Sunday, June 25, 2017

Notes on a Scandal

Notes on a Scandal is a 2006 psychological drama starring Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, and Bill Nighy, and featuring a music score by Phillip Glass. The main characters in this film are despicable and unsympathetic. It is at times actually painful to watch, and the ending provides no justice or peace or resolution.


The New York Times opens with this: "The claws draw blood in “Notes on a Scandal,” a misanthropic game of cat and mouse from which no one emerges unscathed". The Guardian says, "Something so horrible and abject shouldn't be so compulsively watchable, and yet it is." The Independent has some of the same plot-spoiling concerns about the film that I do.

Empire Online calls it "Intelligent, classy and skin-crawling." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 87%.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Wizard and Glass, The Dark Tower, book 4

Wizard and Glass is the 4th book in Stephen King's Dark Tower series. This one focuses on The Gunslinger's youth, told as a fireside story to his current companions. This book is 668 pages long. It's an interesting story, but I'm glad to be done with it. There are 7 books in this series, and God help me Book 5 is longer than book 4.

from the back of the book:
At last, Stephen King returns to the Dark Tower with the eagerly anticipated fourth volume in his bestselling series. Roland, The Last Gunslinger, and his band of followers have narrowly escaped one world, and slipped into the nest. It is here that Roland tells them a long-ago tale of love and adventure involving a beautiful and quixotic woman named Susan Delgado. With shocking plot twists and a driving narrative force, Wizard and Glass is the book readers have been waiting for.

And the Tower is closer....


Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is unlike anything you've ever read. Here is Stephen King's most visionary piece of storytelling, a magical mix of fantasy and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.

Join the quest for the elusive Dark Tower.
Rolling Stone took a poll, and this book came in on the list of top 10 Stephen King books. SF Site says it is "the strongest book of the first four in the series, the most controlled, the most reverberant with what the so-called literary writers like to call "craft." It also marks the final stage in the transformation of King's narrative style to something fully mature and realized". SFF Book Reviews rates it 9 out of 10.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Of Human Bondage (1934)

Of Human Bondage is a 1934 film based on the 1915 novel by W. Somerset Maugham. The book itself is recognized as a masterpiece and can be read online. The book has been adapted for film three times, and this 1934 release is the first.

This film stars Leslie Howard and Bette Davis in the lead roles. Also starring are Alan Hale (senior) and Reginald Owen. All the actors do a fine job, and the film doesn't feel as dated as you might think it would -more like a costume/period drama. I found the characters fascinating.

via Youtube:

The New York Times says, "the very lifelike quality of the story and the marked authenticity of its atmosphere cause the spectators to hang on every word uttered by the interesting group of characters," and particularly praises Leslie Howard. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 78%.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

100 greatest novels

The Guardian has a list of the 100 greatest novels written in English:
1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)

2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)

3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)

4. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748)

5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)

6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)

7. Emma by Jane Austen (1816)

8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

9. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)

10. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)

11. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)

12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)

13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)

14. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848)

15. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)

16. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

17. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

18. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

19. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)

20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)

21. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2)

22. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)

23. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5)

24. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

25. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)

26. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)

27. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)

28. New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)

29. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)

30. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)

31. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

32. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)

33. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900)

34. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)

35. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)

36. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904)

37. Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (1904)

38. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

39. The History of Mr Polly by HG Wells (1910)

40. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911)

41. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)

42. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)

43. The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (1915)

44. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham (1915)

45. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)

46. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)

47. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922)

48. A Passage to India by EM Forster (1924)

49. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925)

50. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)

51. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

52. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926)

53. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)

54. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

55. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)

56. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)

57. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)

58. Nineteen Nineteen by John Dos Passos (1932)

59. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)

60. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)

61. Murphy by Samuel Beckett (1938)

62. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)

63. Party Going by Henry Green (1939)

64. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (1939)

65. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)

66. Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946)

67. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946)

68. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947)

69. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1948)

70. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)

71. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)

72. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)

73. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)

74. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)

75. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

76. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

77. Voss by Patrick White (1957)

78. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

79. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1960)

80. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

81. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)

82. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

83. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)

84. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)

85. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966)

86. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)

87. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971)

88. Rabbit Redux by John Updike (1971)

89. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)

90. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul (1979)

91. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)

92. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1981)

93. Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis (1984)

94. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)

95. The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)

96. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1988)

97. Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990)

98. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997)

99. Disgrace by JM Coetzee (1999)

100. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)
As best as I can recall, I've read the ones in bold print.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Martin is a 1977 George Romero horror movie about a young man who drugs women, rapes them, then drinks their blood. He goes to live with his uncle who thinks the young man is an 84-year old vampire, part of an ancient family shame.

via Youtube:

Senses of Cinema says, "Martin remains an artistic success in terms of its effective explication of the director’s strong thematic interests as originated in Night of the Living Dead". DVD Talk calls it "one of the single greatest vampire movies of all time". says it "it lives up to its ambitions in long sequences, if not throughout the film, and there are many pleasures in both the visual treatment and the often witty script." says, "Romero demonstrates, without a doubt, that the terror of vampirism is not in the myth. According to Romero, there is no magic, and that reality is far more terrifying than any creature of the night."

Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 93%.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Hero of Our Time

A Hero of Our Time is an 1840 novel by Mikhail Lermontov, "the poet of the Caucasus". He died at the age of 26 after being shot through the heart in a duel.

Wikipedia describes this book as
a set of five loosely linked stories unfolding the drama of the two conflicting characters, Pechorin and Grushnitsky, who move side by side towards a tragic finale as if driven by destiny itself ... Lermontov's magnum opus
I offer it for the T Stands for Tuesday weekly blog gathering, noting that the excerpt below ends with this: "I invited my fellow traveler to join me for tea, since I had with me a cast-iron tea-kettle--my sole comfort on my Caucasian travels."

You can read it online in English translation here. It begins:

Part I
I was traveling along the military road back from Tiflis. The only luggage in the little cart was one small suitcase half full of travel notes about Georgia. Fortunately for you most of them have been lost since then, though luckily for me the case and the rest of the things in it have survived.

The sun was already slipping behind a snow-capped ridge when I drove into Koishaur Valley. The Ossetian coachman, singing at the top of his voice, tirelessly urged his horses on in order to reach the summit of Koishaur Mountain before nightfall. What a glorious spot this valley is! All around it tower awesome mountains, reddish crags draped with hanging ivy and crowned with clusters of plane trees, yellow cliffs grooved by torrents, with a gilded fringe of snow high above, while down below the Aragva River embraces a nameless stream that noisily bursts forth from a black, gloom-filled gorge and then stretches in a silvery ribbon into the distance, its surface shimmering like the scaly back of a snake.

On reaching the foot of the Koishaur Mountain we stopped outside a tavern where some twenty Georgians and mountaineers made up a noisy assembly. Nearby a camel caravan had halted for the night. I saw I would need oxen to haul my carriage to the top of the confounded mountain, for it was already fall and a thin layer of ice covered the ground, and the climb was a mile and a half long.

So I had no choice but to rent six oxen and several Ossetians. One of them lifted up my suitcase and the others started helping the oxen along--though they did little more than shout.

Behind my carriage came another pulled by four oxen with no visible effort, though the vehicle was piled high with baggage. This rather surprised me. In the wake of the carriage walked its owner, puffing at a small silver-inlaid Kabardian pipe. He was wearing an officer's coat without epaulets and a shaggy Circassian cap. He looked about fifty, his tan face showed a long relationship with the Caucasian sun, and his prematurely gray mustache did not match his firm step and vigorous appearance. I went up to him and bowed. He silently returned my greeting, blowing out an enormous cloud of smoke.

"I guess we're fellow travelers?"

He bowed again, but did not say a word.

"I suppose you're going to Stavropol?"

"Yes, sir, I am . . . with some government baggage."

"Will you please explain to me how it is that four oxen easily manage to pull your heavy carriage while six animals can barely haul my empty one with the help of all these Ossetians?"

He smiled wisely, casting a glance at me as if to size me up.

"I bet you haven't been long in the Caucasus?"

"About a year," I replied.

He smiled again.

"Why do you ask?"

"No particular reason, sir. They're awful good-for-nothings, these Asiatics! You don't think their yelling helps much, do you? You can't tell what the hell they're saying. But the oxen understand them all right. Hitch up twenty of the animals if you want to and they won't budge as soon as those fellows begin yelling in their own language. . . Terrific cheats, they are. But what can you do about them? They do like to skin the traveler. Spoiled, they are, the robbers! . . . you'll see they'll make you tip them too. I know them by now, they won't fool me!"

"Have you served long in these parts?"

"Yes, ever since General Aleksey Yermolov was here," he replied, drawing himself up. "When he arrived at the line I was a second lieutenant, and under him was promoted twice for service against the guerrillas."

"And now?"

"Now I'm in the third line battalion. And you, may I ask?"

I told him.

This brought the conversation to an end and we walked along side by side in silence. On top of the mountain we ran into snow. The sun set and night followed day without any interval in between as is usual in the South. Thanks to the glistening snow, however, we could easily pick out the road which still continued to climb, though less steeply than before. I gave orders to put my suitcase in the carriage and replace the oxen with horses, and turned to look back at the valley down below for the last time, but a thick mist that rolled in waves from the gorges blanketed it completely and not a sound reached us from its depths. The Ossetians loudly pestered me, demanding money for vodka. But the captain shouted at them so fiercely that they went away in a second.

"You see what they're like!" he grumbled. "They don't know enough Russian to ask for a piece of bread, but they've learned to beg for tips: 'Officer, give me money for vodka!' Even the Tatars are better--at least, they don't drink alcohol. . . ."

About a mile remained to the stage coach station. It was quiet all around, so quiet that you could trace the flight of a mosquito by its buzz. A deep gorge yawned black to the left. Beyond it and ahead of us the dark blue mountain peaks wrinkled with gorges and gullies and topped by layers of snow loomed against the pale horizon that still retained the last glimmer of twilight. Stars began to twinkle in the dark sky, and, strangely enough, it seemed that they were far higher here than in our northern sky in Russia. On both sides of the road naked black boulders jutted up from the ground, and here and there some shrubs peeped from under the snow. Not a single dead leaf rustled, and it was pleasant to hear in the midst of this lifeless sleepiness of nature the snorting of the tired stage coach horses and the uneven tinkling of the Russian carriage bells.

"Tomorrow will be a fine day," I observed, but the captain did not reply. Instead he pointed to a tall mountain rising directly ahead of us.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Mount Gud."


"See how it smokes?"

Indeed, Mount Gud was smoking. Light wisps of mist crept along its sides while a black cloud rested on the summit, so black that it stood out as a blotch even against the dark sky.

We could already make out the stage coach station and the roofs of the huts around it, and welcoming lights were dancing ahead when the gusts of cold raw wind came whistling down the gorge and it began to drizzle. Barely had I thrown a felt cape over my shoulders than the snow came. I looked at the captain with respect now . . .

"We'll have to stay here overnight," he said, annoyed. "You can't get through the hills in a blizzard like this. Seen any avalanches on Cross Mountain?" he asked a coachman.

"No, sir," the Ossetian replied. "But there's a lot just waiting to come down."

As there was no room for travelers at the inn, we were given a place to stay in a smoky hut. I invited my fellow traveler to join me for tea, since I had with me a cast-iron tea-kettle--my sole comfort on my Caucasian travels.
This counts towards my Russia book challenge.

Monday, June 19, 2017


Gertrud is a 1964 film, the last film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. The life of Gertrud wouldn't suit me at all, and I disagree with her conception of what love means. The movie is made up of more long takes than I'm used to, with long static scenes of 2 or 3 people talking seriously together. I almost felt like I could join the conversation.

I can't find a trailer, but here's one scene:

Slant Magazine says,
Gertrud is a film that is as richly mysterious and inscrutable as it is earthy and wry. It’s this frequently unrecognized artistic relevance that continues to inspire debates, wild interpretations and, yes, frustrated indifference. This is not to say that debate and varied interpretation are the hallmarks of a work of great cinema, but rather evidence of a film that audiences still find vital and alive.
The New York Times found it dated even at its premier. says, "She knows that her demands on life cannot be fulfilled, so she chooses to live in accordance with her inner demands. ... This is not a naturalistic portrayal, but a tragic one —Gertrud is bound for defeat."

Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 79%.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Most Emotionally Draining Films

Criterion has a list of most emotionally draining films:
Cries and Whispers, Ingmar Bergman
Andrei Rublev, Andrei Tarkovsky
Sansho the Bailiff, Kenji Mizoguchi
The Silence, Ingmar Bergman
In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-wai
The 400 Blows, François Truffaut
The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir
The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Th. Dreyer
Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky
Winter Light, Ingmar Bergman
I've seen the ones in bold print. I'm not sure I'd describe them as "emotionally draining". I guess maybe I just wasn't emotionally invested enough to be drained. The ones I've seen were all worth watching and even re-watching.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Short Classic Books

Huffington Post has a list of classic books that are so short you have no excuse not to read them:
The Stranger by Albert Camus (123 pages)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (166 pages)
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (55 pages)
Silas Marner by George Eliot (160 pages)
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (96 pages)
Passing by Nella Larsen (102 pages)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (180 pages)
The Awakening by Kate Chopin (128 pages)
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (72 pages)
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (182 pages)
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (96 pages)
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (128 pages)
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (144 pages)
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (77 pages:)
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (128 pages)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (64 pages)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (180 pages)
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (160 pages)
Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville (160 pages)
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (80 pages)
The Pearl by John Steinbeck (96 pages)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (160 pages)
Animal Farm by George Orwell (140 pages)
I've read the ones in bold print. Some of these are old enough to be in the public domain and available online.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Wooden Crosses

Wooden Crosses is a 1932 French film directed by Raymond Bernard. This shows the horrors of WW1 trench warfare from the perspective of soldiers we grow to know.

trailer (in French, no subtitles):

The New York Times calls it "One of the great films in motion picture history". The Guardian says, "Less sentimental than All Quiet, and surprisingly little known outside France, Les Croix de bois (Wooden Crosses), now revived in a restored centennial version, is one of the most important war movies."

Criterion says, "No one who has ever seen this technical and emotional powerhouse has been able to forget it." DVD Talk says it's "one of the most tender and tough antiwar films to come out of the era."