Friday, 30 April 2010

Año uña

a film by Jonás Cuarón

This is an unusual film. That is, if it can be called “film” at all. Visually, Año uña is composed entirely of still shots, which takes some getting used to: too slow for a movie, too fast for a slide show. (Also, this DVD has English subtitles for Spanish soundtrack and vice versa; I would prefer English subtitles for English too because sometimes I could not understand gringos.) Apparently, the stills were shot first and story was added later. Of course, the experimental side alone isn’t enough to make a good film. But tell you what: make sure nothing distracts you and give it your full attention, for first twenty minutes. I hope you get hooked.

The story is simple and beautiful: an American student in her twenties and teenage Mexican boy fall in love. At no point they confess to each other. A series of misunderstandings follows. The end.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Isla

by Portico Quartet

I know there are many hot new jazz bands, however Portico Quartet is not one of them. On the contrary, it is super cool. This is the best modern jazz outfit that emerged on these shores in the last decade. (I can’t believe I missed them in Cambridge last year, and a year before that.) Come to think of it, not only on these shores. And these are guys still in their twenties! Their sound is reminiscent of best ECM artists — think of Jan Garbarek jamming with Oregon — yet highly original. I hope Portico Quartet will play their magical music for many years to come, and they will grow even better. But for now, I can’t call the band’s second album, Isla, anything but a masterpiece. Listen, and get an album for yourself, and another for your best friend. (The vinyl is available too.)

Monday, 26 April 2010

UFO in Her Eyes

by Xiaolu Guo

UFO in Her Eyes could have been one of short stories from Lovers in the Age of Indifference, except Guo has developed it into a 200-page book. It consists of three files compiled by Chinese National Security and Intelligence Agency, one file compiled by The Hunan Development Authority between 2012 and 2015, plus three Appendices. Trust me, it is much more interesting than it sounds.

I was hoping for some romantic development between Kwok Yun and bicycle repair man, but no such luck.

Hunan Agent 1989: So people are right when they say you’re a bit of a moody type...

Who said that? The bastards! This place stinks. Everyone wants to eat good meat, nobody wants to pay for it, and then they badmouth you behind your back. Bastards.

HN 1989: Okay, calm down. This isn’t important. Tell me, is it right that you were once famous for killing parasites, back in the sixties?

You want to know my sparrow story? That’s a surprise. Here in Silver Hill no one can stand it any more. But if you really want to hear it, I’m happy to tell it, and you’ll see that I’m not really as bad-tempered as those bastards say.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Sulphuric Acid

by Amélie Nothomb

In contrast to her autobiographical Loving Sabotage, this novel, set in not so far future, is pure fiction. Or is it? We all know how low “reality TV” might sink; many suspect it can sink even lower.

No, I am not going to tell you what it is all about. I’d prefer you to read this (short and shocking) book. And have no fear.

Sulphuric Acid
Pannonique thought of those novelists who go on endlessly about the book they’ve written: what’s the point? Wouldn’t they have served their books better if they had, at the moment of its creation, injected it with all the love it needed? And if they had failed to give it that support at the appropriate moment, wouldn’t they have done their text more good by loving it anyway, with that true love expressed not in logorrhoea but in silence punctuated by a few fine words? Creation wasn’t so hard, because it was intoxicating: only once it was over did the divine task became complicated.
Acide sulfurique

Friday, 23 April 2010

The Season of the Hyaena

by Paul Doherty

If I hadn’t run out of reading on Lanzarote, I would never touch a book named like this. (The other “mysteries” of Paul Doherty have titles such as Corpse Candle, Ghostly Murders and The Field of Blood. Seriously!) It took me a week to read The Season of the Hyaena — and, under circumstances, this was a good thing. Otherwise, I am struggling to say anything else in favour of this humourless novel. Unless mass murders, office politics and, in truly ancient Egyptian style, two-dimensional characters with names like Ay, Huy and Ankhesenamun are your cup of tea, it’s a book to avoid.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Counting Sheep

by Paul Martin
The puritans and dull, workaholic sleep-deniers of this world would have us believe that sleep squanders our precious time that should instead be spent in fruitful labour. This misguided perspective has a long and inglorious pedigree. Many annoying aphorisms, proverbs and sayings have been coined with the naked intention of making us feel guilty about sleeping. ‘Up, sluggards, and waste no life; in the grave will be sleeping enough’, roared Benjamin Franklin. ‘Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty’, says the Bible. ‘A little more Sleep, and a little more Slumber, thus he wastes half his Days, and his Hours without Number’, preached Isaac Watts in his sanctimonious Divine Songs for Children.

Now this is a book that I won’t hesitate to call a “must read”. Sleep lovers like me will enjoy it, but for those who habitually dismiss sleep as a waste of time it can be a life-saver. I am not joking.

It may be a science book but the titles of the chapters and sections are sheer poetry: “Brother caffeine”, “Sister alcohol”, “Exercise is bunk, isn’t it?”, “Give sleep a chance”, “In praise of horizontalism” and so on. Peppered with numerous amusing literary quotes (sounds dumb, but it seems that I’ve never read that much Shakespeare in one book) and historical anecdotes, Counting Sheep will both keep you entertained and induce healthy, guilt-free sleep. Read it, and share it with your sleeping partner. Good night. Sweet dreams.

The lesson here from nature may be that intelligent machines should be explicitly designed to undergo the computer equivalent of sleep, in which information and memories are processed and consolidated off-line in ways that are not possible or efficient during the conventional ‘waking’ state, when the machine is being bombarded with new information about the outside world. Intelligent machines might even be able to enhance their creativity by spending an hour or two dreaming every night (though goodness knows what the computer equivalent of a nocturnal erection would entail.)

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Friends

by David Crane and Marta Kauffman

I never paid much attention to Friends when the series was originally aired. It was not until last Summer when, after watching several episodes on the Danish TV (with Danish subtitles and, I have to add, with Danish beer), Friends actually “clicked” with me. It is difficult to say why though.

One of the secrets of good comedy is to know when to stop. It would be so much better if Friends lasted five years instead of ten. In the first couple of seasons, each episode was packed with events. By the mid-series, the show clearly ran out of fresh ideas. All main characters turn thirty but still behave as if they were in high school. Every possible permutation of six people in two apartments was used. And everybody — I mean, everybody, including the remaining four friends — got utterly sick of Rachel and Ross’s never ending “break”.

At least there is some plot development (at the time, I understand, it was an innovation for a sitcom). Nevertheless, anyone who is posing even a minor threat to the homeostasis is mercilessly disposed of. And what with this obsession with “future”? Apparently, it is all fine to have a much younger / much older / non-American / non-white lover, but surely there could be no future with them. In fact, there could be no future with anyone the rest of the coyotes friends disapprove of. It looks like our friends can only accept the future that is indistinguishable from the present. None of them ever could escape the event horizon of their New York existence. In the final episode, Rachel swaps her exciting Parisian future for present (or even past) with ever so annoying Ross. (Why on earth couldn’t Ross move to London or Paris?) Even my favourite character, Phoebe, has sorely disappointed me by turning down David the physicist and, worse still, marrying an incredibly boring Mike.

So what? Friends provide decent entertainment and more than that, they somehow make you care about them and their puny insular world. Of the six leads, David Schwimmer is easily the best actor. However, it is some of the guest stars who make me laugh the most: Marlo Thomas (Sandra “So, what’s new in sex?” Green, Rachel’s mum), Giovanni Ribisi (Frank, Phoebe’s half-brother who loves to melt stuff), Bruce Willis (Paul Stevens, Elizabeth’s dad), Danny DeVito (Roy the stripper) and Hugh Laurie (the guy on the plane).

Still, I am sure there is a scope for at least another episode, à la The One That Could Have Been but more radical. Say, Ross never came back from China; Phoebe, naturally, went to Minsk and became a famous Belarusian folk singer; Monica had a threesome with JCVD and Drew Barrymore and got pregnant; Chandler married one of Joey’s sisters, this sort of stuff. Oh, and Rachel never arrived to Monica’s place but instead got involved with Duncan, formerly gay Phoebe’s ex-husband. Now, could they still be friends?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Crafter TG-200H Chromatic Tuner

by Crafter

I bought this tuner together with my Parker PM-20 guitar and so far had no reason to complain. The habitat of the “headstock clip tuner” is, rather predictably, the headstock of the said guitar, but it works on pretty much anything you clip it on. I tried it on a trombone bell and even was able to see what its LCD screen was showing. (That I was out of tune, that’s what. Even that was not a big problem since the concert A pitch can be adjusted between 433 and 447 Hz.) It uses one CR2032 coin cell battery which lasted me for about 15 months. You can switch between microphone and piezo sensor; thanks to the latter, I could tune up in a very noisy environment!

Crafter TG200H Headstock Tuner