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Posts Tagged ‘satire’

Richard Benson (William Holden) is a screenwriter who is due to deliver his latest script in two days time, but hasn’t even started it yet.  He hires Gabrielle Simpson (Audrey Hepburn) to type the script, and she ends up helping him write it.  As they work, they imagine themselves as the characters in the screenplay, and envision each other acting the scenes out.

This was Audrey Hepburn’s least favourite of her films, and it’s fair to say that it probably is one of worst of both her films and William Holden’s films, but that is partly because they both made some truly wonderful films during their respective careers.  By all accounts, this was quite an ordeal to make, because Holden, who was in the grip of his alcoholism, tried to rekindle his previous relationship with Hepburn, but by this time she was married, and therefore not interested.  Holden was hospitalised for his drinking during filming, which probably didn’t help matters.  There’s a bittersweetness to watching this because the character Richard Benson also drinks too much alcohol; also, I think Paris When It Sizzles is the movie where you can start to see the damage that alcoholism has caused to Holden’s good looks.  He looks tired and drawn, and it’s sad to see.  Audrey, as ever, is beautiful and radiant, and just adorable.

However, the film itself is actually quite a lot of fun, despite being a flop when it was released, and being critically panned.  Hepburn and Holden were both fantastic actors (two of my favourites), and do a good job here.  The script is contrived in places, but I kind of thought that it was supposed to be – this is a hack screenwriter doing a rush job, after all.  There are quite a few in-jokes or references to other films, including some of Audrey’s, and plenty of familiar plot devices are used – but that’s kind of the point.  Tony Curtis has a very small role in the film – he agreed to do it when Holden went into  hospital, in order that the crew could keep working – and he certainly makes the most of it.  His scenes are actually some of the funniest in the film.  There is also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Marlene Dietrich, as herself.  Additionally, when Benson says that the name of his screenplay is The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower, and Frank Sinatra could sing the theme song, Sinatra’s voice is actually heard singing a few lines, including the title itself.

I would say that the film is lightweight, but still enjoyable, and is also quite clever in parts, with a few digs at the Hollywood film industry.  I’d recommend it to fans of Hepburn and/or Holden.

Year of release: 1964

Director: Richard Quine

Producers: George Axelrod, Richard Quine, John R. Coonan, Carter De Haven Jr.

Writers: Julien Duvivier (story ‘La fete a Henriette’), Henri Jeanson (story ‘La fete a Henriette’), George Axelrod

Main cast: William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Gregoire Aslan, Noel Coward, Tony Curtis

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In this beind-the-scenes comedy drama, David Duchovny is Mike Klein, a writer who pitches a pilot for a television show to a network.  The show is picked up, but then Mike realises that he has to compromise on every aspect of the show.

And that’s it in a nutshell…but this film is a very entertaining and amusing look at how a television pilot makes it from the page to the screen.  Sigourney Weaver plays Lenny, a boss at the studio who seems to have no life outside of work, and expects everyone to bow to her command.  Ioan Gruffudd is her much nicer colleague, who is swept along in the process, and even though he sometimes disagrees with Lenny, it is very hard for him to effect any change, trapped as he is between furthering his own career, and sticking to his principles.  Judy Greer puts in a great performance as Mike’s agent Alice, and Fran Kranz and Lindsay Sloane are Zach and Laurel, the two stars of Mike’s show.

The TV Set almost has a documentary feel to it – we are watching the process happen, and seeing how Mike becomes disillusioned.  Yes, he realises his dream of getting his show on the air, but at what cost?  Duchovny gave a good performance, and I could feel his frustration.  Justine Bateman was somewhat wasted as his wife however, but she made the best of a small part.

Definitely worth a watch – it is interesting and enjoyable, and while it may not be laugh-out-loud funny, there are plenty of amusing moments.  This film gets a thumbs up from me.

Year of release: 2006

Director: Jake Kasdan

Producers: Judd Apatow, Lawrence Kasdan, Jake Kasdan, Aaron Ryder, Ron Schmidt, Carey Dietrich, Paul Pressburger, Howard Tager

Writer: Jake Kasdan

Main cast: David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, Ioan Gruffudd, Judy Greer, Fran Kranz, Lindsay Sloane, Justine Bateman

 

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Hundreds of years into the future, the world is a very different place, where your path in life, and your position in ‘the collective’ (as the human race is now known) is determined by what colour you see, and how well you are able to see it.  Eddie Russet is a Red, which places him quite high in what is effectively a caste system.  When he and his father visit East Carmine, he meets Jane, a Grey – which is the lowest class.  For Eddie it is love at first sight, but Jane most certainly does not return his feelings.  However, strange happenings are afoot in East Carmine (and outside of it), and as Eddie investigates them, he discovers that everything is not as it seems in the collective, and the powers that be might just be hiding a huge secret…

I’ve read Jasper Fforde before, and generally find his books to be very enjoyable.  Moreover, this one was a dystopian novel (albeit a humorous one), and dystopia is a favourite genre of mine.  So I was looking forward to reading this book, confident that I would at least like it, if not love it.  And…unfortunately I was wrong.  I found that I just couldn’t get along with this book at all.  The dystopian world depicted was interesting enough, but I felt that the author was just piling wordplay upon wordplay, to make his point about what a crazy mixed up future this is, and it all got a bit laborious.  Even worse, there is very little actual plot, and I didn’t feel that any of the characters were particularly well drawn.

I have read other reviews of this book, and for the most part they are extremely favourable, so I am certainly in the minority with my opinion on this one. I should say that I can see why other readers might love this book. It wasn’t dreadful – and indeed some moments did make me laugh, as Fforde can be amusingly inventive in his writing, but – I realised about halfway through that I didn’t like these characters, and I didn’t dislike them either.  I just didn’t really care.

Perhaps I felt let down by it, because I had such high hopes for the book, but either way, I’m afraid this just wasn’t one for me.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Isabel Duncan is a scientist working with the Bonobo apes at the Great Ape Language Lab in Kansas.  When the lab is blown up in a deliberate explosion, Isabel is injured and the apes are ‘liberated’….right into the hands of a ruthless programme maker who is determined that the apes shall be the stars of a new reality tv show.  Reporter John Thigpen was originally supposed to be writing a piece about the work at the lab, but after the explosion the story turns into something else entirely…

I read Sara Gruen’s debut novel, Water for Elephants, almost three years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  So much so in fact that I thought her follow-up was almost certainly going to be a let-down, but I am happy to say that I was wrong.  I was hooked on this book from page one.  The main characters – Isabel, her friend and co-worker Celia, John, and his wife Amanda were all skilfully drawn and well developed, and I felt as though I really knew these people.  More than that, the apes themselves were such distinctive characters too.

The writing flowed well, and moved the story along.  I was eager throughout to find out what was going to happen next.  I cannot comment on the accuracy of the description of the Bonobos and their ability to communicate with humans and each other; however Gruen has clearly done her homework in this regard (indeed, most of the conversations with the apes in this story are based on the real conversations of Bonobos.

Overall, this was a lovely book – part satire, part love story to the beauty of great apes, with plenty of comedic moments, and lots of drama.  Highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Animal Farm is George Orwell’s famous allegorical tale; a satirical tale about communism and the Russian Revolution.

After the animals on Manor Farm revolt and chase away their tyrannical master, Jones, they decide that from  now on, they will work for themselves, and won’t serve any human master.  All animals are deemed equal, and each will work according to his capacity, for a just reward.  The animals are led by the pig Napoleon (who represents Joseph Stalin), and all are initially happy with their new lives.  However, it is not long before the power goes to Napoleon’s head, and things go awry.

It’s a classic for good reason – this book is just brilliant.  It’s funny, but carries a stark message about how power can corrupt.  It can be read simply as a story about a group of animals who try to take control of their lives, but Orwell’s intent and meaning is very clear for all to read.  It also warns of the danger of a lack of education and understanding, and the inability to perceive what is happening.

This book comes in at less than 100 pages, and only takes a couple of hours to read. And it is definitely worth a couple of hours of anyone’s life.  Just brilliant, and one of those rare books which I would recommend to everybody.

 

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The Dorothy Fish is a psychiatric hospital in London.  N – the narrator of the book – has been a patient there for 13 years, and like the other patients, her ambition is to never be discharged.  So when a new patient named Poppy Shakespeare arrives, furious at being sent there, claiming that she doesn’t have any psychiatric problems, and determined to get out, N is confused by Poppy’s attitude.  Nevertheless, the two become friends, and N tries to help Poppy prove that she does not belong in the hospital.  But they soon realise that they are up against ludicrous bureacracy and a system that hinders those it is meant to help.

I had high hopes for this book – one of the quotes on the cover describes it as a cross between One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and Catch 22 – praise indeed!  Unfortunately, while it definitely has some qualities to recommend it, I found that it fell short of my expectations.

As a narrator, N was unreliable, and I could never be sure whether she was telling things the way they happened, or the way she imagined them.  This was probably part of the point however, and I had absolutely no problem with it.  Certainly some of the things she claimed to witness seemed too ridiculous to actually be real, but despite her self-centredness and her skewed take on events, she was quite an endearing character.  The whole book is told through her eyes, and using her vernacular (“I’m not saying nothing, but you know what I’m saying?!”)  She was also very funny at times (unintentionally on the part of the character, but surely intentionally on the part of the author).

One of the things that became apparent quite early on was how each patient (known as ‘dribblers) had a name that represented a letter of the alphabet – and it seemed only possible for anyone to admitted to the Dorothy Fish when the previous patient with that initial had left (for example, Poppy was admitted to the hospital, after Pollyanna had left).  I assumed that this was the author’s way of making the point that the health services saw them only as statistics rather than as actual people.  And that illustrates part of the problem of the book – it seemed to me that it didn’t know whether it wanted to tell a straight out story, or whether it wanted to be satirical view of the health services.

The ending was also unsatisfactory, at least from my point of view, and never really resolved the questions in my mind – which may have been deliberate, but was certainly irritating.  Certain parts of the plot didn’t make any sense – the process that led to Poppy being sent to the hospital in the first place for instance, but as we only have N’s account of how that happened, it’s impossible to know how much of it was true.

On the plus side, as I have already mentioned, it did have a number of very funny parts, and despite the problems, was very readable.  Other than the narrator herself however, it never seemed that any of the other characters were really studied, and they were mainly portrayed as broad stereotypes – again, possibly as a result of N’s view of them, but either way it didn’t work for me.

Having said all that, I probably would pick up another book by Clare Allan – she has a flair for humour and the writing flowed well.  Overall, it wasn’t a raging disappointment, but it didn’t live up to the rave reviews which I had read.

 

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Lucifer Box is the narrator and hero of this tale.  He is London’s foremost portraitist, and a charming wit and dandy, with an eye for pretty ladies (and men).  He is also a secret agent in the employ of His Majesty’s Government, in Edwardian England (who lives at number 9 Downing Street, no less – as he says, “Well someone has to live there”).  He is tasked with investigating the mysterious deaths of two eminent professors, and the murder of one of his fellow secret agent in Naples.  As Lucifer heads to Naples himself he finds himself drawn further and further into the mystery.  He tells the story in his own inimitable style, peppered with saucy wit and smart witticisms.

This is a hugely enjoyable satirical romp – Lucifer is perhaps the James Bond of his time, and finds himself entangled in many outlandish and incredible situations, which require all of his guile and cunning to extricate himself from.

Both Edwardian London and Naples are brought vividly to life, and Box’s descriptions of Pompeii made me want to visit that famous site.

Lucifer himself is a terrific hero – he is brazenly immoral, doubtlessly charming and the sort of rakish cad who I couldn’t help liking, despite myself.  The writing made me laugh out loud on several occasions, and it was impossible not to root for him.

The supporting cast of charcters have wonderful names such as Christopher Miracle, Kitty Blacklash and Charlie Jackpot, which add to the fun and served to remind me of the satirical nature of the plot when things sometimes took on a slightly more serious nature.  Yes, it requires the reader to suspend belief, and yes it is an outrageous story – but that’s fine, because that is exactly what it is supposed to be.  The subtitle of the story is ‘A Bit of Fluff’ – and that sums the book up perfectly.  It’s not to be taken seriously, it’s meant to be funny, sharp and pure entertainment.  And that’s precisely what it is. 

I very much look forward to reading the next book in the series.

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When 19 year old Flora Poste finds herself orphaned and with little income, she decides to throw herself upon the mercy of her relatives, the Starkadders, at Cold Comfort Farm.  When she arrives at the farm, she finds her hitherto unencountered relatives in a state of fragmentation and despondency.  Her relatives include her perpetually distraught cousin Judith, and Judith’s husband Amos, who loves to preach hellfire and damnation, the good looking but arrogant Seth and the reticent and suspicious Rueben, and the ethereal young child Elfine.  It being Flora’s nature to organise people’s lives, she decides that she must take the opportunity to lead the Starkadders into a more conventional state of existence.  However, the biggest obstacle to Flora’s plans is the elusive matriarch, Aunt Ada Doom, a formidable woman who saw something in the woodshed decades earlier and has never recovered, and who has not left the farm for twenty years.  Will Flora be able to rise to the challenge?

This book is extremely well written, with some wonderfully descriptive passages, especially with regard to the dull and gloomy state of the farm, which reflects the attitudes of the people who live within it.

It’s described as hilarious; I would personally say that it was very amusing in parts, although it did not provide any big belly-laughs.  Nonetheless, it was enjoyable throughout, with plenty of acerbic observations.

Flora is of course the main character, and although the book is narrated in the third person, events are largely portrayed from Flora’s point of view.  Credit must go to Stella Gibbons for making her such a likeable person, when in fact she spends much of her life interfering in the business of others and making wry observations on their lesser qualities.  However, her good intentions shine through, and it was impossible for me not to hope that things turned out just as she had hoped (as for whether they did or not – I’m giving nothing away, but I would highly recommend that you read it to find out)!

All of the characters are portrayed well and with good humour.  Flora herself reminded me somewhat of Emma Woodhouse, from Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ (Austen is referenced a few times throughout the book), and I like to think that if Austen herself had been writing novels some 120 years after her own lifetime, this would be the sort of thing she had written.

This is a gently diverting novel, which will make you smile, and it is an enjoyable book, which I suspect will benefit from repeated reads.

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This is a very entertaining, very quick (I read it in one sitting) book, written by Bill Maher, American comedian, tv presenter, writer and social campaigner.

Maher hosts a HBO television show called Real Time with Bill Maher, and New Rules is a segment on that show, in which he comes up with ideas for new rules to help make society run more easily.  This book is a collection of those rules.  Most of them are flippant and funny (one of his new rules involves the idea of Bob Dylan being the ‘voice of a generation'; Maher makes the observation that if a generation could choose a voice, it would pick a better one than Dylan’s – and that is the kind of tone which runs through most of the book).

However, being a stauch campaigner for the Democratic party – although he did support independent Ralph Nader in the 2004 election – there are a smattering of rules which reflect Maher’s opinion on certain topical issues – stem cell research and same sex marriage, are two examples.  On these matters, Maher drops the flippancy somewhat, and talks passionately about what he believes.

Overall though, this is a funny and light hearted book – with plenty of “He’s absolutely right!” moments.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This book is described as a satiric urban fantasy, which is pretty accurate!  It’s also very original and a whole lot of fun.

The novels starts on the 30th birthday of everyman Michael Whyte, an American living in Paris, who is not sure how he has found himself there, and is doing a job which is never fully explained (either to Michael or the reader).

Longing for a bit of excitement in his life, Michael soon learns that you should be careful what you wish for.  On what he thought was going to be just another ordinary, forgettable birthday, Michael receives a tuxedo from an unknown benefactor, and an invitation to a party at his eccentric (to say the least) neighbours’ apartment.

Michael soon finds himself on a quest which takes him through a Paris which will be completely unfamiliar to anyone who has ever visited the city.  His task is to find the very first French franc coin.  Along his journey, he is aided by a deaf mute, an friendly epistomologist and a beautiful but enigmatic French lady.  He find himself involved in ten day long feasts, pursued by a crazy concierge, meeting flatulent statues and talking sculptures, and facing danger almost wherever he turns.  Michael also has a running inner monologue (voiced by several facets of his personality), which is very amusing.

Michael was a great character – the sort of man one could be friends with, and his bewilderment at the situations he finds himself in is all too believable!

If you don’t like fantasy, I would not recommend this book.  But if it’s a genre that you enjoy, I would strongly recommend it.  I laughed out loud on several occasions, and will definitely look out for further works by this author (this is his debut novel, but hopefully it won’t be long until he writes another).

The only thing that I found a little bit of a let down was the downbeat ending, which did not seem to resonate with the tone of the rest of the book.  However, all in all this was a very very good read.  I’d love to see a sequel!

(I’d like to thank BCF Reviews for sending me this book to review.  BCF Reviews blog can be found here.  James Earle McCracken’s website can be found here.)

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