Books read, things seen: May – September 2016

A big, brief, catchup post, but here are some Cold Comfort Farm sketches to brighten it up. Also, I’m starting to keep track of books read on Goodreads as well.

kjennings-coldcomfortfarm

Books

  • Crusade – Peter M Ball (part 3 of the Flotsam Trilogy omnibus)
  • Bone Swans – C. S. E. Cooney: Such beautiful novellas. I wept. I drew fanart.
  • Tempting Mr Townsend – Anna Campbell
  • A Few Right Thinking Men – Sulari Gentill
  • Madensky Square – Eva Ibbotson: I had not read this Ibbotson and it is enchanting! A romance of pre WWI Vienna.
  • Winning Lord West – Anna Campbell
  • Pawn in Frankincense – Dorothy Dunnett
  • Q’s Legacy – Helene Hanff: So charming! So tiny! The follow-up to 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Has influenced my driving.
  • The Ringed Castle – Dorothy Dunnett. Suffocated sounds of distress.
  • The Foundling – Georgette Heyer: Perhaps a new favourite.
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons: The first time I’ve read it, and I finally read it due to being presented with it at breakfast as a fait accompli by my landlady at a Devon B&B. I read it as a science fiction novel set in the world of The Fantastic Mr Fox, which was certainly memorable. I love her sheer disregard for agriscience.
  • The Tree – John Fowles
  • Stranded with the Scottish Earl – Anna Campbell
  • The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
  • A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald – Natasha Lester
  • [Can’t tell you about it yet but very good]
  • Cotillion – Georgette Heyer
  • The Devil’s Delilah – Loretta Chase
  • Marked for Death: The First War in the Air – James Hamilton-Paterson: Fascinating WWI aviation history.

Movies & theatre

  • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Nice Guys
  • The Hunt for the WilderpeopleThis is really, really good, people, I highly recommend it.
  • Something Rotten (musical)
  • Shuffle Along (musical)
  • Fun Home (musical): Helpless crying.
  • Ghost Busters 
  • Love & Friendship: A remarkable study in telling only the connective tissue between big events, which works because it is all about the main character’s continuous, inventive self-justification and repositioning.
  • Sully
  • Star Trek: BeyondSuffered for being seen between Sully and Deepwater Horizon, in both of which people try to actually do a headcount of surviving passengers and crew.
  • Bridget Jones’ Baby

Read and seen: January 2014

Books

There is a remarkable dignity and gentleness to Carolyn Morwood’s Eleanor Jones mysteries. Her Melbourne of the ’20s, and the characters in it, are much closer to the thoughtful, measured world of Dorothy Sayers’ post-WWI London than to (say) the madcap adventures of Kerry Greenwood’s Phrynne Fisher. The sort of books which move quickly and yet leave you feeling as if you’ve been immersed in them for much longer.

Movies

  • The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
  • American Hustle
  • The Book Thief
  • 47 Ronin
  • Saving Mr Banks

I’m confused by 47 Ronin. It feels like someone said, “But you can’t make that story into a movie – look at the ending!”. And someone else said, “Then we’ll put in monsters! and Keanu! and remarkably tattooed Dutch pirates who will look awesome on the poster!” but didn’t actually change the hero or the plot of the earlier script. So the movie wasn’t about Saving The World From Ultimate Evil, but did a good job of looking like it ought to be. It did do two things I liked, and which oddly paralleled Monsters University (make of that what you will). It showed actions which had Consequences, and also that a predominantly male cast can still have colourful costume design.

Special events

The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art is currently showing a remarkable program of fairytale films. In January I went to:

  • The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the oldest surviving animated feature film, with live accompaniment
  • Jabberwocky
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (the Gilliam one), which did many things very well – most Gilliam films fall short of what I wish they were, yet no-one else would have even tried to get that close. In this, I loved the Baron (the most appropriate ageing makeup I’ve seen), the opening titles (The eighteenth century… the Age of Reason… Wednesday), the importance of illogic and of course, “Everyone lived happily ever after, at least those who had a talent for it.”

Honourable Mentions

My housemate and I were doing 20/10s – 20 minutes art or cleaning, 10 minutes watching a show. Quite a bit of our productivity may be credited to these Barbara Cartland historical melodramas on YouTube:

  • The Lady and the Highwayman (with Hugh Grant!)
  • A Ghost in Monte Carlo

I wish there were more unashamed (I won’t say shameless, as it would give the wrong impression of what are pretty chaste stories) melodramas around. They are so much fun! No-one ever stops for introspection, shocking disclosures are followed by prompt action, quiet interludes interrupted by runaway carriages, cliffs and treasonous plots lurk around every corner…

A new game! and Illustration Friday: Perennial

Last night I had house guests and hadn’t drawn my Illustration Friday picture yet. The topic was “Perennial” and I had been thinking of drawing something associated with Casablanca (“the fundamental things apply/as time goes by” etc). I could recount the plot of Casablanca fairly well, but only ever manage to retain a very hazy impression of the actual scenes in the movie. So we invented a game, and called it “You must remember this”. The rules are: everyone chooses (or has chosen for them) a classic movie which, as members of the human race, they ought to know, and then they have to draw the plot WHETHER THEY HAVE SEEN IT OR NOT.

So here are the results (click on the pictures to see them at full size):

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March and April Short Movie Reviews

I am using the good/bad rating system this year. It is not an objective ranking – sometimes I like terrible movies, and detest ones that I know are well made.

March

Crazy Heart: Good. Borderline – I liked it for the loving humour of the first half and not the slice-of-life realism of the second. Good music.

Daybreakers: Good. This is nothing to do with the plot or the acting (I can’t watch Sam Neil play a vampire seriously after seeing him in the Eat Red Meat (we like to boogie) commercials) but solely because it was filmed in Brisbane and I spent the movie going, “There’s my office! That’s just down the street! That’s where the cycle path goes under the bridge!”

Alice in Wonderland: Bad. It hinted at a greater story that never eventuated. Johnny Depp was, predictably, good, but I wanted more of the great romance between the Cheshire Cat and the Hat. The costumes were fabulous set-pieces, however, and there were lots of Burton spirals (TM).

Men Who Stare at Goats: Bad. Borderline – it would have been good if it finished 1 second earlier.

Green Zone: Good. Self-contained and concise, a very neatly packaged story but not one that lingers.

How to Train Your Dragon: Good. I had a blast. Wonderful dragons, gorgeous character design.

April

Kick Ass: Good. And unrecommendable. Or Bad, but raises interesting issues. Starts as crude teen comedy and ends as ultra-violent heartwarming family drama.

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang: Good. Barely on balance and Ewan McGregor’s cameo helped with that, as did the accuracy of farm children and the deployment of military nannies. But such an old fashioned movie – it’s hard to get a grip on it.

February Short Movie (etc) Reviews

Slum Dog Millionaire – A clever, well-strung together film which was thrilling to watch and had a great soundtrack. Occasionally violent, often joyful, and more entertaining than educational, I suspect, but very good at that. Obviously, I enjoyed it, but it hasn’t really stuck with me and I’m not sure yet why.

Cressida Campbell exhibition – My aunt took us to see this and the works were very lovely: large scale, bold and delicate watercolour woodcuts. The technique Campbell uses is to draw the picture onto the wood, carve out the lines, colour it directly with thick watercolour, then dampen the block and take a print off it. Several prints were displayed with their blocks, and there was such an architectural/design quality to them. Beautiful Australian scenes. I can’t afford the exhibition book, but it is lovely and printed on thick textured paper (although it can’t capture the scale and light of the exhibition).

Gran Torino – One of the few movies where the purpose-written song over the credits didn’t offend. As for whether the rest of the movie did… I was wondering. On one level I enjoyed it, especially the acting which at first seemed amateurish and became really compelling (the casting and simplicity of the movie were good and daring choices), but the sheer quantity of vitriol that Eastwood’s character was capable of seemed so excessive it was caricatured. The movie was meant to be a critique of racism, but I wasn’t always sure it worked, and wanted to get the point of view of someone more nearly affected.  And I found this really great review, and lost the link. It might have been this one from reappropriate, who found it nauseating. By contrast, here’s a review from Geo on Racialicious, who found positives. Whether or not you see the movie (and I did like that song), the reviews are worth reading.

He’s Just Not That Into You – I… liked this. It wasn’t brilliant, and certainly the morality was occasionally absent, occasionally odd and often confused. But it managed to do what most romantic comedies don’t: a well-handled ensemble cast not overshadowed by the bigger stars; a satisfyingly but not excessively intricate plot; and humour that wasn’t (a) crass or (b) all in the preview and left out of the movie. Faint praise, maybe, but pretty high for the genre.

Rachel’s Getting Married – A painful, odd and occasionally excessively self-indulgent film, but with some remarkable performances, a good treatment of the love and nastiness in sibling relationships and some really touching/quirky family scenes: the musicians annoying everyone by playing, the planning of table settings and the dishwasher race were particularly memorable.

Also, music:

Washington Square Serenade “City of Immigrants” was playing on the radio a lot, and I loved it and it turned out to be by Steve Earle (“Copperhead Road”). I’m glad I bought the album. It’s country seguing into a folky/ballad style which I love – parts of some songs reminded me of Bright Eyes (go figure) and Chumbawumba-not-I-get-knocked-down-again-but-their-folk/political/protest-stuff (this is now how I refer to that band). It weakened in the middle, but there were some stand-outs: “Tennessee Blues”; “Down Here Below”, a Tom Waites/Tom Petty-esque song of New York from the point of view of a red tailed hawk; “City Of Immigrants”  –  “I don’t need to go travellin’, open the door and the world walks in”; “Days Aren’t Long Enough” – a love song which I didn’t like the first time, and then began to listen to on repeat. But obviously my views on the weaker songs aren’t shared, because I see the album won a Grammy for best folk/americana album.

War Child – Heroes – I’m a sucker for rewrites, covers, reimaginings, allusions, spoofs and updates, so I was looking forward to this album of old(er) songs covered by young(er) artists. Nothing stood out like Cat Empire singing “Hotel California” in French reggae-style on Triple J’s Like a Version, but it was still pretty good to hear some of these covers.

January (very) Short Movie Reviews

Marley and Me – Better than the preview (which was for a silly comedy) and apparently does justice to the book (which I have not read). More of a heart-warming, life-affirming drama than is usually to my taste, but it was sweet and entertaining and sad.

Yes Man – Better than The Bucket List. And Zooey Deschanel had a nice coat.

The Day the Earth Stood Still – I went in expecting to heckle and although I wouldn’t want to look at the plot very closely at all, I had to admit to Aimee halfway through that I was enjoying it far more than I expected to. As the main character was not required to emote, it was a perfect role for Keanu Reeves (I do like him as an actor, but only in roles which require a flat affect or intense brooding). Jennifer Connelly has been under-utilised in everything since Labyrinth.

Valkyrie – Good enough that after half an hour I didn’t mind that it was Tom Cruise (he’s improving on me) and that by the end, in spite of knowing the ending, I was thinking, “Just this time, please win!”. It never tipped over into a brilliant movie, but it was a good, solid one with some compelling performances.

December Short Movie Reviews

Australia. My sister hates it when I begin reviews of movies by saying, “Well, I wanted to like it.” She says, “Did you like it or not – yes or no?”. She liked this one. I… well, it’s more complicated than that. Usually when I want to like a movie it is because it has something – heart, story, special effects, a Big Idea – which deserved a better package. In Australia’s case, I think it was the country that didn’t quite get what it should have. The movie falters. It is sometimes cringe-worthy and sometimes stunning and sometimes painful and sometimes breathtakingly beautiful (the highlight for me was Daisy, riding in her yellow dress) and sometimes unexpectedly effective. Australia is the movie Australia couldn’t make in the ’50s: an epic, beautiful, elaborate, musically rich film that isn’t Bleak and Gritty and Worthy. I hope it does well enough that people aren’t put off trying to do something like this again because the materials are there. But I also think this particular movie would have worked quite well as a miniseries.

Gallery walk. Angela H and I went on the Paddington Gallery Walk – one Saturday in December, seven Paddington art galleries stay open until 9, with wine and beer and cheese. It’s a lovely evening.

Four Holidays. I quite liked parts of this and was touched by two scenes: the very female-centric comedy of the relationship between the sisters, and the scene where the various families are playing word games and the brother and his wife – shown so far as very unappealing people – win hands down because they know each other so well, while the protagonists know very little about each other. It reminded me of my parents who once won a game of Pictionary because my dad drew a palm tree and my mother guessed pinacolada.

Madagascar. Silly. Not (usually) good silly, either. There were some priceless moments with the penguins, but not nearly enough quality lemur scenes. One of those movies where I come out wanting to shake the people responsible and say, “durnnit! you had so much to work with! how hard did you have to try to get the script completely wrong?!”

Twilight. Not as bad as I expected it to be. A few cringe-worthy scenes near the beginning (which aparently make more sense if you have read the book, but are still cringe-worthy), and what I suspect was meant to be the contrast between characters dealing with serious emotional issues and flippant teenagers usually came off as a contrast between overly angsty main characters and teenagers just acting like teenagers, but in general – although not rising above what it was – it wasn’t actually painful.

Frost/Nixon. Great movie and definitely up there with my best for the year. It is based on a stage play and I think this shows in the way everything is heavily dialogue driven – it’s a slightly different dynamic than usual in movies. It was solid and interesting and also entertaining, and there aren’t enough movies like that. It made me want to watch All the President’s Men again.