Monday, November 15, 2021

Review of 'Danubia' by Simon Winder

I so loved this book, which felt like it had been written just for me. Lots of stuff about architecture, and music, and even regions and nationalities that I'd never heard of. It's by no means mainly about Jews, but there's lots of interesting stuff about them, including an important short passage that situates Zionism in the context of the competing nationalisms of the late C19th Habsburg empire...I knew Herzl was a Viennese Jew, but didn't realise that his family, like Freud's, were from Galicia. 

One thing he doesn't explain is why there are two regions called Galicia in Europe, which at one time were both Habsburg possessions. Turns out it's really just a coincidence

I wish I'd read this before I wrote The Girl in The Red Cape - if only because I would have stolen bits from the story of the  1882 Tiszaeszlár blood libel episode and put it in the book. But he's really good on the politics and the aesthetics of the Counter-Reformation too, and it would have been good to have known more about that.

I now want to read all his other books (already on order), and to listen to all the music he mentions, and to visit quite a few of the places in the book too. There were passages that I had to read out loud to Ruth because they were so beautifully written or so often do you say that about a work of popular history?

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Review of Love Hard

A mainly trivial but quite enjoyable (and for once actually quirky) romcom about internet dating and catfishing...which in this film turns out to be OK really because it ends in true love between the catfisher and his victim.

Most memorable for me for the alternate 'less rape-y' version of 'Baby it's cold outside' that the two not-yet-lovers sing as a duet.

Watched on Netflix.

Review of Sunset Boulevard

Another one of those films you think you've seen, but you haven't. 

And really good...about Hollywood, and faded fame and glamour, and inequality, and gender relations, and lots more. Gloria Swanson is brilliant as the faded onet-time star of the silent screen who never made the transition to talkies and a different kind of cinematic acting. She's completely past it, old and over the hill, because she's...fifty.

Eric Von Stroheim is particularly great as her devoted butler and chauffeur, who once had a career as a director but abandoned it to look after her. This is particularly poignant because it's almost his own life story - he had a career as a director but was forced to abandon it because absolutely no-one would work with him.

Watched via informal distribution, and laptop, Chromecast and VLC - working happily again.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Review of 'Some Like It Hot'


Can't believe that I've never seen this, but I haven't.

It was more fun than I was expecting...the main joke is that the two main characters are dressed as women (because they are hiding out from prohibition-era mobsters in an all-woman Jazz band), and that no-one notices that they are men. It's done well and doesn't feel daft within the limits of the comedy genre, helped (as others have said) by the period setting. The jokes are mainly anti-sexist rather than sexist...the two men have difficulty walking in heels, and they can't believe how drafty it is wearing women's clothes.

And as soon as they adopt the female gender other men think that they are women and make passes at them.

I quite like the fact that George Raft is sending up his own gangster persona from his other films - another hood does his coin-tossing thing, and Raft's character says "where did you learn that cheap trick?".

And Marilyn Monroe is much more beautiful and sexy than I would have guessed, at the same time as not really being pretty. It's striking the way she absolutely shines on the screen, more than any other it to do with lighting, or was she really that special? Also clear where Debbie Harry got her character tropes from...I sort of knew that, but much more striking seeing it for myself.

Obtained via informal distribution, and watched using VLC/renderer and Chromecast, which is now working well again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Review of 'Falling for Figaro'

A poor rom-com, short on the rom and on the com. Millie is a fund manager but she dreams of being an opera singer...even though there is absolutely no sign of any other involvement in singing in her life. She's not in a choir or singing group, she doesn't sing with a band, nothing. It's just her dream. Which she then realises by going to a posh conservatoire where one of the tutors recommends her to a faded singing tutor in a remote part of Scotland. The tutor is mean to her - another one of those films, like Whiplash, where talent in developed through abuse and she blossoms into a reasonable successful singer, while developing a fragmentary and unconvincing romance with fellow-pupil Max. 

Another rubbish film on Netflix.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Review of 'The Incredible Jessica James'

Half way through watching this I realised that I'd started watching it before, and given up. I could see why, even though its heart is mainly in the right's feminist, a little bit edgy, features a strong black woman as the's just a bit boring as a rom-com. Towards the end I was checking my phone quite often.

Watched on Netflix.

Review of "Frozen 2"

We had a little girl visiting us, and and a friend who has decided to watch only Disney films because everything else is so feel-bad, so we watched this. We watched Frozen four years ago (and I wrote a review at the time), and it was much better than I expected. I'm sorry that I can't say the same for this one, even though it was much more self-consciously inspired by good themes - eco-feminism, and anti-colonialism, for starters. 

But it felt much more of a mish-mash, with too many story lines, and too much going on. And I didn't think the music was so good either, though I rather liked the song the Sami-like people sing about half way through. Still visually impressive, with lots of good Sami-inspired graphics, and I suspect that the look of Arendelle is inspired by National Romantic architecture, which I've always liked.

Informal distribution, a USB stick and the new projector in the Springhill Common House.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Review of 'If Beale Street Could Talk'

Based on the James Baldwin novel, and really good, though hard to watch because it's so grim. The acting, the dialogue, the cinematography is all excellent, though I did miss occasional bits of speech.

The poster is very misleading, it's a story about racism, not true love. The love between the two main characters just makes the racism and oppression harder to bear. Impossible to watch without putting yourself in the shoes of the main characters - in my case, particularly the two fathers, knowing that the system of oppression is going to grind your children to powder, and that playing within the rules affords you no chance of coming through with either fortune or dignity intact.

Watched on BBC iPlayer.

Review of Cruella

This was more fun that I expected - I liked the music, the clothes, and wondering where the locations were (some of them weren't anywhere but had been created with CGI, bah!). The acting was sort of camp - especially Emma Thompson as the villain, but I didn't mind. And I'm sure the art directors must have a lot of fun...I was especially pleased to see the packet of Golden Wonder crisps with appropriate packaging. Because of the 1970s setting there was less product placement - no Apple laptops prominently in shot. 

I thought Emma Stone's english accent was perfectly good too.

Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill, having been obtained by informal distribution. Loaded on to a USB stick, played on the new DVD player which has a USB slot, quality was really good.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Review of New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

I enjoyed this more than I have his other books - it's not only optimistic and left-wing (don't often go together, do they?) like his other books but also has decent, interesting characters and a few enjoyable plots. The bad guys are a bit vague and not so fully described or defined, but the good characters are likeable and interesting (again, that is not often a common pairing).

And I like the descriptions of future NY - the super-Venice of drowned downtown, the superscrapers with farm floors, the vaporettos and the hydrofoil yachts of the rich, and blimps and sky-villages...beautiful and possible.

Oddly it made interested in the geography of New York, and even made me want to go there, which is not likely to happen.

Review of Palm Springs

Sort of a second-rate, updated version of Groundhog Day, with the time loop theme, but without any of the poignancy or thoughtfulness. This time it's a family wedding in a ghastly Florida resort, and it's not just the main character who has to repeat the day, but also a woman (the bride's wayward sister) who follows him into the cave that is somehow the source of the time loop - and also another man, a grumpy vindictive sort who chases and wounds/kills the main guy, but it doesn't have any consequences since everything is reset whenever any of them goes to sleep.

Just about watchable, and the occasional funny groundhog-esque gag (he knows what's going to happen next so can anticipate it), but not a great film or a great use of time.

Watched on Amazon Prime.