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Rusty (London, UK)

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I Give It a Year [Blu-ray] [2013]
I Give It a Year [Blu-ray] [2013]
Dvd ~ Rose Byrne
Offered by encorerecords
Price: 6.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Trying so hard that it hurts, 27 Aug 2013
Here's a shocking statement: I don't think Stephen Merchant is even remotely funny. He had his moment of fame with The Office... and his "cringeworthy" style of comedy has gone really stale, really fast. Surely it's time to move on from this snide, awkward kind of humour that makes English culture look so shallow and cynical?

I focus on Merchant because his brand of comedy is basically the model for the entire script. Everyone is sarcastic, or smarmy, or crude, or spiteful - or trying so, so hard to be "quirkily" funny that it physically hurts to watch them deliver their lines.

The ending is particularly bad - and the sentiment behind it, if you wipe away the thin veneer of comedy, is dark and distasteful. A really rubbish film that makes the UK film industry look amateur.


An American Dream (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
An American Dream (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
by Norman Mailer
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.51

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A tedious and puerile display, 7 Dec 2012
This novel, for want of a better word, is pathetic. I've had my misgivings about Mailer ever since I read "The Fight" - and this childish book simply confirms, for me, that the author was a nothing but a nasty, self-adoring egotist.

Nothing worth mentioning happens in this "story". It's full of a simmering hatred for women, it's openly racist, it's self-consciously "shocking" and it dwells on sex in the same way that a 16-year-old boy would.

Apparently, Mailer wrote "An American Dream" in monthly instalments - completing it in just 8 months... and it really shows. The writing is intense but aimless, it tries to be abstract but is mostly conceited, the characters are juvenile beyond belief, behaving like emotionally challenged teenagers who have "deep" conversations that make you cringe. The author was 42 when he wrote this trashy novel. How sad to be so sickeningly immature when you're entering middle age.

Mailer once stabbed his own wife with a penknife, sending her to the emergency room for surgery. After reading this book (in which the main protagonist murders his wife and shows zero remorse), you'll start to feel like this "fiction" is a little too close to reality for comfort.

I, for one, will never pick up a Mailer novel again.


After a Funeral
After a Funeral
by Diana Athill
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Who did Athill really write this book for?, 31 Aug 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: After a Funeral (Paperback)
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it's a touching memorial to a man who obviously meant a lot to Diana Athill. On the other hand, it's a knowing exploitation of that man's mental illness and suicide. Think about it: however altruistic/honourable the author's intentions might seem, she is ultimately the one who profits from this account of Didi's life (the troubled Egyptian author Waguih Ghali). She seems to have written this book a) to clear her own conscience and b) to indulge in the juicy, very "literary" topics of madness and suicide.

I'll admit that I was hooked on Athill's writing until the very end... it's an intriguing story, made all the more interesting by the fact that it really did happen. But when I turned the last page, I began to feel as though I'd been "played". This was gossipy, sensationalist writing at its very best and I'd been kept in my seat by the promise of a gruesome climax: Didi's final breakdown and subsequent suicide. I was being entertained at his expense. Did I really need all of those intimate, first-hand excerpts from his diary? Or a description of how Athill made love to him, just weeks before he took his own life? I felt as though I'd intruded on this man's private misery... which Athill was now airing in public, seemingly as a badge of honour: "an exiled artist killed himself in my flat - haven't I led an exciting, passion-filled life?".

This self-serving tone creeps in at other times, too - for example, when Athill uses foul language entirely without reason (even going so far as the "C" word at one point). I also don't trust anyone who uses the word "lover" too often. "My lover said this", "I talked it over with my lover"... these are self-conscious attempts to make herself seem liberated, open-minded and young at heart. I found it all quite pretentious, which - by the time you're almost seventy - really is a quality you should've grown out of.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 17, 2013 10:29 AM BST


The Leopard: Revised and with new material (Vintage Classics)
The Leopard: Revised and with new material (Vintage Classics)
by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great, 24 Aug 2012
This novel is very effective up until the halfway point, when it begins to feel like Lampedusa lost confidence in his story... and didn't know how to bring it to completion. The landings of Garibaldi, the social climbing of the Sedara family, the unorthodox courtship of Tancredi and Angelica... it's all expertly handled with highly evocative language and an impending sense of doom. But then, more or less from the chapter "Father Pirrone Pays a Visit" onwards, these promising strands grow thin and fail to come together. Lampedusa leaps incongruously forward in time, first by 20 years and then by no less than 50. His story is much more convincing when it unravels a few months at a time - as it does in the first half, which builds up methodically and (I presumed) was leading to a climax.

Caution! Spoilers!

I thought perhaps The Leopard would become the victim of a murderous uprising... or that Tancredi, the stepping-stone between the old world and the new, would become the political victim of either/both. But nothing like this happens. Tancredi quietly dies and we aren't even told how. The Leopard quietly dies, too, leaving behind his daughters who grow old and bitter as their social status disappears. It's clear that Lampedusa passionately wanted to paint a portrait of his real-life ancestry (the book is based on his grandfather's family)... but it's also clear that he didn't really know how to inject the fiction it all needs to work as a full-length novel. What you get, therefore, is a book that sets up an excellent premise but doesn't really do anything with it. I suppose it's more of a "mood" novel, in that sense - a display of tone and texture rather than overt storytelling.

I'm not 100% convinced by the translation, either. I'm sure the writing is very beautiful in the original Italian... but there are times when the preservation of the Italian elegance comes at the expense of the English. Some sentences are too long and far too cumbersome, as if the translator hasn't made any judgement calls, preferring instead to transcribe the Italian literally into English. This creates an oversaturated effect that lacks rhythm and, occasionally, clarity. Every now and then - if you read things very closely - you'll realise that some sentences don't entirely make sense.


Never Mind (The Patrick Melrose Novels)
Never Mind (The Patrick Melrose Novels)
by Edward St Aubyn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I'm on the fence, 25 July 2012
Two things I liked about this first instalment in the Patrick Melrose series:

- The economical prose and the well-drawn characters. St Aubyn inhabits multiple people in this book and he does justice to them all (a psycho father, an alcoholic mother, a trophy girlfriend, a five-year-old boy, etc). It's difficult to create multiple viewpoints that are believable... but in this case, they all seem to ring true.

- The author's grasp on the social cruelties of middle/upper-class England. There's something about cultured English table-talk that even I (an Englishman) often get sick of. All of the one-upmanship that masquerades as clever banter, the unspoken competition to be the wittiest guest at a dinner party... I think the English sense of humour is quite vindictive, at heart - and "Never Mind" not only taps into this convincingly, but also shows us how nasty it can really get if it flourishes unchecked (e.g. through limitless wealth).

Two things I didn't particularly like about this novel:

- It ends far too abruptly, as if the manuscript was taken away from St Aubyn before he could finish it. A few more pages (maybe 15-20) would have made all the difference, in terms of sustaining the quality... and I'm really surprised an editor or an agent would accept such a rushed conclusion. Unless, of course, the story was always pitched as an on-going series and this is supposed to leave you hungry for more. It left me underwhelmed, however.

- The shock material. Why do so many authors feel that only extreme plot points make for pertinent literature? (Potential spoilers coming up). For example - David raping his own son, who in turn is the product of marital rape. And David's relentless cruelty to animals. Take these elements away and the writing would start to feel a little bit thin - like the book exists to prop up the premise, rather than the premise propping up the book. I don't need to be shocked to be entertained - in fact, I much prefer a novel that takes a more subtle approach. I know this story is meant to be based on the author's own childhood (which is horrifying, if true)... but this is still a work of literature and in that respect it plays the "oh my god, that's depraved" card a little too often, I think.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 5, 2014 3:19 PM BST


My Father's Tears and Other Stories
My Father's Tears and Other Stories
by John Updike
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very nearly masterful, 6 July 2012
These stories are extremely well-written, as you'd expect from Updike. His prose is rich and measured, capturing a great deal of nostalgia and insight in small, contained nuggets. I'm giving this book four stars, however, instead of full marks - for two main reasons:

1.) There's a story near the midway point that tries to deal with 9/11, where Updike puts himself in the shoes of the bombers and the victims. I found his approach a bit presumptuous and borderline disrespectful, not only for those who lost their lives in the attack but also for anyone of Islamic persuasion.

2.) There are 18 stories in this collection and every single one of them, to one extent or another, dwells on divorce or infidelity. Updike is well-known for this theme (the Rabbit novels, etc) but couldn't just one of these tales have looked at life from a different angle?

Overall, though, there are some real gems here waiting to be savoured. Standout stories for me would include "Morocco", "The Walk With Elizanne", "Kinderszenen" and "Blue Light".


Stet
Stet
by Diana Athill
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing peek behind the editing scenes, 14 Jun 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Stet (Paperback)
This was a very good read and a valuable insight into the publishing trade, even if the world it looks back on has all but disappeared. Diana Athill is a lucid writer and you can tell she's the product of a bygone era; something about her style (her old-school grammar, for one) speaks of a time when English was much more prim and proper. It's the first of her books I've read and I'm tempted to come back for more.

I particularly enjoyed the memoir's second half, when Athill talks candidly about the authors she worked with over the years (Jean Rhys, V S Naipaul, etc). But I was hoping to hear more about John Updike, one of my favourite writers and a man that Athill edited on many occasions. She tells us he was an excellent craftsman whose books arrived "perfectly formed"... but beyond that, she's curiously silent. Surely he was more interesting to know than that? There's nothing else to tell, when you've got such good gossip on the rest of your clients? I found it slightly strange.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 2, 2013 11:30 AM GMT


Catch-22: 50th Anniversary Edition
Catch-22: 50th Anniversary Edition
by Joseph Heller
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This is a modern classic?, 25 May 2012
"My god!" yelped Yossarian as he turned the last page of Catch 22. "This novel is preposterous, monstrous, ludicrous, exorbitant, extravagant, nonsensical and contemptible."
"What did you just say?" inquired Major Major.
"I said this novel is preposterous, monstrous, ludicrous, exorbitant, extravagant, nonsensical and contemptible."
"Of course it is, of course it is. Now say all of that again, using different words this time... because you're crazy, aren't you? We're all crazier'n hell in the United States Air force."

I found this book such a painful chore to read. Perhaps it had the ideal audience back in 1961, an era when WW2 was still a living memory and the counterculture was just emerging. But in postmodern 2012, this novel strikes me as badly dated and vastly overblown. "But the language and the humour is dazzling!" you might retort. Well, in my opinion, clever writing and showy wordplay should never be an end in itself. Heller relies too heavily on a vocabulary that seems to spring, at times, straight from the pages of a thesaurus. OK, he could compose some excellent English - and so what? I need more than this from a piece of literature. As for the humour, it's repetitive and absurdist and a very acquired taste. There comes a point when a joke starts to wear thin and if you push it too far (as Heller does for 500+ pages), you're not producing good satire anymore. It's all surface and no depth. "But, underneath it all, this is a damning indictment of the madness of war!" you could retort again. Is it, though? It's an extended criticism of the US military, no doubt. But does it truly get to grips with the universal desperations posed by war? I don't think it does... at all.

I struggle to understand why this style of writing is adored by so many. Heller is right up there with the likes of Pynchon and Rushdie, two more style-over-substance authors I just can't stand. You, the reader, deserve more than a fleeting display of pyrotechnics like this... because once the glare wears off, there's really nothing left but a load of hot air.


Young Hearts Crying (Vintage Classics)
Young Hearts Crying (Vintage Classics)
by Richard Yates
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing but an ambiguous message, 16 April 2012
This is certainly a good novel, although it's not quite up to the standards of Revolutionary Road (a comparison that's unavoidable and one that every Richard Yates fan will make, unconsciously or not). The craft of the prose is practically perfect. Every sentence is clear and concise, every word is well chosen and propels the book steadily forwards... but, ultimately, I came away from the closing pages wondering where exactly this polished prose had taken me.

Caution: some of the next comments might be deemed spoilers.

At the end of Part One, it feels like Yates made a fairly big decision re: his material. He was going to write about life after divorce, rather than life sustained in an unhappy marriage. Part Two is devoted to Lucy's post-divorce romps; Part Three is devoted to Michael's post-divorce romps. And this is all fine... but it soon begins to feel like these are a series of vignettes about different sexual partners, instead of meaningful episodes in a story that's actually heading somewhere. It seems like this novel could have been much more gutsy if it had focused on Michael and Lucy trying to save their marriage... and the subsequent fallout from that. Instead, it becomes a bit too obsessed with tales of sexual freedom and the overriding complaint that life is way too hard when you're an aspiring artist.

What I mostly took away from this book - and I wonder if Yates intended for this message to seep through - was how the true casualties in any broken marriage will always be the children. Michael and Lucy, on the face of it, aren't very good parents. Their daughter grows up into a depressed, drug-addled hippy and neither of them seems to realise it's their own fault. Perhaps this is a novel about the knock-on effects of selfishness, then... but this seems more like a side effect and not really the central theme that Yates was going for.


The Aviator (Two-Disc Special Edition) [DVD] [2004]
The Aviator (Two-Disc Special Edition) [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Leonardo DiCaprio
Offered by Jasuli
Price: 4.25

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entirely underrated, 5 April 2012
I saw The Aviator in the cinema when it was released and I've been drawn back to it on DVD several times since. It definitely stands up to repeat viewings and I'd go so far as to call it a minor masterpiece.

Why? It's tough to say, because it's definitely got some flaws. The pacing is unbalanced and the story wavers sometimes. It feels like some key transitional scenes that could have smoothed things out were cut to save time... which leads to a bigger problem overall: Scorsese has tried to cram the tale of Howard Hughes into one film. This movie is ripe for a sequel and perhaps it should have always been planned as a two-part epic. Next to a second film covering off the latter half of Hughes' life, I believe this movie would have fared much better with the viewers and critics.

So why do I think The Aviator is so underrated?

Personally, I think DiCaprio gives a great performance in this role - perhaps his best to date. He's probably too young to play the part and looks nothing like the real Hughes but he rises above this with some powerful, assured acting. Watch his patience snap as he eats dinner with Katherine Hepburn's infuriating family; watch his magnetic performance at the US Senate Hearings; hear and feel how he delivers the repetitive phrases caused by his worsening OCD: "Show me all the blueprints, show me all the blueprints". He even speaks with a believable southern accent, something that most actors (Americans included) always overplay as though they're starring in a Tennessee Williams play.

There are some striking moments in this film that I find hard to forget. For example, when Howard cannot leave the bathroom because he's terrified of touching the doorknob (he's one of the most powerful men in the world, trapped by an everyday door). Or when he's attending the premiere of Hell's Angels and the exploding camera bulbs are overwhelming him (his success will ultimately accelerate his mental illness). It's clever and memorable stuff.

For me, then, this is a must-have movie for my collection. But, as you can see from the many conflicting reviews on here, it's obviously not to everyone's taste.


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