Monday, 31 January 2011

Film Review: The Lives Of Others

This is primarily my blog about books and writing, but occasionally a film pops up that deserves a mention. After all, literature and film aren't a million miles apart. The Lives of Others is such a film.

Written and directed by Floran Henckel von Donnersmarck this film is a must for anybody with the remotest interest in European history and politics, especially the history of the Cold War era. It is set in the 1980s, just before Gorbachev came to power and started the process that would lead to the liberation of Eastern Europe.

If you are planning to visit Berlin I would urge you to visit the Stasi Museum. That museum and this film, chillingly illustrate the terrifying consequnces for the populace when the state takes control of every aspect of peoples' lives. Both should be compulsory for anybody who takes personal freedom for granted.

The Lives of Others tells the story of Stasi officer Wiesel who is tasked with eavesdropping on the daily life of writer Dreyman, thought by the authorities to be loyal to the DDR. Wiesler's experience mirrors the dawning realisation of millions of people behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, that maybe something is lacking in their Workers Utopia.

The film is chilling in the extreme and the last line, uttered by Wiesler, has to be one of the simplest but most pignant last lines in any film I've ever seen. You will be heartened, appalled and sickened at various times during it, but you really must see this film.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Book Review: The Understudy by David Nicholls

Ok it's official, David Nicholls is brilliant and I will brook no contradiction. If you dare to contradict me I will have to give you a metaphorical slap. I was enjoying this book so much I missed most of last night's Shameless I was so engrossed, and what I saw of Shameless was superb. That's how good David Nicholls is.

I love the Scandinavian crime writers but, as I blogged below, I 've found Camilla Lackberg a bit of a struggle. In fact so much of a struggle that I needed a break, and have put her Ice Princess on ice. Yes, I know. Instead I turned for some light relief to David Nicholls' The Understudy. Brilliant, go out and buy it, now!

Stephen McQueen, with a P.H., is a struggling actor desperate for his big break and trying to get closer to his daughter following his divorce. He is currently playing understudy to the World's 12th Sexiest Man, actor Josh Harper.

Stuck in his tiny dressing room at the top of the West End theatre life seems tough and depressing to Stephen. Then Josh invites him to his birthday party. The party is in Josh's home, full of beautiful people, the trinkets associated with world stardom and lots of coke and other chemicals. A limpse of the world that Stephen aspires to.

But the party, and Stephen's presence there isn't quite what he expected, neither is the outcome. Stephen goes into chemical and alcohol overdrive and ends up falling in love with Norah, wife of Josh. What ensues is classic modern comedy of which David Nicholls is the true master. Virtually every page has a laugh-out-loud moment and the charcters, even the vain Josh, are warm and become aquaintances of the reader if not friends.


Go here to read an excerpt.