Movie review: Copacabana (2010) directed by Marc Fitoussi

Product info:

Babou (Isabelle Huppert), a single hippie mother, has been leading a frivolous, careless life, changing men, jobs, and countries as often as she could. However, after some time she discovers that her only child, Esmeralda (Lolita Chammah), now 23, has had enough of that juvenile behaviour and gypsy lifestyle. During a dinner the girl announces that she wants to get married. Then, quite callously, she disinvites Babou to her forthcoming church wedding, allegedly out of fear that her mom might shock both her prospective in-laws and other guests as well. Babou is not stupid and she can take a hint, even if it is painful. In order to prove that she is a responsible adult like any other bourgeois parents she accepts a job selling timeshare apartments in Ostend, a rainy, lackluster seaside Belgian town. Will she be able to keep that job and reconcile with Esmeralda? Who knows?

My impressions:

It was supposed to be a funny dramedy (drama+comedy) but it didn’t work for me, not quite. There was not enough drama and really comical scenes I could count on fingers of just one hand.

Despite a fantastic Huppert performance (she is, after all, one of most gifted French actresses), effortless and quite funny, the plot consisted of worn-out clichés. A parent who must learn to grow up for the benefit of her much more conservative child. A happy-go-lucky gypsy doing better as a real estate agent than her more experienced colleagues. A woman who doesn’t do relationships and treats men in her life like objects. A pretty naïve woman, when I come to think about it, really ‘too stupid to live’ from time to time.  In fact I had an impression I watched a theatrical play, not a movie, especially that plenty of scenes featured just two or three actors who talked and talked and talked… Babou’s altruistic friendship with a homeless couple of contemporary nomads sounded to me especially off.  Still the soundtrack was original and nice.

Final verdict:

A movie which could have been far more interesting if only the director avoided this and that cliché, at least from time to time. Meh.

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Posted in comedy drama, contemporary, movie review | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When struggling riverboat captain Abner Marsh receives an offer of partnership from a wealthy aristocrat, he suspects something’s amiss. But when he meets the hauntingly pale, steely-eyed Joshua York, he is certain. For York doesn’t care that the icy winter of 1857 has wiped out all but one of Marsh’s dilapidated fleet. Nor does he care that he won’t earn back his investment in a decade. York has his own reasons for wanting to traverse the powerful Mississippi. And they are to be none of Marsh’s concern—no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious his actions may prove.

Marsh meant to turn down York’s offer. It was too full of secrets that spelled danger. But the promise of both gold and a grand new boat that could make history crushed his resolve—coupled with the terrible force of York’s mesmerizing gaze. Not until the maiden voyage of his new sidewheeler Fevre Dream would Marsh realize he had joined a mission both more sinister, and perhaps more noble, than his most fantastic nightmare…and mankind’s most impossible dream.

My impressions:

A fantasy novel published in 1982 simply had to feature vampires, such were the rules and expectations of the market. Martin managed to spin the vampire mythos a bit even if, in my humble opinion, the book reeked strongly of Anne Rice among other things. Still I was impressed – the story fitted one single tome, imagine that!

The blend of fantasy and horror worked very well;  if it’s currently become a cliché to combine scary vampires – or any kind of paranormal activity – with the American South (Sookie Stackhouse et al.) , I found that combination very effective in this case. The storyline was decent enough but the characters… in general, I found the characters to be rather thinly drawn. Perhaps not completely hopeless but a tad too flat if you know what I mean. A big, strong, ugly, and not so dumb captain with warts on his face. A relatively young, inexperienced vampire aristo from France who wants to change the habits of his race. An ancient, weary blood master who wants to keep the status quo but is dead tired of his existence. Even keeping in mind the fact that this novel is close to 40 years old, and even with the small differences Martin made to his vampire race from other authors, you find it all rather stereotypical, especially if you’ve read a lot of fantasy novels with bloodsuckers. Like me. ;p

Still I really enjoyed  everything about steamboats, steam engines, valves, boilers, parts of boats, how to navigate, how to pilot, day to day operations and maintenance. It was original, informative, and interesting. Good job, Mr. Martin.

Final verdict:

If you want to read one of old school vampire stories penned by the author of ASOIAF look no more, this is your book. A bonus: it will be short.

Posted in book review, crime, fantasy, horror | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Product info (from Goodreads):

What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed—and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign—and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.

My impressions:

Vampires. Books. Libraries. Dracula. The Balkans. Several historians hunting a legend which might turn into their own death. What could go wrong? Well, the sad answer is: practically everything, from the beginning to the bitter end.

A sea of infodumps. Two-dimensional characters without one single redeeming trait. Unbelievable romance. Uninspired plot. Unreadable dialogues. No sense of humour. Many mistakes concerning the alleged historicity. Even more mistakes concerning the way REAL historians think, reason, and conduct their studies. Completely absurd heroines. Completely absurd heroes. Finally – and believe me, it was the final drop of bitterness – Vlad III Tepes a.k.a. Dracula turned into a boring cutout of a vampire cliche, based most likely on Hollywood cheesier movies. It was so defamatory I was toying with an idea of a lawsuit. Seriously.

Final verdict:

A total failure in a form of meandering, slogging, hair-pulling, mess of a read. I DNFed it – be sure to be wiser than me.

Posted in a total failure, adventure, book review, fantasy, historically-flavoured, horror, rating | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A trip to Colourful Ponds (Rudawy Janowickie)

This week you get a treat, dear Readers, due to the summer solstice – just photos from my trip to Colourful Ponds. What are these? The Colourful Ponds count among the most beautiful sites in the Rudawy Landscape Park. The incredible hues of the water in the ponds come from various chemical compounds, sulphur, pyritic shales, and copper among other things. It is  a remainder of mining operations held from the 18th to the 19th centuries by the Germans. There are four ponds: the yellow one, the purple (the biggest), the blue and the green but the colour of water might change with the weather and the amount of rain. The admission is free and the site remains open 24 hours a day. Click to enlarge! 

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Land of the Beautiful Dead by R. Lee Smith

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

SHE WOULD DARE ANYTHING TO SAVE THE WORLD FROM HIS RULE.

EVEN HIS BED.

He ascended from the darkness years ago—Azrael the Eternal, Azrael the Undying, Azrael Who Is Death—bringing with him the black rains, the fires, the souring of the sky, and the Eaters. Now he rules in the walled city of Haven with his favored Children and his dead court, while all that is left of the living struggles to survive in the ruins of a world that used to be their own. But even as extinction looms, humanity will never surrender to their monstrous conqueror.

For Lan, this brutal life has been the only one she’s ever known, but she still believes it can change. If the war can never truly end until the Eaters are ended, she will go to Haven, to Azrael himself, and demand he end them. To her surprise, she does not immediately die the hero’s death she expected. Instead, Azrael offers her a chance to convince him, and all she has to do is submit herself to the chill embrace of the lord of the Land of the Beautiful Dead.

My impressions:

Usually I am pretty tolerant when it comes to R. Lee Smith’s books. I know what to expect. They are long, they are hard to categorize, they feature monsters which usually have sex with human women, and their heroines, more often than not, make me annoyed. Still I admit this time my tolerance was sorely tested. Overall I feel Smith’s latest work just isn’t up to par with the previous ones. Mind you the previous books were hardly perfect.

The book plot in a nutshell would go like this: an illiterate girl with average looks throws herself at Azrael, the Lord of Life and Death, the bane of humanity, an ancient alien being. Woo-hoo! Then the author wants me to believe that they fell in love because Azrael could give Lan super orgasm and Lan could return the favour plus treated him like any other human male. Oh and they quarreled like almost all the time. Errr… not fun. What’s even worse, His Deadliness spoke to Lan in paragraphs! How can you be menacing, intimidating, scary even, and so long-winded? A quote:

“Am I your lord? I have never been titled by the living. Indeed, when last I spoke with the emissaries of Men, I was told they would never acknowledge nor submit to my right of rule. They were wrong as things turned out. But if the living can bring themselves to at last admit their defeat, I suppose I can be gracious enough to accept their honorifics. Am I now lord over the living as well as the dead? Shall I sent my Revenants to hear the oaths of my full people? Shall they ask a tribute in my name? Or yours?”

Yes, I am pretty aware why I started to read it at all. Three words: Hades and Persephone. It is a very old and very powerful trope I adore. Plus a solid dose of zombies which are more or less ok (meaning I can tolerate them but I’ve never been their big fan). Still I felt all the way that particular execution left a lot to be desired. The narrative style was begging for several editing sessions. Some plot holes were as big as skyscrapers. An idiotic heroine whined and whined and then had the best sex of her life and then she whined some more because she didn’t get EVERYTHING she wanted. And she hated learning and reading. Seriously…

Final verdict:

Big, fat disappointment. I almost DNFed this one several times. Still I am stupid and stubborn so enjoy my review. Lowest strata of meh.

ETA: For a reason or two I visited the official website of R. Lee Smith. I found a curious announcement concerning Land of the Beautiful Dead and her next book (Pool) which hasn’t been published yet; I would like to share a short part of it (the rest, rather long and convoluted, is available at her page) :

“So after Land of the Beautiful Dead came out, I was unavoidably exposed to some reviews. And the vast majority were overwhelmingly positive! But. Even in the midst of these otherwise glowing piles of flowery praise, lurked a whiff of criticism I have oft heard before, which I will paraphrase here as along the lines of, “I almost didn’t get this book because the author doesn’t always deliver a Happily Ever After.”

And I get it. I do. Because I don’t. And the reason I don’t is because I don’t write Romances.

I don’t write Romances. I don’t read Romances.  I don’t understand Romances. I write Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy that occasionally crossover into Erotica, but I don’t write Romances, and here’s the thing: The Happily Ever After in a Horror genre, or Sci-Fi or Fantasy or even Erotica, is NOTHING LIKE the Happily Ever After of a Romance. So these readers who have this complaint are 100% correct and 100% entitled to feel/voice their dissatisfaction, and especially 100% right to warn others that my books may not deliver a “good” ending. I would much rather lose potential readers who I know would not be happy reading my books than have them buy it, read it, and hate it.

Those readers are going to hate Pool.

Pool is not a Romance.”

I happen to disagree. HEA wasn’t even a part of my issues and yes, this book was a romance.

Other books by R. Lee Smith reviewed on this blog:

Posted in book review, dystopia, erotica, fairy tale, fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Movie review: You Were Never Really Here (2018) directed by Lynne Ramsay

Product info:

It is a movie adapted from a Jonathan Ames novella and it features Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a horribly messed- up individual. As a combat veteran and former FBI agent with post-traumatic stress disorder he pops pills constantly. Pills are expensive so he earns money to buy them as a hired gun who rescues trafficked girls. In his free time he cares for his elderly mother in his childhood home in New York City. Overall fun and games.

One day his handler, McCleary, informs Joe of an important job which might make or break their careers and contribute vastly to their pension fund.

A New York State Senator, Albert Votto, has offered a large sum of money to find and rescue his daughter, Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) who’s run away from home and most probably has been forced to work as a prostitute. Of course utter discretion is a must – imagine the scandal. Joe finds the girl in one of luxurious brothels for rich men who prefer them underage, the younger the better. He violently kills several security guards and patrons while recovering Nina and yes, his favourite weapon seems to be a solid ball-peen hammer you can find in your average DIY store. While waiting at a motel to return the doped up girl to Votto, Joe sees local news reports that the Senator has apparently committed suicide. Corrupt police officers storm the motel room and take Nina away. Joe manages to overpower an officer who is guarding him and escapes. Will he find the girl again?

My impressions:

First let me tell you that I’d never recognize Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, not in a hundred years. Only his heavily regulated, black eyebrows gave him away as a Hollywood actor. Apart from that he looked like a bad case of a disability pension recipient – greasy, unkempt, longish hair and beard, an unhealthily chubby face, a beginning of a paunch, baggy clothes which perhaps have been laundered properly last century or so. If you think now ‘that’s good, kudos for achieving that, Mr. Phoenix’ let me add the Joe persona was hardly believable as somebody fit enough to overcome and kill several opponents using just that hammer of his. He had too much bulk and too little muscle if you know what I mean. Add to that the fact that he was popping strong prescription drugs all the time which made him see visions and daydream on and off among other things and you get a very unlikely ‘wet job’ man. How could he properly focus at all? How could he think? I wouldn’t hire him for sure.

To be honest I didn’t like the movie. While watching it I was constantly waiting for Joe to move his bottom for real and do something clever. Uncharacteristically, I also wanted the narration to speed up. In vain. Overall I think the whole story lacked a coherent plot, a bit of humour relief, and a more likeable hero. I grant it, there was one great scene during which Joe and an assassin sent to kill him end up lying on a kitchen floor together, quietly singing along to Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me” on the radio and holding hands – dark, ironic and witty. Still what’s one scene in a 95-minute movie? A drop in a glass.

Also, a serious lack of any cohesive backstory concerning the main character meant the movie never managed to engage me emotionally. For example it was never explained why Joe had those disturbing episodes featuring a plastic bag put on his head (a suicide attempt?) or a pair of bare feet on a sandy beach (one of his foreign missions?). These were clearly memories from the past but what really happened? When? Why?

Of course the imagery was lovely and the score was spot-on as well – that’s why the movie got a few awards. Still it wasn’t enough.

Final verdict:

Sex trafficking, political corruption, childhood trauma, suicidal fantasy, and the frequent application of ball-peen justice – all shown at a slowish, even somnambulant pace. For fans of artistic visions and Joaquin Phoenix but borrow the movie and watch it at home. Still  prepare a lot of snacks, you might need them.

Posted in book into movie, drama, movie review, noir thriller, psychological | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Kingdom of Shadows (Night Soldiers 06) by Alan Furst

Product info:

Nicolas Morath is an ex-pat from Hungary residing in Paris right before WWII. He is enjoying an easy life, working as an ad executive and seeing an attractive Argentine heiress called Cara. As the big conflict approaches his prominent uncle, Count Polanyi, asks him to attend to a few wrinkly affairs of state. One thing leads to another, the projects grow increasingly urgent, dangerous, and complex. As a former war hero with a talent for espionage, Morath  can’t bow out and stay away; still it becomes more and more obvious the good life he was enjoying will soon be a thing of the past.

My impressions:

The book delivered exactly what I’d hoped it would. It was filled with atmosphere, history, and great characters. The Anschluss of Austria, events in the Sudetenland (a part of the Czechoslovakia at that time), and reactions throughout Europe – you’ll find them all interwoven with the plot and seen from an ordinary man’s perspective. No boring infodumps or mini textbook history lessons.

The main character, Nicolas Morath, is a reluctant hero, often dragged into different affairs despite his healthy and quite understandable distrust. Still, being a former Hungarian cavalry officer whose only uncle, Count Polanyi, is a diplomat at the Hungarian legation in Paris, more often than not he feels he has no choice. Besides, there’s his ennui born out of war trauma. What can be better than a bit of action – even if it might land you in prison every now and then…

Any flaws? The novel reads like a series of short stories, loosely connected – if you don’t like such a narrative formula you might find yourself annoyed at some point. A character appears and disappears. The tension is raising and falling constantly. There are no spectacular escapes or feats of daring,  no fights in which your hero defeats four opponents and saves his lady from a dragon,just day-in-day-out drudgery (metaphorically speaking of course, do not forget that Morath is a rich aristocrat living in Paris) sometimes interrupted by a journey. Or a death.

Final verdict:

If you like historical thrillers set before WWII in Europe and you care more about the atmosphere and characterization than breakneck pace of narration, this is your book; perhaps even your series. By the way – it must be a good book because it is set in Paris and mentions the catacombs. Or, more precisely, a fictional Théâtre de catacombes. 🙂 

Posted in book review, historical, thriller | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Product info:

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew that it was her house. And now that she’s at last become its owner, she suspects that she was drawn there for a reason.

As if Greywethers were a portal between worlds, she finds herself transported into seventeenth-century England, becoming Mariana, a young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love.

Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past…until she realizes Mariana’s life is threatening to eclipse her own, and she must find a way to lay the past to rest or lose the chance for happiness in her own time.

My impressions:

You know what I don’t like about books labelled as his-fic romance and time travel fantasy? Well, practically everything. Still beggars and flu invalids are no choosers. When a free book lands on you lap you say ‘thank you’ and enjoy an evening of gratuitous entertainment. And then you write a review dripping with snark. ;p

Both Julia and Mariana were two-dimensional, completely artificial Mary-Sue-ish heroines. Mariana was better but only slightly so. The plot was driven by misdirection, time travel and reincarnation. It also made me wonder: why the contemporary heroine identified not with her grandmother or great grandmother but with a girl living in the 17th century? It was idiotic to begin with. The romance story arc hardly helped as it was barely there. In fact I didn’t feel any connection between either of heroines and their beaux. When it comes to the secondary characters neither the ‘witch’, nor the pastor brother, nor the bartending friend  existed on their own. They were added only to provide a match for the earlier incarnations of characters, though their soul pairings seemed incidental and emotionally unfulfilling. Like almost any pairing in this little beauty.

Well, the novel had one saving grace: it was an easy read.  I finished it in one evening and even laughed a bit.

Final verdict:

I did enjoy the potential of the book but I felt the execution was devoid of any finesse. MEH.

 

Posted in book review, chicklit, contemporary, fantasy, historically-flavoured | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Bridge of Separator (Videssos 12) by Harry Turtledove

Book info (from Goodreads):

Rhavas was a good, holy, and pious man-and the cousin of the Avtokrator. He would probably have become ecumenical patriarch of the Empire in the capital, Videssos the city . . . if his world had not suddenly and tragically fallen apart when the Empire of Videssos erupted into civil war and the Khamorth barbarians swarm over the borders. As the home he loved was brutally sacked, Rhavas had to flee for his life, then make his way through lands swarming with fierce nomads and with soldiers loyal both to his cousin and to the rebel usurper. He may never see Videssos the city again, let alone preside in its High Temple. He has always followed Phos, the god of light and goodness, Videssos’ god, and despised evil rival Skotos. Those who fall off the Bridge of the Separator during judgment in the afterlife tumble down to Skotes’ ice forevermore. But when evil seems to have swallowed the whole world, what is a cleric who reveres logic as well as goodness supposed to believe? It’s a harder question than Rhavas wishes it were.

My impressions:

A story of a heresiarch would interest me even if it wasn’t set in the fantasy Videssos. The fantastic setting was an additional bonus, although I wish there was more magic available in the plot. Still the main character was one of the most interesting fellows I had a pleasure to meet. A cleric who starts doubting his faith. A deeply honest man who, suddenly, cannot see any sense of honest life anymore. Then, without asking or wishing for it, he is given a very strange gift… a gift from his enemy, Skotos. Rhavas will never  be the same again. Or maybe he is becoming the very person he’s meant to be all along…

Of course the book was not perfect. In fact more than one time I had a strong impression that the novel would profit greatly from a round or two of professional editing. Sometimes the narrative stumbled a bit. Sometimes I felt the worldbuild could have been better. There was definitely too much telling instead of showing. Still I give Mr. Turtledove points for tackling a very difficult topic and a very original character, an anti-hero, nothing less. I despised Rhavas from time to time because, undoubtedly, he committed  many horrible crimes; still I couldn’t help admiring the man when he was defending his version of truth before the whole synod of his former colleagues…

Final verdict:

If you like historical fantasy with anti-heroes you might be positively surprised by this one and you’ll love it despite its flaws and violence.

Posted in alternate history, book review, fantasy, religious | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Black Widow (Gabriel Allon 16) by Daniel Silva

Product info:

A network of terror.
A web of deceit.
A deadly game of vengeance.

Legendary spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon is poised to become the chief of Israel’s secret intelligence service. But on the eve of his promotion, events conspire to lure him into the field for one final operation. ISIS has detonated a massive bomb in the Marais district of Paris, and a desperate French government wants Gabriel to eliminate the man responsible before he can strike again.

They call him Saladin …

He is a terrorist mastermind whose ambition is as grandiose as his nom de guerre, a man so elusive that even his nationality is not known. Shielded by sophisticated encryption software, his network communicates in total secrecy, leaving the West blind to his planning—and leaving Gabriel no choice but to insert an agent into the most dangerous terrorist group the world has ever known. Natalie Mizrahi is an extraordinary young doctor as brave as she is beautiful. At Gabriel’s behest, she will pose as an ISIS recruit in waiting, a ticking time bomb, a black widow out for blood.

My impressions:

When you are down with flu you might read something ambitious, heavy, and important but it will be so completely wasted on you. It is far wiser if you temporarily settle with something fluffy, simple and dynamic. The Gabriel Allon series usually fits that bill to a dot. This time, however, its sixteenth instalment left me disgruntled. First it chafed me why, oh why, the mighty Israeli super-spy had to meet another super-model beautiful Jewish doctor on his path. I guess Daniel Silva is apparently yet to see a non-beautiful woman worth writing about. Providing such a monster exists at all, perish the thought.

Second, Silva repeatedly uses the same boilerplate language to describe Gabriel and the other members of the Lightning team. What’s more, he often repeats whole paragraphs from previous books in lieu of proper backstory. Isn’t it called autoplagiarism perchance?

Third and the last: Silva took the opportunity to get in a couple jabs at America, Barack Obama and his role in propagating an environment ripe for ISIS. This may or may not be true, but either way, it’s a political statement that would best be left out of a fiction book. If I want to read political opinions of any kind, I’ll buy a newspaper. When I sit down to read a thriller, I want to be thrilled, not indoctrinated.

Final verdict:

Superficially, it was a quite decent novel but really I felt Silva wasted way too much time preaching his world view. It really slowed down the plot and often felt forced in. Meh royale.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Other books by Daniel Silva reviewed on this blog:

Posted in adventure, book review, contemporary, crime, meh, rating, speculative fiction, thriller | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments