Utopia Avenue

Dean hurries past the Phoenix Theatre, dodges a blind man in dark glasses, steps onto Charing Cross road to overtake a slow-moving woman and pram, leaps a grimy puddle and swerves into Denmark Street where he skids on a sheet of black ice.

Utopia Avenue, David Mitchell, Sceptre 2020

I really think that David Mitchell is my favourite male author. While Utopia Avenue wasn’t my favourite (“yes, you did your homework when it comes to how music is created, I don’t really care”), it was still a book I spent my nights on opposed to the usual screen time.

It felt like it was a character study. Of people (in the music business) during a certain era in history, but also of the era itself. The USA and England can be compared to Cinderella and one of her siblings: young, fresh and exciting versus jealous drudgery.

Jasper de Zoet (as far as I know the first time Mitchell refers to characters from other novels) delivers the eerie, magical realistic touch to the story. Is he mentally unwell – and if so, in what way? – or is there more between hell and earth? I felt like it both lifted up and brought down the story. Any more would provide spoilers, and of course Mitchell manages to interweave it thusly that anything else wouldn’t have worked.

It’s a book like an opera: if those come with drug abuse, celebrity house parties and detailed descriptions of jam sessions. After having written this, I feel like reading it for a second time. Make of that what you will.

Yellow Rose

134 min.

And then there’s the last rose (although I could go looking for what other flowery shows and films Netflix has to offer, of course).

Another protagonist who wants more (music-related things) from life as well. This time she isn’t tried down by kids, but by an immigrant mother. We’re still doing country as a soundtrack, though.

Real life throws an ugly wrench in those dreams, underlining that dreaming big is harder in unwelcome surroundings (think about aliens and borders).

This rose is a bit sleeker than the previous one (maybe an UK/US difference?) but still shows that American films can be contained and without any sentimental circus to pull at your heart strings. There’s enough drama without, after all.

Poor Rosario just wants to sing and make music, and the way Eva Noblezada plays it you wish her the world. A lovely conclusion to my rose-trilogy.

Swing Time

It was the first day of my humiliation.

I’ve read some Zadie Smith before and I think I can repeat a previously used sentiment: Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters. Although this time, in Swing Time there definitely might be some plot-like features to be found.

There’s the growing up of a mixed girl in eighties England on the (edge of the) estate, her sort-of friendship with an equal in skin colour but very different in background and surroundings and their shared passion of dancing.

There’s the woman who’s an assistant of a world-famous pop-star who gets entangled in the lives of West-African villagers (maybe Gambian) in an attempt of charity work.

And then there’s the woman who can’t seem to do right by the dreams and ambitions of her mother, who in turn decides to pursue them herself.

It’s all the same woman, so you might get what I mean. It’s a slice of life but life is firmly on the background, even when the protagonist (unnamed) interacts with it and the people part of it. It’s all very much in her head, even when, or maybe especially when you would appreciate a bird’s eye view.

But the title is ever so fitting, the story providing a certain kind of rhythm that makes the book easy to pick up and stick to.

Swing Time, Zadie Smith, Hamish Hamilton 2016

Yesterday

116 min.

How much better would this movie have been with a female main character, and are there are well-known singers that have covered The Beatles?

Yesterday film posterOf course, it’s considerate that they didn’t make the entire cast of this film about one guy bringing The Beatles music to the masses white. The Beatles were white, after all. All this playing out in England, with a large immigrant population – why not have the protagonist be of Indian descent? Is it sad that we have to applaud this happening? Yeah.

Anyway, the plot. After a strange occurrence is Jack the only one that recognises The Beatles and their impact on music and pop culture. Having struggled as an artist before, he decides on bringing their music into the world again, working hard to remember all those lyrics. And getting incredibly famous on the way because wow – what music!

Along the way there are some Life Lessons and sometimes you wonder why Jack makes the decisions he does, but in a world where every other movie is a sequel or a reboot, it’s a slight fresh breath of air in the theatre. Or on any streaming service it will soon hit, no doubt.

Yesterday, Working Title 2019

Strictly Ballroom

94 min.

Remember how it took me little over a year to watch Lore? I’m pretty sure I’ve had this movie on a HD somewhere for the past four – five years. And it being from 1992 – not because it was such a recent production that it was to acquire.

strictly-ballroom-movie-posterBut anyway, to the ballroom. This is a movie by Baz Luhrmann, the Moulin Rouge, Australia, The Great Gatsby man, but before he had the budget (or care) to go as colourful all-out as we’re used to. There’s dancing and bright outfits though, plenty of the both of them.

In a small Australian town, dance hero threatens to lose his shine because he dares to go down barely trodden paths (gasp!). He can’t win the championships like this, and what about the name of the family dance school, but luckily there’s a few female dancers that are still willing to bring him back into the fold Luckily there’s an odd one out, a young talented woman that just needs a chance to shine.

It’s sweet, and quite silly. Right now the romcoms are slowly returning to us, but if you need a real nineties romantic comedy, Strictly Ballroom can definitely help you out.

Strictly Ballroom, Beyond Films 1992

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

101 min.

Wat een vermakelijke idioterie. Dit is een voordeel van films over boeken: wanneer je klassiekers (en ik gebruik het woord losjes) wilt uitproberen, gaat dat met film vaak een stuk vlotter.

TRHPS posterIn het geval van The Rocky Horror Picture Show ben je in anderhalf uur klaar, plus misschien een half uurtje om te verwerken wat je gezien hebt, en of het wel een film te noemen is en niet een soort kunstinstallatie.

Want een lief, onschuldig stel krijgt autopech en komt terecht in een duister kasteel waarin iemand (iets?) tot leven wordt gebracht door een zingende travestiet (maar eigenlijk zingt iedereen wel regelmatig). Soms helpen die liederen met verduidelijking, maar het is vooral show voor Dr. Frank-N-Furter, en die steelt hij ook meerdere keren.

Voor een film uit 1975 zit er geen moment iets oubolligs of ouderwets bij, het is gewoon idiote lol waarbij je vooral niet te veel moet nadenken. Aan de ene kant wil ik meer weten van deze vreemde types, aan de andere kant ben ik vrij zeker dat je dan de vreemdsoortige magie ontmantelt. Die tag line is er voor een reden, tenslotte.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Twentieth Century Fox 1975

The Library at Mount Char

Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78.

This is one book that could do with the cleaning up of of TV-script writer. There’s so much violence, described in detail, that could be put away behind an (atmospheric) description or implication instead.

While the plot’s got plenty of things going for it. Mysterious not-alien, godlike but not gods creatures that look like humans, call themselves librarians but are able to do about anything? International mythic elements used to show these skills and knowledge, and something going on underneath the surface to spur things into action? Yes, yes, and yes.

But then there’s a conclusion that can elicit little more than a ‘mwoh’, possibly also because you’ve been beaten into a pulp by all the abuse, rape, murder and torture.  So maybe Scott Hawkins can release his notes about the world he build, and give someone else a chance with it. That way we get more of the story behind the librarians, and less of the blood and pain that made them the way they are.

The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins, Crown Publishers 2015

Ricki and The Flash

101 min.

It’s been a while since Meryl Streep has blown me away in a movie, but it’s still Meryl Streep. And a movie about a loving, but dysfunctional but loving family, can always entertain (until a certain level). That didn’t happen this time around.

Ricki-and-the-Flash filmposterBecause Ricki and The Flash isn’t a movie, or even a story about a family. It’s a decor piece for Meryl Streep with a bad hairdo, singing a bit and being disgruntled. Even the movie seems to think so, ending at what would be considered early, only to attach a few more minutes for ..Meryl Streep’s character to redeem herself a little. Let’s not forget who we’re watching here, after all.

She plays Linda (but she is a Ricki), a mother whom abandoned her family for her dream of becoming a rock star. Her daughter goes through a bad time, and she returns home. Why she does so this time, after many years of missed birthdays, holiday and so on.. call it plot. The family members attempt to add something to the story, but this is the Ricki show.

I guess the poster says it all; just don’t expect rock or love.

Ricki and The Flash, TriStar Pictures 2015

 

Dear White People

10 x 30 min.

Ik kreeg het niet voor elkaar om de film te kijken, maar gelukkig hielp Netflix (weer eens): nu is er ook een serie.

dear-white-people-netflixMet hetzelfde gegeven: zwarte studenten op overmatig witte campus die in mindere en meerdere mate tegen racisme ingaan. Hoofdpersoon is misschien wel Sam met radioshow Dear White People, maar – heel fijn – anderen krijgen elk ook een aflevering. Iets met ‘verschillende, nodige invalshoeken’ en zo.
Zo leer je waarom sommigen “zo min mogelijk zwart” willen zijn, of hoe het is om waarheid te ontkennen voor je eigen veiligheid.

En door het evenwicht van continu activisme en ‘ik wil gewoon leven, hoe dan ook’ wordt Dear White People geen eenzijdig pamflet. Hoeft ook niet; de ervaring van met de neus op de bittere feiten gedrukt worden gebeurt toch wel.

Dear White People, Netflix 2017

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

In a single year, my father left us twice.

This was work. I don’t know how I managed to read two similarly build up novels (the other one being Disappearing Moon Cafe), but this one was the tougher of the two. Maybe because the comparison material was so recent. Both left me wondering how I’d like something contemporary written by an Asian actor.

Anyway, time moves every way but chronologically in Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Keep your head with you, because there’s a lot of characters going through a lot of things. The most brutal one, probably Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and the horrors of Tiananmen Square.

These aren’t light, bright stories. There seems to be no end to what a family can be put through, and the small, mythology-like side steps only make the difference starker. How did anyone come out alive?

It’s a novel to take in in small doses, to learn and see through another set of goggles.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien, Granta 2016