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.

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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: May

My pile of unread books is only very slowly inching down, and I really must avoid buying any others.

Today’s link-magic: Having The Talk with your kids…..

A child who has experienced that talk, may also end up with a wedding that looks like this.

Books

The Quiet War Paul McAuley There are some fabulous things about this book. The vision of settlements on Saturn and Jupiter is probably the most wonderful settlement of the solar system I have ever read. And it fascinating to see another take on the issues of ecological disaster and genetic engineering – very different from that in The Windup Girl even coming from similar premises. Some of the characters too are great, though at times it suffers from the same problem as a number of recent books, that some of the characters aren’t quite likable enough. Over all though, some very interesting ideas and depictions; a very thoughtful book, even if I didn’t find the ending ultimately as satisfying as one might have hoped.

Films

District B13

This film has some of the most awesome fight and chase scenes you could hope for. Brilliantly choreographed fights and parkour with a pumping soundtrack, they are an absolute delight to watch. The lead characters’ athleticism is also impressive. Set in a near future (well 2010 envisaged from 2004) it also takes on a number of issues around class and race which are prevalent in modern France, with a progressive spin, so the story itself is not bad either. That being said, some of the dialogue is woeful (although the subtitling may have been partly at fault) and the acting range of the leads is not as impressive as their fighting/jumping/athletic skills. Nonetheless, well worth watching if you are looking for a good action film – well ahead of most Hollywood types.

Television

Games of Thrones first half of season 1 I really really really wanted to like this. While I haven’t read the books, any sword and politics type drama is worth hoping for. And I wasn’t disappointed by the first episode, especially its shock conclusion. But the next two or three episodes were a bit too ponderous, and I found myself worried that I would lose interest. The characters were a bit too stereotyped: the boorish king, the plotting queen, the arrogant prince,the stalwart loyal friend, the barbarian and his noble queen… I think that the challenge in the first half of the season is to stick with it through the slightly less compelling parts – a story this complex takes time to weave, and the pay off will arrive (as I will discuss next month no doubt).  The two most compelling characters in the first half of the season were Catelyn Stark and Tyrion Lannister – both had rounded personalities and complex motivations. I imagine that to follow the destiny of Arya Stark will be a fascinating story, but one which, most likely, I will have to end up turning to the books for, as I don’t know whether we will see the series lasting that long. Otherwise, it is beautiful to look at, and I think the couple of slow episodes in the early part of the season will be compensated for by the pay off.