Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'll be glad when you're dead you rascal you


I've been enjoying my holidays - perhaps not as much as I thought I would because I've been so busy catching up on things I should have done during the year but postponed till the summer holidays. I'm basically filling my days with books, music, movies and shows, as per usual. It seems I don't get good results if I don't keep to that routine. Take today, for example. I had an appointment to see my doctor at noon, then I was supposed to eat and go see an exhibition on jazz music. I ended up going to the exhibition without eating, so I was starving all the way through. What a waste of money, I'm so disappointed. The posters and magazine covers were beautiful but the short scenes from movies I had already seen (not their fault) or if they were new, there was too much noise to hear anything. For an exhibition on jazz music, there was surprisingly little music - I wasn't able to hear a full song since we weren't provided with headsets and there was way too much noise (a group of pupils blocked my way during the whole exhibit and they were really loud). I paid good money to see this exhibition and didn't stay more than an hour. Cameras weren't allowed and I didn't even buy any bookmark at the shop afterwards, which is pretty rare for me since I always find a bookmark to buy - the only one I wanted (with a picture of Josephine Baker) ended up being out of stock by the time I got there (Saturday's the last day to see this exhibition). There was a copy-book at the end for visitors to comment on the exhibition. The comments were pretty harsh, so I figured mine wasn't going to be the one that would have the poor man who organised all this commit suicide. I wrote "I'm afraid I learnt more about jazz listening to it on my iPod."
On my way there, at the metro station, I saw about a thousand posters for the movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Call me stupid but I was taken aback: oh my god, there's a movie. Then I caught myself: you already know there's a movie, wake up, you've known for years. I can't believe I'm still not used to the idea of a Harry Potter movie. It still doesn't make sense to me. It lasted but a second, though, yet it was very awkward. It's like having a part of your heart ripped off and put on display for all to see. I remember the days when Harry Potter was still my little bubble of happiness that not many people knew about, this little treasure we buried with great care and suspicious glances and dug up from time to time just to stare at and hold to our hearts. It's still very dear to me, it'll always be, but it's very different now. I feel so vulnerable when I talk about it. Anyway, the poster I saw is really beautiful, and I can't help but think Alan Rickman is Snape come to life. I went straight to the Internet to post it and I'm astonished to find that it's not on the Internet. The poster is blue (of course, like the rest of them) and has Snape on the foreground, Draco on his left, Bellatrix on his right and Filch holding a wand (!) in the background and says "The time has come" (redundant if you ask me, since it was the tagline for Prisoner of Azkaban as well. Come to think of it, Azkaban had the best taglines of them all - Everything will change was used again for Goblet of Fire, The Time has come is used again here, Something wicked this way comes is a winner, I also like Order of the Phoenix's The rebellion begins, at least it's active and it's what the book is about). Had I known it wasn't even on the Internet, I would have taken a picture for sure. In the meantime, I'll just post a fanart by the wonderfully talented Makani who's my favourite artist when it comes to all things Potter. You might recognize this scene as taking place in Spinner's End, the second chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

"Severus, will you swear it? Will you make the Unbreakable Vow?"

And the character I got my nickname from (just for a laugh):

I finally received my copy of the Myrna Loy and William Powell collection. As you might know, they're my favourites. I had already seen 3 of the 5 movies in this boxset - Love Crazy, I Love You Again and to a lesser extent Double Wedding are absolute gems, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I discovered yesterday that Manhattan Melodrama was a very good movie too. Not in the same league as Crazy and Again, but then it's hard to beat those two and they're completely different. I've already said here that I think Clark Gable can't act and I stand by that but the story was pretty good nonetheless, he didn't ruin it for me for once. A reviewer on Amazon says the movie isn't about Powell and Loy but about Powell and Gable, and I agree with that. They both play childhood friends, Powell plays an attorney called Jim and Gable a gangster called Blackie who has just killed somebody and is convicted for murder due to Jim's rhetoric, he then has to choose between being loyal to a friend or loyal to the law. Powell is excellent in that role - I love this actor so much. Even though Myrna is in a supporting role, she still manages to shine with the little she's given. I thought the direction was top-notch and wasn't surprised when I looked up who the director was: none other than Van Dyke, who directed Myrna and William in the Thin Man series. Keep your eyes open at the beginning of the movie: there's the sinking of a ship and Mickey Rooney as a young Blackie.
The movie comes with a few extras: "goofy movies" (which are completely nutty, I couldn't believe my eyes) and a cartoon called The Old Pioneer, which was strange in its representation of Native Americans to say the least and I don't know why they thought it was a good idea to include it. Next is Evelyn Prentice and then I'll watch the extras of the three comedies and perhaps rewatch the comedies themselves.

I'm going back to sipping my ice tea and watching The Wire. I'll soon make a post about just music while I take the time to read some books I don't have much to say about . I like Shakespeare a lot. I've just finished Much Ado About Nothing and loved it, it's so witty and Beatrice is a great character. I recommend it for a good laugh and food for thought on gender differences, especially regarding Hero's relationship with Claudio and how Shakespeare deals with that throughout the play.
Please take the time to listen to Cab Calloway's music. He's amazing.

She had a million dollars worth of nickels and dimes
And she sat around and counted ´em all a million times


Have a very funny day!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, those days of soda and pretzels and cheer


I hate summer but it has to come around eventually. Since this is both the first day of summer and the first day of my holidays, I think I'll be posting much more from now on. I have tons of things to say as usual. Perhaps I'll just start with what I've been watching. As you can see on the sidebar, I am currently very busy discovering new TV shows: I had to take a break from Buffy and Angel to focus on three things: rewatching the first two seasons of Mad Men before August (when the third season airs), discovering the critically acclaimed The Wire (at long last) and watching the first two seasons of Torchwood before the third season starts airing on July 4.

I've already seen Mad Men (in fact, I started watching it when nobody was watching it, way before it had won any award), but my first viewing was bitter-sweet: I had many concerns with what the writers were saying on issues such as misogyny and racism, still I was really attracted to its aesthetics (the clothes are to die for), the show is beautiful to look at, the characters are complex and the storylines interesting and incredibly current while still being evocative. Now that I'm watching it again, I think I understand a bit more what the show is about. Mad Men is Watchmen. Hear me out! What I mean is that Mad Men focuses on superheroes and shows their dark side. Shows the true nature of the 50s narrated by the 50s themselves, not by 2009 writers writing about the 50s. It focuses just as much on the men as it does on the women. It's about a microcosm, an advertising firm that represents a whole society. I really love that what the show has to say it so current. Advertising hasn't changed, it's still all about sex, nostalgia and youth. Nostalgia for youth. Youth because of sex. It all comes back to sex. It questions conventions and the American dream through very grey characters you can never completely root for. Mad Men is challenging, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what they come up with next. I really should give The Sopranos another try sometime soon since Matthew Weiner created Mad Men and wrote for The Sopranos prior to that.

The Wire is the best show you didn't watch. Hell, I didn't watch it either when it aired. Too many other shows to focus on and I've never been interested in cop shows. I should have woken up, I should have known that HBO wouldn't air a cop show, anyway. Sure, some of the characters are policemen and women, but the writers take as much time depicting the drug dealers as they do the policemen. And The Wire is more than that, it's social commentary. It's realistic, so realistic the pace takes some getting use to: investigations take months, are not always successes and there is a lot, a lot of red tape and corruption of various institutions that prevent an investigation from moving on faster. The Wire rewards its patient audience with episodes that are more documentary than fiction, actors who look like they're doing what they do in real life, excellent dialogs and charismatic characters, all shades of grey. I am reaching the end of the second season and I'm completely addicted. PLEASE give this show a chance, the praise is well-deserved, it is one of the best shows out there hands down. Caveat of "potential audience beware", though. As is the case for Deadwood, please do not give up before having seen the first 13 episodes (the first season). I promise it's worth it, and I'm sure you'll fall in love with it way before. I for one was blown away by the pilot, but you may not be because it's different and challenging - it's what TV should always be. I'm so happy I've found it and sad that the ratings were so low when it aired, because it truly says something important about society, it's an excellent portrayal that denounces what should be denounced but never preaches while doing so. "Here, that's the way things are". No wonder it's Barack Obama's favourite show.

My love for Torchwood is more difficult to explain. I have never liked Doctor Who and yet I love Torchwood, sometimes labeled "Doctor Who for adults" even though I recognize its flaws. It's far from brilliant. The storylines are often silly (the aliens in particular are far from original, clichés are numerous: time travelling, aliens who want to be human, etc) and it's the kind of show you can probably skip and live just fine without because you wouldn't miss much. And yet, and yet, and yet... I am utterly and completely in love with the characters. All of them. I care deeply about the team because everything is written so you fall for them. They're the kind of people I want to be friends with and hug all the time. It's such a touching show when it's not meant to be. I also find its take on bisexuality extremely interesting. All of the characters are bisexual, or rather pansexual (gender doesn't matter to them) and nobody talks about it, it's a given. It's the kind of parameter I would also use for one of my stories if I ever were to write one. It's the only TV show I know that depicts sexuality this way and I find it refreshing and very well done: it doesn't mean that everybody has a sexual relationship with everybody else, just that they do whatever they fancy like doing without thinking about it twice. I think Torchwood is Russell T Davies's utopia,- it's mine too. This may participate to the feeling I get about the characters being so touching: since they're so free, they also express their feelings much more and I find characters like Gwen and Tosh to be all the more moving because we see their struggles and their loves and understand completely because it's not censored. I don't really know how to explain it, I guess you just have to watch the show and see if you can find the same connection. Torchwood also questions the meaning of life and of human life and mixes it up with the most trivial and yet cute humour. I love it, it's not perfect but it's my little bubble of fictional friends.

I've been reading so many books recently, and good ones too for most of them! I can't talk about them all in detail but I strongly recommend Kristin Cashore's Graceling. It's a fantasy book that's in the YA section of the bookshop. I think nothing can top The Hunger Games for this year's winner in YA for me but Graceling is a very engrossing book. It's beautifully written, the story is original and the heroine (Katsa is a wonderful girl) and hero are really well-written, I loved them instantly. It's got everything: it's a political story, a love story, a coming-of-age story, a story about rebellion, about survival, about conventions too, a little bit. I'm looking forward to the prequel Fire.
Noel Streatfeild is one of my favourite authors so each time I buy a new book by her, I expect it to be good. Circus Shoes wasn't good, it was very good. As far as her children books are concerned, Ballet Shoes remains my favourite, with White Boots a close second but Circus Shoes is a good strong third. Her writing is repetitive but she does it so well that I really don't mind. As usual, this one follows children who have to work as artists to win money for themselves, the attention to detail is gorgeous and the way she depicts children's emotions is second to none.
I also enjoyed The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, which was amusing, and March by Geraldine Brooks - I frankly loved what she did with the character, he's one of the best male characters to be found in fiction for sure.

But the real find for me was The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice. The cover makes it look like a book belonging to the chick-lit genre, which annoys me because it's anything but. It's certainly one of my favourite books. I would describe it as something between I Capture the Castle, The Pursuit of Love and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - if you know me at all, you know this is high praise indeed. The story takes place in the 50s in England when one day, Penelope, a teenager desperately in love with Johnnie Ray (the singer "who breaks hearts in mono", it's in the book) meets Charlotte, a confident girl her age who will open the doors of high society for her and soon becomes her best friend. Penelope will meet tons of eccentric people, all described in an impeccable, gorgeously evocative, inventive and funny prose. Dances, teas, concerts, buses being a novelty, finding a dress to wear to a ball, falling in and out of love are all part of this charming, beautiful story that I have no trouble seeing adapted if they keep the distinctive voice, setting and intelligent humour. In the background, Elvis Presley is not yet famous but thanks to American friends, Penelope (even though her heart belongs to Johnnie) hears his first record and admits he sounds "like nobody else", Penelope's brother is smitten with him and wants to become a singer, an important producer comes to England, some family secrets are revealed, and there's magic, lots of magic. I urge you to read the first few pages on Amazon: I started to type the first page here to whet your appetite and then realised I just couldn't stop and would have had to type the first 4 for you to get the whole experience!

Let's close this post with the divine Dinah Washington. I thought about posting some of her songs the minute I knew I was going to talk about Mad Men. The pilot is called Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Dinah's rendition of this song is my favourite. Such a talented singer, I love her.

They said someday you'll find
All who love are blind
Oh, when your heart's on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyes


Have a beautiful summer!


Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Favourite Series, Miniseries & Movies for TV

In alphabetical order:


American Dreams

Dead Like Me


Gilmore Girls

My So-Called Life

Once and Again

Queer as Folk

The West Wing



Angels in America

Bleak House

Cambrige Spies



The Line of Beauty

North and South


A Room With a View

Ballet Shoes

Miss Austen Regrets

Northanger Abbey



Saturday, June 6, 2009

In moments of quiet, I'm strangely drawn toward you, but - well, there haven't been any quiet moments.


This is my hundredth post, so let's make this one count! I have so much to talk about. Let's start with Deadwood, because an introduction is long overdue. I was recommended the series years ago: I watched the pilot about four times and a few more episodes but there always seemed to be more interesting things that got in the way so I never actually watched the show properly until this year. Well, let me tell you this: Deadwood is a thing of beauty. It's like a painting come to life. It's beautiful and gutsy and heartbreaking and funny and touching. The picspam I linked to actually talks about all the reasons Deadwood is awesome. But I just want to add something: watch the whole series before judging. Please. It's only 36 episodes and it's the only way to see the whole picture. Because the characters are so complex and the world so rich and original (this is greatly helped by the breathtaking cinematography, painstaking attention to detail and haunting score - god, the score, I swear, the piece Iguazu composed by Gustavo Santaolalla is magnificent) it might take you three whole seasons just to get used to this series, its words and its profound greatness. And watch out for the seasons finales - their beauty made me cry. Each episode will leave you exhausted, though, because there are just too many layers, but it's so worth it. Deadwood is about power, good and evil, chaos, basic instincts and ultimately about how we can work with and against all this and be full human beings. It's a study in sociology about what makes society (and it ain't pretty) with characters you can root for. I wish somebody would write something about the women of Deadwood - it's a man's world, but the women may just be the most complex and interesting characters of the show. This series makes a point. This series is smart. It's something you can go back to and write essays about. I miss it so much already.

Bringing Up Baby (1938) is a very good movie indeed. I thought My Man Godfrey was nutty but Bringing Up Baby is off the charts. I couldn't stop laughing and had to rewind because I'd miss too much while I was busy rolling on the floor! The title of this post is a quote taken directly from the movie. It has everything: good physical comedy, great one-liners, Katharine Hepburn has a very original role that she masters beautifully, Cary Grant is funny and geeky and the supporting cast is top-notch, not at all caricatures. A movie in which a woman buys a leopard to catch the eye of a paleontologist is a winner in my book, anyway. After watching this, I was more critical of The Philadelphia Story, which I watched shortly after: the first part of the movie is excellent but the second part was too melodramatic and romantic for my taste - Kate plays a strong woman called Tracy in a classic divorce-remarriage plot, often used in screwball comedies but the lines are so great and fresh. I didn't like Jimmy Stewart much in this picture but Cary Grant is always welcome. He does comedy so well. The young actress who plays her sister Dinah, Virginia Wedleir, is suprisingly talented. Some lines to lure you in:

Liz Imbrie: Oh it's all right Tracy. We all go haywire at times and if we don't, maybe we ought to.

Macaulay Connor: I would sell my grandmother for a drink - and you know how I love my grandmother.

Dinah Lord: Nothing ever possibly in the least ever happens here. Mother, how do you get smallpox?

Margaret Lord: Oh, dear. Is there no such thing as privacy any more?
Tracy Lord: Only in bed, mother, and not always there.

I've already said this before but I'll repeat it: what I like most about "classic" comedies is that they're all about theatre, really. It's all about dialog and the way this dialog is delivered. Add to that a challenging pace and excellent acting and you've got a winner.

Alice Swallow: Oh David, what have you done?
David Huxley: Just name anything, and I've done it.

Susan Vance: You've just had a bad day, that's all.
David Huxley: That's a masterpiece of understatement.

Moving on to books! Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson was nothing like what I expected it to be. I didn't expect it to be so funny, full of supernatural elements and the writing so smart and playful, it was all the more moving as it never thinks of being sentimental. It's realistic in terms of feelings and characterization but the writing is very special. I'm no good with summaries, so I asked Wikipedia to the rescue:
"The main character is a young girl named Jeanette, who is adopted by evangelists. She believes she is destined to become a missionary. The book depicts religious enthusiasm as an exploration of the power of love. As an adolescent, Jeanette experiences lesbian tendencies and her mother's group of religious friends subject her and her girlfriend to exorcisms." I loved Jeanette, the heroine. She's sensible, honest and hilarious. Will definitely read more of Winterson's books.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff was a lovely read. It's a true epistolary exchange between an American reader and a British bookseller living in England that starts in the middle of the Second World War. Helene regularly sends letters to order books she can't buy in the US and little by little, a friendship develops and Helene starts to send the bookshop parcels of food and other delicacies the staff can't buy because of rationing. What I liked most was Helene's passion for books. She's very honest and passionate about her loves. Even though her tastes in books are not the same as mine, I found a kindred spirit and a same obsession for reading. The correspondence was really touching and funny - Helene is such a great woman who doesn't love by halves, I like this kind of people. It's strange reading this today: I can easily have access to books published abroad and I take advantage of that immensely as you know. Still, I would have loved to have my personal bookseller sending me parcels of goodies every month, someone with whom I could discuss the books I purchase and who would be on the lookout for books I might be interested in. Reading is such a lonely activity, I feel the need to talk to other readers sometimes.

And last, but certainly not least, I finally bought and read Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli (webmistress of The Leaky Cauldron, one of the most popular fansites along with Mugglenet - I've always prefered Leaky myself), which is really a history of the fandom and how it developed. I can't express how much I loved this book. I read it in two sittings only because I started it late in the afternoon. It felt as if I were reading the story of my life so far, only with extras - Melissa attended every convention, tons of Wizard rock concerts, hosts the most listened to podcast on Potter and most of all, interviewed J.K. Rowling the day after the release of Half-Blood Prince in the most interesting interview for a fan because she asked specific questions about the plot. The second interview was for this book, Jo reminisces on how it all happened. This book is a story of what I wish my life could have been, and in a way, already was.
I cannot think of anyone who would have made a more worthy reporter of what happened for so many years. Melissa is the most excellent spokesperson and I was proud of her for standing by so many of the reasons why Harry Potter means so much to me.
It is such a privilege to be able to understand all the references, and Melissa explains them so well - the shipping wars, Laura Mallory, the fanfictions, Sugar Quill vs, the Wizard rock, the conventions. My favourite parts had to do with the release of Deathly Hallows - Melissa remembers the day it was published - because it affected all of the fandom in this eerie way - when you know something will never be the same and yet sense this accomplishment, this ultimate reward. I remember this specific passage when Jo talks about looking at her own reflection in the Mirror of Erised created for the movie when she visited the set: she saw herself surrounded with her books, Britain's most successful author. In the mirror she saw not a better version of her life but her life. Reading Harry, a History, it felt like looking in the Mirror and see a different version of myself, so close because we'd all experienced the same things, but so far because Melissa had experienced them to the full and made each one count.
I already knew Harry Potter was a part of me and would be forever - the books influenced my life from the way I vote to the way I laugh. What I didn't know is that there could be ways to be influenced by these books even more, and Melissa proved that. I felt humbled by and jealous of what she got to see, to hear, to read, to meet. I think, though, that she more than proved she was worthy of the dream life of any Potter fan - ultimately, I was simply happy someone in the world who could appreciate it entirely got to have this life. "I graduated in Potter studies" should be on her biography.
I'm so proud of this fandom and proud to be a part of it.
I hear Melissa's already writing a second book, but she didn't say what it was about. To me, it means it's not over. I said that this book was the story of my life so far, only with extras. I'm happy, grateful and relieved to know that there are still some changes to record and stories to tell.

In Philosopher's Stone, Dumbledore tells Harry: Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here! While I'm still waiting for my letter from Hogwarts, I agree that music is magical. A 3-minute song can set your mood for a whole day. Today I feel like posting some Sam Cooke. The man invented soul music all by himself. I love soul when it's sung by Sam Cooke.

Let me tell you 'bout a place
Somewhere up-a New York way

Where the people are so gay

Twistin' the night away-ay

Here they have a lot of fun
Puttin' trouble on the run

Man, you find the old and young

Twistin' the night away

They're twistin', twistin', everybody's feelin' great

They're twistin', twistin', they're twistin' the night away


I wish you a very happy month of June!
The wonderfully versatile and talented Joan Blondell