Movie Review: 56 Up


Title: 56 Up
Release Date:
14 May 2012
Director:
Michael Apted
Production Co:
ITV Studios
Country:
United Kingdom
Language:
English
Genre:
Documentary
Rating:  *****

Seven years ago, my wife and watched a box set of the first 6 movies in the Up Series, then went to a local art moviehouse to see the then current release 49 Up.  In about a week of binge-watching we became acquainted with the lives of 14 individuals from England who since they were seven years old have had their lives documented every seven years.  We’ve been eager to catch up with these participants and finally were able to watch the most recent installment.

The original tv special in 1964 was almost socialist in its approach, attempting to define how the rigid British class system is ingrained in children at the age of 7.  Since then, it’s become more of a humanist document of the life of the everyman and everywoman.  Each film seems to have an overarching theme depending on the age – such as education, love and marriage, work, children, aging, parents dying, etc.  56 Up seems to find the participants in a reflective mode, looking back over their lives and their participation in the experiment.

One problem with this film is that so much footage has accrued from the previous seven documentaries that the interviews do not seem as rich this time around as they have been earlier in the series.  This is a problems that’s only going to get worse and new movies are made.  One of my favorite parts is when two participants Suzy and Nick are interviewed together.  I had not really seen a connection between the two before, and what really made it fascinating is when they asked one another questions.  I hope they try this again with some other participants in the next film.

As a viewer, I’ve grown very attached to the participants in the Up Series.  It is good to see that despite some of them encountering difficulties with the Great Recession and austerity, that overall they seem to be successful and happy in their own ways.  I do worry about them getting older, and maybe some of them not surviving for future films, but once again will eagerly wait for 63 Up.

 

Book Review: Saturday by Ian MacEwan


Author: Ian MacEwan
Title:
Saturday
Publication Info: 
Recorded Books (2005)
ISBN:
 1419332872
Books Read By Same Author:
Atonement
Summary/Review:

MacEwan’s novel follows a seemingly ordinary day in the life of a London neurosurgeon as he goes about his tasks and ruminates analytically on his life and work.  It’s interesting how seemingly major things (like a car crash) are detailed with less intensity than the  seemingly mundane (a game of squash).  Towards the end of the novel things come together too neatly with a dramatic twist that I think undercuts the more interesting stream-of-conciousness aspects of the early part of the novel.  Still an interesting read with a good focus on developing character and internal monologue.

Favorite Passages:

“What a stroke of luck, that the woman he loves is also his wife.”

Recommended books: Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
Rating:
 ***

Book Review: All Clear by Connie Willis


Author: Connie Willis
Title:
 All Clear
Publication Info: 
New York : Spectra, 2010.
ISBN: 
9780553807677
Previous Works By Same Author:
Summary/Review:
As noted in my review of Blackout this book is less of a sequel and more of a direct continuation of one lengthy work about three time travelers studying life in England in the early years of World War II.  Both books are part of a larger series of  loosely connected works by Connie Willis about a future Oxford University where graduate students in history are able to study the past by traveling through time via a mechanism known as the net.  I enjoy Willis’ approach to time travel fiction and particularly am impressed with her well-researched and detailed descriptions of contemporary life.
 The three main characters Polly, Eileen, and Michael finally met up toward the conclusion of Blackout and now begin working together to find a way to an open drop in the net that will return them to Oxford.  The mysterious characters of the previous book turn out to not be so mysterious after all and are woven fairly well into the narrative, although through unlikely coincidences that approach the edge of plausibility.   And yes, they do get out of the past (well, sort of) but the conclusion is satisfyingly unexpected.
I did find the greatest flaw of both of these novels is that a character will come up with an idea, will then discuss the same idea, and then carry out the idea which created a lot of unnecessary repetition  (especially since every attempt to return to the future is a flop).  If Willis could have tightened up the novel and created more tension if she did more showing and less telling, perhaps even condensing the story to one volume.  Still I found these lengthy tomes to be mesmerizing and read straight through to find out what would happen next, so it’s still an engaging work with a great attention to detail.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Blackout by Connie Willis


Author: Connie Willis
Title:
 Blackout
Publication Info:
ISBN:
9780553803198
Previous Works By Same Author:
Summary/Review:
Connie Willis is one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors and I particularly enjoy her take on time travel fiction in works such as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog so I eagerly sought out this book once I learned of it.  This book like the two previous I mentioned is set in a future Oxford where graduate students in history study the past by traveling through time through a device known as the net.  Blackout shares some of the supporting characters of the earlier novels but focuses on three young historians studying England in the early days of the second World War.  Polly, the main protagonist of the novel, is an experienced time traveling historian observing people in shelters during the London Blitz.  Eileen is a new historian spending time working with children evacuated to the countryside.  Michael is hoping to learn about heroism by visiting various battles including the evacuation of Dunkirk.
<Spoilers Begin Here> All three historians find themselves unexpectedly trapped in their time.  Furthermore, they find themselves participating in major historical events and seemingly affecting their outcome, something that the time travel theory of the net says should be impossible.  The main conflict of the novel becomes whether Polly, Eileen, and Michael can find a way out of the past which means first they must find one another. <Spoilers End Here>
I find the best part of this novel is that it captures the everyday life of English people during the War in great detail, almost as if Willis were a time traveler herself shedding light on the ordinary life of the past.  Willis’ thorough research and attention to detail carries the novel through even at times when the plot and dialogue are a little flat.  There are other characters introduced in the novel who are seemingly dropped although their resolution is made clear when I realized that the next book All Clear is not so much a sequel as a direct continuation of a lengthy work.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Consequences by Penelope Lively


Author:Penelope Lively
Title: Consequences
Publication Info:
ISBN:  9780670038565
Summary/Review:

This novel begins when a woman from a wealthy family and a poor artist meet, fall in love, and marry with parental disapproval in 1930s London.  What follows is a narrative of three generations of women in the family today.  It’s a lyrical text that seems oddly plotless, just kind of multi-generational vignettes.  In fact the title is an interesting choice.  All fiction in a sense is about consequences – a protagonist makes a choice and then must respond to the consequences.  Yet this book seems to be less about consequences than your typical novel.  Anyhow, it’s a short book but it took me forever to complete, so I think that says something.

Rating: **1/2

Soccer Spectating Report 31 March-4 April


England 1:2 United States (2 April)

Bad news:  The US women’s team is clearly outplayed and loses to a much lower ranked England side.  Good news: It was just a friendly and the World Cup is still months away.  Bad news:  The US team lost to Mexico in the World Cup qualifying and should be getting their act together to avoid shocking losses.  Good news:  They played much better in the second half, putting a lot of pressure into the attack and just missing several chances at goal.  Bonus: England’s Kelly Smith played an excellent game and she also plays for the Breakers whose season begins on Saturday.  Also have to appreciate the really great goal by Rachel Yankey and the fact she scored it against the Yanks.

New England Revolution 1:1 Portland Timbers (2 April)

Bad news:  I was not able to find a stream to watch this game online.  Good news:  At least I got to hear the end of the game on streaming audio.  Bad news:  The Revolution failed to defeat an expansion team at home, played sluggishly, and passed poorly.  Good news:  They held on for a tie and continue their unbeaten streak to start the season.

Catania 4:0 Palermo (3 April)

Bad news:  Sloppy defense on Palermo’s part contributed to a second-half barrage of goals for Catania.  Good news: I really have no emotional investment in Italian football whatsoever.  Yay goals!

 

Previous posts:

Movie Review: The King’s Speech


Title: The King’s Speech
Release Date: 24 December 2010
Director:  Tom Hooper
Production Co: See Saw Films
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: History / Biography
Rating: ***1/2

Summary review: You see correctly, this is a review of a current film now playing in movie theaters.  Susan & I had a date night.  This is a good date night movie.

The King’s Speech tells the story of King George VI who grew up with a stammer and many anxieties.  While still the Duke of York he begins treatment with an Australian actor named Lionel Logue who offers unusual methods in his speech therapy.  The film follows a fairly predictable course as the Duke and the speech therapist slowly grow to be good friends  but great acting on the part of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush carries the film (as well as a droll Helena Bonham Carter as the future Queen Mum).  There’s a lot of great dialogue and funny lines.  Everything leads up to the conclusion of the film where King George VI gives a stirring speech over the radio announcing that Britain is at war with Nazi Germany.  It’s all very touching as Firth makes the speech and people around the world are shown listening and it ends with many plaudits.  On the other hand part of me was thinking “So, the king made a speech, big deal.  There are people dying in Poland!”  All the same it was a good movie.

I found myself wondering what it was like for the young actress to be playing the current Queen Elizabeth II.  I also found the actor who played Winston Churchill, perhaps the most recognizable character in this film, came off rather cartoonish.  Colin Firth did a good job of capturing the constricting feeling of his impediment.  Also he was dashingly handsome.

Movie Review: The Damned United


Title: The Damned United
Release Date: 27 March 2009
Director: Tom Hooper
Production Co:   Columbia Pictures Corporation
Country:  United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Biopic / Sport
Rating: ***1/2

Summary/Review:

This movie is a highly-fictionalized account of the life of English football manager Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) who was able to lead clubs like Derby County and Nottingham Forest to win the First Division championship.  Central to this film is Clough’s short term as manager of Leeds United, one of the most successful clubs of the 1970s and one Clough had been critical of for their dirty style of play.  The film is set up to focus on Clough’s relationships with two different men.  One is Don Revie (the always great Colm Meaney) Clough’s predecessor as manager at Leeds United.  If the film is to be believed Revie’s slight of Clough at a FA Cup match early Clough’s career provided both the motivation for Clough’s success but also his hubris and ultimate failure at Leeds.  The other relationship is with Clough’s assistant coach Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) who has great skill at scouting players for the team.  The structure of the film with its historical inaccuracies comes off as melodramatic especially since the true story would make as good or better a film.  The Damned United is saved by brilliant acting performances by the Sheen as the mouthy and flashy Clough, Meaney, and especially Spall’s portrayal of the long-suffering Taylor.  I also enjoyed the gritty football action sequences that capture an era of sport long gone.

Movie Review: 24 Hour Party People


Title: 24 Hour Party People
Release Date: 5 April 2002
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Production Co: Baby Cow Productions
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Biopic / Comedy / Music
Rating: ***1/2

Summary/Review:

This surreal, comic film tells the story of the Manchester music scene from the mid-1970’s to early-1990’s.  Central to this story is Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) a TV news presenter who champions Manchester music scene by managing bands, starting a record label, and opening a night club.  History and legend are gleefully mixed together as Wilson narrates his own story, often breaking the fourth wall to comment on events from a later perspective.  Real people from Manchester bands appear in cameos sometimes commenting that the scenes in the movie aren’t how they remember them.  The effect can be overly cutesy at times but mostly is rollicking good fun and Coogan really carries the film.  Of central importance though is the music as bands like Joy Division (later New Order) and the Happy Mondays take center stage.

Book Review: “Solomon’s Gold” by Neal Stephenson (Book 6 of the Baroque Cycle)


Volume III of the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson, The System of the World (2004), begins with Book Six “Solomon’s Gold.”  This book picks up where the very first book, Quicksilver, left off with Daniel Waterhouse returning to England.  Waterhouse immediately finds himself in the midst of intrigue including attempted assasinations by an Infernal Device, counterfeit coinage, and various missions for Leibniz, Duchess Sophia, and Isaac Newton.  All around him rumors swirl about Queen Anne’s succesor.  Will it be the Hanovers supported by the Whigs or the Jacobite restoration of the Stuarts?

While this is primarily Daniel Waterhouse’s story, the book ends with a cliffhanger as Jack Shaftoe, aka Jack the Coiner, attempts an audacious (and comical) heist at the Tower of London.  I like how Daniel Waterhouse comes into his own in this book.  He’s still plagued by doubts but shows resourcefulness and leadership.  In an interesting reflection on fear he wonders if everyone else is as afraid as him. This novel also really uses London as a character with Waterhouse visiting the various historic (and not-so-historic) haunts of the city.  The London map in the flyleaf is a vital part of this book and I enjoyed following Daniel around town.

Previously:

Author Stephenson, Neal.
Title The system of the world / Neal Stephenson.
Publication Info. New York : William Morrow, c2004.
Edition 1st ed.
Description xv, 892 p. ; 25 cm.