Watching - May 2021

Brave (2012)
Family viewing on a Saturday night, and something we probably haven't watched since we first got it. A fun story, well told and (of course) superbly animated.
Gregory's Girl (1980)
Having watched Chariots Of Fire last month, I had to get to this next, as they go together in my mind - in fact, I feel sure I saw them on a double bill once. It's on my list of favourite films, although I can't remember the last time I watched it. It's dated, obviously filmed on a budget and some of the acting's a little ropey, but it's so sweet and charming that it's easy to forget all that. At least, I find it so, but then it's so irrevocably associated with my own adolescence that I can't really judge it impartially. This is why I'm keen for B to watch it and see what he thinks! I'll persuade him eventually ...
The Lego Movie (2014)
Despite having seen this many times, there is so much detail in this film that it's easy to watch again. The animation is spectacularly clever and the script is tongue-in-cheek and witty. Sure, the ending, where the dad realises his mistake, is a touch sugary, but this is splendidly sent up by the final twist: "Now that I'm letting you come down here and play, guess who else gets to come down here and play? Your sister."
Clueless (1995)
B's Sunday afternoon choice, possibly partly because he's reading Emma, but who needs a reason? It's still one of my favourite films, a smart, funny and sweet film, given depth by its literary inheritance and its heart by some lovely performances.
One Day (2011)
The sign of a good book is that you don't want it to end, even while being unable to wait to find out how it ends. The film of the book is a way of extending your time in the book's world and maybe seeing it from a new perspective. In this, the film does very acceptably; seeing the characters and seeing their environment does bring the story to life in a new way. The film continues the grand tradition of British films featuring a US star to try and make it internationally appealing, which in this case is a mistake, I think. Not that Anne Hathaway isn't decent in the role, but she is too recognisable and consequently unbalances the story (look, there's Anne Hathaway pretending to be plain again!). And why did no-one spot that her "Yorkshire" accent keep disappearing (when it's there, she sounds just like Jodie Whitaker, who is also in the film). But a British actress who could actually do the accent would have been better. Still, the story survives, all the right buttons are pressed and I found it moving all over again.
Back In Time (2015)
Documentary about Back To The Future - made, of course, in the year that Marty McFly famously went to in BTTF2. Not as much about the making of as I expected, but there's reams of that on the box set. This is more about the phenomenon, the fans, the cars (lots about the cars). Mildly diverting but entertaining enough.

Reading - May 2021

Guitar Magazine (June 2021 / Issue 393)
Another month, another Les Paul on the cover - the most accurate ever, apparently! Again. While I can see the appeal of a nicely aged guitar, paying over £6,000 for something that's been artfully beaten up, which you will then be too scared to touch, has a certain irony. Elsewhere, the Macmull Stinger looks rather nice and Benson make a germanium fuzz with it's own built-in temperature regulator. Whatever next?
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis (2017)
I picked this just because it's by Michael Lewis, not because I was interested in the subject - not that it was at all clear what the subject was. I think it's a bit of a miss, unfortunately. Lewis often includes the stories of the people behind the events he is explaining but here he has reversed that and chosen to put the relationship between two men - Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman - at the centre. As a result, discussion about what they actually did is a bit more vague, and I'm left with the impression that if you cut out all the biographical details (which are not really necessary in order to understand their work), you wouldn't be left with much of a book - and neither their lives or their friendship are so interesting that it's worthwhile. Michael Lewis writes superbly but this was harder going than his other books.
David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell (2013)
Malcolm Gladwell is another author whose books I will pick up when I find them, just because of how well he writes. Here, he uses examples from different fields to show that what accepted wisdom deems to be disadvantageous - be it dyslexia, larger class sizes or more lenient crime laws - is not necessarily so. Full of fun facts to quote at people as well as some thought-provoking ideas, this is a really interesting book which, despite tailing off a little inconclusively (it could have done with an epilogue of sorts) is well worth reading. (also, coincidentally, Amos Tversky is mentioned in a footnote!)
Jingo by Terry Pratchett (1997)
Maybe it's because I read this at bedtimes - which means a few pages per night and stopping in rather random places - but this feels a bit disjointed and kind of Discworld-by-numbers. Corporal Carrot (still one of my favourite characters) is increasingly used as almost a super-hero, albeit one whose super power is irresistible niceness and reasonableness - but still, a bit deus ex machina. Obviously the book is about nationalism - jingoism, duh - and the stupidity thereof, and makes a decent job of satirising it, although it's all a bit fish-in-a-barrel taking the piss out of nationalism anyway.
One Day by David Nicholls (2009)
I've owned this for probably ten years but never felt like taking the plunge. Then the other day I saw it on the shelf, decided to finally try it, and two days later I'd finished it, devouring it in huge chunks in a way I haven't with a book for a while. Kind of appropriate if you know the story, which is moving, affecting and quietly dramatic (at least until the last bit which turns a bit melodramatic). That said, it irks me slightly that underneath the superb writing, the astute observations and the compelling structure, the story is actually just pure Mills & Boon: Dexter is an self-involved idiot, eventually saved by the love of Emma, who is too good for him but loves him anyway and always has. But I still couldn't read it quick enough, and then immediately went and bought the film too.
Gangsta Granny by David Walliams (2011)
The success of David Walliams perplexes me: after making the most egregiously unfunny sketch show ever, he moved onto children's books, which are deeply unappealing mixtures of pastiche and cliché that nevertheless seem well on their way to making him the successor to Roald Dahl and some sort of national treasure. Gangsta Granny is a good example. No cliché about old people is left unexhumed and given one last outing: apparently they fart all the time (aren't farts funny kids!) and smell of cabbage (yuck, cabbage!), but it turns out they're actually real people too (who knew?). The writing is a blunt instrument, with none of Dahl's flair or originality, and just a crass approximation of his legendary grotesquery. The only saving grace is that the story is original and engaging. (I should admit that although I'm familiar with many of Walliams' books, this is the first I've read all the way through, in this case to Z over the course of a couple of weeks. And he enjoys it, as indeed he does all of these books. Oh well.)
The Rough Guide To The Titanic by Greg Ward (2012)
I'm not sure why I keep coming back to this, but I've read it about five times now, which is a bit over-the-top, even for me. In Southampton today we saw the MV Brittania, which is huge, and it's sobering to think that over 100 years ago, the Titanic was not far off this size - about 80% of the length and half the width.


The Best of Nat King Cole

 Nat King Cole

Capitol Records - ST 21139 (c1968)

The next random selection managed to pick out one of the few "pop" records in my grandparent's collection. This was obviously a popular choice in their househould, as it showed signs of being played a fair amount - the cover is well used and the record itself, while in good condition, wasn't particularly clean (I'm fairly certain there were some bits of chocolate on it).

It's nice to have short, easily digestible songs, and while some are very much of their time ("Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer" has some particularly cringe-inducing lyrics to modern ears), they all sound pleasant. I was familiar with about half of the songs on this album - the timeless classics such as "Unforgettable" of course - but it's been nice to hear others. Tracks like "I Don't Want to be Hurt Anymore" or "Dear Lonely Hearts" sound almost country; "L-O-V-E" is as swinging as anything Sinatra has recorded (it's interesting to note that both singers worked with the same arrangers, such as Nelson Riddle).

I have a particular fondness for "Let There Be Love", as I think my parents had this on 45 and I must have been hearing it since my teens. Cole's voice is remarkably consistent across all these songs - perhaps he doesn't have the range of a Frank Sinatra, but his vocal quality is of course unique and instantly identifiable. Easy listening in the very best sense.

[side note: I'm cheating a bit again, as my record player is still playing up, so I mostly listened to this on Spotify. I'm a bit disappointed - I really wanted to be playing the actual discs - but I wanted to carry on with the listening anyway]


Bruckner: Symphony No. 8

 Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by Daniel Barenboim

Deutsche Grammophon - 2741007 (1981)

My Vinyl Album of the "Week" project has looked like being decreasingly well-named of late, and partly this is because I was determined not to just skip this record, even though I have found it really hard to like. It's too long for me to be able to get a grip on, with each movement more than ten minutes long and some over twenty. Perhaps what I needed to do was listen to each movement individually rather than attempt the whole symphony each time.

I can pick out some repeated themes, but as a whole it seems to jump from this to that, without seeming to have any connection between what I shall, in my ignorance, refer to as "bits". As you'd expect, the orchestration is never less than excellent and there's undoubtedly harmonic sophistication going way over my head - but, as a whole, I found it in part too daunting and in part just too much. I couldn't concentrate for long enough to get an overall picture in my head. Clearly this is my failing - apparently this is one of the greatest symphonies of all time - but I can't say it's a piece I'll be rushing back to.

On the last side (of four) is Bruckner's Te Deum, a piece which is amuses me (entirely unoriginally, I'm sure) to think of as "tedium", although I haven't listened to it more than about twice. It has operatic singing on it which was never going to interest me anyway, and now it's time to move on to another record.

The other reason this took me so long to write up is because this record seems to either illustrate shortcomings of my record player, my setup, or possibly both, as the louder sections distort noticeable in the left hand channel, which is very distracting. It might be the record, although, remarkably, this was still sealed in its cellophane until I played it, so it can't be previous damage. I think it's mostly sorted out now - I've readjusted the tone arm multiple times - but it just reminds me how fragile and fiddly record players are. Other than the sentimental value of listening to it - which is valid - there are no other reasons I can think of to bother.