Monday, 8 October 2012

The Review - good books, bad films and everything in between

This summer I was able to see a lot of films and read not so many books, in part I guess because I always seemed to opt for the passive activity when given the option. So I thought in light of my long absence on Hibiscus Notes, I'd break myself gently into this writing lark by reviewing some of the films I saw, books I read and albums I listened to.

First- the great stuff that made me want to do cartwheels: I bought Emeli Sande's album Our version of events and loved loved loved it!! It was my default playlist as I often found myself wondering the streets of some European city alone. As I listened to tracks like 'River' and 'Maybe'- I couldn't help feeling a little melancholic and nostalgic about my 20s when dating was both exciting and full of heartbreak. Emeli Sande reminds me of Leela James - her music is a bit of Soul and a bit of rock and a lot of personality!

I finally bought Yoruba songstress Asa's albums - the first, self-titled and Beautiful Imperfection. Both are extraordinary, less so because of the 'conscious' lyrics and more because of her voice, raspy and rich and the beats against which she sings. It's hard to categorize her music and although it's sometimes referred to as folk or world music, I think you'll miss the essence of who this incredible songbird is if you focus too much on labelling her or her music. The first album, Asa is without a doubt my favourite and the songs that I have on repeat are 'Fire on the mountain' and 'Eye Adaba'. Although the latter is entirely in yoruba, a language I don't speak or understand, it sounds so melodic and beautiful that a translation would probably take away rather than add to its appeal. I must acknowledge also that tracks like 'The way I feel' and 'Dreamer Girl' on Beautiful Imperfection are evidence (as if we needed it) that Asa, her voice and musical talent, are here to stay.

Moving on to books I read Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist and enjoyed it but sans plus. I wouldn't rush to recommend it but it made for an interesting read. I must admit I was a bit put off by the monologue style in which it was written and at times found the character/narrator's interpretation of life around him a bit simplistic. This no doubt was intended to reflect the naivete of the Pakistani protagonist who experienced success as a young graduate in America, but it didn't always make for an enjoyable read.

A friend gave me Travels with Herodotus which according to my kindle, I only read 88% of - and which I must remember to finish at some point. While I enjoyed the accounts of Ryszard Kapuscinski's travels in Africa as an inexperienced journalist- accounts that covered meeting Jazz Great, Louis Armstrong in Sudan, moving dangerously around the Congo, as well as visiting Dar-es-Salaam and Algiers, I was frustrated by the constant intertwined references to Greek historian's own travels. I know the book's name should have given me a clue so I'll admit that my expectation of a book entitled Travel with Herodotus minus Herodotus was wishful thinking. I felt  these references which were at times quite lengthy took away from an otherwise insightful account of one man's experiences in Africa and Asia at a time when both continents were witnessing significant changes.

I also attempted to read several books which I ended up abandoning in a bid to preserve my sanity. I'll run down the list and offer a reason why- Room by Emma Donaghue had me tearing my hair out as it was written in the voice and style (presumably) of a small child. I have a hard time reading books that are supposed to have been written in the voice of children as I rarely find them believable - the tone and language is always off!

I also tried reading Zahara the Windseeker by Nnedi Okarafor- I lost interest about a quarter of the way in as I didn't find her convincing as someone who could accurately convey West African beliefs in the supernatural. There were moments when I thought of Ben Okri's 'The Famished Road' and others when I thought the fantasy became too fantastical and too embellished to hold my interest. Having said that I would recommend it to my 13 year old niece who loves science fiction.

I am currently reading Open City by Teju Cole which I was a little sceptical of at the start (any book that has me reaching for my dictionary at every page makes me a little weary) but I'm glad I persevered through the intellectual blows as I'm really starting to enjoy it. Teju Cole is without a doubt a talented writer but beyond the minutiae of New York (the Open City of his debut novel) and the medical references and demonstrations of his knowledge of European history, classical music and art which I'll admit I found dull, there are some excellent accounts of the lives of seemingly everyday people, like the Liberian asylum seeker who is detained upon arrival at JFK airport having rejected a cheaper ticket to LaGuardia because he wasn't convinced it would get him to New York. I'm hoping I'll get more of that as the novel progresses and less of the references to Bach, Beethoven and Yoruba Gods that seem to be thrown into the mix quite randomly and have so far done little to hold my attention.

Of the fifteen or so films I saw this summer (mostly on long haul flights), one of the ones definitely worthy of a mention was Brave (yes the cartoon). I thoroughly enjoyed this unconventional fairy tale- where the princess gets to live happily ever after without marrying the prince- Yay for Disney and Pixar. Having said that if I was Scottish I may feel differently given the caricature-like depictions of the Scots as brash drunkards always looking for a fight.

I enjoyed Brit flicks- The Best Marigold Hotel and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen but I'll admit it was probably more out of a sense of patriotism than because they were exceptional films. Simply put, I would summarise both as light-hearted and entertaining, thanks in part to some great British actors and brilliant 'one-liners' like "In India, we have a saying, everything will be alright in the end - so if it is not alright, it's not the end".

Think like a Man made me chuckle and the film's eye candy was a welcome distraction.  So many six little time! "Note to self - Get a copy of Steve Harvey's 'Act like a lady, Think like a man' for friends who are dating but warn them not to follow it to the letter if they have any hopes for an honest, meaningful relationship."

I went to see Red Hook Summer at the architecturally stunning BAM rose cinema in Brooklyn and almost started a campaign to prevent people from watching it and putting a cent more into Spike Lee's pocket. It was two hours of utter excruciating pain - if I'd gone to the cinema alone, I would definitely have walked out after the first 30mins which felt like watching paint dry. I would have been more forgiving if the rest of the film had continued as the cinematographic equivalent of the colour grey but instead out of nowhere Spike Lee decided to introduce a very delicate topic that shocks us all to the core and treat it with a complete lack of sensitivity and the seriousness it deserves. It made me lose whatever little respect I had for him and conclude that he is without a doubt a complete and utter moron. Stay away from Red Hook Summer unless you want to come away from a film so infuriated you contemplate making a voodoo doll of the director.

 To end on a lighter and more positive note, the documentary Marley about the legendary Bob Marley was absolutely brilliant. I loved every minute of it and while I didn't think there was a lot more to be said about Robert Nesta Marley, director, Kevin Macdonald proved otherwise with this masterpiece. The chronological approach complete with soundtrack that put his songs in context, definitely made the story of his life seem more complete. I loved learning about the stories behind songs like "Cornerstone" and 'Small Axe'. Macdonald included Jamaica not just as the backdrop but as part of the story which made me love this breathtakingly beautiful island all the more, if that's possible. As the song 'Get up, Stand up' was played at the end with images of people all over the world singing along and reminding us that Bob Marley's music resonated with everyone regardless of race, religion or even language.


Val said...

Welcome back, and thanks for all the great reviews. You've saved many of us a lot of time, though I'm now curious about the "insensitive" topic in Spike's film. Funnily enough, like you, I thought I wouldn't see Marley because what else is there to know. However, your review makes me want to see Jamaica and discover more about the legend.

The Hibiscus Notes said...

Thanks feels good to be back - its a been a very busy summer.
In terms of the topic Spike deals with- think about an issue that infuriates so many of us and has threatened the very core of many churches, especially the Catholic church. Then think of the worst way it can be addressed, complete with graphic scenes, and there you'll have Spike Lee's treatment in this film.
Yes do watch'll remind you of all that is beautiful about Bob Marley and Jamaica!

Val said...

I got it, and thanks for filling in the blanks, because now I definitely don't want to see that film.