Following on from my previous post, the next three novels I read were by authors with surnames beginning with D, E, and F:
- E. L. Doctorow - The Book of Daniel
- Dave Eggers – A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
- Michel Faber – Under the Skin
I totally didn’t “get” The Book of Daniel. It was semi-interesting from a historical perspective – in the US stories are very rarely told from a communist viewpoint. The style was too disjointed for me to enjoy the book (I’m usually OK with that but… not here, for some reason). So yeah, not my favourite so far.
AHWoSG was staggering (shut up, I had to). I loved it. Being a recent (ok, recent-ish) SF transplant, I love anything that involves the Bay Area (I really wanted Red Widow to be good and I’m stupidly excited about a pilot for some HBO show they’re currently filming).
But even aside from the SF-love, it was a moving account of an unusual relationship between two brothers. I’m 93% sure I’m the last person to have read this book, though, so everyone knows how awesome it is already. Oh, and bonus points because I’m now watching reruns of The Real World San Francisco and a couple of the characters appear in the novel.
I also really dug Under the Skin, despite its vegetarian preachiness. I’m a bit of a sucker for sci-fi that’s less about the sci and more about the fi. The central character was a pretty fascinating one. They’re apparently making a film of it with Scarlett Johansson. I’m puzzling on how they’re going to treat some of the more gruesome aspects of the book.
The next trio of GHI are pretty long, so it might be a while before another update.
Last year I read War and Peace – it has 365 chapters, so fit neatly into one year at a chapter a day. It was nice having a challenge to finish such an epic book and gave me a reason to read every day.
I needed to come up with a challenge for 2013 (although it’ll probably spill into 2014). After writing down a list of books I wanted to read, I noticed that there was a string of authors with surnames starting with consecutive letters of the alphabet. I started expanding the list to fit other letters. The only rule is that I can’t have read the author before.
My favourite was probably Money. It was interesting and fun to read an author who has been influential to other authors I’ve read in ways I didn’t realise. The central character, John Self, was one of the strongest and most fascinating narrators I’ve read in a while.
Labyrinths took me a while to get into. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve come across a lot of the ideas presented in other ways (e.g. science fiction movies), but some of the stories resonated. In particular, I loved The Form of the Sword, The Garden of Forking Paths and Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. The last one in particular stuck with me, for some reason – maybe its relevance to copyright, plagiarism, etc. and the internet?
In Cold Blood was great. I went through it surprisingly fast – it was an easy read. I understand it’s probably more fiction than fact, but Perry Smith was a seriously likeable character(/person?).
We were in the UK for Christmas, and my parents told us to keep one evening free from seeing our friends – they had a plan. They didn’t tell us what it was – not even on the cab ride there. We were equally intrigued (what could it be? It had to be dinner, right?) and anxious (what if we didn’t like it?).
As we entered the backroads of northern Cambridge, we realised we were going to Midsummer House, the 2-Michelin-starred restaurant where we got married just over three years ago. Needless to say, we were both incredibly excited. We had the tasting menu with wine pairings, and it was incredible. I think it supersedes other meals I’ve had there to be the best meal of my life. I took some pictures, so here you go:
I missed two courses: a broccoli, pear and blue cheese starter and an apple crumble thing with baked yoghurt. Both were intense and I must have dove in without thinking to take a picture.
The meal took four hours and I loved every minute of it.
As it’s the Oscars tomorrow, we decided to watch The Artist. I think it’s still the frontrunner for the major awards, so it seems appropriate. And this year I’m really excited, as it’s the first time I’ll be able to watch the Academy Awards LIVE! (I’m a dork, I know.)
It was pretty awesome, I must say. At first the lack of dialogue was (weirdly enough) distracting, but I soon got into it. The two leads are adorable, as is the dog. I want to own that dog. The music was great (I guess you have to have pretty awesome music if you’re going to make a silent film…).
There was one thing I found annoying, and it’s a bit of a spoiler, so… spoiler warning! It was the very end. Firstly, I thought leaving it at “Cut!” would have been a cleaner finish. Secondly, hearing Dujardin say “with pleasure!” in his super-French accent was weird. I was watching the film not imagining him to be French and… I dunno, for me it broke the illusion. Of course, it doesn’t matter that he’s French. It was just jarring. OK, spoilers over.
It’s a great choice for Best Picture tomorrow. It’s got the nostalgia, the appreciation for film as an art-form, and a crowd-pleasing storyline.
In fact, it makes me happy I enjoyed it so much. When the nominees for this year’s Oscars were announced, I was seriously disappointed. One measly mention each for Drive (Best Sound Editing) and The Ides of March (Best Adapted Screenplay). No major awards for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (bar the Best Actress nod). Admittedly, I’ve only seen three of the Best Picture nominees (Hugo, Moneyball and now The Artist) – but two of them I didn’t like. So liking The Artist at least gives me a film to root for. (I’d still like Gary Oldman to win for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, though.)
That’s all for now. I’ll probably post something after the awards tomorrow, with my disdain for the winners…
Hampton and I did one of our “double feature” Saturdays – two films in a row at the cinema. First was Chronicle – a superhero-style action movie. It’s about three high school guys who get telekinetic powers. I saw the trailer about four months ago, and it piqued my interest. Seeing the film was pretty much a no-brainer.
It turned out a lot better than I expected – the characters were really likable. I cared for them throughout the movie. It was well-acted and had an interesting story. You remember Jumper? It was horrible. Chronicle is what Jumper should have been. The climax is epic and nail-biting, too.
The Woman In Black was our second feature, and equally nail-biting. The story was good (a little straight-forward), the scares were competent. I was quite impressed with how Daniel Radcliffe didn’t seem like Harry Potter in it. He’s done well to shed that role so quickly. I’m intrigued as to how a lot of it was done on the stage.
I’d recommend Chronicle over The Woman In Black, probably.
OK, so there were a fair few “meh” films this year. I feel like some of these require little/no explanation: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (so-so prequel), The Lincoln Lawyer (half-arsed Grisham), Fright Night (so-so remake), Limitless (nice concept, I guess, but the plot-holes and poor art direction lost it for me) and Our Idiot Brother (an OK comedy).
I really didn’t “get” Hugo. It was pretty good; visually spectacular (although the misplacement of Paris landmarks got on my nerves… I know, I know. I’m an ass). But I just didn’t care that much about Hugo himself. The best parts of the film were when Hugo wasn’t in the scene – when they were talking about the history of cinema.
Insidious had such promise. The trailer was pretty great and the first half of the movie was atmospheric and actually had one or two genuinely creepy moments. However… it soon descended into a silly mess.
Moneyball was the main critically-acclaimed film I really didn’t like. It mixed all the tediousness of economics with all the I-don’t-give-a-damn of a sports movie. I don’t even think Brad Pitt’s performance deserves all this Oscar buzz. Hampton said my verdict wasn’t fair; I need to separate the artistic quality of a film from my own opinion… but as hard as I try, I don’t think the artistic merits of the film were that good either.
Anyway. Rather than ending on a bum note, I’m going to list 2011 films that I still want to see: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Artist, The Descendants, My Week with Marilyn, Shame, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Iron Lady and The Skin I Live In.
2011 was fairly good in terms of films. It was no 2010 or 2007, sure, but we had some pretty decent films come out. In total, I’ve seen 32 films from 2011 (roughly a quarter of my year’s intake).
This first post will cover the good. Two of the best films of the year, in my opinion, both starred Ryan Gosling: Drive and The Ides of March. I know, I know – you shouldn’t watch movies with your dick. But I honestly thought they were both great. Drive was hyperviolent and more was said with looks than words. Albert Brooks seems to be getting a lot of buzz for a supporting actor nod… on a recent second watching, he did do well. But everything else seems to have been overlooked – Gosling himself, the direction, the soundtrack, the writing.
In the Ides of March, Gosling plays pretty much the complete opposite character. Fast-talking and a power-player, he’s equally awesome. The supporting cast (Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marissa Tomei) are great. It’s the script that shines, though. It’s so taut; every word has been chosen carefully.
OK, other great films from the year: Super 8 (pretty scary at first… but then becomes a really nice kids’ film), 50/50 (I was in tears), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (a really great addition to the series).
I’d heard great things about Bridesmaids. I was very, very skeptical about it. But it turned out to be really touching. In comparable messed-up-women films, I also saw the recently-released Young Adult. It’s certainly less slapstick than Bridesmaids; more depressing. But Charlize Theron does a really good job of making a terrible, horrible person somehow likable. (I’d like her to get an actress nom, but I’m not holding my breath.)
Puss In Boots was, despite my utter loathing of the Shrek franchise, really funny. I’d definitely recommend it as a lazy Saturday afternoon film.
Paranormal Activity 3 is my final film on this list. I know this series is not for everyone (which is why it’s last), but… I honestly think it’s the best horror film/franchise we’ve had in a long time.
Anyway, that’s my list of films I’d recommend this year. Coming up, we’ve got the “meh” films and the downright bad.
My first post on SF was a bit tourist-y. This one will be more focused on food and drink. And other funstuff.
We ate at a great burger place on Union Sq – the aptly-named Burger Bar.
The milkshakes (picture missing) were amazing. The nutella one was just ice-cream and nutella, pretty much. The burger was good… but I’ve had better (I’m looking at you, The Bird in Berlin.)
We went to an awesome beach – China Beach. It was really quiet and had insane views of the Golden Gate and its bridge.
Oh, and something else I’d highly recommend is Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences. It’s on every Thursday and has a general theme every week (we went for 80s nostalgia/comedy). They have booze, you can wander around the exhibits, and they play pretty awesome music.
That’s about all I have to say. If you keep track of my whereabouts, you’ll notice we’ve now moved to San Francisco to live. It’s awesome here!