Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Reading & Seeing 16

Under the Skin
Chilling, sinister and amazing. Set in Scotland, Scarlett Johansson plays a seemingly attractive and friendly young women who picks up single and unattached young men on the pretence of giving them a lift somewhere. Once they're seated in her van, she asks if they'd like to come home with her. Unluckily for the poor bastards who say yes, they're not about to get their rocks off. They're about to meet their end because Johansson is some sort of alien. She's actually seducing them and taking them back to her creepy lair to harvest their bodies in one of the most terrifying sequences I've ever seen. But it's not just the action on screen that's frightening, it's the music. With very little dialogue, the music (and the stunning Scottish scenery) is a powerful presence throughout the film. It's unnervingly atmospheric - whether it was the eerie, minimal rhythmic beats or the frantic violin (or strings) music, I had goosebumps. Johansson is spot-on, as are the v.brief appearances of the supporting cast. Director Jonathan Glazer has been likened to Kubrick and I can definitely see the similarities. I'm not sure if this is still on at the cinema but I do highly recommend watching it on the big screen if you can. We had to watch something funny before going to sleep (I have a imagination) and I suggest you do the same.

In the Heart of the Sea (2000)
The true story of the Nantucket whale ship Essex which foundered in 1820 thanks to an encounter with a sperm whale. Its crew faced a harrowing 90 days in open whale boats searching for land in the Pacific Ocean, with next to nothing to eat or drink, apart from each other... Around forty years ago, a new first-hand account of the Essex crew was unearthed which is why Nathaniel Philbrick wrote In the Heart of the Sea. Before the diary of cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson, was discovered the story of the Essex was almost solely known thanks to the account of Owen Chase, the vessel's first mate, whose own journal was published soon after the sinking and rescue. Philbrick uses both these accounts, which sometimes conflict, in order to piece together what happened. As well as the narrative, Philbrick also provides some useful and interesting contextual information - whaling terms, maps, what life was life was like in Nantucket at that time etc. I also liked the fact that he tells us about what happened to each of the survivors. Yes, the tradgedy of the Essex is apparently what inspired Melville to write Moby Dick, but for me I thought this true story was even more fantastical and shocking. It's no secret that I couldn't get to grips with Moby Dick at uni but I thought this book was excellent and gave a real sense of what it was like to be a whaler in the mid 19th century. I read this in 6 days (into the early hours of the morning on a couple of occasions); I could not put it down. An incredible (and gruesome) story of survival, definitely worth reading before hollywood have its way with it anyway.

The Last Runaway (2013)
Another book set in America in the mid 1800s (I appear to have gone off on a historical story jaunt), however, this novel is centred around Quakers, quilts (yay!) and the underground railroad, a movement which helped slaves on the run to reach the boarders of Canada. At the centre of it all is Honor Bright, a young English quaker who finds herself v.much alone and somewhat stuck in a tiny, developing village in Ohio. Understandably she feels completely alien in her new home, and the majority of people aren't particularly sympathetic. Quite a fuss was made about this book, possibly because of Tracy Chevalier, but I have to say I found it rather simple and straightforward. (My auntie pointed out that the simple writing style is supposed to mirror the simplistic Quaker way of life. Or something.) I confess I did enjoy the quilting references but at times it felt like Chevalier, who'd obviously done a lot of research into the craft, was determined to squeeze in bits of her new-found knowledge when the story didn't need it. I like the mixture of third-person narrative and letters but unfortunately Honor is a little irritating, Jack Haymaker is terribly one dimensional (in fact a lot of the quakers are either beige or unpleasant) and the meatier characters (Belle and Donavan) aren't really given enough page space. The truly interesting subject - the underground railroad - sort of trundles along in the middle distance which is a shame because I think that's the book I'd rather have read.

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable
Chances are you've heard something of the hype surrounding this production of promenade theatre. Well, let me tell you, there's a damn good reason for it. I went last Thursday and I can honestly say it was probably one of the best things I've seen. Rather than sitting down to watch a story, imagine walking around inside it - following the action from scene to scene over four floors of the most incredible sets, silently watching the drama play-out before you. Well, that's what it's like and it was amazing. I'm not going to say any more because it's way more fun to discover stuff for yourself. They've extended it until the end of June and I thoroughly intend to go again. Intrigued? Read more about it here.

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