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..?)