Monday, November 30, 2009

The Brothers Bloom

Posted by lea at 4:41 PM 0 comments Links to this post
The Brothers Bloom is about 2 con-men brothers (Stephen played by Mark Ruffalo, who cooks up the cons, and Bloom played by Adrien Brody, who lives his life vicariously through them) and their last mark, the isolated and eccentric heiress (a.k.a 'the epileptic photographer') Penelope, played by the truly delightful Rachel Weisz.

The movie opens when the boys are young, moving from foster home to foster home, where they learn to depend only on each other against the big bad world. Stephen quickly learns how to play people (starting with 'the playground bourgeoisie') so everyone gets what they want – especially him and Bloom. He gives Bloom the life he's too shy to grab for himself, writing each con like a masterpiece of theatrical drama. But Bloom wants something real, not the written life that Stephen provides. Stephen wheedles a final con from Bloom, and this is where Bloom meets Penelope – the lonely heiress in her ivory tower, a terrible driver, interested in everything, socially awkward and definitely up for an adventure – in short, she's ripe for the picking.

Director Rian Johnson has done a wonderful job with this quirky, interesting and most of all, very funny movie. On the plus side, the scenery (the story moves across several continents), music and cast are simply superb. On the minus side, there are some holes in the plot and a too-neat ending. But on the whole, all the minuses are forgivable because it's just so charming, and there are some truly hilarious scenes that you can't help but laugh aloud at.

My usual favourite Mark Ruffalo plays the straightest of the four main characters (I forgot to mention the awesomely cool Bang Bang, the mute Japanese ingenue who likes to blow things up), but Rachel Weisz absolutely steals the show as Penelope Stamp. She is simply adorable, and makes The Brothers Bloom well worth the effort of parking on Oxford St to watch (why aren't more cinemas in Sydney other than Paddington Verona showing it??).

My top 5 con movies:
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  • The Brothers Bloom
  • Shooting Fish
  • Catch Me If You Can
  • Matchstick Men

Con movies on my Christmas viewing list:
  • The Sting
  • The Grifters

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford

Posted by lea at 11:55 AM 1 comments Links to this post
I'd never heard of Nancy Mitford until reading reviews of Sophie Dahl's Playing With the Grown Ups, which was widely compared to the works of Mitford, apparently a major figure on the English social scene in the 40s. Her writings satirise the life of the upper classes in England and reflect the very bohemian lifestyle of herself and fellow 'bright young thing' sisters, who apparently soclialised with the likes of Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels (one was married to the leader of the fascist movement in England).

The Pursuit of Love is largely autobiographical in the sense that most of the characters are drawn from her own family and acquaintances, and simply renamed. The heroine, Linda, is partly an image of herself with dashes of her sisters thrown in (although she's made to be very beautiful and from what I've seen of the Mitford sisters, this is a bit of a stretch). She's also largely (from a modern point of view) a flighty, frivolous and irritating thing. She's far more in love with the idea of love than with the people she's meant to love, and content to live a most empty-headed and feckless existence bouncing around from one man to another.

The narrator, Linda's cousin Fanny, fades against the backdrop, and the details of her life are presented in dot point compared to the vivid multicolour strokes of Linda's story. But Fanny is a great narrative vehicle because she's able to bring the reader in close as a member of the family circle. Fanny's voice is also very humorous (unlike the character herself) and Mitford clearly shines as a very witty and articulate author. Particularly funny are the references to Fanny's mother, 'the Bolter' (named for her propensity to run from one affair to another), and the colourful descriptions of her roaring Uncle Matthew, hypochondriac Davey and the eccentric Lord Merlin.

The Pursuit of Love is a great peek into the pre-WWII aristocracy, funny and irreverent of the upper classes it satirises. However, perhaps due to its very British nature, it never becomes emotionally engaging, and the sudden ending is rather abrupt. Overall though, it is a great read and just as easy to devour today as when it was first published in 1945.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club, Virginia Ironside

Posted by lea at 12:40 PM 1 comments Links to this post

No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club is the diary of Marie Sharp, a kind of geriatric Bridget Jones. In the year she turns 60, she decides life's too short to do anything she doesn't want, so she renounces men, wears comfortable shoes and lets life happen.

Virginia Ironside draws a humorous and gentle picture of the life of a pensioner, from falling in love with a first grandchild to the heartbreak of watching a close friend die from a terminal disease. It's an easy and at times quite funny read, but doesn't quite manage to bridge the gulf for readers who are younger than the protagonist.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Maus, Art Spiegelman

Posted by lea at 4:51 PM 1 comments Links to this post
Maus is unlike any other book I've read before. It's a (get this) graphic novel based on the holocaust experience of the author/artist's father using animals instead of humans. Perhaps it's the fact that the holocaust was so unbelievably inhuman(e), or because this is the author/artist's preferred means of drawing, but either way, the animals work. This book is incredibly affecting.

Maus not only delves into the life of the artist's father, Vladek Spiegelman, but it also addresses the relationship between the father and son, and breaks down all the walls between the reader and the storyteller - even the artist's own visits to his therapist are fodder for the book.

To quote from another review of Maus (why double up the workload when it's already been done, eh):
This heartbreaking tale of the author’s father’s survival of the Holocaust is a must read for a number of reasons.
  1. The animals (Mice, cats, dogs, pigs) are so adorably, yet so horrifically metaphoric. Talk about your oxymorons.
  2. It’s not just some Jewish Pole who survived the war. It’s a complex tale about the rocky relationship between a man and his father, and the old world versus the new.
From the theme of guilt (something I find quite recurrent in a lot of Jewish literature…and The Nanny), to the suicide of Art’s mother, there isn’t a moment where you aren’t either holding your breath, expecting the worst, or smiling knowingly and tearing up at Vladek Spiegelman’s backwards English and seemingly backwards logic. It’s a unique tale that stands out from the vast majority of Holocaust stories.

Maus is a Pulitzer Prize-winning must read.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Julie and Julia, movie review

Posted by lea at 1:28 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Julie and Julia is a lovely drama that crosses back and forth between the lives of cooking whiz Julia Child (who started her cooking career in Paris in the 40s and 50s) and modern day blogger Julie Powell, who challenges herself to cook all 500+ recipes from Julia Child's book in one year.

The real joy in the movie comes from Meryl Streep's performance as Julia Child - her life is large in every way, from her love of food to her love of her husband. She's slightly ditzy without being dumb, and has a falsetto and zest for life that simply draws you in. By contrast, Julie Powell is a modern girl in New York stuck in a menial job who wants desperately to be a writer. When she takes on the challenge to cook from Julia Child's book, she learns more about herself through her non-personal interaction with Julia Child, and begins to learn life lessons from this matriarch of French cooking. Amy Adams does a respectable job in this role, but Meryl Streep really does take the cake. She's simply divine.

Julie and Julia is a light-hearted movie that benefits from the ambience of 40s Paris and 00s New York, and the two very charming leads - not to forget their uber-supportive husbands. It's a great chick-flick and if this doesn't trigger a hankering to cook something exotic and French, nothing will.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

2012, movie review

Posted by lea at 2:22 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Roland Emmerich has been responsible for a number of end-of-the-world movies, but apparently 2012 is his biggest yet. The only other one of his movies I've seen is Independence Day, and a number of parallels can be drawn. There's the fact that things always happen in America - in this case it's an Indian researcher who discovers the first signs but it's the Americans who lead the way in acting on them. There's also the huge scale of effects - the catastrophe spans the entire globe as huge chunks of earth are ripped away, entire islands and landmasses become nothing but molten lava, millions of people are wiped out in minutes. And there's also the close-calls for the heroes, who are snatched from danger just in the nick of time. Literally. Unbelievably. And multiple times, which makes it all the more unbelievable.

Despite the many clichès and terrible segues and huge sound effects and overbearing music, Emmerich manages to redeem this movie halfway through when the emphasis turns from disaster element to the human element. The cast is really good, and you actually care what happens to John Cusack and Amanda Peet and all. There are some really big eye rolling moments and more than a few overly sentimental ones, but there are a number of laughs to lighten the load and on the whole it's not a bad way to spend 2.5hrs. Yes - it's very long, but you could do worse.

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse

Posted by lea at 1:04 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves is another comic caper involving the very lackadaisical constant-bachelor Bertram Wooster and his ever problem-solving butler with the bulging brain, Jeeves. This one involves two engaged couples, the idyllic English countryside and Bertie's attempts to help one couple patch up their rocky relationship (self-motivated by fear that his head will be on the marital chopping block if they don't reconcile over the vegetarian diet the droopy Madeline Bassett has imposed on her fiancè Gussie Fink-Nottle, who is hilariously and continuously referred to as Spink-Bottle by Bertie's Aunt) and a jaunty Alpine hat with a pink feather.

What can I say? P.G. Wodehouse is a comic genius – often and rightly lauded as the greatest English comic writer ever – and his books are always a welcome diversion from reality.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pygmalion, Bernard Shaw

Posted by lea at 4:42 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This is one of my all-time favourite plays to read, and it's got nothing to do with the musical adaptation My Fair Lady, which is also glorious. The transformation of Eliza Doolittle and her curious and dear relationship with Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering is a truly delightful story. Bernard Shaw captures all the intricacies in manner and speech to bring the characters to life, and create scenes of true hilarity and deep feeling which lose none of its potency over time.

LIZA Well: I must go. [They all rise. Freddy goes to the door] So pleased to have met you. Goodbye.
FREDDY [Opening the door for her] Are you walking across the Park, Miss Doolittle? If so -
LIZA [perfectly elegant diction] Walk! Not bloody likely. [Sensation]. I am going in a taxi. [She goes out].
Pickering gasps and sits down. Freddy goes out on the balcony to catch another glimpse of Eliza.
MRS EYNSFORD HILL [Suffering from shock] Well, I really can't get used to the new ways.

Love it! Recommend it! It's now a cheapie Penguin Classic so it's probably time to replace my tattered copy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Playing With the Grown Ups, Sophie Dahl

Posted by lea at 4:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I must admit that my interest in this book was more to the do with the author than the story itself. Who that loved children's author Roald Dahl would not be interested to see if his granddaughter inherited his writing talent? The verdict: apart from a few dodgy bits*, she certainly can.

Playing With the Grown Ups is told through the eyes of fourteen year old Kitty, who has a very unconventional childhood with her artist mother Marina. Marina lives like the heroine of a tragic romance story - she wears silky negligees, has multiple besotted admirers and throws herself into art, love, religion and whatever else catches her fancy. Kitty, the illegitimate daughter of one of her former married lovers, grows up quickly, helping to take care of her two younger siblings (the product of another relationship) as Marina chases the next high between London and New York - an endless stream of parties, famous people and lovers.

While Kitty grows up adoring and admiring her mother, she begins to see that things are not right - Marina does drugs with Kitty's friends and has an inappropriate relationship with one of her friends. She even bribes Kitty to take her siblings to school with a bag of cocaine. You'd think that this would cause a rift in the relationship or at least cause Kitty to see her mother for the tragedy she was, however this is glossed over and the novel is brought to a quick close.

Sophie Dahl was the daughter of '70s wild child' Tessa Dahl, who apparently battled drugs and depression in her time, and it's clear that Kitty's story is, at least in part, her own. It's been speculated that this is why she focuses on the magical aspect of growing up in this very bohemian lifestyle but stops short of placing judgment of Marina/Tessa. Instead the story is told in flashback, after Kitty is all grown up, when she is beyond judging Marina and has moved past this chapter in her life. Unfortunately for the readers, we miss a major part of her growth.

Kitty is a sympathetic character though, and the book is quite enchanting. It's a lovely read and very enjoyable - almost other-worldly like it belongs in a different time. The writing is quite lyrical, although at times it tries a little too hard to be so. On the whole I was pleasantly surprised and raise my glass to Sophie Dahl, who can obviously stand on her own two literary (and literal!) feet.

* two terrible similes within the first six pages and waxes lyrical too often on Marina's overwhelming beauty

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Time Traveller's Wife, movie review

Posted by lea at 5:14 PM 0 comments Links to this post
The movie The Time Traveler's Wife did a really good job of adapting Audrey Niffenegger's book of the same title. It would've been impossible to capture all the nuances and details from the book, so director Robert Schwentke focuses rather on the core story and allows it to breathe and tell itself. The absence of embellishments of excess emotion, imposing music and other dramatic devices is refreshing, and the movie is more affecting for being real (obviously not the time travel element).

The story relies so heavily on the characters of Henry and Claire that a bad casting choice would have been disastrous, but Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams somehow adapt themselves to the characters brilliantly. I must admit I was a little skeptical at first because, as with any book, you imagine the characters a certain way and I certainly didn't imagine those two (not thin or nerdy enough! I thought of Eric Bana and too young and pretty, of Rachel McAdams). but they did a great job as Henry and Claire. They share a very different kind of love story with a number of chronological issues, but it's the human element that makes this movie so watchable.

You do have to go with an open mind because you'll have massive issues with the time travel aspect if not, and that would really do a disservice to the story. It's not about time travelling itself (explained as a genetic disorder), but about the effect it has on the afflicted Henry and his longsuffering wife Claire. The mind could really boggle with the implications, but now is not the time to let the sci-fi nerd within loose. Let go of logic and go for the ride. Oh, and take a box of tissues.

Curse of the Spellmans

Posted by lea at 4:36 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This is the second book in the Spellman series by Lisa Lutz, and it's just as funny as the first one, The Spellman Files.

Isabelle Spellman now has her eye on John Brown, the new next-door neighbour who, with his 'conveniently common name' evidently has a secret to hide. When a temporary restraining order bars her from the Spellman offices, she turns to her octogenarian friend Morty Shilling to help save her PI licence whilst getting to the bottom of the John Brown mystery, keeping younger sister Rae from driving policeman friend Henry crazy after having run him over, and finding the copy-cat culprits of a series of pranks that bear her own juvenile trademark.

I'm now a big fan of Lisa Lutz's writing and can't wait to receive the third part of the series, Revenge of the Spellmans, which I've ordered from the Book Depository. The Spellmans are pure comic relief that relies on wit rather than farce. Highly recommended reading.

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