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Archive for May, 2011

This book is a follow up to Louis Theroux’s tv series Weird Weekends, in which he spent time with members of various sub-cultures in America.  Some years later, he decided to track down some of the subjects of the show and see what had become of them.  It isn’t necessary to have seen the tv series (I hadn’t seen all of it) as Louis provides a recap of what happened when he met his subjects initially before describing how he tracked them down – sometimes with difficulty – and details of their second encounter. 

Inevitably, some of the sub-cultures Louis became involved in are more interesting than others (although this is an entirely subjective opinion of course), and some are more disturbing than others.  The final story, where he met a deeply racist mother, who was encouraging her twin daughters (who were only 11 years old) to sing White Power songs.  This story in particular left me with a feeling of bitter distaste, as well as sympathy for the two young girls and their baby sister, who had had their mother’s views forced upon them, and were not really allowed to think for themselves.

Other encounters included Ike Turner – a man who does seem to have some charisma, but holds some very contradictory opinions – I personally did not like him at all; a group of UFO enthusiasts, the Aryan Nations (another chilling chapter, although the main person who Louis had dealings with came over as pathetic more than anything else); the owners and workers in the Wild Horse brothel; and a former porn star, who had now dropped out of the business and seemed to lead a relatively conventional life.  The most resonant and poignant of all the stories was the one where Louis met survivors of the Heavens Gate religious group, who committed mass suicide in 1997. 

I could definitely imagine Louis’ voice in my head as I read the book – and felt the frustrations and the surprise that he felt when meeting certain people.  He is a lively and engaging narrator, who clearly did his best not to judge the people he was meeting – not always successfully.  A lot of the book is humorous, but there are some thought-provoking moments as well.  If you’re a fan of Louis Theroux – or even if you’re not – this book is well worth a read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This review relates to the 1970 film starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis.  It was remade in the 90s with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the remake to compare the two.

Lemmon and Dennis play George and Gwen Kellerman, a couple from Ohio who hope to move to New York City when his firm offer him an interview for a promotion.  However, their troubles start when their plane’s landing it delayed for hours and then eventually redirected to Boston.  With only one night to get from Boston to NYC for his interview the following morning, George and Gwen embark on a tumultuous journey – and when they reach New York, things don’t improve, with problems of all kinds (mugging, lost luggage, no hotel room are just some of the things they encounter) mounting up…

Jack Lemmon is one of those actors who it’s almost impossible to dislike, and he plays a terrific part here.  As the slightly neurotic Kellerman, determinedly writing down the names of everyone who he feels has wrong him in order that he can sue them, he shines.  In the hands of a different actor, George could have been an annoying character, and while he can be frustrating, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.  Sandy Dennis was the perfect foil as his loving but long suffering wife, providing many comic moments of her own.

From the moment that the plane is delayed (causing George to start obsessing over whether the couple will make their evening booking at the Four Season restaurant) it’s clear that the viewer is in for a lot of fun.  It’s basically one long series of mishaps and misfortunes, but the two leads make it very funny and well worth watching for a bit of light hearted entertainment.  Despite being over 40 years old, and therefore inevitably looking slightly dated, the film still feels fresh and doesn’t seem to have lost any of its humour.

If you liked Planes Trains and Automobiles, or are a fan of Jack Lemmon, I’d recommend giving this one a try!

Year of release: 1970

Director: Arthur Hiller

Writer: Neil Simon

Main cast: Jack Lemmon, Sandy Dennis

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This is the first book in a new series by Craig Russell, who has had success with his series about Detective Jan Fabel, set in Hamburg.  However, here the setting is 1950s Glasgow, and the eponymous character is an enquiry agent with some distinctly dodgy methods, and who gets most of his work from the ‘Three Kings’; a triumvirate of gangsters, who between them are behind most of the crime in the city.

When up and coming gangster Tam McGahern is murdered, his twin brother Frankie asks Lennox to find out who’s behind it.  But then Frankie himself ends up dead and Lennox finds himself in the frame for the murder.  As he gets drawn into investigating the matter, he finds himself in ever more dangerous situations, never knowing who he can trust and who is not to be believed – and he discovers that things are far more complicated than he could have imagined…

Glasgow and its underworld is certainly brought into vivid focus here, and I felt able to easily imagine the atmosphere of the city.  The story itself moves along at a rapid pace and never allows time for the reader to become bored.  There are also plenty of twists and turns, at times so many so that the story became a little tied up in itself.

Lennox himself is not actually a particularly nice or likeable character; however, he is the nearest thing to a hero to be found in this novel, which is populated by criminals of all persuasions, with varying degrees of ruthlessness.  The book is narrated by Lennox himself, which means that the reader only gets to know what he knows, as he finds it out.  Unfortunately, it also meant that for me anyway, I did at times find his character jarring.  He had a habit of saying something, and then adding a little quip on the end, apparently to demonstrate how witty or ironic he was being.  The other problem was that a lot of the characters were very stereotyped, especially the criminals (and there aren’t many characters who aren’t criminals).

Nonetheless, this book is plot driven more than character driven, and the fast moving story, together with the problems which Lennox faces – which just keep piling up on top of each other – mean that it is never less than an entertaining read. 

So would I read another book in this series?  Possibly, but I wouldn’t rush out to get hold of a copy.  I have read one book in the Jan Fabel series and I definitely preferred that one.  If you like your crime stories cosy and funny, this probably isn’t the book for you – but if you like a more bleak and violent setting, you might want to give this one a try.

(Autor’s website can be found here.)

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This 1945 film is an adaptation of Noel Coward’s famous play.  Charles and Ruth Condomine (Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings) hold a seance at their house and unwittingly summon up the spirit of Charles’ first wife Elvira (Kay Hammond), who makes herself comfortable in their home, much to the couple’s consternation.  Margaret Rutherford plays Madame Arcati, the medium who causes Elvira’s appearance and who tries to help get rid of her again.

The film is very enjoyable in parts, although it feels somewhat disjointed and probably hasn’t dated too well.  However, there is plenty to enjoy; the frivolous and sarcastic Elvira was actually my favourite character, and Kay Hammond played her wonderfully.  Margaret Rutherford though steals (most of) the show as the eccentric Madame Arcati.  The script pokes fun at the attitudes (and to some extent the lifestyle) of middle class snobs Charles and Ruth.  Indeed, Charles is actually not a particularly nice character, although Rex Harrison does a fine job of portraying him.  Ruth was somewhat more sympathetic – understandably disturbed by the sudden re-appearance of her husband’s dead first wife, while Charles is initially content to let both women share his house!

Not having seen the play, I was taken by surprise by something that occurred about halfway through, but which proved to be a good plot twist.  The ending, if slightly predictable, seemed appropriate and in keeping with everything that had gone before – although it is actually a different ending to that of the Coward’s original script.

Noel Coward apparently did not like this adaptation by David Lean, although Lean actually adapted three of Coward’s script for the big screen (the other two being Brief Encounter – an adaptation of the play Still Life; and In Which We Serve).  He also did not like Rex Harrison as Charles Condomine.  I’m unable to compare Harrison’s performance to that of anyone else who has played the role, but I thought he did a good job here.  Margaret Rutherford and Kay Hammond, who were my favourite characters in this film had both played the same roles in the original West End production.

The plot is of course completely unfeasible and doesn’t stand up to any close scrutiny, but that hardly matters – this is all about comedy, and on that basis it works well.  As I said before, it does feel slightly disjointed, and it was fairly easy to tell where the breaks for the three acts in the play would have occurred.  But despite this, and the fact that it has perhaps not aged as well as other films from the same era, it’s still worth a look and overall, is a light hearted and enjoyable slice of entertainment.

(The title of the play is taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem ‘To A Skylark’, the first line of which is ‘Hail to thee blithe spirit!’)

Year of release: 1945

Director: David Lean

Writers: Noel Coward (play), David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan

Main cast: Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Margaret Rutherford

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This 1944 tells the story of Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), who is investigating the murder of a beautiful young woman, Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney).  The film opens after the murder, and the audience follows Mark as he conducts his investigations, and Lydecker explains how he first met Laura (with retrospective scenes).  There are a few potential suspects – Laura’s errant fiance Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), her friend and mentor Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb, in a scene stealing performance) and her aunt Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson) who is also in love with Shelby.  Mark finds himself becoming drawn into Laura’s life and falling under the spell which she cast over so many men.  However one night something happens which causes him to change the direction of his investigation…

I had heard so many good things about this film before I saw it – and maybe that’s why I was unfortunately slightly disappointed.  On the one hand, the acting was fine – as aforementioned, Clifton Webb provides the stand out performance as the acerbic newspaper columnist Lydercker, and Judith Anderson also made the most of her role as Ann Treadwell.  However, the story seemed slightly misjointed, almost as if some scenes had been cut out.  Although I knew it was part of the plot before I started watching, McPherson’s growing fascination with Laura seemed to come out of nowhere.  Also, McPherson did something near to the end of the film (I won’t say what for fear of revealing spoilers) which did  not seem to make sense and only seemed to work as an obvious plot device.

There were some good parts though – I genuinely did not guess who the guilty party was, and several people seemed likely at various points in the film.  There was plenty of tension and as a whodunnit, it worked well.  (In fact I felt that it would have played better as a straightforward crime drama, rather than with the aspect of the detective falling for the murder victim.)  So not brilliant then, but an enjoyable enough film with a big twist that I certainly did not see coming!

Year of release: 1944

Director: Otto Preminger

Writers: Vera Caspary (novel), Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhardt

Main cast: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson

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The small town of Karakarook, New South Wales, is divided about it’s old bridge.  Some of them want it pulled down as it is unsafe, and others want to preserve it for the sake of heritage.  Harley Savage and Douglas Cheeseman arrive in Karakarook and find themselves on opposite sides of the argument.

Harley and Douglas are both emotionally stunted, shocked almost into numbness by events in their respective histories, and when they meet each other, neither of them know how to begin to open up to another person – and neither of them wants to risk being vulnerable.  Can these two lost souls find happiness within themselves….?

Woven into the story about Harley, Douglas and the bridge, is the tale of Felicity Porcelline, unhappily married to the manager of the bank in Karakarook.  Felicity is obsessed with the idea of perfection – of looking perfect (to the extent where she is frightened to smile or even nod her head, for fear of causing wrinkles), of running a perfect home and giving the appearance of a perfect life.  But Felicity’s life and marriage are far from perfect.

Initially I did not think I would enjoy this book (near the beginning there seemed to be a lot of description about the bridge and how it was built, which I found slightly tedious).  However, I found myself being drawn in by the characters and setting.  The book was incredibly evocative and I really felt able to imagine life in Karakarook, with the heat, the dust and flies, and the residents who knew everything about each others lives.  There are some genuinely funny moments as incidental parts of the day are described, but the book was also very touching and moving.

Harley and Douglas were both likeable – they were brittle, unconfident and unsure about their place in their world.  They were very human with good intentions, but had very believable flaws and idiosyncrasies.  Felicity on the other hand was actually a very sad character.  It was clear that while she was eager to show outward perfection, she actually felt that her life was very empty – her looks were so important to her because they were all she felt she had.  Her perfectly decent husband and child don’t being her any contentment (at one stage she describes forgetting to pick her child up from school because she was giving herself a face pack), and so she seeks reassurance and satisfaction in other areas.  She was not an immediately pleasant character, but her sadness was very apparent.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this story, and would certainly search out more books by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This review relates to the 1996 film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane, and William Hurt as Rochester.  There may be minor spoilers contained therein for anyone who is not familiar with the book (but if you’re not familiar with the book and you are familiar with this film, I’d suggest that you don’t judge a book by it’s adaptation!).

Actually, this film is better than I expected it to be.  However, as with many adaptations of novels, chunks of the story were cut out, and there was some playing around with the timeline and the setting of certain scenes.  Unlike the Orson Welles version, this film does at least contain a nod to Jane’s cousin St John and his sisters, but little more than that.  (I think that part of the story is important, and it’s a shame that it’s not covered more thoroughly; for example St John’s request that Jane marry him and travel to India with him does not feature here.)  It confirmed my feelings that a running time of just under two hours is simply not enough to tell the story of Jane Eyre.

I expected not to like William Hurt in the role of Rochester – he seems an unlikely choice – but he was actually far better than I thought he would be, and his English accent was excellent.  That said, in Rochester’s early scenes, he is supposed to be abrasive and lacking in social finesse – Hurt seems to have eschewed that somewhat, and instead plays the character as a rather likeable man, from the offset.  I definitely preferred his portrayal to that of Orson Welles, although nowhere near as much as Toby Stephens in the 2006 mini series.

Unfortunately I was never convinced by Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane.  She certainly looked the part, but she seemed so wooden in the role, never expressing any emotion.  It felt as if she was just reading lines off a page.  However, Anna Paquin was great as young Jane, and the early scenes of Jane’s childhood were some of the best of the film.  Joan Plowright played Mrs Fairfax – a character I’m fond of.  There was nothing wrong with her acting, but she did have the look more of a comedy character.  However, the biggest surprise was Elle McPherson as Blanche Ingram!  I can’t begin to explain this casting choice, so I’m not going to try.

Overall, I’ve probably not done real justice to the film – the scenery was great and the general atmosphere of the book was captured here.  I probably would recommend it as one of the adaptations of this novel which is worth watching.

Year of release: 1996

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Writers: Charlotte Bronte (book), Hugh Whitemore, Franco Zeffirelli

Main cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, William Hurt, Fiona Shaw, Joan Plowright

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Click here for my review of the 2006 mini series ‘Jane Eyre’.

Click here for my review of the 1943 movie adaptation.

Click here for my review of the 1997 movie adaptation.

Click here for my review of the novel.

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This film stars Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson, and is a wonderfully cheerful musical made in 1957.  Astaire is Dick Avery, photographer for fashion magazine Quality.  When he meets Jo Stockton (Hepburn) working in a bookshop specialising in titles about philosophy, he decides that she would make a perfect model.  But Jo is not interested in the world of fashion, believing it to be shallow and unimportant.  However, she is desperate to go to Paris and meet her hero, philosopher Emil Flostre, and when she learns that the modelling assignment Dick wants her for is in Paris, she agrees to go.  Inevitably they start to fall for one another, but Jo and Dick are from different worlds, and sometimes those world clash…

Even though I don’t often choose to watch musicals, I found this film enchanting, and great fun.  Audrey Hepburn is as beautiful as ever, and it’s impossible not to love her.  She is great as the idealistic Jo, who finds herself drawn into an unfamiliar world.  Fred Astaire is also great as Dick Avery, and showcases his fabulous dancing.  (However, my favourite dance sequence from the film was that which Hepburn performed the first time she went to the philosophy hang out – with her hair scraped back and dressed in plain black top and trousers, she is still luminescent and stunning.)  Kay Thompson, as the editor of Quality was simply outstanding – she was hilarious, and her dancing and singing was great.

The film looks gorgeous – it’s set in New York, then Paris, and the latter city is shown off extremely well.  There are also some lovely outfits on show (it is a film about a model for a fashion magazine after all).  I really liked the songs and the dancing – as well as my aforementioned favourite dance sequence, I also especially liked the ‘Bonjour Paris’ song, where the three main characters all explore Paris on their own before meeting up at the Eiffel Tower.

Even if you’re not a fan of musicals, I’d recommend giving this film a watch – it’s feel-good, it looks good, and it’s a lot of fun.

Year of release: 1957

Director: Stanley Donen

Writer: Leonard Gershe

Main cast: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson

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