Archive for TV series

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell [BBC One]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on March 18, 2017 by xi'an

After discussing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell with David Frazier in Banff, where I spotted him reading this fabulous book, I went for a look at the series BBC One made out of this great novel. And got so hooked to it that I binge-watched the whole series of 7 episodes over three days..! I am utterly impressed at the BBC investing so much into this show, rendering most of the spirit of the book and not only the magical theatrics. The complex [and nasty] personality of Mr Norrell and his petit-bourgeois quest of respectability is beautifully exposed, leading him to lie and steal and come close to murder [directly or by proxy], in a pre-Victorian and anti-Romantic urge to get away from magical things from the past, “more than 300 years ago”. While Jonathan Strange’s own Romantic inclinations are obvious, including the compulsory  travel to Venezia [even though the BBC could only afford Croatia, it seems!] The series actually made clear some points I had missed in the novel, presumably by rushing through it, like the substitution of Strange’s wife by the moss-oak doppelganger created by the fairy king. The enslavement of Stephen,  servant of Lord Pole and once and future king by the same fairy is also superbly rendered.

While not everything in the series is perfect, with in particular the large scale outdoor scenes being too close to a video-game rendering (as in the battle of Waterloo that boils down to a backyard brawl!), the overall quality of the show [the Frenchmen there parlent vraiment français, with no accent!] and adhesion to the spirit of Susanna Clarke’s novel make it an example of the tradition of excellence of the BBC. (I just wonder at the perspective of a newcomer who would watch the series with no prior exposure to the book!)

Will Winter ever come?!

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on January 16, 2016 by xi'an

Just read in my Sunday morning New York Times that George R.R. Martin had no clear idea when the sixth volume of a Song of Ice and Fire will be published. Not a major surprise given the sluggish pace of publishing the previous volumes, but I thought maybe working on the scenario for the TV Series Game of Thrones would have helped towards this completion. Apparently, it just had the opposite effect! While, as Neil Gaiman once put it in the most possible delicate way, “George Martin is not your bitch” and,  writers being writers, they are free to write when and whatever they feel like writing, there is this lingering worry that the sad story of the Wheel of Time is going to happen all over again. That the author will never end up the series and that the editor will ask another fantasy author to take over. Just as Brandon Sanderson did after Robert Jordan died. Thus I was musing over my tea and baguette whether a reverse strategy wasn’t better, namely to hire help now just to … help. Maybe in the guise of assistants sketching scenes for primary drafts that the author could revise or of an artificial intelligence system that could (deep) learn how to write like George Martin out of a sketchy plot. Artificial writing software is obviously getting against the very notion of an author writing a book, however it is plausible that by learning the style of this very author, it could produce early versions that would speed up the writing, while being tolerable by the author. Maybe. And maybe not. Winter is simply coming at its own pace…

True Detective [review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2015 by xi'an

Even though I wrote before that I do not watch TV series, I made a second exception this year with True Detective. This series was recommended to me by Judith and this was truly a good recommendation!

Contrary to my old-fashioned idea of TV series, where the same group of caricaturesque characters repeatedly meet new settings that are solved within the 50 mn each show lasts, the whole season of True Detective is a single story, much more like a very long movie with a unified plot that smoothly unfolds and gets mostly solved in the last episode. It obviously brings more strength and depth in the characters, the two investigators Rust and Marty, with the side drawback that most of the other characters, except maybe Marty’s wife, get little space.  The opposition between those two investigators is central to the coherence of the story, with Rust being the most intriguing one, very intellectual, almost otherworldly, with a nihilistic discourse, and a self-destructive bent, while Marty sounds more down-to-earth, although he also caters to his own self-destructive demons… Both actors are very impressive in giving a life and an history to their characters. The story takes place in Louisiana, with great landscapes and oppressive swamps where everything seems doomed to vanish, eventually, making detective work almost useless. And where clamminess applies to moral values as much as to the weather. The core of the plot is the search for a serial killer, whose murders of women are incorporated within a pagan cult. Although this sounds rather standard for a US murder story (!), and while there are unnecessary sub-plots and unconvincing developments, the overall storyboard is quite coherent, with a literary feel, even though its writer,  Nic Pizzolatto, never completed the corresponding novel and the unfolding of the plot is anything but conventional, with well-done flashbacks and multi-layered takes on the same events. (With none of the subtlety of Rashômon, where one ends up mistrusting every POV.)  Most of the series takes place in current time, when the two former detectives are interrogated by detectives reopening an unsolved murder case. The transformation of Rust over 15 years is an impressive piece of acting, worth by itself watching the show! The final episode, while impressive from an aesthetic perspective as a descent into darkness, is somewhat disappointing at the story level for not exploring the killer’s perspective much further and for resorting to a fairly conventional (in the Psycho sense!) fighting scene.

Sherlock [#3]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2015 by xi'an

After watching the first two seasons of the BBC TV Series Sherlock while at the hospital, I found myself looking forward further adventures of Holmes and Watson and eventually “bought” the third season. And watched it over the past weekends. I liked it very much as this new season distanced itself from the sheer depiction of Sherlock’s amazing powers to a quite ironic and self-parodic story, well in tune with a third season where the audience is now utterly familiar with the main characters. They all put on weight (mostly figuratively!), from Sherlock’s acknowledgement of his psychological shortcomings, to Mrs. Hudson’s revealing her drug trafficking past and expressing her dislike of Mycroft, to  John Watson’s engagement and acceptance of Sherlock’s idiosyncrasies, making him the central character of the series in a sort of fatherly figure. Some new characters are also terrific, including Mary Morstan and the new archvillain, C.A. Magnussen. Paradoxically, this makes the detective part of the stories secondary, which is all for the best as, in my opinion, the plots are rather weak and the resolutions hardly relying on high intellectual powers, albeit always surprising. More sleuthing in the new season would be most welcome! As an aside, the wedding place sounded somewhat familiar to me, until I realised it was Goldney Hall, where the recent workshops I attended in Bristol took place.