Noble House (James Clavell)

Ignore the “New York Times Bestseller” blurb on the cover. That is like an Oscar. Very annoying and no guarantee of quality. (But this is a good novel, despite the New York Times endorsing it) It’s rare for a book of this size to maintain its pace, but this one manages it. A great business novel with a large cast of larger than life characters from governors to coolies in the cauldron that is Hong Kong. The plot twists and turns with many unexpected turns and stories within stories. The characters themselves are far removed from anyone I have ever met and operate in a moral framework that is utterly alien. Yet one can’t help but sympathize with them as every one of them goes about achieving their own aims with ruthless rationality. [Read more…]

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The Dog Of The South (Charles Portis)

This is one of those books that will make you shake your head in wonder at how much contemporary fiction is dull, lifeless trash, just because it’s so subtle and hilarious that to admire its virtues is to bring the flaws of others into sharp contrast by implication. The Dog of the South provides a sprawling panoramic view of a particular strain of American culture, with its mix of simple, uncomplicated religious belief and modern economics that seems to winnow the very life and meaning out of the country.  The prose style is very artful and the character of the doctor is an American type very reminiscent of the traveling hucksters and other marginal types found in Mark Twain’ or in O’ Tooles “Confederacy of Dunces”. [Read more…]

All These Condemned (John D MacDonald)

Written in 1954 before environmental issues became big in the public consciousness – this is very different than his later works. If I didn’t know I would never have guessed it was by JDM. In the hands of some lesser writer, the two chapters per character-narrator would have come off as a cheesy gimmick, but not for the MacDonald. In just pages, MacDonald fashions whole biographies, not of these character’s histories, but of who they are in body and soul. I rarely come across a book filled with such depth and such distinctive characters.  [Read more…]

10 (1979 United States)

Around October 1979–when this flick first appeared in theatres all over the western world–a buzz had been created. Firstly, Bo Derek’s hair do became an unfortunate fashion trend. Secondly, Dudley Moore became a very unlikely sex symbol/sex dwarf. Thirdly, Ravel’s “Bolero” became the music to make love to. In other words, if you were over eighteen you just had to see this this motion picture or you were considered a square, baby. What was all the buzz about? The young lady who played the titular role, that’s what. But was she really a ten? [Read more…]

Mr Norris Changes Trains (Christopher Isherwood)

“He had an animal innocence,” Isherwood sums up Mr Norris — no, I mean Gerald Hamilton (1890-1970), the flamboyant and flabby rogue who inspired Mr Norris. The two met, presumably, in Berlin where Isherwood lived from 1929 to 1933. The author had gone to that city because of the favourable money-exchange. He caught the tormented, self-destructive spirit of Berlin which Broadway excised in favour of un-zippered frolics and Doctor Rugs (yes, I mean….drugs, not hugs and definitely not rugs). Coming from a strangulating British environment where you faced jail if caught in the bushes with a boy, he read that anything went on in Berlin. As Gerald Hamilton said, “We live in stirring times. Tea-stirring times.” [Read more…]

Carnage (2011 France/Germany/Poland/Spain)

Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award winning play “God of Carnage” was adapted by the playwright herself for Roman Polanski’s 2011 film version, renamed “Carnage.” Reza’s word feast is a juicy smörgåsbord for actors and a showcase for the film’s four stars. Despite the glow of bagging 6 Oscars and 17 nominations, the four actors were evidently chosen for talent and range, not luster; all are better known for their on-screen and on-stage work, than their tabloid antics. Carnage is a short 80 minutes. Its fast paced, often funny, well written, superbly acted – and that rarity in cinema – it leaves the bastards hungry for more. [Read more…]

Falconer (John Cheever)

So here then is John Cheever’s great penal novel. Or should I say, penile novel. Yes, yes, the pun is too obvious to be anything but unfunny. But it’s just shouting from the eaves to be thrust into the spotlight. This is primarily because one cannot turn a page without finding cocks, balls, erections, ejaculations, peckers, dicks, tumescences, foreskins, pissings, and yes, at least one anal intrusion by a phallic object. What would I expect, I suppose, from a prison novel? I’ve heard that song by Tool. I’ve seen Oz. I know what goes on there (or so I’ve heard). [Read more…]

Happiness (1998 USA)

This sadistic 2 hour film has no plot, in the sense of a meaningful series of events. Things happen, but there is no “story.” The film functions only to document human ugliness and suffering in the most agonizing detail possible, depicting several people causing and experiencing suffering, and then eventually the credits roll. I’ve seen other films that had no story line, some of which were very good, so I don’t mean it as a criticism of Happiness. Its a fact. I’ve seen many films that depicted human suffering, the majority of my favourite films have done so to a greater or lesser degree. Art is largely about “the human condition”, and whatever else it might involve, that condition certainly has its share of suffering. [Read more…]

Carnal Knowledge (1971 USA)

Bobbie: “The reason I sleep all day is because I can’t stand my life!”

Jonathon: “What life?!”

Bobbie: “Sleeping all day!…I need a life.”

Jonathon: “Get a job!”

Bobbie: “I don’t want a job. I want you.”

Jonathon: “I’m taken, by me! Get out of the house, do something useful, Goddammit.” There are some real funny one liners if you can stay awake. Carnal Knowledge, directed by Mike Nichols, from a script by cartoonist Jules Feiffer, is a dud without a single likable or really interesting character. Nichols’ film is a series of cartoon panels with no sense of any life surrounding the characters. Nichols appears to have been influenced by the films of Bergman and Antonioni though he lacks their brilliance. His reach exceeded his grasp. The result is an attempt at what was hoped to be a genre that never materialized: American art cinema. [Read more…]

Some Kind Of Beautiful (2014 USA)

A breezily sentimental romantic comedy in which everybody is hateful to one another. Look past its colourful, smooth surfaces and something corrosive emerges. And it’s not like the film isn’t aware of this. But it doesn’t really know what to do with it. The movie’s well cast, though. Pierce Brosnan plays Richard, a Cambridge English professor who when we first meet him is carrying on his father’s legacy of lecturing to adoring co-eds about the Romantic Age while humping them after class. One of those co-eds, Kate (Jessica Alba), has snared him. [Read more…]

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