Friday, March 30, 2007

"My Cousin Rachel"

First things first; the episode titles for the 3rd series of Doctor Who (thanks Ann-Marie!)

1: Smith and Jones
2: The Shakespeare Code
3: Gridlock
4: Daleks in Manhattan (Part One)
5: Evolution of the Daleks (Part Two)
6: The Lazarus Experiment
7: 42
8: Human Nature (Part One)
9: The Family of Blood (Part Two)
10: Blink
11: Utopia
12: The Sound of Drums (Part One)
13: Last of the Time Lords (Part Two)

Preliminary thoughts:

  • Only 13 episodes?!? Ah, crap.
  • Episode Two had better not be a sub-Da Vinci Code thing. I'm warning ye, do not do that to the Bard! *shakes fist*
  • Could Episode Seven be a Douglas Adams reference? Wow, I'd love if Marvin the Paranoid Android had a guest spot.
  • And then that last one. "Last of the Time Lords?" Sounds a wee bit ominous. I guess the fact that David Tennant has signed up for series 4 dispells any worries I have in that respect, anyhow.

So don't forget! Doctor Who, BBC, 7pm, tomorrow. Be there - or be a Dalek-y type square.


My Cousin Rachel (Daphne du Maurier)

"They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not any more though..."

Daphne du Maurier doesn't get enough credit. As regards mystery or horror writers, she seems to be left in the dust of the big boys; and when it comes to to talent of crafting a perfectly poised opening sentence, she is almost completely forgotten. It's a shame, because the opening line of My Cousin Rachel is about as perfect as you can get - it's mysterious, elegantly phrased, memorable and becomes significant later on in the story. Along with her famous "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again..." in Rebecca, du Maurier has got this art to down to a tee.

I didn't actually mean to start reading this book. It's just that on Monday I found myself sitting in a double free class with no homework, study or book at my disposal. I excused myself to the school's pitifully-stocked library;amid the Boyzone annuals and dusty history tomes I came across this battered Daphne du Maurier paperback and decided it would do to fill my time neatly until the bell rang for home. 80 minutes later I was deeply engrossed in the story, despite myself. I had forgotten how good du Maurier is; when I think of my favourite writers I always seem to leave her out, although I've loved Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and of course, Don't Look Now. She has a knack for creating deceptivly simple stories that chill me right to the bone. In everything I've read by her there's been a moment which has deeply disturbed me, in the best way possible. When I first read Don't Look Now, it was quite late at night and when I reached the ending (that ending...) I actually threw my copy across the room in horror and shock and revulsion. And if a writer can elict that kind of visceral response from me, I know she's a keeper.

I'll give a quick rundown of the plot. Philip Ashley is a headstrong young man in his early-20s. He grew up in the care and company of his older cousin, Ambrose - a gleefully playful and devoted relative whom the young Philip always admired. They live together in a sort of 19th century bachelor pad and their lifestyle is easy and fun, until Ambrose becomes ill and travels to Europe to regain his health. Philip begins to recieve letters from his cousin, letters describing his health, daily life in Europe and eventually, mentions of a woman always referred to as "my cousin Rachel". It transpires that this woman is a distant relative and Ambrose becomes infatuated with her. The next thing Philip hears is that they have wed and are living together in Italy. Slightly annoyed at this turn of events, Philip manages to carry on in the house by himself - until he begins to recieve letters of a different tone. Ambrose sounds unhappy, but before anything concrete can be determined, the letters stop. Almost a year later, Philip recieves a few letters from his cousin that seem to have been written by a man on the brink of madness. Shortly afterwards, Ambrose dies from a mysterious illness.

When his widow, the mysterious Rachel, arrives in Cornwall, she is quite unlike the woman Philip has been imagining,hating and privatey blaming for the death of his cousin all this time. She moves into his house, and Philip soon becomes infatuated with her...

The ending is typically ambiguous, which is ultimatly more satisfying than a clear-cut answer would be. The narrative seems simple, at times I was feeling all the emotions that Philip was, but at others I was this close to yelling at the page "No, you fool!" At times I really wanted to shake him, which added to the tension simmering all the way through this short novel.

In short: Gripping, intriguing and with an ending that will leave you trying to puzzle it all out, My Cousin Rachel is an oft-forgotten masterpiece by a talented (and neglected) writer.


Prague on Sunday! Kafka-land, here I come!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Writers I adore: David Sedaris

One Saturday, while browsing through second-hand bookshops, I came across a well-thumbed, slightly bent copy of David Sedaris' short story collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day. At the low, low price of $3.50 (how does one get a euro sign to work?), I just had to buy it. I'd already read it a couple of times, but I needed my own copy.

Later, while on the bus home, I took the risk of getting travel-sick and began to read a couple of the stories. Midway through Jesus Saves, I had to stop. Not because I was about to get sick, but because my loud giggles were disturbing the people around me. I closed the book hurriedly and shoved it in my bag. Too late, the words were stuck in my brain and I couldn't help myself. Shoulder quivering with the force of trying to hold back the laughter, eyes brimming over with mirthful tears, I stared out of the window and made myself think of Sad Things.

Okay, I'll admit that it's quite easy to make me laugh. My sister once threatened to disown me when we went to see Flushed Away (that movie was brilliant on about ten different levels) I was laughing so hard. But Sedaris is someone special. No matter how many times I read his writing, no matter if I know the stories almost by heart, I still find them amazingly amusing.

David Sedaris is an American humourist now living in France. He's gay, comes from a large family and once worked as an elf in a department store. His account of this job, as told in the story The SantaLand Diaries, is one of my favourite short stories of all time. Yep, a non-fiction comedy piece is up there with Lorrie Moore, Kafka and the rest of 'em. Listen to the story here - Sedaris also reads his work on American radio. Once you listen to him reading, his voice will never leave your head. In a good way, I mean.

Some of his best work comes from his struggles with the French language. When he first moved to France, the only word he knew was "bottleneck", which, as you can imagine, isn't the most useful phrase to have at your disposal. Fortunately, after a torturous series of French lessons ("It was mid-October when the teacher singled me out saying 'Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section'. And it struck me, for the first time since arriving in France, I could understand every word that someone was saying") he became quite fluent. He puts his life into his work,
we know his family, his childhood, his lovelife and his little quirks and foibles. Over the years that I've read him (I first came across his writing in Paris, around 2004) I've grown to love his work like an old friend. His books sit on my shelves, waiting for those days when I feel miserable and need someone to make me smile again.

But don't take my word on it. Check him out for yourselves;

In The Waiting Room
Memento Mori
Interview with David Sedaris


Other links of interest:

I wouldn't wear this shirt, but it sure does make me laugh.
Emma over at All About My Movies is holding a blogathon this July on the subject of "Performances that Changed Your Life". Sign up now!
And don't forgot, series 3 of Doctor Who is beginning this Saturday!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Here kitty kitty kitty!

I just found a great online comic strip: XKCD - A Webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.

It's unbelievably geeky (woo! check out that oxford comma in the tagline!) and brilliant.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


My enjoyment for Terry Pratchett books are one of the many things in my life that tip me over onto the Geek side of the scales. Ever since I read the Bromeliad trilogy when I was quite young, followed quickly by the Johnny books and from then on progressed on to the "adult" Discworld novels, I've been a Pratchett fan-girl. (Is there are correct term for one of these? Star Trek fans are Trekkies. Tori Amos fans are Ears With Feet. Discworld fans need a moniker!)

"Thud!" is the latest in the series and I believe the 30th book. I'll confess, I haven't read all 28 others. I know which sub-sects I enjoy (Death, the Witches, the Watch) and those I don't ( the latest kiddy ones like The Wee Free Men and the Wizards, while fun, aren't my favourites) and I'm quite happy to stick with the ones I like. I haven't read a new Discworld in ages and if my mam hadn't handed me this one the last time we were in the library, it's doubtful whether I've had read it at all. Luckily, she did.

Pratchett has an inate gift for combining subtle social commentary with bizarre and often stomach-clenchingly funny humour. Over the decades, he's built up a wealth of characters and backstory; a richness that allows him to jolt back and forth between intertwining storylines and to let him pile on the inside jokes. A new fan of the series would definitely have a major problem unravelling the intricate web of characters presented in "Thud!", but for a seasoned visitor to Ankh-Morpork, it's like greeting a group of old friends again.

Commander Sam Vimes is the novel's main player and we get an indepth look into the man's psyche. Juggling his (considerable) duties as leader of the City Watch and his new life as a devoted husband and father (the scenes in which Vimes deals with Young Sam are some of the most touching that Pratchett has ever penned), Vimes is a severly stressed man. And his stress is about to build, as it's fast approaching the anniversary of Koom Valley - a legendary battle where a group of dwarves ambushed a group of trolls (or was it the other way around?) and the two species are beginning to become hostile towards each other. When a dwarf is found murdered with a troll's club beside the corpse, the threat of another battle is iminent and Vimes must keep the two sides away from each other, solve the murder, control his Watch and make it home every night at 6 to read "Where's My Cow?" to Young Sam. This is probably the first time we get such a layered look at Vimes and he is the perfect man to build a storyline around; tough, realistic, kind-hearted and just the littlest bit insane.

However, Vimes isn't the only character who has a role to play. The other members of the Watch appear regularly, from old favourites like the bashful six-foot dwarf Captain Carrot and the pimply subhuman Corporal Nobby Nobbs, to the newer arrivals such as Angua the werewolf and Sally the vampire. One of my personal favourites, the city Patrician, Vetinari features and there's a short cameo from my numero uno, Death himself. There's even a quick reference to Foul Ole Ron, the very mention of whom is sure to elict a giggle.

Pratchett is not shy at taking a dig at Earth. Discworld may be floating on the back of an turtle being carried by four elephants, but the two worlds share many details. Fundamentalism, positive discrimination, war, stripclubs and The Da Vinci Code are just some of the topics that Pratchett aims his pen at; and every one is a hit.

"Thud!" takes a good while to get going. When I began reading, it was with a definate lack of interest and the first 100 pages seemed to drag. However, as the plot began to get going and the jokes came thick and fast, I became more and more engrossed in it. The last 150 pages I devoured in a happy rush and the whole thing ends very satisfactorily.

I doubt I'll ever enjoy a Discworld novel the way I enjoyed "Mort" when I was 12, but "Thud!" proves to me that Pratchett still has the magic touch.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Il sell you to the first one-eyed carnival freak I can find for a pack of chewing gum!"

A new addition to this blog, which I'll happily attribute to my reading of 50 Books, finds me keeping track of all the books I read in 2007. During a particularly dull free History period this morning I began to jot down the names of the books so far; a strenuous exericise as I couldn't quite recall which books I had read since January, rather than ones I had read since September. I decided to stretch the year back to Christmas, around when I read a number of novels in a row. It's easy to keep track if I take 25 December 2006 as my starting-off point.

To the left you can see a list of the ones I remember. It doesn't seem like a whole lot and I'm fairly sure there were a number of books I've read in that time that have completely slipped my mind. It would be easy to say "Oh, if I can't remember them, they can't have been that good in the first place" but anyone who knows me will vouch for my awful memory. To the forgotten books: I'm honestly sorry.

Now, onto the year. I severely doubt I'm going to read 50 Books from now until Christmas. I never complete tasks like this and I'm worried it'll suck the joy out of reading. Instead of setting myself impossible challenges, I'm just going to note down every book I read and perhaps a few thoughts about them, if I'm feeling wild.

Currently Reading: "Thud" by Terry Pratchett
To Read: Well, I bought "The Little Friend" by Donna Tartt in Hodges Figgis last week, but am waiting until I finish my Discworld novel to begin it. I also still have some surplus from Catherine's Christmas Book Buying Spree, including "On The Road", "Tender is the Night" and a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

In other news:

After Ugly Betty last night (I'm enjoying this show more and more as it goes on!), I switched off the tv to complete my English homework and take a shower. After which, not feeling in the mood to read or sleep, I turned on the tv again to find myself perfectly timed to catch the beginning of the film. I had missed the opening titles, just caught the end credits so I knew it was a Gus Van Sant film. I'm not a huge Van Sant fan (only having seen the haunting, but kind of tedious Elephant) but I also saw Matt Dillon was the leading actor, so I settled down to watch.

The film was, of course, Drugstore Cowboy.

I really enjoyed Matt Dillon's performance. His portrayal of Bob Hughes, a nervy junkie with no discernable future other than hanging out with his loser friends and breaking into hospitals for a fix, was a revelation. Previously, the only other screen appearance I had ever seen by him was the guy in the Pogues' video, so it was great to see him actually have a substanstial role. Bob is the quintessential drug addict, heroin thin and brooding eyes, tapping his fingers off the tables, constantly waiting for his next high. He's definitely the focus of this piece, there's a voice-over that runs throughout and the film is bookended with the same scene of him being carted off to hospital in an ambulance.

There were some very realistic little touches in the film that I loved, nothing to do with taking drugs or running from the law (obviously stuff that I have no experience with!) but, for example, a small scene where Bob gathers his friends down in order to tell them something important. He's very excited and is beginning to tell them when his girlfriend gets up and leaves for her cigarettes. Agitated, he tries to start again when another friend stands up and says he'll be back in a minute. The frustration on Bob's face and the feeling of "Listen guys, sit down and hear me out!" are something everyone can relate to. Other cute touches were Bob's girlfriend, Diane, waving goodbye to Bob's mother. She's walking towards the car and the mother is standing in the doorway of the house, so Diane gives her a a little backwards wave. It's cute and funny, but such a throwaway thing that it could have easily been left out. I appreciate small details like this. Also, the casting of William S. Burroughs was spot on: the guy can't really act, but if you want an elderly, wise old man with a drug habit to lend gravitas to your film, Burroughs is your man.

As druggie movies go, it doesn't have the humour, quotability or youthful exuberance of Trainspotting, nor does it have the hyper-intensity of Requiem for a Dream. But, I suppose lumping these three films together because of one common thread is rather humourless, as all are very different from each other. Some of the finer details of the actual plot eluded me (although this is perhaps due to my state of mind; as the film progressed I became more and more tired. During the last 15 minutes I was continuosly checking my phone for the time to see when I could crawl into bed) and I disliked the cheesy sub-Wizard of Oz graphics and the noodly jazz score. But, it wasn't overly long and I did almost well up at one point, so it gets a "Decent Watch" on the Catherine-ometer.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"The Illusionist" (2006) Neil Burger

There’s a scene just at the end of The Illusionist in which Chief Inspector Uhl, played by a likable Paul Giamatti, suddenly gains understanding of what has just happened in the previous two hours. Standing in the middle of a crowded train station, he breaks into a wide grin, confident that all has explained to him. The mystery is solved. He is enlightened. It's not unlike the end of “The Usual Suspects”, when the detective figures out who Keyser Soze is. Except for one minor detail. The audience are still left completely in the dark and instead of feeling enlightened, I just felt irritated.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe the plot was too complicated, maybe I wasn’t paying attention as carefully as I should have been. But, leaving my possible stupidity out of the equation, the ending to The Illusionist is still an unsatisfactory pill to swallow. We have been completely duped by Edward Norton’s unblinking Eisenhiem, but as good as a magician as he is, he fails to address the fact that unless we have some way of riddling out the clues ourselves, half the fun is gone.

The Illusionist is a gothic fairytale set in early 20th century Vienna. Edward Norton plays Eisenhiem, a tall, slender, brooding man with a penchant for magic tricks. More then a penchant, I suppose – this guy enthralls audiences with his set pieces, conjuring up orange trees out of thin air, making handkerchiefs disappear and reappear and he also does a mean “Sword-in-the-Stone” trick that has the local royals fuming. In the voiceover narration, sparingly done by Chief Inspector Uhl (so sparingly I actually forgot there was a VO to begin with and when he suddenly started narrating again halfway through the movie I became momentarily confused) we are told Eisenheim’s backstory, in the years when he was just a young boy who fell in love with a girl of a higher social class. Inevitably Edward (as he was then known) and Sophie are torn apart by the adults in their lives, and a depressed Eisenheim falls into the world of magic and trickery, before leaving his village to travel the world and perfect his craft. So far, so predictable. Philip Glass’ thunderous score jumping in at impromptu moments should serve to accentuate the tension and danger, instead it merely draws attention to the fact that the acting in these flashback scenes is so woefully bad that we don’t really care if Eisenheim never sees his childhood love again. But hey, this is Hollywood, and so she eventually walks back into his life - and onto his stage. Back in present day (well, the present day of the film) an older Sophie (played, almost convincingly, by Jessica Biel) is volunteered by her latest flame, the Prince of Vienna (a ridiculously coiffured Rufus Sewell) to accompany Eisenheim onstage in one of his tricks. Thus, the pair are reunited and the old embers of love begin to reignate. Rufus Sewell is having none of it though, and demonstrates his anger by doing one of two expressions: “Glass-Eyed Monotone” or “Scary Glass-Eyed Fury”.

The ending and Rufus Sewell are two of the things I liked least about The Illusionist. There were also plenty of things I really enjoyed about it, mainly the cinematography. Or, as I put it to my sister upon leaving the cinema, “wow, pretty colours!”. Monochrome street scenes tinged with golden light, the flickering candle intensity of the magic shows, the almost technicolour glory of the train station, this is an extremely aesthethicly pleasing film. The quibbles I have with Philip Glass are fairly minor; he does tend to copy himself an awful lot and sometimes his scores are too overbearing (“Strings! Descending piano scales! Strings! Intensity! Pulsing strings!”), but that doesn’t change the fact I really dig his music. Even though I think he needs to borrow “Film Music For Dummies” from his local library and give it a quick thumb.

I wouldn’t discourage people from seeing this in the cinema. The presence of Edward Norton alone should be enough to entice many people to purchase a ticket and his performance is a treat. While his accent took me a little while to get used to, I quickly became accustumed to his mannered, strange way of speaking and totally believed in his character. It’s a fairly well-made, pretty production and even if the ending leaves you scratching your head/shaking it in disgust, it’s gaurunteed better than Norbit.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Parlez-vous Francais?

Just how essential is learning a modern language at school? Is there really any point in studying French, German and Italian? Are all those hours memorisng those irregular French verbs really vital to survive in today’s world? Reading today’s Guardian, the answer given by many of Britain’s state schools seems to be a resounding “meh”.

According to a new report, studying a modern language at GSCE level (the equivalent to our Junior Cert) seems to be a trend best left to grammar schools, specialist schools and independent schools, many of whom are keeping up teaching these subjects. On the other hand, however, shows that many state schools are dropping them altogether. A crazy statistic shows that a mere 26% of pupils on free school meals study a foreign language at GSCE. Thus, the people who go on to study German or French or whatever at uni are mostly wealthy and middle-class. I find this is a bit dodgy, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Might as well just reinforce the stereotype that all working-class are only fit to be plumbers and drunkards, the plebs.*

*This is, of course, a joke.

In Britain, it is not complusory to study a foreign language at GSCE level. For the time being, at least. There seems to be a minor skefuffle over this topic,

Across the pond in my own green land, we are made study a foreign language up to Junior Cert, wherupon we can drop it (like it’s hot). In my experience, though, the majority of people choose to continue their language up to Leaving Cert. A reason for this is that most of the Irish Univeristys require at least one foreign language (except, interestingly, Trinity, which considers Irish to be a “foreign language”). The choice of languages we get are fairly limited. In my year, there are two French classes, one German class and one Spanish “class” which consists of two people, due to a glitch in the system. I’d guess that we’re fairly average in this respect (save for our two poor Spaniards), and although many schools do offer Italian/Spanish/Portuguese, I know hardly any that do Chinese, Polish or other, non-European languages, save for maybe a few specialist schools. Which I think is a mistake. What with the enormous number of Polish people living in Ireland and the emergence of China as one of the leading superpowers (is that word still valid after the Cold War?) in the world, it seems a little odd that the majority of Irish teenagers are unable to pursue these languages.

Personally, I’d jump at the chance to study any of them. At the moment, I’m doing French as my foreign language and obviously the complusory Irish, both of which are amongst my best (and favourite) subjects. I’m good at languages, wheras I’m not especially scientific. I’d love to be allowed do another language instead of Geography, for example. It’s one of my Big Ambitions in life to become bilingual at some point in the future, which isn’t a crazy Big Ambition, compared to some… But I mean properly bilingual, as competent in French as I am in English.

The focus of the teaching seems a tad skewed. Take the Irish course, a subject which I enjoy and have an interest in. It’s impossible huge, taking in poetry, prose, film and the history of the language as well as the usual essays, oral and aural exams. Most of my friends despise Irish as they see it as a boring course with far too much workload. I’m sure that the teachers would much rather work at promoting the language and encouraging students to take an active interest in speaking it, but the sheer magnitude of the work means that little or no time is dedicated to learning Irish for pleasure. With French, the course is a lot more managable, but there’s still much room for improvement. I’m quite happy to read French magazines and watch French films (avec subtitles!) but it would be better if they were integrated into the course more. It seems that learning languages involve a lot of learning by rote, memorising verbs and vocabulary for exams which later drift out of your brain. We shouldn’t learn Spanish to pass an exam, we should learn it to be able to converse with Spanish people, visit Spain and (perhaps) use in our jobs.

I want to be able to watch “All About My Mother” without subtitles, damnit!

Monday, March 12, 2007

"Fight Club" (1999) David Fincher

“The first rule of Fight Club is - you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is - you DO NOT talk about Fight Club.”

How many people have broken the first two rules of Fight Club? How many journalists, reviewers, bloggers, slackers, deep-thinkers, ordinary folks exiting the cinema and angry moral types who write into their local newspaper complaining about screen violence have deeply angered Tyler Durden by breaking his fundamental law, this Tyler Durden who is already spinning with indignant fury at the rage of his generation? Don’t worry people, Tyler Durden doesn’t exist.

Or does he?

“Fight Club” is the story of one man, technically a nameless guy but we’ll call him Jack for the sake of this. He’s an insomniac, a cynical yuppie who’s narration is the common thread throughout the film. On a mind-numbing business trip, Jack ecounters a man named Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt in his rippling muscular glory. Tyler is cool, hard and funny and Jack has to move in with him due to a bizzare turn of fate. They become fast friends and soon begin to adapt to a new way of life, rejecting any notions of what it means to be a “man” in the 20th century and reverting to an older, primal urge; the urge to beat the shit out of others. When they found the titular Fight Club, a chain of events starts up and we are hurtled along until the inevitable catastrophe, in which Jack learns something very peculiar about himself.

There has been so much written about “Fight Club”, the darkly-comic thriller starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt and directed by David Fincher, that it seems a little redundant to expound more time, energy and gigabytes on it. The era has changed, when Fight Club first appeared in theatres it was perfectly timed to coincide with the worries and fear of the Millennium Bug. Rewatching it now on dvd, only one of the many repackaging and reissues of the film, seems a little silly, a little “missing-the-point”. But fortunately, David Fincher had a magician’s trick box at his disposal, not to mention two leads who pull out all the stops and he ensures that this movie is watch-able at any point in time. “Fight Club” is supremely entertaining, flashy, thought-provoking and hilarious.

Yes, it’s a comedy, and there are plenty of laughs to be had amid all the cynicism and the bloodied lips. There’s something a little unnerving about giggling as our Narrator masquerades as one of the sickly individuals who haunt support groups, but this uneasy humour is balanced with perfect sight gags. One liners are thrown at you like the punches administrated throughout the film. Watch Norton beat himself to a pulp in his boss’s office, crashing through tables and throwing himself against walls looking for all the world like a modern day Donald O’Connor on crack. Watch Brad Pitt scoffing at a male underwear model on a poster, and grin to yourself. Ooof, the irony.

It’s also very, very smart. The esteemed critic Roger Ebert disliked the film, giving it two stars. The opening paragraph of his review says "Fight Club" is the most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since "Death Wish," a celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up.” Which is the type of thing which sounds like it may turn into one of those “boo it has violence so therefore it’s trash” worthless reads, but Ebert is smarter than that. His main qualm, it seems, is that most of the audience who sees it won’t get the message and just enjoy the brutal fisticuffs. While this is true to a certain extent, it seems a little silly to review a movie on the basis of what other people may think of it. There is no doubt that many, many stupid people have watched this and started picking fights with total strangers. But there is also little doubt (in my mind) that many more people have seen it and it has made them think. Layers of double-meaning, the all-knowing voice-over, buckets of cynicism, references to Nihilism and Nietzsche (this film doesn’t advocate this philosophy, btw. If people come away thinking “That film was a fascist film”, they’ve completely missed the mark) – this movie requires multiple viewings and a certain amount of head-scratching. While you don’t have to necessarily agree with the princepals of the thing, you have to admire the balls it takes to make a film like this. Take what you want from it.

You would think that knowing the twist ending would detract from the film. Not in the slightest. Having read the original novel by Chuck Palahniuk a couple of years ago and also having viewed one of those Channel 4 countdown shows that manage to give away as much essential information about films as humanly possible, I already knew the plot twist that the whole film hangs on. Wonderfully, instead of taking away from the film (ala The Usual Suspects) knowing the end of Fight Club only adds to the viewing. It’s a pure delight to see the clues scattered all the way through the film, which I will decline to mention in case the one person in the Western World who does not already know is reading this.

Let me quickly mention Edward Norton. There are a few facts I know about him. He speaks Japanese. He has a degree in History. His grandfather invented the shopping mall. He is also a fine actor. There is only one scene of substantial length in which his nameless Narrator isn’t present and yet we, the viewers, never get tired of his hangdog expression. He’s a skinny yuppie, addicted to group therapy for diseases he doesn’t have, a Starbucks endorsing loner searching for a pathway to guide him, an addled mess. We travel with him all the way, as enthralled by Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden as he is. I couldn’t image any other actor playing the part as perfectly as he.

There are other important facets to be mentioned, of course. The two other main players, the aforementioned Brad Pitt and the sublime Helena Bonham Carter (she’s the modern day equivalent of Bette Davis when she smokes) are perfect to a tee. The Dust Brothers glitchy, nerving score, the cinematography (all washed out greys and greens, darkness in every corner), the sharp script (“I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school”) and the closing scene. Ahh, yes. It’s utterly beautiful, one of the best scenes of the 90’s, in my mind. (I'm putting the next paragraph in white, so if you haven't seen it and don't want spoilers, do not highlight this next part.) Edward Norton, finally free from his sickness, reassures Marla that everything will be okay. Just as he speaks, the first of the buildings around them start to crumble. In shock, the pair turn and gaze out of the large window, awed at the majesty and awfulness of their situation. “You met me at a very strange time in my life…” Norton grins, and they hold hands, their bodies framing a crumbling skyscraper. It's sweet, funny, romantic and dark, with that little tinge of hope for the future and filmed in gorgeous deep blues. I defy anyone to watch those buildings tumble down in their strangely romantic way, and to hear the opening bars of The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind” start up and not get the shivers.Okay, you can read again. Welcome back!

So, now I’ve joined the rank of people who have broken
Tyler’s rules. I’m safe though, Tyler Durden doesn’t care about me. Because you know what?

“You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” *

* My world view is actualy a little more cheerful than this, but I liked the way using it meant I could bookend my review with quotes. Have a nice day y'all!

In other news: this weekend I also watched The Queen, saw "Othello" in the Helix with my English class, went to an 18th party and twisted my ankle. It's also Graham Coxon's birthday. Everybody has to eat cake!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Bangers and Mash

Looks innocent enough, doesn't it?

- from the Toronto Star

NAPLES, Italy – A 74-year-old Italian grandmother who bought a sack of potatoes at the her local market found a live grenade among the spuds.

"I found a bomb in the potatoes," Olga Mauriello said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

"I went to the market to buy some potatoes and that's where the bomb was. But this bomb was covered in dirt, and I put it in water and got all dirt off. And then I realised 'It's a bomb'!"

Police said the pine cone-shaped grenade, which had no pin and was still active, was the same type used by U.S. soldiers in Europe in World War Two. Authorities believe the mix-up happened at a farm in France, where the grenade was plucked from the ground along with potatoes.

To the woman's relief, police and explosives experts in the small town of San Giorgio a Cremano, near Naples, recovered the grenade and safely detonated it on Wednesday.

But Mauriello was still shaking off her close brush with death. It didn't look like a potato and it was heavier than one. But what if she had cooked it?

"If I hadn't felt its weight, I wouldn't even have realised that it was a bomb," she said.