Archive for August, 2012

Piccadilly Jim (2005) is the third filmed adaptation of the P. G. Wodehouse novel of the same name (1917). I’ve read some scathing reviews, berating everything from the scattered costuming (though I found some of the outfits hysterical and the hairstyles even more so, approaching those in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) to the change in the main character’s motivation and contrition.  I can understand all of that.  Yet I still found this movie extremely entertaining.

The reason I wanted to see this film is because it stars one of my favorite quirky actors, Sam Rockwell. But the movie is very hard to find. I finally caught it on cable on demand. Since I was mainly watching it for the cast, which is a wonderful mix of excellent British and American stars, I was not as critical as some reviewers of the faithfulness of adaptation. But I can understand the chagrin of Wodehouse fans; it’s terrible as far as story adaptation (should basically be labeled “loosely based on”) and pretty muddled as far as the historical period in which it supposedly takes place. That being said, it’s a silly and fun farce, like The Importance of Being Earnest meets Bullets over Broadway, with odd characters, ridiculous situations, and melodramatic scenes.

In addition to Rockwell’s endearing expressions and splendid physical comedy, the rest of the cast is captivating to watch. Tom Wilkinson and Allison Janney shine as Jim’s mismatched father and stepmother, as does Brenda Blethyn as his disapproving aunt.  Rupert Simonian is supremely devilish as the spoiled Ogden. and Hugh Bonneville is dastardly as the German spy.  I found Frances O’Connor a bit tepid as the adventure-seeking, Jim-hating ingenue, but that may be more the due to how confused the character is than to O’Connor’s portrayal. In any case, it was a hoot watching them all interact.

Though it’s far from being a masterpiece, I found this movie distracting entertainment for a lazy weekend.  I’m glad I finally had the chance to see it.



Review: Yes, Chef: A Memoir

Yes, Chef: A Memoir
Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m glad I read this book, as I’ve been a fan of on-TV Marcus Samuelsson, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed on several fronts. I think this is the first time I have wound up respecting someone less after reading their story than I did before.

First, I don’t read many (auto)biographical books, but I had read Tony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly years ago and loved it. It was irreverent, humor-filled, gutsy, and eye-opening about so many behind-the-scenes activities in the culinary world. I guess I was expecting a bit more of the same, but this is more of an earnest yet self-aggrandizing recollection of the important things in Samuelsson’s life. There really was none of the shocking or amusing content that made KC so fun to read. IN fact, the shocks of chef’s life were glossed over—for example, it surprised me how a line or two covered deaths of friends and family, while paragraphs were devoted to the use of a particular ingredient.

Second, in the past, I’ve heard chef talk very warmly about his Swedish upbringing. In this memoir, however, the character that developed for me seemed far more interested in pursuing his overriding personal goal (“chasing flavors”) and later identifying strongly with his birth family (despite being just 3 when adopted), regardless of any pain to his Swedish family … or to the child he fathered when he was 20. Although ultimately all the parts of chef’s life seem to come together in a happy ending, and he’s able to “give back” in the way he always planned once he’d “made it,” the way the journey rolls out and the personality that’s painted did not give me any warm fuzzies. Chef writes with more passion about food than he does about the people that made his life possible. There is huge section in which he talks of nothing but the kitchen world until mentioning, “Oh, my father died in Sweden, but I did not attend the funeral since I had to work.” (That’s not a direct quote, of course!)

Third, the story is disjointed at times, not flowing well and leaving the reader guessing about topics that have been brought up and then seemingly dropped, until they reappear much later. This is an issue that a good editor should have caught, as is the lack of “show, don’t tell.” There are characters who supposedly were vitally important in chef’s life, but we’re only told how terrific they were. We don’t see it for ourselves. For example, late in the book, chef talks a length about the man his (Swedish) father was and how that has shaped his own values. Yet the only interaction we can fall back on is the summer vacations described. We don’t see how hard-working, committed, or loving Lennart was; we only can take chef’s word for it.

Finally, for me, the end of the book became a tedious diatribe. For many pages earlier, chef had talked about wanting to erase the color card from the equation of his acceptance into the culinary world. I applauded that and agreed with him that he shouldn’t be referred to as “that black chef” but rather the chef that perfected that particular signature dish. However, by the end, he’s referring to himself as a black chef and championing the renaissance of Harlem and its flavor traditions, though he admits he’d never even made or eaten fried chicken since he was raised on gravlax and herring in Sweden. It was a real disconnect for me; it’s not his history or his struggle. Furthermore, I don’t like politics and try not to get overly involved, aside from staying informed and fulfilling the responsibility of voting (if you don’t vote, you can’t complain!), but I was overwhelmed by the Obama support, which is very scary as I watch the country sink deeper into depression under this administration’s nation-weakening policies. The final few pages of the book are filled with political, societal, and reflective thoughts about the role of restaurants in life, and it gets repetitious. But there seems to be another disconnect, at least for me, how any of the life chef has created for himself has anything to do with his real background.

In my mind, chef did not do himself any favors by publishing this book. The things I had admired about him—the melding of cultures in his life and cooking, the charitable work he does, the many awards and accolades he has worked hard to earn, and the respect he’s earned within the industry—are hardly seen within the covers of this memoir. For instance, on one page, in a couple of lines, he mentions some of the celebrities he’s cooked for or who have visited his restaurant. Why weren’t these stories in the book? Why are they just dropped names? That would have been far more interesting, at least to me, than hearing about the pig foot woman of Harlem.

All in all, this was not so satisfying a read. I’ll continue to follow Marcus Samuelsson’s career and even try cooking some of his fabulous dishes. But reading about his life in his own words did nothing to improve my opinion of him or tech me anything, except maybe wanting to try a few ethnic spice blends.

Review: Seed

Seed by Ania Ahlborn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a ride! This is a creepy possession story akin to Japanese lore, in which the evil spirit never rests and can’t be exorcised. That’s tough to take in our “hero makes everything right” culture. The details unfold slowly, revealing layers of horror. I was confused at times, wondering what exactly was going on and what the possessing entity really wanted. But in the end, that’s the point — it doesn’t matter. It just feeds on angst and grief and fear and terror. In that respect, this fast, fascinating read is well constructed … and very creepy!


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