Thursday, January 27, 2022

Review of "The Year of Living Danishly" by Helen Russell

I thought this would be fluffier than it was, but actually there's quite a lot of serious stuff in there about how Denmark functions as a society, and about what might be behind its status as "the world's happiest country". Lots of it is about equality - it's a high-tax society with a high level of state provision in terms of welfare, education and healthcare. Some of it might be about perceived ethnic homogeneity too - it's easy to support levelling when you feel that the beneficiaries are "people like me", though of course the political culture of the place helps to define where those boundaries are.

It's nice that it's not completely soppy about everything Danish. Denmark seems to tolerate a high level of interpersonal violence, and drunkenness. Women have it better there than in other OECD countries, but it's far from perfect. There's lots in the book about hetero swingers, but I have no idea what it's like to be LGBT in Denmark. 

Still, this is a nice book, worth the time spent reading it.

Review of 'Dune'

Sort of had to watch this, though I wasn't a huge fan of the books...not sure I even finished the second one, though I quite liked the first one.  Overall impression was that it was a sort of "thinking person's Star Wars", with similarly wooden acting and stilted dialogue, great sets and locations, and lots of big action and battle scenes. I'd have happily watched a twenty-minute "art director's cut" (why oh why doesn't anyone do these?) because it looked great - I loved the details on the machines, including the analog interiors of the ornithoper things they fly around in. Nearly three hours felt much, much too long. 

I note in passing that it's obvious how the 'fremen' are based on beduin, but is House Harkonnen based on Finns? The word looks Finnish, doesn't it? And they do seem to live in gloom and not talk much. 

I also note how ten thousand years into the future there seems to have been very little social evolution. Fighting men, women like nuns but with magical powers, the universe ruled by an empire and noble houses...can't anyone imagine a future with different social arrangements? 

Well, Iain Banks could (The Culture series) but I see that the planned TV adaptation of that by Amazon has been cancelled. Can't think why...

Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill via the USB-enabled DVD player, the film having been obtained (thankfully) by informal distribution.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Review of 'No Time to Die'

Not sure why people continue to watch James Bond films. Despite the constant bangs and crashes on the screen, and the constant level of tension and excitement that this is intended to create, I nearly dozed off a few times. The plot is more or less incomprehensible, the characters flat and uninteresting...though I almost make an except for Daniel Craig, who somehow manages to put a bit of emotional depth into the Bond character.

I suspect anti-vaxxers would rather enjoy the film...the evil super-villain, who is actually called "Lyutsifer Safin", has a secret super-factory where he is making a DNA specific bioweapon to kill off huge numbers of the world's population, and he makes an evil speech about his motivation that basically says people want to be controlled...and the bioweapon originated in a UK project run by Bond's boss M (who unaccountably sets it in a glass skyscraper in central London rather than say Porton Down)

They might not like so much that the baddies appear to be Russian (accents, the language that the evil genius base guards speak to each other, and the fact that the base has obviously Soviet-era murals on the walls, including a hammer-and-sickle logo), though they are not The Russians, not the Russian government of Putin, who after all pours money and resources into medical disinformation in the west. We know this because at one point near the end M is having to allay the concerns of the Russian goverment, who wonder why the British navy is launching a powerful nuclear missile strike on an island that the Russians claim is their territory.

The implication of the location is that this is the Kuril Islands.  Not the Spratly Islands, though that reminded me that there are absolutely no Chinese villains or mention of China in the whole's like it doesn't exist. There is a section set in Cuba, which looks rather nice.

Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill, via Amazon Prime.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Review of 'The Lost Daughter'

Surprisingly creepy film about a middle-aged academic woman (played by Olivia Coleman) having a holiday by the beach on a Greek island. It's hard to write much about it without spoiling it, even though aren't really plot twists as such...more a constant feeling of unease, and some weird behaviour by Coleman's character. Watching this made me realise how much difference the acting makes to this sort of film...the ambiguity and ambivalence is absolutely crucial to the effect. The woman playing the younger version of her (lots of flashbacks) who I didn't know is great too. A long film but worth the effort, though it is an effort.

Watched on Netflix.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Review of 'My Normal'

Better-than-the-reviews suggested film about BDSM. Smart New York young lesbian works at a BDSM parlour while hoping to break into the film business, hangs out with her workmates, goes to lesbian clubs, has a loveable drug dealer friend. This differs from most other BDSM films in that she's not at all unhappy about her work; she and her workmates are obviously having fun and getting a kick out of the pain and humiliation that they heap on their male clients, all in the name of customer service. 

There are a few scenes, though nothing at all heavy. The plot comes from her finding a 'normal' lesbian girlfriend who isn't at all happy about the work, and for a while we see it through her eyes...but then they break up, and that isn't so dramatic, and then the thread about her making it into film-making takes over. A low-end film boss tries to persuade her to give him sex in return for a career break, she ties him up and threatens him instead, and he finds that he likes it, so she gets her break.

Watched via informal distribution.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Review of 'Bewilderment' by Richard Powers

Another remarkable book by Richard Powers, centred on the relationship between an astrobiologist dad and his autistic/aspergers son after the death of the mum. Lots of clever, thoughtful stuff about SETI, brain training, American politics, and environmental catastrophe. I loved The Overstory, but this feels better, partly because there are fewer characters and a bit less plot, so I didn't have to keep checking back to work out what was going on. It's set in a fictional version of the Trump presidency, but one in which The Donald succeeds in having the election result nullified and goes on to win a second term in a re-run dreadful though the events depicted are, at least that didn't happen.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Review of 'My Mistress'

A coming of age BDSM movie, in which Australian teenager Charlie is dealing with the death-by-suicide of his much-loved dad (Charlie is the one that finds him hanging in the garage, but seems to get little counselling or support) and finds that a beautiful young French woman in his neighborhood makes her living as a dominatrix. Charlie is smitten and insinuates himself into her life, and then into a sort of half-sexual relationship. Of course she's dealing with her own stuff too, like trying to get back the child that's been taken into care because of her addiction and neglect.

It's very slow, and not at all erotic, but sometimes poignant and touching, and like any serious reflection on the subject, addresses the ironies of the BDSM service relationship.

Watched via informal distribution.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Review of Rocketman

Sometimes surreal and hagiographic biopic of Elton John, which actually provides a lot of information that I didn't know -  well, I'm not a huge fan, though the film did remind how good some of the songs are. I didn't know he had a long term lyrics partner...almost the only person he doesn't seem to have fallen out with. If we are to believe the film he was an absolute musical genius from an early age, but I don't know if we are to believe it or not. 

Sort of unusual in that there's almost nothing of the years of struggle to make it, which all look really easy...only the going off the rails with drink and drugs after he's made it. 

Watched on All4

Review of Mystere

Nice-ish French film about a bereaved little girl and father living in mid-France who adopts a wolf cub, that grows up to be a full grown wolf but still loves her like a pet. It's described as 'based on a true story', but parts of it seem quite implausible. Beautiful scenery, some nice music. Partly it's about rewilding, but it doesn't really cover the issues - the farmers don't like it and want to shoot the wolves, the remote government thinks it's a good idea...

Watched on Netflix.

Review of 'Lotharingia; a personal history of France, Germany, and the countries in between' by Simon Winder

Another enjoyable popular history book from Simon Winder, again with lots that I didn't know, despite having covered some of the periods in History 'A' Level. I'd never heard of the Cautionary Towns, for example, and neither had a well-informed Dutch friend that I asked about it.

Once again I think he gets less good as he approaches the modern period, and I think his account of the Nazi period and the campaigns through this area in 1940 and in 1944-5 are a bit idiosyncratic. 

But these are quibbles, and it's not as if he offers a full-blown revisionist history of WW2 or anything like that. It's really worth reading, and like I said, enjoyable. Again it makes me want to visit the places and look at the works of art he describes.