Month: February 2009

Last Chance for Love

Last Chance for LoveLast Chance Harvey

Joel Hopkins :: USA, UK :: 2008 :: 1h33

Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) is a disillusioned jingle-writer from New York. When his daughter is to marry in London, he flies over to be confronted with his failed parenting and his ex-wife’s harmonious new life, with husband, their daughter and future son-in-law. Desperate to hide from his failings, he tries to go back home, to his miserable life, but even that fails. But not all is doom and gloom. As life treats him badly, he finds himself face to face with a woman (Emma Thomson) who can, and will, change everything.

Last chance for Love is does not really have enough material for a full feature length movie, dragging its feet along to fill the obligatory one and a half hours. Its general structure is one of standard American romantic comedies, complete with the repeat star tag lines of the beginning, an element which is becoming embarrassingly dull.  The plot twist which is to separate the lovers is, even by romantic comedy standards, surprisingly uncreative. And then there’s the climax, which here is a sentimental stretch of about 15 minutes with an unlikely complete reversal of fortune, which will ruin the film for any masculine audience members, and potentially for the rest as well. And the romantic backdrop? They keep walking up and down the south bank along the Thames – I suppose Hopkins thought this obligatory for such a film, even if that is  little embarrassing for a Londoner.  A little more location scouting could have made it seem as if the movie was actually made by an Englishman. Well, so much for the formula aspect of the film.

What the film does have going for it, is the trivial conversation and chemistry between the two characters. It is reminiscent of Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater) in the sense that if you are taken in by the chemistry of the actors, they slowly expose their characters through the uttering of relative trivialities. This is a captivating way of discovering character, and it is well done here. The whole trivialities script is glued together with Dustin Hoffman’s charming smile, which works well. A little light as the plus point of a film, but there you have it.

If you have trouble dealing with standardised commercial film, then please avoid this one. If you think you can handle it, by all means take the plunge and let us face it, if you can get by the title and the poster you are already half way there! If you have to leave after an hour, then fear not, you will have seen the best part… and you might make up a better ending in the pub…

NB Thank you Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thomson and Joel Hopkins for coming to present their movie last night at the French premiere. They were charming as ever and Ms Thomson shined with her impeccable French.


Who would have thought – Stamps?

sarkozyIf this is not just a PR stunt, then you have to hand it to him keeping it a secret for so long… Sarkozy a philatelist! The wonders have not left this world! A born again stamp collector unearthed in the heart of the boyishly hyper-active president? Although he seems to be winning some hearts with his latest craze, this is beyond belief! To make the whole thing credible, he even set up an Elysee Philatelist Club, whose spokesperson quickly threw in that President Sarkozy’s collection is already spectacular, in part thanks to gifts from the British queen and California Governor Arnaud  Schwarzenegger.

But really, stamps? We are talking about the man who broke-up with his wife in a public quarrel, and in whirlwind romance seduced and married the ex-top model Carla Bruni? The man who made that new relationship public at a trip to Disneyland, of all places. A man who wears Ray Bans and Rolex like he’s a Mafia top dog. This is the man who collects stamps? A man who seems to have more meetings a day than time to drink coffees, spends a quiet evening at home, next to the stunning Carla Bruni, sorting out his stamps?

Do not get me wrong, I do not think hobbies have to be an adrenaline rush, and of course Sarkozy can take on any hobby he wants to, but the calm dignity required for stamp collecting just does not seem to be a characteristic of our President. In the Carla-fueled makeover he seems to be enjoying, this is presumably another step in rendering him more aristocratic, or more sophisticated. It might help up his popularity a bit (37% according to IFOP’s latest poll), to seem less interested in splashing about in money as a baby in a bathtub.

If anything, maybe it just hurt the Elysée to find out that all of Paris has been talking about Yves Saint Laurent’s spectacular art collection at the Grand Palais (see: Christies), and with this latest stunt they can finally bring back the topic we’re supposed to be talking about: El Presidente. Just like in the good old days when he was Minister of Internal Affairs.

Kindling themselves out of the Market

kindleLast week Jeff Bezos, of Amazon, unveiled the Kindle 2 electronic reader. The new model mildly increases battery life, has a little more storage and is a little faster compared to the 2007 edition. Hardly a revolution. And at a price tag of $359 (€278) in the USA, the new owner has to be very motivated indeed, as he is only really purchasing a support for books and magazines he still has to buy form Amazon. Summed up like that, the Kindle has the makings of a disaster. Or is there something else going on?

When the Kindle was originally introduced in 2007, there were already a few ebook readers about, mostly just showing what electronic paper could look like – a screen without the backlit glare in your eyes, one which would be as tranquil on your eyes as ink on paper, or at least, sort of. Amazon’s reader was, and still is, a not so flashy gizmo with limited capabilities.

What makes it good, is that The Kindle allows people to download books or magazines on-the-go (using cellphone technology) from the Amazon database of 230 000 books. Add on to that the possibility to read newspapers, magazines and blogs and you have an all round reading tool in your hand. But, still, the Kindle has barely moved since release: it still has no coverage (US only, which is unbelievably restrictive for a travel companion), it is mono-lingual(!) although it can display foreign books and offers almost no side services (the worst is probably that there is no wifi). Surely this is all easy to beat by a competitor?

Consider the other corner: A 3-man company called Lexcycle has launched an application for book reading on the iPhone called Stanza. There are an estimated 35 million people walking around with an Apple iPhone or an iPod Touch, of which about a million have already downloaded the application (for free). Books can be currently be downloaded in 60 of the 75 countries in which the iPhone is sold and they offer the possibility of export to another platform (eg the Kindle or the Google Android phone). The Lexcylce approach seems a lot more promising than Amazon’s, not to mention that an iPhone is cheaper and filled to the rim with other amusing functions.

Consider these two platforms and the point of ebooks. An ebook is supposed to be for reading on-the-go. In a face-off, the Kindle, again, will fail. Even if reading is more pleasant on a Kindle than on a mobile phone, consider where this reading is taking place. In line at the post-office, in a crowded subway train, on a lunch break, in a cafe waiting for the friend to arrive. People already have the iPhone in their pocket, and a reader, such as Stanza, will grant people 15 or 20 minutes of reading at these dead times. That adds up to a lot of reading, even if it is in small bursts. The iPhone and the likes will easily dominate the electronic reading market – till someone designs some actually flexible, affordable electronic paper which can serve wider purposes than a reading-in-line iPhone.

Amazon has hinted that it will offer its book database to mobile users ‘in the near future’, but considering the speed of their innovations we should not expect much. As Amazon patiently waits for other companies to create and conquer the ebook market, Google recently made 1,5 million public domain books available for mobile users. That is already a lot of reading for a market with still plenty of growth potential, which will barely be scratched by Amazon.

The new Kindle is an expensive temporary product which distracts from the real development of ebook readers and a market for electronically delivered press. Hopefully, Apple or some other manufacturer will design a flexible electronic paper, and combine it with an iTunes-type press centre to make it useful. Producing electronic paper requires a vision of the future press market, and Amazon, like many big companies, shows itself incapable of leading. Basically Kindle is a half hearted experiment from a company which should know better. As far as I am concerned, their new Kindle can be shipped out with the old.

UPDATE (11 MAY 2009): Amazon releases yet another Kindle, the Kindle DX which is even more expensive than the previous one at $500. Nothing really worth mentioning, but you could read a sharp analysis by Jason Kincaid if you want to know more.

The silent death of the Pariscope

pariscopeDo you realize, that that little weekly compendium has been guiding us through Paris from our back pockets for 44 years now!  It is not only as if it seems that it was always there, but for most of us, it pretty much was. From lying on your parents coffee table, to half squashed in your backpack, the Pariscope has been around town as much as you have. But when was the last time you bought one, or worse still, actually read it?

The Pariscope lists everything that’s on around Paris, in one very long series of names, addresses and details spanning over 200 pages per edition. And it is not the only printed source, you could have seen the same list on the pages of their famous competitor the Officiel des Spectacles or to different degrees in the rest of the printed press (most notably in the Figaroscope). So is there still a point to buying a Pariscope?

Flipping through the pages anno 2009, the limitations just slap you in the face. There are descriptions of plays, but where is the commentary from the specialists and the ranting from the general public? How far is rue de Trévise actually from the Opèra, can I walk? Where is Google Maps and the GPS? Ah, Chekhov’s Uncle Vania is playing at the Bastille, but what was that other play of his called which we saw in spring? Francois Ozon’s new movie Ricky is playing all over town, but the neighbours says it is very disappointing, can I not see a preview?

It just seems that all your nightlife -and daytime- queries are no longer being answered by the Pariscope. The grouping together of the information is as timelessly important as ever, but it just is no longer good enough. The Pariscope needs to be an application on an iPhone, or a website in the least. And those are popping out of the ground all around us, websites offering more and more reviews, interaction and gimmicks. Similarly, the iPhone has been offering more and more nifty little tools to help you on your way to solving the dilemma of tonight’s programme.  So what is left for the old Pariscope?

Not much, I’m afraid, they have become the over-the-hill bachelor it has become uncomfortable to invite. If they do not find themselves a partner and launch themselves into the interactive world very quickly, it will all be over for them, out of pure futility of their magazine. Please, Pariscope, reinvent your format to save yourself so that a next generation can also proudly carry you around in their backpacks as we have done, even if for them it will be on their iPhone.


Francois Ozon :: France :: 2008 :: 1h30

Katie is a single mother living a simple life with her 7 year old daughter till the day she meets Paco. Their love story becomes the seed of new life – baby Ricky. The happiness of the new arrival changes their household, as they take care of the demanding baby. But that is not all that is different. Ricky himself is not quite like other babies.

Francois Ozon takes us on a fantastic voyage through an all too ordinary world. The world of Katie and Paco is one of factory workers and scooters, of grey skies and grey-er buildings. The sceneries are remarkable, with perhaps most noticeably the building Katie lives in, which is a story all in itself. It is a futuristic 1970s design left to decay, as if the bright future which was once envisaged has been abandoned by society. But of course, Katie and her daughter are still there. But that is exactly it, they are just there, they too have trouble looking forward. The future, to them, is an abstraction too far away. That leaves Ricky being born into the present, but even there, it is a heavily impoverished present.

Katie takes her decisions on the spur of the moment, all the time. We do not see her invest in herself or in her daughter. Not once do we see her reading or practicing any kind of hobby, nor do we see her learning her daughter anything. Paco, when he is in the picture, does not play the parent either -teach the girl to ride the scooter or something! It is a desolate concrete world where love is subjected to pride and not an emotion which carries people together on life’s path. Love is but a momentary expression. Love is neither a source for rejoice nor tragedy, mostly because it is as empty as the future before them. Lest it not be clear – this is not a happy world.

Between the world we see, and the quality of the film, there is a clear parallel: Ricky is, surprisingly enough, a heavily flawed film. Besides unnecessary imperfections which should not be found in the work of a top director (helmet strap undone, then closed), time and time again throughout the film, the characters show themselves as unrealistic. Katie is both a simple woman and a traumatized one. She hurts herself with her pride, her selfishness, cruelty and weakness, all at the same time. Summing it up like that, you might think, why not, but Katie, as the other characters, just do not work as independent elements in the story. They could have been just elements to contribute to the overall story but the movie does not unfold like that either. It is not excluded, however, that you are willing to accept the characters. After all, who is to be the judge of what characters will do or say? But even if you do accept them, they are still not very convincing.

So what about the story? Well, it’s completely unbelievable. If Ricky was ever born in real life, there would not only be the world’s press at his doorstep to record his every breath, every religious leader of any importance would be there, and probably half of mankind would embark on a pilgrimage somewhere. Ricky is the child mankind has been waiting for – it is not credible by any stretch of the imagination that that would go by in local-celebrity-style relative anonymity. If the tale is to keep its premise, it should unfold very differently. Either in strict anonymity or there should have been TV flashes on the background with religious sects going suicidal, a thousand white doves released and flying over New Dehli and such.

There are wonderfully ironic -or not- plot twists possible from the premise, and I can not help but feel that all the wonderful options have been left aside. The whole movie could have been a Fontaine-type parable, it could have been a religious (/atheist) mockery, a Darwinian science fiction or even a fantasy-humour cross-over. Ricky is such a challenging project that I can only commend Ozon on having tried it, but really, his heart was not in it. As it stands, this is just not good enough.

Le Cosi

cosi9, rue Cujas :: 75005 Paris :: Tel 01 43 29 20 20

Metro: RER Luxembourg

Open Monday to Saturday, noon to 2:30 pm and in the evening from 7:30 pm onwards

Located just off the busy rue Sufflot which takes you from the elegant Luxembourg gardens to the monumental Pantheon, this is a Latin Quarter which could go all ways, from a culinary and a clientele point of view. These are the crossroads of the students and professors of the Sorbonne, the editors of the academic publishing houses and a never-ending flow of tourists. Le Cosi presents itself as a southern breeze in an ivory tower, where an editor can be comfortably seated discussing a nouvelle vague next to a couple of lovers dreaming in each other’s eyes. The calm, refined interior lies under a high ceiling, with red and wood as the dominant flavours inter sped with southern paintings.

Le Cosi serves Corsican specialties, which takes on a sunny Provence-Italian country taste varying form game bird to cod to veal with olives. Partly creative cooking and presentation, and partly an honest grandmothers kitchen, there is not much which can go wrong here. Prepare yourself for a great treat and be sure not to miss out on their Fiadone (cheese cake) for desert – it’s delicious! As you might expect, they’ve gathered together a very appetising wine list, with a fair share of Corsican elixirs. The only reason not to go to Le Cosi would have to be the price… but perhaps that can be just an excuse to go for lunch. And what a lunch that will be!

Lunch Menu: Appetiser & main course 15€ // Main course & dessert 15€ // Appetiser &main course & dessert 20€

Evening Menu: Dinner is exclusively a la carte (about 40€ without wine)

Grolsch in Paris

grolschGrolsch has been around a while. Arguably the best Dutch beer, if not the best in the world, it was originally founded in 1615 by Williem Neerfeldt. You would think that after almost 400 years, it would be a breeze to pick one up in Paris… well, think again. The world is unevenly divided. London and New York have both become blasé about it, with Grolsch virtually becoming a broker’s trademark, but in Paris the exclusivity is still on. Although… there is a charm in being special, isn’t there? The Dorsser offers you a little guide to where to find a Grolsch, without leaving the City of Light. Just keep reading and enjoy!


Download the Grolsch in Paris guide here

If you’re not happy about the limited number of salespoints… you know where to complain… Grolsch does not have to be available at every bar in town, but a better score than the current one is not too much to ask!