January sustenance

Reading:

Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook
Its density makes it pretty hard work. but potentially rewarding if stuck with.  Which I don’t know if I will.

 Tom Perrotta – Bad Haircut
Book of coming-of-age short stories by one of my author finds of last year.  All vividly told and set around middle-american suburbs.  All crackle with first-person authenticity.

Douglas Kennedy – Leaving The World
Latest of increasingly generic Kennedy novels, always annoyingly readable.  A bizarre twist of plot at the end appeared from nowhere like an unnecessary, possibly forced extension. 

David Vann – Legend Of A Suicide
Alerted to this through a Daily Mayo Book Review podcast a few months ago, taken by claims it was like nothing you’ve ever read before and the general plaudits which most books reviewed on the show obligatorily earn.  This short book gives several perspectives on the suicide of the narrator’s father.  Part fact based, as the writer’s father did commit suicide, it has disappointed me to now.  Strangely impenetrable to read in places, possibly through bad writing.  Hoping for it to spark up in the mid-section.

It did, remarkably so, and was fully, vividly engaging for a long period.  But for such a slim book to only spark into life in the mid-section; is that enough?

Nick Hornby – Double A-Side
My books had run out when I took a walk along the high street and popped into several charity shops, scanning the bookshelves with nothing in mind.  The library had yielded nothing that I was after and I was even considering buying books full price from a proper bookstore.  Eventually I bought a handful from Amazon. 

But not before I bought this.  Last read well over half my lifetime ago, I must have been around 12 or 13 when I first read Fever Pitch, and not much more when I read High Fidelity.  Both of these are in contained in the one paperback, bought for a quite brilliant £1.49  So although I’ve read the majority of Hornby’s canon since then, his earliest name-making work is largely distant to me.

Fever Pitch is first and foremost an illuminating memoir of an obsessive football fan, which you may or may not empathise with.  Most striking to me on this reading is how it has aged already, from publication.  It was first published around 1992/93 – a time when I attended my first professional game, paying £4 at the turnstile to stand on Liverpool’s Kop: a cost and experience which now feels as distant and alien to me as those which Hornby writes about. 

In the early nineties Arsenal’s old ground, Highbury, still stood and many top flight football stands across England were in the midst of being converted to all seater stadia for the new Premier League.  Back then, Arsenal were in the very early stages of a huge change which has changed the club almost beyond recognition.  Hard as this is for a Spurs fan to say, you could make a strong argument for today’s Arsenal embodying a spirit of class, style and total football like no other team in the league.  Gone is the proudly stolid dullness through which George Graham ground out a title, evaporated is the raw and proud working men’s atmosphere.  I visited the Emirates recently for a conference in one of the plush corporate areas in a main stand.  How far removed was this from Hornby’s Highbury?  And how does he feel about that?  Such a massive transition, led by the apparent prudence of Dein and Wenger, which appears to have transformed everything about the football club.  Yes there are photos, decorations and banners in and around the ground which give a nod to their history, but it’s easy to forget and easy to miss.  When you’re standing there in that gallingly (for a Spurs fan) advanced stadium, looking around at the rich facilities, absorbing the new urbane red London verve and swagger, it could be an altogether different club from the one Hornby evokes.  Surely the time is nigh for some sort of follow up?

———–

Listening:

Ellie Goulding
(promising pretty-voiced guitarry lady, though am total sheep in being told who’s hot and new by the obligatory and long ago exhausting new year lists.)

Delphic
(Electro indie-dance in the vein of the often overlooked The Music, but for now. Full album out soon, liking what’s on Spotify after initially sneering.)

Cold War Kids – Behave Yourself EP
(Good whiney melodies.  I personally added to the EP playlist a previously unknown, brilliantly dark, mournful Placebo B-side, Running Up That Hill – cover of Kate Bush track.  Alerted to by its current use on a film trailer).

Manchester Orchestra
Recently put onto these by a friend.  A staggeringly good tip.  From Atlanta, Georgia and yet to make much of an impression this side of the pond (always makes you feel like an intrepid Columbus-like explorer), the young indie, guitar driven band can do both spittingly venomous angry punk, and softer balladry with equally good effect.  Two albums so far, still young, both well worth a listen.

My Latest Novel
Half aware of these already, Last.FM application reintroduced me and I poked around in Spotify to gather their latest album.  Woozily slow-paced acoustic melodies I still haven’t yet properly explored, but which bode well for bedtime music.

————

Watching

Nowhere Boy
(John Lennon’s early years; dysfunctional bi-polar Mum excellently played by Ann-Marie Duff.  Actor who plays Lennon himself is ok but doesn’t even attempt to emulate Lennon’s distinctive nasal whine vocals when he sings, and instead honks rather blandly.  Irked a little.)

Gigantic
Part creation / production of Paul Dano, of There Will Be Blood fame.  Kooky whimsical oddness, but always watchable, in no small part thanks to always airily compelling Zooey Deschanel.  Yes she does often play the same character in everything she does, but it’s quite an adorable one. 

Away Days
Football hooliganism film.  Had already watched at the cinema.  Good in what it does, emotionally trying to tackle wooar, men, fighting, booze, birds in a “deep” way.  Didn’t warrant a second watch.

The Road
Slow burned and eventually lured you into believing and caring about the epic father/son relationship.  Wasn’t moved until the final scene.  Probably would warrant a second watch.  Felt ignorant for not having read the book.

Mesrine (Part 1)
Gloriously brutal and quite silly, though based on true story.  Vincent Cassell a quite excellent bastard.  Scene where he holds pistol in his new wife’s mouth while their son watches from the landing is particularly harrowing.  Descends into A-Team like shootouts, but never less than decent fun.

Up In The Air
The opening half is almost unbearably smug, or that may just be acclimatising to the horribly flawless George Clooney.  Didn’t agree with a Kermode review that said the gnarly challenging opening and perspective of Clooney’s character was a strength.  I found it tedious.  Retrieved and redeemed itself from so-so clutches through a sporadically sharp script, and a necessarily unsatisfying end, which pleased me. 

17 Again
Silly, feather-lite, could probably consume in a coma. But for all that, not unenjoyable.

Mesrine (Part 2)
Largely as the first part, the he bounces around Europe a little more, taking in women with slightly unconvincing effortlessness.  Its charms slowly wained as I willed the Police to close in and shoot him.  That the whole film opened with the scene of his death was a strange call which drastically reduced the tension at its close.

Brothers
Natalie Portman was the only thing I knew of this film, going in.  It was enough, frankly.  She’s beautiful and talented and her work rarely disappoints, as this didn’t.  Not flawless, a remake of a Swedish film of the same equivalent name, it tells the tale of Portman’s husband, Tobey Maguire, who gets all screwed up by nasty war experiences in Afghanistan, and accuses his brother, Jake Gyllenhall of poking his lady.  Overwraught towards the end, and with a squeltchyness of emotion which is becoming all too typical in all-star cast Hollywood flicks, it did still have a handful of excellently played domestic scenes.  The two young daughters of Portman/Maguire were great, and mealtime awkwardness felt crisply authentic. 

The Killer
DVD forced upon me by a friend.  A Hong Kong shoot-em up thriller which I tried but failed to take seriously.  It was like watching a playground of infants playing an army game, the acting just as good.  Managed about half hour.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
This was warmly received on its cinematic release, a children’s cartoon film with less serious aspirations than ‘Up’, but equally effective, if not moreso.  Imaginative in creation, you could see why it would appeal to gluttonous children and America, its humour was also right up there, a couple of killer bad/good joke lines causing involuntary blurts.  Not entirely devoid of emotion either, regularly dysfunctional and inarticulate father/son relationships well painted through a repeated, but never laboured gag, with the creators’ hallmark dash.

A DVD extra even included a simple, pleasing up/down/left/right game, controlled using the remote: certain to keep an infant amused for a further five or ten minutes.  Heartily recommended.

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