Friday, May 30, 2008

Sex and the City

On Wednesday I went to see the new Sex and the City movie. I was lucky to get a ticket as movie theatres across the country were totally sold out.

Was I impressed? Well, not really, but I didn't expect to be. I knew the film could never live up to the hype, but was curious to see the final dénouement of the Carrie/Big saga.

I've always been a big fan of the series, mainly because of the clothes but also because the story is quite addictive, and there are always some great one-liners. Having lived in New York, I now feel I pick up on details that would have skipped my attention before. References to places such as Bed Bath and Beyond, Bergdorf Goodman, Pastis, City Hall, the Public Library, etc, now have more meaning. I also have to say that, despite not really missing NY since I left (mainly because I've been too busy), the film's Brooklyn Bridge scene did cause me to feel slightly teary-eyed. I used to love walking across that bridge.

Overall, I think the film delivered what the audience wanted - a happy ending but not sugary-sweet. However, I do feel that the overall cinematic experience was marred due to the high level of product placement. In fact, it seemed like the whole script was guided by different endorsements, from Christie's (one of the first scenes takes place at an auction there) to Pret a Manger (Carrie and Miranda delicately unwrap some very un-atkins sarnies, obviously to indicate that that the no-carbs diet is so 5 years ago, and also to hint at the presence of the British lunch joint in NY) to a list of the most exlcusive wedding dress designers (Vera Wang, Vivienne Westwood, etc), and of course: the Vuitton bag.

As one guy I spoke to after the show put it, the film encapsulates 'utter American captialism'. I'm not claiming to be against shopping culture, but I must admit that the lavish excesses of the film did make me feel a bit queasy.

Nevertheless, there were, as usual, some delightful comic lines, delivered mostly by Samantha of course.

Monday, May 26, 2008

European Cinema at its best

So, Laurent Cantet scooped the Palme d'Or at Cannes yesterday, for his latest film, Entre Les Murs. I haven't seen the film yet, but if his riveting Emploi du Temps (2001) and Vers le Sud (2005) are anything to go by, the critics haven't slipped up in nominating him for the coveted prize. Well done Laurent!

Another festival gem that I'm dying to catch a glimpse of is Desplechin's Un Conte de Noël. Starring the dazzling Catherine Deneuve and the brilliant Mathieu Almaric, who were both in his glorious Rois et Reine (2004), this is sure to be fantastic.

Paolo Sorrentino, the quirky Italian director who made the baffling but thought-provoking Amico di Famiglia (2006) and the chilly, disturbing Conseguenze d'Amore (2004), won the special jury prize for his political satire about Italy's seven-time prime minister Andreotti.

I also can't wait to watch Win Wenders' new film, Palermo Shooting. I absolutely adored Wings of Desire and this looks like it's set to be equally as daring and original, with a killer soundtrack to boot.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I Cannes

Just one of the reasons why I'd like to be at the Cannes Film Festival... sigh....

Monday, May 19, 2008

3 days in Paris

I spent this weekend in Paris, staying in the 19th arrondissement with some friends. They live right by the Canal St. Martin. The area has a peaceful feel but there's also a lot going on. There are the two MK2 cinemas, one on each quay, linked together by a special boat called 'Zéro de Conduite'. Their cafés spill out onto the pavement, casting multicoloured lights onto the water at nighttime.

Unlike some of the more touristy Paris quartiers, the 19th still retains a sense of neighbourhood spirit. On my walk back from the subway to my friend's place on Friday, a boules game was taking place on the quayside, its players ranging from about ten years old to seventy. Nearby is also the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont - a beautiful park in Baroque style, built in 1867. I've been wanting to go there since I saw Eric Rohmer's film, La Femme de L'Aviateur (1981), which is filmed there.

Subway Cures

If you've been to New York in recent months you may have noticed, as I did, the proliferation of adverts in the subway, encouraging people to 'improve' themselves in some way or other. These seem to be epecially prevalent on the C-line, which happened to be my local subway. Daily commuters are confronted with a widening array of posters, promising miracle cures for ailments ranging from bunions, hammer-toe and wonky teeth to impotence. Some ads even reveal the identity of the doctor - complete with mugshot - promising to administer the cure. Dr.Zizmor, the dermatologist, for example, guarantees that 'you'll say thank you, Dr Zizmor' once he's cleaned up unwanted blemishes from your face. His ad doesn't fail to mention that 'all major credit cards accepted' and that his clinic is 'open 5 days per week', furtively adding in parenthesis 'including Sundays'. Sounds more 'zitmore' than Zizmor, to me.
You'll also notice that the phone number provided at the bottom of each poster often incorporates a word into it, presumably to make it easier for people to memorise (for impotence the buzzword is 'male', for bunions it's 'foot', etc). This presumably allows people to avoid the embarrassment of being seen copying down the number. I disregarded this latter consideration when I took these pictures, however. The people on my subway carriage probably thought what an unfortunate person I am, to require so many treatments at once.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Oh, Dia

On Sunday I made my long-awaited trip to Dia:Beacon, the upstate wing of the Dia Art Foundation (which was founded in 1974 and has its base in New York City). It was a gorgeous day and the light streaming through the large windows of this ex-printing factory made the artworks look their best. I was surprised at how vast the space was - almost 30,000 square-feet - and at the amount of different artists on display at once, from Andy Warhol to Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Biting off more than you can chew

OK, so we all know that America has an obesity problem and that it's often down to portion sizing. Why oh why, then, do they allow those atrocious adverts that lure hungry customers by encouraging them that bigger is better?

Take Subway for instance- that well-known, omnipresent sandwich brand. Their adverts for 'foot-long subs' are an unavoidable part of one's TV viewing experience here. For just $5, you can eat one foot's worth of processed bread, meat and all kinds of fattening sauces. Yum, yum. And I walked past a billboard the other day asking passers-by 'Stuck in traffic? Why wait empty-handed?' or words to that effect. 'Cos a greasy sub is just what you need to help pass the time.

But that's not all - now Quiznos, another chain sarnies outlet, is challenging Subway - guaranteeing 'more meat' than its rival brand. As their slogan says, 'cos if you're gonna eat $5, you might as well have more meat'. 50% more, they say. And if that isn't enough to woo your taste buds, that close-up frame of about a tonne of processed meat sure will.

Bon appetit!

(image - an oh-so-fresh Subway sandwich)

Sunday, May 4, 2008


In New York, you don't just go to a bar. The thing to do is find that secret, Prohibition-style Speakeasy where you drink Cosmopolitans out of teacups. Or the Japanese style bar where the rules state that you can't talk loudly, and where you'll find elegant New Yorkers sipping on iced cocktails infused with shiso leaf, in a Haruki Murakami-style setting.
The question is, will London nightlife seem tame after this?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

African Cinema in New York

I've been interested in African cinema for about three years now. Recently, I've managed to catch a couple of new African films in New York. There's an African film festival going on here, based at the Lincoln Center, BAM and the Alliance Française at separate times. I managed to catch the thought-provoking Africa Paradis at the Lincoln Center a couple of weeks ago. (I will review that in a later blog). Here, I want to talk about a film I saw on Saturday at BAM (The Brooklyn Academy of Music, for those of you who don't know it).

It's a documentary entitled FESPACO (2007). Made by Kevin Arkadie, an African American who has worked for years on commercial TV, it takes the format of an 'insider's' view of FESPACO, the only pan-African film festival that has been taking place annually in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, for twenty years. The festival has existed for longer than that though - it first took place in 1969 and became an institution by governmental decree on 7 January 1972.

Arkadie first discovered FESPACO when he went there a few years ago, and wanted to share his experience with fellow (African) Americans who haven't heard of the festival. As it happens, my father went there in 1994 when he was working for Reuters in Nairobi. I still remember the themed notebook he brought back for me, with the space-age architecture of Burkina Faso's capital city on the front. (I am now aware that the photo depicts the aptly named Place des Cinéastes, a central focus of this cinema-loving city). Perhaps it was all those years ago, looking at that image aged ten, that my fascination with African cinema really began.

So, back to the film. The first thing that struck me was the over-use of photo montage and old-fashioned graphics, which distracted from the interesting subject matter. The documentary is also spoiled by the poor sound quality of the voiceover. However, I think Arkadie's film does provide a good insight into the festival, its history and the way it is developing now. Having never been before, I did feel I gained an insight into the atmosphere of the event, and the way it attracts the participation of the general public. The filmmaker's particular slant, following some African Americans who, nominated for the 'Paul Robeson' award (geared specifically towards African American filmmakers), went there for the first time. One of these directors actually won the award, which was a coup for the director.

I met the Arkadie before the screening. I found out his film has already been presented in California and in Denver, and it will travel to Atlanta later this summer. It hasn't yet made it to the UK, but I'm hoping it will soon. Not enough people know about the vibrant, exciting film scene in West Africa, and it's time to change this.

Images: Senegalese director Ben Diogaye Beye; Ousmane Sembene's Moolaade (2004); Haroun's Abouna (2002); Place des Cinéastes, Ouagadouou

Guggenheim Farewell

Tomorrow I'll be having my farewell party (at Pink Pony, in case you're curious). I'll be leaving NY in mid-May to start my 'new life' in Europe.

I've been thinking lately how much I'll miss all my New York friends. Here are some snapshots of my time at the Guggenheim.