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A review of “Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver, with quotations, reflecting on what it says about the mood of contemporary America.
Barbara Kingsolver is a great writer. “Unsheltered” pulses with beautiful prose about two families living in a crumbling house in Vineland, New Jersey, 150 years apart.
When Thatcher Greenwood, the hero of the 1870s cycle, scolds his wife Rose, we hear that: Her eyes flared like a struck match before she looked away.
As the FT says, the book is – in many ways – magnificent.
Willa Knox, the hero of the contemporary cycle, admires her grandson: She lay with her chin on her forearms admiring the baby’s wren-feather eyelashes and delicate nostrils, the bottom lip tucked into the infant overbite. The melon of belly expanding, contracting.
Each chapter ends with the title of the following chapter. We learn that Willa, faced with a grisly task, mommed up and did the deed. This is elegant, powerful stuff.
But the book drove me half crazy. Here are 9 reasons why. (more…)
What to do, when you are stuck at home because of the #coronavirus outbreak?
Read Middlemarch, by George Eliot.
George Eliot’s real name was Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880
I read Middlemarch recently and posted on its wisdom about sex and relationships (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
Middlemarch is also full of splendid epigrams. Here are 25 beauties which caught my eye: (more…)
Which rooftop bar in Vienna has:
- outstanding cocktails
- the best view in Vienna
- total coolness?
Here’s a clue:
Here are some reasons I like the Aurora rooftop bar at Hyatt’s fancy new Andaz Vienna am Belvedere:
- I am picky about cocktails. The Aurora has a terrific Nordic-themed cocktail menu. My favourite is the “Berserker’s Punch” (white rum, overproof rum, orange, coconut, pineapple, lemon, milk, and a cola lolly). To be honest, I can’t see or taste any milk in it. I advise against drinking too many of these;
How a convicted killer introduced me to his girlfriend – who loathed him. What I thought about love aged 21. The lawyer who took me back to his office in Brooklyn. Running out of gas in a Ford Pinto on the New Jersey Turnpike. Soviet statues in Washington DC. Being charmed by Mexican con artists on the Redwood Highway in Northern California.
Welcome to “The Americans”. Who are they? What can they teach us in the 21st Century?
You can click straight to each episode from the links above. Please share this story if you find it interesting. I am working on a book based on this piece.
The first thing I saw were his butcher’s arms: broad and sheened with sweat. Next, I saw tattoos and a square jaw, thick with stubble, set in a sullen half-smile. A broken six-pack of Schlitz was wedged between his thighs on the driver’s seat.
Schlitz – the beer that made Milwaukee famous. What made Milwaukee famous made a loser out of me.
Heading west on I-40, 1979
Was it dangerous to enter the cab of the old Ford pick-up? Standing by the roadside outside Durango in the cooling evening, I had the usual split second to decide. I weighed contradictory feelings: fear and an urge to keep moving.
‘Where are you heading?’ I asked. (more…)
I am listening to literary folk on the Queen Mary Literary Festival at Sea (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). After a powerful Martini in the Commodore Club, a well-read literary editor admits he has never read George Eliot’s classic 1872 novel Middlemarch.
This depiction of Dorothea and Will Ladislaw does not make “Middlemarch” look a fun, contemporary read
Like some other 19thC fiction, Middlemarch has provoked negative responses or indifference over the years – yet critics now see it as one of the greatest novels in the English language.
I agree, and I don’t. Middlemarch is a daunting read – over 900 pages in most editions. Not much happens; there is an immense cast-list of characters; and some of the issues with which it deals, such as the 1832 Reform Act, have faded from memory.
Yet the wisdom (more…)
What are the Top 10 Vienna cafes? How can you find the best Viennese cafe for you? Start here with Robert Pimm’s fun, objective and characterful Vienna cafe reviews.
Vienna is full of cafes. But which are best?
The entrance to the Cafe Hawelka – photo Robert Pimm
Many Viennese cafes are rather good. I like the fact that most of them use old-fashioned Viennese coffee types (kleine Schwarzer, kleine Brauner, Verlängerter, Franziskaner) instead of, or sometimes in addition to, the world-conquering Italian descriptors (Cappuccino, Macchiato, Latte & Co).
Some Vienna cafes have a wonderful, unrenovated charm, often accompanied by service which varies from the friendly and efficient to the traditional clockwork stop-motion effect where waiters emphasise by their every action the fact that they will not deviate from their intended, inexorable plan of action under any circumstance.
But then, what do you want? Would you rather, in Vienna, have a traditional-looking Austrian waiter, who maybe doesn’t speak English and isn’t conspicuously polite, or a fast-moving identikit youth who could be in Seattle or Siena?
I even mention the service of Viennese waiters in my novel Coronatime.
Viennese cafes also often serve terrific cakes; and other food and drink, from sausages to breakfast and beer. Check the menu; and choose your cakes at the counter if you’re not sure.
All of the cafes reviewed are ones I would to return to. If a cafe does not appear in the list, that means either that I haven’t tried it yet; or that I have tried it and am not desperate to return.
What are the John Connolly “Charlie Parker” novels about? Should you read them, and where should you start? My answer, based on reading four novels and meeting John Connolly, is an unqualified “read them”.
“They come now, the dark angels, the violent ones, their wings black against the sun, their swords unsheathed.“
Does evil exist independently? To read this quotation from the third of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, The Killing Kind, one might think Connolly believed in malice independent of man.
At the Erich Fried literary festival
I had the privilege of interviewing John Connolly at the Erich Fried literary festival in Vienna last month. A writer of prodigious output, his recent works include he, a literary imagining of the comedian Stan Laurel, and A Book of Bones, the 17th in the Charlie Parker series.
In preparation for interviewing John I read the first novel in the Charlie Parker series, Every Dead Thing, followed by Dark Hollow and The Killing Kind. I found Charlie “Bird” Parker a fine creation: disturbed, vengeful, tough, (more…)
Trollope is an outstanding writer on relationships between the sexes. Lessons on gender from 1869 are still 100% relevant.
How men think, how women think and whether there is a difference is one of the abiding puzzles of life. We all want to understand other people. Many of us want to understand the opposite sex.
How to understand women, or men?
One of the wisest writers on relationships between the sexes was the 19th century British writer Anthony Trollope. My piece Trollope: 11 reasons to read him sets out his awesome qualities (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog) – including the fact that much of what he wrote is still 100% current. More Trollope links are at the end of this post.
Trollope’s 1869 novel He Knew He Was Right examines relations between the sexes in detail. You can explore quotations from the book below on men (6), on women (9), on relationships (22), on literary criticism (1) and finally (as a reminder of Trollope’s wit and continued relevance) on “the railway sandwich”.
Nothing changes. Enjoy!
My Trollope Society edition of “He Knew He Was Right” has 823 pages
The reader may be quite certain that Colonel Osborne had no premeditated evil intention when he allowed himself to become the intimate friend of his old friend’s daughter. There was nothing fiendish in his nature. He was not a man who boasted of his conquests. He was not a ravening wolf going about seeking whom he might devour, (more…)
How was the Cunard Literary Cruise 2020? Would I go on the 2021 version? Would I bite your hand off to have another chance? What about other writing courses?
“You have 15 seconds to capture someone’s attention,” crime writer Mark Billingham says. Outside, the ocean rushes by, waves flecked with white horses. The wreck of the Titanic lies 150 miles south.
Not a bad place for a literary festival
My friends Phreddie and Rosalind put me onto the Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival at Sea. “Sebastian Faulks, Louis de Bernières, Victoria Hislop, P.J. O’Rourke – what can go wrong?” they said. I checked it out. The package included a flight to New York, three nights in a hotel, then seven nights on Cunard’s “Queen Mary 2” in the company of literary greats, plus a top team of (more…)
Review of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, including James Bond’s sexism. Not one of the best books of all time, but a time capsule of 1950s homophobia which also highlights some of Bond’s positive qualities.
‘Are the James Bond novels any good?’ a friend asked me the other day.
‘They are anachronistic, homophobic and sexist,’ I replied. ‘But James Bond himself is a splendid creation and some of the novels tell a terrific yarn.’
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Goldfinger” is almost parodic
Unfortunately, Goldfinger is my least favourite Bond book so far (I have read, this time round, Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever and From Russia with Love – reviews below). The narrative is short on drive and tension and the plot makes no sense. Why, for example, when (no spoilers here) Bond has driven villain Auric Goldfinger to a paroxysm of suspicion, (more…)
Have you seen the classic 1949 British thriller The Third Man (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site)? If not, watch it immediately! Either way, consider the following nuggets I recently unearthed about possibly the best film of all time.
My review at the link above sets out 8 reasons The Third Man is movie magic. But did you know:
(i) The Third Man was nearly never made. In early discussions, producer David O Selznick said a film called “The Third Man” could never be a hit. You can find out more in Frederick Baker’s 2004 documentary Shadowing the Third Man;
(ii) the classic ending to the movie, which I shall not reveal here, was nearly changed. Graham Greene, who wrote the screenplay, initially planned for an upbeat final scene with Anna and Holly Martins forming a relationship. How this could have squared with the rest of the story, which leads inexorably to the magnificent ending as it was eventually released, I have no idea;
“From Russia with Love” was Ian Fleming’s breakthrough: a hard-hitting, Soviet-focused romp on the Orient Express delving deep into James Bond’s psychology and habits and presenting top Bond villains Rosa Klebb and Red Grant.
What if Ian Fleming wrote a James Bond novel in which the hero did not appear until halfway through?
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “From Russia with Love” is by Fay Dalton
Such a book exists. It is the fifth novel in the series, From Russia with Love, which came out in 1957. The first ten chapters of the book outline a dastardly Soviet plot to kill Bond. They take place in Crimea and Moscow within the bureaucracy of SMERSH – an actual organisation created by Stalin in 1943 whose name is an acronym for “SMErt SHpionam” or “death to spies”.
These chapters introduce two of Fleming’s most memorable villains: (more…)
What is a shill? What images of America stayed in the mind of the young Ian Fleming? What does James Bond know about women, and relationships? “Diamonds are Forever” pulses with insights into America in the ’50s, and shines a light on everyday sexism in that era.
A new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, lurches over the horizon. Will it be any good?
Almost certainly not (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
Will it contain bizarre and dated attitudes to women, clothed in feeble nods to political correctness? Almost certainly.
But I will keep hoping.
Despite the ghastliness of most recent Bond outings, I remain a fan of the original Ian Fleming novels. I am the proud owner of a growing set of Folio Society editions, and recently read Diamonds are Forever, published in 1956, whose illustrations by Fay Dalton evoke the mood of the book:
The story moves at a leisurely pace. Bond does not take the menace of US gangsters seriously, and attempts a relationship with the magnificent but damaged Tiffany Case before a satisfying resolution on board a transatlantic liner. Like many in the series, it contains a good deal of language which by today’s standards is racist, homophobic and misogynistic. I tend to feel that such texts should not put a book out of bounds for today’s audiences, even if they make a modern reader cringe: they are a reminder of how far we have come. But many readers may feel differently.
Diamonds are Forever also contains some splendid set-piece descriptions, for example of the “Acme Mud and Sulphur Baths” or of US horse-racing at Saratoga, which are reminiscent of the descriptions of fox-hunting and cross-country horse racing which appear regularly in Trollope. (more…)
An Austrian friend of mine was reading my Great Vienna cafe reviews recently (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
My friend commented: But my favorite coffee house you did not even name. It is the Café EILES… Friendly staff, great environment, good coffee. And all the essential papers. And they do leave you alone, this is priceless. All the other coffee places I visit several times a month waiters become friendly and ask you things or even worse they involve you into their own problems, just because I am very friendly and leave good tips…
The Eiles is spacious, in the tradition of the grand old Viennese cafes
There is much wisdom in these comments:
(i) friendly staff: I have often written about the grumpiness and mixed quality of waiters in Vienna and in Germany. As someone said to me the other day, “you don’t go to the classic cafes for good coffee or good service – you go for the entire cafe experience”. Most perceptive. But the service in the Eiles is good; (more…)
To brush up your writing ideas and technique, a good writing course is unbeatable. I attended a short story writing week in Loutro, in Crete, and found ideas and prompts on every side.
In the shade of a quiet taverna, eight people sit writing. Crickets chirp on the fragrant hillside. A glistening kebab rotates; as fat hisses in the embers, mouthwatering aromas tickle our tastebuds. A fishing boat nudges across the bay, ripples gurgling in its wake. My pen scrapes across the page.
The village of Loutro has no roads or vehicles.
The “Poetry and Writing” courses organised by espirita.org.uk in the tiny Cretan village of Loutro are a unique way to focus for one, two or three weeks on your story ideas and writing techniques in a sparkling Greek resort. Stewart Wills is the delightfully unclassifiable spirit being behind espirita – slogan: “A not-for-profit travel service for the cultural traveller”. Other espirita offerings include Taiko Drumming in Japan, The Oriental Garden in China, and Aromazzata in Italy. Tempting stuff.
I attended the “One Short Story” course on Loutro in summer 2019, tutored by Christopher Wakling, author of seven fine novels and lead fiction tutor at Curtis Brown Creative. I’d been on an Arvon writing course led by (more…)
In the city, the heat is oppressive. Yet the evening, in a deck chair under a beach umbrella, is cool. The beer in my hand is icy. All around me, hundreds of people are upending a beer or slurping a cocktail. Open water glistens nearby. What could be better than this?
The Strandbar Herrmann is a regular haunt of mine; is a unique spot in the centre of Vienna; and has charm. So here is a review.
Strandbar Herrmann – the Urania is the domed building in the background
Seven great things about the Strandbar Herrmann:
(i) it is close to town. Vienna has tons of outstanding beach bars next to the Danube, many of which I recommend, but which are a train- or bike-ride out of town. Herrmann is on the Danube Canal, which loops round from the river towards the city. You can walk there from the town centre in 15-25 minutes;
(ii) it’s big and bustling. OK, so I love the Kleines Cafe (click to see all my Vienna cafe reviews – links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). But when you’re having a cooling drink out of doors, a hum of contented (more…)
“14 Plums” is a great introduction to PG Wodehouse and a great book to start with.
Where to start with Wodehouse? Which Jeeves book should you read first? What is the best reading order?
I have so far read 14 of the 20 P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings Castle volumes of my father’s splendid Folio Society collection (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog). What joy these books have brought to the world!
But greater experts than I, such as the fabulous fellow WordPress blogger Plumtopia, who specialises in the works of P G Wodehouse, have pointed out that there is much more to “Plum” than Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings, splendid as they are.
So I was delighted to discover recently another Folio Society edition, The Plums of P G Wodehouse.
My Folio Society edition of “The Plums of P.G. Wodehouse” (more…)
How to understand British politics: why Trollope’s 19th century books are the best guide to Westminster which exists today – and a great guide to British humour.
Trollope is, perhaps, my favourite novelist (although PG Wodehouse is up there).
I have described before 11 life-changing reasons you should read Trollope, including his views on religion, sexual politics, and the media (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
But not everyone is convinced.
So I thought I would give an example of the brilliance of Trollope by quoting an entire chapter from his 1869 novel He Knew He Was Right.
He Knew He Was Right deals with the breakdown of the marriage between Louis Trevelyan, a wealthy young Englishman, and his wife Emily. As a description of how jealousy and stubbornness can destroy a relationship, it could have been written yesterday.
My Trollope Society edition of “He Knew He Was Right” has 823 pages
Emily’s father is Sir Marmaduke Rowley, Governor of the fictional Mandarin Islands, a distant British colony. An old friend, Colonel Osborne, who is also Emily’s godfather, arranges for Sir Marmaduke to be summoned back to London, ostensibly to appear before a parliamentary committee, but in fact in order that he can return to London at the taxpayer’s expense to see Emily. Sir Marmaduke acquiesces in this subterfuge; yet is dismayed when he is summoned before the committee of Members of Parliament, which is chaired by one Major Magruder: “a certain ancient pundit of the constitution, who had been for many years a member, and who had been known as a stern critic of our colonial modes of government”.
I have reproduced here Chapter 68 of He Knew He Was Right, giving an account of Sir Marmaduke’s appearance before the Major Magruder’s committee. I often counsel people who want to understand politics, and British parliamentary procedure, to read Trollope. Chapter 68 (out of 99 in the book) illustrates why. The procedures described; the emotions of the elderly Sir Marmaduke as he is questioned; the chairmanship and motivation of Major Magruder; and the outcome of the hearing, including the way Sir Marmaduke is treated compared with the incomparably more competent “Governor from one of the greater colonies” who has also been questioned by the committee, could describe the proceedings of a British parliamentary committee in 2019.
Read, and relish. I hope you enjoy it.
Major Magruder’s Committee
Sir Marmaduke could not go out to Willesden on the morning after Lady Rowley’s return from River’s Cottage, because on that day he was summoned to attend at twelve o’clock before a Committee of the House of Commons, to give his evidence and, the fruit of his experience as to the government of British colonies generally; and as he went down to the House in a cab from Manchester Street he thoroughly wished that his friend Colonel Osborne had not been so efficacious in bringing him home. The task before him was one which he thoroughly disliked, and of which he was afraid. (more…)
Is kissing allowed in the Cafe Malipop?
How about smoking?
How about being cool and hanging out?
Clue: only one of these activities is allowed in the Cafe Malipop.
Here are eight reasons I rate the Cafe Malipop one of my great Vienna cafes (links in bold italics are to posts on this site):
(i) Viennese cafes, like London pubs, occasionally get “renovated” and, sometimes, ruined. You can feel safe at the Malipop. No renovation has taken place there since time began;
The Malipop: how a late-night cafe should be
(ii) the 10 Ungargasse address in Vienna’s Third District is far from the tourist trail, indeed far from trails of any kind unless you study at the nearby Music University;
(iii) like the Hard Rock Cafe, the Malipop has a song about it. Malipop, written and sung by legendary singer, activist and comedian Willi Resetarits (also known as Dr Kurt Ostbahn) is crooned in impenetrable Viennese dialect, opening with the lines:
Heid noch im Malipop, drink i an feanet, iss i an schbedsialdosd und rauch a smaat…
This means roughly: (more…)
James Bond has evolved over the years in both “Bond movies” and “Bond novels” written by other authors. The “James Bond brand” could evolve further: a black, female Bond might be intriguing.
Ian Fleming’s James Bond, created in a series of novels and short stories from 1953 to 1966, is a magnificent, unforgettable creation. But how much of a problem is it that his attitudes often now feel dated (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site)?
Can one hate Bond’s views, for example on women, yet still admire his single-mindedness and style? I think so. If you cannot discount dated attitudes in a historical context (“Plato was a slave-owner”), you risk missing out on countless treats.
For writers, characters like James Bond are gold dust. Like him or loath him, he is well written. He thinks about his actions, has values and opinions, behaves within a clearly defined framework, yet is full of ambiguity. No wonder movie-makers adore him.
Can you update a character such as Bond? Movie makers have been updating James Bond for years, drawing on the original material in Fleming’s novels to create stories set in the present day. Results are mixed, although as I say in the piece at the link, many of us keep going back to cinemas in the hope Bond’s next outing will be better than the last.
Debate swirls around a black or female Bond: my view is that this would be fine, so long as the character retained key Bond characteristics such as sophistication, humour, gadgets, great grooming, and a merciless streak.
The cover of my Folio Society “Casino Royale” is suitably dated both in style and content – get a whiff of that cigarette smoke
Some updating is essential. A modern movie which used Bond’s line about his former lover (more…)
I recently read East West Street by British law professor and international human rights expert Philippe Sands.
If you have any interest in the cataclysm which overtook eastern and central Europe between 1933 and 1945, I recommend East West Street. It explains the development of the concepts of “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” against the background of the Second World War and the appalling crimes which took place in the run up to, and during, that conflict.
It also considers the relevance of what happened in 1933-45 today.
My copy of ‘East West Street’. The endorsements ring true
Sands humanises and illustrates his account by focusing on four individuals. Hersch Lauterpacht was a professor of International Law who developed the concept of crimes against humanity. Rafael Lemkin was a prosecutor and lawyer who developed the concept of Genocide. Hans Frank was Hitler’s lawyer and later governor-general of German-occupied Poland from 1940-45. Leon Buchholz was Sands’s grandfather, who died in Paris in 1997 (‘He took Lemberg to the grave, along with a scarf given to him by his mother in January 1939. It was a parting gift from Vienna, my mother told me as we bade him adieu.’) (more…)
For all you ardent Wodehouse fans, I have fine news.
Much Obliged, Jeeves is one of the funniest Wodehouse books I have read.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Much Obliged, Jeeves”
Why is Much Obliged, Jeeves so hilarious? I put it down to a consistency and richness of comic language from start to finish. In between laughing out loud and wiping the tears from my eyes, I noted so many fine lines that I had to cut the total down radically for this blog.
Here are 24 wonderful quotations from Much Obliged, Jeeves:
- I am always glad… to renew my acquaintance with the unbeatable eatables dished up by her superb French chef Anatole, God’s gift to the gastric juices. I have often regretted that I have but one stomach to put at his disposal.
- [Of Aunt Dahlia’s stentorious voice] ‘I wonder whether she ever sang lullabies to me in my cradle. If so, it must have scared me cross-eyed, giving me the illusion that the boiler had exploded.’
- ‘My fiancée wanted me to,’ he said, and as his lips framed the word ‘fiancée’ his voice took on a sort of tremolo like that of a male turtle dove cooing to a female turtle dove. (more…)
I am Pilgrim has a compelling plot, rich characters, horrifying jeopardy and seat-edge cliff-hangers. Here are 8 reasons I recommend it.
I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is an epic, breathtaking chase from New York to Afghanistan to Bahrain to Gaza to Bodrum to Bulgaria and back.
Hold onto your hats – I am Pilgrim is quite a ride
Here (no spoilers) are 8 reasons I am Pilgrim will thrill you: (more…)
This blog is now historic! Austria banned smoking in bars and restaurants on 1 November 2019. I published this in September 2018, and can claim zero credit for the change.
How long will Austria retain its unusually permissive attitude to smoking in bars and cafes?
Back in the 1970s I used to ride on the top deck of a double-decker red Routemaster bus to school in Manchester, an hour each way. On winter mornings the air was thick with cigarette smoke, and the windows would mist up with condensation on which we would draw pictures and scrawl messages.
No-one thought twice about the health hazards to children sitting in a smoky bus for two hours a day.
Campaigners are trying to introduce a smoking ban in cafes in Austria
In 2003, New York introduced a ban on smoking in all enclosed workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Ireland followed in 2004, becoming the first country in the world to do so. In 2006 Scotland followed suit, followed by Wales, Northern Ireland and on 1 July 2007, England, including bars, restaurants, and buses.
I remember entering a pub for the first time after 1 July 2007 and finding that the removal of the permanent haze of smoke made it possible (more…)
‘Hey,’ your friend says in Vienna. ‘Let’s meet up for a coffee’.
‘How about a cup of tea? Or a beer? Or a glass of wine?’ you say.
‘All good. We could grab a bite to eat, too.’
‘Where shall we go?’
‘How about Cafe X?’ your friend replies.
A fine cup of coffee in Vienna
You have a nanosecond to decide how to respond.
Vienna is crammed with world class cafes. I review my favourites (so far) on my “Best Vienna cafes” page. You may think my judgement sucks; but I welcome comments and suggestions.
So I was intrigued to see the Austrian newspapers rejoicing last week that a list of the “50 greatest cafes on earth” featured three from Vienna. The list itself is in the British newspaper “The Daily Telegraph”: I thought it a good effort, particularly for attempting a genuinely global list, ranging from Swansea to Hanoi. I also like the fact that the writer, Chris Moss, says he has visited 40 of them himself (more…)
People often ask me: ‘What is the best city you have lived in, apart obviously from Manchester? Is it London? Berlin? Moscow? Istanbul? Kyiv? Or Vienna?’
I usually answer with Oscar Wilde: ‘Comparisons are odious.’
Vienna has much to recommend it, including lovely countryside nearby
I thought of Oscar Wilde when I heard that that Vienna had this year taken first place in the annual Economist Intelligence Unit’s global liveability index – the first time a European city has ever won. I certainly can confirm that Vienna is a magnificent place to live, offering everything from terrific cafes (see my cafe reviews) to awesome local countryside, great outdoor pools, and – my favourite – outdoor cinemas, comparable with Berlin’s. I am very happy here.
When I was deciding in 2011 whether to try and move to Istanbul, I was influenced by a report in the Financial Times which made fun of rankings such as that of the EIU, or the widely quoted Mercer quality of living survey (where Vienna also came top in 2018 – for the ninth consecutive year). The FT said that not all of the cities which tended to do well in such surveys were actually cities where people want to live – Osaka, Calgary, Toronto or Zurich were all fine cities but not on everyone’s bucket lists. Cities where people did actually want to live, such as New York or London (more…)
Many years ago I worked alongside a young woman who, long before in another city, had had a relationship with a man who now worked in the building we were in. Whenever she spoke of him, her voice quavered and her eyes brimmed with tears. She was sure he was in love with her, but was dismayed that he showed no interest. She longed for him, but had not spoken to him for years. At certain times of day, when he might be due to leave work, she would go to the window and gaze out, hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the distance.
The cover of my (borrowed) copy of Prep
I thought of that colleague when I read “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld, published in 2005. The book follows a 14 year-old girl, Lee Fiora, who leaves her family home in Indiana to take up a scholarship at Ault, an elite boarding school on the US East Coast. Through her four years at the school, she obsesses about her relationships and develops a crush on a boy.
What a crush. (more…)
The woman at the entrance seems delighted to see me. Having sold me a ticket, she rises from her seat and accompanies me to the first room of the museum, highlighted key exhibits.
The “Third Man Museum” in Vienna’s 4th District (Pressgasse 25) is one of the finest small museums in the city. Interested in the film? Want to know more about post-WW2 Viennese history? Want to see what obsession can achieve?
Look no further.
The first surprise about the Museum is its breadth. Part 1, comprising seven rooms, is packed with fascinating detail about The Third Man: clips, shooting locations (including the sewers and the Central Cemetery), and the stars of the classic 1948 film often described as the best movie ever (see my review at the link). I noted a fine quote from Orson Wells: “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four… unless there are three other people”.
Film stills and publicity stills from Room 1
Part 2 focuses on the music of the film, including the famous “Third Man theme” played on the zither. A mighty 1930s cinema projector (more…)
All I saw was the dame standing there in the glare of the headlights waving her arms like a huge puppet and the curse I spit out filled the car and my own ears. I wrenched the wheel over, felt the rear end start to slide, brought it out with a splash of power and almost ran up the side of the cliff as the car fishtailed.
My 1960 Signet edition of “Kiss Me, Deadly”, swapped on a Greek ferry*
The opening lines of Mickey Spillane’s 1952 Kiss Me, Deadly are arresting. So is the blurb: “Mike Hammer swears to avenge the killing of a satin-skinned blonde and rips into the vicious Mafia mob to run down her murderer”.
When I first read Kiss Me, Deadly in the ’80s, I was shocked by the casual violence and sexism. (more…)
Those who know the code of the Pimms will know that the blogs on this site are consistently honest. No fake news here, or indeed fake reviews.
So I have to report, sadly, that “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves” was not my favourite P G Wodehouse book.
In fact, of the mouth-watering shelf-full of Wodehouse I have enjoyed so far since 2017, it comes some way behind Thank You, Jeeves, Ring for Jeeves, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen or indeed Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, all of which I have reviewed on this site (click on links above) and all of which positively heaved with quotables.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves”
To say that Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves is less hilarious than some other P G Wodehouse masterpieces, however, is not to say it lacks humour. I feel it has less of a (more…)
George Mikes’ “How to be an Alien” is one of the funniest books in the English language. It’s not about aliens, of course. It is about the English. Its real title should be: “why the English are absurd and hilarious – but I kind of like them”.
If you have not read How to be an Alien by George Mikes, please go and buy a copy instantly. You will not regret it.
George Mikes was a Hungarian who came to England in 1938 (as he said: When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes the United Kingdom, sometimes the British Isles – but never England). He wrote dozens of books but is remembered mainly for his seminal 1946 How to be an Alien. He described the genesis of the book thus:
Some years ago I spent a lot of time with a young lady who was very proud and conscious of being English. Once she asked me – to my great surprise – whether I would marry her. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I will not. My mother would never agree to my marrying a foreigner.’ She looked at me a little surprised and irritated, and retorted: ‘I, a foreigner? What a silly thing to say. I am English. You are the foreigner. And your mother, too…’ I saw that this theory was as irrefutable as it was simple. I was startled and upset. Mainly because of my mother whom I loved and respected. Now, I suddenly learned what she really was.’ (more…)
How much cruelty can you squeeze into a 150,000 word novel?
A huge amount, if that book is Lady Anna, written by Anthony Trollope at the astonishing rate of 16,500 words a week on a voyage from England to Australia between 25 May and 19 July 1871.
The plot (no spoilers follow) revolves around a conflict: should the eponymous heroine marry a low-born tailor; or a young earl, of her own class? She loves the tailor – or does she? Almost every other character in the book, especially her mother, believes she should marry the earl; and subject her to extraordinary pressure to bring about this result.
This is heavy stuff. As so often with Trollope, his female characters are often more attractive than his men, some of whom, like Anna’s father the earl, are vile:
It must be told that the Earl was a man who had never yet spared a woman in his lust. It had been the rule, almost the creed of his life, that woman was made to gratify the appetite of man, and that the man is but a poor creature who does not lay hold of the sweetness that is offered to him… The life which he had led no doubt had had its allurements, but it is one which hardly admits of a hale and happy evening. Men who make women a prey, prey also on themselves. (more…)
What makes Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers some of the best? I put it down to consistent quality; great characterisation (including fine women and minor fellers); humour; dialogue; satisfying problem-solving; and wisdom. If you like thrillers, worth putting on your list of “best books to read”.
Burly, yet brilliant. Violent, yet sensitive to the needs of women. Loyal to friends, yet indifferent to relationships.
Jack Reacher, hero of Lee Child’s thriller series, is an ex military policeman with terrific characteristics.
“The Affair” is excellent
I’ve been a Jack Reacher fan since reading my first Lee Child novel, “Tripwire” (Jack Reacher 3), over a decade ago. That book features a cunning plot; extreme violence; and a powerful, satisfying resolution.
Child has published two dozen Jack Reacher novels, one a year since 1997. They are hugely successful: “Blue Moon” (no.24 in the series, published in 2019), for example, has over 9,000 reviews on Amazon.com and over 8,500 on Amazon.co.uk.
Here are 8 reasons why people love Jack Reacher:
(i) the early novels are consistently good. In addition to “Tripwire” I enjoyed, for example, “Killing Floor” (JR1: crisp, authoritative writing and richly textured, eg Reacher’s quest to find legendary guitar player Blind Blake), “Die Trying” (JR2); “The Visitor” (JR4: an original, creepy and tricky mystery which Reacher struggles to solve); “Echo Burning” (JR5: strong, complex plot); and “Without Fail” (JR6);
(ii) great women. I particularly like the enigmatic Frances Neagley, a female equivalent of Reacher who is if anything even cooler and tougher than he is and also features in “Bad Luck and Trouble” (JR11); “The Enemy” (JR8); and “The Affair” (JR16). I also liked the improbably beautiful Elizabeth Deveraux in “The Affair”, with her remarkable appetite:
The grease from the meat made her lips glisten. She was a slim woman. She must have had a metabolism like a nuclear reactor.
(iii) in some novels, eg “The Enemy”, Reacher displays dry, ironic humour (US readers: apologies for my UK spelling tendencies), particularly in displaying insubordination. When asked “Where did he have the heart attack?”, Reacher replies “In his chest cavity”;
(iv) fine dialogue, such as this, between Reacher and Deveraux, after sex, in “The Affair” (Reacher is narrating):
Afterwards Deveraux yawned and stretched and said, ‘You’re not bad for a soldier boy.’
I said, ‘You’re excellent for a Marine.’
‘We’d better be careful. We might develop feelings for each other.’
‘What are those?’
‘What are what?’
She paused a beat.
She said, ‘Men should be more in touch with their feelings.’
I said, ‘If I ever have one, you’ll be the first to know, I promise.’
She paused, again. Then she laughed.
(v) some of Lee Child’s later works are again excellent. I recently read “The Affair” (Reacher 16) which re-introduces not only Neagley but also Reacher’s sense of humour;
(vi), Lee Child also write some strong male minor characters, such as military men Leon Garber and Stan Lowrey, of whom Reacher, narrating the story, gives this splendid account:
I leaned on the wall next to the phone… because Lowrey’s stories were usually very long. He fancied himself a raconteur. And he liked background. And context. Deep background, and deep context. Normally he liked to trace everything back to a seminal point just before random swirls of gas from the chartless wastes of the universe happened to get together and form the earth itself.
In addition to Garber and Lowrey, I particularly like Major Duncan Munro, another military policeman, who delivers some splendid one-liners, such as this exchange, as Reacher explains why he wanted to keep certain information secret:
[Reacher:] ‘I wanted Munro to go back to Germany with a clear conscience.’
Munro said, ‘My conscience is always clear.’
‘But it’s easier to play dumb if you really don’t know the answer.’
‘I never had a problem playing dumb. Some folks think I am.’
This exchange, where Munro actually gets the better of Reacher, is reminiscent of the famous “Does your dog bite?” exchange between Peter Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau, and a hotel receptionist in the 1976 film “The Pink Panther Strikes Again”, in that the hotel receptionist has the better lines:
(vii) Jack Reacher has an almost Holmesian ability to infer events from invisible clues as he, for example, reconstructs the murder of Janice May Chapman in “The Affair”;
(viii) Finally, Reacher has plenty of good one-liners and epigrams, eg:
I didn’t like him much. A snap judgement, maybe, but generally those are as good as any other kind.
Is there a down side to Jack Reacher? Personally, I think some of the middle and later novels are less good than others. My least favourites include “Bad Luck and Trouble” (JR11) and “Nothing to Lose” (JR12), where Reacher’s fine sense of humour seems to have been excised. I found “61 Hours” (JR14) slow-moving. But things picked up with “Worth Dying For” (JR15). “The Affair” (JR16) is so good it inspired me to write this blog.
My advice: if you like thrillers and want to sample Lee Child, try some of the earlier books listed above. If you are a fan but have been deterred by some of the less compelling tales in the series, keep reading!
For: solid thrillers with a hero saved from caricature by his great sense of humour (more humour in future episodes, please, Mr Child)
Against: in those books low on humour, Jack Reacher is less entertaining.
P.S. If you like thrillers, you should try my own Blood Summit (“Hugely entertaining” – John Connolly).
I am on a four-stage plane journey, from Vienna to Sharm-el-Sheikh and back via Istanbul. On the first leg, from Vienna to Istanbul, my Turkish Airlines flight features seat-back video and I choose recent blockbuster “Black Panther”.
Unfortunately the crew make many announcements in numerous languages (bold italic links are to other blogs on this site), interrupting the movie. So I miss the end of the film, which I am hoping will include astonishing plot twists but fear will mostly be superheroes slugging each other (a fundamental problem with all superhero movies: if two superheroes have a superhero fist-fight, how do you make it interesting? No-one knows).
On the next three legs, Istanbul-Sharm, Sharm-Istanbul and Istanbul-Vienna, the Turkish Airlines aircraft are older, without seat-back video. So I haven’t seen the end of “Black Panther”. Should I make an effort to catch the last 20 minutes? What do you think? No spoilers please!
The news gets worse. On the communal screens on the older planes, the airline shows episodes of Fish Tank Kings. This is (more…)
I have written several times in these chronicles of my slow-burn devotion to the works of P G Wodehouse, including my induction (How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide), drawing on the excellent advice of fellow WordPress blogger and Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – strongly recommended for all things Jeeves and Wooster and beyond.
Hence my concern, bordering on panic, at my initial perception that “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” was not quite such a pearl of the Wodehouse canon as, say, the wondrous Thank you, Jeeves. Bertie Wooster’s early decision to grow a moustache, to the disapproval of Jeeves, felt a little familiar as a plot device. The plot of the first half of the book meandered – well, I am reminded of Bertie’s description of Daphne Dolores Morehead on her first appearance in the novel as having “a figure as full of curves as a scenic railway”.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”
That very reference to Ms Morehead, however, signals my sense of relief that I can in fact recommend “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”, the seventh P G Wodehouse novel to feature Jeeves and Wooster and his sixtieth book overall, wholeheartedly. From about the half-way point, the story spreads its wings. The subsequent flight is sublime. The scene following the unexpected arrival of the aforementioned Daphne at Brinkley Court is amongst the funniest (more…)
“The Simpsons” is the most sophisticated show on TV. Obviously.
In an earlier post I praised Series 25, Episode 20, Brick Like Me, in which I noted the parallels between the episode and the 1955 Frederik Pohl short story The Tunnel Under the World.
Trash of the Titans, Series 9, episode 22, is from 1998. It was the 200th episode overall. Do the producers make a special effort with round-numbered episodes? Maybe they do: Brick Like Me was episode 550.
Trash of the Titans looks at what can happen when democracy goes wrong:
(i) an evil corporation, trying to fill a lull in sales of its useless toys, cards and gifts over the summer, invents “Love Day” to boost sales (a naive executive who argues they should accept the lull – “hey, we’re making enough money, right?” is ejected by goons). Shortly after, the Simpsons are celebrating “Love Day”, despite Lisa pointing out that “the stores just invented this holiday to make (more…)
The pattern is unmistakeable.
A graph shows a financial trend-line (the price of gold) going up and down a couple of times, then declining more steeply.
Around the trend-line, someone has sketched a crude profile of a camel, its head lowered as if to vomit.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Vomiting Camel, a spoof species of technical analysis created by FT writer @katie_martin_fx to poke fun at how so-called technical analysts attempt to predict future price movements of eg stocks or oil or gold by drawing lines on graphs to identify trends.
You can read her brilliant article (more…)
“Zum Schwarzen Kameel” is one of the best cafes in Vienna. It is also one of the best restaurants in Vienna; and one of the best bars in Vienna. A review of a Vienna institution.
No seats. Outrageous spectacles. An enigmatic, four hundred-year-old name. What is it that makes “Zum Schwarzen Kameel” stand out?
Zum Schwarzen Kameel (Bognergasse 5, 1st District) is not exactly a cafe but I have decided to include it in my famous Vienna cafe reviews it as it is undoubtedly one of the best cafes in Vienna as well as being something of an institution.
Some of the decorative detail in the Kameel is breath-taking – RP
Nestled in the heart of the First District close to a plethora of so-called designer shops (Prada, Louis Vuitton, Chanel et al), the Kameel is frequently packed with both tourists and well-heeled locals enjoying an eclectic blend of alcohol, open sandwiches, cakes and hot beverages. My first impression was: “all a bit much” (or, as the Germans might say, schickimicki). My second, and conclusive, impression was: “des hot wos” (more…)
Aunts aren’t gentlemen” is one of my favourite Wodehouse novels. The the 10 quotations below are some of the funniest I have found.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen”
That’s a high bar: see eg my reviews of Thank You, Jeeves (click link for five wondrous quotations) Right Ho, Jeeves (click for 14 fruity quotes) and Ring for Jeeves, which also teemed with quotables.
So for all you Wodehouse aficionados out there, here are ten exquisite quotations from Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen:
- ‘Nice girl,’ I said, for there is never any harm in giving the old salve. ‘And, of course, radiant-beauty-wise in the top ten.’ [Orlo’s] eyes bulged, at the same time flashing, as if he were on the verge of making a fiery far-to-the-left speech. ‘You know her?’ he said, and his voice was low and guttural, like that of a bulldog which has attempted to swallow a chump chop and only got it down halfway. (more…)
The Klimt masterpieces have been seen only twice in the last 127 years.
Yet they have been on show all the time.
It makes some sense.
The paintings are rendered doubly enticing by the juxtaposition of columns – Photo RP
In 1891 Gustav Klimt, at the age of 29 already a successful painter, was commissioned as one of several artists to paint murals in the mighty main staircase of the newly-built Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna – a kind of combined British Museum and National Gallery. The paintings are epic in scale, stretching from one side of the vast space to the other.
I noticed the paintings at once when I visited the KHM in 2016 and wanted to get a good look at them. But I couldn’t. (more…)
My famous Vienna Cafe Reviews note the alleged “no kissing” rule in the Cafe Malipop; and promise a story from 1986.
Here it is. It concerns the Gmoa Keller, right here in Vienna.
Back in 1986 I looked something like this
In the 1980s, the Gmoa Keller was a tenebrous place, damp with history and rich with atmosphere. It was run by two elderly sisters from the Burgenland, Grete Novak and Hedi Vécsei. Grete had been in charge since taking over from her uncle, Andreas Herzog, in the ’60s. He in turn had run the place since 1936.
Late one night, my girlfriend Nicky and I took refuge there from a bitterly cold, wet evening. We ordered beers. We were the only guests.
The beer, and the safe haven of the Gmoakeller, warmed us up. A hint of kissing arose. Nothing ostentatious: a nuzzle, perhaps, a cheek to a neck.
Grete shuffled across to where we were sitting. She leaned down to my ear almost as though she were about to kiss me herself. (more…)
More recently, in my blog How to read P G Wodehouse: a new prescription, I savoured the fruits of recent roaming of the Plum pastures; and cited juicy quotations from the outstanding Ring for Jeeves.
Indeed, I have been struck by the poverty of many self-styled treasuries of quotations when it comes to Plum’s oeuvre.
So here, without further ado, are a few additional succulent fruit, assembled by me with pleasure from Thank You, Jeeves.
The cover of the Folio edition of ‘Thank You, Jeeves’
Thank You, Jeeves strikes me as one of the funniest of the Jeeves tales (quite an accolade – Ed). Jeeves himself has oiled off elsewhere for much of the action, but in his absence, Bertie Wooster’s ability to get into scrapes is exploited to outstanding effect. Such scenes as a night in which Bertie repeatedly fails to find a place to rest his head are (more…)
My original Vienna Cafe Reviews story, published in March 2017, included a story about a customer having a bad experience trying to get the bill, back in 1986.
A couple of my Austrian friends sprang to the defence of the waiter. Sure, Vienna cafes had a charming, the-waiter-is-always-right serving ethos, they said. But who wanted subservient waiters? The attitude of Vienna cafe waiters was all about the dignity of labour, and standing up for the right to be treated as a human being.
I recommend the Cafe Schwarzenberg, which is not the cafe referred to below!
I was not so sure. Indeed, these comments reminded me of my 2004 Financial Times piece “When dinner becomes the last supper“, which begins: Friends from Paris, Madrid or New York often ask me: “Why are German waiters so brilliant?” It’s a satire, by the way.
Indeed, I have been in many Vienna cafes (the Sperl, the Bräunerhof and the Tirolerhof spring to mind) which are as traditional as they come, but where the waiters go about their business is an efficient and thoroughly satisfactory way.
Is there any contradiction between efficiency and tradition? I’d welcome your views.
Meanwhile, I thought readers might be interested to read the full story of that 1986 experience. It goes as follows.
I had been invited to lunch by a friend from the Vienna Town Hall (the mayor at that time was Mr Zilk). My friend suggested we go to a certain cafe, famed for its traditions. (more…)
‘One of my favourite restaurants in London is the Laughing Halibut,’ I say as we eat our lunch in Vienna. ‘When I first started eating there in 1979, it was run by this Italian guy, and one of his sons used to work there, a young bloke. Now, the son is still there, he seems to run the place, but he has become a much older man.’
’40 years is a long time, I guess,’ my friend says. ‘The Italian has aged. But you have stayed the same.’
‘Correct! It’s like that Joe Walsh song, Life’s been good to me so far. Great lyrics. It’s tough to handle this fortune and fame, he sings. Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed. Best fish and chips in central London.’
A delicious portion of chips from the Laughing Halibut – RP
I often think of the Laughing Halibut, and would recommend it to anyone visiting or living in London. In fact, I like it so much that it features in a key scene in a novel of mine, which is on ice at present but might see the light of day in a couple of years. The scene also features a phlegmatic Italian waiter.
The scene (which I have lightly edited, for reasons too complex to explain here) is as follows. Angus Fairfax, the protagonist of the book, is meeting his wife Rosie for lunch.
Excerpt from an unpublished novel
Rosie and I had instituted regular Monday lunches when she was promoted – again – twelve months before. ‘You must be in the diary,’ she’d said. ‘Otherwise, I’ll never see you.’
She’d been right. These days, most of our conversations seemed to take place in the Laughing Halibut in Strutton Ground.
Strutton Ground was a curious street. (more…)
I was bemused recently to see a news report headed: Austria ranked by expats as one of unfriendliest countries.
I have lived in Austria for years and have numerous friends. Who are these expats who say Austrians are unfriendly? And who is doing the measuring? I decided to investigate.
It turns out that the report is based on the “Expat Insider 2017” survey carried out by the “InterNations” network.
Austria has a lot to offer – as well as friendly people – Photo RP
“Internations” is a company which works to help expats settle in and get to know other expats (slogan: “Wherever in the world life takes you, our InterNations Communities help you feel at home”).
Its full report, which you can download in full from the link above, is packed with interesting statistics. (more…)
I have chosen my favourite ten posts, out of the 47 I published in 2017. Which is your favourite? Let me know. And feel free to re-post this on Facebook or to “like” it – if you do.
A novelty this year was my Picture Quiz – not including this picture from Cuba. Spot the Che Guevara tattoo
It wasn’t easy choosing a shortlist. I’ve left out many favourites, including my account of how, aged 8, I used to electrocute myself regularly with my girlfriend Barbara in Wonder Woman and Wartime Moral Confusion; or my recent review of The Last Jedi 3/10: the galaxy’s most shagged-out designers? (more…)
What a brilliant movie! Full of breathtaking, blow-you-away moments, unpredictable plot-twists, and unforgettable images and ideas!
I speak, of course, of the original 1977 Star Wars.
I love movies and adore sci-fi. The original Star Wars sent me into a drug-like high when I saw it in Dolby Sensurround at the Odeon Marble Arch in 1977. So did parts of the original Guardians of the Galaxy, not to mention the hilarious Galaxy Quest. I gave a strong review to the last Star Wars outing, The Force Awakens, despite initial misgivings.
So when someone takes a massive budget, an epic back story and the expectations of millions and turns out something which is 80% as dull as ditchwater, I feel personally betrayed. Here are 7 reasons why The Last Jedi is, by the standards of what could have been, an inter-galactic train-wreck:
(i) it is beyond boring. In fact, it is the first movie in which I have actually fallen asleep in the cinema, ever. The scenes of Rey and Luke discussing obscure stuff on an island go on and on and… dear God, please can something happen soon? (more…)
In fact I have just oiled over for a further immersion in Plumtopia, notably this informative piece about P G Wodehouse societies including The P G Wodehouse Society UK.
I can verify that the site is a veritable motherlode of P G Wodehouse-related info. Recommended.
Meanwhile I have been continuing my own exploration of the oeuvre of the author known as “Plum” (short for “Pelham”, his first name). I have so far completed my perusal of Carry on Jeeves, Very Good Jeeves, The Inimitable Jeeves, The Code of the Woosters, Joy in the Morning and Ring for Jeeves. The standard is consistent, although I have taken medical advice not to binge on more than three consecutive P G Wodehouse novels, as intensive research shows this may reduce their impact.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Ring for Jeeves”
The efficacy of this new reading prescription has been proven by a Wodehouse abstinence (more…)
Why do sequels suck? Why does it drive us crazy? My study shows examples of what makes sequels bomb and asks why movie-makers become so lazy.
I am watching the sequel to a movie I adored three years ago. The sequel is so piss-poor that I feel violated and upset. How can a major studio spend squillions of dollars producing such trash?
Weeks later, it happens again. Another sequel, another cringe-making dose of drivel. Strangely, the two movies have much in common, including much of what makes them so unwatchable.
The movies are: Guardians of the Galaxy II (2017) and The Lego Batman Movie (2017).
Guardians of the Galaxy 2: decent trailer, execrable movie
The Lego Batman Movie: ditto
There is something weird about how films are rated. Is it a conspiracy? I’m beginning to wonder.
Readers of this blog will know that I decry conspiracy theories. But I recently saw two films (movies) I thought were dire and one I enjoyed. The first two were Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (Rotten Tomatoes rating 82%, certified fresh) and The Lego Batman Movie (Rotten Tomatoes rating 91%, certified fresh). The one I enjoyed was The Circle (Rotten Tomatoes rating 17%, rotten).
In the likely event that you haven’t heard much about the movie, the plot revolves around likeable young ingenue Mae (Emily Watson) who joins “The Circle”, a fusion of Apple, Google and Facebook (more…)
I’ve added new reviews to my popular Vienna cafes: which are best? blog. The fifteen cafes reviewed are mostly in the town centre, but include several in the 3rd, 6th, 7th and 10th Districts. The latest additions are the little-known Cafe Morgenstern (charming and super grunge) and the popular Cafe Museum (much restored since the 1980s). Take a look.
If you have a favourite cafe you’d like me to review, let me know in the comments. I’m highly suggestible and always looking for something original – see eg my brand new review of Cafe Malipop.
The shabby but charming decor of the Cafe Morgenstern, complete with star – RP
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button). Check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.
P.P.S. see my piece When dinner becomes the last supper for a tongue-in-cheek guide to “why German waiters are the best”.
In the course of a recent quiet weekend, I dipped into the soul of central European melancholy.
I watched 210 minutes of a 1964 black and white TV adaptation of Radetzky March, a novel by Joseph Roth. Later I listened to Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter’s Journey). Spoiler alert: this blog mentions key plot points of both.
Radetzky March is about the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, illustrated through three generations of the Trotta family. The eldest Trotta, a humble infantry lieutenant of Slovenian origin, saves the life of Emperor Franz Josef at the battle of Solferino in 1859 (more…)
‘Is it cold in here? I’m a bit cold.’
Mick Jagger, in a skin-tight stage suit displaying his gaunt chest and an ornate cross around his neck, is drenched in sweat. You can’t hear the crowd respond. Are they delirious, or puzzled?
“Ladies & Gentlemen” on a 300-square-metre open air screen in Vienna
Until now I’d never heard of the Rolling Stones’ 1974 concert movie Ladies & Gentlemen. Drawing on performances from four 1972 concerts in Texas, it was released in quadrophonic sound (remember that?)… then disappeared.
Most concert movies are boring. This one – not so much. (more…)
A man is writing a novel. He decides to check a fact. He consults his computer, or his phone, to find he has six new messages from friends. An extraordinary news story has come out. Some thrilling sport is available, live, on-line.
You know the rest. By the time our writer friend returns to his novel, 45 minutes have passed, and he has forgotten what he originally set out to research.
Our apparent inability to focus on anything for an extended period of time is one of the problems of the 21st century. It risks hampering our creativity and channelling our energy into bitty activities which leave us unsatisfied or unhappy. What can we do?
First, we can learn from the masters of concentration. One of these is the novelist Anthony Trollope, about whose awesome qualities I have written before, including this: “Trollope’s work is a reminder that sometimes, life in the slow lane can be better than the alternative. There’s no way to rush-read Trollope. His novels are best savoured: read in chunks, rather than a few pages at a time.”
The sharing economy is a great way to decrease your ecological footprint and make your contribution to saving the planet. Not buying stuff can be rewarding, too.
The novel Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny, opens with the following lines:
His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha– and the –atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god, but then he never claimed not to be a god.
I was thinking of Lord of Light the other day, and the new start-up Fat Llama, when planning to walk the last 100 miles of the Pennine Way.
This is not the Pennine Way, but the Lake District in 2007
I was due to walk the Pennine Way with my brother, with whom I walked the Dales Way in 2003 and who has done all the hard planning, including scoping the route, booking accommodation and so on (and has walked the first 168 miles of the Pennine Way, on his own). But for various reasons he now cannot go – disaster. Fortunately, my daughter (more…)
I recently inherited a splendid shelf-full of P G Wodehouse in a hand-tooled Folio edition.
My shelf of Wodehouse
But where to begin with Wodehouse?
Pondering this problem, I was delighted to come across fellow WordPress blogger Plumtopia, who specialises in, amongst other things, how to read P G Wodehouse. I discovered two invaluable articles:
- Getting started with Bertie and Jeeves: a chronological challenge considers where new readers should begin reading the series. It is a terrific piece and includes admirable advice about ignoring its own advice if you so wish.
- P G Wodehouse reading list: the Jeeves and Wooster storiesis also a splendid introduction.
When I was 8 and living in the mountainous African kingdom of Lesotho, my friend Barbara Stewart used to receive a package of DC and Marvel comics every few weeks from a relative. We would retreat to a certain deserted basement room in the university campus to gorge ourselves on the newly arrived treasures.
In that room was an electric point with the cover missing. We discovered that by inserting our fingers into a certain part of the wiring, we could give ourselves a powerful electric shock. We spent many lovely afternoons reading comics and daring each other to give ourselves another shock. Barbara, if you’re out there, please get in touch.
Wonder Woman “Official Final Trailer”
I mention this story because, back in the ’60s, we used to think the DC comics, with characters such as Superman and Batman, were cool; and that the heroes in the Marvel comics, (more…)
Saroo, a tiny boy, arrives confused, in Calcutta. He does not speak Bengali and has no family or friends or idea where he is.
Lion is his story.
The “Lion” trailer is packed with spoilers. Avoid!
I watched Lion on a wise person’s recommendation recently on a plane to Chennai. I thought the first half, featuring the stunning Sunny Pawar as Saroo, was riveting – especially if, like me, you hadn’t seen the trailer and the plot developments came as a complete surprise. The second part, which featured amongst others Nicole Kidman, struck me as OK but relatively routine and schmalzy in parts, especially the dodgy finale. (more…)
When was the last time you punched the air and said “yesssssssssss!”?
If you want to understand me a bit, read on.
Air-punching is the stuff of small victories. You disagree? Please leave a comment below. I would argue that with big victories (child born; illness overcome) you feel a powerful inner glow and no air-punching goes on. But I digress. My recent small victory involved the mileometer (an English word, the spell-check tells me – more usually odometer in the US and probably more appropriate here also as I actually choose to measure my cycling progress in small, rapidly-mounting kilometres rather than large, hard-to-accumulate miles, a fascinating subject in itself) on my bicycle.
I bought this bike on 16 July 1998 in Bonn, along with three other bicycles which have since perished. One was out-grown. Two were destroyed when a car I was in skidded on snowy tires in my garage in Kyiv and crushed the bikes, which were leaning against the wall and thus in the wrong place at the wrong time. My own bike was leaning against a different wall and escaped.
The bike on the Rhine tow-path – before I uglified it with yellow tape for Berlin – Photo Robert Pimm
In Bonn, I cycled 14 km each day to and from work, mostly on a tow-path along the Rhine, (more…)
One wonderful feature of Austria is the survival of independent cinemas.
Austrians do not admit this. They complain that independent cinemas are dead or dying and everything used to be much better. This is kind of true: I remember in 1985 sitting through a showing of the movie Britannia Hospital in a Viennese cinema as the only viewer.
Trailer for Toni Erdmann (English subtitles)
But believe me, Austrians: you have it good (or, as they say in German, hör auf mit dem jammern auf hohem Niveau).
It follows that in Austria, one has a feast of fine independent films, many off-beat and existential. But are they any good? (more…)
I know. You can’t really review a whole country.
Railway station in Chennai – all photos Robert Pimm
Especially not India: more than 13 times the size of the UK, massively diverse, and packed with history.
But I wanted to write for two reasons. (more…)
A review of the forthcoming thriller Atomic Blonde describes it as “the biggest action role for a woman on screen to date”.
Sounds good to me.
Atomic Blonde (2017) – trailer
A piece in the International New York Times by Jessica Manafi, which appeared in the Austrian Standard on 22 May, argues that Lorraine Broughton, the MI6 spy who is the heroine of the movie played by Charlize Theron, is getting closer to equality by (more…)
‘I saw this terrible news today.’ My friend, a sensible person, is distressed. ‘A terrorist group is breeding babies to be brought up as fresh soldiers for their cause. How can we resist such fanaticism?’
‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘It’s probably a mix of propaganda and sensationalism.’
I’ve written before about how the Internet is filled with misleading nonsense (“a vortex of vacuity; a crisis of kaka; a whirlwind of piss-poor polarisation”) in my blog The Internet. 7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation.
Lesotho: one of the most beautiful countries on earth has a low life expectancy – Photo RP
I’ve also written about the elegant Tuchman’s Law (hit the link for the full article), which says: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (more…)
A man stands halfway along a long, deserted alleyway. Autumn leaves blow in the wind. A woman approaches, walking slowly.
Will she stop? Or will she carry on, and walk past him?
The original trailer for the Third Man is dated but – unlike later versions, and like this review – contains no spoilers
If you have seen the cult 1949 film The Third Man, you will know the answer to this question. If, like me, you worship the film, merely to think of this scene and its resolution will send a pleasurable frisson down your spine.
Is the fact that many of the “Top films of all times” named by film buffs tend to be black and white classics based on (more…)
A young black man goes with his white girlfriend to see her parents at their remote woodland mansion.
Bad things happen. See the trailer.
A top reviewer and 100% trusted person recommended Get Out to me in March, but I only managed to see it on a weekend visit to Istanbul in late April and it is only now appearing in Vienna (question: (more…)
When I knew I would be moving to Vienna, but before this was widely known, I changed the heading on my Twitter account to a new image.
My intention was to hint, to those who knew either Vienna, me or both, that I was on the move.
The picture is an image from my all-time favourite film, set in post-war Vienna, The Third Man. To avoid spoilers I shall not say what it depicts, but merely to look at it gives me shivers of recollection.
No-one is allowed to applaud.
After each item the audience stirs, a captive beast, constrained – and stays silent.
Only after 15 performances – seven readings by Julian Barnes, and eight piano pieces by Angela Hewitt, lasting two hours – is the audience unleashed. Rapture ensues.
The Konzerthaus is one of Vienna’s great cultural institutions. With four separate concert halls, it offers an eclectic range of arts designed to be accessible to a broad public. In recent years the programme has included the “Originalton” cycle – literary readings with music. Most authors read in German but in 2015 British author Ian McEwan read; and in 2017 it was the turn of Julian Barnes – both accompanied by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt.
Julian Barnes and Angela Hewitt at the Konzerthaus – Photo Robert Pimm
Viennese customer (standing up, exasperated, after 20 minutes of trying to get the bill, in German) ‘Excuse me, Mr Waiter; I’d like to pay, please.’
Head Waiter (chatting to other waiters on the other side of the room) ‘If you’re in such a hurry, you should have stayed at home.’
This is a true story from Vienna, 1986 – I was there. If my host that day (then working in the Town Hall with Mayor Zilk) is reading this, do get in touch. Can you guess in which of the cafes reviewed below the scene occurred? Clue: it was not the Hawelka.
The entrance to the Cafe Hawelka – photo Robert Pimm
How good are Viennese cafes? Is it even fair for me to assess them, as a foreigner who has lived only four years in the city, all but the last year back in the 1980s?
Most Viennese cafes are excellent. I like the fact that (more…)
Should you feel sad or celebrate when a musical icon of your youth is no more?
Here’s a list to celebrate. Seeing others’ lists of the Shakespeare of Rock’n’Roll’s top songs, I thought readers deserved something more definitive and (dare I say?) imaginative. So here are my personal 7 favourite Chuck Berry tracks.
“I-40 heading west” – 1979 hitch-hiking photo by Robert Pimm
7. Almost Grown (1959) – a paean to teenagerhood (curiously, the word for a teenager in Russian, Подросток, means “almost grown”). As so often with this most original singer-songwriter, the lyrics are exquisite as the restless teenager grows up – and settles down (“Now I really have a ball/So I don’t browse around at all”).
6. Brown Eyed Handsome Man (1956) has funny, not to say absurd lyrics about the sex-appeal of brown-eyed, handsome men – like Chuck Berry himself (“Milo Venus was a beautiful lass/She had the world in the palm of her hand/She lost both her arms in a wrestling match/To get a brown eyed handsome man”). Plus, as always, passionate guitar riffs. (more…)
“Why am I still, in the main, so zestful?
I know, but I don’t like to say
In case the gods take it away.”
As so often, Alan Clark, here aged 62, is talking about what he refers to as the other – as in “I fear that if I’d come from ‘an underprivileged background’ I’d probably by now have done time for GBH, or assault, or even what Nanny calls the other.”
An Amazon reviewer of Alan Clark’s diaries, which cover the period 1972 (when he was 44) to his death in 1999, described him as The Mr Toad of the Tory Party – vain, boastful and a lover of fast cars. No-one outside the UK has heard of him. He quotes Hitler, of whom he keeps a signed portrait in his safe, and revels in the shocking effect this has on readers.
So why read his diaries? (more…)
A couple of years ago, we first learned how big data could influence politics. The way in which we can be influenced by social media is fairly scary…
What if the team supporting a political campaign had information about the opinions, preferences and voting intentions of every individual in a country, and could tailor their campaigning precisely to each voter?
They have it already.
The Vice News article “The Data That Turned the World Upside Down” is the second scariest thing I’ve seen for ages.
It analyses how the harmless-sounding British company Cambridge Analytica uses information gathered from social media – all your “likes”; which shows you watch on TV; every quiz you ever did on Facebook; what you click on; what you buy; what you drive – in fact the whole of so-called “big data” – to build up a picture on you more detailed than anything George Orwell could have imagined.
If the Thought Police in 1984 had had big data, they wouldn’t have needed Room 101. They would have known everything already.
As others have observed, Orwell got total surveillance right. What he didn’t anticipate was people voluntarily putting on line all the information about themselves a potential authoritarian state could ever need.
A man teaches a roomful of students the art of interrogation. The interrogator is in control; powerful; inexorable.
The man interrogated, after forty hours without sleep, is broken; helpless; ready to confess everything.
How would we behave? If we were the interrogator – or the victim?
Set in 1984 – yes – The Lives of Others explores the relationship between an officer of the East German secret police, the Stasi; the citizens on whom he spies – two artists trying to stay true to their values while keeping out of trouble; and, the corrupt apparatus of the state itself, represented by the sleazy Minister of Culture who (mild spoiler alert) authorises the surveillance in order to eliminate the lover of the woman he fancies.
The quality of The Lives of Others is in the way it combines: (more…)
The Simpsons is, possibly, the most sophisticated show on TV.
Take a look at Series 25, Episode 20 (episode 550 in total), “Brick Like Me“. Homer, after enjoying playing with Lisa but then being rejected by her when she wants to spend time with older girls, wishes that he could play with her forever in a perfect world.
He then awakes in that world, where everything – himself and the family included – is made of Lego bricks. At first, everything seems perfect. Neither he nor Lisa nor Maggie will ever grow old; they can play forever; “where everything fits together and no-one gets hurt”.
A detective from western Germany, sent to investigate a murder in what used to be East Germany, finds evidence implicating a right-wing duelling fraternity.
An Austrian detective investigating a brainwashing cult which makes money preying on vulnerable young people finds his daughter targeted.
A Swiss woman working for a controversial assisted suicide programme is murdered.
A serial killer who targets people with medical or psychological problems decides to kill next the detective investigating him – who is, indeed, suicidal.
Trailer for episode 1,001 “Es lebe der Tod” (Long live death) on 20.11.16
The German police procedural Tatort has been running since 1970. Every Sunday evening at 20.15, a 90-minute episode is aired in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The series enjoys cult status partly because of (more…)
I have recently been examining my father’s magnificent collection of books to try to decide which further volumes, if any, to try and rescue.
In doing so I came across – amongst many other treasures – four volumes of history by the American historian Barbara W Tuchman. I must confess that I had never heard of her.
I looked Barbara Tuchman up and found “Tuchman’s law”, coined by the author herself in 1971, according to Wikipedia, “playfully”:
‘Disaster,’ says Tuchman, ‘is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening — on a lucky day — without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman’s Law, as follows: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold” (or any figure the reader would care to supply).’ (more…)
An American man tries to shield his children from society; but finds society, and children, are complicated.
A British man and woman try to make their way through life; but are tormented and defeated.
I recently saw two fine films in 24 hours. In the confusingly-named Captain Fantastic, Viggo Mortensen plays a father trying to raise six children in a remote forest according to his ’60s-oriented anti-capitalist views. When a tragedy forces them to interact with the outside world, the father’s efforts to give the children what he considers the best possible upbringing are challenged; and something has to give.
I know sequels are usually rubbish (see below). But I can’t help hoping this movie will at least retain some of the greatness of the original “Guardians of the Galaxy”.
The trailer has two good points:
- a promising soundtrack
- a fine line: “There are two types of beings in the universe. Those who dance. And those who do not.” This is a pretty good distinction.
A man repeatedly lies to and harasses both his fiancé and his young lover, while pontificating about the “unpalatable anthropological truths” which plague relations between the sexes. In pursuit of his obsession with the young lover, he then displays over 728 pages (in my paperback edition) every one of the unpleasant male characteristics he decries, from jealousy to over-control. In the process he ruins her prospects for either marriage or a career and brings about a tragedy.
Yet, at the end of the novel, the author invites the reader’s sympathy for his protagonist, making his last words in the book: “Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life.”
The author also invites the reader to explore and even share in the obsession of the protagonist, Kemal, by filling a house with objects supposedly collected by Kemal and associated with the object of his obsession, Fusun. This house is the eponymous “Museum of Innocence”, to which I gave a rave 10/10 rating in an earlier review.
The case containing 4,213 cigarette stubs in The Museum of Innocence (Photo: Robert Pimm)
I wrote in my review of the Museum: “The story… is told in the first person by Kemal, a spoiled, wealthy 30-something year-old from Istanbul. Kemal narrates the story of his obsession with Fusun, a younger woman, over a period of nine years. During that time, Kemal discovers that one way to salve the ache of loss when Fusun is not present is to handle objects associated with her. So he begins to steal items from her family. These objects form the nucleus of the museum.”
I also wrote that “Kemal is beyond creepy”. But he may also be interpreted as a prototypical man.
So: do the ghastly actions and self-justifications of Kemal depict a warped misogynistic monster? Or is author Orhan Pamuk simply laying bare with unprecedented honesty how all men really think – and act, if they are given the chance? (more…)
A man buys a house in Istanbul in order to turn it into a museum, filled with objects collected by an imaginary character in a novel which the man plans to write later.
That man is Orhan Pamuk, Turkish Nobel prize-winning author, about whose awesome productivity I’ve written before.
The museum, and the book, are called The Museum of Innocence.
A display case in The Museum of Innocence (Photo: Robert Pimm)
I hesitate to review The Museum of Innocence. Others have done a brilliant job already. For example I recommend this superb 2012 piece by Elif Batuman in the always-crushingly-intellectual London Review of Books.
But I felt it might be worth alerting people to two aspects of The Museum of Innocence.
A glamorous woman lies on a couch, her throat apparently cut, awash with blood. Techno music swells. Nothing happens. The music continues. Still nothing happens. The camera dwells on the woman. Hours pass.
You sometimes sit down to watch a movie and feel your heart sink during the opening scene. Rarely have I felt that sensation so intensely as in the opening sequence to “Neon Demon”. Did someone lose the editing scissors? Did no-one say: “Let’s cut this scene from three minutes to 10 seconds in case the audience loses the will to live”? If not, why not?
The premise of “The Neon Demon” sounds promising. A staggeringly beautiful young model comes to LA. In seconds, she is the hottest property in town. Other models become jealous and seek bloodcurdling revenge while engaging in acts of taboo sex. (more…)
A giant bad alien spacecraft attacks the earth, equipped with impenetrable force-field, overwhelming technological superiority, and the ability to make opponents clutch their heads and go “aaaargh” or “Oh my God!”simply by appearing in the neighbourhood.
Plucky earthlings (mild spoiler alert – but you guessed this, right?) repel the attack, despite most of Europe, the US East Coast and other unimportant zones being destroyed by the impact of the giant spacecraft landing.
They are aided (mild spoiler alert – but you could have guessed this, surely?) by the bad aliens having the same kind of glaring vulnerability routinely overlooked by the Death Star Reconstruction Committee in the “Star Wars” franchise.
Haven’t we seen this before?
Yes, in the original “Independence Day” movie in 1996. Hardly anything has changed, except that most of the actors from the original movie have aged.
(The exception is Jeff Goldblum, who looks roughly the same as he did in 1996, despite appearing in around 50 movies, video games and TV series in the intervening 20 years. In fact, the degree to which Jeff Goldblum is identical reminds me of Ian McKellen’s famous observation that he was lucky to be able to play two different roles – an old gay bloke and an old straight bloke – whereas some actors could only play one role. So true of so many actors.)
What else is there to say about this incredibly bad movie?
One of my favourite moments in “Mad Max – Fury Road” comes when a gigantic armoured truck (or “war rig”) roars past a desolate swamp inhabited by stilt-walking mutants.
The mutants continue their mysterious swamp-wading activities as the truck zooms by.
The mutants are not explained. The shot lasts a few seconds.
But the scene sums up much that is magnificent in the explosion of insanity which is Mad Max: Fury Road. If you’re going to set a movie in an imagined post-apocalyptic world, you’d better make that world look exotic, gritty and all-round awesome from start to finish.
A popular teacher who thinks himself an anarchist is forced to teach a class on autocracy to a bored bunch of middle-class students. He attempts to grab their attention by proposing a “fun” experiment: could you – a bunch of sophisticated young people – be seduced by the lure of authoritarianism?
The experiment begins. The results are horrifying.
I’ve written before about the astonishing ability of big Hollywood movies to disappoint.
Equally astonishing is the ability of many low-budget non-Hollywood movies to be excellent.
But most people will never see The Wave, because: (more…)
I love the movies. On a Saturday night I went to see the extraordinary Argentine drama The Clan in the Istanbul Film Festival, about a family from Buenos Aires who kidnap and murder people. I’d have given it 10/10 but I had to leave the cinema half-way through, because a small bomb went off across town, and I missed the end. Long story.
So on the Sunday night I went to the same cinema to see Hail Caesar, the latest movie from the Coen Brothers.
I’ve seen and enjoyed lots of Coen Brothers films. Blood Simple. Raising Arizona. Miller’s Crossing. Fargo. The Big Lebowski.
Now you mention it I haven’t seen a really good Coen Brothers film since 1998.
I watched Bridge of Spies and found it good-looking but deadly boring. Where’s the dramatic tension? Why should we care about the characters? It had none of the characteristics – originality, surprise, joy, dark twists – which distinguished the early Coen Brothers productions.
The trouble is, I’m such an optimist I always think: “these guys have ploughed millions of dollars – tens, hundreds of millions – into making this movie. They must have some basic idea of what they’re doing. It’ll improve soon.”
I’m so naive.
So I approached Hail, Caesar with trepidation. It has George Clooney in it, possibly Hollywood’s most boring actor. The trailer makes it look terrible. But it was on when I had a free night.
It was beyond awful. Here are five reasons why:
I recently spent a weekend in Berlin in the company of an intelligent and successful 21 year-old to whom I am closely related.
During my visit I did a bit of social media. I have two Twitter accounts, including @robertpimm; an Instagram account, a Facebook account and of course this WordPress account (also one of two – my other is at work).
It’s easy to spend a lot of time
observing my navel following my progress.
Instead of doing social media, enjoy a glass of iced Sipsmith Gin with a friend
Checking your smartphone in public drives some people crazy. But others perhaps put up with it more than they should.
I blame the telephone. (more…)
I am enjoying Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale in the Folio edition, a welcome Christmas gift. Bond certainly is a dated, post-war creation. But he does have magnificent attributes, many associated with his lifestyle. Take this description of the Martini he orders:
“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”
I checked Kina Lillet – it’s a defunct aperitif whose main ingredient, quinine, was removed in 1985.
As Felix Leiter says: “Gosh, that’s certainly a drink.”
But I’m inspired to go into print by Bond’s comment to Jesper Lynd (after whom he decides to name his previously un-named Martini recipe, which I have been drinking regularly since reading the book) at dinner, after she has ordered caviar as a starter. Bond asks the waiter for extra toast.
“The trouble always is,’ he explained to Vesper, “not how to get enough caviar, but how to get enough toast with it.”
So true, so true.
A massive movie looms on the star-studded horizon, turbolasers and ion cannons blasting with irresistible power. Supporting fire from a flotilla of media frigates and merchandising vessels drives millions of awe-struck film fans into movie theatres across the world to emerge, two hours and 16 minutes later, dazed, happy and desperate for the sequel.
But is it any good?
In November my blog “Star Wars 7” – 5 reasons you should Fear the Force set out how the trailers, plus the previous three Star Wars episodes, made me fear the worst for the new movie.
I was wrong. And I should know. This week I saw it twice the same day*.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fine, entertaining movie. I was wrong to doubt it. (more…)
December 2010: FIFA President Sepp Blatter announces Russia has won the competition to host the 2018 “FIFA World Cup”. Qatar will host the 2022 competition.
You can watch the announcement, should you so wish, on this 21-minute long presentation. The actual announcements are at minutes 9.10 and 15.50.
Berlin Olympic stadium – venue for 2006 World Cup final
27 May 2015: the US department of Justice indicts nine FIFA officials and five others for “racketeering, conspiracy and corruption“. The US Attorney General says: “The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States”.
21 December 2015: Sepp Blatter is banned for eight years from all football related activity by FIFA’s own ethics committee, along with fellow top football administrator Michel Platini. Both deny any wrongdoing. (more…)
The good news: the best scene I’ve ever seen in a movie was the opening of Star Wars in 1977. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. High-concept, ironic, awesome. A field of stars, then planets: one, two, then a third, filling the horizon. A space ship zapping into view, pursued by a star destroyer so huge it took twelve seconds to appear from the top of the screen, driven by three immense engines thrumming with power – I saw it in 70mm Dolby surround sound and the cinema shook and… wonderful.
The bad news: the worst scene I’ve ever seen in a movie was the opening of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, 16 years after the previous movie. You saw the instant the opening text crawled up the screen that the mojo was gone. Ewan McGregor’s first words: “I have a bad feeling about this“. Too right! Things went downhill for the next three episodes.
So I’m hoping that “The Force Awakens”, will be more Star Wars than menace. Based on the way the series has deteriorated over the years, my ever-analytical head says standing in a ice-cold shower of nitric acid while tiger ants gnaw my nasal passages will probably be more entertaining. But my ever-optimistic heart says “maybe this time they’ll have a plot, some new ideas, and rediscover their sense of playfulness and irony”.
Desperate for any concrete info, I’ve trawled the trailers.
When I entered the Warner West End in London’s Leicester Square, the movie I’d come to see had sold out.
So I chose a random feature which was about to start: Risky Business, starring what now seems an astonishingly young Tom Cruise.
I found it hilarious, cunningly-plotted and elegant. It includes one of the great lines of all time: “Who’s the U-Boat commander?”
Sixteen years later, at the Sony Centre in Berlin, the same thing happened. This time, the not-sold-out-picture I ended up seeing was The Sixth Sense. I found it spooky, shocking and exhilarating.
Two of the films I’ve enjoyed most in my life. I often thought it was because I had zero expectations.
My recent blog “The Internet. 7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation” set out troubling facts about this most wonderful of inventions.
One of my concerns was that:
“the Internet polarises opinion. Imagine a billion people in a desert, shouting. Who can shout loudest? The best way to attract online attention is to be shocking and extreme. Slag someone off. Be outrageous. You know that famous, reasonable, internet commentary site? No? That’s because there isn’t one. You can’t be reasonable and famous on-line.”
So I was interested to see this weekend in The Financial Times a piece by Simon Kuper, “Paris attacks: Notes from a wounded city” (NB if you don’t have a subscription to the FT, you can sign up to read the piece – and several more every month – free).
Kuper’s piece is characteristically thoughtful. I like his resistance to simplifying everything – particularly anything as tragic as the Paris attacks. But I was most struck by his comment that in the world of punditry and politics, “the people with the clearest messages win“.
Thus, Kuper suggests, if you want to look at the world in a more nuanced way – he quotes a man who asked of the 13 November events “with what perception must I perceive this?” – you are unlikely to be invited onto TV to pontificate about how we should react.
What people want is certainty; and that is what pundits offer.
That is often the equivalent of shouting loudest. But it is not always the best way to approach important issues.
Do check out Simon Kuper’s piece, and my earlier blog.
‘What’s the best scene you’ve ever seen in a movie?’
‘The opening of Star Wars in 1977. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”? High-concept, ironic, awesome. A field of stars, then planets: one, two, then a third, filling the horizon. A space ship zapping into view, hunted by a star destroyer so huge it took twelve seconds to appear from the top of the screen, driven by three immense engines thrumming with power – I saw it in 70mm Dolby surround sound and the cinema shook and – ‘
‘Whoa! Enough already! And the worst?’
‘The opening of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, 16 years after the previous movie. You saw the instant the opening text crawled up the screen that the mojo was gone. The taxation of trade routes? Huh? Ewan McGregor’s first words: “I have a bad feeling about this“. Too right! Things went downhill for the next three episodes.’
‘How about the new Star Wars 7? “The Force Awakens”?’
‘Well… my head says standing in a ice-cold shower of nitric acid while tiger ants gnaw my nasal passages will probably be more entertaining. But my heart says “maybe this time they’ll have a plot, some new ideas, and rediscover their sense of playfulness and irony”.’
‘Are you an idiot? Or a congenital optimist?’
‘These franchises trade on humankind’s incurable optimism bias. Check out (more…)
One of my most popular ever blogs was called: Spectre: 5 reasons to miss it & 5 reasons you’ll see it 4/10.
A wise person commented thus:
“We thought a sixth reason to hate the film might be the completely useless portrayal of all women. The incredible number of perfectly coordinated outfit changes that the main Bond girl managed after leaving her workplace without any luggage was incredible. It also failed the Bechdel test.”
Lea Seydoux as Dr Madeleine Swann (Copyright: United Artists)
The casual sexism of most early Bond movies grates on many modern audiences, although some argue Skyfall was a notable exception.
Spectre (2015), too, has a nod or two towards equality. The love interest, played by Lea Seydoux, is supposedly a doctor, although she spends more time pouting (21 minutes – I may have made that figure up) than healing (0 minutes – I’m pretty sure about that one). In one scene she actually (more…)
‘What did you think of Quantum of Solace?’
‘Terrible. What was with that totally inflammable hotel in the desert?’
‘It made no sense. Why go to a remote house and wait for limitless Austin Powers-type henchmen to pour out of helicopters?’
‘So you won’t be going to Spectre, then?’
‘Well… I’ll probably check it out.’
We’ve all been there. You come out of a Bond movie feeling soiled and cheated. But you keep going back for more.
Why are the movies so awful? And why do you keep hoping against hope that the next one will be different? Because you’re hooked.
Here are five reasons why Spectre is awful:
The reviews on my site tell you something useful.
Maybe one useful thing. Maybe more.
Blue Mosque, Istanbul. Not yet reviewed (photo: Robert Pimm)
I won’t necessarily review the latest thing: I don’t see why a movie or artwork created a decade or a millennium ago should be any worse than one created yesterday accompanied by great hype. It may even be better.
Each review will offer:
- an insight, based on my personal opinion, tastes, experience and all-round worldly wisdom, to help you make your mind up on the subject of the review. You don’t have to agree; in fact I’ll be delighted if you leave a comment disagreeing;
- a rating out of 10;
- a “For” and “Against” section. If something is plain dull, I won’t be reviewing it. It’s got to have good and, inevitably, bad points. Even Hans Rosling. Remember: I didn’t say you had to agree.
“Have fun and comment.”
PS you can explore other writing on this site, starting with the sitemap and guide.
‘What’s your favourite restaurant?’
‘Umm… it’s that tiny place in Cihangir. Often closed. Free tea from a samovar upstairs. I can never remember its name.’
‘Those are all brilliant restaurants. Great views. Mouthwatering food. But given a choice for eating by myself, or with a friend visiting Istanbul, I go most often to Datli Maya.’
How many children (defined as people aged 0-15) lived in the world in the year 2000? Answer: two billion.
How many are there now, in 2015?
And how many will there be, on present trends, by the year 2100?
The answer, according to Swedish statistician Hans Rosling in this compulsive communications masterclass, is: there are two billion children now, and there will still be two billion in the year 2100. We have passed “peak child”.
By 2100, he forecasts, the world population will have increased from today’s seven billion to around eleven billion.
But, Rosling says, because rising living standards and better education are cutting fertility rates, population growth between now and 2100 will all be among older people; and by then, the world population will be tending towards stability.
What percentage of the world’s population are literate? 20%? 40%? 60%? 80%?
How many babies do women have on average in Bangladesh? 2.5? 3.5? 4.5? 5.5?
Rosling presents a slew of statistics using everything from graphs to building blocks to communicate an optimistic assessment of future growth trends, while noting that even on these figures, we risk destroying ourselves with climate change.
You may disagree. But for a masterclass in communication you can’t do better than this.
For: informative, entertaining, and occasionally jaw-dropping.
Against: we all know the phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics”.
PS the phrase “Don’t Panic” is of course central to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, although its most famous proponent (as noted by Richard in comments below) is possible Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army.
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I often enjoy most the movies I didn’t intend to see. I went to see “Mr Holmes” but it had finished. So I ended up watching “The Walk” instead.
The film has irritating elements. The magical realism style feels laboured, with the protagonist, French high-wire walker Philippe Petit, narrating his tale from the torch atop the Statue of Liberty. The whimsical Amelie flavour won’t suit everyone; the cute early courting scenes between Petit and love interest Annie may set some teeth on edge. But when we get to New York and the practical business of how Petit set about stringing a wire between the Twin Towers (still under construction) and doing his walk, the film becomes in turns engrossing and, I found, thrilling. The 3D helps, rather than hinders. And both the final resolution of the affair with Annie and Petit’s reference to his complimentary ticket to visit the viewing platform of the Twin Towers “for ever” offer chill drafts of realism.
For: an entertaining and technically impressive rendering of a real-world adventure with decent narrative drive. The final high-wire scenes above New York are vertigo-inducing.
Against: overly cute in parts. Some lazily-sketched minor characters. And you’re left wanting to find out more about Petit, and to watch the widely-held-to-be-a-masterpiece documentary of the same event, Man on Wire. In fact, I may have to buy the DVD.
My friend, a top Internet expert, sips his beer. “Look how you can chat for free, with video, to your friends around the world,” he says. “See how quickly you can buy a book, book a flight, check in, or check something out. The Internet has made the world fantastically better.”
“No,” I say, “I use the Internet for hours every day. But it could destroy us all. For example:
(i) the Internet polarises opinion. Imagine a billion people in a desert, shouting. Who can shout loudest? The best way to attract online attention is to be shocking and extreme – sometimes called “spice”. Slag someone off. Be outrageous. You know that famous, reasonable, internet commentary site? No? That’s because there isn’t one. You can’t be reasonable and famous on-line;
(ii) the Internet clouds understanding. If an established news outlet says something wrong or daft, people care. Private Eye or The Onion will mock them. But in the Internet, no-one edits your racist hate-speech or loony conspiracy theories. The Internet teems with this stuff, which tends to veer to weird extremes because that attracts readers. Result: the barmy ramblings of religious fruitcakes and conspiracy nut-cases occupy more megabytes on the internet than (more…)
What is the most famous art movement you have never heard of?
I suspect it could be the “Zero Art Movement”. Let’s explore it.
The Sky Over Nine Columns – Heinz Mack (with Bosphorus behind)
The Zero art movement was based mostly in Germany in the years 1957-69. Let’s listen to one of its founders, Otto Piene, in his Paths to Paradise:
I go to darkness itself, I pierce it with light, I make it transparent, I take its terror from it, I turn it into a volume of power with the breath of life like my own body, and I take smoke so that it can fly.
Maybe that is magnificent. Maybe it’s meaningless. I’m not sure. Maybe you’re not sure either. But wait.
I was lucky enough this year to enjoy a holiday in Bali. Fabulous.
But the island faces challenges. Development is eating up the beauty which draws visitors.
Rice field on Bali (Photo Robert Pimm)
Locals seek prosperity. Visitors want somewhere to stay and amenities to enjoy.
Let’s cut to the chase. If you haven’t discovered the novelist Anthony Trollope, you should start reading him. Today. Here are 11 life-changing reasons why:
(i) the six Palliser novels, starting with Can you forgive her, are literature’s best guide to politics and power. Why did Lord Acton say “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men“? Trollope explains, long before Acton said it;
(ii) Trollope writes perceptively about relationships and sexual politics. His novels boil with strong women, from the indomitable Lady Glencora to my favourite, Miss Dunstable (an heiress who will not be pushed around by any man – not even the all-powerful Duke of Omnium). Many Trollope women feel more emancipated, or tormented by their lack of emancipation, than their sisters in some contemporary novels;
(iii) Trollope is brilliant on religion and its relationship to the state. (more…)
I thought this account of how leap seconds work at “The Science Geek” was outstanding. A complex subject explained in English that you can understand, without in any way talking down to his audience. A model for science communication! I read his blog with pleasure.
I am hoping I can tempt him to write something about ageing and telomeres, a concept which lies behind the life-extension premise of my novel Coronatime.
I don’t have a leap-second-themed picture in my image bank, but here’s a picture of Wittgenstein’s grave from the Central Cemetery in Vienna – itself located, with existential irony, on the edge of town…
One of the joys of writing a blog is that occasionally some terrific people read you, follow you, like a post, or otherwise emerge from the woodwork.
Step forward twogeeksoneblog.
I was lured to their site by them following or liking me (can’t find it now); checked them out; and found both a trailer and an enthusiastic review of the awesome-sounding Zombeavers (warning: don’t click the link if you object to truly terrible movies stuffed with sexism, violence and hilariously crude special effects).
The two geeks also do a splendid job on Prometheus, which I too found tragically disappointing. How could so much money and talent go so wrong? The two geeks explain.
Wonderful stuff if, like me, you enjoy weird, wonderful and entertaining movies.
Speaking of which, here’s the last one I enjoyed immensely, part of the !f Film Festival here in Istanbul (note the cute beating heart symbol at the link).
“Tokyo Tribes” was my first and probably last Japanese gangsta rap movie. Exquisite, if you like that kind of thing. The link takes you to some still shots which capture the mood of the movie better than the rather pathetic trailer, which you can also see there.
Unfortunately I missed A Girl Walks Home at Night, which was also on at the !f Festival. Who could resist “The first Iranian vampire Western ever made?” I’m waiting for the DVD.
So much for my plan to go to bed early tonight. I blame you, two geeks.