Recommended by Joan Rivers, and Other Choice Bits From The NYTBR of July 22, 2012

Joan Rivers is one of self’s favorite people: Self is NOT, absolutely NOT kidding.

And guess what? She is the interviewee in this issue’s “By the Book” feature. And her book recommendations are — hold on to your hats, dear blog readers! — as follows:

  • The Passage of Power:  The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert A. Caro
  • a “four-volume history of English kings” by Thomas B. Costain:  The Conquering Family, The Three Edwards, The Magnificent Century, and The Last Plantagenets
  • Enter Talking, by Joan herself (her first book)
  • The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West
  • Adventures in the Screen Trade, by William Goldman
  • Life Itself, Roger Ebert’s memoir
  • The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
  • Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

The Fiction Chronicle (this week’s reviewer:  Tom LeClair) contains two entertaining reviews:  The first is a review of An Uncommon Education, by Elizabeth Percer, which is about a young girl who “endures a secretive and lonely childhood until a boy named Teddy moves into the neighborhood.”  The second is a review of Drowned, by Therese Bohman, and even though the reviewer does not really like the book (He describes it as having an “aura of artifice”), self can never resist a book that sounds very much like that movie Elizabeth Olsen was in, the one where she sleeps with her older sister’s handsome Significant Other (played by Hugh Dancy) after escaping from a cult ?!!!  The movie was called Martha Marcy May Marlene and self totally missed it when it was showing in theaters, but that is definitely something she is adding to her Netflix queue.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

“Beginners” : A Somber Ewan McGregor, and Mélanie Laurent

Mélanie Laurent was the French actress whose fiery revenge brought down the house (literally) in Quentin Tarantino’s hugely satisfying re-imagining of World War II, “Inglorious Basterds,” a few years ago (Why does 2009 already seem like a whole other era?).

“Beginners” is the first self has seen of Laurent since the Tarantino movie.  She is even more beautiful now than she was back then, but alas,  seems to be marching to a completely different tune from Ewan McGregor.  That is, she seems completely lost in her own private spaces.  She is adorable, but her entire character seems to be a projection of attitudes.  Good Lord, it’s exhausting keeping up with this woman’s entrancing little games, her fits, her swings of mood from playfulness to sadness.  Suppose this is what it means to be French?  Here’s what the smitten pair might be saying to each other if there were a “10 years from now” installment (Spare us!):

Melanie:   But I must go!

Ewan:  Where?

Melanie:  Anywhere!  Only to be free!  Because I am completely driven by my moods!  And living in the same house for 10 years is driving me crazy!

Ewan:  Oh, how adorable.  My little kitten, I adore you.

(Big smooch)

McGregor is very stoop-shouldered, in this movie.  His head seems rather large for the rest of him.

There is a lot of soliloquy, a lot of detachment, a lot of old photographs, a lot of bittersweet reminiscences.

The Jack Russell terrier is very smart.

That cute Yugoslavian actor, Goran Visnjic, who self adored in “The Deep,” with Tilda Swinton, has very oily-looking hair, in this movie.

Christopher Plummer, as McGregor’s gay dad, and the actress who plays Plummer’s passionate, frustrated wife (Self needs to look up her name, pronto!), are spectacular.  Self felt the sadness of their characters —  perpetually stuck, but dignified.  All their unrequited longing gets dumped on poor Ewan McGregor, who then develops some very serious relationship issues.

But, fortunately, Mélanie Laurent with her big, goo-goo eyes and her studiedly nonchalant laugh is there to save the day!

Self must say, of Mélanie:  She looks ravishing in red.  Also, when she is not having to look at McGregor, and has to project some interiority, she is very beautiful.

Son arrives tomorrow.  Self was in a mad frenzy of cleaning house, today.  That was why she saw fit to reward herself with a movie.  Unfortunately, about an hour in, self’s eyelids kept drooping.

But it was a good thing she went and saw “Beginners” today.  A member of the staff at the Aquarius announced that it would be replaced tomorrow, by “Tabloid.”  Oh, self has been wanting to see that!  She hopes it is trashy, like Joan Rivers’ mouth.  By the way, self just finished watching “A Piece of Work” (current Netflix rental) and it was spectacular.  Joan Rivers in all her potent bitchiness and vulgarity is more of a real, solid woman than Mélanie Laurent in “Beginners.”

In addition, today self added two more books to her reading list:  one by Dutch writer Harry Mulisch, The Assault, and our old friend Dostoyevsky’s masterful Crime and Punishment (which self first read over three decades ago).

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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