messages such as acceptance of your teenage self, and of others.
No way you can go all too wrong with that. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

As a writer, Bill Bryson consistently presents himself as the most jovial of all jovial Americans. (As far as I am aware, he may very well be. All I'm saying is I don't know him personally.) 
He married and settled in England in the early 1970s, and returned to the US with his family a good two decades later. Before leaving, however, he embarked on a final tour of Great Britain and then wrote about it in this book.
I suppose all of the above contribute to the high levels of nostalgia and general reluctance to change which characterize Bryson's work in general and this work in particular.

Yet, for all his backward-striving, which sort of bugs me, he is also thoroughly entertaining! An interesting blend of the typically American openness, the typically British tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and a knowledgeability that does his writing no harm!

A few interesting thoughts I will bear with me :

- How "unfortunate" it is that such an important social experiment as communism was "left to the Russians when the British would have managed it so much better", what with their already acquired taste for deprivation, pulling together, infinite queuing and acceptance of faceless bureaucracies (or even, "as Mrs Thatcher proved", dictatorship). 
Interesting! I personally wonder if the Swedes wouldn't have managed it even better.

- How easy to please the British are, to the point of actually liking their pleasures small ("that is why so many of their treats - teacakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes... - are so cautiously flavoured") while to Americans, "the whole purpose of living... is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one's mouth more or less continuously." 

- The delicious, British sense of humour! "Even after twenty years here, I remain constantly amazed and impressed by the quality of humour you find in the most unlikely places - places where it would simply not exist in other countries." Couldn't agree more!

- It finally turns out, Bryson shares my dismay of chopsticks. "Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites and any number of useful objects... haven't yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?" No, Bryson, you are not alone.

Other stuff I have read by Bryson : 
His book about hiking in the US
His book about his childhood
His book about Shakespeare
His book about driving across the American continent
His book about 1927

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Interstellar - C. Nolan 2014

Why I did not get my butt out of my sofa to watch this at the movie theatre (50 metres away from aforementioned sofa) is truly a mystery.

Especially bearing in mind the current state of cinema. Few and far between are contemporary films made from original screenplays; involving no superpowers, sequelling no previous hit, being adapted from no bestselling novel, movie or series. 
You'd think I could have made the effort, wouldn't you?

Instead, I caught it on TV, where Nolan's grandiose moonscapes are much less impressive and the tension inside and outside of the spacecraft much less strained.

But I guess better on TV than not at all.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Guerres Secrètes at Musée de l'Armée, Paris 7th arrdt

You will find : Letters, photos, a submarine model, instruments of torture, weapons (normal and hidden in shoes), costumes (movie and historical), propaganda posters, paper clippings, film extracts, bombs and pretty much any other spy paraphernalia you could dream of. There are interactive games (a rarity in French museums!) an Enigma machine and - my favourite! - a roll of toilet paper with Hitler's face on it.

The exhibition is divided in two parts, which both makes sense (it's a large exhibition!) and allows for in-depth treatment of the exhibits. It is a bit dark and exceedingly crowded (but then attending an exhibition on a Sunday afternoon during its final weekends is a rookie mistake I normally take care to avoid) yet I found this detailed and well explained.
No wonder it was so popular.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Westworld, season 1

Before Jurassic Park, writer Michael Crichton had already looked into outlandish theme parks in the 1973 film this series is based on. 

The Westworld park is not inhabited by ferocious dinosaurs but by real-life robots, continually victimized by the paying customers, epitomizing terrifying aspects of human nature. ("The prison of our sins" as quoted from the show.) 
Other themes include escapism, subjection, humanity and the evolution of technology, doubled by well-pondered parallels to video-gaming.

Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins have probably never been anything but brilliant. 
Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood stands out among the less famous cast.

In all, this is ten hours of excellent TV, albeit at times excruciatingly slow. 
And from those ten hours I have exempted the final half-hour, since I found the finale a bit of a letdown. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lady Wood - Tove Lo

I enjoyed Swedish Tove Lo's previous album, yet though this is pretty much the same type of light updated popmusic, I also find it a bit lacking in personality.

I'm thinking she should probably heed the advice of an inexperienced middle-aged lady (such as myself!) and take some time off before attacking her next opus. Releasing one album after another and spending the meantime touring is no way to nurture your creativity. I guess.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Darkest Secret - Alex Marwood

For all my love of printed magazines, I have always been deeply suspicious of journalists writing novels. Most of the time, it seems to me they have a distinct message they are anxious to get through and have determined that a book - almost always a detective story - is their best shot. In that, they are probably right, yet it rarely makes for great literature.

Marwood proves an exception to those observations only in so far that her message is prompted not so much by social criticism as by a wish to explore the case of the little English girl who vanished from her bed a certain number of years ago, while her parents were dining out.
Marwood's writing skills, I'm sorry to say, are on a par with most of the other journalists I have read.

A barely OK read. Provided you can stand the impression of being a prurient snoop.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Layers - Kungs

Not only am I glad someone is following in Avicii's footsteps, producing a mix of dance-music and classic poptunes, I'm also bigoted enough to be happy this young Frenchman is doing it so well. 
There is hope for French music after all!

(You may well laugh, but after three decades of Julien Dorés, Christophe Maés and Vianneys, I had all but given up hope.)

(Female French artists are another matter, for some reason. Not better, but different.)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Musée de l'Abbaye St Rémi, Reims

Both the cathedral and the basilica of Reims are very pretty, and definitely worth a visit. 
Yet that is no reason to pass over this museum of local history, situated in an ancient abbey neighbouring the basilica.

The interiors are beautiful and harbour a multitude of objects ranging from the paleolithic era to the Middle Ages. Lots to see!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hundraaringen Som Klev ut Genom Ett Fönster... - F. Herngren 2013

I put down the book after some fifty pages, sickened by what I considered frivolous treatment of exaggerated and needless violence. The other night, I discovered I feel very much the same about the film, though I'll confess the comic dialogue helped things up a bit.

If you have a stomach for violence, then this educational story of a disrespectful old man, his life history and his road trip with - oh, surprise! - a stolen suitcase and a band of gangsters on his heels may make you laugh as much as it did my teenagers. 


Monday, January 9, 2017

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall was the manor belonging to the blueblood Seymour family, of which was born the third wife of Henry VIII. 
At the time of this novel, however, Jane Seymour she is no more than one of Anne Boleyn's (wife number two) ladies in waiting. The plot evolves around royal counselor Thomas Cromwell and religious strife in 16th century England. In short : My favourite period and my favourite dynasty!

As far as the writing style goes, though admittedly not Shakesperean, it went down fine by me (possibly because I enjoyed the ). I also appreciated that Mantel had chosen to focus not on Henry VIII as a lewd dictator, but rather on the vital need to unify the country and preserve the Tudor dynasty by producing a male heir. He did stick to wife no 1 - his brother's widow - for twenty years in the hope of a son, before falling for Anne Boleyn and for the possibility of a future king. No one, at the time, could possibly have foreseen what a magnificent ruler Boleyn's daughter, Elizabeth, would turn out to be, simply because there was absolutely no precedent whatsoever. 

Other recent Tudor stuff :
Book on Tudor portraits
Elizabeth I biography
Tudor exhibition
Ackroyd's English history

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Atlantis season 2

The second season is still a teensy bit corny, low-budget TV-filmish, but a lot more ambitious both in setting and in plot than season one

It's still very child-friendly and it turns out my pre-teens enjoy it almost as much as they did as ten-year-olds. I personally don't hate it, and particularly enjoy certain aspects :
1.  Bechdel-test very largely passed, thanks to a great number of powerful and power-wielding females.
2. Ancient Greek mythology soaked up by the gallon (albeit slightly altered, from time to time).
3. Jason, Pythagoras, Hercules and all sorts of historical figures expressing themselves in the most deliciously RP English, while Medea seems to have moved in from Ireland?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Master of None

A series about a group of twenty-somethings gravitating around a budding actor in NYC may not sound immediately innovative as such, and admittedly, as far as plot is concerned it has been done before.

The approach, however, is politically correct, colour-and-gender-blind in a relaxed, obvious way that is much too rare on screen.
Add to a Seinfeld-like plot, pretty much "about nothing" and you see why I really want to like this.

I do, too. Like it, I mean. Just, perhaps, not quite enough to finish the season... 
Not sure why, really. Could be it's just not funny enough.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen

The main character is the epitome of subversion; a man born of an American priest and a Vietnamese peasant girl. Educated in Vietnam and the US, Communist sleeper agent inLos Angeles. Complex only begins to describe him. The issue of identity, obviously, is at the core of the novel.

And it's crowded at its core, for there are many questions examined : War and peace and their consequences. History and its rewriting. Friendship. 
For all intents and purposes it's a spy-novel updated, yet the historic context adds another layer. Despite the numerous 'Full Metal Jacket', 'Platoon' and their likes, the Vietnam war legacy remains pretty much uncharted, so this novel has a crucial feel to it. 

Sadly, the style of writing does not quite match the content. It's ambitious and not without talent - no small trifle in itself! - but it's not the Nobel prize-material it would have to be to rival with the content. 
In that, this novel is quite similar to Elena Ferrante's 'My Brilliant Friend'. 
Still - I've read worse!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Greatest Hits 2016

Best Book

Best Film
Though 2016 has certainly not been a great year in film. 
Rather a sadly crappy one.

Best Music
Ex aequo

Best Cultural Outing

Best TV show
(Might have been different if I'd had the time to finish 'Westworld' but 
I suppose it'll get its chances next year instead.)