Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Review of 'Burlesque'

Unbelievably, Netflix gave this 4.5 stars. Execrable dialogue, lame and predictable plot, squeaky-clean burlesque club where the healthy and apparently wealthy dancers are all one big happy family...mainly an opportunity for Christina Aguilera to sing and dance with few clothes on.

I have a soft spot for Cher, though I can no longer remember why. Has she actually ever been in any good films?

Almost embarrassed to post this review because it means I'm admitting that I watched the film.

Review of 'Marguerite'

Watched at a cinema in Bath, on a rainy Easter Saturday, partly to get out of the rain.

This is a rather long but very good period drama, loosely based on the life of the American woman Florence Fletcher Jenkins, who thought she was a great singer but wasn't. Curiously, there is another film about her life about to be released, starring Meryl Streep, more closely based on her actual life and apparently much more obviously comic.

The reviews of this one were rather misleading, in that they describe it as a rather light period comedy, but it's actually very painful to watch - about self-delusion, deceit, and the corrupting power of money. The Baroness Marguerite has never been told that she has a dreadful singing voice and appalling technique, and hasn't worked it out for herself. Everyone in her life has an interest in deceiving her about this, including some young blades who think her lack of talent is both powerfully symbolic of something-or-other and screamingly funny.

It builds to a humiliating public performance and then worse for Marguerite, who it's impossible not to like despite everything. It's impossible to like almost everyone else in the film.

It's odd that you wait half a lifetime for a film about such a woman and then two come along at once. For me the film evoked the feelings I associate with impostor syndrome, even though it depicts what seems to be the opposite. Marguerite thinks she has talent even though she doesn't, whereas impostor syndrome is about the feeling that you don't have competence but have thus far fooled everyone - a bit like feeling that you are a Marguerite. Not exactly the same, because impostor-syndrome sufferers don't think that everyone is conspiring to deceive them, but rather that no-one else has realised...

A really good film - looking forward to seeing the other one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Review of 'The Guard'

A brilliant dark comedy drama centred on a policeman in rural Ireland caught up in a flawed operation to intercept a major drug shipment through his patch. The cop (Brendan Gleeson) is only a bit corrupt, but he's sarcastic and magnificently unambitious, so he's not afraid to offend either his bosses or metropolitan sensitivities, liberal or otherwise.

The plot involves a preppy Black FBI man, IRA arms caches, a terminally ill mother, philosophically inclined drug smugglers...and plenty more that can't really be discussed without drifting into spoilers. Lots of the cinematography is beautiful, and much of the rest is effectively claustrophobic. The dialogue is so sharp I wanted to hear it all again, or see it written down - but there are lots of really good visual jokes too. A great film - I wish there were more like this.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Review of "The Fracking Cult Murders: A Steampunk Novel"

I'm sorry I didn't like this more, because I recognise that it's a bit like my own book - alternative history, a lot of humour, and self published (though unlike me the author has made a good job of that - a proper name for his publisher, and I like the cover).

I liked the version of the modern world that has evolved without electricity or the internal combustion engine, but is nevertheless recognisably modern. It's not a cod-Victorian world. I think that's clever.

On the other hand, I really couldn't be bothered with the plot, and I didn't find most of the characters engaging enough. There were also too many plot elements - the late introduction of the S&M brothel is particularly irritating in that respect. I'm not adverse to a bit of S&M sex, but it's either part of the story or it isn't. And there's an awful lot of food descriptions, particularly cake. It's funny at first, but it began to get on my nerves.

Nevertheless, I'm not sorry I spent the time with this book, and hope to read some others by the author.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Review of 'Parrot and Olivier in America'

A very well-written, cleverly structured, thoughtful historical novel. Lots of insight into character, but also into big issues like the meaning and values of democracy. It’s a sort of fictionalised account of De Tocqueville’s visit to America, but with more fun and adventures, and tension between the two very different narrators. I usually enjoy Peter Carey’s work, and this one makes up for the awful ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’.

I found the last few pages particularly poignant, especially since it’s the insights of the anti-democratic aristocrat that turn out to be the more astute and prophetic.

Review of 'Solar'

A comic novel of sorts, with a rather nasty after-taste. It's well written, because McEwan  is a brilliant writer, and he has engaged with science (both the content and the organisational aspects) in some depth. But the main character is quite horrible, and it's impossible to ignore that the author has tried to make him more horrible by making him short and fat. Most of the other characters are horrible too, apart from the protagonists' long string of long-suffering wives and lovers.

There are great descriptions of the kinds of magical thinking and self-bargaining that goes on when anyone fails to resist temptation. Science Studies comes off rather badly - although McEwan isn't a physicist he does seem to have bought into the physicists' view of their own perceived place in the intellectual hierarchy. On the other hand, he does engage properly with climate change, even if he puts the arguments in the mouths of some horrid people.

Review of "The Way of the Cross (The Cathar Wars Book 1)"

This is a well-written historical novel with a focus on the military aspects of the Albigensian Crusade. Although the political issues and the social significance of Catharism are not ignored, that’s not what this is about. The central character is Simon de Monfort, and it’s more or less told from his point of view. This rather obscures some of the real nastiness, though it’s not glossed over – we do have heretics burned alive and showing real courage, but it’s not from their point of view – they are more or less ciphers. Lots of detail about medieval siege-craft, which was interesting but not really what I was after.