Book review: “Great North Road” by Peter F Hamilton

Read back Great North Road cover

* this post first appeared on writingbar.com

Diving headlong into one of Peter F Hamilton’s science fiction novels, with their fully-complete worlds, richly-detailed cultures, and authentically-believable characters is so all-encompassing that it’s as if you’re there in person experiencing it all firsthand.

Which is quite an achievement since Hamilton, who is widely regarded as Britain’s foremost science fiction author, has a penchant for setting his stories in far off futures where mankind has conquered the stars but not alas, at least for the idealists among us, his inner demons.

And the last time I checked no one was selling tickets to the future, flawed or otherwise so having Hamilton to take us there, or at least his vision of it, is quite a gift.

While the optimists may mourn mankind’s still intact clay feet, readers will lap up the fact that in Hamilton’s latest book, The Great North Road, the flaws are now gaping voids across what is otherwise an advanced, highly evolved interstellar civilisation.

Among the many worlds that now make up mankind’s realm in 2142, where portals make travelling to alien planets as easy as crossing the street, and the North family, made up almost solely of clones of its founder, have created cheap energy for all (at a price, of course), something evil is lurking in the verdant jungles of St Libra.

Quite whether it’s manmade or an indigenous type of fauna, which somewhat unnervingly on St Libra is oddly non-existent (at least as far as anyone knows) is up for debate.

Twenty years ago when one of the founding sons of the North dynasty, Bartram North and pretty much his entire household were slaughtered – his branch of the family rule St Libra as their personal fiefdom – guilt was quickly assigned to Angela Tramelo, the only survivor of the terrible murders.

 

Peter F Hamilton (image via torbooks.co.uk)

 

But she refused to admit any guilt for the atrocities, steadfastly maintaining with resolute conviction that alien life forms were responsible and that if the authorities, keen to make a quick, politically-convenient conviction, wanted to find the real killer they should journey to the wild unexplored continent of Brogal and conduct a proper search.

Which twenty years after her imprisonment is exactly what the Human Defence Agency (HDA) does, launching a massive expedition which is triggered by the murder of another North clone, this time in the city of Newcastle, and one which bears all the hallmarks of the killing on St Libra all those years before (with Tramelo still snug in her cell).

As the investigation by Detective Sidney Hurst on Earth uncovers more and more bizarre elements to the case, people on the expedition start dying in the forests of Brogal while Tramelo, still proclaiming her innocence, is blamed for deaths that are anything but normal.

It soon becomes clear that St Libra maybe hiding a secret far deadlier than anyone, least of all the visionary-minded zealots running the HAD, could ever have imagined.

Hamilton has once again crafted a universe where mankind, advanced though he is, and replete with long genetically-enhanced life and technology beyond imagination, is nonetheless at the mercy of forces beyond his control.

In Great North Road, that admittedly does lag a little in the sections which deal with the Newcastle murder, and is a considerable read at about 950 pages, (though it never outstays its welcome), the master of space opera has crafted a mystery of universal proportions that keeps you guessing to the last.

And as a result, make it quite impossible to put the book down.

He also seamlessly weaves in sumptuously detailed examinations of what it means to be human in an age of almost god-like power and accomplishment, and questions about whether we have a divine right to stomp wantonly about the galaxy, acquiring what we like, without once impinging on, or slowing down, what is consistently a gripping, engaging narrative.

Great North Road is, much like his earlier work, a near total submersion into a perfectly-realised future version of human civilisation, and proof positive that the master of the science fiction epic is at the top of his game.

*Check out Peter F Hamilton talking about Great North Road …

 

* And the gripping trailer for the book … 

 

Attack of the season 7 “Dr Who” posters!

 

And he’s racing!

Barely pausing for breath, everyone’s favourite Doctor is off and running, or rather riding – on a motorbike no less – with new companion Clare in tow, all across modern London in a desperate race to save mankind from yet another menacing enemy.

In “The Bells of Saint John” (the poster for which has just been released), a high octane thriller of an episode which kicks off the second half of season 7 in fine style on March 30, the Doctor and Clara have to track down and stop an ancient foe, the Spoonheads, mysterious creatures who are lurking in the WiFi, and seizing and imprisoning people’s minds at will.

When Clara falls prey to their nefarious schemes, it’s up the Doctor, who looks even more dashing than usual to get to the bottom of it all and stop mankind from being taken over from the inside out.

 

(image via bbc.co.uk)

 

It’s a clever play on the zombie-esque nature of our online world where people are more apt to give time to their devices and apps than the people around them, and it makes you wonder if something is actually in there ready to get us?

Or maybe … cue menacing music … they already have.

Not to worry – the Doctor will save us!

That’s if he’s not busy visiting “The Rings of Akhaten” (episode 7) …

 

(image via bbc.co.uk)

 

SYNOPSIS: Clara wants to see something awesome, so the Doctor whisks her off to the inhabited rings of the planet Akhaten, where the Festival of Offerings is in full swing. Clara meets the young Queen of Years as the pilgrims and natives ready for the ceremony. But something is stirring in the pyramid, and a sacrifice will be demanded.
(source: bbc.co.uk)

… or caught in the middle of the “Cold War” (episode 8) …

 

(image via bbc.co.uk)

 

SYNOPSIS: The Doctor and Clara land on a damaged Russian Submarine in 1983 as it spirals out of control into the ocean depths. An alien creature is loose on board, having escaped from a block of Arctic ice. With tempers flaring and a cargo of nuclear weapons on board, it’s not just the crew but the whole of humanity at stake!

… or forced to search for an enemy who seems to “Hide” (episode 9) everywhere …

 

(image via bbc.co.uk)

 

* Check out this interesting article from The Guardian on the second half of season 7.

“The Walking Dead”: episode 15 ‘This Sorrowful Life’ (review)

 

*warning: contains spoilers*

The Walking Dead has always been, at its heart, a confronting morality play that forces us to consider, week after harrowing week, what we would do in the face of an apocalyptic terror both unending and seemingly unconquerable.

Would we resort to a survival-of-the-fittest mentality, tossing altruism aside in favour of a base desire to do what it takes to live?

Or would we, the better angels of our nature at our side, hold fast to the crowning tenets of human civility and put the needs of the greater good ahead of our own understandably strong desire to survive?

It is an ongoing struggle for pretty much everyone in AMC’s finely-wrought drama, with the unlikeliest character providing an unexpected answer in this week’s episode “A Sorrowful Life”.

 

Such is life in the zombie apocalypse that walkers groan and shuffle, ignored and forgotten, just metres away from where Rick is attempting to sell Daryl on the benefits of handing Michonne to the Governor as a sacrificial lamb (image via screencrush.com)

 

While Rick, who has struggled more than most with what it means to be human in the moral wastelands of the apocalypse, was the instigator of this week’s debate over the primacy of selflessness or naked self interest, with his decision to hand over Michonne to the Governor in the deeply flawed and yes, naive, hope it would bring peace between the prison and Woodbury (a plan only reluctantly agreed to by Hershel and Daryl), it was Merle who provided a most unexpected, and profoundly emphatic, answer.

And in a way that I really didn’t see coming, despite witnessing Merle’s evolution from a one-dimensional redneck character to a deeply complex character throughout this season, and most obviously, in this sterling episode.

He begin the episode in true self-seeking style, the only one to enthusiastically back Rick’s misguided plan, seeing a chance to re-ingratiate himself with the Governor, and he single-mindedly and singlehandedly carrying it out even after Rick, who Merle correctly charged didn’t have the spine to follow it through, called it off.

But somewhere along the road to Woodbury with Michonne, after her probing questions and quiet defiance finally got through to the man Daryl always suspected was there (all he ever wanted was his brother back he plaintively told Merle in one deeply affecting moment at the prison) he did have an epiphany of sorts.

It wasn’t exactly a road to Damascus moment, and was proceeded by a chaotic battle with a herd of walkers at an abandoned motel which still had some of its undead guests in residence (all while Michonne remained chained to a post) but it did represent a major change of heart for the character who finally saw a way to redeem, at least a little, his aimless, blighted existence.

 

Michonne shows what a badass she is when she manages to fend a number of remorseless walkers while tied to a post (image via craveonline.com)

 

And once he decided what needed to be done in that split second when he set Michonne free and sent her back to the prison, he acted, swiftly, decisively and with deliberate, sacrificial intent.

It was inspiring, deadly, and heartbreaking all at once, never more so than when Daryl, in solo steadfast pursuit of Merle and Michonne, happened upon the devastation Merle had unleashed at the meeting place, only to find his brother, shot in the stomach by the Governor and already transitioned into a flesh-gouging walker, feasting on one of the corpses.

The immediate grief that overwhelmed Daryl in almost debilitating fashion, as what was left of Merle came lurching hungrily towards his brother, ranks as one of the saddest, most profoundly moving moments of this season of The Walking Dead, a drama that for all its brutality and bloodthirstiness, treads lightly, and with real compassion when it comes to matters of raw, simple humanity.

 

 

That he recovered long enough to dispatch his brother from his living undead hell was never in doubt, but all his grief, loss and anger at what could have been between them if only Merle could have looked past his own need for self-protection above all other motivations, was clearly channeled into the violent way he repeatedly stabbed Merle in the head, tears flowing down his face, a picture of loss writ large.

A life time of sadness at what could have been poured forth in that shocking, desperately sad scene, and it underlined what a fine, nuanced performer Norman Reedus who plays Daryl is.

 

Daryl cried a lifetime of tears over Merle’s body, regret and loss writ large upon his face (image via seriable.com (c) AMC)

 

It was powerful television, something The Walking Dead is not in short supply of for the most part, and powerfully affirmed that no matter how bad the situation, and let’s face it, the end of civilisation is pretty much as bad as it gets, that selflessness and altuism are not spent forces.

Nor is love, as was evinced in a simply, quiet scene, which in its own way was every bit as powerful as the chaotic action and grief that bookended it, when Glenn, with Hershel’s blessing, and a dazzling diamond ring hacked off one of the walkers at the prison fence (a moment both humourous and macabre) asked Maggie to marry him.

Few words were exchanged as Glenn tenderly pressed the ring into Maggie’s hand, a romantic gesture that was met with a simple, heartfelt “Yes” but this beautiful moment was as affirmative a proclamation as Merle’s epic sacrifice, that humanity is not done with qualities such as tenderness, love and sacrificial intent just yet.

Unflinchingly honest though it may be about the humanity’s dark soul, The Walking Dead once again made it clear with these touching scenes, together with Rick’s inspirational evocation of the prevailing power of “the greater good” in a confessional speech to the prison group near the end, that sorrowful though this life may be, hope remains and it is more powerful, and enduring, than the forces arrayed against it.

 

Love true love in the midst of all unending despair, sadness and grief … thank god for Glenn and Maggie (image via au.eonline.com (c) AMC)

 

* Here’s the promo and two sneak peeks at next week’s season finale, “Welcome to the Tombs” …

 

 

 

And for my next trick … books into movies! Ta dah!

 

* this post originally appeared on writingbar.com

It’s  a process almost as old as cinema itself – taking a much loved book and giving it a new lease of life on the big screen.

L Frank Baum’s first Oz novel for instance, The Wizard of Oz, released in 1900 (and the first book in his 14 volume Oz series) was turned into the film, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a scant 10 years later. And again, most famously, in 1939 by MGM. (Another one of his books has just been turned into current cinema hit, Oz the Great and Powerful.)

It was joined throughout the twentieth century by movie adaptations of works by authors as diverse as Agatha Christie (The A.B.C Murders, 1936), Mark Twain (Huck and Tom, 1918), Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, 1991), Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 1964 and 2005), and  J. K. Rowling (the Harry Potter series of novels, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 2001 through to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, 2011) to name but a few.

And if you were, or indeed are, a film producer in Hollywood it makes sense that you would want to invest considerable time and effort in bringing a book to the big screen since it is a known story with a built-in base of avid fans which, often out of curiosity alone, will rush to the cinema to see their favourite tome on the screen, guaranteeing you at least some modicum of success.

And so it continues in 2013 with a number of buzz-worthy literary adaptations heading to your local cinema.

We decided to pick the three titles we’re most looking forward to and give you some idea of what to expect.

 

The Spectacular Now by Tim Sharp

 

(image via collider.com)

 

THE BOOK
This much-loved young adult book, which was a finalist for the US National Book Award in 2008, doesn’t pull any punches.

Focusing on unrepentant teen drunk, Sutter Keely, who is more anti-hero than hero and who stubbornly refuses to see the error of his ways and turn over a new leaf by book’s end, is a figure of worship on his high school’s party circuit.

A guaranteed party starter, and the sort of person your party wants in attendance if it’s going to make its presence felt on the social radar, he lives solely in the here and now, caring not for the consequences of his actions or what lies ahead of him.

All this looks like changing, of course, when he wakes up one morning on the front lawn of a house he doesn’t recognise and meets Aimee, who is as socially-challenged as it is possible to be but full of hopes and dreams for the future.

Sensing a challenge, and consummately in awe of his own abilities (he fails to recognise they have a limited lifespan and usefulness), he sets out to makeover Aimee, who confounds every last one of his expectations when, though drawn to him, she refuses to play by his rules.

 

 

THE MOVIE
It has major buzz attached to it.

A hit when it debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, with both of its leads Miles Teller (Sutter Keely) and Shailene Woodley (Aimee Finicky) in attendance, it was widely regarded as a fitting visual companion to the book.

With a script by (500) Days of Summer screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, and directed by James Ponsoldt, it was described by hollywoodreporter.com in their review as “a sincere, refreshingly unaffected look at teenagers and their attitudes about the future”.

VERDICT
This may just be one of the best YA book-to-movie adaptations to hit the big screen in some time, and certainly up there with the much-acclaimed The Perks of Being a Wallflower (by Steve Chbosky) .

 

 The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

Image via impawards.com)

THE BOOK
The decadent 1920s, the decade-long exercise in endless extravagance and wanton indulgence that culminated in the ruin of The Great Depression, is captured perfectly in Fitzgerald’s seminal work.

Narrated by World War One veteran and Yale graduate, Nicholas “Nick” Carraway, who is newly arrived in the fictional Long Island enclave of the wealthy West Egg, and is the partial outsider looking in on Gatsby’s doomed world of luxury, The Great Gatsby gives a penetrating and often damning look at the lives of the nouveau riche who party away as if their hedonistic, and ultimately unfulfilling, lifestyles will never come to an end.

As Nick, eager to make his way as a bond salesman in New York, moves deeper and deeper into this glittering world, he comes to know its lynchpin, the mysterious Jay Gatsby whose wildly extravagant parties every Saturday night are legendary.

It all ends in tragedy alas, as the glitz and glamour of the world around Gatsby is stripped away, revealing people living morally bankrupt, empty lives and causing ruin for almost everyone involved, bar Nick who determines to leave New York and a world he can no longer tolerate.

 

 

THE MOVIE
Co-written and directed by Australian Baz Luhrmann (Moulin RougeRomeo and Juliet), and starring Martin Scorsese’s go-to-guy, Leonard DiCaprio as Gatsby and Tobey MacGuire as Nick Carraway, this latest adaptation of The Great Gatsby is scheduled to open the 66th annual Cannes Film Festival in May this year.

Delayed somewhat from its original release date, it nevertheless has retained a great deal of buzz, largely thanks to Luhrman’s reputation as a consummate filmmaker.

THE VERDICT
The Great Gatsby is reputed to be fiendishly difficult to bring to the big screen but if anyone can bring F Scott Fitzgerald’s much-lauded work to life without sacrificing its literary credentials, it is Luhrmann.

All eyes, of course will be on Cannes on 15 May (although the film actually premieres five days earlier in the USA, the first time a Cannes opener has not been a world premiere).

 

World War Z by Max Brooks

 

 

THE BOOK
A follow-up to the highly successful 2003 book, A Zombie Survival GuideWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War eschews the standard narrative structure used in most novels in favour of a collection of first hand accounts of the (obviously) fictional decade-long Zombie War.

Modelled on Studs Terkel’s oral history of World War 2, The Good War, World War Z documents the accounts of survivors of the war that saw what was left of mankind battling fast-moving hordes of zombies (undead humans infected by an incurable virus, Solanum).

Brooks plays the part of an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission, which oversees the reconstruction of human civilisation, or what remains of it, after the war, he recounts via first person survivor accounts how mankind came perilously close to extinction at the hands of this terrifying enemy.

Drawing on the geopolitical and military realities of today’s world, World War Z grippingly documents how destructive war can be, but also the lengths people will go to save themselves, those they love and the society in which they live.

 

 

THE MOVIE
Recognising the book’s unorthodox non-narrative structure would not a compelling movie make, the producers re-tooled the book’s structure so it more closely resembles an apocalyptic action thriller than a sobering re-telling of the horrors of war.

The story now centres on Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a worker at the United Nations who races around the world gathering any information that will assist humanity in arresting and defeating the zombie outbreak.

These understandable changes aside, it still promises to be no less horrifying a recounting as it details the near complete destruction of civilisation as we know it.

THE VERDICT
Troubled by reports of cost overruns and filming delays, World War Z nevertheless looks like a thrilling movie that imaginatively re-tools the book’s more documentary-style structure.

The main concern is whether the sobering lessons of the horrors of war remain intact in some form, since that is after all the heart and soul of the book, but it is something we will have to wait till June this year to find out.

* So which books-to-movies are you most looking forward to seeing this year? Do you watch movie adaptations of books or prefer to read the book and leave it at that?

Ring, ring! ‘The Bells of Saint John’ promos toll for “Dr Who”

Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and the Doctor (Matt Smith) zip around London in this tale of something dark and nasty lurking in the wi-fi (9mage via kasterborous.com (c) BBC)

 

Clara Oswald is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing companions yet if there is wonderful prequel to this week’s season 7 return episode of Dr Who is any guide.

As the Doctor sits on a swing gently rocking back and forth, a wise-beyond-her-years little girl, who can’t understand why he is on the playground equipment at all because he is “old”, engages him in discussion, despite her mother telling him she shouldn’t speak with “strange men”.

After admitting he’s way beyond strange, the enormously self-aware little girl goes on to give the Doctor some sage advice about trying to find the friend he keeps losing (that would be Clara), which the Doctor takes to heart as he keeps swinging while the young girl goes off with her mother.

But that is not all my friends.

There is a brilliant reveal to this brief but perfectly-formed tale that will have you gasping with excitement …

 

 

This charming prequel, is of course, just the curtain raiser to the intriguing opening episode of the second half of season 7, “The Bells of Saint John” which exploits that irrational human fear of the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night, the sense that something menacing is lurking in the shadows just beyond our field of vision.

And it appears that for once those fears are well founded as the official synopsis for the episode makes clear:

“The Doctor’s search for Clara Oswald brings him to modern day London, where humanity lives in a wi-fi soup. But something dangerous is lurking in the signals, picking off minds and imprisoning them. As Clara becomes the target of this insidious menace, the Doctor races to save her and the world from an ancient enemy.”

It’s a fair bet that our ingenious, resourceful friend, the Doctor will get to the bottom of this insidious threat, and save a blissfully-unaware humanity once again, but getting there looks like it’s going to be one hell of a ride!

So strap yourselves and get ready for the ringing of “The Bells of Saint John” which premieres March 30.

 

 

Chicken Littles of the world rejoice: “Falling Skies” is back 9 June!

(image via kooltvblog.blogspot.com)

 

Cliffhangers are both a delirious, intoxicating blessing, and a patience-sapping curse.

We crave the tension and sense of anticipation they bring us but loathe the long wait till a hopefully satisfying resolution.

Falling Skies, which tells the story of an Earth plunged into apocalyptic madness by an alien invasion and the fight back by those that survive it, left us with a doozy of a cliffhanger at the end of the season.

As if they weren’t beset by enough aliens, the dizzyingly climactic end to season 2 saw the arrival of another heavily armoured alien (to be played by Doug Jones) whose motivations for entering the fray aren’t entirely clear.

 

A new alien cometh … Earth is getting awfully crowded with them these days (image via seriable.com (c) TNT)

 

Are they simply joining in the fight as opportunistic mercenaries bent on carving themselves up a slice of the Earth pie? Do-gooders come to rescue humanity? (Highly unlikely if intergalactic politics is anything like our own.) Or enemies of our invaders who see humanity as their situational “friends” by virtue of their shared enmity towards the overlords?

I am tending towards the latter – the giant guns pointing towards the sky would suggest the invaders are getting ready to repel unwanted visitors – since that would open up a whole new front in the story and potentially give what’s left of humanity a whole of new worrying scenarios to contemplate since their new allies, assuming they are in fact that, could quickly turn foe once the overlords are vanquished.

And on a more personal level, Hal (Drew Roy) is being controlled by one of the alien’s eye-bugs which could cause real problems for his dad, the hero-of-the-day Tom Mason (Noah Wylie) as season 3 rolls on.

 

 

He, of course, will have to contend with the ongoing politics of New Charleston, in all its underground glory, but he will have some help in the form of Gloria Reuben who will play Tom’s whippet-smart, politically savvy new aide (reuniting them from their ER days).

And the emergence of the pre-invasion President of the old United States who is interested in meeting Tom, whose reputation is growing by leaps and bounds with each victory over the interloping aliens.

But any victory, if it comes, won’t be achieved by braun alone, and so we also get to meet the “Rat King”, a brilliant scientist with all manner of presumably alien-zapping gizmos, who lives far below the others with, yes, pet rats.

Naturally of course all of the regulars will be back in force including Tom’s other sons, Ben (Connor Jessup) and Matt (Maxim Knight), his partner in love and fighting Anne (Moon Bloodgood) and now close friend and commanding officer, Captain Weaver (Will Patton), all of whom are trying to forge a life in a world that is largely inimitable to that.

It looks like it’s going to be another dramatic season of fighting aliens, political intrigue among the survivors, and the small, personal stories of survival that have become the hallmark of this finely-wrought apocalyptic tale.

* Falling Skies season 3 premieres June 9 at 9 /10C on TNT, and you can catch snippets of the action to come via TBT’s official trailer for its summer 2013 slate of shows …

 

 

POSTSCRIPT Monday 1 April: Here’s the just-released trailer for Falling Skies season 3 …

 

Weekend Pop Art #1: You will want to eat up these pop culture characters

 

The Muppets’ Animal and Kermit (image via and (c) Heather Sitarzewski, lunchboxawesome.com)

Hungry for more and more of your favourite pop culture characters?

It is not usually a literal craving – chomping down on a DVD is neither practical, healthy or recommended from a dietary perspective – but now it can be thanks to these imaginatively realised food renderings of all manner of characters from movies, TV, video games and comics.

They are the brainchild of Heather Sitarzewski, a Colorado, USA-based artist who explained her reasoning for turning everyone from the Smurfs to The Muppets, Tigger to Garfield into tasty lunchtime treats:

“I decided during this past summer that I wanted to make a fun bento every day for my son’s lunches this school year. I love trying to figure out how I can use different food to make a fun piece of edible art. I am creative every day, I’m a designer by day and all around artsy-crafty gal at night but now I get to start every day being creative right off the bat… it’s invigorating.”

You can see more of her amazing, colourful, fantastically-realised bento art at lunchboxawesome.com

* thanks to the brilliant website laughingsquid.com for alerting me to the best bento boxes this pop culture-obsessed has ever seen.

Of course now I am ridiculously hungry …

 

Ghostbusters! (image via and (c) Heather Sitarzewski, lunchboxawesome.com)

 

Tigger (image via and (c) Heather Sitarzewski, lunchboxawesome.com)

 

Smurfs (image via and (c) Heather Sitarzewski, lunchboxawesome.com)

 

Finding Nemo (image via and (c) Heather Sitarzewski, lunchboxawesome.com)

Can’t wait to see: “L’écume des jours” (“Froth of the Daydream”)

 

L’écume des jours, the latest film from acclaimed French film director Michael Gondry, and starring the woman who must surely be regarded as France’s sweetheart, Audrey Tautou (whom I have loved and adored since her star turn as the elfin Amélie), looks like being the most deliciously quirky movie of the year.

That’s not surprising given its pedigree.

Michael Gondry is known for his delightfully offbeat, unusual movies such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet) and The Science of Sleep (Gael García Bernal and Charlotte Gainsburg) that artfully blur the line between reality and fantasy, frequently combining the two in an intoxicatingly eccentric melange of ideas.

They are quirky, decidedly unusual but never less than utterly beguiling, dropping you into a world that makes no sense at all on one level but perfect sense on quite another.

L’écume des jours, based on the 1947 novel by Boris Vian (which has been translated both as Mood Indigo, Foam of the Daze and Froth of the Daydream) looks like it will be another worthy entry in his canon of cartoonishly-surreal human dramas.

 

Chloë (Audrey Tautou) and Colin (Romain Duris) fall madly in love and all is quirkily wonderful … till fate deals them a nasty blow (image via spoilertv.com)

 

And he will be wonderfully assisted by the supremely talented pairing of Audrey Tautou (Amélie, Coco Avant Chanel, Hunting and Gathering, Delicacy) and Romain Duris (Déjà Mort, Paris, The Spanish ApartmentMolière), who have worked together on two other movies, the riotously hilarious, and popular L’auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment) and Les Poupées Russes (The Russian Dolls).

They have proven chemistry, comic smarts and a history of bringing real humanity and depth to even the quirkiest of roles.

And these are quirky, if heartfelt, roles.

Tautou plays the part of Chloë, a woman who falls head-over-heels in love with the rich and succesful Colin played by Duris only find herself growing steadily more unwell on her honeymoon.

As her condition deteriorates, doctors discover the source of her great pain is a water lily growing out of heart, which necessitates her being surrounded by flowers at all times.

As you can imagine this is not a cheap treatment, which soon exhausts Colin’s considerable funds – part of which he gives away to good friend Chick so he can marry his beloved fellow Jean-Pol Sartre-admiring soulmate Anise – and though blissfully happy at the start, both couples seem to be headed for sad, if unorthodox, ends.

 

Floating along in a cloud car … but of course! (image via spoilertv.com)

 

Quite what the ends are is well known to readers of the book, but suffice to say it is the sort of ending that Europeans, not weighed down by the need to make almost every movie an affirmation of redemption and positivity, are pre-disposed too and it may require copious use of tissues.

Possibly – I can neither confirm nor deny.

What I can say is that along the way you will be treated to an enchanting film that dares to bravely imagine what would happen if our stayed and ordered existence ran headlong into a fantastical world of whimsy and magic, and people did their best to craft meaningful lives within it.

It looks like vintage Gondry and I can’t to spend a couple of surreal hours in his company once more.

 

 

Now this is music #3: My favourite 5 songs of the week

giuliaduepuntozero via photopin cc

 

It’s the end of the week yet again and given that all good TGIFs demand … nay mandate … a glass of wine, Jessica Fletcher head-back laughs with your friends and music, I have come to the party with 5 of the songs that have been making my musical world go around this week …

 

New Jack Swoop – ETC!ETC! & Brillz

 

ETC!ETC! & Brillz (image via doandroidsdance.com )

 

In most civilised societies, breaking out into a fanciful jig on the train is frowned upon mightily (as is of course smiling, talking, interacting with others and anything that might indicate you’re not an automaton).

And yet despite the possible sanctioning glances of my fellow commuters, I was mightily tempted to start dancing like a Skittles-powered madman with ETC!ETC! & Brillz’s imaginative take on the new jack swing sound of the early 90s that largely defined hip-hop at the time, particularly anything coming out of New York.

According to the good folks at remix nation.com, these two talented music artists, who have managed to craft a song full of good old turntable sound effects and bouncy melodies, have managed an impressive fusion of all sorts of amazing styles and samples:

“‘New Jack Swoop’ has a sick 90′s hip-hop beat, using the “Tick tock ya don’t stop” sample from Color Me Badd’s ‘I Wanna Sex You Up’ to add more 90′s flavor to the track. The old school beat gets injected with some of the newer sounds popular today, from both the Trap and Moombahton sub genre.”

Trust me it is ridiculously contagious and will put a smile-inducing smile on your face and a retro spring in your step.

And the best part? It’s a free download via ETC!ETC!’s sound cloud page.

 

 

“Paris” – Magic Man

 

Magic Man (image via magicman.bandcamp.com)

 

Longing for good old honest jaunty feel good pop that’s all bouncy organic piano chords mixed with zippy synths and happy sunshine-on-a-summer’s day melodies?

Then “Paris” from Boston-based Magic Man (originally Sam Lee and Alex Caplow; now a five piece with Justine Bowe, Daniel Radin, and Nolan Robert all joining in the fun) are exactly what you’re looking for … or wanting to listen to more accurately.

They have retained the enticing synth pop that delighted everyone on their debut album, “In Real Colour” but have now added in all sorts of indie pop/rock flourishes that make give a depth and immediacy to the music that is impossible to ignore.

It’s bright, breezy pop that’s backed by intelligent lyrics and the sound of a band having fun making music.

Yep, you’re gonna keep smiling with this one.

 

 

“Driven Out” – iamforest

 

iamforest (image via handclapmovement.com)

 

Taking things down a notch, because after all we can’t keep dancing forever (unless you pump me full of Pepsi Max and Skittles via some sort of mobile drip), iamforest’s “Driven Out” is a breezy piece of escapist bliss.

iamforest is Vancouver-based producer, Luke Hartle’s baby, and his exquisitely relaxed songs reflect the sensibilities of a city close to all kinds of natural wonders, one that embodies the sort of relaxed West Coast vibe that soothes the troubled rat-race-troubled soul.

It is intelligent, elegantly produced music that beguiles you as it washes over you in waves, and I swear it transports you far away from the train/cubicle/traffic jam to the pine-scented forests and driftwood-laced grey sound beaches of his home region.

Luke Hartle, with inspired mastering from Craig Waddell, has managed to infuse chilled synth pop with an earthy, rootsy sound, helped along by a grounded but almost ethereal voice that matches the music perfectly.

I would encourage you to go to his site immediately and download the music, which is ostensibly free but if I were you, I’d definitely go the donation route and make it clear how wonderful you think his music is.

Happy blissing out my friends … peace out.

 

 

“Lioness” – Night Panther

 

Night Panther (image via lediscolab.fr)

 

Night Panther are a revelation and the buzz around them is justifiably contagious.

Hailing from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the synth-wielding disoc-leaning duo is made up of Farzad Houshiarnejad and Mike Cammarata, who are two thirds of the band White Birds.

While their releases so far such as “Snudge” and “Two Weeks” have tended to the quieter end of the spectrum (though never boring; I don’t think this duo knows what bland, unimaginative music sounds like), “Lioness” is a tempest of muscular driving melodies with enough sturm und drang mixed in with the seductive pop to have you chilled and amped up all at once.

There is a majesty and orchestral grandeur to the track which I find completely intoxicating.

Night Panther are a band that seem to believe it’s best to make an impression, or not bother at all, which is fine by me, and I daresay the growing legion of fans building around them.

 

 

“Run Away” – Sandra Kolstad

 

Sandra Kolstad (image via thisisfakediy.co.uk)

 

If you have paid even just a little bit of attention to this blog, you will know that I love what is affectionately known as scandipop, or Scandinavian pop.

One of the things I love about this music is that many of these artists, while very much plugged into current sounds, and like anyone else in this interconnected age, influenced by them, are resolutely and almost defiantly unique, producing music like no other.

And Sandra Kolstad, from Norway, as delightfully unique as they come.

Apparently she is a major star in Norway with a reputation for dazzling unique shows and  a love of busy, bright electropop, with “Run Away” being a perfect example of her penchant for high-energy, passionately sung music that carries you up and away to … who cares where really?

It is gripping, frenetic, brilliantly produced and as addictive as it comes and is yet another sign that Scandinavia, and in this Norway, is the place to go if you want intelligent, visually rich electropop that will stay in your head for days.

 

 

* So what tickled your ear worm? What has made you want to bliss out or dance up a storm?

Movie review: “Une Estonienne à Paris” (“A Lady in Paris”)

 

When we first set out on this adventure called life, very few of us expect to near its middle or god forbid, its end, marooned in time, far from the idealistic expectations of youth.

Certainly neither Anne (Laine Mägi) nor Frida (Jeanne Moreau), two very different women separated by a continent and a world of different life experiences, who eventually find some measure of companionship and respite from time’s cruel hand with each other in Ilmar Raag’s Une Estonienne à Paris (A Lady in Paris; literally An Estonian Woman in Paris), would have seen themselves ending up in such a place.

And yet when this charming, beautifully crafted comedy-drama opens, a film that pays as much homage to beauty of Paris as it does to the possibility of new beginnings, both are alone, unfulfilled and pining for a life that never quite arrived.

 

Life can be cruel … but it can also give back as Anne and Frida discover just in time (image via toutlecine.com)

 

We first encounter Anne in the depths of an Estonian winter, trudging home one night to her elderly mother (who is suffering from dementia and doesn’t even recognise Anne as her daughter) worn down by life and effectively abandoned by her career-minded son and daughter, and her sister and oafish brother-in-law (who makes a drunken pass at her on the same night, much to her disgust).

Forced to give up work to look after her ailing mother, her world has shrunk down to bus rides and her small apartment, and threatens to shrink still further when her mother dies leaving her alone with little to do.

When she is offered a job in Paris caring for a wealthy elderly Estonian emigre, Anne, who is reasonably fluent in French, hesitates only slightly – long enough for her daughter to convince her it’s “cool” and she must take up the offer – before deciding to take the chance to visit a city and live the kind of life she has long dreamed of, a dream curtailed abruptly by a youthful marriage that ended 12 years earlier in divorce.

In a touching scene prior to her departure she plays a song by Joe Dassin, and lost in the memories, and new possibilities, it engenders in her, Anne, a woman not prone to grand emotional gestures of any kind, gently smiles, hope writ large across her well-worn but still pretty face, a smile that finds expression again when she glimpses the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tour for the first time.

 

Anne quietly revels, despite the initial difficulties with Frida, in the fact that she is finally living her dream (image via cinema.leparisien.fr)

 

Frida, the woman she has been charged to attend to, is similarly lost in time and alone but for wholly different reasons.

Emigrating to Paris many years before, she effectively disavowed her heritage, falling out of contact with her family, and fellow expats in Paris (an affair with one of the married men in the Estonian choir in which she sang is still a source of palpable friction), her only goal being to become a famous dancer.

While that ambition was never realised, she married well to a man she adored, and found love after his death in the arms of a much younger man, Stéphane (Patrick Pinneau), the only two men she admits later to Anne that she ever truly loved, among a string of brief but never cared for lovers.

Stéphane has remained in her life (he is the one who employs Anne), and clearly retains great affection for her even as he feels trapped by his attachment to her, an unbreakable tether given physical form in the cafe he owns and runs, a gift from Frida many years before.

But for all the love she has enjoyed, and wealth she has accumulated, Frida, like Anne finds her life has shrunk down to just tea and bakery-bought croissants – her response to Anne supplying supermarket-acquired croissants for breakfast is priceless) – and occasional visits from Stéphane, in an apartment that is like a beautifully-apppointed museum, a frozen-in-time testament to a once-rich life that is no more.

 

Frida, bitter and alone, refuses to admit, at least at first, that Anne may be the one to bring some verve back to her life (image via cinema.leparisien.fr)

 

Their eventual meeting, which is as fiery as you would expect the coming together of a woman exhausted by life but hopeful it can change (Anne) and a feisty woman who believes the best is behind me and there is no point sticking around to find out if she’s wrong (Frida, who is given some of the best lines in the movie, all of which are delivered with Moreau’s trademark wit and flair) is the beginning of a journey that will disabuse them both of the assumptions about the future that they have carried for so long.

While the resulting drama is more whimper than bang with no startling dramatic ground covered – Frida resents Anne, Anne retreats, begins to come alive, fights back, attempts to leave, they bond forever – it is done in such an emotionally-rich, understated way that you can help but be invested in their move from antagonists to sympatico souls which is real and believable and ultimately, quite touching.

Both Moreau and Mägi are pitch perfect in their representations of disillusioned women coming back to life in quite different ways and in real need of the presence of the other.

 

All of the relationships are profoundly moving and affecting and it is easy believe that Frida and Stephane are ex-lovers who have moved on to an affectionate friendship (image via lemonde.fr)

 

Mägi’s quiet but profound appreciation that her dream has finally come true, which is evinced most deeply on two visits to the Eiffel Tower, one at a dawn when she believes her time in Paris has run its course, is raw and yet elegantly portrayed, and reflects the gentle dignity she brings to the role.

Moreau on the other hand is combative and feisty, determined to rally against the dying of the night, save for when she temporarily gives up and retires wounded to her bed (largely the result of a much-regreted retreat by Stéphane from her life, one he repairs with an exquisitely sweet scene near the end of the movie) but nevertheless brings Frida to life as a fully-realised three-dimensional woman whose plaintive cries for Anne, after Anne leaves, are heartbreaking.

There is a richness and truth to both these roles, which withstands minor quibbles with the narrative such as the barely-realised comes-out-of-nowhere attraction that Stéphane feels for Anne, and the comparative ease with which both women grow to like each other (it’s almost too quick at times), and it is that which primarily sets apart “Une Estonienne à Paris” (“A Lady in Paris”) as one of those movies you will want to come back to again and again.

If it is only to be reminded that second chances are possible, no matter where you find yourself in life.