Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Reviews: Autumn 2011

I posted some reviews of things I liked in the summer so thought I’d follow up with some of my views on stuff I’ve been seeing or reading recently that I hope you might like too.
Books
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

There’s nothing quite like being made to read an author as a schoolchild to instil a deep hatred for that writer. Jane Austen is out for me forever after having to plough through “Mansfield Park” for A Level English; Thomas Hardy makes me shudder but luckily “Great Expectations” made me actually take notice of Dickens and persist further. I couldn’t resist the charms of Miss Havisham. We were forced to read “The Heart of the Matter” when I was at school and to my young mind it was tedious and irrelevant and sadly I put Greene aside. It was only last year on reading “The End of the Affair” that I rediscovered his genius for depicting human frailty. I hadn’t ever seen either film version of “Brighton Rock” which was a bonus, so I had no preconceived notions when I read this recently. It’s a fantastic book and I’d recommend it to anyone. The seedy criminals of Brighton are used to illuminate human behaviour with Greene’s usual understated perception.
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

I was captivated by “The Swimming Pool Library” in 1989 and loved the two follow ups but found the Booker Prize winner “The Line of Beauty” a bit of a chore. The latest book was absolutely compelling. I was awake late into the night reading this book. I loved the story line and the sweeping romp through history. Alan Hollinghurst is a rare thing in the literary world, a skilled writer who doesn’t neglect storyline to show off his talent for prose.
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Don’t be put off by the packaging and titles. Sittenfeld is fine writer of quality fiction who gets packaged by her publishers to make her books have a wide appeal and consequently they always look a bit trashy. This is huge tome of a book but well worth reading. It covers the story of a woman who marries a man who becomes president of the United States and is based on the life of Laura Bush. I have very little interest in American politics but the quality of the characterisation and the plot made me want to read more which is a testament in itself. My only criticism is that it could have been slightly shorter. There seems to be a trend for meaty volumes currently. Maybe people don’t feel they get value for money unless they get a book which wrenches their shoulder when carried. I’d recommend Sittenfeld’s other two novels (Prep and The Man of My Dreams) also.
Films
Tyrannosaur

I definitely wouldn’t say I enjoyed this film. I did love it and found it profoundly moving but it’s on the bleaker end of the spectrum. It’s good to feel disturbed by things, sometimes, I think. I think that good art should enrich understanding and not just be about entertaining. Not that the film doesn’t possess a certain humour. The two lead actors put in intense performances which made me gasp at times. I’m in awe of Olivia Coleman.
Midnight in Paris

I’ve never been a huge Woody Allen fan and went to see this with mild reservations. It was a charming film. Great concept, stunning shots of Paris and wryly witty and amusing all the way through. I loved the vision of Paris in the 20s and Woody Allen’s ear for dialogue is still acute.
We Need to Talk About Kevin

So often good books make bad films. Maybe bad filmmakers make good books into bad films. I love the book this is based on and recently re-read it, which deepened my respect for it as a work of genius. I was actually quite nervous that it would make a bad film and ruin the book for me but was reassured that the author had spoken out about how pleased she was with the film (she seems to have integrity) and equally bolstered by the choice of Tilda Swinton to play Eva. Although I preferred the book to the film, I found that the images used were actually affirming and didn’t jar with what was in my head. It’s a complex book and to make it cinematic is a hard task but one which I think succeeded largely. A few of the themes explored in the book were lost in the film and there was more ambiguity in parts and less in others but on the whole I’d thoroughly recommend seeing this as a well shot and intriguing film.
Theatre
My appreciation this month goes to two touring productions which you may be able to catch as they’re both doing the circuit in the U.K.
End of the Rainbow

This tightly written play is a depiction of the last few months of Judy Garland’s life. Struggling with addiction, a gruelling schedule and a new fiancée who seems to want to work her into the ground, she starts to unravel. It starred an amazing actress called Tracie Bennett who captured the voice and mannerisms of Garland perfectly. It could have been crass but actually this play really worked and received a standing ovation. It’s a sad play but also a very funny play which I was left thinking about for a while after I saw it.
An Inspector Calls

This revival of the classic play by J.B. Priestley is a joy to watch and has a theme which has as much relevance today as when it was written in the 1940s. This revival of Stephen Daldry’s 1992 production is immensely powerful. I won’t talk about the set, for fear of spoiling your enjoyment of it if you see the play, except to say that it was stunning and deserved a round of applause of its own. Definitely worth seeing. There were about 5 rows of teenage schoolchildren in the audience in front of me and they were so captivated that they didn’t utter a sound all the way through. That is an accolade.

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