Films and Books

Despite having a houseful of children for most of this past week, I have been able to partake in some cultural events as well, both inside and outside the house.

Pain and Glory – Almodovar’s latest film shows the master has mellowed in middle age. The story of a lonely middle-aged film director struggling with lost creativity and ill health is not new, but Antonio Banderas turns in a beautifully nuanced, subtle performance. The flashbacks to the protagonist’s childhood are rich in colour and emotion, but what stayed with me most is how we select and package our memories to attempt a coherent narration of our lives… and yet the truth is always more complex than that.

Marriage Story – Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are believably flawed yet appealing as a couple struggling through divorce. It was a little too close to the battlegrounds I am currently experiencing myself, so I’m afraid I embarrassed myself with tears. Filmed in a minimalist way, with close-ups of the actors’ faces engaged in monologues or dialogues, this had the feeling of an indie, mumblecore type of film. There was one particular scene I found all too familiar: where the attempt at having a conversation away from the lawyers descends into a screaming match, with all of the long-hidden resentments and accusations bursting out like an overflowing dam.

Lara – ice-cold in Berlin*. Another carefully observed film, full of significant details, but one where nearly all emotion has been drained. Lara is a domineering mother whose dreams of becoming a concert pianist were dashed in her youth and now feels proud yet nervous about her pianist son’s major concert, which takes place on her 60th birthday. We never see the drama of what led to the estrangement between mother and son, but there are hints of bad behaviour and nervous breakdown. Emotions are very tightly held in check for the most part, yet there are unexpectedly candid (if frosty) conversations between Lara and the people she encounters on her birthday.

*As a child, I firmly believed that ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ was a film version of Berlin Alexanderplatz

Since I had a few hours to kill between the two films at the London Film Festival on Friday, I meandered down Charing Cross Road, mourned the loss of so many second-hand bookshops (when I first came to London, I remember it used to take my hours to go down that road, there were so many bookshops, now turned into cafes or clothes shops – boo!). Nevertheless, I did stop at the few remaining bookshops, at Foyles, then at Second Shelf (again!) and at Waterstones Piccadilly and emerged with the pile below.

7 books for £30 total, of which only one was a new one and cost £10.99

However, I’d also been busy ordering some books online, especially while sitting around waiting for the Nobel Prize for Literature to be announced. I ordered a couple of Russians, especially since I thought Ludmila Ulitskaya might be a contender…

And two Orenda books arrived on cue for my #Orentober reading. I’ve already devoured Little Siberia, which is less slapstick than Tuomainen’s last two books (I absolutely loved the black comedy, don’t get me wrong!) but not quite as bleak as his earlier books. I think it would be fair to say that the set-up is ridiculous and richly comic: a suicidal racing car driver has a meteorite drop into his passenger seat. A pastor with experience of fighting in Afghanistan is guarding the local museum where nearly everyone wants to steal the precious piece of rock. He gets plenty of opportunity to question his own faith and choices in life, as well as being exposed to the venality and self-serving excuses of others.

Last but not least, I’ve also watched some TV. Helen Mirren is commanding yet deliciously vulnerable as Catherine the Great (and, although she is almost certainly too old for the part, I cannot help but rejoice that an older woman is shown as both powerful and intransigent, yet also having sexual fun on our screens). And, of course, I’m excited to see the new series of Engrenages (Spiral), the first in a long while without Anne Landois as show runner.

Busy Week of Events

Another very busy week, both at work and at home. I’ve decided to take things one week at a time, while still planning a little ahead, because otherwise I might get overwhelmed. However, it’s been a week full of pleasant events.

Nahnatchka Khan (director), Ali Wong, Randall Park (co-creators and main actors) and Keanu Reeves

I managed to see two fun films: The Favourite, on DVD from the library, because I’d missed in cinemas (it was only very briefly on, despite the Oscar win of Olivia Colman), and Always Be My Maybe on Netflix. The latter cheered me up no end: a rom com with a difference; hugely believable and charming cast (and I don’t mean just that hilarious Keanu Reeves cameo); plus, it made me realise that Asian families are more relatable to Romanian families (especially when they are immigrants) than American ones (like The Ice Storm or The Royal Tenenbaums).

The Favourite is an over-the-top All About Eve in period costume but written for a modern audience. It manages to be both funny and heartbreaking, as is Olivia Colman herself as a sickly, fearful Queen Anne, never quite sure that anyone loves her for herself rather than for her power. Rachel Weisz was majestic, imperious and domineering (but also vulnerable) as Sarah Churchill, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by Emma Stone, although perhaps her blank look was deliberate, to convey both initial innocence and subsequent manipulation.

What is really important about both these films is that they are educational while being entertaining: they show Asian stories and women without men stories can be just as powerful, exciting, witty and nuanced as the more monotone mainstream stories we have become accustomed to. And with shows like Fleabag, Killing Eve and Gentleman Jack on TV, I’m delighted that it’s becoming more visible. Is it just a niche fashion, while in real life racism and homophobia run rampant? Well, let me at least try to believe that is not so for a short period while I watch these.

Reading updates: I’ve embarked on my American authors binge. I’ve read Laura Kasischke’s disquieting slow-burning psychological thriller Be Mine, Jane Bowle’s wacky misfit of a novel Two Serious Ladies and Kent Haruf’s plainly-written but powerful Plainsong. Reviews will be coming up shortly.

This week was also my younger son’s birthday – he’s turned an amazingly mature 14 and all the usual ‘when did that happen’ squeals apply here. So, as a birthday treat, while older brother was revising for his final GCSE week, I took the no-longer-quite-so-little-one to London for the Manga Exhibition at the British Museum. I will write more about the Manga Exhibition on another occasion, because I will go back to see it a second time with the other son. But then we followed it up with the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the Sanderson Hotel in Fitzrovia. The hotel is a very non-descript 1960s type block, but they’ve been very clever at creating a little oasis in the courtyard and serving an expensive but utterly delicious and spectacular afternoon tea inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

The courtyard cafe.
The amazing spread.
The choice of teas. We opted for Alice and Cheshire Cat.
An extra treat for the birthday boy, a nice little gesture from the cafe.
The tactic of leaving the best for last does not work when there is so much food…
My favourite thing were these cute little Drink Me smoothies.

Cultural Summary for February

I’ve only just done a quick summary of recently read books, so this time my round-up for February will involve not only books, but also films and theatre.

Reading

Another month of reading aimlessly (and freely). 11 books, of which 2 books about poets and poetry (Charles Simic and Louise Glück), 3 that qualify for #EU27Project (Menasse for Austria – and Belgium?, Sebastian for Romania and Georgi Tenev for Bulgaria). Then there were some easy reads (perhaps slightly too many): Emil, John Boyne, Penelope Lively and Horowitz. There was one disappointment: The Farm had such an interesting premise (surrogate mothers being ‘farmed’ for rich clients) but took far too long to get started and ended rather too abruptly. And there was one that really stood out: Milkman.

Theatre

Two quite political plays this month. The first was The War of the Worlds performed by the Rhum and Clay company at the New Diorama Theatre – a retelling of the H.G. Wells’ novel and the infamous Orson Welles’ radio adaptiation set in the present-day, when a podcaster decides to explore just why people believe all sorts of fake news. Funny, thoughtful and with a bewildering array of accents and characters from a very talented cast.

Photo credit: New Diorama, What’s On.

The second was a National Theatre Live showing at my local arts centre of the new David Hare play I’m Not Running – about political infighting, spin doctors, male sense of entitlement and single-issue campaigning. Sian Brooke as the main character Pauline was vulnerable and touching but a bit shrill at times, while Alex Hassell as her former lover and now political rival Jack was very well cast, appearing at times to be plausible and handsome, and at other times downright ugly and evil.

Films

In preparation for the Oscars night, I caught up on some films, not all of them nominated, and made the most of my Mubi subscription. I saw Roma, which was moving, but a bit too long and self-indulgent (or do I mean self-exculpatory, sentimental?). I reminded myself of the greatness of Spike Lee and his film Do the Right Thing. I was bemused by the arty-fartiness of Livia Ungur’s Hotel Dallas (great concept, poor execution). I was irritated by Vincent Cassel in Black Tide and amused by Hong Sang-Soo’s send-up of the Cannes world in Claire’s Camera. I had a happy reunion with Wim Wenders’ Alice in the Cities and a troubled encounter with Beautiful Boy, which makes me worry about parenting with just the right amount of support, love and kick in the back. A film that seems to focus more on the beautiful surroundings and house, oddly enough (perhaps in order to show nobody is immune to addiction?), than on the heartbreak, although Timothee Chalamet is absolutely riveting.

Image from Amazon Studios.

So a busy month of cultural events, which somewhat reduced the pain of migraines and ex-spousal bullying. With spring now in the air, perhaps March will prove kinder in all regards.

Cultural Summary 12 Aug 2018

No big events or travels this week, but I did get to see four films – unheard of record! These are not serious or lengthy reviews, merely my initial reaction to them.

Ocean’s 8

I so much wanted to love this, and it was indeed an entertaining, frothy caper, but it felt rushed. There was too much focus on the heist itself and not enough on the relationship between the women, so it really was a bit of a waste having so many talented women together in the same room (literally and metaphorically).

45 Years

Superlative acting by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, a film that really takes its time and explores nuances. It’s almost a play – very few characters, mainly composed of the dialogue between the couple. The way the wife puts up with all the grumpiness and eccentricities of her husband (aside from the drama that befalls their marriage). One scene that critics have not commented upon but which really struck a chord with me was that scene with Kate helping out on a tourist tour on the Norfolk broads – and all the visitors are old women. So many people stay in an unsatisfactory marriage for fear of being alone in old age – and yet for most women that will be the case anyway. Made me glad that I only wasted 20 years on a marriage instead of 45…

Mary Shelley

Luminous performance by the two young leads – Elle Fanning and Douglas Booth, but full of historical and biographical inaccuracies which irritated me. I can see the point of some of them, how they were used to heighten dramatic structure. For instance, Mary did not meet Shelley in Scotland and knew from the start that he was married, since he came to dinner with his wife at her father’s house. She had more than one child who died in infancy. Others elements were excluded because they were inconvenient truths – even nowadays. Her relationship with her half-sister, Claire Claremont, was not quite as loving and caring as portrayed and there was a lot of jealousy there (plus, there was another half-sister on her mother’s side who also fell in love with Shelley and committed suicide). Shelley’s first wife had two children with him and fell pregnant at the same time as he was embarking upon his relationship with Mary.

Other film choices are harder to understand. Why use a boring generic manor house instead of the actual Villa Diodata on Lake Geneva? Lord Byron was camp rather than charismatic – Tom Sturridge has the looks and acting chops to make him more subtly menacing and attractive, but the part was not designed that way. Also, the group did actually get to read their stories in the evening in 1816 and also got caught in a storm on the lake which is like a premonition of Shelley’s untimely death.  Most annoying: the interpretation of Frankenstein as being about a woman feeling abandoned is a bit simplistic. There is a lot more depth there: social commentary about how we treat outsiders, science vs. humanism, the dangers of trying to play God etc.

Mamma Mia – Here We Go Again

Question: with so many Skarsgård offspring in the acting profession, why couldn’t any of them have played their father as a young man? A missed opportunity there. Other than that – well, it’s incoherent, milking the franchise, but a jolly bit of musical fun.

No more room to tell you about my book haul this week, so I’ll post about it tomorrow!

One Thousand Ways to Say I Love You

What better way to celebrate a thousand blog posts since February 2012 than by sharing memorable thousands I have seen elsewhere?

  1. 1001 Nights – one of the best collection of stories anywhere – the original page-turner

Illustration from 1001 Nights, from Book Drum

2. A burger with Thousand Island dressing (which I pretended to like in my youth, but time is too short for me to ever befriend mayonnaise).

3. Will I finally read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, about an intergenerational friendship between Afghan women, a book about which I’ve heard many good things? (Why oh why am I so reluctant to read bestsellers though?)

4. Certainly not a bestseller, but this looks very interesting: One Thousand White Women: The Journal of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. It’s based on a true story about pioneer women who, under the auspices of the U.S. government, travel to the western prairies in 1875 to intermarry among the Cheyenne Indians, in an effort to assimilate them.

5. Admire the art project with anthropological flair: One Thousand ShacksTracey Snelling has created a multimedia sculptural installation depicting shantytowns from around the world.

6. 1000 Meere (or 1000 Oceans) – a song by German band Tokio Hotel. They’ve recorded this song in both English and German and I love the difference in voice timbre when singing in the two languages.

7. Anne of the Thousand Days – a film I loved in my childhood about the ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII, with Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold.

8. New film just out: One Thousand Ropes directed by New Zealand-Samoan film director Tusi Tamasese has been presented at the Berlin Film Festival. This seems to be a film for our times, questioning notions of masculinity and toughness in a traditional society.

9. One for One Thousand literary magazine (1:1000) is open for submissions. They are looking for 1,000-word stories or narrative essays inspired by a photo, and will accept literary, genre, and experimental work, as long as the writing is quality.

10. Above all, a thousand thanks and kisses to all of you who have read, shared, commented, reblogged and simply been there for me over the past five years.

From freepik.com

Finally, because today is International Women’s Day, I just wanted to link up to a few posts from previous years celebrating inspirational role models.

2015 post about personal heroines

2016 post about more heroines

Inspiring women and their one weakness

 

 

This Week Is For Living

What a tumultuous week it’s been! I’ve been somewhat paralyzed, like a deer in the headlights, unable to quite tear myself from the news and ranting about it to uncomprehending children…

This coming week will be different. For one thing, I will be posting less on the blog, you’ll be relieved to hear. ‘Why, oh why deprive us of your phenomenal reviews and musings, Marina?’ I hear you say (no snickering at the back, I can see you!). Well, because this will be a week of waving bye-bye to old housemates, living hard and trying out new things! Oh, and also because I am not organised enough to write posts and schedule them well in advance.

So what are the specifics? Aside from vet’s and dentist’s appointments, the usual job hunting malarkey and tax self-assessment (those are the less fun parts of the week), I will also be trying out several new physical activities, courtesy of the Fit for Life Week being organised in my local area. I will explore Tai Chi (I tried it a decade or so ago and loved it), a Ramblers’ walk, table tennis and running. So I’ll be reconnecting with all of the things I loved in my youth (other than skiing), because I hate going to the gym and am too uncoordinated for aerobics and zumba classes. Everybody always tells you how important physical exercise is when you are suffering from SAD or depression, but it can be so difficult to motivate yourself to do it regularly. Especially when you don’t have much time or would rather be writing instead.

They never show you the reality of running in the run on muddy paths, do they?
They never show you the reality of running in the run on muddy paths, do they?

On Wednesday I’ll be going to London to see Eugen Chirovici in discussion with Joe Haddow at Goldsboro Books. I’m really eager to read his book, the first that this Romanian author has written in English. What I didn’t know was that he was based in Reading while writing it, so quite close to where I live now.  At the time, however, I was in Geneva, so any dreams of creating our own two-person dynamic writing duo would have come to naught. And, as luck would have it, he is now based in Brussels.

Chirovici’s book has been translated into French and he’s been invited to my favourite crime festival, Quais du Polar, which will take place between 31st March – 2nd April this year in Lyon. I am trying to make up my mind whether I can afford to attend. Or if I can afford NOT to attend, as the line-up of crime-writing talent is magnificent, as usual: Ragnar Jonasson, Val McDermid, Clare Mackintosh, Arnaldur Indridason, David Vann, David Young, Sebastian Fitzek, Qiu Xialong, Zygmunt Miłoszewski , to name but a few of the international contingent.

From Quais du Polar website.
From Quais du Polar website.

On Thursday I’ll be traipsing to London once more to watch Amadeus at the National Theatre. One of my favourite plays and films of all time, and I’ve heard Lucian Msamati makes a compelling Salieri. If you can’t get tickets or go to London to see it, there will be a live broadcast on the 2nd of February. I’m tempted to see it again with my older son, the theatre buff. Or perhaps I should show him the film instead.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal History Archive/REX (4421088a) From BBC.com 'Amadeus' a 1984 period drama film starring F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce and Elizabeth Berridge. VARIOUS
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal History Archive/REX (4421088a) From BBC.com

Finally, it will be the first weekend that the boys will be spending at their father’s house after he moved out this past weekend. I’m not quite sure how empty the house will feel without them, but I do know that I won’t be going with them to the cinema to watch Sing. I would have liked to watch Hidden Figures, but, sadly, our local cinema focuses on latest blockbusters rather than smaller or independent or foreign language films. I might aim instead for Silence (based on Endo Shusaku’s novel) or T2 Trainspotting, although both of them sound dark rather than uplifting.

Any cultural events you are looking forward to this coming week or month? Let me know, especially if you are planning to come to London at any point. Perhaps we can meet up, if you still crave the sublimity of my book reviews or wish to hear me recite my poems out loud! I promise not to rant about politics.

 

 

It’s Not All Books: The Films I Love

A little twitter conversation with the delightful Janet Emson (if you haven’t discovered her book blog yet, it’s highly recommended, not just by me) had me uttering the words: ‘Dammit, Janet, I love you!’ This, in turn, led me to ponder which films I have really, really loved and watched again and again. The problem is, I love films (and books and songs) for different reasons.

For the subject matter and/or atmosphere:

The Department of (Mis)Information from Brazil.
The Department of (Mis)Information from Brazil.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil – for the zany, frenetic way it makes fun of dictatorships and the inability to acknowledge any mistakes

Ridley Scott: Blade Runner – for its despairing and visually unforgettable view of the future

Tarkovsky: Stalker and Andrei Rublyev – for showing like no other the pain of creativity and of a demanding God/or authority figure or simply the fear of the Unknown (and self) – we must have had endless discussions about what these films actually mean when we were students (having watched them on pirated copies, as they were banned at the time)

Kieslowski: Three Colours: Blue – for its lyrical depiction of grief and loss

Pretty much all of Hitchcock, with a penchant for Vertigo, North-by-Northwest and Rear Window

rashomonKurosawa: Rashomon – such a revolutionary way of showing different points of view, but also for the expressive face of Toshiro Mifune

Carol Reed: The Third Man – Vienna, black-and-white, whom can you trust and that zither… need I say more?

Robert Mulligan: To Kill a Mockingbird – did anyone not want a father like Gregory Peck?

Michael Curtiz: Casablanca – ties for one of the best end lines in films (see below), plus the luminous glow of Ingrid Bergman and the wit throughout is just wonderful

richardbeymerWest Side Story – no matter how many times I see it, it still makes me dance, sing along and cry – plus I wanted to be Natalie Wood and Tony (Richard Beymer) looked uncannily like my first boyfriend

For the male lead:

The English Patient- Ralph Fiennes to look after me when I am dying in the desert

plein-soleil-delonLe Samourai and Plein Soleil – Alain Delon as ruthless and dangerous to know (Plein Soleil is the French version of Ripley)

La Beauté du Diable – Gérard Philippe to sell his soul for me

judelawThe Talented Mr. Ripley – Jude Law steals the show as Dickie Greenleaf and makes us condone what Matt Damon is about to do next…

For sheer fun:

Rocky Horror Picture Show – my coming of age film

Some Like It Hot – I can still quote more than half of it, plus the best end line in all of film history (tied with Casablanca)

Bringing Up Baby – absurd but the wittiest dialogue between two of my favourite actors: Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant

The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets – the darkest, funniest Ealing comedies, I merely have to see Alec Guiness’ eyes to start laughing (not so much in his more serious roles later on)

The Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show - besides, I've got relatives in Transylvania, so there!
The Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show – besides, I’ve got relatives in Transylvania, so there!

And there are so many others, too many to mention. So, which films have you loved? Which films can you watch over and over again? Or are there any films that you only watched once but which left an indelible impression on you?