Not Films

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I picked up two novels by William Trevor and one by Robert Holdstock from a bin outside a charity shop. I didn’t realize Trevor was the author of Felicia’s Journey, filmed by Atom Egoyan, swiftly forgotten by the world. But I liked the cut of his gibberish. Still haven’t read them, though. They are The Boarding House and The Love Department.

The Holdstock was Mythago Wood, and I just read that — terrific stuff. I’m onto the sequel, Lavondyss. These are technically fantasy novels, but Holdstock’s take on myth is an inventive and intelligent one, imagining mythical characters as being products/inhabitants of the Jungian collective unconscious, and simultaneously quite real and corporeal. He creates his own, quite convincing proto-myths, speculations about the kind of stories our Bronze Age ancestors told each other around the fire, stories which would later mutate into more familiar forms. The protagonists are normal people who get sucked into this semi-real world of mythic characters, like Alice into Wonderland but with scarier consequences. Literally fantastic.

I followed this with The Glister, a novel by the Scottish poet John Burnside, which my collaborator Paul Duane recommended. It’s set in a post-industrial wasteland rather like the Zone in Tarkovsky’s STALKER, but more realistically toxic and depressive. There’s also a serial killer and a teenage protagonist, but these “commercial” elements do not resolve in the expected ways. It reminded me oddly of Iain Banks’ Complicity, in the way it refuses to deal with its killer the way genre fiction is supposed to. Complicity infuriated me, but The Glister is quite something — the language and the philosophy are as striking as the pungent, carcinogenic atmosphere of the piece.

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The Knick, directed (and shot, and cut) by Steven Soderbergh, created and written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, is back for a second series. As good as ever, making it still the best thing I’ve seen from this gifted, quirky, sometimes erratic filmmaker. Clive Owen performing nose-jobs for heroin, the second black character with a detached retina in a Soderbergh show (see OUT OF SIGHT), a very nasty nun, and the use of the line “I brought you some hard-boiled eggs and nuts,” which is sure to delight all fans of Stan & Ollie and COUNTY HOSPITAL. In-jokes aren’t always to be applauded, but since I didn’t spot a single one in the first ten hours of this show, I’m quite willing to allow a burst of exuberance of this kind.

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We did watch an actual movie — CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, picked up from the library since we enjoyed the same team’s THE LEGO MOVIE (dirs. Phil Lord & Chris Miller). By chance, it takes place in exactly the same kind of hopeless, post-industrial seaside town as The Glister. Really good jokes: “I wanted to run away, but you can’t run away from your own feet,” says the hero after a mishap with spray-on shoes. It’s part of the New Breed, inaugurated by the first TOY STORY — when it goes emotional, it doesn’t feel the need to stop being funny. I wasn’t over-enamoured of the character design at first, but James Caan’s gruff dad character is masterful. The shape of the head puts me in mind of the Freudenstein Monster in Fulci’s THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, or of Isabelle Adjani’s weird child/lover in POSSESSION, but the moustache and monobrow raise it to a whole new level. Oddly, when he’s surprised and his eyebrow rises to reveal actual ocular equipment, dad just looks wrong.

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