27 Feb 2011

And now for something completely different ...

As well as reading and writing, I also enjoy absent mindedly scribbling, sketching and on occasion very, very amateur painting.  Below are some of the outcomes.  All of the images are mine and I'm more than happy for you to use them for whatever purpose you may like, but if you do please place a link back to my blog!

26 Feb 2011

Lost In Translation - Sofia Coppola - Film

I'm deeply impressed by everything in this film - the acting, the storyline, the camera shots, the music, the location, the costume, the script - literally, everything.  I think it's a fine piece of work, and I'm going to tell you why.

24 Feb 2011

Lisbeth Salander: I salute you

I saw The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo last year on DVD.  It was a quiet evening in with my parents - anyone who has seen this film will know that your parents are the WRONG kind of company for this film.  Despite not enjoying the film a great deal (possibly ruined by the company I was sharing), I was intrigued to read the book.

22 Feb 2011

The Prestige - Christopher Nolan - Film

This is one of those films that I would be tempted to discard because at a glance, it looked to me like 'family entertainment' - a very broad and very un-thought provoking category.  I first saw it around two years after it's release in 2006 when it happened to be on the television and I happened to be sat in front of said television in my student abode, pondering which bottle of gin/wine/rum/grappa (oh yes we had a bottle of a grappa!) to open first.

20 Feb 2011

Coffee table books: Part One - A Gun For Hire

This fine specimen is a collection of the work by Helmut Newton.  The title of the book refers to Newton's decription of himself:

Sunday reading list

So, I recently finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Restless by William Boyd, and have since been in the process of compiling a new reading list.  No bedside table or dresser is complete without a small pile of books waiting to be devoured.

18 Feb 2011

C'etait un Boojum!

The Hunting of the Snark written by Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) is an Agony in Eight Fits.  It's also a challenge to read out loud ... !

16 Feb 2011

Where to buy books: Part One - Charity Shops

Some of the best books I have ever read have been found in charity shops.  Three brilliant reads found in my local Oxfam shop were:

Past Mortem by Ben Elton - a deliciously dark murder mystery in which the past comes back to bite!

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min - an enthralling and fascinating fictional insight into the dangerous world of the Chinese emporer, his wives and his many, many concubines.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami - an urban and unusual love story. 

Charity shops do sometimes require grit and determination but they are worth it!  I shall revisit this feature later when I venture out to inspect some local book shops ...

15 Feb 2011

An after thought ...

I have decided that I should include a trailer or a clip for the films I think you should watch, and Let The Right One In is definitely one of them!  See here for a trailer, and here for a clip.

Persepolis - Vincent Paronnaud - Film

This animated French film is about an Iranian girl who leaves her family to study in Vienna.  Got that?  Good.

Unfortunately I know very little about the Iranian Revolution other than the information good old Wikipedia has to offer.  It is still very easy to relate to this film though since it deals with all aspects of growing up.

Throughout you see the main character Marjane struggle to accept what she sees as Iran replaces the Shah with Islamic fundamentalism.  Before she knows it, head scarves are all the rage, couples cannot hold hands in public, and punk rock is dead ... surely not?!

Hopeful she travels to Vienna where she in immersed in more Western customs and over time the viewer witnesses a young girl growing into a realistic and sharp tongued young woman.  You see her grow and change in how she relates to her friends, family, to God and most poignantly, her home.  You also see her experiencing freedom, boys, homelessness and depression.

A very interesting and often hilarious (Eye Of The Tiger pops into my head at spontaneous intervals after seeing this film) story, based on ... you guessed it ... a BOOK by Marjane Satrapi.  Follow the link for a riveting article from The Independent.

I know they say it's a bad idea to read a book after you've seen the film but I disagree, so once I've found/bought a copy I will let you know my thoughts!

In the meantime, follow my lead and watch the trailer.

My Neighbour Totoro - Hayao Miyazaki - Film

This delightful piece of filmography is quaint, pretty and possibly the sweetest depiction of sisterly love you will ever see.  I adore this film and watch it whenever I am feeling low because it is an instant pick-me-up!

Part of the Studio Ghibli collection, it is a Hayao Miyazaki classic and will appeal to all age groups.  I first began pursuing an interest in Japanese animations and anime whilst at university, and now own a tidy little collection of both films and series. 

Two sisters are settling into their new home with their father whilst their mother recovers from an illness in hospital.  The youngest sister, Mei, discovers they have a neighbour - the bizarre, rabbit like spirit named Totoro!  He's a friendly fellow with two mischevious mini-me sidekicks and he helps the girls with various things such as aiding the growth of their vegetable patch and giving them a lift home in his cat bus (it's a bus, that is also a cat ... only the Japanese could come up with such brilliant ideas).

Mei and her older sister Satsuki get on reasonably well but the stress of a new home and missing their mother places strains on their relationship.  But with the wise and watchful care of Totoro to hand the girls are brought back together in an emotional and consolidating ending.

My favourite character(s) in this film are the dust mites that live in the wall cavities and the loft of the house.  The only reason for this is that they're so darn cute! 

This film is about childhood, sisterhood and magic.  I'm so keen to spread the joy that I have included a clip from my favourite scene to entice you!

The Occupation - Guy Walters - Book

I really, really do not like this book, and it isn't the book's fault.  It's because I had a bad experience whilst reading the book.  I flew from Singapore to Cairns with a stop over in Darwin (where I read most of the book) and the horrendous experience of being so tired I thought my eyes were going to start bleeding left a mental scar on my brain.  Thus, an unexplainable hatred for this book was born.

The book is actually okay - not bad, not good, just okay.

It hops between two time periods - present day Jersey, and Nazi occupied Jersey.  The actual plot is quite impressive.  The Nazis had a found a natural deadly source on the island which they planned to harness in order to win the war.  Now, in present day Britain, big property businesses have found the same radioactive plot and are keeping it hush hush - until a British journalist picks up their scent.  Who also happens to be a direct descendant of one the German officers occupying Jersey at the time of the war.

The story telling is lively and entertaining, but I felt that towards the end the plot just became a bit ridiculous.  The main reason for this (aside from jet lag) is that I could understand why a Nazi might want to use radiation to build deadly weapons, but I could not grasp why a business would want to use radiation ... ?  It seemed like a very flimsy conspiracy theory and didn't make sense to me.  Maybe it will after I've read 1984 by George Orwell, who knows.

That said I have seen from other reviews of this book that Mr Walters' earlier novel The Traitor received more acclaim, so I will give that a go when I come across it - you know what they say, never judge a book by it's cover ...

Places to read and write: Part One - Paris

So this isn't a review of a book or a film, but it's all relative!

Today I'm tackling the steely subject of places to read.  I normally read in bed, outside if it's sunny or on the beach if there happens to be one nearby.  There is something really relaxing and indulgent about setting yourself down somewhere pleasant to digest a chapter or two or jot some thoughts down.

If you happen to be in the magical city of Paris, I know the perfect place!  I visited Paris just over a year ago with my good friend Petites Folies and fell in love instantly.  Two lock ins and one crazy Mexican photographer aside, it was a very mellow and cultured weekend, the highlight for me being a visit to The Louvre - although I have to say, I found the Mona Lisa rather dissappointing.

Anyway I'm getting a bit off track here!  This lovely little cafe/restaurant is situated on Carrefour de l'Odéon located south of the river not too far from Jardin de Luxembourg.  Not only is the food excellent, it is designed to feel like a library and is often praised as a 'place for writers'.  Unfortunately whilst I was there I didn't look like a writer, I looked like a mildy hungover tourist, buy hey ho.

It's called Les Editueurs and we found it thanks to our Lonely Planet guide book!  The one time we ate there it was full of writers (they looked like writers, but maybe they were imposters just like me!) and even though it was extremely busy and the seating arrangements were cosy (verging on cramped, but not quite) it was a pleasure to dine there.  Had I had a book with me or a laptop I would have followed the crowd immediately!

14 Feb 2011

The Help - Kathryn Stockett - Book

Ever wondered what it was like to be a black maid in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s?  Well wonder no more book worms, because I'm about to tell you what happens.

Miss Skeeter is a slightly spoilt 22 year old girl who's in the same predicament as the rest of us - she's finished college/university and is trying to decide what to do and where to move out to.  Only she's actually supposed to find a husband and abandon all career plans because this is the deep south.

Aibileen is a wise maid who bit by bit is planting seeds of good and kindness in the minds of the children she looks after.

Minny, also a maid, is the hot tempered, straight talking one - who has one over on Miss Hilly.  I ain't gone reveal That Terrible Awful Thing Minny gone done to Miss Hilly, so don't worry y'all.  You bet your bottom dollar it's real good though!

Favourite character by far is Miss Celia, she's so naive she doesn't even know how to be prejudiced.  Even though she's white trash masquerading as a League worthy woman, and wears slightly tacky dresses she's sweet and honest and shows the invisible line between white and black to be just that: invisible.

This book is a fast burner, I literally picked it up and could not put it down.  I didn't sleep for a week because I was reading - I even took it into work with and used up every last second of my lunch break on it. 

I love the way she writes the words as they would be spoken - the white ladies say 'Hey y'all' and the black ladies say 'Oh Law!'.  It really helped bring the book to life even more.

The best thing about this book is it's quite a brave thing to write about, and although I know absolutely nothing about what it was like to be either white or black in America in the 1960s, I cannot help but feel that Ms Stockett hits the nail on the head with every chapter.

The ending left me feeling a bit dissatisfied, not because it was a bad ending, but because it was an uncertain ending.  I still worry whether the book made them any more money now!

Let The Right One In - Tomas Alfredson - Film

Okay, so I've read the book, now to watch the film right?  Before I begin I'd like to say how irritated I was at Hollywood's remake entitled 'Let Me In'.  I haven't seen it and I don't ever intend to - why remake a perfectly good film?

Anyhoo, this film is quite simply, beautiful.  From the start with it's falling snow and gentle but chilling music, to the end with the sinister image of a child on a train to nowhere with a very large box at his feet.  Very slow moving and very delicate and a great testament to the book.

Of course there is nowhere near as much detail as in the book, and a lot of the gruesome scenes have been left out.  I think this was the right decision, including the scene where the undead Hakan attacks Eli would have ruined the mature tone the film carried and been an unnecessary addition - especially since there is no focus on the personal life of Hakan as there is in the book.  

I have to admit I was a little dissappointed that there was not more focus on the relationship between Locke and Virginia.  I really enjoyed reading about their doomed love affair in the book.  But I think the film included just enough to justify Locke's anger and determination in going to find and kill Eli after Virginia's tragic (and excellent - I was impressed with the special effects) death.

It was so subtle and my favourite scene by far is towards the end.  All you can see is Oskar holding his breath under water hopelessly, there is barely any sound and no music - giving the effect of the viewer being underwater with Oskar.  You then see ripples caused by limbs being dragged across the surface of the water, and the arm holding Oskar beneath the surface is suddenly no longer attached to its owner and he can come up for air.

I'm not entirely sure the scene would have the same effect for someone who had not read the book, but for me, it was perfect.  Slow, serene and triumphant - I really felt happy for Oskar that he believed his 'friend' Eli had come back to save him.

Unfortunately, I think you need to read the book in order to appreciate this film.  If you have not read it a lot of the time it might just seem like two kids standing around looking serious.  In addition if you have not read the book you won't quite understand the 'deep and meaningful' looks that are often exchanged between Eli and Hakan.  But I did read the book, and consequently I loved the film.

Let The Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist - Book

This book is a vampire novel, I first picked it up after a short, intense phase of ploughing through the Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer.  Need more vampire novels! was my main train of thought.

This particular vampire novel however, is in an entirely different league to Twilight.  The main character Oskar is an outcast and leads a very solitary life.  His mother is absent (minded) and also a little overbearing, and his father has a drinking problem.  He is bullied at school, and harbours a deep obsession for murder investigations and murder weapons.

Eli is a vampire who has just moved in next door with her guardian Hakan.  Eli and Hakan operate on a functional but very sick basis.  Eli needs blood to survive, Hakan is happy to help Eli live in return for his/her (you never really find out) company because he is a paedophile and Eli is trapped in what appears to be a child's body.

I found it a little difficult to stomach at times, especially the parts focusing on Hakan's personal life or told from Hakan's perspective, the part in which he visits the library rest room is particularly disturbing.  Nevertheless I appreciated the way the book approached each character with unwavering indifference and brutal clarity.

My two favourite characters were Virginia and Jocke because depsite their similar drinking problems and inability to really understand how they felt about each other, they seemed quite tender and loving as a couple. 

Now, I've heard a lot of debate from other people who have read this book about the relationship that develops between Oskar and Eli.  A friend of mine who has only seen the film insists that Eli loves Oskar just as much as he loves her/him.  But I disagree, I think Eli merely needs a replacement for old Hakan.  Oskar is the perfect candidate, but since he's lonely the best way to convince him to run away with Eli would of course be to act as his best friend and saviour etc.  I know that sounds cynical, but the book is cynical - paedophiles, alcoholics, arsonists... why not cruel, selfish vampires as well?

When Eli saves Oskar towards the end from the school bullies, Oskar's belief in Eli is confirmed and his decision made: Eli has succeeded in recruiting a new apprentice.  Job done.

Overall this is a fantastic book and I recommend you read it - be warned though, it is not for the faint hearted.  If you are of the faint hearted variety, I would suggest you try a bit of Stephenie Meyer instead ...