22 Feb 2015

Reading & Seeing (& Listening) 22

I don't want to disclose too much information about the plot apart from to say that Michael Keaton plays a former hollywood actor, star of the superhero movies, Birdman, who has jacked it in to adapt, direct and star-in a stage play. Keaton is on top form (as is the rest of the cast), the script is sharp and the set and direction (flipping amazing camera work which makes it all seem like one continuous shot) is superb. Believe the hype. Go see Birdman.

Another film with a lot of (good) noise around it. A simple premise: a young guy is studying drumming at the best music college in the US and gets picked to play in the school's highly prized "studio band" orchestrated by an incredible, and absolutely terrifying, JK Simmons. At only 1 hour and 40 minutes, this film is tightly wound. There's no dead time, no filler scene, it's highly charged and uncomfortable to watch at times. Music drives the two central characters completely and utterly with no regard for people's feelings or well-being. Boundaries and lines are disregarded and crossed but the end result is one awesome film with a killer ending.

Inherent Vice
Joaquin Pheonix plays private investigator, Doc, who attempts to unravel a case involving a kidnapped real-estate big shot which leads on to a string of other mysteries that may or may not be related to the kidnapping. Confused? You better believe it. I thought the trailer for this film looked ace but now I understand why the reviews have been mixed. First off, the good bits. 1. Cinematography. The setting, costumes, props (Doc's mint green phone! I want it!), the entire feel of the film is great. 2. The cast. It's a fabulous line-up and all the players play their parts incredibly well (Pheonix and Josh Brolin stand out for me). 3. The music, which also kind of ties in with the excellent late 60's feel of the film. Now for the not so good bits. 1. The plot is hard to follow. I've read reviews where people describe it as incoherent (much like Doc and lots of the other characters) which is very accurate. I had to really concentrate in order to keep up with everything and even then I'm not sure I got all of it. It's based on a Thomas Pynchon novel and, having read and studied Pynchon before (The Crying of Lot 49), I had an inkling that it wasn't going to be your straighforward narrative. I'm not saying I need everything wrapped up with a nice little bow on top but I could've done with a little more connected-ness. 2. It is long, 2 hours and 20 mins long, which is a particularly long time when you're trying to make sense of all the different story lines. But perhaps that's where I went wrong, I shouldn't have been trying to figure it all out and instead just enjoyed each little set piece for just that, a mini movie in itself. Like as if Inherent Vice was just a series of mini films, where the characters sometimes cross over into each other's stories, and create an over-arching movie...Gah, who knows. It sure gave me a lot to think about, which isn't a bad thing, so many films spoon-feed us these days. However, it also presented me with so many scenarios and characters that I struggled to find answers, not to mention completely forgetting what the questions were in the first place.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North
Let me start by saying: I loved this book. Harry is a kalachakra, meaning that he re-lives his life over and over again with all the knowledge of his previous lives. Perhaps this concept sounds familiar, it's true that this reoccurring theme is somewhat reoccuring (apologies) in my own book choices (Life After Life and Replay). But the basic concept (of people re-living their lives) is the only thing they have in common because, thanks to independent thought and all, the authors have completely different stories to tell. ....Harry August is particularly awesome thanks to it's non lineal structure (the narrative moves between his fifteen lives with such ease!) and because it introduces another fascinating idea, that of a whole community of kalachakras, stretching all through the ages, who called themselves the Cronus Club. It's an intriguing concept to get your head around (which thankfully isn't overly "science-y"), kind of like a whole new way of perceiving time itself! Anyhoo, before I put off those of you who aren't partial to SF, it isn't really very SF at all, in the same way that Atkinson's Life After Life isn't. Lastly, this book has one of the most satisfying endings I've read in aaaaages. It was pretty much perfect. You should read it.

The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton
Set in Amsterdamn in the late 17th Century, the story follows Nella, 18 years old and newly wedded to one of the city's well respected Merchants. She leaves her family and rural home behind to live with her new husband, his sister and their two servants. Her husband gifts her a magnificent doll's house, decorated to mirror the house she now lives in. Nella employs the skills of a miniaturist to create furniture for the doll's house, and over the course of a few months, receives a collection of un-asked for items and figures identical to those around her. More worryingly the figures seem to be forshadowing the fates of her and her new family. This was Blook Club's Febraury read, it's not something I'd normally pick up as I'm not really into historical fiction. I'd only seen very positive reviews so I thought it would pleasantly surprise me. It didn't. About half way through I briefly thought about giving up - it was moving at an excruciatingly slow pace and the tiny bits about the miniaturist were not enough to sustain me. But then, the episode with Jack and the dog happened and the story gathered momentum. It's true that the second half of the book is waaaaay more interesting than the first but I can't help feeling (and a few people said this at Blook Club too) that there was a better story hiding amongst the pages and pages about the sugar loaves and Johannes, Marin and the rest of them, a story about the miniaturist. Considering she's the book's titular character, the miniaturist was given a pretty rubbish non-exit and a half-arsed "explanation". There was a lot going on in this novel, but I'd rather have read more about the miniaturist, it's a creepy and intriguing concept but it's really not developed substantially. Was she a psychic or was it more sinister, was she in fact deciding their fates rather than predicting them? I think I'd rather have read that story but maybe that's because I'm a SF girl through and through.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
Adapted for the stage from Mark Haddon's popular book of the same name. This was an excellent production and, in my opinion, better than the book. I found it hard to get on with Christopher's narration in the book but it lends itself perfectly to a play. The best thing about it was the set. You've all seen pictures of the grid stage set I'm sure, but seeing it in action (it's incredible what you can do with lighting) is freaking amazing.

I know this post is already v.long indeed but I just had to mention Serial. I'm rather late to the party but omg it's incredible. In case you're even later to the party than me, it's a free podcast which follows a Baltimore newspaper journalist's investigation into the murder of a teenager back in 1999. In the weekly instalments (or 12 episodes which you can now listen back to back) she revisits the evidence and trial against the seventeen year old boy who was convicted of the murder as well as talking to friends, acquaintances and family members of the victim and suspect. It's so addictive, I'm glad we waited for all the episodes to be released as I wouldn't have been able to wait a week between each one. Thankfully there's a second series in the pipeline :)


  1. I really enjoyed the Harry August book as well, for the same reasons as you, I loved that it was kind of science based but not overly science-y - and such a fascinating concept! xx (ps. I'm even later to the whole Serial thing as well, I have it ready to listen to but haven't started yet!)

    1. SUCH a good concept :) would recommend Kate Atkinson's Life After Life too. Oh my goodness you are in for an excellent 12 hours or so of listening time with Serial. I am hugely impatient for series 2 :) X


Ta v.much :)

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