Thursday, May 1, 2014

Weekend Entertainment Recs for Seniors and Others

Novel: The Dinner by Herman Koch
European Novel in the Very Best Sense!

Lately, like many readers, I have been engrossed in what is known as Scandinavian Noir. This is the term for all of the crime novels spilling out of Sweden, Denmark, and the other Nordic countries. Thus, it is a change of pace to get a novel a bit similar but a good deal more serious from Holland, The Dinner. It is told entirely from first person Point of View and that person is one of the two fathers, Paul. Paul's brother, Serge, is favored to become the next PM. Both brothers, who hardly have the healthiest sibling relationship themselves, find themselves tossed into a quagmire with their combined children and their combined misdeeds.

This mess slowly unfolds before us over dinner in an upscale, overly trendy metropolitan restaurant. I've eaten, but not recently, in places like this, and you could just scream over the fake artifice every step of the way with the supposedly nouvelle cuisine. I thought we Americans had the market cornered on overpriced dining for too little food but Holland certainly pulls even with us in this novel. This element of the novel is very comic, right down to the server's trendy description of every offering on the menu.

The novel has an additional element which is very cleverly done. The narrator is gradually revealed to us as well. Over time, we see a dark side of the narrator emerging and this becomes as engrossing as the problem with the children. In fact, it begins to overtake that story. What happens from that point forward is completely unexpected and puts the novel in a direction far beyond Scandinavian Noir. This dark, verging on darkly comic, part of the novel sets it really apart as having been a European novel. 

Ironically, the only writer I can compare Koch to is Jim Thompson, who was an American noir writer in the 1950s, but his novels were only appreciated by Europeans in his lifetime. It is only in recent years that Thompson became read in our country and he is still more known for the films from his work than his novels here.

All I have to say to the Europeans is, "Please send more."

In September 2013 it was announced that the film of the book would be Cate Blanchett's debut as a director. 

This book can be instantly downloaded as an ebook at Amazon, iTunes and the Overdrive Public Library app. The audiobook can be instantly downloaded at Audible and iTunes.  I am a top reviewer at Amazon. You can see my reviews here.

TV: American Horror Story Season 3, Coven starring Jessica Lange

I loved Jessica Lange as a ghost in season one and as a nun in charge of an asylum in season two. However,the creators of this show just reached the pinnacle of using Lange--they turned her into the head witch in a series called COVEN. We open with a bunch of teen witches being sent to New Orleans because they've killed or seriously injured people in their home towns using their powers. They move into a large rooming house situation with a woman in charge of them who will instruct them on using their powers. All of these women have some formidable powers but then Jessica Lange blows into town. She is capable of doing anything to the rest of them and duly informs them that what they really need to be afraid of is her.

Lange, however, does have one weakness. She is aging and will die ultimately. She wants to be immortal so digs up Kathy Bates in the back yard of the house. Bates has been buried alive there for 130 years. Lange doesn't care that she was the evilest woman in town. What she wants is what Bates has got, immortality. The witch (or voodoo practitioner) who set the spell on Bates is played by Angela Bassett (who makes a fabulous looking witch).

So there are these older coven members who are juxtaposed with their teen counterparts. The big problem with the teens is that they use their powers in ways calculated to bring about troubles in the city when all the older witches want to just fly underneath the radar of the civilians.

Part of the success of this series is that each story over its season only runs around 12 episodes which is a real nice length for telling a good yarn without beating it into the ground. These shows are adopting the foreign model for how a tv show is run as opposed to the old network model. They can also attract the big stars from film, like Lange, with these shorter seasons.

It is great to see Bates playing a villain again like she did so well in Misery.

This season can be instantly streamed at Amazon Instant Video or iTunes. The two earlier seasons, also excellent, are available on Netflix as well as iTunes and Amazon.  I am a top reviewer at Amazon. You can see my reviews here.

Film: Safety Not Guaranteed 
An Indie Delight, Absolutely Charming!

This was one of my best discoveries of 2012. It reminded me of the best of the movies I used to discover in the days I spent attending films at art house theaters before the internet age. Thankfully, I can now find this kind of treasure on my computer devices and watch it at home.

This is set on the Pacific coast of Washington State. A reporter and two interns from Seattle Magazine are sent there on assignment to investigate a guy who placed a personal ad with it looking for a time travel companion whose safety he cannot guarantee and who better bring some weapons along. The person interviewing for this position becomes the female magazine intern.

The key here is the hero who really grows on you. At first he strikes you as a nerd but this does not last. And throughout the question looms, is he for real about this time travel where he can't guarantee your safety? The answer to this is absolutely brilliant.

This film can be instantly streamed at Amazon Instant Video, iTunes and Netflix. I am a top reviewer at Amazon. You can see my reviews here.

Music: Movies Go to the Opera

I only listen to opera and classical music every once in awhile. I discovered this recording, however, and found my most favorite opera recording of all time. I think the reason for this is that I don't know opera well enough to appreciate any opera's entire score. It would be like buying a Broadway show album when you only knew and liked one tune in the whole show. Wasted. All of these selections I know, however, because they were each the crowning moment of its opera. Further, the filmmakers who chose these pieces chose them for movies that I typically love. I've never played this for anyone who didn't like it. If you mention it to opera fans, however, they will probably be appalled. I have and they are. 

I've noticed that music is continually being repackaged online. I have found an album with a different cover which seems to have the same selections. Reviewers are also raving about it the same as I am the one with the above cover. They could well be the same recording. The advantage to this one is that it can be downloaded online at Amazon as Mp3 music to your computer or mobile devices. The other cover appears to only come in CD format. I found an entirely different cover and title on iTunes which also seems to be the same selections. Again, rave reviews. 

The top green colored album is the one I bought and its selections are: Track Listings 1. Fatal Attraction- Madama Butterfly- Un bel di 2. Death Of Butterfly 3. Giacomo Puccini / Turandot-Nessun Dorma (Witches Of Eastwick) 4. Lakme-Viens, Mallika (Someone To Watch Over Me) 5. La Boheme: Musetta's Waltz (Moonstruck) 6. La Boheme-Mimi's Farewell (Moonstruck) 7. Dark Eyes / Una voce poco fa 8. Apocalypse Now / Ride of the Valkyries 9. Jean De Florette, Manon Of The Spring / Overture 10. La Wally-Ebben? Ne Andr Lontano (Diva) 11. Les Pecheurs De Perles-Au Fond Du Temple Saint (Gallipoli) 12. Manon Lescaut-Sola, Perduta E Abbandonata (Hannah And Her Sisters) 13. Gianni Schicchi-Firenze-Come...(Room With A View) 14. Gianni Schicchi-O Mio Babbino Caro (Room With A View) 15. Chi Il Bel Sogno Di Doretta 16. Cavalleria Rusticana-Intermezzo (Raging Bull).

These selections, no matter what cover goes with them and no matter which way the selections are ordered, are terrific.

 I am a top reviewer at Amazon. You can see my reviews here.

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