Archive for Monty Python and the Holy Grail

a journal of the plague year [confined reviews]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2020 by xi'an

Watched TV series His Dark Materials produced for the BBC, which is much much better than the earlier film, as the actors are all fabulous—first and foremost Lyra, but also Ma Costa, the Gyptian Muter Courage—, the gypsy community is given a much stronger role, the characters are deep and complex, as eg Mrs and Mr Coulter, both ready to sacrifice kids for the greater “good” without appearing as absolute monsters! The special effects are a wee bit deficient as often with BBC productions but not enough to make a case. Although I sort of cringed each time a bear moved!

Read The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks, which I noticed standing on my son’s bookshelves. The original Shannara Trilogy was one of the very first fantasy books I read in English in my undergrad years (after Lord of the Rings of course and possibly The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), which did not leave me with an everlasting feeling of superlative literature, to say the least. This avatar of the original Sword of Shannara trilogy did nothing to improve my feelings as the plot is lazy at best, with super-powered villains suddenly acting, last second deus ex machina rescues, endless internal debates, heavy hints at treacheries and double-treacheries, and, worst of all!, intrusion of 20th century technology, e.g., computers, AIs and robots, that the far future characters make sense of. Only suitable for a time of lockdown and even then… I should have left it on the bookshelf! Incidentally, one fight scene against a cyborg was highly reminiscent of the black knight scene in Holy Grail!

Watched by chance Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. For the first time. And was totally un-impressed. Highly pretentious construction falling flat from being a modern reconstruction of antique dramas, endless dialogues (which could have been cut by half if removing all the occurrences of fucking from them), boring and threadbare story, and artificial characters that essentially make no sense. I cannot fathom why this film is so highly ranked..! (And even less to witness it being compared with Rashomon!)

Read [part] of Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes (射鵰英雄傳) but, lockdown or not, I simply could not finish it. Despite its fantasy approach to Chinese martial arts, which I usually enjoy (at least in planes!), and some proximity with the Judge Dee stories by van Gulik, the story felt very contrived and somewhat out of reach, plus [not yet] Genghis Khan being depicted in a fairly positive way [at least in the part I read]. Too irrealist for my reading buds, I presume…

Cooked plenty of new dishes, thanks to the delivery of weekly farmer boxes, from radish stems & buckwheat pancakes to celery roots purées, to fregola sarda (leftovers from ISBA 2016!) con acciughe, to chard gratins, to pea pod and cauliflower core soups, to flaxseed bread and buckwheat naans (as we ran out of wheat flour). We also managed to use and survive most of the out-of-date cans and bags that had stood forgotten in the back of our cupboard… Not visiting a supermarket for two months was actually most pleasant, living very nicely from the above mentioned farmer boxes and the occasional delivery from a cheesemonger, and supplementing weekly visits to the baker with attempts at home made bread.

Read Matha Well’s Murderbot diaries, my first read on a Kindle!, for free courtesy of Tor. Starting with All Systems Red, which won the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Locus Award, and the American Library Association‘s Alex Award. Very good if somewhat classical (Blade Runner anyone?!) trope of the rogue robot turned autonomous and human, so human! This is a sequence of novellas which means a fast-paced story and an efficient style. (Including a less exciting third novella, due to a lazy scenario.) More mind-candy à la John Scalzi than profound literature but quite enjoyable for a quick read during lunch or tea break! But which induced me to buy the first and incoming novel in the series,  Network Effect. (To be commented in a subsequent entry…)

Leading to (re)read the Interdependency trilogy by John Scalzi, the last volume in the series being just out. Very lazy buildup, in the traditional spirit of a few people driving the future of the entire Universe, with unlimited resources and unrestricted hacking abilities, but with funny dialogues, as usual with Scalzi. In this binge (re)read, I actually realised the frustrating intricacies of Kindle ordering as (i) I could not use my amazon.com account and hence none of my associate gains (ii) I could not merge several amazon.fr accounts and (iii) prices varied a lot between using directly the Kindle and ordering from amazon.fr…

And even growing some salads and radishes over the two months and eating them before the end of the lockdown, as the weather in Paris was quite mild most of the time. Although it meant a daily-basis fight with slugs. The arugula did not resist that well, though…

Reading Tade Thompson’s Rosewater for more than a month, having trouble keeping my concentration as the story goes in loops and not a particularly well settled plot. With a central idea of an alien race taking over humanity a few cells at a time. Which reminded me of Greg Bear’s Blood Music I read during the first year of my PhD. The book has some appeal, from being located in Nigeria 30 years from now to America having completely vanished from the map after Trump pulled the ultimate drawbridge. It won the 2019 Arthur Clarke Award after all! But I found it too hard to complete to even consider embarking upon the next two volumes on the trilogy…

so long and thanks for the rabbit, Terry Jones!

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on February 16, 2020 by xi'an

end of the game

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2019 by xi'an

While I have not watched a large part of the Game of Thrones episodes (apart from the first season I had time to follow while in the hospital), I decided to subscribe for one [free] month to OCS to get the last and final season [unlike a NYT critic who watches the entire eight seasons in five weeks!]. And witness how far it has diverged from the books, at least those already published. The first two episodes were unbearably slow and anti-climactic, the [mentionable] worst part being the endless discussion by a chimney fire of half a dozen of the main characters who would all be better sleeping. And the antagonism between Sansa and Daenerys sounding almost childish…The last battle in Winterfel was both fantastic and disappointing, fantastic in its scale and furia and impetus, a cinematographic feat!, possibly the best in the whole series, disappointing for the terrible military choices made by the best fighters in the seven kingdoms and beyond, for the disproportionate imbalance between the living and the dead, for the whole thing depending on the two seconds it took for the Ice King to shatter  [no longer a spoiler!], and for the absurd and lengthy scene of the zombies in the castle library. I just don’t like zombie movies as I find them a easy lazy plot element, especially when they can be resuscitated over and over… They have not yet appeared (on that scale) in the books and I hope they remain dead still! Some scenes are furthermore too reminiscent of video games, which cuts even deeper into the realism (!) of the battle. The scenario of the fourth episode is definitely botched and hurried, for the sudden and radical reversal of fortune being once again so much against basic military concepts (and basic physics as well!). Contrary to most reviews I read, maybe because I had little expectation about the characters in the show, I found the fifth episode quite impressive, in its vivid description of the sack of a city, the instantaneous switch from victorious to rapist and murderer, and the helplessness of those very few who wanted to stop the slaughter of the inhabitants. (By contrast, I found most of the individual scenes appalling, except for Arya’s which remains consistent with her parabola in the plot. So far. But we could have been spared the white horse in the end!) And then the last and final episode…! Which I definitely enjoyed, primarily for the bittersweet feeling this was the last hour spent with the (surviving) characters, even for the unrealistic developments and predictable conclusions, and the feeling that some scenes were made up in someone’s grand-father’s backyard, by the same someone’s teenage nephews… Although I was hoping for a glorious ending in line with the one of Monty Python and the Holy Grail… Alas, no police van, no delegation of bankers or lawyers showed up at the eleventh hour!

[Uninteresting coincidence: in this NYT pre-finale analysis, I read the very same sentence “Power resides where people believe it resides” pronounced by Mikhail Gorbachov in the daunting Chernobyl series which I watched a few hours earlier.]