Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Hour

If you get BBC America as one of  your cable stations then you have no excuse not to watch The Hour tonight. There are three great reasons to watch in the above photograph, but there are also about a hundred more. It's like a cross between Mad Men and The Newsroom, if The Newsroom were good.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Patrick Melrose Novels

This is a little premature since I've only just read the first four of these books but that was because my edition--seen below--contains just the first four. If I had the fifth book (and, according to author Edward St. Aubyn, the last in the series), then I'd be reading it right now and not writing this. Yes, they are that good. Terrifying, philosophical, witty, touching, all of those things. How can they be so funny and also so horrifying? How can they be so cruel and also compassionate?

The semi-autobiographical books chronicle the life of Patrick Melrose, born into an aristocratic family. The first novel, Never Mind, covers the twenty-four hours in the five-year-old Patrick's life when he is first raped by his father. There is a lot of humor in this novel. Bad News takes place while a self-destructive heroin-addicted Patrick flies to New York to claim his father's body. Some Hope, the funniest of the novels, takes place at a country house party, and Mother's Milk, arguably the best of the lot, covers a succession of August holidays, in and out of the perspectives of Patrick's wife and two boys, the remarkable, unprecedented creations of Robert and Thomas.

What is really amazing about what St. Aubyn has done is just how specific the novels are to his own experience, to the traumas of rape and addiction, but also how universal the books are. That makes them sound sentimental. They are not. But they are constantly exploring the notion of identity and human experience in remarkable and sometimes terrifying ways.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Poetry Monday


by Robert Frost

 My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,      

Thinks these dark days of autumn rain    
Are beautiful as days can be;    
She loves the bare, the withered tree;      

She walks the sodden pasture lane.             
Her pleasure will not let me stay.      
She talks and I am fain to list:    
She’s glad the birds are gone away,    

She’s glad her simple worsted gray      
Is silver now with clinging mist.             
The desolate, deserted trees,      
The faded earth, the heavy sky,    

The beauties she so truly sees,    
She thinks I have no eye for these,     
And vexes me for reason why.             
Not yesterday I learned to know      

The love of bare November days    
Before the coming of the snow,    
But it were vain to tell her so,      
And they are better for her praise.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

I wasn't a hundred percent sold on this movie; there were some plot contrivances that hurt it for me, plus a character I found superfluous and distracting. But other than that, this was a highly enjoyable character study about two damaged individuals who find one another. All the acting is first rate. Jennifer Lawrence will probably win an academy award (Oscar loves starlets) for her turn as Tiffany, and she is very good, but I loved Bradley Cooper for playing the character and not the disease, as a bipolar rageaholic trying to fix his life. DeNiro and Jacki Weaver are terrific as his parents, who welcome him home after an eight month court-ordered stint in a psychiatric hospital.

Think of this movie as a romantic comedy with dark undercurrents and not as a gritty drama with romance and drama. It's entertaining in a smart way.

Film Frames Friday

Some movies (and some actors) I'm thankful for ...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Ice House

This 1997 BBC adaptation of Minette Walter's novel is very good. It just came out in a new DVD edition, and if you've just seen Skyfall and need some more Craig in your life, this is not a bad watch. Craig plays a detective investigating a recently discovered body that may or may not be the victim of a ten-year-old homicide. The case revolves around three women living together in a secluded country house, all three subject to vicious local gossip.

The subtext of the story is really misogyny, and how it has affected the three women. Craig's detective seems like just another one of the lads, an angry, alcoholic louse looking for revenge on the wife who has cheated on him, but he grows and alters through the three-hour series. His romance with one of the three women (Kitty Aldridge) is both sexy and romantic. It's no surprise that he is excellent, a future movie star, but I still would never have pegged him as a future Bond.

Well worth checking out, even though it's slightly clunky at times, and somehow seems dated even though it was made in 1997. Is that possible yet?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Poetry Monday


By Jack Gilbert, 1925 - 2012

Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
little while, we visited
our possible life.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Two Faces of January

This Patricia Highsmith novel from 1964 revolves around two men and a woman, Americans in Europe, engaging in some murderous cat-and-mouse. The two men mirror one another, both in their amorality, and their attraction to the central figure of Colette. The book begins in Athens, moves to Crete, and winds up in Paris, and despite all these juicy pieces of the plot, the book was pretty slow-going, none of the characters ever coming off the page in any significant way. I found myself speeding through to the finish, anxious to get it over with.

It's being turned into a movie, starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and the soon-to-be-famous (and deservedly so) Oscar Isaac. A still has been released (see below). It's being directed by Hossein Amini, screenwriter of one of my favorites, The Wings of the Dove, so I have high hopes. It's very possible that the book will condense nicely into a two-hour film.

Poetry Monday

How To Die

by Siegfried Sassoon

Dark clouds are smouldering into red 
While down the craters morning burns. 
The dying soldier shifts his head 
To watch the glory that returns; 
He lifts his fingers toward the skies 
Where holy brightness breaks in flame; 
Radiance reflected in his eyes, 
And on his lips a whispered name. 

You’d think, to hear some people talk, 
That lads go West with sobs and curses, 
And sullen faces white as chalk, 
Hankering for wreaths and tombs and hearses. 
But they’ve been taught the way to do it 
Like Christian soldiers; not with haste 
And shuddering groans; but passing through it 
With due regard for decent taste. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I have mixed feelings about this one. It's not love/hate exactly, as much as it is love/not love. Here goes. Spoilers ahead ...

What I love about Skyfall ...

It's stunning to look at. Roger Deakins has outdone himself with his beautiful cinematography, including some stunning color palettes. In particular, the Shanghai sequence is one of the most original, and gorgeous action scenes I've seen in a while. No shaky cam here.

The return of some Bond tropes, i.e. the quips, Q, the leather-padded doors of M's office, even things like the Kimono Dragon getting the better of the Chinese thug, a sequence that really harkened back to the Moore era.

Adele's song, and the opening credits.

The overall acting. Daniel Craig is very, very good, but we know that. And while my biggest problem with the film is the character of Silva, I will admit that Javier Bardem was excellent. He chews the scenery but in a unique, and very funny way, while also remaining threatening.

What I don't love about Skyfall ...

Too much M. Judi Dench rocks it, so it's not her fault, but I guess I prefer my M's to stay in their office and dole out assignments. Not everyone has to be along for the ride.

There's a whole middle sequence that felt an awful lot like The Dark Knight Rises, with the character of Silva way too much like The Joker, including a God-awful bit of CGI face altering. Also, I know that Bond films are ludicrous by their very nature, but the whole get-captured-on-purpose-to-wreak-havoc plot point did not work for me.

I like Thomas Newman but this was an uninspired score that actually made me miss David Arnold. Although I did appreciate the return of a lot of classic Bond cues.

Everything is just too personal in this film. For Bond, it's personal. For M, it's personal, and for Silva, it's very, very personal. The whole movie is trying to ratchet up the stakes. While that generally works in most films, I actually don't love it in a Bond film. What I love about Bond films is that they are self-contained adventures, and that Bond, as a hero, has a certain detachment, even though he's saving the world.

When I first heard about the end of the film, that it was set in the moors of Scotland, I was pretty excited. It just wasn't as good as I had hoped, maybe because it felt like a gothic version of Home Alone instead of a typical Bond film. I don't need lairs and jumpsuits (maybe I do) but it just didn't work for me, despite a nice performance from Albert Finney as Kincade.

Overall, it was impossible to not be excited (as a Bond fan) but the very end of the film, when the filmmakers signify that the re-boot (that began in the superior Casino Royale) is finally over, and Bond is back. I walked out anxious to see the next film, to see Daniel Craig, and M, and Q, and Moneypenny, and hoping that it would be a different, better film than Skyfall.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Film Frames Friday

Bond, obviously, but there's a reason for these particular films, in this particular order ...