Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Title: The Wire (Season 1)

Creator: David Simon

Starring: Domenic West, John Dolman, Idris Elba, Larry Gilliard Jnr and many many more

Released: 2002

There isn’t enough space to write about how good “The Wire” is, but I’ll do my best. This show is unlike anything else I have ever experienced in any medium. People often look down upon television for being too passive; less of a spectacle than a movie and less rewarding than a book. “The Wire” proves all these assumptions wrong by exploring character, plot and themes on an exhaustive scale never seen on TV. On a basic level, it focuses on one single case, but the success of the show is down to how all the characters affect this case, be they street level dealers or major players. This is mirrored on the law enforcement side as we see all the action from raids on the streets up to the quiet conversations in the chambers of the courthouse.

The facts that originally led to a luke warm reception and criticism are the very things that make “The Wire” a truly unique show. There is little action in the first two or three episodes and the number of characters is almost endless. If you expect a conventional heroes and villains plot with cliffhangers at the end of each episode then this won’t be for you. If you appreciate moral ambiguity, unresolved storylines and dialogue that sometimes needs subtitles for a native English speaker, then you might enjoy “The Wire”. As I mentioned, there is a focus on more than a few characters which gives you the feeling of reading a long novel. The realistic approach to sets and dialogue give an almost voyeuristic feel, it’s as if you are standing at the end of an inner city street when the action is going on and you are compelled to watch.

On a purely personal level I have never really been a fan of Cop Shows and I always avoid the Crime section in bookshops. I think the biggest reward for me has been my enhanced understanding of the politics of crime and crime fighting. It’s left me feeling pretty negative about law and order and slightly confused about the people who I previously thought of as being baddies. One last word of advice: try to watch the whole thing in an intensive period, it makes it easier to follow the plot(s) and get involved in the characters.

Title: ‘3-Iron'(빈집) 2004

Released: 2004

Director: Kim Ki-duk

Writer: Kim Ki-duk

Starring: Jae Hee, Lee Seung-yeon

This is one of the best Korean films I have seen, and one of the best films I’ve seen for quite some time. Reading the impossibly constructed plot would make you think that this is a gimmick of a film or just plain pretentious; it is neither.

The film unfolds at a gentle pace with almost no dialogue, it feels like a nature documentary at times. Tae-suk quietly breaks into houses empty of occupants and proceeds to enjoy blissful yet brief domesticity. His time relaxing in the bath or in front of the television is counterbalanced with dull chores, chores which he accomplishes with the inner peace of a monk. Our sympathy with the character happens because he actually fixes things and steals nothing. This strange routine of breaking and entering is finally broken with the discovery of a battered housewife. Witnessing domestic problems draws our hero in, from his previously quiet solitary life, he enters into something far more complicated and ambiguous. The film follows a wordless love story through the various parts of the city and subsequent brushes with the housewife’s husband and the police.

I hate to use this term, but it could be described as a ‘magical realist’ love story, or worse yet – a modern fairy tale. But it’s a film that sweeps you along without the need for labels, and on closer reflection it makes you think. Despite the anonymous urban landscape the cinematography is beautiful and the music (one track in particular) is threaded through the film reflecting the continuing love story between the two silent protagonists.
I would recommend this film to anybody and everybody, even to those who don’t like subtitles as there is almost no dialogue. My only tiny problem is the title, in Korean it’s ‘Empty House’ which to me seems a more poetic title than 3 Iron.

When I lived in Manchester I used to cycle and walk everyday. On weekdays I dodged the insane buses on what I still believe is the busiest bus route in Europe – Oxford Road. On weekends I had a more leisurely pace and just cycled past any places that interested me. One of the places I went past was the Armenian Church in Ardwick, it’s round the corner from the Turkish Baths which won the Restoration programme’s vote on that BBC show. If you know your history then you will realise the ultimate irony of being round the corner from a Turkish place, many Armenians left their homes due to the Turks. Seeing this Church with its mystical looking alphabet filled me with curiosity about a place I knew nothing. It was with this in mind that I searched and found one of my favourite books and subsequently, one of my favourite authors.

From any perspective Armenia is one of the most interesting places on earth. The first Christian state, sight of Eden or resting place of Noah’s Ark. The problem is, few people actually know this. Luckily Phillip Marsden took the trouble to enlighten us by learning Armenian in Jerusalem and visiting members of the Armenian Diaspora (often by complete chance). I have rarely read a travel book that tackles so many important subjects without being crushed by it’s own weight. The author succeeds in being engaging without losing the complexity and academic weight of the subject. Marsden develops a real affinity for all things Armenian but always remains objective and critical. The book’s greatest asset, and the main reason why I chose to recommend it, is the fact that it is like a biography of a place and it’s people all rolled into one. If you want to find out a little more without reading the book click below:

A claustrophobic sandy nightmare

I have always been interested in all things Japanese but this was my first exposure to more serious literature. I read this knowing nothing of the author so it was a leap in the dark. I initially thought it would be way over my head, pretentious or hollow. Luckily I was was wrong on all three counts.

The prose creeps along  in a slow and menacing way like the dunes of the title, I  felt a constant undertone of threatening dread which kept me hooked into the plot through to the last word of the last page. The real enjoyment of the book comes from the author’s ability to describe sensations and emotions relating to the protagonist who finds himself in a Kafka type scenario. I won’t go into the plot too far because despite the enjoyment of reading pure literature, it is after all a type of thriller. All I can say is that our character goes on a little excursion to collect butterflies and things don’t go according to plan. It is set on a remote coastal area with constantly moving sand dunes.  He takes you so far into these dunes that you feel like washing sand from yourself after reading it. I was plagued by constant introspection and reflection during and after reading this book, especially because it becomes so ambiguous towards the end. It brings to mind books by Camus and Kafka as it is essentially a fairly simple story with huge implications. I don’t know whether it can be classed as Japanese Existentialism but that term would certainly capture the general feel and mood of the book.

I would recommend this book to anybody looking for something slightly different or anybody who likes to think about things on a deeper level. After reading it you may think about your current path in life and you may never want to go near sand again.

Entertaining, enlighteneing and essential

Within the one broad theme of ‘Idleness’, Hodgkinson manages to encompass so many neglegted yet important facets of life. Our need to work less and play more is justified in a very well written book using examples and quotes from some great thinkers through history.
The greatest strength of this book is that it gives you a warm feeling that things you enjoy – beer gardens, sleeping in late etc – are actually really good for you. The guilt associated with not working so many hours per week, the need to get up early to do DIY, are actually relics from the industrial revolution. This era of mass production with time as a mere commodity can be changed if people take on board the ideas of this book and adjust their lives to suit their soul and not their bank balance.
The book is divided into neat sections, each with a well placed quote, this makes it easy to read when visiting the toilet or having a bath or attending to any other idle pleasure.

Although the tone is whimsical and flippant I think you can take a serious message from How to be Idle. It really made me question the way we haven’t adjusted out lives to the post industrial World.

Why do most people still wake up early to sit in a traffic jam on their way to reach work at the arbitrary time of 9 o clock.

Why do we spend so little time eating a proper lunch when it is proven to extend life and reduce stress?

Why do we feel the need to work such long hours and erode the time we have to actually be human?

Who would I recommend this book to? Well…, everyone really. Unless you are lucky enough to work for yourself and do a 3 day week (like the author).