Cultural round up: April and May

So yes, I have been quite slack. But I will try and make up for that now. And to start, some fun links. Here is the wonderful Lego on Hoth sequence, which manages to be both poignant and funny, as well as clever. Here are some random Star Wars mash-ups, just for fun. For the Quentin Tarantino lovers amongst us, some thoughts on how his worlds fit together, and what that means for the meta world of his movies. And last for this month, an entertaining look at how self-hating genre fans make things worse for themselves.

Now for the things I have been doing…

BOOKS

Lia Weston The Fortunes of Ruby White I was half way through the first chapter of this and dreading the effort it was going to take to finish it. It was all a bit too trite and straining to be funny but not quite making it. However, pleasingly, it became more engaging as it went along, and I actually finished it fairly quickly. It is an entertaining enough read, and certainly not taxing, but that being said, it was still a bit all over the shop with tone and approach and motivations. Without wanting to be too spoilery, there are things that the book didn’t seem to have quite worked out – was it all a con, or did people actually have powers; was Ruby doing something sensible and logical, or was she being manipulated? To me these things seemed quite confused and not in a mysterious and intriguing way, but rather more like the author was trying to have it both ways. I think taking a firmer decision about these kinds of things and being clear would have actually made a much stronger story. There was also a lot of coyness about some sex related issues – implications of things happening which lent rather a darker tone to the book, and perhaps because of this it was really ambiguous in an annoying sort of way. Mostly I think the book needed a really good editor who could have sorted things out and pushed the book in a clearer direction. A light-hearted comedy probably doesn’t need all these dark implications of prostitution and forced sex, but a darker book probably needs to be actually more explicit. This was a first novel for Weston, and while it would seem to indicate some potential at writing romantic comedy type chick lit, perhaps a bit of tougher editing next time might bring that out a little more.

Raymond E Feist At the Gates of Darkness Sometimes I think I should just stop reading Feist before I destroy all my affection for Magician and the memory of finding it a revelation when I first read it in my early teens. I think the persisting is that I might find some of that magic again, and it is true that a couple of books over the last few years have shown some sparks of it. But not this one. It isn’t a terrible book, it is just not that interesting. Some of the odd inconsistencies bothered me too – Pug can destroy building and build bridges between worlds, but he can’t do the magic to make himself invisible? I also think that the book spent most of its time setting the scene for future adventures (which I am not entirely committed to reading) and therefore was just a bit dull and expositionary. And while I really like the fact that much of the book focuses on Sandreena a powerful woman fighter, I’d like it a bit more if she didn’t spend so much time being moony about someone who treated her badly romantically. On the up side, this was short and easily read, so I didn’t need to spend too much time being irritated.

Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger’s Child This was a beautiful book to read – lovely writing, interesting and detailed characters, all with their own flaws, and a shifting perspective which allows one to see a rounded story. The prime story it seems to tell is the one of the history of homosexuality over the last century in the UK in a microcosm of the interactions of different gay men to a particular locus – a minor poet killed in World War I. It is also a story of privilege and money and the literary world and most importantly of memory and rembering, demonstrating the idea that we remember and reframe the past in a way which is most useful to us at the time. The sustaining stories within the novel are enough to get one past the disjointed nature of the narrative and the fact that some of the mos interesting parts of the story occur off-stage. The nature of a narrative which explores the challenges of memory and remembering and our own perspectives on the world means that at times there are unsatisfying gaps in explanations of characters and their motivations, but I think that needs to be embraced. The intense descriptions of the vignettes of story in each section of the book do however leave one feeling surprisingly close to the characters, and hide how little we actually see of their lives.

MUSIC

Groovin The Moo Canberra University The day didn’t start too cold but certainly ended up that way – the Old Person in my wondered how all the young women (and a few young men) in the minimal clothes would cope. But enough of my motherly concern about the cold.  The line up for the day was quite mixed, and we weren’t entirely sure what to expect early in the day. We started with Hermitude who were pretty awesome even for someone like me who doesn’t mind their style of electronica-come-hip hop (whatever the technical term may be) but wouldn’t call it my first choice in music. There were a few stand outs over the rest of the day. Parkway Drive confirmed for me that death metal is really not my thing, especially song after song of it. The Hillto Hoods had the audience on their side and were generally good, except that they totally over-played the sing a line and then stop approach. Once worked, twice was a bit ho-hum but when they were doing it for the fourth or fifth time it really made them seem like a one-trick pony performance wise. And then there was Andrew WK. My goodness. He was entirely freaky – and pretty much seemed to be playing the same song over and over again. We could only watch in fascination. The two stand outs for me were Public Enemy and the Kaiser Chiefs.

I have wanted to see Public Enemy for more years than I can count and they didn’t disappoint. They have ther performance and the music and still conveyed the energy and politics that has always been part of their music. They really are a posse – with the dudes on the stage who don’t seem to have a role other than some random crowd encouragement still seem to be a part of the whole. It was worth the cold to hear them, and they did play all the songs one hoped. At the end also they made a strong statement about tolerance and inclusivity.

The Kaiser Chiefs were also excellent – great stage show and again playing all the songs one wanted to hear. Lots of energy and an impressive display of barely missing a beat while spinning upside in the side show ride next to the stage. It seemed that some of the crowd had retreated to the tent for Digitalism (and warmth) but I thought that the Kaiser Chief were absolutely worth the frozen feet.

MOVIES

The Avengers Let me start by saying that, while this is a good super hero movie, it is still a super hero movie. Certainly not a genre buster or a radical interpretation of the notion of superheroes or anything like that. Fortuntely, I quite like superhero movies, and I like Joss Whedon’s writing, so over all this was a pleasant couple of hours. There are some definite highlights – Robert Downey Jr is in an acting class of his own in the film, possibly helped by the fact that he gets most of the best lines. If Iron Man was missing, this would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner also got some of the good line action, and Banner and Stark together were a great combination. I also found the self awareness of Captain America about his potential lameness quite good. In less impressive things, the story arc was just a touch too predictable, though I did wonder whether this was a deliberate Whedon ploy to make the most super hero-est of all super hero movies. I also found the destruction of New York just a tad distasteful – I know it has been ten years and all, but the relish with which is all got destroyed just made me feel a touch uneasy. Anyway, worth the time and money for those who like a super hero.

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Monthly cultural round up: March

BOOKS

Siri Hustvedt The Summer Without Men This is quite a pleasant read, though in part I think that the various storylines don’t really gel, or at least do not coalesce in a way which makes thebook more than the sum of its parts. The most interesting parts of this for me was the contemplation of how close we live to our own insanity, when our expectations about the world are suddenly transformed, sometimes there is no place to go but insane. As the story of a woman finding her way back from this kind of traumatic break, it holds some interesting ideas about how one negotiates the world and the future. And then it wanders off into twee storylines about making teenagers like each other more through poetry. There are some interesting vignettes and some nice characters, but overall it doesn’ t quite hang together as well as it could and occasionally seems like a lot of fragments of Good Ideas have been smooshed together. But then again, maybe that is supposed to reflect the disorder of rethinking one’s life.

Alastair Reynolds The Prefect This starts of seeming like a much more straightforward novel than many of Reynolds, but this impression does not last. Beautifully rendered with textured characters, The Prefect is a clever mystery, but it also involves layers of complexity and concepts which make it on a par with other novels. It is fascinatingly dark and raises philosophical questions about what is right and reasonable and how one serves justice, and what justice even is. While it helps to have read other books in the same universe, it isn’t necessary. The world(s) of the Glitter Band are beatufiully thought out, and the book touches briefly on some of the concerns which Iain Banks’ Surface Detail explores in more depth – when should people be saved from themselves? Well worth a read – I am still yet to find a Reynolds’ which is disappointing.

FILMS

Hugo Another 3 D children’s movie – I nearly groaned. But I obviously hadn’t paid enough attention to the director (Martin Scorcese, so a favourite) or the plot. Actually, the publicity about the plot indicated “story of boy living in the walls of a train station in Paris” when in fact the film was really about film itself, but particulary the story of George Melies, the man who gave us the iconic early film image of a rocket smashing into the smiling face of the moon. While it started a little Disney-like with swirling snow and oafish authority figure chases rascally child through train station, it quickly became more interesting. It is clearly made by a man who loves and treasures the history of film and the scenes of Melies at work as a director are delightful. Beautifully cast and acted, it could occasionally have been a little faster paced – though it didn’t lose the attention of the small boys accompanying me.It provide nice vignettes of characters – and the slightly predictable or stereotyped nature of the charaters and their interactions seemed to be more about the exercise of film archetypes than a lack of originality. In fact, much of the film is a tribute to these tropes of film – the dream-within-a-dream, the dangling from the hands of a clock – the film is imbued throughout with clever little tributes to films. Even the use of iconic actors like Ben Kingsley and Christopher Lee seemed to be for their role as a symbol of film history rather than merely their acting skills. Enjoyable for the non-film lover, those who love this history of films will especially enjoy it.

MUSIC

Duran Duran Sydney Entertainment Centre I last saw Duran Duran 29 years ago when they first toured Australia. I thought it was completely amazing, my first experience of live music, so while I was very keen to go and see them again, there was a small touch of trepidation that all my teen memories would be crushed if they ended up being a bit lame. Interestingly, they referenced that tour 29 years ago – they had been the act to open the Sydney Entertainment Centre (I saw them in Adelaide at Memorial Drive). Anyway, there we were in a very diverse crowd, even if the majority were women about my age. They opened with a song from their current album, but it was soon into the old favourites.  They sounded tight, well rehearsed and professional and their multimedia show was enough to be interesting and entertaining without distracting from the band itself. It was definitely a music concert, rather than a visual spectacular. The pace in the first half of the show was a little slow and a bit stop-start and didn’t manage to carry the momentum it potentially could have. Everyone was up and dancign for old favourites, but with slightly too long/many pauses in between songs, the enthusiasm dropped for the newer, more unfamilar songs, and much of the audience was seated for these. This was overcome in the latter half where the songs flowed together better and kept you going through the newer ones. Practically all the old favourites were played, and I think there was a song from every album. There was a huge amount of energy in their performance, and some terrific versions – Wild Boys is one of my least favourite songs recorded, but the performance was fantastic. They closed with Girls on Film and Rio, and it seemed like they had enjoyed the show as much as we had. So I’ll definitely be back if they are. And the 30 year old crush on Simon Le Bon has been somewhat revived, made worse by the fact he is on Twitter.

Cultural round up: February

February was really short, right? That is probably why I don’t have much to add here…

BOOKS

Zone One Colson Whitehead As a literary take on the zombie genre, Zone One provides some wonderful, cleverly thought out and rendered moments, but I thought, from time to time appeared to slight into a slightly pretentious style as it strived to be less pulp, more Proust. That isn’t to say that I didn’t like it, and that it wasn’t a clever take on the zombie concept with an authentic imagining of a post-apocalyptic world, as well as a strong sense of the dismay, horror and panic as the disaster unfolded. It also had some wonderful humour. I also thought it was interesting how it explored an idea which was also apparent in The Passage; the notion that perhaps these creatures have some semblance of humanity which remains and which makes them seek the familiar. Nonetheless, even as someone who loves a non-linear narrative, I found that this one meandered so much that I did get slightly lost once or twice, particularly when read in bursts. And while some of the juxtapositions of New York and zombies were clever, occasionally it all got a little bit laboured. For me though, the most powerful moment in the book was right towards the end, and had nothing really to do with the plot, but with one sentence challenged a whole range of assumptions I had made. I am not even sure how deliberate it was, though I suspect it was. Worth a read for those who like a more intelligent approach to zombies.

Cultural Round Up: November

Another lean month. It is rather annoying that life has been getting in the way of enjoying culture. But so it is.

A link for your viewing pleasure, if you happen to like Daleks.

BOOKS

By Light Alone Adam Robert I finished this book about three weeks ago now and I am still not entirely sure what I think about it. Its premise – that the world has been radically divided between rich and poor following the invention of some sort of biological-nano-technology which turns hair into a photosynthesising mechanism allowing people to live on sunlight alone is interesting, but it is not entirely clear how the world became quite so radically divided. I don’t demand that everything is explained, but I was a little unconvinced that the premise led to the world. Putting that aside, the book seems to be permeated by a deep disgust of humanity and particularly men. At both ends of the spectrum, without  the need for work, Robert seems to envisage men doing nothing but indulging themselves, while women work on. I think it is this contemptuous view of people which ultimately made the book a bit hard at times. I think the second half is more interesting than the first, as one gets to see and understand a little more of the world, and Issa’s character has a strength which is heartening. For all that though, I am still not sure.

MOVIES

Contagion I liked this film. I liked the characterisations, I liked the little vignettes, I liked the developing drama. I particularly liked the music which really underscored the action. I thought the envisaging of the world where these things happened, how it is the panic and reactions that cause the problems, well beyond the disease itself, was well done. I liked how the film used elements and tropes of disaster films and played them down and gave them a more subtle treatment, while not feeling the need be too clever. There was probably a subplot too many, with maybe the Hong Kong/China one being the most superfluous, although it did have a point to make. And the film did peter out a little bit at the end as I have heard others criticise, however thought that was not out-of-line with the film. Overall though, it kep me engaged, it was well directed and acted and scripted and filmed, and is certainly more interesting and thoughtful than your average big ticket movie.

TELEVISION

Walking Dead Season 2.1 If the characters would talk less this would have been an awesome season. It is a bit like watching films scripted by George Lucas – the story itself it quite interesting, but the dialogue makes you want to punch someone. Admittedly, the final two or three episodes suffer less on this score and the final sequence of the mid-season finale is quite stunning. Characters develop quite significantly in these episodes, particularly Shane, Andrea and Daryl and the texture of the plot becomes quite interesting. They still don’t really know what to do with T-Dog who has virtually no role in the action, but at least Glenn stereotypical Asian-ness gets played off a little when he gets referred to as Short Round, before moving into a more interesting position in the drama. It is Shane though who makes one nervous, and he is powerfully played by Jon Bernthal. Maybe it helps that he has the fewest painful monologues as well. Worth sticking with, even if at times the dialogue makes you want to stick out your eye.

 

Cultural Round Up: October

I’m getting in early this month. My link for today is for the non-fiction afficiando – the countdown of the Top 100 Feminist Non-Fiction books. Much food for thought in there.

BOOKS

Chasm City Alastair Reynolds  This book has reinforced and totally confirmed me as a complete Alastair Reynolds fan. A stand-alone book set in the universe of the Revelation Space trilogy, it is engrossing and compelling. It draws on the fictional world of those books, but is easily accessible read alone, or could be read as a precursor. It took me a couple of chapters to really get engaged, but after that it was absolutely page turning. It explores very cleverly concepts of identity and memory, as well as privilege and boredom, madness, ambition and redemption. The writing is really taut and the characterisations completely engaging. It isn’t always an easy read, but it certainly is a compelling one. The idea of psychotic dolphins driven to madness and giant goldfish held for ever in some kind of stasis are amongst the fascinating science fiction images the novel generates. And the intelligence behind the writing is palpable. For any thinking science fiction fan, it is an absolute must-read.

TELEVISION

Rome Season 2 ep 1-8 [Some spoilers] Like the first season, this season is wildly uneven. I am yet to watch the final two episodes, but up until that point there have been episodes which have been totally engrossing and ones which were almost unwatchable. The bout of rape and torture across a couple of early episodes was frankly gratuitous and it took me a while to come back to it after that. I think it is sad they changed the Octavian actor – the earlier Octavian was one of my favourite characters, but his replacement is very unlikable. Which leaves one with few characters to actually like. It is slightly disturbing when you find Mark Antony one of the most attractive of the people you are viewing. It was nice to have actual battle scenes which were quite impressive, and the scene where Pullo kills Cicero is an absolute classic. However, it is a watch-with-caution affair, and I can’t say I’ll be rushing to a repeat viewing.

The Slap  ep 1-4 This is well-made, believably scripted drama, to a point. It has been well-casted, and the performances are terrific. However, and it is a big however, it feels all a bit stereotyped. Violent Greek man echoing his violent father; career woman who never wanted babies gets pregnant and dilemma ensues; hippie parents lax with discipline; young girl with father issues fixated on older man; over-bearing Greek mother, blah blah blah. The over-determination of the characters makes it feel all a bit contrived. It veers from feeling intensely real in parts, to some stereotyped display of archetypes in others. And again with the unlikeable characters. If the situation wasn’t so over-determined, it might feel a bit more convincing. And yet, somehow it remains quite compelling, particularly as I am interested to see how it will resolve itself. I will admit I have read the book. I don’t think though that the series has encouraged me to remedy this.

ART

The Big Draw National Portrait Gallery This was not so much an exhibition as an interactive day of activities. We took small boys along to check it out. We participated in three activities – building 3D “drawings” using cornstarch foam pieces, drawing to music and making a collaborative drawing with coloured dots. These were all fun, well-organised and had people to assist and lots of equipment available. Interestingly, there were almost as many adults and children building sculptures (see mine below) and the drawing to music was actually dominated by adults who actually had some talent (unlike myself).

While the activities were well organised, less good was signage or direction to other activities. I knew that according to the brochure there were other activities in other areas, but without helpful signs one felt a bit unsure about where to go. In the end we headed home after a couple of hours filled with these three activities, but I hope that if the Portrait Gallery does this next year (which I hope it does) it might be a little more directive about where one can (and should) go!

Cultural Round Up: September

Yeah, yeah I know, it is more than half way through October. I have been slack. Very slack. In my defence I will say that the last month has involved moving house and starting a new job, so those things have distracted me from blogging, and also limited my access to the computer. But here I am. and here are some amazing houses made of Lego to distract you from my slackness.

BOOKS

Games of Thrones George RR Martin Having seen the series and finding myself in an airport without a book to read, I couldn’t resist diving in. And it was worth it. even though I had seen the series and essentially knew what was going to happen, I found it page-turningly compulsive reading. The writing is engaging and easy to read. I was interested to see how closely they had stuck to the book for the series, but also the little differences. I thought that Sansa’s revelation in the book is more compelling, as you see her suddenly understand with horror how almost everything she had thought before was wrong. And the differences in the character of Catelyn Stark are interesting. Having read the book now though, I am not sure I will be able to hold off til I’ve seen the next TV season before I read no 2, as I had previously planned.

MOVIES

Harry Potter 1-3 With the 7 yr old now a massive Harry Potter fan and reading his way through the books, we have watched the first three films again. Firstly, it is hilarious to see all the actors so young again. I still don’t understand why Christopher Columbus was ever allowed to direct any Harry Potter film. The direction is so over-the-top in the first two films it is sometimes unwatchable, with the child actors apparently encouraged to over act and mug all over the place. It is interesting by the third film, when the child actors are no longer just children and there is a new director how much better that film is. The darker hues and more restrained approach, along with some wonderful performances from the adults makes it such a more enjoyable experience. The general awfulness of aspects of the first two films also makes Alan Rickman’s performance as Snape just that little bit more fabulous also I think. Rewatching The Philosopher’s Stone, Rickman manages to inject Snape with a level of ambivalence and pain – he isn’t a one-dimensional villain in any sense. In fact, it is interesting that you can see in The Philosopher’s Stone the Snape which is revealed in the final Harry Potter, which is all the more extraordinary as that book hadn’t been written yet. I think that Rickman manages to capture the essential qualities of Snape beautifully throughout the series. Nonetheless, while 1 and 2 might be enjoyed by the kids, they aren’t the films I’d take a lot of time out to rewatch – 3 however is well worth rewatching, and rewatching again.

Cultural Round Up: August

I am currently totally failing to meet my blog-posting/article-writing KPIs for this period of leave from my real job I am having. Anyway, here is a first attempt to address this.

Anyway, here is something cool: If We Don’t, Remember Me.

 Books

Singularity Sky Charles Stross This is an interesting a very readable book which is one-part ordinary spy thriller, one-part wide-ranging exposition on the vagaries of humanity and the nature of revolution. The idea of the Festival – an incomprehensible body which seeks information and in return grants wishes – allows a fascinating examination of the impact of change and disruption on people. The central spy drama is also entertaining with engaging characters, making the book very readable. I love the concept also of the Cornucopia machine which acts as a revolutionary device by undermining the  economic structures of a serfdom based society. Anyway, a fun read with a lot of interesting ideas in it, even if some of them are quite weird.

Winter Holiday Arthur Ransome Set in winter and introducing new characters, Winter Holiday  is a particularly delightful part of the Ransome oeuvre. At its heart are the adventures of children which one could really see happening, as well as some lovely insights into the nature of responsibility. I like the fact that in the book the children aren’t miraculously happy with each other all the time, that the older ones are occasionally annoyed by the younger ones when they do things that younger children do. The children are believable with their own characteristics and foibles, but they are also clever and resourceful in a way you would like your children to be. The new mantra in our house when people complain of boredom: What would Nancy do?

Television

Dexter season 5 This season of Dexter has some very clever writing, some fantastic performance – not least from Julia Stiles – and a deep sadness and humanity at its core. The horror that people inflict on each other is redeemable and understanding and love are central to that dedemption. Overall the season is well written and the central plot compelling – the major side-plot does just disappear at one point without further explanation and I do wonder why it was never resolved in the way one would have expected. But the story of Dexter and Lumen was compelling, as was the story of how Dexter and his family recovered from what had befallen them. Worth it for the acting performances alone.

True Blood season 4 eps 1-10 With only a couple of episodes left, I would like to think that this season could pull itself together and make something a bit more compelling out of the general incoherence which has gone before. I’m not counting on it though. This season seems to have got itself confused with too many characters doing too many things that don’t seem particularly linked or driving toward some central narrative goal. Now that might be what life is like, but it doesn’t make for fantastic television.  Bits of story occur and then end and nothing seems to come of it, and nothing further gets mentioned. The journey that Lafayette and Jesus has been on has been torturous to the point of unwatchability, and ditto Jason. The central Eric and Sookie storyline makes me wonder what is it about season 4s and the need to neuter and emasculate the sexy arrogant male characters (see also Spike and season 4 of Buffy and Queer as Folk and Brian). Anyway, after what I thought was a fantastic third season, this has been disappointing and not nearly as compelling. I hope that before next season they plot it out in a more coherent form.

Monthly cultural round up: June

This month, we’ll dive right into it.

Books

The Evolutionary Void Peter Hamilton This is the third book of a trilogy which I had been enjoying a lot, so it was with much excitement that I started it. Sadly, I don’t think it lived up to the other two. Perhaps it was that the Edeard parts which were so engaging in the previous two books, didn’t have quite the same magic. Or perhaps it was that the denouement lacked a bit of punch, with a number of major characters with very little to do. The massive imperative previously for some characters to do certain things (trying to avoid spoilers here) just sort of trickled away. Still enjoyable and still fun, but sadly not quite the finale for which I was hoping.

Peter Duck Arthur Ransome This is the first of the “adventure” Swallows and Amazon books with the children adventuring over the seas with Captain Flint and (as we know from Swallowdale) the imagined Peter Duck. Like the books which remain closer to home, Peter Duck is an engaging adventure with sly humour. Those adult of us reading may question the likelihood that a cyclone and earthquake would hit the island on the same night, but the small people readers are completely enthralled by it. Once again, easy-to-read, engaging fun which holds up well even 80 years after it was written.

Television

Game of Thrones season 1 (second half) So, last month I did complain that a few of the early episodes of Game of Thrones were a little slow. In the second half of the season we get the pay off. The politics come together, characters come to the fore and the episodes are gripping and exciting. Things you are convinced won’t happen do, and you stay glued to the screen through all of it. It is interesting how characters who seemed more stereotyped early in the season seem to break their shackles somewhat and how the story does not always go where you expect it to. Of course, questions remain like are there too many boobs? but over all, I think that the Game of Thrones  manages the balance and makes itself something that we are all now waiting for expectantly – next season is going to be a thriller. Must resist the temptation to read the books…  Other useful links include this illustrated guide to houses and relationships and the Buddy Comedy take on the first season.

Rome season 1 There were some interesting things about Rome and it was enjoyable, but it was not outstanding television. I think it suffered from too few central characters, which made much of the action seem somewhat contrived – the final explanation of why Caesar managed to get himself killed in the Senate (apologies if that is a spoiler anyone) was so contorted and contrived as to provoke one to say “yeah, right.” I also didn’t like the fact that the two central female characters were both quite so unpleasant and it was very hard to sympathise with either of them. I did enjoy the character of Octavian though – some very clever moments there – and also Marc Antony was rather entertaining. I also thought the depiction of the relationship between Caesar and his slave which rather well done. Nonetheless, while I don’t believe that we should fetishise accuracy in historical drama, some of the compressing of events did make it feel like Caesar was in power for a very short time. Over all though, I did enjoy it enough to contemplate watching series 2.

Art

The Art of the Brick Nathan Sawaya

On at Federation Square in Melbourne, this exhibition demonstrated what all good art should do – very strong technical skills but also imagination and inspiration. I think I was less impressed by some of the nonetheless highly impressive exhibits, like the large-sized Parthenon where the technical skill was mostly demonstrated, and more impressed by the ones like Mask which demonstrated a strong use of the medium to convey different ideas and emotions. A further up-side of the exhibition – it is something which small people will enjoy. It was also beautifully curated, with the white and black backgrounds allowing the colours of the Lego to shine. Well worth seeing, it goes beyond the nostalgia for those Lego Exhibitions I looked forward to every year as a child.

Cultural Update: April

So, April being the cruelest month and all, my cultural intake was somewhat diminished. Too much busy-ness in other directions.

Before we start, as usual, some link-tasticness. Here Literary Minded exhorts us to read more books by women. I know my own reading list tends to be male dominated, though I do have a number of women writers I will return to again and again. I have taken a conscious decision to try a couple of women sci fi writers who are new to me, and their books are in my reading-pile-of-doom. Updates in later months.

Books

Swallowdale Arthur Ransome This is the second in the series, and once again it was enjoyed read aloud to small boys. These books are joyous in their simplicity – the children do what children do and the small boys can imagine themselves in these positions. I love how they have become obsessed with the idea of learning to sail and how they delight in the detail of the camps and the food and the sailing ships. We are soon to have a feast of pemmican and ginger beer. I enjoy reading them for the sly humour they have and the clever turns of phrase which are used. All in all, an enjoyable bedtime reading experience.

Film

Paul I wanted to like this more than I did, and I wanted it to be funnier. For me, the most entertaining bits came with the cute nerdiness of the central protagnists which was not over done as it is in say The Big Bang Theory but which hit the right amusing tropes. The rest of the film was not offensive and it was pleasantly enjoyable in an almost instantly forgettable sort of way. Cute sci fi references towards the end also. It was all fairly well executed, but didn’t raise a belly laugh or really establish itself as cultural icon which will resonante for years in the way the shoot out scene in Spaced has turned into an instant cult classic.

Television

The Killing Speaking of instant cult classics, this Danish program has certainly been popular amongst a certain group of the Twitterati. It draws you into its complexity, with beautiful portraits of people in challenging situations. Its key protaganists are all highly flawed and there is no CSI style simple denouements at the end of 45 minutes. Compelling, beautifully filmed and acted, it is the kind of show that you get drawn to watching two or three episodes in one evening. Sarah Lund, the central character, is a wonderful invention – all baggy jumpers, jeans and pony-tails, struggling to cope with upheavals in her own life. I found really interesting the way that the show touched on racial and immigration politics in Denmark – how it underscores some of the action without being overtly preachy. It is a clever series, worth the investment of time and I can’t say too much more because I wouldn’t want to spoil it. You’ll forget about the subtitles (if they bother you) very quickly. It is going to be very interesting to see how a US version translates it all.

Cultural Round Up: March

For the observers of culture, here is today’s link – but you have to like the Bronte sisters…. With thanks to the always entertaining Jen_Bennett.

So March involved the flying to the US and back, which will give you a clue as to why there are museum/art reviews from New York. Due to the excess of plane movie watching, they shall be entitled to a separate post, and I’ll stick with the fundamentals here.

Books

Redemption Ark Alastair Reynolds I do love Alastair Reynolds. After first reading him only a year ago, I have become a firm convert. Proselytizer even. Redemption Ark does not disappoint. it introduces new fantastic women characters to the series and captures the dilemmas and challenges of doing the right thing, but not always in the right way. It is interesting how this book is explores means-versus-ends arguments, and captures the intricacies of people politics on both a large and small scale. These books aren’t always easy, but this series is well worth the effort.

The Temporal Void Peter Hamilton As above, this is the second book of a trilogy. Perfect plane reading – unlike Reynolds this is easy, enjoyable reading where the main challenge is trying to keep track of all the characters. I still find the story within the story the most entertaining part of this book, and I must say the last couple of chapters do pack a fairly significant emotional punch.  It also quite interesting in some of the morally ambiguous territory it wandered into, and the dilemmas the characters faced.  The fact that, having just finished, I am very keen to go out and get the next one, even if it is still in Big Size edition, is testament to how page turning this was.

Art

Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures Museum of Modern Art

This exhibition was primarily of the 4ish minute screen tests which Warhol did of friends and acquaintances. These were curated brilliantly, surrounding you on the walls, giant silent black and white faces which were still or engaged in some minor activity. There was the unmoving intensity of Susan Sontag and the slightly crazy glint in Dennis Hopper’s eye. The exhibition also showed Kiss and Sleep (which I did not watch in its entirety), as well as the descriptively named Blow Job, which again featured only a face – but it was still clear that it was aptly named. I think the screen tests worked well to capture a sense of the personalities of those being filmed, as well as being beautiful to look at. If intense.

Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Museum

This is a seriously awesome exhibition, leading me to think many thoughts about craft and the place of women’s art and craftsmanship. The quilts were incredibly impressive, demonstrating enormous levels of skill and artistry.  It is interesting how we have boxed “craft” and, in viewing it as a women’s domain, have reduced its status in comparison to other areas of art. The detail in the quilts was impressive and the collection that was presented was excellent as it demonstrated a wide variety of styles and fabrics. If by some miracle I got to go to New York again after May, I would definitely be heading to the Museum to see the second half of the exhibition.