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Moving pictures 2017, #27

Not sure what to make of this batch of films – I thought them all well worth seeing, and a pretty good illustration why varying the films you watch is a good thing. I’ve seen a lot of excellent films because I no longer immediately turn to Hollywood for something to watch of a night. In fact, so far this year, less than a quarter of the movies I’ve watched have been from the US – but I still have a way to go before the percentage of all of the films I’ve watched (since I started recording them back in 2001) that are from the US drops below 50 percent… Admittedly, it’s currently at 52 percent, so not there’s not that far to go… But I’ve seen a lot of films, so it’s taking a while to get those last few points down…

Journey to Agartha, Makoto Shinkai (2011, Japan). This was the second Shinkai film lent to me by David Tallerman – on Blu-ray this time. He thought I might not enjoy it as much as other Shinkai films as it’s clearly fantastical. But… I’m not dead-set against fantasy, I just like it to be used interestingly. And, to be fair, the whole Agartha mythology is something that’s fascinated me for a number of years. True, Journey to Agartha goes off on some wild tangent pretty much totally unconnected with the mythology, but I knew where it was starting from, which is a bonus. A teenage girl, Asuna, spends much of her free time hanging out at a hideout she has discovered on a hill, tuning into strange music with a crystal radio set. Returning home from one such session, she is attacked by a weird-looking creature, like a cross between a bear and a dinosaur. She’s saved by a mysterious young man, who seems to have magical powers. The young man says he is from Agartha, a name Asuna hears a few days later in something read out in class by a substitute teacher. Anyway, Agartha is a mythical realm on the inside of the earth (hollow earth and all that). Asuna finds another mysterious young man at her hideout, also from Agartha. They’re attacked by men in paramilitary uniform, there’s a fight… and Asuna ends up entering Agartha with the substitute teacher, who, it transpires, wants to bring his wife back from the land of the dead (which, to be fair, confuses hollow earth mythology with the underworld, not mention chucking in elements of the Orpheus myth… but it works, so what the hell). It’s certainly true this film is fantastical, in much the same way as Spirited Away is, but I much preferred it to the Studio Ghibli movie. The world of Agartha was presented really well, and while the story may be a little confused in places (a lot happens), the animation is lovely and the production design inventive. Recommended.

Born to be Bad, Lowell Sherman (1934, USA). My mother lent me a boxed set of Cary Grant films, some of which I’d  not seen before. This was one of them. It’s a pre-code film from 1934, in which Loretta Young is actually the star… although a Loretta Young box set is unlikely to ever happen, whereas there are already plenty of Cary Grant box sets… Young plays a single mother, with a son she has left to do pretty much as he pleases. Until he gets hit by a milk truck. Driven by Grant. Who turns out to be the wealthy president of Amalgamated Dairies. Young is persuaded to try and sue Grant by exagerrating the extent of her son’s injuries (he was shaken and bruised), but in court Grant’s lawyers demolish Young’s case. The boy is put in a home. Grant offers to adopt him. The adoption goes ahead, and the kid thrives in his new wealthy home. But Young doesn’t like the arrangement and seduces Grant in order to break up his marriage. It doesn’t work. Realising she’s done him wrong, Young returns to her meagre life. This wasn’t bad (no pun intended), to be honest. Young plays a good part, and her character is a strong female protagonist. It’s not that the film is feminist, but it’s a damn sight closer than most films of that decade… or indeed the following two or three decades. It’s an early Grant film (well, his sixteenth… of seventy-six), so he’s bouncy rather than urbane… which doesn’t quite work here. But Young carries the film – and yes, her kid is an annoying brat. Worth seeing.

Do the Right Thing*, Spike Lee (1989, USA). Lee has a couple of films on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, and he’s clearly an important film-maker in US cinema – although the fact it took until the 1980s for someone like him to appear doesn’t speak too well. He documents the black lived experience in the US – although more so, I thought, in She’s Gotta Have It than in this one. Do the Right Thing is set in a black neighbourhood of Brooklyn, and centres around a pizzeria owned by an Italian-American family. There are racial tensions between the pizzeria family – one son is outright racist, the father and other son are not, but the father is protective of his heritage to a degree that upsets some 0f his customers. The film focuses on a handful of characters, none of which are especially sympathetic, and then shows the events leading up to a night of violence, during which the pizzeria is trashed and the police kill one of the protestors – and, of course, the police get away with it. Do the Right Thing is a hugely more polished film than She’s Gotta Have It and, obviously, much more political. It boasts a professional cast, and while none are stars, one or two went on to become quite big. It also feels curiously small scale – it’s set in a single neighbourhood, but there never seems to be as many people around as you’d expect. So how the pizzeria manages to stay in business is a bit of a mystery. Do the Right Thing belongs on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, although it’s one of the more middling films which actually deserve a place on it.

Black Girl, Ousmane Sembène (1966, Senegal). Diouana is hired as a nursemaid by a French family living in Dakar. She looks after the family’s kids, takes them to school, makes sure they’re fed, etc. When the family return to France, they ask Diouana to go with them, and she accepts. She assumes her duties will be the same, but back home in France, the family are not affluent enough to afford more than one servant – so Diouana has to do everything. She quickly realises she is only there because a black housekeeper is something to show off. She’s over-worked, under-paid, and given little or no freedom. The film is played very simply, with straight shots and a voice-over narration by Diouanna. It’s structured as Diouanna’s life in France intercut with flashbacks which explain how she came to be there, and it’s pretty harrowing stuff. That Diouanna was desperate for a job to support her family is made clear, but the fact the French family totally take advantage of her – and this is why we needed film-makers like Sembène – is documented, and occasionally editorialised by Diouana, with an honesty you won’t find in French films of the time. The ending is shocking, and sadly inevitable. The callousness of the French family is astonishing, as is their patronising racism. It’s a shame there are not more films by Sembène available – or indeed by any director from an African nation. Did you know, for example, that the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is the third largest in the world, second only to Bollywood and Hollywood? How many Nollywood films are routinely given English-language releases on sell-through? The Figurine: Araromire by Kunli Afolayan is considered a major film from Nigeria, but despite being only eight years old it’s never been made available in the UK (or the US, as far as I can discover). Non-Anglophone cinema (I’ve never liked the term “world cinema”) should not just be the province of dedicated cineastes, it should be on equal terms with Anglophone cinema.

Kamikaze Girls, Tetsuya Nakashima (2004, Japan). Once again, I texted David Tallerman and asked him, “WTF am I watching?” He suggested I stick with the film, and, to be fair, it was a good call. Every now and again we meet up and swap the titles of films we think good, and David borrows my phone and adds a bunch of movies I’ve never heard of to my rental lists using the LoveFilm app. I return the favour, of course – earlier tonight, as I write this, he asked me if the Chadian film A Screaming Man was one of my recommendations and admitted it was very good. (Yes, it was one of mine.) Having said that, David’s taste in films is a little… stranger than my own. Kamikaze Girls is something I’d never have watched unless prompted, and I’d have missed out on what is actually a pretty good movie. The title refers to two high school girls, a Lolita and a biker girl, who become unlikely friends. There’s a very cartoony style to the cinematography and it works really well – it’s sort of a toned-down version of Japanese television shows, the ones with the flashing graphics and pop-up kanji/kana. There’s not much to the plot – it’s bit like Cinderella, a bit like West Side Story. It’s also a huge amount of fun, and even the Jamie Hewlett-style animation sequence in the middle works pretty good (it’s also a much better film than Tank Girl). Definitely worth seeing.

Mother Joan of the Angels, Jerzy Kawalerowicz (1961, Poland). Polish historical drama is starting to feel a bit like a specific genre, given I’ve now seen a number of them. But I could also say the same for 1970s Polish dramas, which I love – although to be fair the Poles do historical drama really well, I’m just not so keen on it as a genre. The title of this film refers to an abbess who is supposedly possessed by the devil. A priest is sent to investigate, and what he witnesses seems to validate what has been said about the convent. To be honest, I don’t get this demonisation (literally) of female sexuality, or indeed of women in general. I mean, it’s not like the title character was really possessed by a demon. It’s a metaphor, obviously. Although played literally in the film. But women weren’t burnt at the stake, or drowned, or whatever barabaric execution method men of the time thought appropriate, because their bodies had been actually taken over by imaginary creatures. Organised religion is, after all, ninety percent politics (and a great proportion of that must be sexual politics).  Mother Joan of Angels is effectively staged and shot in black and white. It’s like Ken Russell’s The Devils, but without the excess. Or not so much excess, anyway. In other words, the possessed nuns keep their habits on. And the protagonist is an everyman, rather than some sort of melodramatic hero. Now, I think The Devils is an excellent film, and probably Russell’s best – but it’s good because it’s excessive. Mother Joan of the Angels covers similar ground, but with a stark aesthetic that works just as well. There’s also a level of fatalism and black humour to Kawalerowicz’s film that Russell’s lacks; but then the British have always been piss-poor at fatalism and a bit hit-and-miss at black humour (but we are masters of self-deprecating humour, an entirely useless, and not espeically marketable, talent). A Polish film will present the viewer with a bad but inevitable situation… and that is the joke. A British film will present the viewer with a bad but inevitable situation… and then add jokes. Um, on reflection, I’m not sure the former is unique to Polish films, as I’ve seen something similar in Romanian films. And others can no doubt name other nations where it applies. But. The Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema volumes 1, 2 and 3 box sets were not cheap purchases, but they were totally worth buying. With these and Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project (wich includes a wonderful restoration of A River Called Titas!), I now think much more highly Scorsese than I ever did after watching his movies…

1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die count: 864


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Moving pictures 2017, #26

Another six films and another six countries. Sadly, one of them is the US, and it wasn’t a film I would have watched otherwise – but it was on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die list, although I’ve no idea why…

Rushmore*, Wes Anderson (1998, USA). I’ve seen a bunch of Anderson’s films and I’m not a fan. I hate whimsy. But Rushmore was on the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list, so I watched it. And while it wasn’t as gratuitously whimsical as some of his later films, it was just as annoying. The title refers to the posh private school at which the lead character, Max Fischer, is a pupil. And he’s hugely unlikeable and annoying. He’s a poor student, but they can’t get rid of him because he’s far too good at defending himself. Then he meets a bored industrialist, the father of two meathead pupils at Rushmore, and the two become unlikely friends. Fischer persuades the industrialist, played by Bill Murray, in what was apparently a career-revitialising role, to fund an aquarium at Rushmore, an idea he’s conceived in order to win the affections of new teacher, Olivia Williams. Rushmore is entirely about Fischer, and he pissed me off from the moment he first appeared on-screen. I get that this is deliberate, but I don’t see the point of it.Why would I want to watch a film about an annoying little shit? Why would anyone? Why would they even think that was a good idea? Oh well, at least I can cross it off the list.

Dogtooth, Yorgos Lanthimos (2009, Greece). I forget why I put this on my rental list, someone must have recommended it to me but I can’t think who. It was probably David Tallerman; he recommends weird films. A husband and wife have three grown-up children they’ve kept completely isolated from the outside world, even giving them fake meanings to words they stumble across, like “zombie”. The father pays for a security guard at his plant to come and have sex with his son, but the security guard is more interested in cunnilingus with the two daughters. It’s hard to describe quite how odd this film is. It works really well – the three children are cruel and naive, the parents’ motives for the deception are by turns both understandable and completely insane. Lanthimos filmed Dogtooth very simply, with static scenes and realistic dialogue, and it works really well. It’s not a film that bears rewatching – it’s just too damn unsettling – but it’s certainly a film worth seeing. There’s something very Haneke-ish about the story, and I’m a huge Haneke fan. Recommended.

Knife in the Water, Roman Polanski (1962, Poland). I hadn’t known Polanski – or Polański, as he’s given here – was in these box sets, although I suspect I’d have bought them anyway despite his presence. Because, let’s be fair, his is a career that should not be supported – he’s still wanted in the US for a sex crime, after all. Knife in the Water is actually his first feature film, and was the first Polish film nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Sadly, it’s a technically impressive film, but narratively feels like it owes far too many debts to far too many other films. Much of the action takes place aboard a sail boat on a lake, and the fact Polanski managed to film his cast of three out on the water is impressive. The story is less impressive. A well-off couple on their way to their boat for a weekend on the water, nearly run over a hitchhiker. They offer him a lift, and later invite him onboard their boat. It’s a chance for the husband to show off in front of his wife, because the young hitchhiker knows nothing about sailing. Later, the hitch-hiker jumps overboard and hides behind a buoy, faking his drowning. The husband swims to shore to fetch help. The hitchhiker then climbs aboard the yacht, witnesses the wife naked, seduces her… and when the boat returns to the dock and the waiting husband, the hitchhiker is long gone. On the drive home, the wife admits she had sex with the hitchhiker. The story is fairly humdrum, but the way the film is made is technically clever.

5 Centimetres per Second, Makoto Shinkai (2007, Japan). I borrowed this from David Tallerman after watching Shinkai’s The Garden of Words and wanting to see more by him. The title refers to, as the film helpfully explains early on, the speed at which cherry blossom falls to the ground. I’m not sure that’s true, but never mind. The film consists of three linked stories. In the first, a boy and a girl at school become friends, but their families move away from each other. In the second, a classmate becomes enamoured of the boy from the first part, but his heart still belongs to the girl of the first part. In the final section, the two characters lead unconnected lives, but still dream of each other. And then they seem to meet one another but do not connect. Like every Shinkai film I’ve seen, the animation is gorgeous, either photo-realistic or wonderfully painterly. There’s some particularly lovely animation when the two main characters witness a rocket launch, but it’s hard to pick a favourite moment as it all looks so fantastic. And yes, the story is low-key and not a fat lot happens in it – there are no mecha, no kaiju, no science fiction or fantasy elements… but that’s one of the reasons why I like Shinkai’s films so much. I’m tempted to get my own copies, in fact.

No, Pablo Larraín (2012, Chile). This is the third film in Larraín’s trilogy about Pinochet, and I’m guessing the two earlier films are Tony Manero and Post Mortem, as Wikipedia doesn’t make it clear that the films are linked. I guess I’ll have to watch them now as I thought this very good. Gael García Bernal plays an advertising man who is hired by the “No” side in the 1988 referendum in Chile over whether Pinochet should remain in power. Happily, the Chileans voted for an open election and not for more military dictatorship (see, Britain, it is possible to vote intelligently in a referendum). According to Wikipedia, “the “No” campaign, created by the majority of Chile’s artistic community, proved effective with a series of entertaining and insightful presentations that had an irresistible cross-demographic appeal. By contrast, the “Yes” campaign’s advertising, with only dry positive economic data in its favor” – which sounds uncomfortably familiar, although the No campaign didn’t resort to outright lies as both the Leave.eu and Vote Leave campaigns did here (but then racism always has “cross-demographic appeal”). No presents the campaign, and the government’s response to it, as dry drama – quite talky drama, in fact. Bernal is good in the lead role, unsurprisingly; but it did feel a little like the focus on the adverts used by either side in the referenderum undercut the importance of the vote and the horror of Pinochet’s regime. But perhaps the latter point is covered better in Tony Manero and Post Mortem. Happily, there is a box set of all three films – No to Pinochet: The Pablo Larraín Collection – and I’ve already stuck it on my wishlist.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Kabir Khan (2015, India). I’m not sure which has surprised the Indian guys I work with the most – the fact I don’t like cricket, or that I watch Bollywood movies. Anyway, I’d put Bajrangi Bhaijaan on my rental list after seeing it on some list of good Bollywood movies, and they all approved it. And while I’ve enjoyed a number of Bollywood films I’ve seen, I thought this one was really quite good. A six-year-old girl born in Pakistani Kashmir is mute. Her mother takes her to Delhi to a shrine where all promises are realised, but on the train journey home the girl gets off the train and is left behind in India. She comes ascross Salman Khan, a simple but pathologically honest young man, who vows to reunite her with her family, even if it jeopardises his relationship with his fiancée. So he finds a way to sneak into Pakistan, via smuggler’s tunnel – but even then, he asks for permission from the Pakistani border patrol to enter the country… and when they refuse, he tries again until they accept. There’s an amusing scene where all three are performing ablutions in a river, and they ask the young girl if she had done a number one or two and she replies two… Khan is good as the well-intentioned but somewhat dim-witted title character, and while you know the film is going to end happily, it takes its time getting there. It’s worth the trip, though. The production values are astonishingly high, and there’s some excellent landscape photography. Although it didn’t follow the usual boy-meets-girl boy-loses-girl plot of your typical Bollywood film, this is probably one of the best ones I’ve seen. Oh, and this is the first film I’ve ever seen which lists the production company’s tax counsel among the opening credits.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 864


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Reading diary, #48

I’m still struggling with my reading, and slipping further behind on my Goodreads challenge. It’s not the books I’ve been choosing to read, because most of them I’ve enjoyed and thought good, and none were hard work to get through. I love books, I love reading, and I want to read as many books as I possibly can. So I’m going to have to get back into it somehow… The books are a bit male-heavy this time around. I usually alternate genders in my fiction reading, but I seem to have had a short run on books by male authors. Ah well, it’ll balance out in the end.

The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet, Patrick Keiller (2012, UK). Keiller is a film-maker, best-known for London, Robinson in Space and Robinson in Ruins, which are excellent lightly fictionalised cinematic meditations on the state of the UK, both economically and politically. He’s a bit like Adam Curtis, but without the found footage and global conspiracies. The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet was published to accompany an exhibition of Keiller’s work – which I never saw as I only discovered his work after it had been on – and describes how Keiller went about making Robinson in Ruins, his thought processes as he wrote the script and what inspired him. It’s fascinating stuff. And you should definitely watch the films too.

Europe in Winter, Dave Hutchinson (2016, UK). This is the third book of the trilogy, but there’s apparently a fourth book in the works. Which is no bad thing, as it’s been an excellent series so far – and I’m not the only person to think so, as Europe in Winter won the BSFA Award only last month (although, bafflingly, it didn’t make the Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist; should I blog what I think of this year’s Clarke shortlist, or are we not allowed to have dissenting opinions any more?). It’s more of the same like Europe in Autumn, rather than Europe at Midnight, and in part follows on from the plot of the first more than that second. There’s a terrorist attack on the Line, and Rudi discovers his own father was heavily involved with a bunch of rogue topographers from the 1920s who might or might not have been responsible for an entirely separate pocket universe that might or might not be part of the Community. The person who promised so much in the the second book is assassinated from a distance in this one, abruptly cutting off that particular avenue of exploration by the narrative… Where these books are especially good – and it’s not the melding of sf and spy thriller, which has been done before, although no examples spring immediately to mind – but these books’ true strength is in depicting Europe as a coherent federation of cultures. They’re not entirely harmonious cutures, which is hardly unexpected, but the Europe books exhibit a magnificent sense of place. They could not have been written by a US author, that much is obvious; it’s slightly surprising they were written by a Brit… because the best European fiction has always been written by continental Europeans, not Brits. It’s an impressive achievement, which means cavilling over elements of the plots seems, well, cheap. But there are holes – the opening bombing is never satisfactorily explained, there’s always a sense the author is following a different agenda to his characters (and his readers must follow the characters’, of course), and there are one or two set-pieces which hint at a level of technology that’s never quite capitalised upon. But these are are minor quibbles. These are great books, superior near-future sf, and I’d put them in the top five of recent near-fututre sf with, er, Ken McLeod’s Intrusion – and that’s about it. Go read all three books.

Pirate Utopia, Bruce Sterling (2016, USA). Which a lot of people probably don’t know about as it seems someone fucked up the Nielsen data entry so badly that Amazon lists the book as by John Coulthart, Rick Klaw and Warren Ellis, and doesn’t mention Bruce Sterling anywhere. But now you know about it, and being a fan of Sterling’s work… Apparently, after World War I, the city of Fiume, now Rijeka, was claimed by both Italy and the recently-formed Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. But a group of anarchists, led by the Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, seized power and declared the independent Regency of Carnaro. The city became something of a social experiment, but the fascists seized control after a couple of years and Fiume was annexed by Italy. Sterling’s short novel makes much of the birth of Futurism – indeed, the major character dreams of building “air torpedoes” and such, the sort of technology displayed in Lang’s Metropolis. But Pirate Utopia is also about the birth of fascism in Italy, and how it gained traction among the establishment. Of course, we’re seeing that happen on a daily basis here in the UK and the US. Pirate Utopia is a fascinating piece of history, but… as a piece of writing it felt a little lacking. Sterling was never much of a stylist, but I remember novels such as Distraction and Holy Fire being well-written novels. Pirate Utopia, on the other hand, seems to be written entirely in simple declarative sentences, which makes all feel a bit dumbed-down. I get that there’s a lot going on in the book, but it does feel a little Like Sterling didn’t trust his readers and so kept it simple. I suspect this is one for fans.

Bleed Like Me, Cath Staincliffe (2013, UK). I was a big fan of the Scott & Bailey TV series – and certainly for at least the first two series (or “seasons”, for US readers) it was superior telly. It slipped a bit in the third, and while it’s still very good it has seemed to lose its way a bit. And, to be honest, the 2016 series consisted only of three episodes, none of which were hugely memorable. The books are, sadly, much the same. I like that they’re built around the series, and include details revealed in the programme, but they’re otherwise straightforward police procedurals, heavy on the procedural and personal life of the two title characters (one of the series’ strengths, it must be said). In this book, a pub owner kills his wife, daughter and brother-in-law and then flees with his young son. The rest of the book is a manhunt – this is not a murder-mystery. They know who committed the crime, they just have to find him before he kills the young child he has with him. Meanwhile, Bailey is still trying to get over her relationaship with, and attempted murder by, her ex-boyfriend. Scott is having problems at home, which is not helped by her fling with a colleague, and syndicate leader Murray is worried about her son who has moved in with his estranged father and no longer seems interested in going to university. To be honest, I was expecting more in the way of plot. The manhunt is really dragged out, and reading this several years, and several series, after it was written, and so all the subplots have been resolved, kind of spoiled it a bit. But they’re easy reads, I like the characters, and if I stunble across the next one in a charity shop I’ll probably buy it and read it.

Those Who Can: A Science Fiction Reader, Robin Scott Wilson, ed. (1973, USA). I found this at Eastercon, and while it was quite tatty, and most of the contents wouldn’t normally appeal to me, but the fact it was a mix of short stories followed by essays by the authors on writing those stories, and some of the names involved included Delany, Le Guin and Russ, so I thought it worth a bash. It also included a story by the editor. I don’t get that. If you edit an anthology, you do not include one of our own stories. It’s hugely unethical. I don’t even care if you’re a co-editor. You edit, you do not contribute. It  makes you look bad, it makes everyone involved in the anthology look bad. And Scott Wilson’s story in this particular anthology, which is otherwise quite good, is easily the worst. As it is, the stories are variable – the Russ, ‘The Man Who Could Not See Devils’, is not one of her better ones, but the following essay is quite interesting. The Delany is ‘We, in Some Strange Power’s Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line’, which has always felt to me, in part, like a prototype for Dhalgren, and is one of those Delany stories I like more the more often I read it. His essay on the piece is especially good, and his approach to writing echoes my own in many ways. Le Guin contributes ‘Nine Lives’, the story about a ten-clone, and it’s okay. Damon Knight annotates his own story, ‘Masks’, although annotations overstate the literary quality of the story. And Kate Wilhelm’s dissection of her story ‘The Planners’ gives some useful tips on point of view. As a sf anthology, Those Who Can is middling at best, but the essays on writing greatly improve it. It’s a pity my copy is so tatty.

The Opportune Moment, 1855, Patrik Ouředník (2006, Czech Republic). I read Ouředník’s Europeana back in 2006, after something in the blurb persuaded me I might enjoy it. I loved it. I even picked it as one of my top five books of the year. I was less enamoured of his Case Closed, although it was good enough for me to continue to read him. The Opportune Moment, 1855, despite its unwieldy title, is not as good as Europeana, but it’s still huge fun. The novel opens with a letter from an Italian in 1902 to his beloved, before moving back half a century to the titular year and the journal of an Italian anarchist who travels to Brazil with a group of like-minded souls – well, not entirely like-minded, as they bicker and argue throughout the trip – to join a utopian community called Fraternitas. The book then jumps to six months after their arrival, and gives four slightly different entries on the first few months in the community. In each of them, the community fails because of the failings of its members; and while it makes for good satire to poke fun at idealism, not everyone is venal and corrupt despite all their protestations of high ideals. Ouředník is definitely worth reading, and The Opportune Moment, 1855, is very good, but it does feel a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, and even though the book is very funny in parts, and very good on human nature, I prefer my utopian fiction with a happy ending. Oh, and I’d really like to see more of Ouředník’s fiction translated into English.

1001 Books you Must Read Before You Die count: 129


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Moving pictures 2017, #25

My first Vietnamese film is in this post. I was sure I’d seen a movie from that country, but if I have I’d never recorded it. So The Lady Assassin earns the dubious distinction of being my first film from Vietnam. Otherwise, six films equals six countries.

The Last Day of Summer, Tadeusz Konwicki (1958, Poland). Despite having seen a number of Polish films, and being a fan of several Polish directors – although not so much Kieślowski these days, who I recently decided is somewhat middle-brow – I don’t know all that much about the cinema of the country. Konwicki’s name, for example, is completely new to me. And the place he occupies, and the place this film occupies, in Polish cinema is also unknown to me. So I’ve no real idea why it’s in the second box set of Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, which is not something I could have said of several of the films in the set. Anyway, A MiG fighter dives on a beach, a man and a woman meet on a beach, and, er, that’s pretty much it. I didn’t really get this film, to be honest. It felt experimental, in the way many Polish films of the 1950s and 1960s were experimental (and in a way the resolutely commercial cinemas of the US, UK and France, for example, of the time – other than in their independent or avant garde cinema traditions – were not). The Last Day of Summer bears rewatching, perhaps even demands it, so the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema sets have proven smart purchases in that respect – and these days, my main criterion when purchasing films on DVD or Blu-ray is whether I will want to, or need to, watch it a number of times. The Last Day of Summer is perhaps in the bottom half of the eight films in this box set, but it’s a strong box set so that’s no bad thing.

Cosmos, Andrzej, Żuławski (2015, France). This was Żuławski’s last film – he died in February 2016 – and while it’s clearly a film only he could have made, it doesn’t seem quite as intensely bonkers as some of his others. It’s still OTT, at least in comparison to other films of its type, but that’s hardly unexpected. It just seems tame as a Żuławski film… Which does not mean it’s not worth watching. To be fair, Żuławski was a singular talent who made singular films, most of which are probably not to everyone’s taste. I find him a bit hit and miss, but I appreciate his misses as much as I adore his hits. I think, for example, that Na srebrnym globie is actually improved by the random footage of shopping centres, added to cover the gaps Żuławski never managed to film a decade before. And L’amour bracque is the most 1980s film ever made, which makes your eyes water, but that has to earn respect. Cosmos doesn’t feel like a film to end a career on, n0t that it was ever intended to be, but sadly that’s what we must take it as. Żuławski was always technically excellent, and it shows here – more so, in fact, because the technology allows him to better realise his vision. The story has the vague shape of a French cinema standard, but Żuławski makes of it something that is uniquely his own, and does it in a way that is both technically superior to his other films but not quite as emblematic of his career as those earlier films were. Worth seeing, although Żuławski fans will get more mileage from it. I’m a fan.

The Lady Assassin, Quang Dung Nguyen (2013, Vietnam). I’m not sure why I bunged this on the rental list – perhaps after watching Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin, its title persuaded me it might be similar. It isn’t. But neither was it as bad as it could have been. Which feels a bit like damning it with faint praise, or at least a faint insult… when it actual fact it proved quite entertaining. The film opens with a funeral party in mediaeval Vietnam coming across a remote inn staffed by four young women. The women initially refuse them hospitality, but eventually agree to let them stay. Midway through their meal, the women attack and prove to be accomplished assassins (who do tricks with a ball on a long ribbon, which they kick). It turns out the inn is a trap, and the women kill all those who stay there. But this time, they discover a woman hiding in the funeral party. She is fleeing a plot against her family, of which sh’es the only survivor. She is offered the opportunity to stay on at the inn, train as an assassin and thus have revenge on her family’s killers. She accepts the offer. And, er, that’s about it. There’s a strange sort of volleyball game, where they have to kick the ball not punch it. There are lessons on cleaning the inn by rolling up and down ropes. It’s all hugely implausible but still entertaining. The pulpy cover art doesn’t do the film any favours, but it’s worth seeing nonetheless.

Track 29, Nicolas Roeg (1988, UK). Having watched the three Roeg films ninety-nine percent of film-watchers can name – ie, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Walkabout – I decided to explore his oeuvre a little more. (Yes, okay, some people might also know of Roeg’s debut, Performance, but I’ve not actually watched that yet.) Anyway, the first Roeg rental off the list was this one, Track 29, and… it’s an odd piece. It’s like a cross between David Lynch and Ken Russell. Which is just as unpalatable as it sounds. Gary Oldman plays a young Brit looking for his birth mother, Theresa Russell, an American, who turns out to be married to Christopher Lloyd, a doctor who spends more time with his train set than his wife. Except perhaps Gary Oldman is not real, and Russell’s relationship with him is just a fantasy of hers… Whatever ambivalence Roeg might have initially tried for he quickly drops in favour of Russell-seque (Ken, that is) excess. So we see Lloyd’s train set, and home, destroyed in a number of impressive ways, but none of them are real. It’s all a bit hyper-dramatic. I remember the performances in Walkabout being quite laid back, but everyone in Track 29 gurns like a Carry On star. Oldman’s OTT performance in this is matched only by his performance in Besson’s The Fifth Element. After seeing Roeg’s three best-known films, I ‘d expected more of him. I’ll try some more of his films, but I’ve no idea what happened here, that the man who directed The Man Who Fell to Earth could produce a piece of sub-Russell-esque nonsense. Um, I see his film just prior to this was Castaway, which I seem to remember didn’t do very well…

Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg (2016, USA). My fascination with deep sea exploration, such as using saturation diving (which is, to be fair, almost entirely commercial these days), has extended a little to the design of offshore structures. I find oil rigs and their like interesting – although I didn’t especially enjoy my one visit to an offshore supercomplex back in 2001, as I’m not fond of heights… Anyway, Deepwater Horizon is a dramatisation of the events of April 2010, when the titular rig exploded and caused a massive oil spill that posioned much of the Gulf  of Mexico and cost BP billions of dollars in fines. The film pretty much recounts the events leading up to the explosion, and ignores all the political shenanigans which followed. The thing to remember about BP is that it was originally called Anglo-Iranian Oil and is reponsible for two regime changes in that country. So this is a company with a history of putting profit before people. As it is, Deepwater Horizon the film is populated by gruff everyman oil riggers who try to do their jobs to the best of their abilities in a solwly-worsening situation that management seems to content to ignore. This is neither unique to the oil industry, nor uncommon. But for the oil industry, the consequences of failure are much higher. And much more expensive. Not that the film makes much of this aspect. It’s a workmanlike piece – it stars Mark Wahlberg, so of course it is – and the special effects are done well (Berg is usually good with sfx), but making a hero out of John Q Public during a preventable disaster is a good way of deflecting criticism from those who could have prevented it. Deepwater Horizon makes a show of finger-pointing, but it’s feeble at best. I enjoyed the film because I’m interested in oil rigs, but that’s about all it has going for it. After all, this is a director whose most interesting film to date has been Battleship, a piece of sf nonsense based on a boardgame, but which managed to do more interesting things genre-wise than Michael Bay’s entire output…

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie, Kunihiko Ikuhara (1999, Japan). I’d asked David Tallerman if I could borrow a couple of his anime DVDs, particularly the Makoto Shinkai ones, and for reasons best known to himself he threw in Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie (or Adolescence of Utena, as Wikipedia has it). After I’d finished the film, I texted him: “WTF have I just watched?” There’s a line in Wikipedia’s plot summary for the movie which perfectly sums it up: “Utena is then inexplicably swallowed by a sporadic car wash, and, inside, she is metamorphosed into a pink car”. Um, yes. It started well enough, although I wasn’t too keen on the stylised art – pointy noses, big eyes, long writhing hair in a variety of implausible colours, tiny torsos and long skinny legs – but hey, that’s like such a popular style it’s become part of the iconography. And the story too throws you straight in at the deep-end, with princes and fencing and a Rose Bride, and just enough not-exactly-subtle exposition to further confuse… But just when the pieces start slotting together, it goes completely batshit insane. Not just the aforementioned “sporadic [sic] car wash” and the ensuing Death Race, but the castle on wheels which tries to crush the pink car, and all of it enfolded in the sort of metaphysical/philosophical framework that you dare not think about too hard in case it comes crashing down about your ears. And yet… the film lingers. It’s not only dramatic, or even melodramatic, it’s two-dimensional animated characters actually chewing the scenery like the shark in Jaws, Jaws 2 and even Jaws 3D. Just when the story starts to add up… it veers away into babble. It makes for an interesting, and memorable, viewing experience. I don’t think I’ll ever become a fan of this sort of anime – sorry, David; I prefer my anime more like Only Yesterday – but I’m still glad I got to see Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie.

1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die count: 863


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Moving pictures 2017, #24

I’m continuing to watch a varied selection of films, which does make me wonder why people limit themselves to the latest Hollywood blockbusters…

The Case of Hana and Alice, Shunji Iwai (2015, Japan). David Tallerman has recommended a number of films to me, both anime and live action, and they’ve generally been good calls – more so for the latter than the former, as he’s a big anime fan and I’m not. But… I really liked this. (It’s anime, incidentally,) Perhaps because I like anime that isn’t overtly fantastic or about mecha – well, except for the Neon Evangelion films, that is – as witnessed by the fact my favourite Ghibli films are Only Yesterday, Ocean Waves and From Up On Poppy Hill. But I do also own a copy of Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise, so who knows, one day I might sign on fully  to it… A teenage girl moves to a new town and is bullied by the her new classmates as they claim she is the “Judas”, a girl in the class who was murdered the prevous year. The only person who can shed light on this mystery is Hana, Alice’s next-door neighbour, who no longer attends school. The art is very clean-line, without some of the exaggerations normally found in anime, and I liked it for that. It’s not entirely mainstream, however, as there some low-key fantastical elements which appear. But the whole thing is so stylishly done that it’s hard not to like it. David has recommended  several films I’ve considered adding to my collection, but I think this is the first anime film he’s suggested that I’d like to own a copy of (I think it was Jonathan McCalmont who recommended Neon Genesis Evangelion). Looking on a certain online retailer, there appears to a Blu-ray edition of The Case of Hana and Alice (but not cheap!) – I might well add it to my next basket…

The Harder They Come*, Perry Henzell (1972 Jamaica). I had somehow got this linked in my mind with Superfly from the same year, possibly because both were films about the black experience in the US, except it turns out The Harder They Come is a actually Jamaican film about reggae and any connection between it and Superfly were a product of my imagination (and, let’s be fair, a small amount of racism, which I try at all times to educate myself out of, but I’m white so it’s a 24/7 task). It doesn’t matter to me in what cultural milieu a film is set – I love Chinese films, I love Indian films, I love films from various African nations… among  many others – but The Harder They Come wrongfooted me because it wasn’t what I had mistakenly expected, and so I found it much more interesting than I’d anticipated. I am not, I must admit, a fan of reggae music, but I am a fan of cultural expressions that are deeply embedded in a nation’s culture – a consequence, I suspect, of growing up in Islamic countries – and reggae one hundred percent informs the story and style of The Harder They Come. It did not appeal to me so much, in the way, say, Easy Rider, another film very much tied to its music, did that I put it on my wishlist – but I came away from watching The Harder They Come considering it a film I’d be happy to recommend. Worth seeing.

Boccaccio ‘70, Mario Monicello, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti & Vittorio De Sica (1962, Italy). Those Italians and their anthology films. I’ve seen a few of them now, and all seem to have featured names known pretty well internationally, even at the time the anthology film was made. I mean, Monicollo might be a bit of an unknown, but in 1972 Fellini, Visconti and De Sica must have been household names around the world among cineastes. Boccaccio was apparently “an important Renaissance humanist”, although there is likely a subtlety to the Italian use of the word I am missing here completely. I mean, I don’t even understand why they called it Boccaccio ’70 when it was released in 1962… Anyway, there are four segments, of varying degrees of success. The opening one by Monicello is actually a pretty good realist drama, in which a company clerk hides her marriage because her boss disapproves of married women in his department and so she must put up with his flirting. Fellini’s segment is less subtle – a prude campaigns against a giant billboard of Anita Ekberg advertising milk and then finds himself terrorised by a giant Ekberg, and while it has all the implausibility of Fellini’s work it has none of the excess and so feels lacking; Visconti provides an extended vignette about an aristocratic couple whose marriage hits a rocky patch, and while Romy Schieder is a joy to watch, it’s hard to know what to make of the piece; and finally, De Sica has Sophia Loren as a carnival worker in so need of money she auctions off her body but then has second thoughts about what she promised, and it all seems predicated on some aspect of Italian male character that quite frankly passed me by. I’m all for having this film available to watch, and at least two of the segments are definitely worth watching… But then I have to wonder what better films did not get a UK release because this one did… and I’m less charitable toward it.

The Girl on the Train, Tate Taylor (2016, USA). You know when someone writes a novel set in the UK and it’s a bit unbelieveable but sort of plausible, but then they make a movie of it and transplant the story to the US and it’s totally implausible? That. The railways in London are so stitched into the urban landscape, and travel so slowly, that it’s eminently believable someone could see something odd from a train in an area they know and so seek to investigate… But in the US? Do posh houses even overlook railways? Do trains travel that slowly? The rest of the plot is something about a drunkard’s memory loss actually being gaslighting rather than true drunkeness, which is way more a British plot than a US one, so much so I’m frankly astonished someone in the US thought this might even fly with a US audience. But then I guess there’s no underestimating Hollywood’s underestimation of its audience’s capacity to swallow anything. The Girl on the Train is a dull and over-long thriller peopled with unlikeable characters that feels like it would have worked much better in its native country. One to avoid.

Illumination, Krzysztof Zanussi (1973, Poland). It took me three goes to watch this, and not just because I typically put it on late while a bottle of wine down. But it’s an experimental film in terms of narrative – indeed, it feels like it has none – and though it’s well-shot and has a well-drawn cast of characters, it’s hard to work out, even after a totally sober viewing, what to make of it. It’s a sort of’slice-0f-life of the central character, who is a physicist. He’s searching for meaning, while the film tries to avoid anything as bourgeois as a plot. I think it works, but chiefly because it does that thing Polish cinema of the 1970s does so well: ie, come across as highly intelligent television drama. It’s certainly a film to rewatch, and perhaps one day I’ll figure out what Zanussi was trying to achieve. Fortunately, it’s one of the Blu-rays in the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema box sets I bought, so I can watch it again whenever I want. On the one hand, it would be nice to “de-clutter” and get rid of the DVDs and Blu-rays I have piled everywhere; on the other hand, can I seriously expect a film like Illumination to be available to stream whenever I might want to rewatch it?

The Rainbow (BBC, 1988). One of the joys of Lawrence is that he’s there, straddling his works, very much a presence in the prose. One of the frustrations is that every sod and their progeny feels they have the “adapt” his work. True, his prose is open to interpretation – inasmuch as he’s so much better at some things than others – and also true, many of his works could not be adapted’for film or television given the lengths expected of similar material. But The Rainbow is not a complicated book, and for all its documenting of the Brangwen family history, the adaptor of the novel for this BBC version ended up with something very different to the novel. It has a good cast – Imogen Stubbs as Ursula Brangwen, Clare Holman as a badly under-written Gudrun Brangwen, Tom Bell as their father, and Jon Finch as the uncle Ursula goes to stay with. The major scenes from the novel are there, but the through-line is not the one I took away from the book, nor the one that Russell’s adaptation, released the following year, apparently took. Lawrence’s prose is never less than colourful, and this version of The Rainbow seemed to lose that. Lawrence also has a great sense of place, and I could not honestly say where this BBC adaptation was supposed to be set. I  suspect there’s no such thing as an ideal Lawrence adaptation, since everyone finds their own Lawrence in the books. But it’s telling that the best one I’ve found so far has been Pascale Ferran’s French-language film, Lady Chatterley

1001 Movies you Must Watch Before You Die count: 863


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Moving pictures 2017, #23

A few more US films than usual in this post, although one was a Disney, one an independent film, and the last a silent movie from the 1920s.

Peter Pan, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske (1953, USA). Look at that face on the DVD cover – doesn’t he look, well, a bit evil? I thought all the way through this Disney adaptation that Peter Pan looked impish, but more in the sense of a small devil than a prankster kid. I get that he’s completely immature and thoughtless – it’s there in every word he says and everything he does – but I’d never thought of him as a villain, or even an antihero. And yet, that’s how he’s characterised in Disney’s adaptation – not as a boy who didn’t grow up, though I suspect that’s a characterisation beyond Disney’s writers, and I say that as a boy who never grew up in some senses myself – hey, I read science fiction! – but Peter Pan as an evil force is a complete misrepresentation of the character. Although not altogether uninteresting, and the fact the Darlings are so ordinary and drawn so much like other ordinary families in Disney – comical dad, doting mother, responsible older sister – the whole thing feels like a bad mishmash of two or more movies. Peter Pan is, like many Disney classics, also a pantomime, with the title character played by a woman. As too is Tinkerbell (I forget who the dames are in pantomime Peter Pan), and who has become something of a Disney icon herself, with people cosplaying her just as much as they do all the Disney princess characters and, I think (although I’m not about to investigate), a whole line of Tinkerbell straight-to-DVD animated adventures. And yet Wendy Darling is clearly the most important, and best-drawn, character in the film, and probably the source text too – her invented name did, after all, become popular enough to be considered an ordinary name these days – but then Pan and Tinkerbell are all about the fantasy and Wendy is about making sense of it and who would be interested in that? I’d expected more of Disney’s Peter Pan. I certainly hadn’t expected to take against Pan himself because he looked so bloody evil. I don’t think this one will make my top ten of Disney films…

Springtime in a Small Town, Tian Zhuangzhuang (2002, China). This is a remake of the 1948 classic by Mu Fei, which is a film I very much like. And it’s always odd watching a remake of a film you admire because it makes you wonder why you admire the original film. And in this case… I’ve no idea. This remake is pretty close to the original, but what I like about Mu Fei’s version doesn’t really seem to exist here. I think the reason the original works is because it’s an historical film, made and set during the 1940s, whereas Springtime in a Small Town is set during an historical period but is a contemporary film. The story is the same –  a woman’s old boyfriend, now a doctor, comes to visit and to succour to the woman’s ailing husband, and their old love is rekindled, but never quite requited. The mannered nature of Mu Fei’s version fits brilliantly with the material – not for nothing is it considered one of China’s greatest films – but the same approach feels somewhat artificial in Tian’s remake. It’s a valiant effort, and certainly should have been attempted – it’s only when we attempt to recreate great works of the past that we come to truly appreciate them – but I suspect Springtime in a Small Town was always going to be an also-ran. That’s not always the case, of course: there have been remakes which eclipsed the original, such as Hitchcock’s remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much. Mu Fei’s original is a bona fide classic of Chinese cinema, but Tian’s remake is a bold attempt at recapturing it, which doesn’t quite make the grade. It’s a good film despite that, and had I seen it first I might well hold it in higher esteem. Worth seeing, but watch the original first.

David Holzman’s Diary*, Jim McBride (1967, USA). After making this film, McBride went on to make a raft of commercially-successful films for studios. In other words, he totally sold out. You have to wonder why. Because while David Holzman’s Diary has its faults – it’s pretty boring, for a start – it also has a great deal of originality. A young New Yorker decides to film his life, and is very forthright about how, and with what equipment, he plans to do so. But his girlfriend is none too happy with his decision, and throughout the film their relationship deteriorates quite badly. For most of its length, David Holzman’s Diary manages to convince with its premise, but there are times when its staged nature is a little too obvious – and it is, perversely, when it’s at its most cinema verité that it feels most fake. There’s a scene with a “goddess of the street” that feels both very real and also really staged, more because it feels like “Holzman” is forcing an encounter for the sake of his film where none would normally exist. I can see why David Holzman’s Diary made it onto the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list, but I suspect history has been less than kind to it, and will continue to be less kind to it as the years pass, than the list has supposed.

It’s All About Love, Thomas Vinterberg (2003, Denmark). Vinterberg’s Festen is the first official Dogme film and it is a bona fide classic. Which makes It’s All About Love, with its incredibly bland and uninteresting title, even more of a mystery. It has huge ambition, and I admire it for that. But it fails at pretty much everything, which is not totally a deal-breaker… but its interesting bits don’t quite add up to an interesting whole, which is a deal-breaker. Joaquin Phoenux and Claire Danes play a pair of Poles – she is a world-famous figure skater, he is married to her but their relationship has long since soured and now he’s stopping off in New York on the way to a new job in Canada in order to get her to sign divorce papers. But Danes is surrounded by a group of frankly creepy hangers-on and managers… Phoenix is given the run-around, but he’s not sure why – and it doesn’t help when his elder brother, played by Sean Penn, phones in randomly from several other scenes. It transpires Danes’s managers have hired four Russian ice skaters, and had them surgically altered to resemble Danes so they can take over her career, allowing her to retire, with, it’s proposed, Phoenix, as their relationship seems to have rekindled. But then there’s a slaughter on the ice, but the real Danes escapes, and she and Phoenix fly off to Russia and end up somewhere really cold where she dies of exposure. As I said before, It’s All About Love is all about ambition. The world is not our own, and there are thunking great clues dropped throughout the film – the resolution, in part, depends on the world Vinterberg has created. Sadly, none of it really convinces. The small details ought to, but the whole edifice teeters so much on the edge of disbelief that none of it helps. Festen is a great film, and I wanted to like It’s All About Love but, to be honest, it doesn’t even qualify as a noble failure, it’s just a failure.

El Desenlace, Juan Pinzás (2005, Spain). The Spanish do erotic thrillers really well, but I’m not convinced this falls into that description, despite being pretty much exclusively about sex. A director of a film, his producer (who is also his mistress), and the writer of the source novel, along with a prying journalist, all meet in Galicia to discuss the upcoming adaptation. El Desenlace has been promoted as a Dogme film, and it’s certainly shot on digital video with unflattering lighting, although it’s no Festen. Much of the film consists of the director character winding up the writer character over his choice of sexual partner – specifically a transgender cabaret artist who appears at a local nightclub. Which is where things get complicated – because the director’s producer  promises the cabaret artist a major career, while the cabaret artist has also decided it’s time to drop the writer sugar daddy. I can certainly understand why El Desenlace is touted as a Dogme film, but it’s also a very talky film – the entire plot is carried in dialogue – and for all its arguments, and its reliance of a central cast of four – five, including the cabaret artist – it doesn’t do a great deal with the material it has. Disappointing.

The Big Parade*, King Vidor (1925, USA). There’s always something slighlt risible about US films set during WWI. It was called the Great War, and The War to End All Wars, at the time, and World War 1 later, but the US calls it the 1917-18 War and likes to pretend it contributed – when it was only there for the last year and suffered only a tiny fraction of the damage suffered by European nations. So a film about the 1917-18 War from a major Hollywood studio, less than a decade after the war finished, is just adding fucking insult to injury. John Gilbert plays the playboy son a of a mill owner who signs up and discovers the horrors of war for himself. There is so much that is wrong with this film – it glorifies the US’s piss-poor contribution ot WW1, and it legitimises the existence of over-privileged nitwits like Gilbert’s character. Yet it all makes for top-notch Hollywood drama of its time. Vidor was no amateur, he knew his stuff. This is a silent film, and it had the full resources of Hollywood behind it. Some of the long shots, with the casts of hundreds, if not thousands, are impressive. But, please, stop valourising the rich, stop pretending the US won all the world wars, and stop fucking pretending you’re anything but a socially backward nation with access to relatively high technology. The Big Parade‘s position on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list is dubious at best, although on balance I’m currently tempted to let it remain.

1001 Movies You Musrt See Before You Die count: 862


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Books landing

The last few book haul posts I’ve photographed the new books on the landing, hence the title of this post. It’s been a while since the last such post, but then I’ve not bought all that many books in the past couple of months…

Some birthday presents – it was my birthday back in March, and it’s been that long since I last did a book haul post. Patrick Keiller is the man who made the films London, Robinson in Space and Robinson in Ruins. The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet is an accompanying text to Robinson in Ruins, and The View from the Train is a more general meditation by Keiller on his life and career. I’ve become a fan of Green’s writing, and some pretty new omnibus editions of three novels each have jus1t been published, so… Loving, Living, Party Going and Caught, Back, Concluding. He wasn’t very good at titles, was he?

Some recent sf. I’m glad Susan R Matthews is back in print after so long, so kudos to Baen for doing that… although the cover art to Blood Enemies is a bit naff. Her Under Jurisdiction series is recommended. The Memoirist is the fourth book of the first quartet NewCon Press’s new novella series. And New York 2140 is another mighty tome from Kim Stanley Robinson, whose books I’ve always admired, if not always liked.

Some recent crime. Prussian Blue is the latest in the Bernie Gunther series, and there’s at least one more to come, I think. I’ve read the first two Galbraith (ie, JK Rowling) novels, and they’re not great, but my mother lends them to me – she found Career of Evil in a charity shop – and they’re easy to read and entertaining enough.

A bit of a mix. Retribution Falls was on the Clarke shortlist several years ago, although its presence seemed to baffle many. I found this in a charity shop. The Circles of Power is the latest Valerian and Laureline – see here. I was so impressed with Alexievich’s Chernobyl Diary (see here), I bought Second-Hand Time when it was published. And The Ordinary Princess I found in a local charity shop, and bought because I’ve always liked MM Kaye’s historical novels, and even took the trouble to hunt down copies of her crime novel series so I could read them. I hadn’t known she’d written a children’s book.

When I decided to work my way through DH Lawrence’s oeuvre, I started out just picking up whatever books by him I found in charity shops. And then I stumbled across three all with the same design, and discovered Penguin had re-issued most of his works in a uniform paperback design back in the early 1970s. So I had to buy those ones, and only those ones. Like The Trespasser. I now have twenty-four of them, but it’s hard to find out what else is in the series. Some time later, I discovered Heinemann had published a hardback “Phoenix Edition” series of Lawrence’s works in, I think, thirty volumes, from the 1950s to the 1970s. And I’ve been picking those up as well, but they’re much harder to find. Kangaroo popped up on eBay recently (er, no pun intended). I have thirteen of them so far.