Tag Archives: french

Movie Reviews: The Grand Budapest Hotel (****)

Laura and I marched off to see this movie after seeing previews for several weeks. Are we glad we did? Oooh, mostly, though it put Laura to sleep and I was very yawnful at various points.

I won’t summarize the plot for you because that’s what the description is for but the feel of the movie was very French to me with a bit of 70s criminal comedic espionage movie. Imagine the Pink Panther movies, I guess. The movie is a first person narrative in which the characters speak to you directly throughout the action much like Amélie, one of my own personal favorites.

To the positive the movie was delightfully photographed. The scenes are artistic and well-composed and, as I said, felt very European. The plot is wacky and madcap and isn’t laugh-aloud funny but instead cute and whimsical. That said, it’s not really a comedy as it has a deep undercurrent of tragedy that overtakes the whole thing in the end.

On the negative side, when asked closely if she was glad we picked it, she was mildly non-committal since, as I noted above, she did fall asleep during the movie. It is visually stimulating but doesn’t really grab the viewer’s interest. Other reviewers hold differing opinions as aficionados of the cinema but as a plebe it just didn’t quite get my complete attention.

In summary, we were the youngest people in the theatre at 45 with the majority of the other viewers ranging into their 50s and 60s. They seemed at least moderately amused and there wasn’t a great deal of snoring (not even from Laura) but I didn’t hear any applauding after the movie either.

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Les Gars (The Notorious Guys) – An amusing one-third of a movie (3/5)

I picked this movie because of the pleasant yellow cover and the fact that it looked rather lonely on Amazon Instant watch and in need of an impartial review. Am I glad I did…? yes, mostly.

To categorize this one it’s basically in line with a Beavis and Butthead or a Wayne’s World or Bill and Ted. Crazed misfit dudes go on a bizarre adventure and do some completely random crap. That about sums it up and if you don’t like the idea of that then you won’t like the movie.

On the positive side, the movie starts out really well. They regularly break the fourth-wall by talking to the audience and even go so far as to spoof about playing specific music just to get the royalties for it. Their madcap hijinks are absurdly random as they bully a downspout (yes, that aluminum thing that carries water from your gutters to the ground) and there is, of course, the obligatory self-pleasure scene. It’s perplexingly random to be sure.

To the negative, all the best parts of the movie are in the first 30 minutes. So is this movie worth starting? yes. Is it worth finishing? Probably not. So I’d suggest that if this is at all appealing to you then start it up and the moment that it seems to drag (which it will) then turn it off and watch something else. I’ve watched it to the painful end so there’s no need for you to. Another negative aside from the slow story slide is that it’s very hard to pay attention to the highly visual humor and read subtitles at once. So be prepared for some visual gymnastics.

In summary, as I said, start this movie then stop it. Do not watch it all the way through. Enjoy the girl in the bikini bouncing on the trampoline and the introductory classroom scenes and then go do something else when you’ve had enough. It’s an amusing concept but not an hour+ worth of amusing concept.


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Book Reviews: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

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As usual, I received this book through the kindness of some giveaway or other. In this case it appears to have been an actual GoodReads giveaway. That certainly doesn’t happen much any more!

So to begin, I realize that this book is probably in a genre more generally considered appropriate to the female gender and because of that, as a dude I’m a bit of an interloper. Despite that slight misalignment, I found this book pretty delightful. It’s complexity of character made me realize just how bad I am at keeping names straight. After 40 pages I came up short and found I had no clue who all these people were so I went back through those pages and made a nice tidy relationship diagram of who slept with whom and who was previously dating whom and which characters were, in fact, screwing like rabbits in the back storeroom. Of all these there are many examples.

On the positive side, after sorting out all the ‘whos’ in diagrammatic format, this story had quite a bit to say. The intrigues were entertaining as well as demonstrating a clear and refreshing evolution of character and story. I found myself very invested in the characters and fervently rooting for some justice at the end and for things to turn out just so. I took a couple days getting started but by half way I was staying up late and reading before work to get through it. It does get ahold of you.

On the neutral side, some of the subplots came across a bit weakly. I was tied up in most of them but others just left me rather quizzical. There are certainly high points and “meh” points. Also, in this translation some of the dialog just doesn’t come across as very Parisian. At times the characters seem more Midwestern than European and one wonders how a passage from Little House on the Prairie leaked into the novel.

One final item of note is that this book is exceptionally graphic at times. It’s not exactly pornographic but it certainly pulls no punches when it comes to who’s doing what to whom. If you’re easily offended by such things then don’t bother. Personally I found such candid talk refreshing but then again, I am a guy and we do have a different view on such things most of the time.

In summary, a grand and enthralling book that could have used just a little better translation job. It’s a quick and entertaining 430 pages.

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Bootstrapping your way to Polyglot status

When I was a wee lad, many, many, MANY years ago, I found the coolest thing in a local bookstore.  Well, ok, I thought it was the coolest thing in the universe but you’re very likely to think differently.  It was a book, written in French, that taught the reader Arabic.  At the time, it caught my attention for two reasons.  The first is that you don’t really see a lot of Arabic textbooks around.  At least not in 1985 you didn’t and especially not Arabic textbooks written, as this one was, back in the 50s.  For whatever reason, Arabic just wasn’t respected as a language so it was hard to find resources to learn it.  Now, of course, with the recent conflicts in the Middle East, every aspiring private in Signal’s Intelligence is interested in picking up a bit of Arabic or Farsi or whatever happens to be handy.  But back “in the day” as they say, it was rather unheard of.

The second thing that caught my attention was that it was a book, written in a language I don’t know, intended to teach yet another language I don’t know.  Since the first day I laid my monolingual eyes on that book I have been struck by the awesome majesty of the idea that you could learn one language, then use that new language to learn a third and thus reinforce the second.  Proceeding thusly you could daisy-chain your way into the sort of polyglot status one tends to read about in Jane Austen novels.  The world would be your oyster.

One funny thing about reading a lot of 19th century literature as a child is that it gives you a rather warped sense of what’s important.  Again, when I was a wee lad, I read about characters who could converse fluently in English, German, French, Spanish and had a smattering of Portuguese (note the omission of the barbaric Arabic) and I was in awe.  As far as I’m concerned, if I could converse in five languages then little else would matter.  My value system for personal accomplishment is founded in a day long past.  Sure, I can pick apart C++ or C# or even Pascal.  I can go on and on about why JavaScript is the work of Satan.  But I’d trade all that computer programming mumbo-jumbo for a working knowledge of French verb conjugation.

The bitter irony of all this, of course, is that despite a reasonably competent command of the even English language, I’m too fucking shy to talk to 99% of the people in the universe anyway.  So yes, I could put forth a grand effort to learn French and then be even more shy about talking to people in that language.  I would postulate, if placed under close cross-examination, that most of my fascination with language is really just an attempt to overcome the bitter distance I feel separates me from the people I’d really like to be having a conversation with in the first place.  It is a useless attempt to learn my way out of a personality deficiency.  At any rate, that is a grand digression.

Returning to the here and now, my current area of pursuit is German.  My eldest is taking German in high school so it would be a good reinforcement for me to learn along with her or at least be able to encourage her.  To that end I’m piddling along to at least stay abreast of her class.  I’ve got several years of Spanish under my belt, so I’m hoping to refresh that by doing dual “homework” in Spanish and German.  At the least I’ll pick up a few key phrases and make Hogan’s Heroes all the funnier.  Which, if you really think about it, is the only real reason to do anything.  Oh, that Sargent Schulz!

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