Books »City of Saints and Madmen

by Jeff Vandermeer (2001)

I truly don’t know how City of Saints and Madmen ended up in on my radar. I saw it was the only fiction book on Jim’s wish list and got it for Christmas for him only to learn he’d never heard of it. Maybe I added it by accident after some mention, maybe it was just fate – but however it happened, I’m glad because this is one of the most intriguing novels I’ve come across recently.. Even if it doesn’t always seem that way as your reading it. 

Based on the fictional city Ambergris, the novel is a patchwork of styles and faux historical texts: from meta short diction to city guides for tourists, from “classic” fables to standard sci-fi fiction. The book covers a range of the unusual city’s history giving the reader a immersive portrait of an amazing place. 

Deadly festivals, giant squids, mushroom people who live underground, hostile takeovers, plagues.. There’s so much interesting stuff here, my only complaint is that some segments worked better than others. I’d sometimes be taken out of the carefully constructed world Vandermeer has created. But the novel is sum is greater than its parts and the novel is best a few days after you finish it and thoughts of Ambergris come bubbling into your dreams. 

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Posted on August 26, 2012

Books »Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

by Susanna Clarke (2004)

I wish I was more excited about the hit novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It’s very pleasant, very imaginative and most impressively – I read the whole huge hard bound thing (since having limited spare time, I tend to give books the ax quickly if I’m not feeling it) yet it didn’t leave me overwhelmed with delight as charming as it can be.

Often engrossing, I can imagine lots of people would love it more than me.

Sorry, not much to go on, I know – but (as you can tell from the infrequency of this blog’s posts) I’m getting late in my pregnancy and loosing all eloquence and patience.

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Posted on August 14, 2012

Books »The Hunger Games Trilogy

by Suzanne Collins (2008, 2009, 2010)

I couldn’t resist seeing what all the fuss was about and besides a young adult romance set in a dystopian future where kids are forced to kill one another sounds exactly up my alley. There’s a prevailing and annoying habit of people, mostly men, around my age to flat out despise anything too popular (usually without ever having read or seen the offending pop hit) but I like to read before judgement (I even gave Twilight a chance) and found The Hunger Games spectacular.. Mostly.

The first book is riveting with well written action (usually hard to write and the part in most books that loses my interest) and the romance is nothing short of brilliant. I can totally understand how this captured the hearts of teen girls everywhere and frankly, it left me feeling a bit like a teen girl myself.

The plotting is smart, the heroine is complex and pishaw! to those complaints about similarities to the Korean gore fest Battle Royale. I’m a big fan of that too but feel they’re very different. Besides I ask you to name one sci fi theme that hasn’t been explored by more than one author.

The first book is intimate, exciting and heart breaking and left me very curious about book two, Catching Fire which surprised me by being equally great if not better. Collins moves the story forward in unexpected and inventive ways. After a whirl wind it ends in a cliff hanger which leads us to book three: Mockingjay and the downfall of the series.

I can’t help but wonder if Collibs was severely depressed while writing the final installment. With my love for dark material I’ll rarely say something like this but: couldn’t she have kept things a bit lighter? Given our beloved characters more satisfying justice and more romance? I mean really, this book is bleak.

Still, it’s worth reading the trilogy which takes about three days – you just may want to fabricate your own happy ending.

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Posted on April 10, 2012

Movies »Timecrimes

directed by Nacho Vigalondo (2007)

Like anything dealing with the phenomena of time travel, Timecrimes is a bit of a conundrum. Rather than being frustrating though, the questions you’re left asking are part of the film’s appeal. Of course I can’t get into those questions here too specifically without giving away plot, so I’ll just have to find others who’ve seen it to debate.

A small film on a seemingly low budget (but not in a bad way) the movie focuses on one afternoon in the life of a normal, middle aged man named Hector. Through a series of unfortunate and unusual events, his calm life is suddenly disrupted by violence, shock and time travel.

Interesting and mind bending, the movie, which is directed by the charming guy playing the scientist is nearly completely satisfying though sadly there’s one point where I couldnt help asking in frustration “Why did he do that?”

Still it’s great to find a gem like this that raises all sorts of fun questions about the always fascinating theory of time travel.

Available on Netflix instant, this is a quick intriguing afternoon watch that will keep you thinking. Oh, and don’t let the poster scare you off, it’s not a Saw-like gore fest as it might suggest.

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Posted on March 23, 2012

Books »Mothers and Other Monsters

by Maureen McHugh (2005)

I’m on a bit of a Maureen McHugh kick, finding her one of the most compelling and innovative writers today. With Mothers and Other Monsters I continued to be awed.

The collection includes genre defying stories that are often truly brilliant: the off world saga The Cost to be Wise left me stunned and Interview: On Any Given Day which takes place in a future where the aging are reversing the process and partying with actual young people – which leads to unexpected complications.

She is a fresh, amazing voice in science fiction but, defying categorization, most of the other stories barely dabble in the genre, like Eight-Legged Story and Presence which take on the very real dramas of being a step parent and watching a loved one struggling with alzheimer’s.

The latter is particularly depressing, though no less brilliantly written. (I just needed a breather and a dose of something happy after finishing it.)

I look forward to reading her novel Nekropolis soon (and refrained from reading the short story that lead to it in this collection).

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Posted on March 9, 2012

Books »The House Book

by The Publishers of Phaidon Press (2001)

While I sometimes bemoan the waste of my days of dual incomes and thoughtless spending (where’d it all go??) it’s nice to still reap the benefits.

In particular I have a great collection of beautiful art books and Phaidon’s The House Book is one of my favorites.

It’s a comprehensive but friendly to limited attention spans with large beautiful photographs and brief synopsis of architects and architectural styles.

Heavy hitting household names like Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry are here as well as less well known masters like Daniel Grataloup and Osamu Ishiyama.

There’s plenty of fodder for dream house building in your mind though it might also make you feel dismayed that our country is such a wasteland of cookue cutter blandness.

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Posted on January 18, 2012

Songs »Ain’t Leaving Without You

by Jaheim (2009)

Synchronicity is a wondrous thing. Van’s obsessed with our clock radio, so decides he must play with it the very moment the R. Kelley-esque Ain’t Leaving Without You is on Hot 97.

I would have otherwise probably never heard it.

Jaheim, a Jersey native, presents here a passionate tale of a man in a club enraptured with a woman’s sexy body. Well worn territory for an r&b song? Perhaps. But I promise you’ll still enjoy it.

Jaheim, a Jersey native, presents here a passionate tale of a man in a club enraptured with a woman’s sexy body.  Well worn territory for an r&b song? Perhaps. But I promise you’ll still enjoy it.

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Posted on January 9, 2012

Albums »Bang Bang Rock & Roll

by Art Brut (2005)

If you described Art Brut to me: tongue in cheek, hip, indie, in the same art wave boat as Franz Ferdinand, I’d probably tell you I wasn’t interested.

But songs kept popping up on shuffle and every time I’d be loving if and wondering who it was.

The catchy tunes with Eddie Argos’ stecato speak/ singing are infectious and they manage to be humorous without being cute or obnoxious.

Bang Bang Rock and Roll seems to be universally adored by critics and I agree with them.

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Posted on January 9, 2012

Albums »Trash Yeye

by Benjamin Biolay (2007)

Benjamin Biolay certainly pulls inspiration from his fellow Frenchman Serge Gainsbourg in style (there’s smoke in these strangely sultry songs) if not in content (it seems the horniness is more low key here – but I admit I can’t speak a lick of French, so who knows.)

Trash Yeye manages to feel modern all the same even as some tracks could be long lost Serge.

Stirring but lazy, this album is actually perfect for foggy days like today.

It goes well with battered woolen trench costs, scarves, and if not cigarettes then at least an espresso and faraway intellectual gazing from cafe windows.

Biolay is a big producer, brother (to Coralie Clement), and lover (once married to Marcello Mastroianni’s daughter) in his home country but less known here.

This will be a nice introduction. I know you’ll get along famously.

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Posted on November 10, 2011

Movies »The Wild And Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

Directed by Julien Nitzberg (2009)

I started watching The Wild And Wonderful Whites of West Virginia only to turn it off when I started to feel like I was watching one of those A&E train wreck shows.

Then, the next day, I resumed play because it’s like one of those train wrecks you can’t help but look at.

The White family, made infamous in song and local lore by being generally nuts – dealing drugs, raising hell and shooting each other, make for an interesting hour (and might make you afraid to visit West Virginia).

One might call this to exploitative – the age old debate that comes with documentary, especially when the subjects are people whose lives are extreme and divisive and the Whites are surely both. But the Whites seem happy to be exposed raw and relish in their outlaw lifestyle.

Let’s face it, as a person about to write up two fancy French macaroon bakeries in a week, my life could not be more different than the women depicted, seen snorting coke in the hospital room after just giving birth. Yet, without being sentimental there are moments when you have sympathy for these outlaw misfits.

It’s not a wholly masterfully crafted portrait, one wonders what this would have been in the hands of someone like the Maysles, but it’s far more balanced than I expected from the producers of Jackass and the filmmakers don’t get in their own way.

On netflix instant.

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Posted on October 10, 2011

Books »A Song of Ice and Fire

by George R R Martin (1996-????)

There’s so much to say about the epic Song of Ice and Fire series but so little you want to give away to those still buried within its thousands of pages.

Like so many others I picked the books up after loving the HBO adaptation… and what a fun time to be reading it. It’s the kind of book you want to discuss with people incessantly and there’s no shortage of fellow readers. Jim even texted me after especially incendiary chapters in disbelief.

With that kind of fervor and enthusiasm that the books evoke, George R.R. Martin has created something truly unique and it’s little wonder that the world is entranced.

I was as well as heartbroken, shocked (repeatedly and effectively), obsessed, angered, relieved, frustrated, awed and now after just finishing Dance with Dragons filled with a venomous ache for justice, some conclusions and frankly for some plot lines to get on with it already… ( I felt like Martin Sheen thinking “Mereen, shit I’m still only in Mereen”)

Yes it’s not without its flaws one cringe worthy sex scene where cock and cunt cant be told apart proves that but what’s harder for this reader is the scattered scope after the whirlwind of awesomeness in book three. The plot splits between two books and beloved characters aren’t seen for hundreds upon hundreds of pages. I can only imagine how frustrating this must have been for readers that had to wait years for the next book as I am about to do for book six.

But despite the flaws and the fact that it might never be completed, this is one extraordinary reading experience. Now I get to see how book two is interpreted on the show… too excited.

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Posted on September 21, 2011

Songs »Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell

by Das Racist & Wallpaper (2008)

Once you’ve heard Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, there’s no way you could drive or walk by one without the song playing in your head. It’s such an absurdly catchy tune too, that you might find yourself walking by the local Pizza Hut Taco Bell a lot just to be reminded of it. Love that Das Racist brings humor to the often overly serious genre of hip hop. We love the Wallpaper remix.

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Posted on July 29, 2011

Songs »America We Stand As One

30 Day Song Challenge – Day Thirty: Best Song (and Video) for Memorial Day:

America We Stand As One by Dennis Madalone

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Posted on May 30, 2011

Movies »Bluebeard

directed by Catherine Breillat (2009)

I have been curious about the work of controversial Frenchwoman Catherine Breillat for some time and was excited to find her Bluebeard available on Netflix. (This may be one of her less controversial films with none of the uncomfortable sex scenes I anticipated – but warning for the squeamish – there is a chicken with it’s head cut off scene).

As you can see by the stills, this film is gorgeous. Any fan of cinematography or photography will be smitten. And the costumes! If you’ve ever been to the Renaissance Faire and wondered what it would look like if everyone there was as fashionable as you, then you must see this movie. The many ways floor length can look incredible in the out of doors is alone worth a viewing.

But beyond the aesthetics, this is an interesting take on the traditional Bluebeard tale. With a stylized telling of the gory fairytale juxtaposed with two gingham pinafore dressed sisters in an attic reading the tale, Breillat is clearly but subtly capturing the uniquely female experience of being a young girl: When you are dimly aware of sexuality and adulthood, with impressions of love and death, but still a child at heart. A phenomenon described in the film as having the innocence of a dove but the pride of an eagle.

On the fairytale side, two striking young girls become fatherless and the younger one is married off the the ogre of a man, Bluebeard. Not since Lord of the Rings has desperate size been as effectively used on screen. The bride is as tiny as a bird, whereas Bluebeard, in a feat of perfect casting is hulking and gently monstrous.

The other narrative features bickering sisters who, as only sisters can, fight as they cuddle and scare themselves with the bloody story. Something surreal happens in this narrative, but without spoilers, I’d argue that is may not have really happened (if you watch it, maybe we can discuss.)

Between this and recent Brixpick, The White Ribbon, I sense there is something quite remarkable and fascinating going on with the period piece movie in global cinema. If only Hollywood could get so inventive and artistic with theirs – I can’t tell you how boring it all is to see the same corset blandness season after season.

Click here for the rest of Bluebeard

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Posted on May 27, 2011

Books »Do Everything in the Dark

by Gary Indiana (2003)

Gary Indiana‘s Do Everything in the Dark, divulges the inner turmoil of New York’s avant garde from a bygone era. They face old age and irrelevance; a justifiable fear considering I had no idea what real life figures of the city’s bohemian past most of the characters were based on – with the exception of Susan Sontag (and only that because I read so).

The often hilarious book reminds me of Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz and the awesome Answered Prayers by Truman Capote. Like those authors, Indiana makes the best kind of storyteller – he can give vivid, sharp, witty, and sometimes harsh portraits of the vain, eccentric, insane, self absorbed and nasty artists, wanna be artists and hangers on that are interesting to hear about but not so much to be friends with ourselves.

Not that Indiana is all venom. With exceptions, he genuinely loves his subjects, who are after all, his dearest friends and in turn we love them too – at least some of them. I was most taken with the letter exchanges between Arthur, stuck among society vultures on a Spanish Island and Jesse, whoring it up with busboys in Istanbul.

Other characters I found less intriguing like a couple of young good looking junkies – but if ever you find yourself bored one moment, Indiana ping pongs the story around frequently.

The novel, which was written after 9/11 but clearly and deliberately depicting a pre-9/11 New York is in turns raunchy, touching, and clever. There were so many perfectly worded lines that I wish I’d kept a highlighter on me while reading. I didn’t, but here’s on example:

“I know you’ve blown a junkie or two along the trail; if you’ve blown one you really have blown them all. I’d rather eat ice cream. You can have that engraved on my tombstone if I happen to go first”

I am surprised his work hasn’t found a larger audience among the young and hip trying to live their own Bohemia (though this time in condos).

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Posted on May 18, 2011

Movies »The White Ribbon

directed by Michael Haneke (2009)

The White Ribbon very much reminds me of a classic “man’s inhumanity towards man” novel taught in high schools and is far more interesting than all the bratty kids reading it will give it credit for. It questions whether man is inherently evil and if you’ve ever seen a Michael Haneke movie, you’ll not be surprised that his answer is yes.

I can even envision the reading comprehension questions at the back of the non existent text book:

1. Who do you think committed all the crimes? And what was their motive?

2. Is the narrator correct in his accusations?

3. What do you think happened to the midwife and her son? What about the Doctor and his family?

All questions I’ve been pondering and frankly wish I had a classroom of people who’ve seen it to discuss.

Several disturbing acts of violence erupt in a small German village before the break out of World War I. From torture to arson, the crimes are as heinous as they are confounding and Haneke, once again proving he’s one the most compelling and daring film makers working today, isn’t as forthcoming as he seems. These troubling times are told through the eyes of a kind school teacher as he falls in love with a local governess, lending a small glimmer of benevolence among the cruelty.

The film is absolutely beautiful, not only is the cinematography stunning and sweeping, but the details of costume and set are superb. This is a cold, severe, yet elegant take on the themes we love so well in Nick Cave’s “The Curse of Millhaven”, Village of the Damned and Lord of the Flies. The children are impeccably cast.

It is available on netflix instant and I hope that will allow it to find a wider audience despite it’s deliberate pace.

Click here for the rest of The White Ribbon

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Posted on May 8, 2011

Movies »The Great Happiness Space

directed by Jake Clennell (2006)

The Great Happiness Space (which I came across on Netflix instant) uncovers the odd, excessive, depressing world of Host Boys in Osaka, Japan. Basically young call boys/escorts for young wealthy women, they lure passersby into exclusive clubs, offering much needed flirty attention while racking up huge champagne bills.

Most of the young men interviewed make more than $10,000 a month, with Issei, the charming but admittedly messed up 22 owner of Club Rakkyo taking in more than $50,000. Both the hosts and their clients refer to it as being “financially worshipped”.

The film unfolds different aspects of the business revealing more and more complexities as it goes on. After meeting the ultra groomed Host Boys, we meet the women who pay exorbitant amounts of money to experience faux relationships with them. Many claim to genuinely love Issei and hope for the day they can become his girlfriend out of the clubs.

It’s sad, but at the same time they seem happy with the arrangement and it makes you wonder: if a pair of shoes can cost a fortune, is it so wrong that the one thing that most people crave the most: companionship, affection, love shouldn’t also be something worth spending for if you so please?

But, then the film takes a turn again when we learn that most of the women who come to the clubs can only afford to do so because they themselves are call girls and prostitutes, making for a strange self perpetuating cycle of manufactured love. It’s especially sad to learn that some women are only struggling through the horrors of prostitution solely in order to come to the host clubs and experience fleeting, champagne filled moments of happiness. The underlying severe loneliness effects the boys too who reveal themselves to be just as in need of real human compassion but are stuck in the empty job of pretending to love women for money.

Filmmaker Jake Clennell paints a fascinating portrait of this world in a short time without ever injecting himself or his own judgement. Too often new documentarians are more interested in their own journeys than their subjects. A cinematographer mainly, Clennell has a gift for documentaries and should make more!


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Posted on March 9, 2011