Monthly Archives: December 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

I love the Harry Potter books series, and I’ve seen all the movies so far. It was only natural that I went to see the latest installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Part 2 comes out in July 2011). It’s not bad. It keeps getting darker, and I really wondered with this one whether I’d be happy for my kids to see it. The movie is far more graphic than the books and I felt a little uneasy with some of the scenes. The film reminded me that I had found the first part of the book too slow. I am referring to the part where Harry, Hermione and Ron spend time in a tent in the middle of nowhere, trying to hide from their chasers. The dymamics between the three of them is interesting, but it goes on for far too long and becomes a little tedious. As a consequence, the “tent part” in the movie is long too and slightly boring. I think the film could have been shorter; I would have enjoyed it more.

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The art of happiness

I watched The Pursuit of Happyness yesterday, the 2006 movie by director Gabriele Muccino. I saw it in Chinese. It was fun to hear Will Smith speak Chinese, but that’s not my point here. The title of the movie struck me. Not because of the “y” in happyness, which comes from a spelling mistake on a street poster, but because of the similarity of the title with a novel by Douglas Kennedy. But this is where the similarity ends. Both stories are very different. In Kennedy’s novel, Sara, an independent, smart young woman, falls in love with Jack Malone, a U.S. Army journalist just back from defeated Germany. This is the beginning of a beautiful, yet tragic, love story. The book is wonderfully written (Kennedy at his best) and uses McCarthy’s post-war witch-hunt as background, which makes it even more interesting. The pursuit of Happyness, on the other hand, is the story of Christopher Gardner, a black American man struggling to make both ends meet, with a wife and a son to look after. Very soon, his wife leaves him, and covered by heavy debts ranging from unpaid parking tickets to rent, bad investments, and taxes, Gardner starts sleeping on the streets with his son. He manages however to enter a brokerage firm as intern before being offered a full-time job. This is a classic story based on the American values of entrepreneurship, persistence, money and self-made wonder. Very well. But this is where I start to question the title of the film. There is no denying that money contributes to happiness, and were we in Gardner’s situation, we would be depressed or suicidal. Gardner isn’t. By the end of the movie, all is well: he is offered a permanent position, and is making millions. What about his wife? She is not mentioned anymore. What about his heart? What about his boy, seeing his parents yell at each other, having his mother walk away on them, his father being treated like a piece of rubbish and sleeping on the streets? Zilch. The movie ends on a simple note mentioning that a few years later Gardner founds his own company and, after selling a minority stake in it, earns millions. This is where I want to puke.

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The Scold’s Bridle by Minette Walters

Minette Walters is good. This is the second book of hers that I read, and I must say that I enjoyed it tremendously. Walter’s writing is witty, her dialogues are truer than life, and her characters are diabolical. The plot in this one was flawless and I was kept guessing until the end who had committed the murder – I even wondered if it was murder at all! There seems to be a recurrent pattern of incestuous relationships in Walters’s books, but I’ll have to read more to see if this is true. In any case, The Scold’s Bridle figures such relationships, as did The Ice House. Like all great writers, Walters creates real characters whom you love or hate. She does create a world full of horrors, but not without redeeming features. In this book, an old, bitter woman is found murdered in her bath tub with a scold’s bridle on her head. You may wonder, as I did, what is indeed a scold’s bridle. Here’s the Wikipedia definition: “A scold’s bridle, sometimes called “branks”, was a punishment device for women, also used as a ‘mild’ form of torture. It was an iron muzzle or cage for the head with an iron curb-plate projecting into the mouth and pressing down on top of the tongue. The ‘curb-plate’ was frequently studded with spikes so that if the tongue remained lying calmly in place, it inflicted a minimum of pain.” Very nice… And here’s a picture of it. I trust you will enjoy The Scold’s Bridle as much as I did, if you like crime novels with twisted relationships and a mystery that won’t be solved until the very last pages.

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Guilin and Yangshuo, a (touristy) paradise

I’ve realised that I haven’t posted any pictures of China yet on this blog. It’s time to do something about it, and I’ll start with two of my favourite places: Guilin and Yangshuo. Both cities are located in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (West of Guandong Province and East of Yunnan Province), on the Li River. The Li River has often been compared to Halong Bay in Vietnam, because of its numerous, wonderful karst peaks. Guilin City itself is not amazing, so don’t waste your time there (although we did discover a small restaurant where we ate a delicious full meal for only one euro!). Head for a cruise on the river, and you won’t be disappointed. We were very lucky when we did the cruise because it had rained the day before and there was enough water to start the cruise close to Guilin. If you’re lucky enough to have clear blue skies, you will never forget the scenery offered by the river and its peaks,  its water buffalos patrolling the fields, its rice paddies, and its fishermen on bamboo rafts.  The Li River has become one of China’s top tourist destinations, along with Xi’An, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

At the end of the cruise, you land in Yanshuo, a small town located some 90 kilometers south of Guilin City. Yanshuo is gorgeous, although a bit touristy for my liking. Some streets are lined with western cafes, restaurants and hotels, and you can’t escape the magnificent view of the peaks. Yangshuo is a great place for hiking, cycling and rock climbing, although not for the faint-hearted. You can also go down the river on bamboo rafts; it’s a lot of fun. 

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Worst film ever?

I’ve just seen Mammuth, which is part of the French film festival of Hong Kong. I found it terrible. This is a comedy/drama from 2010 starring Gerard Depardieu, Isabelle Adjani, and Yolande Moreau. I find it hard to believe that such famous, good actors could act in such an average movie! Serge Pilardosse (Depardieu) has just turned 60 and is retiring from his butcher job, but in order to get his full pension, he must chase some old pay slips. He goes on a journey to find his former employers, encounters his niece in the process, finds a new meaning in life and comes back to his wife (Moreau). During the process he comes to terms with the death of a former lover (Adjani) who died when they had a motorbike accident.  The premise is interesting, but the movie does not live up to expectations. Moreau does a wonderful job, and I suppose Depardieu does as well, although as a dirty, gutless and simple character, it is hard to like him.  The film is made of a series of pathetic, meaningless, sometimes boring or annoying, trivial or even totally ridiculous scenes. Characters in this film are all retarded, except Moreau, who I think does the best job of all as the supermarket employee/wife who is trying to hold their lives together; they are all dirty and utter insults in each other’s face just like you would say hi to someone. There are quite a few good lines, but it’s not enough to make the movie worth watching. Some scenes honestly make little sense and – you feel – are just there to shock or try to make you laugh. It lacks coherence and simply misses its goal. Mammuth doesn’t even get one star from me.

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Book trailer for Body Swap

I’ve created a new book trailer for my latest young adult novel, Body Swap. I thank Danosongs again for the music.

Here it is:

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Killers is another movie you will watch and forget as soon as you’ve seen it, in spite of an impressive cast: Ashton Kutcher, Tom Selleck, and Katherine Heigl. The film (2010) was directed by Robert Luketic. The story goes like this: Spencer Aimes, a government-hired super-assassin, is on a mission on the French Riviera when he bumps into Jen Kornfeldt, a beautiful woman recovering from a bad break-up. They fall in love, they marry, and Spencer decides to retire and take on a normal job. Three years later, on the morning after Spencer’s 30th birthday, Jen discovers her husband’s past and the couple realise he is the target of a multi-million dollar hit. Killers are on the loose and will try anything to murder Spencer. Those killers include anyone, from neighbours to colleagues or  strangers. Spencer and Jen are soon on the run for their lives. This movie reminded me a little of True Lies (with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis) except that True Lies was much more clever, and, believe or not, much more subtle. It’s not all bad, you don’t have time to get bored, some bits are quite funny, and Heigl and Kutcher are gorgeous, but it’s far from reaching the mark. Watch it on a plane or if you’re brain-dead after a hard week’s work.

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Christmas in Hong Kong

Hong Kong people love Christmas, and the city is full of lights and decorations of all kinds at this time of the year. One of the best viewpoints is from Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side. From there, you have an amazing view of the city and of the gigantic light displays of some of the buildings across the harbour. Many people also take the opportunity to admire the Christmas decorations of Harbour City. Here are a few photos for those of you who are too far away or too busy to go and have a look for themselves.



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Hong Kong Murders

I have finally finished reading Hong Kong Murders, by Kate Whitehead. It relates fourteen homicides that have taken place in Hong Kong over the years. Hong Kong is one of the safest places in the world, so I was interested to find out what these murders were. Also, it is part of research that I am currently conducting for my next novel. The murders described in the book were driven by money, sex or revenge. Some of them were linked to the famous Hong Kong triads, others to kidnapping, or even simple shootings. Whitehead goes through each case, describing the murder scene, then moving on to the inquiry, and sometimes the trials that followed. To be honest, it’s not very exciting. Maybe the material itself is deficient, with Hong Kong being such a safe place, and the Chinese culture not being a violent one. Chinese will usually satisfy themselves with oral arguments and are reluctant to move on to physical fighting. One feature of Hong Kongers is that they don’t like to “get involved” and don’t like to mingle with other people’s businesses. As a consequence of that, I was horrified to learn that an estimated forty people passed the body of a woman who had been raped and strangled before anyone called the police. Worse still, included in these forty passers-by were her neighbours! Whitehead does an okay job, but we don’t really get into the murderer’s heads or their families’, and we often don’t understand their real motives. The killings themselves are left in the dark and more emphasis is put on the inquiry. It left me with a feeling of wanting more, and not having learned enough. In fact, I feel Whitehead struggled to make the material interesting. It is obvious from the book that she has done an enormous amount of research and interviewed the protagonists, but this is not enough to make the book very exciting. Two stars.

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The kids are all right

On a  trip to Australia this week I watched The Kids Are All Right, a 2010 comedy-drama directed by Lisa Cholodenko, and I loved it! The cast includes two of my favourite actresses, Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, as well as Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska, and Mark Ruffalo. The film touches on several topics that I am interested in, and I found it well done. It is the story of a lesbian couple, Nic and Jules, and of their two teen-age son and daughter, Laser and Joni. The day Joni reaches eighteen, her brother convinces her to find out who their father is (Nic and Jules used an anonymous sperm donor to each have a child with him).  This will unravel a series of problems, as each individual starts to build a relationship of some kind with the “new” father (including Jules who start sleeping with him). The previously stable family falls apart, leading to some conflicts and long-needed explanations. I liked the way the topic is addressed, without unnecessary emphasis on the fact that there are two mums. It’s all about each individual’s budding relationship with the newcomer and how it affects their relationship with the rest of the family. This is a serious topic, one that more and more children will face. It’s a great story, beautifully depicted, clever, and, more importantly,  it does not give lessons in the heavy-handed way American movies can sometimes. It’s not perfect – I find the children’s reactions a little too easy and I would have liked a more in-depth approach of what they go through, but I nevertheless highly recommend it.

Here’s the trailer:

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