Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The best things in life are free

I try to watch at least one movie everyday when I'm on holiday. These past few days, I decided to focus on Ernst Lubitsch as he's one of my favourite directors.
The Love Parade is a 1929 musical starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. I didn't have high hopes for this one as I don't seem to care much for musicals and I find Chevalier's acting quite painful. Well, it still managed to disappoint me. I cannot believe it was nominated for six Academy Awards (so they were blind back then too, good to know). It has Lubitsch's sophisticated touch but I think I could have done without this particular movie. There's so much forced acting everywhere and the songs are very forgettable.
Luckily enough, I watched Ninotchka for the first time not long afterwards and it restored my faith in the director. Garbo/Douglas is a really good pairing that works beautifully and it's full of memorable one-liners that I found hilarious.

Ninotchka: We don't have men like you in my country.
Leon: Thank you.
Ninotchka: That is why I believe in the future of my country.

The whole movie is based on the constant distanciation between funny situations and Ninotchka's practical response to them. It's full of propaganda : Ninotchka, because she's Russian, is depicted as very cold and strict compared to the carefree French but the movie was released in 1939 so I find it surprising - I would have expected this kind of stereotype during the Cold War, not in 1939. It's interesting. The movie is definitely the kind I would love to own on DVD. You can watch the movie on YouTube here.

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld was disgusting (it's all about parasites) but compelling and very interesting. The whole idea that vampirism is in fact an illness that can be scientifically and rationally explained is scary as hell and original. I loved what Westerfeld did with Darwin's theory of evolution, it feels like a direct example of what this theory implies. This book should be in every school's library, it is hugely readable science and the plot was good, the characters believable. I wanted to know more about them. Definitely an author I'll keep reading.

I thought I had seen Neil Gaiman at his best in Coraline and Stardust but obviously I couldn't have been further from the truth. American Gods is impossible to sum up accurately but the best I can say is that it follows Shadow, a man who's just been released from prison, on a journey across the USA where he will meet gods, ghosts and common humans alike. This book is of epic proportions : Gaiman talks about everything and everyone in it, from a chapter dedicated to describing a slave's journey to America to Shadow's own personal quest for peace. It's a very compelling book. Not only because the characters are hugely interesting and depicted warmly as is always the case in Gaiman, but also because it challenges the reader. Some passages are particularly apt to explain why the book won the Bram Stoker award for horror fiction. I feel - it may be presumptious - that thanks to this book I have a better understanding of what the USA is all about. How timely that I should have finished this book the day before an inauguration that seems to carry so much hope and be the theatre of so many myths embodied by one single man. On Martin Luther King's day. The last sentences of the book struck home in a way they could only have struck home yesterday.

May history be made. Happy inauguration everybody !