Inglourious Basterds Reviou

Another of my great treats – remember the 'book-thing' last time? – is to get to the movies to see a film that I know very little about.
I get to the cinema rarely lately so by the time I see the new releases they are on DVD and quite a bit of knowledge will have percolated into my subconscious. This definitely effects the quality of my viewing.

So I managed to see the new Tarantino movie, ‘Inglourious Basterds’ the other evening without knowing very much at all about it and that, in itself ,was quite a trick. Oh, I know some stuff – I knew that this was his long-promised ‘men on a mission’ flick, I knew it was set in the Second World War with a largely European cast… and Brad Pitt too but, beyond that, I was pretty much a babe in the woods.

Out of respect for my ‘clean viewing’, I will try to tell you a little about the movie without telling you anything at all, if you know what I mean.

First things first, I really enjoyed it.

Second things second – I don’t think everyone will enjoy it.

Here are some of the things which may work against it for you. A) It is oddly-paced. Some scenes are remarkably long and dialogue-heavy. B) It is heavily sub-titled (I never mind that but I know people who do… nice people… good people…) C) It breaks many of the fundamental rules of the ‘Men on a Mission’ genre.

Let me enlarge on that one for a moment. What do we expect from our ‘Men on a Mission’ flick? Well, we expect a team of men who are individual and quirky and who we come to know quite well. We expect them to be very poorly equipped for their mission and we expect them to gain some expertise as they go. We expect the mission to be set out early, to be audaciously impossible and to be of critical importance. Suffice it to say that not all of these criteria are met here.

In many respects, this is a Spaghetti Western War Film. Huge sweaty close-ups, tortuous stand-offs and counter-bluffs, a couple of femme fatales, there’s even some Sergio Leone music in there to drive the point home.

Tarantino indulges himself, he throws the kitchen sink in there. If he feels he needs a voice over narrator for a few minutes, he chucks one in, if he needs a music video slap bang in the middle of things, well, lets have that too.

It’s long and a bit silly and simplistic and it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. But yeah, I really enjoyed it a lot.


A couple of reasons, I suppose. Quentin has a story to tell and he is brave enough to take his time in telling it. He veers away from standard movie pacing so that the audience is thrown off-guard, not quite knowing what to expect next. He doesn’t pander to the audience either, not too much anyway. The many languages used in the film and the jumps from one to the other of them will doubtless alienate some potential action hero audience members. He doesn’t care. He likes to keep us on our toes, even when one scene has stretched on for over twenty minutes.

I think the main reason it works is that Tarantino is a movie fan and he writes and directs like a movie fan. Kevin Smith comes from the same demographic. They learned what they know by watching and watching and watching some more. As a result, what they do is loose and carefree – unleashed in a sense – it’s disrespectful yet awed of cinema. It will do whatever the hell it likes to get the story told. This ‘fandom’ may be most clearly evident in the music used. The soundtrack is nothing more than a ‘mix-tape’ of tunes which the director picked up along the way… but they’re good tunes and they (largely) work quite well.

This is more similar to ‘Jackie Brown’ than any other Quentin movie, mostly in its pacing and commitment to the story. Acting kudos must go to Christoph Waltz – brilliant as a Nazi Officer. - and I thought Mélanie Laurent was very good too. Brad Pitt is funny – he seems to be trying to prove that he could have played Howard Hughes better than that Leo fella did. It’s a gurning, caricatured turn but he’s the Basterd you will probably best remember.

You will hear that this movie is not violent – bullshit, it is violent.

You will hear that Tarantino has finally grown up – rubbish, he hasn’t.

You will hear that… well, you will hear lots of things, which, thankfully I didn’t. I liked it. You should go and see it and come back and tell me what you think

That’s always fun.

The Boy with 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'

One of my great treats is the holding a new unread book in my hand and knowing that it has been recommended to me as a bloody good read.

It helps even more if the book is a bit weighty and has a brace of exultant reviews on the front pages. I’m a slut like that.

I had recently drifted away from the Castlebar Book Club and their books for some months. This was mostly because I couldn’t get to the monthly meeting on Tuesday evenings. Also, for some reason, some of the more recent book choices didn’t appeal.

I was in that lazy frame of mind where I wanted to read the books that I wanted to read and I was not open to new and challenging things.

Last month though, somebody from the club met me and said, “You have to read this month’s selection, it’s right up your street.” So I did. I got a copy from the library, shiny and new (what a great book club and library we have!) and I laid into it with anticipation.

‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ has been enjoying huge popularity over the past year. The author, Stieg Larsson, died in 2004 at the age of 50. He left behind an unpublished crime novel trilogy of which ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ was the first. It is said that he wrote the books for his own pleasure in the evenings after his day’s journalistic work was done.

The book introduces us to two memorable characters, as well as a positive slew of others. Mikael ‘Kalle’ Blomkvist is a disgraced journalist who is facing a prison sentence for an apparently misguided article he published. While in professional limbo, he is approached by powerful industrialist Henrik Vanger to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his great-niece some forty years before. He accepts and moves to live on the island where Vanger and his eccecntic extended family live in isolated mutual mistrust.

Phew. I hate exposition, don’t you?

All this takes a while to set up. The novel starts out with one hundred or so pages of journalistic shenanigans which is rather hard to digest. It then quickly morphs into a rather classic closed room murder-mystery-style affair before finishing up as something else again altogether.

The saving grace of all this rather po-faced nonsense is the enigmatic central character Lisbeth Salander – the eponymous gal with the tattoo. Both Blomkvist and Salander are extremely well-formed characters but it is Salander who holds the reader's interest best. She is a skinny slight girl with punk sensibilities and an aptitude for computer hacking and relentless investigation. Branded as anti-social and psychologically damaged, she is a law unto herself, a closed book to the world and an extremely poor enemy to make.

Through a convoluted chain of events, these two characters pair up to solve the mystery and, for all its political and social aspirations, that’s exactly what we are looking at here – a rattling old whodunnit.

The book is a good read. The story is fun and engaging if a tad improbable and the myriad of characters are quirky and sometimes challenging.

But there is no doubt at all that Salander is the pearl in this flashy oyster.

The author, Larsson, writes her with intimacy and genuine affection. I can’t help but be reminded of Ian Fleming’s James Bond who, for all his adventuring and tight-spots, was a character who we came to know by the facts of his everyday living - how he liked his eggs, how he shaved, how he showered and, yes, even what drink he liked.

Larsson does the same thing with his two central characters. We get to know them intimately by the food they prepare for themselves, the novels they read, the walks they take, how they like their coffee - and the result is a pair of engaging characters, one perhaps forgettable-with-time, the other possibly unforgettable.

The second book of the trilogy, ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’ is more Salander orientated. She becomes even more ‘Bond-like’. Money is no longer an object, resources are plentiful, she is independent, unleashed and yes there is even an exotic location thrown in. For me, this second book seems more diffuse than the first but it was still an entertaining read.

Verdict? If you like crime and fancy something a little off the beaten track – and you can handle a large cast of characters and don’t mind a little sexual quirkiness along then way – well then you could do a lot worse that reading ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’.

… I nearly wrote, “You could do worse than making a date with…”

Please shoot me if I ever do that.

Charity Shop Stalwarts

I love browsing the books in Charity Shops.

It satisfies my occasional requirement for retail therapy. I can march happily home with some books under my arm having only spent a couple of quid.

It’s interesting to me, though, how some of the same books keep cropping up again and again no matter what charity shop I happen to venture into.

It’s funny, isn’t it?

Mind you, it probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Everybody gets the more popular books but not everybody keeps them, thus these books end up on the Oxfam shelves more often.


It’s just I can’t help but think that there might be a more useful analysis of this phenomenon which could reveal deeply hidden patterns and teach us much about the undercurrents of the society we live in.

‘Bullshit’, I hear you cough into your fist and who am I to argue? So rather than trying to solve society's ills, let’s just look at some of these books which are charity shop stalwarts. Perhaps you can add one or two of you own to my list and then we at least will have a useful document for when the great social research finally begins…

… or not, as the case may be.

The Da Vinci Code: It’s always there, usually in multiple versions. I read this book in its entirety on a train journey to and from Dublin one day. Crass, yes, simplistic, yes but I kept flicking the pages and the chapters kept rolling one into the next. I know people who reckon this is the best read ever. Good luck to them. I don’t want to sound pretentious though, I enjoyed it on the day.

Angela’s Ashes: Frank McCourt sadly died recently. His Pulitzer Prize winning book must have sold to every household in Ireland so it’s probably no wonder that copies abound. It’s actually an excellent book in my opinion, written with a clarity that I often envy. I got the opportunity to ask Frank a question once and, thankfully, I was brave enough to ask the silliest question because as it turned out, all the theories I had read were quite wrong. “Why,” sez I, “is it called ‘Angela’s Ashes’?” The posh theorists had it that the title referred to the metaphorical ashes of the mother’s life or perhaps the ashes she received on her forehead in the church during the Ash Wednesday ceremonies.

Nah! Much more practical than that.

Frank explained that the book had originally been twice as long and ended with Angela’s Ashes being returned to Ireland for burial. When the book got spilt into two volumes (the second called ‘Tis) they kept the title for the first part even though the event it referred to didn’t turn up until the end of the second one. It’s on the charity bookshelf if you want to read it, you can count on that.

James Bond: There’s always a Bond book. Not only that there’s always one of those old Pan versions of the bond books. I always check in case there’s a first edition but that hasn’t happened yet. I did buy a first edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (yes, the American version) in hardback in Oxfam last year but it turned out to be the fifth reprinting of the first edition so it wasn’t the goldmine I thought it was. Ah well…

Agatha Christie: They all did it you know! Never mind….

Catherine Cookson: She’s always in there. I can’t tell you anything about them, I think there are bodices and I think they get ripped. You’re on your own from there, I’m afraid.

Captain Correlli’s Mandolin: I hear it gets really quite good, if you can get into it a bit. Like beyond the first hundred pages. But I never could. I think it was actually me who gave this one to the Charity Shop, so that explains that.

Inspector Morse: There are always a few of Colin Dexter’s archetypal detective. I really like these. They are written with a lovely sense of mischief. Try one if you haven’t. They’re good.

So, can you add to my list?

All donations will be gratefully received.

The Ballad of the Thai Boxing Shorts

(In case this is being read in fifty years time and any misunderstanding arise, this piece of impromptu doggerel was inspired by Dear Cath who just used a funny expression on Twitter which is now incorporated in the last line of each verse.)

The Ballad of the Thai Boxing Shorts

(For @Serialfrenchies in jest)

When I think back to our time together
I remember you so sweet
From golden hair on top your head
To the toenails on your feet.
The memory of that careless time
Will always bring a twinge
When I remember tattoos on your back
And the writing across your minge.

Quite often now my thoughts will stray
To that time so long ago
When you got togged-out for martial arts
And dealt that mortal blow.
Still sometimes in my working day
That vision will impinge
Of those wee red Thai boxing shorts
With the writing across the minge.

Your goodbye note, it broke my heart
I knew it was the end
I’d lost my sparring partner
I’d lost a lifelong friend.
I should have sensed the end was nigh
That we had come unhinged
I should have had the sense to read
The writing on the minge.

Ken Armstrong (Aug 2011)

Voucher Guilt

I have this thing going on in my head which I can only call ‘Voucher Guilt’.

I’m sure that Freud or Jung would have identified it as a serious issue, if they had received gift vouchers back in their day but they didn’t so they didn’t.

‘Voucher Guilt’: it’s not a ‘complex’ complex, if you follow my drift. It works like this:

I get presented with Gift Vouchers occasionally – not an outlandish amount of them, Christmas, Birthdays, Circumcisions, you know the routine. I’m always glad to get them and I look forward to using them to get something nice.

But then the time comes around when I’m required to use them and I get the sweats. I get guilty and uncomfortable and utterly ill-at-ease. I get Voucher Guilt.

My worst problem is with restaurant vouchers. I know, it’s paid for and I know that the restaurateur knows this and that everybody in the world will be cool with me and my voucher. However this does nothing to prevent me from being the only un-cool person in the entire world.

On those very few occasions where I misguidedly kept my voucher a total secret until the bill had to be paid, I have been reduced to a quivering mess as the manager prised the tear-soaked card from my pale shivering hands.

The only way I can survive using a restaurant voucher is for me to slink furtively up to the manager very early in the evening and call him off to one side. Our conversation may go something like this.

“’Voucher okay?”

“I’m sorry sir?”

“You’re okay with it?”

“What’s that sir? Okay with what?”

“Look, I have a voucher in my pocket and I intend to use it!”

At which point a slightly deaf manager may raise the alarm and have me arrested.

If I can get the management on my side quite early in the evening then I can usually get away with it. Still there will be dreadful pangs as I pay the bill with my voucher. I will think of the poor pot-washers and veggie preppers who are in the back and who were hoping for a little hard cash at the end of their labours. Instead they are about to find out that they were slaving on a job which they got paid for weeks before. Their families go hungry and it’s all my fault.

I should have just paid…

Here are three things I have observed about my Voucher Guilt:

The size of the guilt experienced is inversely proportional to the size of the restaurant or shop I am in.

The size of the guilt is directly proportional to the age of the voucher.

Book tokens don’t count.

Oddly enough, my love of books seems to outweigh this ‘Voucher Guilt’ effect. The most common type of voucher I get is a book-token and I can turn up in the shop with these without hanging my head or having to consult the management. I feel comforted by the knowledge that book tokens are such an institution.

Maybe in fifty years time, I will have got used to the other types of voucher too.

Maybe I’ll be dead.

Now, where did I leave that coffin voucher?