Archive for April, 2012

Is America ready for a white president?

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

I seriously have to ask the question… Is America ready for a white president?

Betty Blue, 37°2 le matin, the novel, by Philippe Djian

Sunday, April 29th, 2012
BB

BB

Betty Blue, by Philippe Djian – Betty Blue has long been my favorite movie, probably ever since I saw it in the early nineties. Great story, great acting, great characters that you really care about, and a fantastic soundtrack, not to mention great editing, comic relief, tragedy, everything. And in French too! The film has its original release, as well as a “version integrale” with full scenes that were cut out of the film to make it tighter for its original release (the original cut tends to balance the stories of the two main characters, Betty and Zorg, while the longer version makes the movie feel more like it’s about Zorg – which makes sense, since the original book is narrated by him and there are quite a few “scenes” that Betty doesn’t appear in).

Recently I’ve been reading the original novels of my favorite movies, most often to my disappointment (Saint Jack, Let The Right One In, etc), but this one doesn’t disappoint at all. If anything, I can say that I like it even better than the film as you can really get into Zorg’s head, there are a few good scenes that don’t appear in even the longer version of the movie; it also has a killer “original” ending that even I couldn’t predict. Zorg is a writer, but more than that he is a languid casualist of the Charles Bukowsky mould, and many of the passages of the book (which I will probably be quoting at length in this review) are screamingly witty, pithy and ironic (and sometimes punk anarchic) as hell. Wow!

Betty is a passing train in the film (or maybe she’s a passing train wreck). All we ever learn of her is what the narrator (he’s called Zorg in the film, but in the book he’s unnamed – even the iconic, eponymous Betty is called by her given name only) has to say about her. Which is plenty. The narrator is, after all, either describing an event, ruminating on life, or ruminating on Betty. Great. And he is very writerly – he writes about his books, he writes about writing, he describes himself as a writer, and his writer’s block lifts before the concluding events (in the film it lifts in the final scene). And while it’s obvious that any book is written by a writer of some level of skill (I feel stupid even saying such an obvious thing), the narrator of this book very clearly and thoroughly thinks like a writer and identifies with all writers everywhere (particularly at the end when he starts to rail at the whole insidious publishing industry and the hack writers that leave it a mediocre mess). None of this comes through in the movie.

The narrator seems to love his lazy life, into which Betty drifts:

When it was nice out you could just find me in my chaise longue. I stayed gluied to it for hours. I thought I’d struck a good balance between life and death – found the only intelligent thing to do when you stop to think about it. Life doesn’t have much to offer outside of a few things that aren’t for sale. I opened my beer and thought about Betty. (p4)

We spent our afternoons lounging around under the porch, playing with the buttons on the radio or talking about unimportant things – that is, when we weren’t fucking or preparing a few of the complicated dishes we’d picked out of the cookbook the night before. I noted how all I had to do was lay my eyes on her for a little over ten seconds to completely clear my mind. It was a trick that came in handy. (p14)

Betty rolled over in her sleep. I watched her. I didn’t ask myself where I was headed, nor what I was doing with here – It never entered my mind. I’m not the kind of guy who asks himself questions about why he doesn’t ask himself questions. I just liked looking at her. (p131)

We fucked in the afternoon, after which I grew suddenly languid, lying on the bed with cigarettes and a book. Betty cleaned the windows. What’s nice abut selling pianos is that there’s never a rush. You have time to read Ulysses between sales without even having to dog-ear the pages. (p206)

So I took it easy. I watched Betty cleaning her nails by the window, laying on a coat of blinding red nail polish while her shadow climbed the wall behind her. It was wonderful. I stretched out on the bed.

But the world is full of squares that grind you down:

Look at this woman for three seconds and you can tell she’s nuts. I knew she was going to drive me crazy, too. Her bathrobe was sliding all over her dried-outs holders. I got wasted just looking at her. (p4)

I didn’t write like they did fifty years ago. Contrary to what you’d think this was rather a handicap. It wasn’t my fault that the world had changed. I didn’t write like I did to upset people. Quote the opposite: I was a sensitive guy. It was they who upset me.

I listened to what was on television. A bunch of half-dead guys were talking about their latest books. I grabbed my pizza and sat down. I looked them right in the eye. They were gabbing over orange juice, their eyes bright with self-satisfaction. They had their finger on the pulse of today’s taste. It’s true that an era deserves the writers it gets, and it was very edifying to watch them. I wondered if they hadn’t invited the worst of the lot, just in case anyone had any doubts. Perhaps the theme of the show was “how to Sell a Million Copies with Nothing to Say, No Talent, No Sou, No Love, No Suffering, Nor the Ability to Put Two Words Back to Back Without Making People Yawn.” The other channels weren’t much better. I turned the sound off and just watched the screen.

There are lots of great, poetic passages to keep the story humming:

The vodka went to my head like a horde of burning suns. I held my glass out with a smile. Sometimes life was lovely after all. I put my hand on the cop’s manuscript and looked into his eyes. We were both pretty out of it – good thing we were sitting. (p113)

Eddie was feeling better. He was pale and his forehead was still wrinkled, but he’d recovered his cool – he asked me for the salt in a peaceful voice. Luckily the weather’s nice, he added. (p141)

Sometimes I wondered if I did enough for her, and sometimes I was afraid I didn’t – it’s not always easy to be the man you ought to be. Being what you ought to be in life is not something that just happens to you – you have to work at it.

It’s not always easy to get up early, but you never regret it. The last hours of night are the eeriest and nothing can compare to the shivers you get from the first glow of day. (p245)

Fishing was never my idea of exaltation. I’d brought along a book of Japanese poetry, in case I goy bored. (p246)

Others are really hilarious:

Nothing was coming on my side. His either. The silence between us was deadly. Every few seconds he’d look over to me to see how I was doing, and clear hi throat. He was wearing baggy pants and a colored shirt. Me: tight jeans and a white T-shirt. He was about eighteen. Me: thirty-five. I gritted my teeth and contracted my abdominal muscles. I felt him do the same. I tried to concentrate.

The silence was interrupted by the characteristic tinkle that squirmed out in front of me. I smiled.

“Haha,” I said.

“I didn’t have to go, anyway,” he muttered.

When I was his age, Kerouac told me, Be in love with your life. It was only normal that I pissed quicker. Sitll I didn’t want to rest on my laurels.

“Got to take advantage of things,” I said. “Who knows how long they’ll last.” (p211)

Was it really such a wild flight of fancy for a piano salesman to hope to sell a piano? Was it too much to ask? Was it a sin of pride to want to move the merchandise? What is a piano salesman who doesn’t sell pianos, after all? Anguish and absurdity are the nipples of the world – I said it out loud, joking.

“Uh, doctor, I wanted to tell you.. there’s something else bothering me.”

“Huh?”

“Sometimes I hear voices…”

“It’s nothing,” he said.”

“Are you sure?”

H leaned over his desk and handed me the prescription. His eyes became two tiny black slits, and his mouth twisted into a kind of smile.

“Listen to me, young man,” he snickered. “Hearing voices, or punching a clock for forty years of your life, or marching behind a flag, or reading the stock market returns, or tanning yourself under a sunlamp… what’s the difference, really? Believe me – don’t worry about it. We all have our little quirks.” (p261)

Finding myself with savings, enough to last a month or so, was like finding myself in a fallout shelter. I could hardly ask for more. I hadn’t yet started planning my retirement. (p206)

The sky was perfectly blue. The sea was calm and green. There was no beer in sight – nothing that could have distracted me. (289)

Plenty of talk about food and enjoyment:

I was in no hurry to get back to the store. A little piece of baked pie was hanging out of the wax paper like a teardrop. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. I zupped it. Paradise comes cheap here on earth, luckily – it keeps things in their proper perspective. What is it really that measures a man? Surely not breaking one’s ass to sell a few pianos – that would be sheer folly; it certainly isn’t worth ruining one’s life over. A tender corner of apple pie, soft as spring morn – that’s something else.

After dinner we sat down to a nice easy game of poker. We each had a glass of wine, and there were enough ashtrays to go around From where I sat I could see the moon. It didn’t seem like much in itself, but if you’re going to rhapsodize, you might as well go all out. All the greats have.

I peacefully bit into a piece of smoked chicken.

Right around page 230 there are several incidents that aren’t in the movie. Zorg needs to deliver a piano, he can only get an over-sized truck and just manages to get the baby grand inside seconds before a massive rainstorm hits. Zorg, on an impulse, gets in the boxing ring with a semi-pro, gets a little crazy, and has his face beat in. Zorg goes fly fishing with Eddy. Zorg gets melancholic at a party, Betty starts hearing voices, Betty and Zorg go off riding a chair lift, Zorg argues down a Jesus freak on his doorstep.

Re-entering the world of Betty Blue is pretty good fun, and the easy, episodic writing style is good fun to take in. Zorg is forthright without being pompous, and ferociously individualistic. All he wants is a place of his own, and for people to leave him alone. Is that too much to ask? And in the end, they have no other choice – they leave him alone.

BB

BB

37°2 le matin, Philippe Djian – Well, since I’ve seen the movie so many times, and since I’ve read the book in English, there was nothing left to do but to read the book in its original French version, right?

It’s been 20 years since I’ve read a book in French, so it was not such easy going, but I found that it was also not as difficult as I thought it would be – and with its many long descriptive passages written quasi-surrealistic, opinionated slang, it was not an easy read all, but I found that there were whole passages that I could understand well, while many others made no impression whatsoever (in other words, they might as well have been written in another language – oh, actually, they were!). But I enjoyed the prose in parts, like when Zorg (he’s never named in the book – only Betty, Bob, Annie, Eddie and Lisa have names) tastes picnic food:

On a passe un moment a s’installer en rigolant puis on a pris l’aperitif dehors sur un bout de rocher. Il était tout chaud. J’ai ferme les yeux a moitié dans le soleil couchant dit j’ai coupe l’air pur au bourbon avec un bonne provision d’olives noires a porter de la main. c’était celles que je préférais, avec le noyau qui se d’etache facilement de la chair et un peu de calme tout autour. Je me suis allonge sur un coude et a ce moment-la je me suis aperçu qu’il y avait des petits machins brillants dans le sol. Sous le soleil rasant, le terrain s’est mis a scintiller comme un robe de princesse. Bon Dieu, c’est pas vrai, c’est dingue, je me suis dit en baillant.

Then there’s that very strange scene Zorg has at the doctor’s office, some time after Betty tells Zorg that she hears voices:

On est rentres deux jours plus tard et j’ai pris aussi rendez-vous chez le docteur. Je me sentais fatigue et j’avais la langue couverte de boutons. Il m’a fait asseoir entres ses jambes. Il portait un tenue de judoka et une petit ampoule brillait sur son front. J’ai ouvert la bouche la mort dans l’âme. Ca a dure trois secondes.
“Survitaminose!” Il a fait.
Pendant qui’l remplissait les papiers, j’ai tousse delicatement dans mon poing:
“Ah, docteur, je voulais vous dire! Il y a aussi une petite chose qui me tracasse!”
“Huh!?”
“Par moments, j’entends des voix!”
“c’est rien, il a répondu.”
“Vous etes sur!?”

Il s’est penche en travers de son bureau pour me passerl’ ordonnance. Ses yeux étaient devenus deux fentes noires minuscules et une espèce de sourire lui tordait les lèvres.
“Ecoutez-moi, jeune homme”, il a ricane. “Entendre des voix ou pointer pendant quarante ans de sa vie ou défiler derrière un drapeau ou lire les comptes rendus de la Bourse ou se faire bronzer avec les lampes! Est-ce que ça fait un différence, pur vous!? Non, croyez-moi, viols avez tort de vous inquiéter, on a tous nos petites problèmes!”

Somehow, in French, it just sounds brisker.

I also learned some interesting words and phrases, most of them slang, like that classic scene when Bob tells Zorg “mine has a fire in her crotch and yours is half crazy”, in the original it’s more like “La mienne a le feu au cul et la tienne est a moitie folle!”. Interesting.

It’s great to read a book you like very much in its original language. I should do this more often.

Wedding anniversary, 15 big years of Peter and Naoko

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Hooray, our 15th wedding anniversary! Fifteen years is crystal, so for the occasion I bought for Naoko a crystal wine decanter (it has a funky shape, so it could easily be used for other things than wine), and four crystal drinking vessels – perfect for water, but can also be used for wine and other liquids, they’re like stem-less wine glasses, each in their own colour.

After work, I took Naoko and Zen to a surprise place – Lantern, the roof-top pool-side restaurant that is part of the Fullerton Bay Hotel. The place is very nice, very funky, very cool. The menu isn’t so great – only three entrees and lots of snacks, but we got enough to eat from the mini-burgers, the fries, the caesar salad, the dips. Nice. We got to see the 8:00 laser light show and then went off for a walk around Marina Bay to the Marina Bay Sands hotel. That was Naoko and Zen’s first time there, it was pretty nice. Took a cab home drank some wine from our new carafe and crystal glasses, and slept for 10 hours. Great!

Happy 15th wedding anniversary on the roof at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Lantern restaurant

Happy 15th wedding anniversary on the roof at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Lantern restaurant

On the roof at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Lantern restaurant

On the roof at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Lantern restaurant

On the roof at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Lantern restaurant

On the roof at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Lantern restaurant

On the roof at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Lantern restaurant

On the roof at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Lantern restaurant

On the roof at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Lantern restaurant

On the roof at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Lantern restaurant

Zombie Zen

Zombie Zen

Barbarella

Friday, April 6th, 2012

B

B


Barbarella – Roger Vadim directed his then-wife Jane Fonda in a cornball sexy space-romp through the galaxy as virginal space pilot Barbarella. The film starts off with two cheezy minutes of Jane Fonda in full Barbarella gear, waking up in zero gravity, changing out of one outfit into another, flinging typography of the credits about, a weird period song strikes up, with then some lyrics: “Barbarella, psychedella, there’s a kind of cockle shell about youuuuu…” Cockle shells are supposed to look sexy, right? Ha ha… The naked Barbarella gets a video call from the President of the Earth Federation:

Love
Love
Just a minute while I slip something on…”
Don’t trouble yourself, my dear. Have you ever heard of a young scientist called Duran Duran?

One day we must meet in the flesh.

A robot gives her a valve of liquid: “Prepare to insert nourishment.” Crazy, man, crazy. Barbarella gets propositioned for sex, and in an easy going way she says “Well, all right. But I don’t see what good it will do.” She’s felt up by bird angel Pigar, she sleeps with him, helping him recover his will to fly. An old man addresses her: “You are of female gender, aren’t you?” Anita Pallenberg enters the picture: “Hello, Pretty Pretty.” Barbarella hears screaming: “A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming.” Jeez!!

Well, the plot is silly – Barbarella is tasked with finding Duran Duran, she flies through space, crash lands on a planet (twice), she gets into one dangerous situation after another, she is saved from death on many occasions by the intervention of others. Like Kim on 24 she’s basically pretty useless, gaining advantage in situations by her mere presence and little else. She meets Duran Duran, but doesn’t realise it’s him, fights the Evil Queen in Sogo, the city of evil (named after Sodom and Gomorrah, not the Japanese department store chain).

Note – there are plenty of promotional shots by Jane Fonda in a variety of space outfits and suggestive poses (this one, below, is one of the tamer ones)

B2

B2

Here are the damm-funky opening titles!

And the oh-so-groovy trailer too!!

The Observatory, Catacombs

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Wrath of the Titans

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

WOTT

WOTT


Wrath of the Titans – I went to see this with my son Zen, not having seen either of the previous Clash of the Titans movies, and not expecting too much. This one tells the tale of Perseus, being pulled out of retirement by his father (Zeus, the king of the gods) to help the ailing gods, who are losing power and also betraying each other left and right (there’s a certain appropriateness of that, actually – villainy born out of sheer desperation). There’s a lot of humility and father-son bonding here that is fairly nice, and the rest of the movie is sheer action. Perseus fights a minotaur, a chimaera, some giant cyclopes and a fiery Cronos himself. Nice. Huge gaps in logic, and the general uselessness of Queen Andromeda and her armies don’t entirely hinder from the enjoyment of the brainlessness of the film itself, which has a certain charm to it in the face of the Transformers-level mayhem and noise (and, of course, there is no Shia Laboeuf to be seen). Cronos gets the Galactus treatment by becoming a massive cloudy fire beast rather than a Titan that may have fathered a gang of pouty Olympians.

Bottom line – the movie is okay. Just okay, for adults, but perfect for kids.

My big bad Back to the Future page

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

BTTF

BTTF

Back to the Future – Given that we’re now nearly in the future that was predicted in some of the Back To The Future (not this one – set in 1985, Michael J Fox travelled back to 1955). The story is great, the acting superb (especially by Christopher Lloyd – Fox is okay, but his face is just a bit too rubbery at times). Lots of great little jokes throughout. I watched it with my 10-year-old and was a bit surprised that the film that I remember as family entertainment has so much bad language in it, but that’s okay – we’re all adults here, right?

BTTF II

BTTF II


Back to the Future II

BTTF III

BTTF III


Back to the Future III – Great summary of the Back To The Future series, which was never re-visited (or sullied). Cool appearance of ZZ Top, hilarious “What’s your name, son?” “Uhhhh… Clint Eastwood” scene (when my ten-year-old son saw this he said “Clint Eastwood… that’s the guy who directed Flags Of Our Fathers and Sands Of Iwo Jima… he’d never seen a film Eastwood acts in until that point, only films he’s directed).

The extras are good, especially the outtakes, which come with commentary so that you can understand why some shots were not used. One of them, where Biff is erased from existence in the 2015 scenes – probably because Lorraine shot him in 1990 – was not used because the audience didn’t get it. They initially wanted to take the crew back to 1967, since it would be fun to show that era, but they were keen to revisit the scenes of Back To The Future II.

Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

LTROI-JAL

LTROI-JAL


Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist – I’m a huge fan of the Let The Right One In film (check out the trailer, or just watch the whole film). I even liked the American remake that they renamed simply Let Me In (although a comparison of its trailer with the original’s will give you a good idea of which one is better). So I knew that I had to read the book finally. Simple, right?

But, sadly, the book is not as good as either movie, although it makes a fascinating comparison about how someone can take source material and make decisions about how it should be committed to film (ironically, or appropriately, this mature individual was Lindqvist himself). What typically happens with the film-to-novel process is that a novel is generally filmed in sync with the book, perhaps leaving out a few superfluous or non-critical scenes. In some cases where the source material is skimpy (Where The Wild Things Are, Fantastic Mister Fox, The Polar Express, and any of the many film versions of kids books), a broad back story is added, which is tricky – it fails more often than it works. Others approaches are taken for films of unfilmable novels (Naked Lunch, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas), where even more liberties are taken.

All of this is not so the case of Let The Right One In – while the film is heavy enough in the way it deals with bullying and vampirism, Lindqvist packs every other social issue under the sun into the book: pedophilia, drug use (inhalants), alcoholism, prostitution, transgenderism and bad parenting. Wow! Some of the characters are uninteresting, and the part with the lich is just taking the whole horror thing a bit too far – really! The dislike Oskar feels for his mother is never really explained, outside of a general brattiness, and the appeal of vampire Eli is also not really clear either; this makes him a less appealing kid than in the film. Okay, so Oskar and Eli are immature, and so are all of the other characters in the book, but does Lindqvist really have to have a squirrel narrate a page of the book (page 389 of my 513-page version of the book, or the page directly preceding the “Sunday 8 November evening/night” chapter)? This is one case where you’d be justified giving the book a miss – watch the Swedish film instead.