Posted on September 30, 2010 by simonlitton
Flicking back through my 2010 diary I noticed something alarming. In the first 9 months of this year I’ve only been to the cinema 10 times (yes, I note cinema trips in my diary. Shut up). Now once a month might not seem so bad an average, in fact it’s more than most people manage, but I can remember a time when I saw nine films per month (not counting TV and DVDs). Obviously there have been changes in lifestyle since then which affect both the opportunities and the kind of film I end up seeing. Plus my tastes have changed and I don’t have to rush out to see every FX-filled blockbuster, or everything that gets rave reviews. I’m much more selective these days.
On the topic of seeing something because of the reviews, film critic Roger Ebert tells a story to illustrate how people choose what to go and see: friends of his are interested in seeing a particular film and ask his opinion. He replies “I think it’s one of the best films of the year”. They pause, then say “Oh, that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing we’d want to see”.
For the record, the ten films of 2010:
- The Princess and the Frog
- A Serious Man
- Green Zone
- The Ghost Writer
- Iron Man 2
- Toy Story 3
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: film | 2 Comments »
Posted on September 28, 2010 by simonlitton
We finally finished The Wire this past weekend, and I’m missing it already.
I’m not usually that interested in police series, which may be partly due to their ubiquity, but also partly because I often find the relentless grimness and tough-guy posturing irritating. I first took notice of The Wire when I started reading review after review and article after article claiming that, in all seriousness and hyperbole aside, it was the best drama on TV, maybe ever. And this was from trustworthy, sober sources. If I’d started the first series without having been exposed to all the acclaim I’d probably have thought that it was a better than average, if a little slow-paced, cop show. But I stuck with it, and it got better with every season as the characters deepened and the scope expanded. That’s what interested me; the fact that over time it became a portrait of an entire city, ranging from the housing projects and the world of the drug dealers (season one, although it continued as a plotline throughout all five seasons) to the union bosses in the ports (season two) to City Hall and the mayoral elections (season three) to the schools (season four, probably my favorite) to the newspaper offices (season five). It was probably around the middle of season three, when the “Hamsterdam” storyline was introduced, that I became seriously hooked.
I’ll keep an eye out for anything else by the creator David Simon (he has a new show called Treme set in New Orleans), and I bought the mini-series The Corner, which is a kind of precursor to The Wire, set in the same milieu and dealing with some of the same issues, so that’ll give me a quick fix, even if it doesn’t feature Bunk, McNulty, Omar or Bubbles.
It’s hard to find one clip to show you which gives a real sense of what makes The Wire great, as the realism, attention to detail, intelligence and scope come across in the wider storytelling rather than individual moments. So I’ve chosen one of the more famous comedy moments from season 1, where Bunk and McNulty investigate a murder scene. No spoilers here, but a few naughty words.
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Posted on September 26, 2010 by simonlitton
[This post is in French, as part of the European Day of Multilingual Blogging. I've tried to do it without recourse to any dictionaries or textbooks, so mistakes in spelling, grammar or vocabulary are my own fault]
Ceci n’est pas la première fois que je blog dans une autre langue. Il y a plusieurs années j’ai écrit un post en italien, sans aucune réaction. Pas étonnant: je ne crois pas qu’il y ait des italophones parmi mes lecteurs habituels (à part ma femme). Donc cette fois-ci, pour fêter la journée européenne des blogs multilingues, je me suis dit qu’il vaut mieux blogger en français. Pas mal d’amis et (forcément) des collègues comprennent le français, même si je ne les obligerais pas à laisser des commentaires en français aussi.
Alors, quoi dire? J’en sais rien. Je ne vois pas l’interêt de traduire un post que j’allais écrire en anglais. Pour moi le français est un outil de travail (au bureau je parle ou ecris la moitié du temps en français). C’est aussi utile pour la vie privé: Bruxelles est peut-être officiellement bilingue, mais en réalité, et peut-être en fonction du grand nombre d’étrangers qui l’habite, c’est le français qui règne, et le flamand qui doit toujours se pousser en avant pour être entendu. En plus, je parle le flamand au niveau d’un enfant de 6 ans, qui n’est pas le meilleur quand on veut parler avec des adults belges.
Je me sens assez à l’aise en français, ce qui ne veut pas dire que je sais m’exprimer tout à fait du même façon que je le ferais en anglais. Il y a toujours quelque nuance qui m’échappe, le mot juste que je ne trouve pas, une blague que je ne comprends pas. Mais ce qui m’embête le plus d’être un anglais dans un pays (partiellement) francophone, c’est que tout le monde (au travail surtout, mais aussi des amis) veut que je relis et corrège leurs textes quand ils écrivent en anglais…
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Posted on September 23, 2010 by simonlitton
Yesterday started well: as I was approaching the building a colleague came up to me to inform me that just around the corner by the other entrance free coffee and croissants were awaiting staff who had taken public transport to work that day, as part of a campaign to encourage sustainable mobility. I can’t say that the possibility of half a soggy croissant and a small cup of weak coffee are a deciding factor in how I get to work, but it was free, which is my favourite price.
That evening we went to Brussels Bookswappers to see if we could unearth any more free gems. I dumped about a dozen books I’d read recently which weren’t worth cluttering up our shelves with, and picked up Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt and a collection of Dorothy Parker stories. The Parker was an ancient, crumbling Penguin paperback, and once I gently prised it open I found something you don’t usually expect to see inside a book: several pages of advertising. This edition had been published in 1943, so most of the adverts were for food rations. The back cover promotes the benefits of “fruit salt”:
While inside the front cover we learn that a delicious and nutricious family dessert can be made by simply slicing up a Mars bar:
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: belgium, books, gastronaut | 5 Comments »
Posted on September 17, 2010 by simonlitton
I was initially looking forward to Disney’s Rapunzel movie. One of their most respected animators, Glen Keane, was finally being given the chance to direct, and he was developing an innovative technique whereby the images would be three-dimensional and yet have the texture of an oil painting. Then they fired him and brought in another director. They also decided that the reason their last movie, The Princess and the Frog, hadn’t been as big a hit as expected was that it was too “girly” and the word “princess” in the title put boys off going to see it, so they added more action, beefed up the male character’s role, and changed the title to Tangled. A while ago I saw one of the misguided and inappropriate viral marketing videos they’d made, and yesterday I saw the trailer for this depressing Shrek-alike mess.
But do you know what bothers me the most about this? I’m going to have to go and see it. My girls have already seen the trailer and can’t wait. Castles and princesses with long blonde hair? Must see! Of course there’s plenty of good stuff around too, and I’ve made sure they see plenty of Pixar and Miyazaki in an attempt to balance out all the Barbie dvds.
Also, to be fair, I’m sure my Dad suffered through a fair few bad films I made him take me to when I was a child. Maybe he was secretly glad for an excuse to see Star Wars, Superman, Clash of the Titans, etc. He certainly seemed to enjoy them, and, nostaglia-tinging aside, I do think there was something more innocent and fun about those early ’80s fantasy adventures, especially when compared to some of the slick, cynical, “hip” stuff released these days. On the other hand I, like my own children, was uncritical enough to be reeled in by anything containing certain key elements (superheroes, spaceships, monsters) regardless of the quality of the script. One that sticks in the mind is “Spiderman and the Dragon’s Challenge”. This was one of those cases, like the original Battlestar Galactica, where two episodes of an American TV series were stapled together and released in cinemas in Europe. I probably realised at the time how cheesy and limp it was, but look! He’s climbing the walls!
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: children, film | 1 Comment »
Posted on September 12, 2010 by simonlitton
This nonsense has been going on for four whole years now. To the day. Can you believe it?
Five top posts, in terms of views, are:
- Maison et Confort
- Sarnie Party
- Fork Handles
- Theme tune
- The thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to
Which is not to say that people have read them or liked them, but that they’ve received hits based on people searching for particular phrases (this explains number 5, which would otherwise have received little attention).
Perhaps a better indicator is the number of comments a post receives, in which case the top 5 looks more like this:
- Sarnie Party
- Feed Me Weird Things
- Only 4 Senses
- Sandwich Party 3
The lesson here seems clear: the way to a blog-reader’s heart is through his/her stomach.
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Posted on September 1, 2010 by simonlitton
I read Douglas Adams’ “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” some time ago but forgot most of it, and started re-reading it recently when I learnt that a BBC Four adaptation was in the works. This scene, in which Gently defends the bill he has sent a client for continuing after seven years to search for her missing cat, amused me.
“Well perhaps,” continued Dirk to Mrs. Sauskind, “you could just run over any of the areas in the bill that cause you difficulty. Just the broader areas. [...] Yes, expenses were, well, expensive in the Bahamas Mrs. Sauskind, it is in the nature of expenses to be so, hence the name. [...] Of course I will explain to you again why the trip to the Bahamas was so vitally necessary,” said Dirk Gently soothingly. “Nothing could give me greater pleasure. I believe, as you know, Mrs. Sauskind, in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Furthermore I have plotted and triangulated the vectors of interconnectedness of all things and traced them to a beach in Bermuda which it is therefore necessary for me to visit from time to time in the course of my investigations. I wish it were not the case since, sadly, I am allergic to both the sun and rum punches, but then we all have our crosses to bear, do we not, Mrs. Sauskind?” A babble seemed to break out from the telephone. “You sadden me, Mrs. Sauskind. I wish I could find it in my heart to tell you that I find your scepticism rewarding and invigorating, but with the best will in the world I cannot. I am drained by it, Mrs. Sauskind, drained. I think you will find an item in the bill to that effect. Let me see.” He picked up a flimsy carbon copy lying near him. “‘Detecting and triangulating the vectors of interconnectedness of all things, one hundred and fifty pounds.’ We’ve dealt with that. ‘Tracing same to beach on Bahamas, fare and accommodation’. A mere fifteen hundred. The accommodation was, of course, distressingly modest. Ah yes, here we are, “Struggling on in the face of draining scepticism from client, drinks – three hundred and twenty-seven pounds fifty.’”
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