Friday, January 27, 2017

‘The Trespasser’ by Tana French

27 January 2017

Regular readers will know that I am enjoying working through the Dublin Murder Squad novels by Tana French. After reading ‘The Secret Place’ (reviewed here in December 2016) I have leapt to French’s latest book, ‘The Trespasser’ (which I read as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Hilda Fay). This follows the same two detectives as in ‘The Secret Place’ – Stephen Moran and Antoinette Conway – but tells its story through Conway’s eyes. I found the plot of ‘The Trespasser’ particularly intriguing as it starts with a simple premise – a woman found dead in her own home – and the detectives gradually piece together what happened to her through painstaking investigation and assimilation of evidence. A key focus of this novel is the process of forming and testing hypotheses as a way of unearthing the truth – and the danger of inventing an explanation and then looking for evidence to support it. There is also the usual focus in French’s novels on the relationship between the two partner detectives. This is a fascinatingly detailed police procedural which keeps you hooked until you finally understand exactly what happened to the dead woman.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

'La La Land' by Damien Chazelle

18 January 2017

Damien Chazelle’s much praised and garlanded film ‘La La Land’ has been pre-occupying me since we saw it last Saturday. This modern take on the old-fashioned Hollywood musical is beautifully done. It opens with a truly stunning set piece – an infectiously upbeat dance number that had me beaming with delight. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both charming and the film is a loving homage to classic Hollywood musicals, with great music by Justin Hurwitz. And yet … I’m not sure it completely works. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say our natural yearning for the two leads to fall in love is satisfied surprisingly quickly, with the minimum of jeopardy. There is then a lot of film left to go and what little jeopardy there is revolves around the difficulties of maintaining a relationship when faced with the challenges of careers and money. While this is refreshingly realistic and modern it feels too serious a topic for a musical. In trying to make a mature, self-aware film Damien Chazelle has lost some of the comedy of the musical-comedy. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are not outstanding singers or dancers but they have clearly worked really hard on their performances and the film showcases their talents very effectively. Ryan Gosling learned to play the piano in three months for the film, see: Emma Stone’s audition scenes are painfully believable and reminded me of Naomi Watts in David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’ (another film that uses the Los Angeles skyline to great effect). Nevertheless Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone end up giving us neither screwball comedy nor virtuosic song and dance. And ‘La La Land’ relies almost exclusively on its two leads: after the first fifteen minutes there are are hardly any big ensemble numbers. Maybe my expectations had been unrealistically raised by the brilliant reviews but the film felt too long and, after its explosive opening, didn’t seem to know where it wanted to go. Each of the component parts was very high quality but somehow the whole felt less than the sum of those parts. If you’ve seen ‘La La Land’ I would welcome your thoughts on it – and if you haven’t I really hope you get a chance to watch the brilliant opening.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' by Max Landis

12 January 2017

In 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' Douglas Adams broke every one of my rules of detective fiction in a glorious subversion of the genre. I loved the two published Dirk Gently novels and the unfinished third novel (published posthumously in ‘The Salmon of Doubt’, reviewed here in October 2009). There have been three dramatisations of Dirk Gently, with Harry Enfield’s portrayal of the detective in Dirk Maggs’ two BBC Radio 4 serials (reviewed here in October 2007 and October 2008) the closest to the character in the novels. The BBC Four TV version starring Stephen Mangan strangely stripped out the supernatural elements of the stories. The result was gentle and quirky but had nothing like the impact of the original. In the new TV adaptation by Max Landis for BBC America, which I have just started watching on Netflix, Samuel Barnett is nothing like my mental image on Dirk Gently but it really doesn’t seem to matter. Landis has created a completely new plot which takes Gently to Seattle (though there are a couple of nods to his previous cases from the novels). This version of 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' has a very high death count: like Noah Hawley’s splendid ‘Fargo’ TV series many characters you assumed were going to be central to the plot are brutally assassinated before the end of the first episode. The slaughter is simultaneously sickeningly real and somehow hysterically funny – watch through your fingers. Elijah Wood is great as Dirk’s reluctant ‘Dirk Watson’, his eyes permanently wide with stunned bemusement but I think my favourite character is Richard Schiff’s laconic Missing Persons cop Zimmerfield. 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' is incredibly confusing, completely bonkers and entrancing: Douglas Adams would have loved it.

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Friday, January 06, 2017

'Tules Maas Vedes Taivaal' by Tuuletar

6 January 2017

Tuuletar are a young Finnish female a cappella quartet whose music combines Finnish folk traditions with pop, beat-boxing and percussive clapping. Their first album ‘Tules Maas Vedes Taivaal’ is an engaging, varied collection of catchy, cheerful songs. Tuuletar means "goddess of the wind", and the album title promises songs "on fire and earth, in water and air". The all-female harmonies sound a lot like the great Finnish folk/rock band Värttinä (reviewed here in August 2006) but Tuuletar are a younger generation – more pop/folk than folk/rock. Indeed they have invented their own terminology, describing their music as ‘vocal folk hop’. Some of their wordless backing noises reminded me of the album ‘Music Hole’ by the French vocal gymnast Camille Dalmais (reviewed here in May 2008). And the mixture of female close harmony a cappella singing and beatboxing made me think of London-based five-piece The Boxettes (reviewed here in August 2011). Tuuletar’s music is beautiful, funky, modern and distinctly Scandinavian, never taking itself too seriously.

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