Jul 28, 2008

Just Read: Smoke and Mirrors

I first heard of Neil Gaiman almost ten years ago, through the music of Tori Amos.
“Me and Neil'll be hangin' out with the dream king...”
“Get me Neil on the line, no I can't hold. Have him read Snow, Glass, Apples...”
“Will you find me if Neil makes me a tree...”
...And so on. There are numerous references to a certain Neil in Tori's lyrics, and all I knew at the time was that he is her friend and a writer. About a year ago, long after I'd lost interest in Tori, I was in the library and I accidentally came across a little book called Stardust, written by Neil Gaiman. I thought his name sounded familiar, but I couldn't for the life of me remember where I'd heard it before. The book looked sweet though, so I read it. That's how my love affair with Neil's work began. Well, I've now read all of Neil's novels, nut I still have a bunch of short stories and graphic novels left.
Smoke and Mirrors is a short story and poem collection, first published in 1998. The stories belong to a mixture of genres – fantasy, science fiction, horror, even a couple that qualify as erotica, and they contain plenty of references to folklore, literature and popular culture.
The stories are diverse and all are unputdownable. Neil comes up with some pretty insane ideas – most notable of which must be the retelling of Beowulf as a Baywatch episode and the morbidly funny tale about an agency of assassins who offer discounts for large orders.
The collection ends with the wonderfully dark Snow, Glass, Apples, a new version of Snow White told from a different point of view, with all the traditional roles reversed.
Anyway, my verdict is, that, while I'm always more inclined to read a novel, Smoke and Mirrors WAS worth reading, and quite an enjoyable way of passing time until Neil's next title, The Graveyard Book, comes out this September. And if you've never read Gaiman, well shame on you! Run to the nearest bookstore, get American Gods and start reading asap!

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Jul 21, 2008

Just Seen: London

Yeah, I saw two movies in one night. I have no life.
No, seriously, when I saw the disaster that was Evening, I couldn't possibly go to bed feeling all bored and depressed. It's one of my compulsions - if I see a terrible film, I have to try another one to make me feel better.
I don't know why I chose London. It's a film I knew almost nothing about, but it seemed different enough from Evening to give it a go.
And it was. It's a dialog-driven piece about Syd (Chris Evans), a guy who hears his ex-girlfriend is moving to California tomorrow with her new boyfriend and is having a going-away party to which he was not invited. He decides to show up anyway, bringing along Bateman, a British banker/cocaine dealer whom he'd just met. He arrives at the party intending to confront London (the girl's name. Played by Jessica Biel), talk to her and try to win her back, only, he's so spun on coke he can't actually bring himself to get out of the bathroom. So, most of the movie consists of drug-fueled philosophical discussions in the said bathroom, interspersed with occasional flashbacks of Syd and London's relationship.
I quite enjoyed London, although I can see how it could be annoying for some people (a lot of bad comments over at IMDb). I imagine that if I met Syd in real life, I'd just want to slap him so he would shut up already, cause, frankly, all his stories are pseudo-intellectual BS that you can only hear from a drugged up 20-year-old. But, I found that, if you don't even try to take it seriously, it's actually a lot of fun. I got a few laughs out of this and a not too corny love story, and what more could you ask for... Jason Statham is great as Bateman, and Jessica Biel is SO stunning, her beauty alone makes this worthwhile.
I was feeling pretty generous last night, so I gave London 7/10 on my IMDb profile. However, I think that, if I hadn't had the misfortune of seeing Evening before it, I would've opted for a more realistic 6/10. Still, it's worth watching if you're up for a bit of mindless fun. It reminded me of Rules Of Attraction, only less depressing, and Go, but without all the action.

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Just Seen: Evening

... and am wondering: WHY?? Why did people spend time and money to make this?? And, more importantly, why did I spend two hours of my life watching it (well, okay, not really two hours... Fast forward is a great option)?
Basically, this is a drama about a woman on her deathbed, remembering her youth, and about her two daughters struggling with their own problems and differences. Now this sounds exactly like my kind of thing. I like stories about women. I like stories about wasted lives and wrong choices. I like that kind of Mrs Dalloway thing.
Well, let me tell you - this is not Mrs Dalloway...
I have just one word: soppy soppy soppy!
I am utterly amazed at the number of brilliant actors (well, actresses) in this mess. You've got Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Toni Collette, Claire Danes... But what you don't have is a decent script and a director who has a clue about what he's doing. I'm assuming that, since this was based on a book, it must be a very good one. That's the only reason I can think of that the film got made and all these people participated. The story is a complete cliche, and the characters are just totally... flat. You don't give a toss about what happens to them, who lives or dies, who loves who, who's wasted their lives or not...
Oh, and one more thing... The male lead, the heartthrob, the ideal man is played by Patrick Wilson. Patrick Wilson is, I grant you, very cute, but ever since I saw him in Hard Candy (now that's a film!) I find him a bit creepy. It's awkward watching a romantic love scene and wondering whether the hero has a bit of a maniacal twinkle in his eyes...
(p.s. The picture I posted is small on purpose. Trust me, you don't wanna be able to read the tagline!)

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Jul 19, 2008

Flight Of The Conchords

Bow to the kings - formerly New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo!
I want a new season of the Conchords... Is it ever gonna happen?
Just to remind you of the geniuses that are Bret and Jemaine, I give you - The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room!

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Just Seen: Total Eclipse

...Which chronicles the relationship between Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud (you know, the French poets...). I've always been slightly obsessed with the fact that Rimbaud was practically this child genius who wrote all his worldchanging poetry by the age of twenty, and then became a merchant and never wrote anything again. So I was quite interested in the subject matter. The film was a 6/10, and is unlikely to appeal to anyone who's not interested in poetry. However, it's absolutely worth seeing, if for no other reason, then at least for the mindblowingly magnificent acting of the two leads (David Thewlis as Verlaine and Leonardo DiCaprio as Rimbaud).

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Jul 18, 2008

Just Seen: Dan In Real Life

Well, technically, I haven't actually seen it... I started, but had to stop in order to fetch my vomit bucket. Seriously, picture the scene: an extended family of about 15 people, old and young, are having dinner, and a fully grown man looks at his girlfriend and announces to the whole room "The first time that I saw her I thought that I just died because there's an angel in the room"...
See, I told you it won't do without a bucket...

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Jul 15, 2008

Just Read: Plum Lucky

Janet Evanovich's Plum Lucky is a between-the-numbers novel (13 1/2) in the hugely popular Stephanie Plum series. Stephanie, lingerie buyer-cum-bounty hunter, is a reckless, incompetent, hilarious Jersey girl who catches FTAs, partners with a plus-sized black ex-prostitute, and can't decide between two hot guys. In Plum Lucky, it's Saint Patrick's Day, and Stephanie needs to team up with the mysterious Diesel, Snuggy the leprechaun, little person Randy Briggs, and two ladies with an attitude - Lula and Connie, in order to save Grandma Mazur who's been kidnapped by a local mafia boss.

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Just Seen: The Bourne Trilogy

I remember that, when I was a kid, my dad had a VHS of The Bourne Identity TV film, and as I recall, I rather liked it.
I got the new version ages ago, but never got around to it until last weekend. As I enjoyed the first part of the trilogy, I saw The Bourne Supremacy a day or two later, and tonight I've seen The Bourne Ultimatum as well.
I highly doubt that there's anyone who doesn't know the basic premise, but here it is: an unconscious man is found in the Mediterranean, and he can't remember anything. The only clue he has of his own identity is a Swiss bank account number embedded in his hip. It turns out he is an assassin in a top secret CIA program. That's about it. All three movies follow Bourne on his quest for the truth and his lost memory, while the Agency is trying its best to cover it all up and “terminate” him.
What can I say? The verdict is a bit tricky... While I loved the first part (and I really, really dislike action movies, so 8/10 from me on this one is a huge compliment), I found myself getting a bit fatigued by the second part, and I almost completely lost interest watching the third one. After all, there are only so many car chases you can see before you start yawning. Also, the plot, save a few details, seems to follow more or less the same pattern in all three films, so it becomes predictable and a bit derivative. So my recommendation is – see the first one, and then take long breaks before you see the second and third one. Don't expect it to be anything else but a good, fast, action-packed adrenaline bomb. And don't trust the IMDB rating which says not only that the third part (Ultimatum) is the best one, but also that it's 127th best film of all time. Not true. But still fun.

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Jul 12, 2008

Catching Up With Russell

God, I've missed Russell! For those of you who don't know, I'm an avid fan of the British god of comedy – the lovely Mr. Russell Brand. Ever since I first listened to his podcast last August, I've gotten totally hooked, and not only have I never missed a show since, I've also found and listened to all of his previous shows. And seen his movies. And all his TV work... Yes, I'm a twerp...
Anyways, a few weeks ago, my little niece dropped my beloved MP3 player into her bath water, so it hasn't been on top form, which means I've given up listening to my podcasts for a while. And, while I do miss other stuff, like Mark Kermode's movie rants (subscribe here), nothing compares to Russ. His outrageousness, randomness and refusal to conform, and especially his “odd couple” relationship with co-host Matt Morgan have me in stitches every time.
Anyway, this morning I saw Russell's latest “viddycast” (if you think this name for a vodcast is idiotic, check out his autobiography called “My Booky Wook”), and then I had a stroke of genius – my e-book reader also plays MP3s (so does my husband's iPod, but that thing always intimidates me for some reason)!
Now I have some catching up to do, as there are 4 unlistened to shows in my RB folder!
You can find the viddycast and the latest episode of his show on his BBC Radio 2 page.

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Jul 9, 2008

Listening To: Radiohead - In Rainbows

Wow! I'm listening to Radiohead and feeling 17 again... I used to love love love Radiohead during my high school years, but then, somewhere around the time of Amnesiac, I stopped following their work and moved onto lighter stuff. Of course, I heard about the landmark release of In Rainbows last fall, but felt too lazy to download it. Oh, what a mistake!
Strangely enough, the one who did get it (now, but better late then never) was my husband, who thoroughly dislikes Radiohead, dismisses them as the most depressing band on the face of the earth, and never calls Thom Yorke by name – in our house he is known as “that whiner of yours” (he shares that title with Damien Rice). So imagine my amazement when I got a text from hubby yesterday saying that In Rainbows is “pretty good”.
Well, after listening to it for hours on repeat, I must say I agree. I wouldn't go so far as some who are touting it as the best Radiohead yet, though - my heart belongs to OK Computer – always and forever. But, although this is not Computer, it's still bloody brilliant. The opening song, 15 Steps, is completely different from anything I've heard from RH so far, and it sucks you in so you are compelled to listen to the whole album. It's my favorite so far, along with the beautiful, melancholy Nude and Reckoner. Take a listen to the live version of Nude in the post below, and get In Rainbows now!

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My Current Mood

Song lyrics | Nude lyrics

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Jul 4, 2008

Just Seen: The Squid And The Whale

It's strange how instincts seem to be right on most occasions. When I decided to see this film, I just couldn't remember where I knew Noah Baumbach's name from. Then I started watching it, and I kept thinking “God, this reeks of Wes Anderson”... I don't know why I thought it – Wes Anderson's films are usually much 'quirkier' than this (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums...), but I just somehow got the same feeling watching it. Turns out? Wes Anderson produced this... Which means...
I hated it.
Don't get me wrong – yeah, I dislike Anderson's movies, but I hated this even before I found out he was involved.
The story is too simple for its own sake: two intellectuals – Joan (Laura Linney) and Bernard (Jeff Daniels) are getting a divorce, and their children Frank and Walt are having a hard time accepting it. And that's it. No, really. That's all there is to it. And with a synopsis as straight-forward as that, it still could've been a decent film. Unfortunately, the characters are so unlikeable that it's impossible to sympathize... The father is a declining writer, jealous of every other writer in the world, including his wife. Oh, and he is also a pathetic, sleazy, pompous ass. The older son is trying to be a replica of the father, minus any kind of talent, AND he is a jerk. The younger son is just – I don't know – sort of disturbing... And the mother is perhaps the most likable character, but not explored thoroughly enough. The acting is, I must admit, very good (except maybe from Linney – I've gotten used to expecting much more from her). Jeff Daniels is especially brilliant as the lost middle-aged man trying to hide his failures behind a PhD.
Apart from that? It's just emptiness... Emptiness in the script and in the characters' souls. It's supposed to be an emotional topic, but I just ended up feeling very cold and removed from it all.
Plus, you could see the ending coming from a mile away.

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Jul 2, 2008

Just Seen: Children Of Men

I have just finished, and I'm sort of speechless... Not often do you get to see a 10/10 movie.
Where do I even begin on this one??
Ok, deep breath... Now start with the synopsis...
It's 2027, and human race faces extinction, as people are no longer able to procreate. The world's youngest citizen has just been killed at the age of 18. The world is in chaos, and Britain, where the film is set, is a true Orwellian society, torn apart by conflicts and terrorism. The totalitarian regime mercilessly persecutes illegal immigrants. In all this mayhem, Theo (Clive Owen) decides to help his ex-wife (Julianne Moore) - who is now a leader of the resistance - to get a young African refugee named Kee to reach the almost mythical Human Project organization. Why? She is the first pregnant woman in 18 years.
Now, what can I tell you about this film? Let's start out with the fact that Alfonso Cuaron is a genius, and we should all kiss his feet... I must say I used to be skeptical about Cuaron, and I could never quite see what all the fuss was about when it came to him. But this? This is truly a work of art... The story is, of course, great, but what really won me over was the attention to detail. Nothing in Children Of Men was left to chance. The cast is superb, and I was especially taken with Owen, whom I'd previously only seen in Closer, where i found him - well, frankly - quite obnoxious... The young lady who played Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) was also very convincing, and I think it's a bit lame that they put Julianne Moore's name before her in the credits (don't mean to spoil anything for anyone, but Julianne doesn't play a particularly big role).

The visual identity of the film is magnificent... The cinematography, sets, costumes, everything blends seamlessly to create a true dystopian, and highly disturbing feel of the there and then. Images as brilliant as a stark, grey, futuristic room with the original Guernica on the wall will stay with you long after you've finished watching. So will the combat scene filmed through a blood-splattered camera lens...
The soundtrack, score and sound editing are perhaps the most impressive of all aspects of this masterpiece... Whatever detail I might give you, I'd have to incorporate a part of the plot, but please pay attention to the sound if you watch this. It more then accentuates the plot, it attacks you, then lulls you into a sense of security, only to slap you in the face mere seconds later... It causes unease, and illustrates the pandemonium. Make sure you watch the complete end credits, though. That's something really special...
Speaking of end credits, for a full understanding of the film, and the meaning of the words at the end of the credits (also repeated a few times in the film itself), it would be perfect if you read T.S.Eliot's Wasteland. I know it might seem too much of an effort, but trust me, even if you don't care about the richer understanding of this film that it will provide you with, it's still one of the greatest poems ever written.
Now, if you've never seen Children Of Men, see it this instant. And if you have? See it anyway.

Shantih shantih shantih

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