Category: drama

La Vie En Rose – A stunning movie of Edith Piaf’s life

Click on the image to buy the Region 2 DVD with free worldwide delivery. To buy Region 1, click the link at the end of this review's first paragraph

Unsurprisingly, yet entirely deserved, the actress Marion Cotillard, won the Oscar for Best Actress for her truly bravura performance, capturing Edith Piaf’s sad, tortuous, pained, joyous, complex life (the other Oscar won was for Best Make Up – I presume for when the creative talent had to age her dramatically, plus the colour of her skin from liver deterioration).  A powerful film (2007) about one of the most important 20th century singers, it captures your heart, not only by the quality of the performances all-round of a troubled artist and her peers, but also by the quality of the script by Olivier Dahan (also the director), and Isabelle Sobelman. (Click here to buy the Region 1 DVD.)

It’s a no-holds-barred interpretation of Piaf’s life; it includes Piaf’s most important performances, and makes clear from the outset how her own unique talents led her from the gutters/street life of Paris — typically the way she earned enough just to keep her friend and her going in food, wine and rent – to become the most celebrated singer of France.  Her first success due to Louis Leplee, a Parisian club-owner, played by Gerard Depardieu, fortunately not to be seen peeing anywhere or then later making a pathetic, self-excusing joke of it and himself (oops, sorry,went wobbling off-track there, but my eldest sister said if she was there when he did that, she would have knocked him out. Erm, you don’t want to mess with my sister — I certainly don’t; bless you, Cat, if you’re reading this — eek!), whose instinctive sense for real talent invites her to audition when he finds her singing on a street corner.  Of course, an honest film about Piaf must include her painful self-destruction, and this the film doesn’t shirk from nor does it exploit it salaciously/tabloid-style; the portrayal of Piaf apparently lacking any real core self-worth (contrary to appearances, her fame and some of her grandiose Diva-like gestures), is painful to witness.

However, where she seemed consistently to be resilient, defiant, strong and always true to herself was on stage, singing; in that specific and hugely important regard, it is fair to regard her as a feminist icon; through everything she experienced, she never let go of her voice, its passion and her commitment to singing despite how she felt or what else was going on in her life.  That in itself is remarkable and worthy of recognition as a powerful form of creative and determined self-recognition of value. Unfortunately, as with many truly talented individuals, as with anyone of us, frankly, one positive aspect of one’s life does not necessarily colour those other parts of ourselves that may be negative. After all, who among us can claim to be fully integrated and cohesive selves.  Yet this characteristic failure (a decidedly human one) should not deter us from celebrating Piaf’s incredible attributes as a true artist with a genuinely unique voice (and how refreshing to use the much overused/abused noun/adjective ‘unique’ and know its application here is sincere; unlike endless products and companies and rubbish modern-day ‘celebrities’ who have nothing in common apart from not being unique at all but the opposite).

Beautifully filmed, poignant,  touching with astonishing ‘renditions’ of Piaf’s singing, it is a modern classic about an incredible, enigmatic, troubled artist. It’s difficult to imagine a better film being made about Piaf’s life or a finer performance.  Mind you, I thought that when I first saw Capote (2005), with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s amazing interpretation, only to be then bowled over by Toby Jones’ version in Infamous (2006), the latter film also including a broodingly delicious, intelligently menacing, conflicted Daniel Craig in what I regard as his best performance to date.

Does he blow? Does she? Does it? Blow – a movie review, not p*orn sp*am

If you use DVD Region 1 (US & Canada only), you can click on the image here to buy Blow (as it were - ahem) from

Based on Bruce Porter’s enthralling tell-all biography of George Jung, drug-trafficker — Blow: How a Smalltown Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost it All  — Blow (2001) is a great film, both entertaining and informative about the drug culture that grew exponentially from the early 70s through to the 80s. For the convincing picture it portrays of this period, the DVD is worth the price alone…

If you use DVD Region 2 (non-US/Canada), then you can click on the image here and buy Blow (sniff, snort - oh, dear, sorry. Poor joke, again!) from

It is also one of Jonathan Demme‘s best directed films (you’ll recall, he’s likely still far better known for The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Philadelphia (1993) and the disappointing remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004)).

Arguably, this movie has Johnny Depp’s best performance to date and, through him and the film in general, you are shown the magic, wonder, riches and, ultimately, self-destruction, of the drugs trade. However, all of this is portrayed without any patronising judgement and conservative morality; the events and characters speak for themselves and that is the most damning evidence to convince and compel us to believe in what we are seeing on the screen.

As mentioned above, this film is based on George Jung’s life story, in which he tells you about starting off in drugs as a small-time dealer in marijuana and then, over time and because of his entrepreneurial spirit — is that rare in spliff smokers — or maybe I simply mean the get-up-and-go-drive-to-action?! — as opposed simply to getting the munchies, staring at the ceiling and laughing occasionally (so I’ve heard – ahem)? — he ends up being, it seems, the biggest dealer/importer of that drug in the US — from the Medellin cocaine cartel in Columbia — within a few years.  As the blogger thacourtjester comments below to this post, it seems Jung was the only non-Hispanic member of the cartel, which was radical to say the least during that period. (BTW, cheers for your input and corrections comments —clearly I must’ve been smoking the wrong thing…or, erm…maybe too much of the right thing, when composing this post!)

Thereafter, he began dealing massively in cocaine, which led ultimately to his downfall (not only has he spent many years in prison for the trafficking and dealing of cocaine, it seems he lost all contact with his only daughter, whom he loved dearly; apparently, according to Wikipedia, he’s 69-years-old now and is still serving a 15-year sentence).  His biography, listed above, is both compelling and sad (and no, I’m not saying he was justified in his actions!).

For those interested in films about this subject, there are several more, most of which are now regarded as movie classics, or certainly classics of this genre.  To save you time/avoid searching, each movie title (not listed in any order) is linked to take you directly to the relevant page on the International Movie Database (IMDB) website.

  • American Gangster (2007), with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott
  • Half-Baked (1998), with Dave Chappelle, Guillermo Diaz and Jim Breuer, directed by Tamra Davis. Cheers and thanks to thacourtjester for this fun recommendation
  • The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), with Frank Sinatra (probably his best performance ever) and Kim Novak, directed by Otto Preminger
  • Traffic (2000) with Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Benico del Toro (in fact, this movie really launched him into stardom), directed by Steven Soderbergh
  • Scarface (1983), with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, directed by Brian de Palma
  • Tell Your Children (1936), aka, Reefer Madness when reissued in 1938, it seems. This is a classic bit of religious conservative nonsense in the form of a movie – so listed simply for amusement or, perhaps, bemusement; it’s highly critical and fantastical on the dangers of smoking marijuana; not surprising, given it was made in 1936 and financed by a group of religious conservatives – I make this point without judgement; it’s only a matter of fact!  A cast of unknowns, directed by Louis J. Gasnier
  • Midnight Express (1978), with Brad Davis and Irene Miracle, directed by Alan Parker
  • Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978; talk about a massive contrast to Midnight in the same year of release!). This is an out-and-out zany, wackidoodle, yet often very funny comedy, with Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, directed by Lou Adler

Enjoy, you groovy dudes, you! And, BTW, if you have any favourite drug(s)-related movies I haven’t listed, please do let me know by zapping me a comment or a tweet and I’ll update the list with an acknowledgement of your recommendation.  All the best.

Thank You For Smoking – A great comedy movie on Big Tobacco and Washington, D.C. lobbyists

Go oooooon - have another one. It's good for you!

This is a thoroughly entertaining, fast-paced, well-drawn satire of the power of American lobbyists.  The script is sharp, snappy and fun, while raising important questions about the nefarious influence of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. In this case, the satire focuses primarily on Big Tobacco, through the spokesman Nick Naylor, played wonderfully by Aaron Eckhart, and complemented by the two other “MOD” squad members (Merchants of Death, as they happily refer to themselves; the two others being Maria Bello‘s character, a hardcore drinker representing the alcohol lobby, and David Koechner, playing the guns fanatic for the firearms industry. Both of them are entertaining and funny in their performances — especially because they play them so seriously).  So clearly it’s a great cast, which also includes fab performances by William H. Macy, yet again playing another loser role; this time as the senator for Vermont going after Big Tobacco (in an embarrassingly incompetent way), J. K. Simmons once again playing a hard ass so well (as Naylor’s militaristic boss), and Robert Duvall (utterly charming, ruthless, and a Southern Gentleman, who plays ‘the Captain’, the last almighty oligarch of Big Tobacco).

Jason Reitman’s film, for which he wrote the screenplay as well as directed is thankfully nothing like Juno the dull, pretentious movie with the enormously irritating and snotty female lead role, or Up in the Air, the half-baked, completely compromised satire on the insipid life of business. Perhaps because it is based on something substantial, namely the successful satirical novel Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley (ironic, given that he’s the son of the now-deceased American political neo-conservative, William F. Buckley, Jr., founder of The National Review and who helped Reagan come to power).

The film’s satiric quality and sheer value for entertainment has also made me relish the prospect of reading Buckley’s other satirical fiction. (Interestingly, like his father, Christopher also had a privileged education and began as a conservative (even being a speechwriter for George W. Bush in 1981), but over time his talents and politics turned to a criticism of the neo-conservatives, and he became known as an author of satires such as this, as well as God is My Broker: A Monk-tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth (note: God is My Broker is out of print as if 2011), Little Green Men, The White House Mess, and No Way to Treat a First Lady.)  And, the movie has given me hope once again in Jason Reitman: that he may come up with the goods and deliver another wonderful movie, rather than the fecal matter of Juno (real name it merits: Juno it’s Sh*it? Answer: Yes, I do, thanks) and Up in the Air (as in, Up its Ars*e).

Shooter, with Mark Wahlberg, or: Bloody hell – he can act (sometimes)

Yes, it is big (you should see my other one). Ohhh - the gun, right, right....

Not only is this a terrific action/thriller film, it’s one of the best – and most believable – conspiracy movies made in the 21st century. Surprised that Wahlberg could be in such a quality movie?  Well, not if you’ve seen him in some of his other polished performances, among them, The Perfect Storm (2000), Three Kings  (1999) and Boogie Nights (1997).

But here Wahlberg is centre stage and must carry this conspiracy movie about an apparent assassination attempt on the life of the American president). He does so with what appears to be effortless panache and focus.  It’s a powerful, compelling performance in which the character he plays, Bob Lee Swagger, is at the heart of a story about the abuse of American foreign policy/power.

Noam Chomsky: Not only is my mind the size of a frickin planet (which I must say is rather nice), but I'm charming and modest, too. Photo © John Soames

Based upon Stephen Hunter‘s Bob Lee Swagger series of thrillers, beginning with Point of Impact, the author himself acknowledges in one of the DVD’s fascinating bonus featurettes that his original inspiration for his novel was the Marine  Carlos Hathcock, a true-life, phenomenally accurate sniper.  Perhaps I’m reading too much into this thriller, but my impression is that the intellectual, political viewpoint that underpins this comes from the brilliant Noam Chomsky, in his well-researched, evidence-based critiques and examples of American imperialism, such as in Hegemony or Survival : America’s Quest for Global Dominance, and Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy; these viewpoints add substance to what otherwise may have been a lacklustre conspiracy thriller. Wahlberg’s performance is a marvel (there, I said it on record), and thankfully worlds away from his ridiculous role and his even more terrible muppet-like acting in the bottom-wiped-floating-tu*rd remake, Planet of The Apes(2001).This film is a genuine, legitimate and compelling interpretation of the use of illegitimate, unjustified force for the sake of ‘democracy’. It has the narrative drive you would expect of a thriller, combined with touching, sensitive moments, as exemplified by the role and relationships with, first, Kate Mara, the gorgeous actress’s endearing Wahlberg’s character’s saviour and subsequently love interest  is terrific; her acting conveying the hurt and pain of having lost her husband, Wahlberg’s sniper buddy in the film, while still behaving according to a set of beliefs that are honorably focused on an essential understanding of ethics. Her face displays an intelligence, sensitivity and complex anguish that arguably merited an Oscar in Best Supporting Actress role.  And there’s Michael Peña‘s compelling role as a junior FBI agent, who has the intelligence and wherewithal to distinguish facts from fiction (though Pena’s acting is somewhat cardboard-like, I’m afraid, his character is still interesting). It is dramatic, intelligent, well-written, -plotted, -thought through and thoughtful in its range of issues covered.  Amazing, eh? I confess I’ve watched it a few times (I know, I know – life’s too short and there are thousands of other things to read/see/do!) and — every time — I appreciate once again the quality of the sharp, fast dialogue, the acting, the plotting and the very satisfying conclusion. (It is, admittedly, very much a  Hollywood movie in the sense of Wahlberg’s glorified revenge.)  Shooter, then, is a bona fide US conspiracy action-thriller and is absolutely crammed with action, ideas and thrills.  Not only this, but the Special Features of the film give you a deeper insight into its background and inspiration for it.

I may be a Quaker hillbilly, but I'm gonna getcha. Golla, golla, golla!

I also found the stories about the real-life Gunnery Sargeant Carlos Hathcock to be truly fascinating in their own right and merit the price of the DVD alone, because Hathcock really did have the amazing skills Wahlberg demonstrates as the character Bob Lee Swagger, and he was a genuine, top-secret sniper for the US government — with, it seems, abilities in that role that were unprecedented. (Interestingly, on this last point, I was reminded of the 1941 movie, Sergeant York , as the named character — a Quaker pacifist who fights in World War 1, played wonderfully by Gary Cooper, and who is not only a soldier but also a truly brilliant marksman/sniper/shooter.)

If you fancy learning more about Hathcock, his story is told over two biographies, both of which are available now.  The first is Marine Sniper and the sequel is Silent Warrior. Click on the relevant image to find out more about each and/or to buy them.

Click on the image to find out more about the book and/or to order it with free delivery

This is an intelligent film that has all the elements you want in a thriller/conspiracy movie; yep, it’s the real deal: a movie that makes you think, feel and engage about geo-politics, American foreign policy, and the ramifications of all the above — while thoroughly enjoying yourself and being entertained at the same time as Wahlberg defies the odds, kicks a*ss and, of course, wins the day (and the beautiful, clever love interest — but of course!).

FYI, for those of you who wish to buy a copy of Shooter, with free worldwide delivery, then for the Region 1 DVD, click here; for the Region 2 DVD, click here.

Click on the image to find out more about the book and/or to order it with free delivery

Sideways – drink! arse! women! feck! And yes, it’s a great movie, too

Paul Giamatti - happy as a lamb (to the slaughter). Photo © Matt Baron/BEImages

As any fan/previous viewer of Paul Giamatti’s acting will know, no one does miserable/depressed/self-loathing/angst-ridden/complicated/face-like-a-slapped-bottom better than him. In fact, when you reflect on some of his notable roles, such as Lady In The Water (2006), where he plays Cleveland Heep, a miserable, depressed caretaker/superintendent; American Splendor (2003) — in which he plays Harvey Pekar, the depressed, famous underground comic book novelist — and his vastly underrated film, Cold Souls (2009), in which his role is a version of his ‘real’ actor’s self, I mean Paul Giamatti’s own, angst-ridden to the maximum degree from losing his actor’s soul, and neatly echoing Malkovich’s angst at the integrity of his own being compromised by others entering his own head, in the marvellous Being John Malkovich (1999) — well, he has clearly been chosen precisely for his ability to convey such negative and complex emotions; his face is a portrait worthy of a hybrid Hieronymus Bosch/van Gogh/Edvard Munch painting).

In other words, he is a master of complex, confused misery; there is no other actor I can think of who does what Giamatti does better than him.

Sideways - click here for's region 2 DVD offer
Sideways - click here for's region 1 DVD offer

Sideways (2006) is a lovely, touching movie, that uses as its springboard a venture into Californian wine country, as a holiday between two male friends, one of whom, a surface-only, self-centred and good-humoured guy who is about to get married and wants to have some last flings before doing so (Thomas Haden Church plays the role very well; he’s probably most well-known for playing the Sandman in Spiderman 3 (2007)), and the other, of course, is Giamatti’s character, an unpublished novelist, depressed and self-loathing, obsessive wine connoisseur, who still suffers from the divorce from his wife two years earlier.

The two female leads are

Virgina Madsen

Virginia Madsen, who plays the love interest to Giamatti’s character, and Sandra Oh,

Sandra Oh
Real men, real wine! (aka: just drink the stuff, mofos!)

who plays the sex/passion interest of Thomas Haden Church’s character. Both of them perform their roles with charm, a sense of humour and a touching, gentle and real grace, for characters that are lively, bright, fun and independently minded – my idea of a real feminist woman; this is refreshing, especially considering they could

have been treated in the traditional Hollywood manner of simply having to act as two-dimensional foils for and second-rate characters to Church and Giamatti; kudos to the male director/co-writer and co-writer/novelist of this film (see two paragraphs below for their names).

While some critics and bloggers have described this as a slow/or slow start movie, I would argue differently and say it’s a drama that builds gradually on a simple premise and, as it does so, it unravels/reveals a mesh of complex themes around love, desire, denial, depression, hypocrisy, friendship, self-respect, integrity and passion. It is a great complement to the road movie and the buddies genres.

I’ve now watched it a good few times, and enjoy it all the more each time. The dialogue is crisp and sharp, the acting from the entire ensemble is top-notch and it’s a joy, joy, joy to imbibe (never mind the wonderful education you get about some terrific Californian wines along the way). The director, Alexander Payne, and screenwriters Rex Pickett (from his original novel), along with Alexander Payne, and the cast, all deserve their accolades and are to be congratulated for such an utterly charming film. Highly recommended to all lost souls, lovers of the pressed grape, romantics at heart and/or under the table (after some great vino, of course). As some say in England when about to celebrate each other’s company and when drinking something fancy: bottoms up!

Memoirs of a Geisha – What makes it such a great movie?

The only thing that’s incomprehensible about Memoirs of a Geisha, the movie, is that it only won three Academy Oscars (for Art Direction, Costume Design and Cinematography). Anyone who watches this wonderful movie, will also, I’m sure, award it Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress (for Ziyi Zhang, who plays the Geisha at the heart of the film, and Michelle Yeoh, respectively; not only are they truly beautiful, but they are terrific actors), besides the fab performances of Ken Watanabe and Koji Yakusho), and the terrific, touching and – yes! – sentimental– see next paragraph! – musical score by John Williams.

If you have a Region 2/multi-region DVD player, click this image to link you to a Limited Edition special offer for a box set containing both the DVD (Region 2 only) and Golden’s novel. (With apologies to Region 1 users.)

The film is gorgeously sentimental.  Not, I hasten to add blech-icky-saccharine-swallow-a-cup-of-cold-sick-yuckiness-type sentimental. Yes, I confess I’m getting defensive here, because I think there’s a vogue for disdain and ridicule about the term and I believe this misconstrues its meaning.  The majority informal view, it seems, is that it means a somehow frivolous, fake and over the top expression of emotions, thereby demonstrating a shallowness and hypocrisy of personality; that there’s an absence of any real feeling or depth of such; that it comprises an excess of emotions, all of which are fundamentally piffle and surface stuff only (akin to the emotional verbal diarrhoea and personality of the monstrous Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice). But I prefer to side with the definition given by a hugely popular online dictionary – 50 million unique monthly users worldwide, besides other impressive stats about the use of their site –  as being expressive of or appealing to sentiment, especially the tender emotions and feelings, as love, pity, or nostalgia.  So, while there is vulnerability in such feelings, there is clearly no justification for the term and experience itself to merit ridicule. Instead, it is a genuine expression of powerful, deep feelings, as defined. Well, that’s what you experience with this film. Fair enough? Hope so!

Considering the power of the film to make you suspend your disbelief – a rare ability nowadays of many Hollywood films – so that you believe you actually are witnessing the real world of Geishas from the period of the 30s-40s – it is all the more remarkable that none of the writers/producers/director is in any way Japanese: they’re all American.  And I don’t mean this to sound patronising about the abilities of Americans to understand other cultures – eek – I appreciate some of the most famous anthropologists to date have been American. Anyway, as you’ll read in a few seconds below, two of the most important people to impact positively upon the film’s quality are also American (well, three in fact, when you take into count John Williams’ sumptuous music).  Moving on from Williams, since he’s now been cited, how then did the movie manage to do this? First, because it’s based on the wonderful, compelling novel by Arthur Golden, of the same title and, just as importantly, if not more so, is the influence that Liza Dalby, cultural consultant to Memoirs, academic and memoirist, had on the film.

Back in 1975, Dalby was the first female outsider – i.e., non-Japanese woman – in fact – yes! – she’s an American – ever to gain training as a Geisha. (The only other outsider accepted, it seems, was Fiona Graham, an English woman, who entered the world of the Geisha in 2008 – and you’ll see from that link that she was misrepresented as being the first outsider to do so in 400 years of Japanese  history;  in 2011 she was compelled to leave that world and role, apparently, due to ‘clashes with fellow members’.) Not only this, but Dalby went to Japan in 1975 because of her Degree studies in anthropology and because she wanted to research the world of the Geishas.  Not only did she succeed in being accepted into their world to do her research, she was also trained as and experienced the life of a Geisha, and even had a successful career as one. And, of course, all of that led to her highly successful memoir.

So because of her ability, her lived experience in that unique and closed world, and the huge benefit gained from her anthropological perspective, she was brilliant at giving sound advice, training and mentoring to the cast – most especially – and crew about all the elements that go into making a successful Geisha.  From manners, personality, dance, charm, singing, voice, body language and movement, conversation, the culture and atmosphere of entertainment, the patterns of life in an okiya, Geisha dress, make-up, etc., Dalby seems to know it all inside-out and back-to-front. As a result, she was really able to empower the cast and crew to learn about and appreciate the detail and depth of thought and action that goes into that world – if you watch the feature documentaries included with the DVD, you will see the justification of this claim – and thereby the movie is even more convincing than it may otherwise have been without her co-operation (because the world of the Geisha is still effectively closed to outsiders, despite some memoirs).  Thanks to Dalby’s mentoring, she ensures added depth and conviction to the acting, sets, cinematography and music.

The plot

The film focuses on the life of Chiyo, who we see at the start as a girl (nine years old), living with her sister, Satsu, their mother (who is dying from ill-health) and father, in an isolated Japanese village.  The father sells the two girls because he is too poor and desperate to take care of them.  Taking a long train journey, they arrive in Kyoto city and are then sold into two separate Geisha boarding houses in Gion, a renowned Geisha district. Over the course of the movie, we witness her many trials as Chiyo grows up, from being bullied and treated as a workhorse by Hatsumomo, a Geisha of the okiya, to facing the challenges of learning and mastering the ways of the Geisha in a ridiculously short space of time – thanks to being trained by Mameha, a famous Geisha, until Chiyo becomes the most famous of them all in Kyoto.

When Chiyo’s world changes because of the onslaught of WW2, we continue to follow her difficult journey until, at last, years later, she finds true love with a Japanese business man – the very same one whom she first met as a child living in Gion, when at that encounter she felt especially forsaken, sad, and hopeless for her future, and then for a time as a Geisha in training with Mameha, who introduces her to him and his co-business partner – and who was also the only one at that time to treat her with loving kindness.

So is it worth watching? Hello?! (ahem)

The acting, photography, pacing, script – all, and more – make this a sumptuous film to absorb, fall in love with, and absolutely sigh with happiness by the end. It is a touching, passionate (in every sense), romantic, wonderful love story, and for me it inspired the same intense emotions I experienced from reading Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (Wordsworth Classics), and her sister, Emily’s Wuthering Heights (Wordsworth Classics). The stunning visual beauty of kimonos of the Geishas and their remarkable talents and traditions are all amazing and fascinating to behold. In all ways it is a memorable film and is one of those rarities that, on its own – filmic – terms, not only complements and does justice to the original novel, but also transcends it through its impact on one’s other senses. So is this truly glorious, romantic, inspirational film, filled with tension, heartache, and – ultimately – love requited and achieved – worth watching? Ahem! And it’s much more, besides: it deserves the ultimate accolade of cinema: it’s a movie classic.

Want to learn/read more about Geishas, Japanese culture and society?

For those of you who, like me, absolutely love, love love Japanese culture and would like to learn more about their society, including the world of the Geishas, I would recommend the following excellent true memoirs and various cultural studies – books on art, literature, society and aesthetics. They’re all thoroughly enjoyable and full of insight; of course, this is a purely personal set of favourites, so I would welcome any feedback/recommendations from you about great books you’ve read that I’ve not included, if you can find a mo?). FYI, all links for the books are to Book Depository, the online book retailer, as it ships free worldwide and has an outstanding customer service (besides which, I can avoid the need otherwise to cite separate US/UK editions). As to editions listed, I have referred to those I believe are lowest in price while also retaining a durable quality. I hope this sounds fair.

Geisha Memoirs

Cultural Studies


  • Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology by Donald Keene (note: this was last published in 1994, so there are no authors published after that year. Importantly, however, in his lifetime, Professor Keene was one of the foremost authorities on Japanese literature and he is an excellent guide, with great taste and understanding
  • Two Japanese novelists to cite in particular, out of the thousands (sorry: simple explanation: it’s because they’re my two absolute favourites: they’re both extraordinary and both have been incredibly influential on Japanese literature at different periods, past and present):




  • In Praise of Shadows by Juni’chiro Tanizaki (an excellent, reflective essay by one of Japan’s most famous novelists)

Requiem for a Dream – Aronofsky’s brilliant drug addiction movie

Click on the image to buy the Region 2 DVD with free worldwide delivery

This powerful movie about drug addiction and materialist society is co-written by Hubert Selby, Jr. – and based on his own brilliant, harrowing novel of the same name – and director Darren Aronofsky.  Aronofksy is known for a number of distinctive films, including most recently The Black Swan, besides Pi, his first, best and most controversial film, besides this one here; The Wrestler (which gave Mickey Rourke his come back role and opened the doors for him to Hollywood once again, albeit in a limited fashion compared with his earlier success and fame); and, of course, the highly wackidoodle The Fountain).  Requiem for a Dream, both the film and the original novel are overwhelming, incredible experiences: nightmarish, and provocative, and always convincing about the world of drug-addiction (both illegal and legal). (You can buy the book with free worldwide delivery here and the Region 1 DVD with same delivery here. For a Region 2 DVD, just click on the image to your left. )

What makes this especially disturbing and powerful – though never exploitative or morally judging, like some movies about drug addiction – are the brilliant montage sequences that inter-play between the drama (trauma) of Burstyn’s story and three other lives. These are her son, played by the actor Jared Leto; his co-accomplice drug-dealing and drug-taking friend, played very well by the under-rated Marlon Wayans and mostly known for his silly Hollywood comedies; and a moving performance by Jennifer Connelly, drug-addicted, estranged from her rich parents, girlfriend to Leto’s character, and who gives in to sexual exploitation in exchange for the drugs she so desperately needs. Recommended without reservation; albeit with a caveat…It’s important to note that if you feel you could not cope with the ugly, underbelly reality of drug-addiction, then I’d stay well-clear of the film.

However, should you wish to – and I hope you do – there are three strong justifications reasons to watch it/buy it/rent it and know that it is truly one of the most stand-out films of recent years:

1. It has the most amazing, deservedly Oscar-winning performance for Best Actress, as performed by Ellen Burstyn and is truly one of the best performances ever in cinema, by an actor or actress. She is truly phenomenal as she portrays her character’s devastating downward psychological spiral as a result of doctor-prescribed diet pills. The only disgusting, shameful thing about the Oscars in this regard, is that in 2001, when Burstyn was up for nomination, bizarrely, incomprehensibly, Julia Roberts won for her pathetically easy role as a loud-foul-mouthed lawyer’s assistant in Erin Brockovich (understandably, some critics and bloggers referred to the character as Erin Brockobitch – perhaps a bit strong and it sounds cruel, but I think the term reflects the strength of feeling if injustice in awarding the Oscar to Roberts and not to Burstyn).

2. The ensemble cast works incredibly well together, from Jared Leto, to Marlon Wayans (who should have gone on to do to bigger and better, more demanding roles – he clearly has the talent), Jennifer Connelly (also her best role to date), besides all the supporting cast.

3. The original musical score (by Clint Mansell), cinematography (Matthew Libatique) and editing (Jay Rabinowitz) are truly outstanding. Clearly a tremendous amount of artistic dedication from all involved in the film and energy went into the structuring and filming, to make this the tour de force it undoubtedly is.

Sandra Bullock’s drug addiction movie 28 Days – a confessional review

I'm cute, have a wickle button nose, wear snuggly-wuggly baggy cardigans in lots of my movies. But don't let that fool you, cos I eat children innit.

I confess that the first pleasure I gained from watching this movie was enjoying Bullock suffer so much (but since it was due to drug addiction, I admit that sounds rather twisted/nasty). I also confess that Bullock is one of my least – no – the least – favourite actresses. Why? Because she’s so incredibly limited, including in her comedy, which mostly comprises her falling over herself and being silly/talking silly, clutzy, and acting through her cute button nose and obsession with baggy cardigans (the latter only when her character is in either a sorrowful or ‘look I’m cute and innocent’ frame of mind, that is. So most of the time, yeh).

However, this movie about Bullock’s character’s forced stay in a drug rehab centre in the US, while curiously unclear about being a satire/straightforward comedy on such a centre, and otherwise a celebration of the quirky (read: drug-addicted) characters, resolves into a film that addresses some interesting issues about different kinds of drug addiction. Having said that, I still couldn’t figure out by the end of the film if the ridiculous American-style chanting among groups in the movie, was sincere (i.e., worthwhile, meaningful) or the opposite. Having been a counsellor in a former life, all I can say is I hope that the chanting was a satiric take on such activity, as I’ve never known it to be effective (besides which, there are no studies, as far as I know, that confirm otherwise).

Still, it is genuinely charming to see Bullock’s druggie-character transition over time to an individual who not only is struggling, but confronts and deals with the trauma in her life (especially in regard to her helping others). On top of which, and this is the best part of the movie, you have the wonderful

I love people you know, but it's like sometimes I think a lot of them are turkeys. Why? Because a lot of them come up to me and are always saying "gobble, gobble". Go gobble someone else.

Viggo Mortensen, playing an alcoholic, yet also endearing, and – surprise, surprise (no! — ahem), Bullock and Mortensen fall in love with each other but – wisely – this is a matter of deep appreciation of each other, not fulfilment for each other’s sake.

Besides the love interest, all the “quirky” characters are well-drawn and amusing and involve strong actors in their own right. While I think it is, ultimately, an entertaining engagement about drug problems, as opposed to a warning or serious movie about the issue – in contrast, one thinks of Hubert Selby Jr’s and Darron Aronovsky’s film Requiem For A Dream (to buy, click here for the UK/Europe version, and here for the US edition). None the less, it still does take time to address seriously some of the issues involved. Especially, given the actors’ efforts to impress their characters as bonding with/as well as challenging each other. Also, especially, Steve Buscemi, impresses as the lead-drug-addicted counsellor. And Viggo is, frankly — as always — thoroughly convincing and gorgeous in his role. No matter whom he plays as a character (in Lord of the Rings, Eastern Promises, A History of Violence), he comes across, just as he does here, as beautifully genuine.

So: my last confession: yes, Bullock can act, but for me this movie is the only proof. And what a charming, thoughtful and even occasionally amusing movie it is. And, yes, it is consistently, intelligently entertaining. Recommended.