Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Un Lieu Incertain - Fred Vargas

Vargas writes novels of detection, rather than what is commonly termed 'detective novels'.
This suits me fine, as I over-dosed on detective novels a couple of years back and they now tend to make me queasy.

Vargas's books demand more concentration as they are way more complex, less predictable, and generally contain an element based on mythic folklore, creating a hypnotic, enthralling atmosphere.
Fred Vargas's professional background as a knowledgeable archaeologist and historian is manifest in her writing, as, for some reason - on which I do have a theory! - often is the case with authors of detective stories.

(I can sense that I have aroused your curiosity, and who am I to hold back? My theory is that detective fiction authors are not - yet, at best! - full-fledged writers and therefore tend to write about what they know. Detective fiction readers are reluctant to acknowledge this, but lists of rules for detective fiction have existed for over a century, and are uncannily well-respected still today. Google it, you'll see.)

All The President's Men - A.Pakula (1976)

At first sight, you marvel at the setting, costumes and technical devices of the mid-1970s. (Somehow, it doesn't feel all that distant, until you are confronted with ocular proof...)

Then, of course, you get caught up in the film, and the events in themselves largely take precedence over the actors and stageing. Evidence of an accomplished movie.

I believe the Watergate scandal irreversibly changed how Americans view their leaders; it brought about the end of a period of relative innocence. Presidents were no longer untouchable nor fundamentally trustworthy after Watergate.

Nobody makes this kind of political thriller any more. No parallel plots, no shoot-outs, no love stories, no interference of their private lives, no Oliver Stone-ish embellishments.
It really is a pity. It's not as though we lack material.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Les Arènes de Lutèce (Paris 5ème arrdt)

Well hidden to the extent that unless you actively look for it, you won't find it, this ancient Roman theatre is well worth the trouble of locating it.

Even on a holiday, when juniors are playing football and seniors boules in the arena where lions used to feast on gladiators, this place retains its subdued and eerie atmosphere, like a historical oasis, shielded by Haussmann-inspired apartment buildings and a small park.

Additional bonus : As a parent, you can quietly sit down on a bench and allow your bambini to work off some of that excess energy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

B3 - Placebo

This new EP is still millions of lightyears away from Placebo's former bombastic and melodramatic masterpieces on 'Without You I'm Nothing' or 'Black Market Music'.

Still, it's better than anything else they have recorded these last few years.

Hope for the future, perhaps?!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

3:10 to Yuma - J.Mangold (2007)

Admittedly, my sartorial tastes in men's clothes are as basic as inflexible; jeans and a t-shirt, or, conceivably, a well-tailored suit. Under no circumstances am I ever tempted to take pleasure in watching men wearing tights or cowboy-hats.

Whether the costumes have any relevance to my lack of interest in Western-films, I will leave unsaid. Suffice it to say that I find it extremely hard to muster any interest whatsoever in these ugly guys (Have never liked Bale nor Crowe, despite their obvious acting skills.) riding around fighting, shooting, threatening and killing one another.

The film is unmistakably well-made, although the plot is hanging on a veeery thin thread - probably plenty adequate for the Elmore Leonard short story it is based on, but a bit stinted for a two-hour feature film.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Torka Aldrig Tårar Utan Handskar - Jonas Gardell

From what I gather, Sweden thinks the world of this; the novel as well as its TV adaptation.
I truly wish I could, too.

The intent is so commendable, it almost seems indecent not to praise it : a gay love-story, set in Stockholm in the early 1980s, focusing on the spreading and subsequent treatment of Aids, partly auto-biographical. (Admittedly, the writer is an arrogant prick, but then, from what I hear, so is Jonathan Safran Foer.)

The flaw, for obviously there is one, is the writing. And that is The Major Flaw in my book...
Gardell's style is melodramatic, banal, clumsy and so conceited I seriously considered chucking the book in the trash after only a couple of pages. Didn't.
Globally, though, I think life is just too short for this kind of sh*t.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Kick-Ass - M.Vaughn (2010)

'Kick-Ass' contains superheroes and entertainment violence galore. As attentive readers will remember, I am not much for either.
What I am for, is feminism - Can't really figure out, though, how a young girl killing people in a traditionally masculine way indeed constitutes progress in any area??

There is an element of realism and irony in this film which clearly sets it apart from other men-in-tights movies. 'Original' does not automatically mean 'good', however. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fantomsmärtor - Barbara Voors

Voors is brilliant, and this book was clever and beautifully written, broached major subjects (life / death and our right to choose, parenthood...) and I found it globally unputdownable.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hancock - P.Berg (2008)

Certainly assisted by my low-expectations principle, and despite my common-sense aversion to men in tights, I was very pleasantly surprised by this!

The pitch is original, the script clever and the unfolding of the plot impossible to foresee; those are far from being self-evident in Hollywood blockbusters, and all incite you to put up with 'Hancock's undeniable simplicity.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Magical Mystery Tour - the Beatles (1967)

The Fab Four go on a spectacularly psychedelic bus tour along with a busload of more or less eccentric people. The Monty Python have claimed this as an inspiration probably because they could not have denied it anyway.

However, where the Monty Python is sometimes grotesque and sometimes hilarious, the Beatles are mostly just grotesque. (I'm thinking hiring a director might actually have been a good idea...)

For all that, it must be said at least they look like they are having a heap of fun together!
What is a 50th anniversary compared to the good sense of having broken up before it all turned too sour..!

And, lastly : 'The Fool on the Hill', 'I am the Walrus', 'the Magical Mystery Tour'...!

Monday, October 22, 2012

J'Irai Cracher Sur Vos Tombes - Boris Vian

Among the literary highlights of my young adulthood (I am not referring to Twilight-adolescence, but to my early twenties) you will find classics such as Plath's 'The Bell Jar', Salinger's 'The Catcher In the Rye' and Vian's 'L'Ecume des Jours'. If you have read any of them, you will realise how wholly unprepared I was for the onslaught of sex and violence that struck me with 'J'irai cracher...'.

This actually reminded me a bit of Nabokov's 'Lolita' : set in the smalltown America of the mid-20th century, and focusing on an usavory narrative hero's unsavory conduct.
Well-penned, though! Not as brilliant as 'Lolita', of course, but still!

An irrelevant remark : I always find it a wee bit strange to have a text written in French take place in an English-speaking country.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mr Popper's Penguins - W.Waters (2011)

Of this painfully predictable so-called family comedy can be said at least parts of the family were howling with laughter. Others - guess who? - kept wondering why Carey, obviously capable of 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and 'The Truman Show', now feels forced to stoop to this.

On the plus-side; mercifully, at least, the penguins don't talk.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Shake - Little Boots

Yay, a new single from my favourite pair of shoes! Intelligent pop music at its best!
Album coming up!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Marilyns - Andy Warhol

Much to my amazement, it turns out my last year literary students actually enjoy Andy Warhol paintings!
As a general rule, students otherwise tend to be sadly impervious to modern art, as "anybody could do it". (Can't help wondering : SO WHAT?).

The Marilyns are for their final test  tomorrow, can't wait to see what they will come up with. 
(Know what I am hoping for, though : consumer society - art as merchandise - reproduction of everyday objects / household names - devaluation of high-brow art etc.)

(Also hoping none of them have found their way to this blog, come to think of it.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Uno - Green Day

According to my lawfully wedded husband, my erudition in punk rock suffers from such extensive shortcomings I am incapable of making a sensible judgment on Green Day's musical evolution.

That may well be. Still, this is my blog, and I maintain that peachy as it is (or are you not allowed to depict punk as 'peachy'?) this album sounds to me very much like '21st Century Breakdown' from 2009.
Which is not to say I don't enjoy it. Stupendous running-music!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

I enjoy art that is unsettling, bewildering and if possible also breathtaking.
Jennifer Egan certainly fulfils the first two requirements, and though her writing may not quite take my breath away, it is smooth, articulate and inventive.

The cover claims this to be a novel, but in my opinion 'a collection of short stories' would be a more accurate description. It owes much to Balzac's 'La Comédie Humaine' and Carver's 'Short Cuts' : The reader is constantly sidetracked by a multitude of stories about various characters, more or less closely linked to one another, following a timeline which tends to give me a headache.

A first : One of the chapters is written in what looks like Power point slides, conferring a whole new meaning to the concept 'graphic novel' (well; it's a novel in graphs..!).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gandhi - R.Attenborough (1982)

As an artwork, this may have its flaws, most of them inherent to biopics.

As a history lesson, though, it's top-notch! My one complaint would be that it is much too long for me to show it in class, so I have to settle for working isolated scenes.

The Artist - M.Hazanavicius (2011)

I can think of two decent reasons for shooting a silent movie in 2011 :

a) There is an obvious poetic irony in a silent film having talk for its subject matter.

b) It is a golden opportunity for French film to boom abroad, while deftly eluding the language barrier.

Apart from those, I just don't see the point.

Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, this film had already been made - twice.
And, frankly, removing Streisand's or Garland's singing from 'A Star is Born' does really nothing to improve it.
(It was actually shot a first time in 1937, but let's stick to the ones we know.)

Still, one must admit : A daring enterprise, indeed! And deserving credit as such.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Scissor Sisters - Le Trianon (Paris 18ème)

On record, the Scissor Sisters play an interesting blend of pop/rock/glam-disco/club-music (except for their latest album which was, I must confess, a disappointment).

On the stage of tiny the Trianon last night, however, they were basically a rock-band, although simultaneously very recognizable as themselves and suprisingly not at all unlike the B52's. Very New York independent rock scene. 

All the songs were more or less re-arranged (downplaying everything but the guitars and voices, sounding much edgier than in a studio), I do appreciate that! As did the rest of the audience; ebullient - admittedly, very much conquered in advance - and 80% male, in 50 shades of gay.

It was awesome!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Les Bijoux de la Castafiore - Hergé

Dusted off an old childhood favourite - It is still a masterpiece!

L'Arnacoeur - P.Chaumeil (2010)

Look this way, Marshall : This is how you do it! Clever and comic and cute.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Le Tableau - JF. Laguionie (2009)

Assuredly deviating from the Disney/Pixar/Dreamworld-imagery, this film is set inside a Gaugin-style landscape painting, marred by conflicts between its finished and unfinished characters. Three set out on a quest to find the painter and have him/her finish them all in order to obtain justice and equality.

Very ambitious, atypical and visually challenging!
I took pleasure in it, and of my 8-year-olds, one found it "très beau" and a little frightening, while the other left the sofa within minutes to go look at airplane-videos on YouTube instead...

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Discovery, Norman Rockwell, 1956

My favourite Rockwell.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Icon Magazine

A most accomplished Swedish monthly magazine, currently boasting a most accomplished article on to my mind somewhat less accomplished Swedish detective novels.

A very astute quote from detective writing teacher (yes, indeed) S. Bondesson :
"The concept 'Nordic Crime' has become a bit like a trademark, not so dissimilar from Ikea : stylish, functional but not very original... Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Camilla Läckberg all write in a simple and straightforward language, easily translated. I suspect it may even improve from translation."
The last part about improvement-by-translation is EXACTLY what I have suspected for some time now. That is the only explanation I can think of to why my French friends just look puzzled when I claim Läckberg writes like a high-school student.
(You may call it jealousy, and it may well be - nevertheless, she DOES.)

In my not so humble opinion, only two of these crime-writers will still be around in 50 years :
Jens Lapidus ('Easy Money') who has taken Ellroy's hardboiled style and turned it into something at least partially new (called 'Stockholm noir'), and
Åsa Larsson, who reminds me of a young Kerstin Ekman. Links below for those who have forgotten how I feel about Ekman's writing...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ô Verlaine - Jean Teulé

No doubt in order to write a fictionalized biography over Paul Verlaine's last weeks, Teulé must have been properly infatuated with his subject matter. Problem is, he fails to convey this fascination to the reader. Verlaine remains little more than a selfish old alcoholic.

What does transpire is the atmosphere of débauchery in fin-de-siècle Paris, and the tawdriness of Verlaine's life, all highlighted by the juxtaposition of Verlaine's poems, disseminated throughout the novel.

I had been forewarned this was not one of Teulé's best, and so ought to have been forearmed. True to my own stubborn self I went on with it anyway, so I guess I have only myself to blame.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Kenny Starfighter - Klingberg & Astrand (2009)

This Swedish 'family comedy' is fairly typical for Swedish children's TV; second degree humour with numerous parent-friendly jokes and a taste for larger-than-life action (which the financial means are not always consistent with, but no matter).

My 8-year-olds enjoyed it, and I found it at any rate a lot more fun than 'Wall-E'.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Valentine's Day - G.Marshall (2010)

You'd think Garry Marshall would know his way around a classic romcom, but then not even Richard Curtis gets it right every time (and 'Valentine's Day' is such a shameless rip-off of Curtis's 'Love Actually').

Only the serious super-movie-star-spotting in this film kept me awake, even if it did little to repress my urges to puke at how mushy it all was.

Could it be that a relaxing and not-too-dimwitted romcom is as hard to carry off as a relaxing and ingenious read?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pink - The Truth About Love

How I wish I could say Pink has come a long way since 'Get The Party Started' in 2001.
It's hard not to appreciate female artists who co-write their own songs, probably because there are so many singing Barbie-dolls out there. (Don't worry, Selena, you're not the only one I'm hinting at.)

This album is indeed almost as likable as the singer herself; it's just that it sounds very much the same as Pink always has. I may have overdosed 3OH!3 and the Swedish House Mafia lately, but I find this somehow a bit old hat... Evolution, anyone?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas - B.Levant (2000)

Well, well, what do you know (as old JR Ewing would have put it)!
Turns out 'Salt' wasn't the crappiest film of the year, after all! (Except perhaps if measured in proportion to the film budget.)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Richard III - R.Loncraine (1995)

Though a devote Shakespeare-fan, the historical plays are not my favourites.

However, there is no resisting these gorgeous 1930s settings, the Nazi innuendo and the crème de la crème of British actors (and Annette Bening).
This adaptation is absolutely irresistible, despite the major cuts that have been made in Shakespeare's text. (I haven't counted words, but my guess is more has been taken away than left untouched.)

Truth be told, I am sadly inadequate at judging Shakespeare-adaptations. Can hardly think of single one I didn't appreciate.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Salt - P.Noyce (2010)

Of all the crappy films I have had the doubtful privilege to view so far this year, chances are this might just be the very crappiest.

I certainly hope you readers duly appreciate the sacrifices I put myself through to feed this blog.

The Social Network - D.Fincher (2010)

That this film is genius becomes obvious when you consider that while dealing with the creation of Facebook, Fincher broaches subjects as diverse and essential as sexism, social class, loneliness, social intercourse and unrequited love.

The narrative as well as the characters are multidimensional - nothing is quite what meets the eye, everything is manifold.
Eisenberg is not wearing heavy make-up nor period costumes and is not acting insanity nor fatal disease, but if Oscars had more to do with acting performances than with these features, he should definitely have received one or two.

The alacrity and cleverness of the script and stageing have you almost hypnotized.
I couldn't even flip through my usual TV-reads, although I was watching it for the second time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Anna Karenina - B.Rose (1997)

Much to my embarrassment, I profess to being rather in the dark when it comes to Russian writers. Have yet to read, for instance, Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina'.

At any rate, comparisons between novels and films very rarely seem relevant.
The whole point with literature is the writing rather than the plot, and the writing as a matter of course tends to fade away in the movie adaptation.
I reckon you just have to accept they are two wholly incomparable works of art.

As such, this particular work of art is extraordinarily commonplace.
Marceau is stunningly beautiful, but no acting talent. Sean Bean has a funny name.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Walk In The Woods - Bill Bryson

Below a brief reminder of who Bill Bryson is, for those of you who might have lacked in attention during the summer holiday. (For shame, really!...)

This time, our hero sets off hiking on what he terms "the grandaddy of all hiking trails", the Appalachian Trail, crossing no less than 14 states along the US east coast, and stretching over 2.100 miles (3 400 km!). Accompanying him is the compulsory comical sidekick, his estranged friend Katz.

Bryson is passionate and cognizant in a number of fields - nature, biology, geology, history... - and intersperses his hiking diary with large chunks of more or less interesting facts, efficiently slowing down the narrative. 
As usual, Bryson is witty and clever, and chuckling aloud while reading on the metro brightens at least my day!

Every time I come across good-humored books like this, I think I should read them more often. It's just that they are so hard to find! Writing funny AND intelligent stuff must be a whole lot harder than it would seem.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Hangover - T. Phillips (2009)

Something crucial about this film must have eluded me - Was it really all in those first 20 minutes that I missed?? - because I definitely fail to find anything even remotely amusing about three grown men running around, constatntly being punched and yelling HOLY SHIT.