18 posts

An Interview With Joanne Harris

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“There is a universality to food that makes it easily accessible to the reader, and a long tradition of sensuality related to the subject. As newborns we first experience the world through two senses — taste and smell. That means that our emotional response to a taste or a smell can act upon us at a very powerful, subconscious level.”

Movie still: Rififi

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Rififi, #27

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That these guys are, as the French say, sympathique, is evident from the beginning of the robbery when Tony tucks a pillow behind the head of the elderly woman to make her more comfortable after she and her husband have been gagged and tied up. A clock ticking on a mantel provides a time line for the heist, which begins shortly before midnight and doesn’t end until six the next morning. In film time, the robbery takes about 30 minutes. And during those minutes, not a word—NOT ONE WORD—is spoken.

Movie still: Pepe le Moko

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Pépé le Moko, #36

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Pépé le Moko is described as a foray into poetic realism and as the precursor to what became known as film noir. The movie works in large part because of Gabin, who portrays the gangster Pépé as a multidimensional character whose flaws are also his charms.

Movie still: A Prophet

100 Greatest Gangster Films: A Prophet, #44

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As a prison movie, it would rank in our all-time Top 10. As a gangster movie, not as high, but we do heartily recommend it. The film is directed by Jacques Audiard, whom critics delight in calling “The French Scorsese.”

Movie still: Vincent Cassel as Jacques Mesrine

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Mesrine: Killer Instinct, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 — #51

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Jacques Mesrine was one of the most notorious criminals in France during the 1960s and 1970s. Part John Dillinger, part John Gotti, the egotistical bank robber, kidnapper and escape artist became a hero in the French tabloids and in the working class slums of cities like Paris and Marseilles despite his penchant for violence and cruelty.

Asylum Blackout promotional poster

Halloween Home Video #4: Alexandre Courtès’ Asylum Blackout

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Welcome to Halloween Home Video (2012 edition), a special series of home video reviews for this year’s scary season. Week 2 begins with the simple, hard-hitting thriller Asylum Blackout by Alex Courtès.

Anne Hathaway plays Fantine in Tom Hooper's Les Miserables

Trailer Watch: Les Misérables

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This is, in showbiz terms, the textbook definition of “a big deal.” After all this anticipation, it will almost certainly become the definitive film version of the show, for good or ill. And so it must be done right the first time. We are a long way from Spider-Man now.

Book Review: René Blum and the Ballets Russes by Judith Chazin-Bennahum

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All of Blum’s many accomplishments were bracketed between the anti-Semitic turmoil of the Dreyfus Affair that tormented France from 1894 to 1904 and the Nazi-led Holocaust in which he perished. To his dying day, Blum thought of himself as a French patriot. Yet it was the complicity of French officials during the German occupation that set him on the road to Auschwitz.

Book Review: How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell

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Born nearly five hundred years ago, Montaigne was one of the last great thinkers of the Renaissance. He can also stake a claim to be the first recognizable writer of modern times. Montaigne’s Essays are stocked with insights of such relevance, inspiration and humanity that they might well have been written yesterday – or tomorrow.

Arletty and Jean-Louis Barrault in Children of Paradise

Movie Time Nostalgia, Part 4: We Are All Children Of Paradise

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A movie can do a lot of things to an audience. It may move them, amuse them, disgust them, terrify them, or in all too many cases bore them. One thing only a handful of films can do is inspire wonder. Every once in a while, a winning combination of writer, director, designers, composers and cast meet in perfect harmony. Such, I feel, is the case of Marcel Carné’s 1945 epic romance, Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise).

Book Review: Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War by Ted Morgan

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Giap had lost several family members to the rigors of French colonial rule, including his wife who was arrested and died in a French prison. A model of cool, methodical persistence, Giap was not goaded or tricked into a rash counterattack on Dien Bien Phu. He patiently assembled his forces, digging gun positions in the forested slopes overlooking the French defenses and amassing a huge supply of ammunition carried by thousands of porters through the jungle. Then on March 13, 1954, Giap struck at Dien Bien Phu, capturing several key strong-points and pounding the air strip so that supply planes could no longer land. The base aero-terrestre had become a death trap.

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R.A. Scotti

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Not quite a century ago, on August 29, 1911, thousands of people began flocking to the Louvre (among them, Franz Kafka and his friend Max Brod) to gaze at a blank space on a wall. The 49-acre Louvre – still the largest museum in the world today – had been closed for most of the preceding week for the investigation of a singular occurrence: the most famous painting in the world had disappeared from that blank spot.

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

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Much more serious, though, is the book’s take on the medieval world as a whole. Alongside the loud cynicism of its insistence that the battles are meaningless, the church is corrupt and the aristocracy live in a different world, Agincourt continually asserts a broadly positive, modern outlook.

All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky

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How might we doubt that any long dead, wholly forgotten writer, who has re-emerged and within a few short years risen to a second round of best-sellerdom with three newly-discovered novels is a truly remarkable craftsman? Irene Nemirovsky first came to our attention in 2004, sixty years after her demise at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwitz, when a novel of hers was found “buried” within her journal entries.

Résistance by Agnès Humbert

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The early resistors soon discover that the Nazis don’t view their activities with similar lightheartedness. Oblivious to the reason why a German car might be parked outside the hospital her mother is in, Humbert walks straight into hell. A member of the Gestapo has infiltrated and betrayed their group, and she and her friends are rounded up for a show trial. It is only April 1941. What follows is an account that tests our 21st century belief in rationalism.