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Friday, 29 July 2011

Film - Arrietty - directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Star rating – 8/10

Arrietty from Studio Ghibli is another superb example of a beautifully animated film for children and accompanying adults alike to really enjoy. Who needs 3D monstrosities when you can get the same effect without the feeling of your senses being assaulted and generally being jumped out on? Certainly not me.

This is a lovely gentle story, which is adapted from the enchanting Borrowers books of Mary Norton, but here transported to Japan. Arrietty is part of a family of Borrowers – little people who take small things from the houses of human, but only things that they will not miss. She defies her parents’ strict instructions and, at first accidentally, lets herself be seen by a human, and then strikes up a beautiful friendship with the sick little boy who sees her in the garden of his home. And the results for her family are monumental.

The drawing is to die for; the garden is a delight; and the friendships are tender and affecting. The story is updated to give a powerful message about our planet, and the necessity to recycle and respect it, or face extinction. I loved this film, just as I loved the original books as a child. Another great animated offering from Ghibli.

Film - The Big Picture - directed by Eric Lartigau

Star rating – 6/10

This new sleek French movie is really like watching two films in one– a Paris based domestic drama/thriller, then an escape and disappearance to another life in a remote Montenegro village.

Romain Duris is very watchable as Paul, the flawed corporate lawyer, whose wife Sarah leaves him, after he behaves frankly like a bit of an idiot. But she isn’t too nice to him either, spurning his affection, and clearly indulging in a bit of extra marital activity with a photographer neighbour of theirs. His reaction to this causes her to break up their beautiful, wealthy home, and to take off to her sister’s with their two young children, whom Paul is clearly devoted to. She says he has thwarted her career as a novelist, wanting her instead to stay home and play house. This theme is introduced but not really explored in any depth as the thriller aspect of the story takes over.

There is a pleasing cameo by Catherine Deneuve as Paul’s partner in the law firm who wants to elevate him in the firm as she finds herself having to tragically bow out. Humour is supplied by Niels Arestrup as aging drunk/editor of magazine who wants to publish his photos, leading to problems for his reinvention.

The plot itself is a bit incredible, with Paul’s ability to cover his murderous tracks, and to have the skill and physical and mental strength to escape to another life stretching things a bit too far. It’s is bit too confused and confusing for its own good really, but worth catching for Duris alone, who is a great actor, and plays the attractive, intense, and flawed Paul with style and depth.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Books - The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Star rating – 8/10

This is the fascinating, moving, and very well written true story of the way one young woman fought back against the repressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Kamila Sidiqi didn’t set out to be a rebel, just to assuage the relentless boredom that came with the new enforced domestication for women banned from earning a living or getting an education outside of their own homes, and to feed her five brothers and sisters.

Kamila achieved this and much more through taking up the art of dressmaking, which she had previously shown little interest in, preferring instead a much more academic route. After her parents had to flee to the north of the country to escape her father having to fight for the Taliban, her big sister showed her the basics of sewing, and she was soon impressing local traders who were eager to buy her wares.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon tells this extraordinary story from her own experience after meeting these women when on a journalistic assignment. This book brings home very effectively through the everyday struggles of Kamila and her family, just how oppressive the new regime was for women. The clothing they were allowed to wear was heavily proscribed, with the heavy coverall chadri needing to be worn at all times when outside the home. If women did venture outside their home, they had to be accompanied by a male mahram, or chaperone. And they lived in perpetual fear of displeasing the Taliban for some minor infringement of their harsh regime or other. Even laughing aloud in public was banned, but as Lemmon observes, ‘there seemed little risk of breaking that rule these days.’

The book is heart-warming amongst all the harshness of the Taliban rule. There is a very amusing anecdote about how ‘Titanic’ fever swept the country after the blockbuster film was released on video. The Taliban tried to ban it but to no avail. They even tried to ban men from having haircuts like Leonardo Decaprio had in the film, with mixed success.

Kamila’s enterprise was so successful that after roping in all her family to join in the dressmaking, she soon attracts local girls who flock to her house to be able to join in, to learn a new skill, and to be given a scarce opportunity to earn money to feed their families. And it doesn’t stop there, as she soon finds herself setting up a school to teach young women these basics, and then being hailed internationally as a successful women entrepreneur. It is a great book, very easy to read, and a true story to lift the spirit.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Gigs - I Am Kloot - Deer Shed Festival, North Yorkshire

Star rating 9/10

A field full of families with children happily playing is not the usual setting for I Am Kloot, but as headliners for this year’s excellent Deer Shed festival in North Yorkshire, that is exactly where John Bramwell and the boys were last night - and a great time was had by one and all.

The set saw the Kloot on top form, with JB in very good spirits and in talkative mood, after a surprise talk over intro by astronomer godfather Patrick Moore, whom Pete had apparently persuaded to take part. Needless to say, as befits a performance under a beautifully clear northern sky, they played nearly every track from their excellent last album. Bramwell fittingly paid a tribute to Amy Winehouse, who so tragically died that afternoon, by saying that although she was a bit of a ‘rum character’, she was a great singer and songwriter. Here’s to rum characters I say – they make the world all the brighter for being so. And John should know.

The performance was not really any different to their usual live brilliance, except JB asked the adults to cover the kids’ ears before playing ’86 TVs’, and his introduction to the song was a little more short on explanation than I have previously heard him give as to the subject matter, as a concession to the young audience! As well as their latest gems, they played many old favourites including From Your Favourite Sky, Ferris Wheels, Twist, and Storm Warning.

More of the Kloot songs are about drinking, disaster, relationships, and the weather than anything else, and why not, but they did play ‘Gods and Monsters’ whose lyrics are particularly relevant in the wake of Hackgate and the whirlpool surrounding our media, police and politicians at the moment. (Someone indeed has got to pay for all these televisions!)

There were a couple of beautiful solo acoustic numbers from JB mid set, and an endearing rendition of ‘Proof’ which took a couple of attempts to perfect. An encore of ‘Same Shoes’ and the anthemic ‘I Believe’ and the Kloot were off, or at least off to the bar. It was a great atmosphere, with a lot of IAK devotees, along with hopefully some new converts, and definitely a lot of tired little ones by the end of the set. Good on IAK for camping at Deer Shed with everyone else – JB asked people to try to get their kids not to wake him up too early in the morning - not sure if that was successful. But their headline appearance certainly was.

And a few comments on the Deer Shed festival itself – as someone who hasn’t camped or been to a festival since Glastonbury in ’84 – this was great. Great food, great location, very safe and family friendly, and very well organised. A lovely acoustic set from up and coming Leeds folk troubadour Sam Airey rounded things off very nicely on the Sunday. And my top tip for next year – avoid the chemical toilets and head straight for the eco friendly ones – enough said.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Books - The Stranger's Child - by Alan Hollinghurst

Star rating - 9/10

This new, and very probably future prize winning, novel from Alan Hollinghurst is extremely reminiscent of previous classics such as Brideshead Revisited and The Go Between. It is set in another time and world, and the characters in the drama become obsessed with, and on occasion haunted by, the past, and events that happen at the start of the book, and by the end were so long ago.

Cecil Valance is the dazzling visitor who appears in the first part to take the family by storm and, although they are not aware of the luminous and pivotal role he will come to play at the time, entwine himself in their lives and enchant them for generations to come. Like a peeping tom, the reader has a perspective on early events that the characters in the four part family saga through the ages can’t have. And therefore you get a tantalising, and at times infuriating, different perspective on their actions and feelings.

Cecil exudes glamour, charm, and mischief; and is all too soon ripped away from the family, and the reader, by getting himself killed in the First World War. But not before he has left a legacy of mediocre, but subsequently much celebrated poetry, on which the future reputations of the family, and those who came into his orbit, are based. Hollinghurst is clever in that he doesn’t write Cecil’s celebrated poem ‘Two Acres’ out in full, but just divulges snippets through various characters throughout the novel.

It is a novel about class, set as it is amongst the English country set. It is also about, I am told inevitably for Hollinghurst, the nature of gay love, and other love for that matter too. And he makes his readers work very hard, with no immediately obvious signposting for them of the different periods he is writing about, or who the people are whose world’s we are glimpsing.

The prose is beautiful to read, sometimes just for its own sake, as well of course as to move events along. A would –be valet, Jonah, is being told how to perform his duties when Cecil comes to stay: “‘Just find out if he needs anything. Unpack his bags as soon as he comes, and, you know, arrange the contents convincingly.’ This was the word, enormous but elusive, that Jonah had had on his mind all day, sometimes displaced by some other task, then gripping him again with a subtle horror.” It is a delight to read.

The structure of the novel is clever and engaging, and the story is enchanting. I loved it and will definitely be reading more of his work.