Saturday, 31 December 2005

Match Point (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

New Woody Allen movie shot in London and the home counties. Ex-tennis pro Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) gets a job as a tennis coach in an exclusive club and, through one of his pupils, Tom Hewett, befriends a wealthy upper-class family. He marries Tom's sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) but then has an affair with Nora, Tom's ex-girlfriend, a sexy but failing American actress (Scarlett Johansson). The plot echoes Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Deconstructing Harry.

The acting is a little edgy: at times I wondered if the lines were being delivered too woodenly; but then they captured the awkward body language of polite social situations. Allen scouts the London sights a bit like a tourist (do New Yorkers feel the same way about how he portrays their city?). I'm also not sure he writes as well for British actors, but then the social set he's aiming at are a bit divorced from my quotidian reality, even in Oxford.

An enjoyable and beautifully shot film, nevertheless, in which Allen seems to encounter the same writing impasse he explored in Melinda and Melinda when an essentially serious plot borders on farce.

Nugget: not his best of recent movies (see Anything Else) but confident, assured Allen, even in unfamiliar surroundings. I'd like to see him shoot another film in the UK, a comedy next time.

Thursday, 29 December 2005

Christmas tree lights

Picture 047 Originally uploaded by domeheid.

Another long exposure experiment. Would sometimes like a digital camera of my own. Any recommendations anyone?

Christkindelmarkt at Muenchener Freiheit

Picture 026 Originally uploaded by domeheid.

I was playing around with my dad's new digital camera when we were out at the Christmas market here in Munich on Christmas Eve and came up with this nighttime exposure. The Kinderpunsch and Flammbrot were yummy, by the way - especially the Flammbrot.

Wednesday, 28 December 2005

Dialogues you rarely hear, no. 1

"Hello, can I have your babies?"

"Why of course!"

"When can we start?"

"How about next Wednesday afternoon, about 4 o'clock?"

"I'm badger-fencing that day, I'm afraid, but I should be home by 7. Any good?"

Where to look

I am somewhat disturbed by people who have some sort of oddity, such as a squint or a facial disfigurement. I feel awkward because I don't know where to look. I don't mean to be offensive or upsetting to people with such afflictions, but I probably come across that way. But then, at the best of times, wearing glasses can make you feel rude because I don't quite feel I'm with people if I can't see them properly. It's like having an invisibility cloak; apart from the fact that I don't become invisible when everything is blurred (so it's not much like it at all, apart from the feel of it).

The One and the Pig

I have the potential to love her as much as John Peel loved Sheila (the Pig).

(Great book, by the way, Margrave of the Marshes.)

Curb your enthusiasm

Remington Rand Deluxe Model 5 I notice that my mum's Remington Rand Deluxe Model 5 typewriter has no exclamation mark key. I presume this is because in 1940-9, when the typewriter was made, there was no such thing as enthusiasm.

Hearts and Minds (1974) - ickleReview (DVD)

Documentary about the Vietnam war, dealing with the questions: why did the US go to war in Vietnam, what did they do there, and what effect did it have on the country and back home in the US? Director Peter Davis's style is not to interject his own opinions and narrative, but let the pictures and personal testimonies speak for themselves (although he does create meaning in his Eisensteinian montage juxtapositions, which give the film its polemical edge).

In a 2004 interview with the director on the UK version of this DVD, he reveals his intention of pursuing those moments that television networks would consider to be "dead air": when no one is talking. Davis finds in these the real impact of the war: in two Vietnamese women whose home has been destroyed, in a former US bomber pilot who suddenly realizes how he would feel if his kids had been attacked the same way, and in a patriotic couple who try to justify the sacrifice their dead son has made for them and their great country.

The blurb cites Michael Moore, who claims this is one of his favourite movies and the reason he picked up a camera, and you can see how Davis has influenced Moore, particularly in Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore pays tribute by using the same footage from a horrifically bad taste Army musical [can anyone supply the title?].

Nugget: a pretty damn powerful movie, very moving in parts, graphic in others. Not always able to answer the questions it asks of this confusing war, but then these things cannot be neatly explained, and that is the whole point of the movie.

Batman Begins (2005) - ickleReview (DVD)

Christopher Nolan film sketching out (sometimes rather too sketchily) Batman's coming-into-being. Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne, who, like in the Tim Burton movie (and, I presume, the DC comics), witnesses his parents' murder in a mugging. Since early childhood he has been afraid of bats when he fell down a well in the grounds of his stately home and was smothered by them. As a young man he is still angry and guilty about his parents' death and tries to avenge the now repentant criminal.

Gotham is nowhere near as gothic as Burton's and seems oddly unpopulated. Therefore, when the baddies try to infect it with a rather implausible fear poison the tension is evaporated because we don't care about any of the people in danger. There is a token wee boy who runs about scared with the fiesty DA's assistant (Katie Holmes). It's all a bit clunky and underwhelming, particularly in the second half.

The supporting cast is quite strong on paper, with Liam Neeson as Wayne's martial arts mentor, Morgan Freeman as the Q-equivalent weapons and technology expert, and Michael Caine as the loyal family butler, Alfred.

Nugget: There was no real need for this to be made and the cardboard acting betrays a lack of faith in the project. It's neither a full-on comicbook, nor a realistic movie; falls down the gaping chasm of mediocrity in between.

Eddie Murphy Raw (1987) - ickleReview (DVD)

Movie of stand-up gig in New York, 1987. Hilarious stuff, mainly about relations between (black) men and women. Murphy is brilliant at impressions of Mr T, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby; and does funny voices for foreigners, white men, Italian-Americans who have just watched Rocky and many more. His humour revolves mainly around these characters and his accompanying facial expressions.

This is a great set - better, I would argue, than anything I've seen by the late Richard Pryor, but nevertheless, heavily influenced by him.

Nugget: better than any of Murphy's films.

Dylan Moran: Monster (2004) - ickleReview (DVD)

Irish stand-up comedian. So much funnier than he is in the sitcom Black Books. His delivery is quite drunken and gives the impression of being somewhat dim-witted, but his insight is remarkably intelligent.

This was shown on Channel 4 a few months ago, I think in a more edited version. I enjoyed it much more the second time round, appreciated more the subtlety of his humour. I won't recount any of his jokes here - partly because I can't remember them, but also because they rely somewhat on his delivery for their effect. Subjects of derision, though, include children, women, Americans, smoking in public places (the Irish ban thereon) and rap.

Nugget: a well constructed set, delivered in Moran's own inimitable style.

The Godfather: Part II (1974) - ickleReview (DVD)

Majestic sequel to Scorsese's gangster saga, following in parallel the early career of Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro) and the mid-life of his son Michael (Al Pacino) forty years later. The emphasis in this one is not so much on the gangster's life of crime and violence, but on Italian-American notions of the family and honour, and the ironical isolation of the head of the family.

Nugget: the best of the trilogy?

Swingers (1996) - ickleReview (DVD)

Dialogue-heavy comedy about a guy called Mike Peters (Jon Favreau), who has just split up with his girlfriend of six years. His buddies in downtown LA, led by Trent Walker (Vince Vaughn) try to encourage him back into the game. And it is a game, whose rules they try to obey: don't call her for two days after getting her number ("the industry standard"). Pretend to forget her when you break up and then gradually you will; then when you have forgotten her, she will call.

"Dialogue-heavy" is an observation; not a criticism; in fact, it is a joy to have so much wit and humour. Trent takes Mike to Vegas in an attempt to look "money" and get laid. Mike is still too much like a guy in a PG-13 movie: too cute and likeable to score. Eventually he retrieves his self-esteem back in LA after numerous attempts gone wrong, accompanied by his good group of friends.

Nugget: great fun, with some sharp perceptions of what it's like trying to meet girls. Biased to the guys's point of view.

Sunday, 18 December 2005

Good Will Hunting (1997) - ickleReview (TV)

Gus Van Sant movie written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Damon plays Will Hunting, an orphan from Southey who mops the floors at MIT (rather badly, I might add - I would have got a bollocking at McDo's if I'd failed to squeeze out the water like that). One day he solves a Maths problem that Prof. Lambeau (Stellan SkarsgÄrd) has set his class. Lambeau bails the kid out when he gets busted for beating up a guy who bullied him at Kindergarten. One of the conditions is that he goes to therapy: cue Robin Williams as Sean Maguire, the shrink whose wife died of cancer two years ago and he's still grieving.

Will is precociously smart. He meets an English girl at Harvard called Skylar (Minnie Driver). But could she be The One.

That's a bit unfair. Boiled down like this is sounds like a Schmollywood schmuckbucket Oscar-cooking gumbo boat. And there is the Miramax moment wedged in there for Williams, but he delivers the speech beautifully. It's good stuff. It knows what puppet it's holding and how to pull the strings, and there's no shame in being tied to the other end of that. Quality.

Nugget: job done.

Play It Again, Sam (1972) - ickleReview (video)

The Woody Allen movie that begins and ends with the final scene of Casablanca. Try not to choke on your Cornflakes when you read this plot summary. Allan Felix (Woody) splits with his wife (she leaves him). Dick and Linda (Diane Keaton) try to set him up with a number of girls. Linda and Allan develop a little something extra marital. But then you see why Casablanca comes in at the end.

Woody is in slapstick mode, acting like a nervous spastic whenever he's near a woman. He is visited every now and again by Humphrey Bogart (impressively - if obscurely - impersonated by Jerry Lacy), who tries to tell him all about dames.

A solid effort, but not one of Woody's best-looking films, nor his knockabout funniest (try Manhattan and Mighty Aphrodite), but you'll do yourself no harm if you tick this one off your list as well.

Nugget: yes, the title is a famous misquotation: Bogey never says that. He says, "You know what I want to hear. [...] You played it for her, you can play it for me! [...] If she can stand it, I can! Play it!"

Saturday, 17 December 2005

The Heraclitean Apocalypse

If I lived in the Mid-West and had starched my shirt for tomorrow, I'd be kinda worried. Don't you think it's been a bad year? First the Tsunami: that's earth and water. Then hurricane Katrina: that's a lot of air, and some more water. Then the Pakistan earthquake: that's more earth. And then last week the fire at the oil storage depot in Hemel Hempstead. That makes up the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by my reckoning: water, air, earth and fire. We're fucked. The Rapture is coming. Time is near an end. I know. I broke my watch at the ice rink yesterday.

Thursday, 15 December 2005

Bananas (1971) - ickleReview (video)

Woody Allen movie. Big mish-mash of genres: sports telecast parody (live at the assassination of a South American president), silent comedy, Marx Brothers, I guess. Amusing, but not Woody's best. Gets involved with a girl who's into women's lib and picketing embassies, who leaves Woody because there's something missing and she doesn't think he's much of a leader. She doesn't want to receive or give (one of the best scenes in the movie, heavily improvised). Great take on the "I don't think we should see each other anymore" speech. Woody somehow - in a carved up script - becomes president of this South American country, San Marcos. Quite slapsticky, but Woody's always funny to look at, so it works. Great scene in which Woody's character, Fielding Mellish, tries to browse porno mags in a newsagent: "Hey, how much is Orgasm?" (You had to be there.) Story of my last few years: "We fell in love. Well, I fell in love - she just stood there."

Nugget: features a young Sylvester Stallone (24-5 years old) as a subway thug.

Sunday, 30 October 2005

Silence

Wittgenstein said that the way we understand the world is by interpreting its silence. How about doing it through conversation?

Sunday, 23 October 2005

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (aka De battre mon coeur s'est arrete) (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

French film about a real estate debt collector, Thomas Seyr (Romain Duris), who rediscovers his love of the piano - his dead mother's profession - which begins to encroach upon his thuggish work. His fat old father (Niels Arestrup) asks him for help collecting a debt from one of his tenants. It's a scabby business. The hard men look out of place in the respectable office they plan their deals in. Violence is their currency. Thomas covers for his buddy, who is cheating on his wife; but then gets involved with her himself. All the while he is in intense rehearsal with a young Chinese piano teacher, Miao Lin (Linh Dan Pham), who can't speak French, but somehow coaches him up to scratch for an audition in front of M. Fox, Thomas's mother's former maestro. His preparation is disrupted, however, with a last minute real estate deal and his father's problems with a tough Russian debtor.

Duris's fidgety, hyperactive performance is like a young De Niro. At the piano he is rarely relaxed, always passionate, seldom in total control. He is incongruous in both settings: cut hands at the keyboard from beating someone up on his father's behalf; aloof at work, lost in the world of his music. There is an unusual, awkward tension throughout the film. Duris is bursting with violence and energy; yet he seems to have so much promise. The shots of him practising Bach's "Toccata in E minor" are convincing. Either he is a talented mimer, or he can actually play competently himself. His hands are always moving: tapping to his electro music over headphones, tapping a never-ending cigarette, tapping out the notes of his piano piece in silence.

There are some joyous moments of comic respite: when Thomas's colleague goads him for being distracted with his piano playing, or when Thomas tells his father that he thinks his new fiancee is a whore, or when he and the Chinese piano teacher frustratedly shout at each other in mutually incomprehensible languages.

The film offers some interesting alternative points of view: what it feels like for the third party in an affair (Thomas asks his buddy's wife if she still fucks her husband); or what it's like for a dodgy roughhouse real estate dealer to evict immigrant squatters from his property like a herder of faceless cattle.

There's a coda, two years after the main plotline, in which Thomas has the opportunity to exact some fierce retribution when it seems as if he's been able to extricate himself from the struggle of his former life - a coda which at first feels out of place, but on reflection is appropriate to the fugue structure of this musical film and its fuguing Bach soundtrack.

Nugget: the unglamorous France (Paris?) of cheap restaurants, full of smoke and dirty wine glasses - yet a world in which these characters breathe.

Thursday, 20 October 2005

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

The return of the wearers of the Wrong Trousers. Nick Park's animated creations now run a humane pest control company called Pesto, which captures the local rabbit population to prevent them nibbling away at the townsfolks' vegetables, carefully guarded for the giant vegetable growing competition held at Lady Tottington's grand estate. "Totty" (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), as she is known familiarly, is being wooed by Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), a gun-toting toff, but falls for Wallace when he solves her rabbit infestation without harming a single bunny. However, when Wallace's pest rehabilitation machine goes wrong, he creates a giant were-rabbit, who hunts herbage by night, stalking the locals' prize pieces, just days before the harvest festival.

Aardman Animations has grown considerably since the first Wallace & Gromit film The Wrong Trousers in 1993. This project is much more ambitious with rain drops on window panes, rabbits whizzed around in mid-air and more cheesy details than you can shake a cocktail stick at. The writing is saturated with Pixaresque homages to King Kong (rather predictably), An American Werewolf in London, Frankenstein and (probably) many others. The way it freshens cliche is, however, delightful. Although set in an anachronistic 50s suburbia, the film references contemporary issues such as obesity (Wallace is too fat to fit through his breakfast trapdoor - too much cheese), hunting (Quartermaine's aristocratic bunny blood-lust), and, tenuously, bobby's on the beat (PC Mackintosh is hosted by TV's Peter Kay). There are some wondefully cheesy puns: Wallace's bookshelf holds such fromagious works as Swiss Cheese Family Robinson, East of Edam, Grate Expectations and Waiting for Gouda, but I won't spoil the fun by recounting them all here.

Nugget: a thoroughly enjoyable plasticine adventure, with the sort of crossover appeal that we have come to expect of animated films.

Sunday, 9 October 2005

DiG! (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Documentary about two US West-Coast rock bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Anton Newcombe, frontman of the BJM, hails himself as a musical revolutionary, writing better stuff than anyone else out there, promising early in the film to show us how it's done, take us on a wild ride with him. The BJM are a big influence on the Dandys, who in 1996 were still in awe of them. Within a few years, however, the Dandys have been signed to a major record label and are making $400,000 videos with the fashion photographer David LaChapelle. The BJM are whipsnappingly productive, churning out five albums in two years, yet they never quite make the breakthrough, although they enjoy the underground credo of their indie scene.

The bands start out as friends, but the Dandys always seem to be a bit more switched on. They don't do as many drugs and they come from stabler homes...and they don't fight each other on stage, something which the BJM always seem to do when the industry bigwigs are watching, about to sign them to a big deal. The prima donna Newcombe always holds them back. It's as if he doesn't want success, doesn't want to sell out as Courtney Taylor-Taylor and the Dandy Warhols are only too willing to do.

As the Dandys become more successful, the rivalry between the two bands starts to heat up. The Dandys turn up unannounced at the BJM squat in Portland for a photo shoot the night after a heavy heroin party; Newcombe responds by writing a parodic track "Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth" (ripping off the Dandys' "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth", the first track really to impress Newcombe).
Joel Gion of the BJM
Dandys lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor narrates part of the movie, which seems to capture every significant moment in the arc of these bands' careers: the fights, the parties, the getting arresteds in Atlanta on tour. It doesn't take itself too seriously, tripping on the same vein as BJM member Joel Gion (see picture), who seems to do nothing except get wasted, be kinda funny lookin' and play the tambourine. A self-conscious expose - these bands know they're rock 'n' roll, and even though their music is nothing special and they're all a bunch of losers, the rock mystique nevertheless transforms them somehow.

The American music industry looks so fickle. These bands can't get airplay, and yet they pack the venues in Europe and Japan. The Dandys sell 40,000 UK records in two weeks and play in front of over 100,000 on the summer festival circuit. The talking heads from the indie labels that sign these bands complain how stupid the big record companies' marketing strategy is: blowing hundreds of thousands on a few select bands, making expensive videos, crowbarring airplay, when only 1 in 10 of them gets you a hit. The money could be spread more evenly, allowing more bands to make records at a more modest profit, the sort of records the public really want to buy, not the sort they have to be told to buy by capitalass commercialism.

We see, essentially, the BJM break down on camera, blowing one opportunity after another, tearing themselves apart, acting like the kids they evidently still are. Newcombe (everyone keeps telling us) is a genius; and with that comes all the egotistical cretinous behaviour, making him such a cunt to live and work with (cf. Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Bob Dylan, etc.). He may be musically creative, but he lacks the smarts in every other aspect of life, although there is something admirable in his refusal to be commercially successful, to make the most of his ability.
Nugget: a great study of commercial success versus underground cool; cleaned up act against fucked up junkies; lucky averagebodies over wasted talent.

Monday, 3 October 2005

Red Sox win to reach playoffs ::yay!::

The Idiots clinch their third straight American League Wild Card berth with a sweet 10-1 win over the Yankees. I say bring on the White Sox!

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005) - ickleReview (TV and video)

Martin Scorsese made-for-TV documentary about the early part of Dylan's career, up to the end of his 1966 European tour. It was touted on BBC Radio 4's Front Row arts review programme as the best rockumentary of all time; but I'd still give that laurel to Festival Express (to which there is a connection with this film because members of Dylan's band, including bass player Rick Danko, went on to form The Band). I'm not a Dylan nut, so most of it was news to me and I can't judge how much of it was revelatory, or how much of the footage unseen (and I'm unwilling to sift through the publicity bullshit to find out what they want us to believe). I'm aware of the whole mythology surrounding him as the "voice of a generation", singing protest songs and tapping into America's collective unconscious, but Scorsese and Dylan seemed to confound that. In the recent interviews recorded for the programme, Dylan denies that his songs in 1963 were topical and still seems baffled by his popularity. He certainly played hard to get, shunning Joan Baez, who was much more active politically. Dylan insists that he didn't take sides, that he wasn't interested in politics; but he didn't help himself by making albums with titles like "The Times They Are A-Changin' ", playing at the 1963 March on Washington after Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, or by standing next to big protest posters. There is some hilarious archive footage from press conferences in which he responds drily to quotidian questions about his cult status.

On a first viewing, I'm not sure the intercutting of live footage from the 1966 UK concerts was entirely successful; it jarred somewhat with the exposition of his early career; so we are told on the voice-over that he was a revolutionary spokesman for the civil rights movement and yet see pictures of him beeing booed by audiences wanting to see a folk singer, not a rock band. I have a feeling, though, that this juxtaposition is entirely deliberate, emphasizing the inconsistency and unconformity of his career, his stollid selfishness, refusing to bow to his audience's demands, developing musically to where he wanted to go, not to where they wanted him to stay, never buying into the commercial media circus, although it is a little strange that he agreed to do these press conferences when he was so unwilling to cooperate with what they wanted to write about him. A lot of shoddy, lazy journalism, asking him dumb, ignorant questions. Never ask an artist to explain or account for his work; it's an insult and he won't be able to do it anyway. Let it speak for itself.

Dylan comes across, especially in his early New York City days, as being cast in the mould of Holden Caulfield (from J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye, 1951): his rebellious nature, his naivety, his affected scruffiness. Even as an old man of sixty-odd he looks young, young in the eyes, not quite understanding everything that's going on, not willing to understand it; and yet comprehending it almost by intuition on an entirely different level. There's still something innocent about him, and yet he seems to be holding back his intelligence. Why does he play his songs the way people don't want to hear them?

Many of the old folk musicians who function as the talking heads overdo the whole Dylan mystique, exaggerating how great he was, what a buzz the movement was - the usual rock nostalgia crap - bigging themselves up no end. I suppose that's as much the filmmakers' fault for asking the leading questions that would let them say that sort of thing. I'm glad I taped this thing because it's worth at least another viewing. I see they're releasing it on DVD already. It was made for TV as an Arena documentary in the UK in collaboration with PBS in America and a whole bunch of other production companies. A mighty fine film, but one that is slightly misty-eyed; a sweet relish nevertheless.

Nugget: it strikes me that a lot of musicians are total geeks, outsiders, the sort of kids who would have been uncool at school. So, forty years later, when they get to look back on it all and chew the fat, it's a big fuckoff hamshank of a burger they're eating into.

Thursday, 29 September 2005

The smell of "Ulysses"

Our Factification Round His Olfactification of a Work in Progress (an article full of wonder about the smell of T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia)'s copy of Ulysses by James Joyce), from The Chronicle, reproduced by the Harry Ransom Center.

Friday, 23 September 2005

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

Unusual little indie film, penned, starred and directed by Miranda July. Female filmmakers are rare, so it's a treat to see a movie made from a different stuff. July plays Christine Jesperson, a taxi driver for the elderly, who makes art movies in her bedroom by voicing over imaginary romantic conversations while filming a still photograph and making sound effects with her TV static. (I wonder if the movie grew out of this, if these home movie experiments were its starting point.) She falls for Richard (John Hawkes), a shoe salesman who has just separated from his wife and burnt his hand with parafin (as you do) in an attempt to save his life. He has two sons, Peter and Robby (Miles Thompson and Brandon Ratcliff), who stay with him half the time, drawing pictures on their computer made out of letters and punctuation marks, and talking dirty over instant messaging. Two teenage girls flirt with Richard's colleague from the department store, hoping to lose their virginity. They practise their oral skills on Peter, the elder of the two brothers (about 15) to see who's better. Robby, the younger brother, of elementary school age, has a weird idea when talking online: "You poop into my butt hole and I poop into your butt hole...back and forth...forever," and illustrates it thus:

))<>((

which really appears to turn on their interlocuteur, who suggests a meeting at a local park bench. Meanwhile, Christine also attempts to exhibit her films at the local Center for Contemporary Art, whose curators marvel at a hamburger wrapper in the middle of the floor of a new installation because it looks so "real" (it is real, left there by the artist/workman).

There is a magical long tracking shot in which Christine and Richard walk a block together towards their parked cars, pretending that the block represents the life of their relationship. Part of the walk is in awkward silence, the actors somehow conveying in their looks away, tender smiles and blank turns of the head the full range of emotions experienced in a long-term relationship.

July pushes her characters towards danger and debauchery, but her treatment is so innocent and harmless. People are weird and do weird things; but they don't always hurt each other. There is still sweetness in this world. The humour is light and frequent; the characters, without exception, are likeable; the story wafts about suburbia like a dandelion seed in a warm late summer breeze.

Nugget: a bit like an American Mike Leigh film. The best way to sum it up? "Nice."

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Rocky Road to Dublin & The Making of "Rocky Road to Dublin" (1968; 2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Black and white documentary about sleepy Ireland in 1968, a year of political and cultural revolution in Europe when Ireland was still strictly Catholic and oddly obedient.

Nugget: quirky but highly informative.

The full review is now available on the FilmExposed website.

[Update: Friday 17 June 2011: looks like FilmExposed is no more, so that link is broken.]

Interview with Deborah Wearing from the Observer magazine

Here is an interview with Clive Wearing's wife, which fills in some of the gaps in my own recollection of the TV programme I've just seen. How fragile memory is, how precious. Who would you be if you woke up tomorrow, not remembering a thing?

Thoughts from the man who cannot think

A rare thing occurred tonight: ITV showed a decent television programme. It was about Clive Wearing, a conductor and musician, who used to produce early music for BBC Radio 3, who suffered a rare after-effect of the herpes or cold-sore virus, having contracted a serious bout of the flu that was passing around north London 20 years ago. The virus crossed from his blood into his brain and destroyed the part of it that makes and stores memories. Since 1985 he has had acute amnesia, able to remember anything for little more than 7 seconds. The mind, effectively, of a goldfish. He wakes up constantly, for the first time, over and over again, as his devastating diaries reveal. It's like being dead, he says, over and over again, there's no difference between night and day, it's like being asleep without dreaming. Yet he is unable to remember it for long enough to be bored or become frustrated. He can't remember how awful it is to be alive. He remembers that he was once a musician, but he can't remember any performances; yet he has aural hallucinations, hearing music far away, somewhere deep in his consciousness, a memory in sound that has not been muted. He can somehow sense his wife, Deborah, but he can't remember her having visited as soon as she walks out the door. He remembers strange, useless things, such as the number plate of his parents' car, or his old, four-digit phone number from when he was a child, but he doesn't recognize his own son, and has to guess what his wife's job is.

There are rhythms to his speech, he seems to speak by repitition, and yet he wouldn't be able to remember what he is saying. It's as if he has learnt to live by rote. Although he claims not to be able to think, some of his sayings are most profound, almost as if he has rehearsed them or committed them to some part of his brain that isn't memory. "What does love mean?" his wife asks him. "Zero in tennis; everything in life," he replies, slightly jokingly, with the snort of a schoolboy telling a familiar joke.

Walking arm in arm with his wife, back to his own house, which he of course doesn't recognize, doesn't remember ever having seen, he says what his house means to him: "The opposite of walking outdoors."

What is home to him? "Home is yesterday." Yet, of course, he can't remember yesterday, so he would never feel at home anywhere.

The documentary was profoundly moving. His wife, Deborah, is an inspirational woman. She stayed with him for nine years after his illness and then divorced him and moved to New York, where she conducted a number of unsatisfactory relationships with artists, none of whom was enough like Clive to satisfy her. She realized, eventually, that she would have to go back to him, but that they couldn't be together. They renewed their marriage vows and appear to have developed a way to live and love, if only in the snippets of time between blinking, when all is forgotten, the slate wiped clean like an Etch-A-Sketch. She only seems him, though, on average, once a month, so the appearance of their relationship on film is deceptive. Most of the scenes are quite short, so we don't get a sense of how repetitive their conversations are, how many dead ends and deja-vus she must endure. Even when the conversation does loop, it's edited with an inter-title of "7 seconds later", "45 seconds later", "2 minutes later". If it were a film directed by Gus Van Sant, I imagine it would have been much harder to endure, but much more like what time with Clive Wearing feels like i.e. very wearing. Christopher Nolan made a more sinister film about the condition, Memento, in which the note-writing becomes a weapon, the lack of memory a void to exploit.

Clive Wearing is a man emancipated from time. He lives in an eternal moment that keeps resetting. He has no capacity to learn, no means by which to structure his thought, no footholds in the past, no sense of hope for the future, except the wish not to be alone. Every time someone leaves him, he asks them to come back "at the speed of light". Light-years are measures of unfathomable distances, and it is this lack of comprehension of time that distances Clive from other people in space, suggesting that time and space are linked. That without time, something essential to the human condition is removed. Perhaps that's all that death is: time stops.

Sunday, 18 September 2005

ickleRatings

I've added a new feature to my ickleReviews: a quickfire rating system so that you can see at a glance whether a movie is worth seeing, whether it's okay/kinda average, if it reeks to high heaven, or whether you should drop whatever you're doing and go watch it now, right this minute. To be honest, I'm not that fond of judging movies like this, but as my reviews are so numerous now, it makes them more user-friendly to have this frontdoor labelling. I'd give you that sort of answer if you asked me in person, so why not do it in print? I don't like the star rating, or the marks out of ten or a hundred. My guide is the way that Roger Ebert does it, although I have replaced stars with other symbols. He rates each movie on its own merit and never gives more than four stars for current releases. He does, however, have classic movies, which equates, somewhat, to my * rating. I don't think my opinion about these * movies will change. Some of them (e.g. the Befores by Linklater) are amongst my favourite films of all-time, but that is not to say they are to everyone's taste. If, however, you don't like them, let that be a sign that you have bad taste and should seek to cultivate it, you heathen. (What a Bloomsbury setter I can be at times!) The good ones (+) are usually top examples of their genre, or just generally a good, fun, harmless watch (most Woody Allen films fall into this category: you know what you're getting). The hohummers are the titles marked with =: these were, you know, okay to watch, but haven't really left an indellible mark on my consciousness and sometimes I struggle to remember what they were about. I rarely give out stinker ratings, but those marked with a minus (-) sink rather than swim, and good riddance to them: I hope the drowning hurt and gives you nightmares still in hell. The most eloquent and encapsulating word they deserve to describe them is the wonderfully succint west of Scotland adjective, pish. They bored me, or were just so dumb (Meet the Fockers, being the prime example) that I'd like to pass on my wisdom to others so that they don't waste their time as well. So here, short and sweet, is my summing up.

* a must-see: miss this and you're a damn fool
+ pooty good: a fair crack of the whip
= so-so: won't give you rabies, but don't break a leg to see it
- stinks royally: avoid like the plague

Now go watch some movies, dude!

Closer (2004) - ickleReview (DVD)

I don't have a great deal to add to what I said about the cinema release. There isn't much extra on this DVD, except the music video of Damien Rice's "The Blower's Daughter", the soundtrack over the opening and closing sequences. On reflection, I think my favourite scene is when Jude Law goes to visit Clive Owen at work, coming into his surgery drookit from the rain. Owen plays the scene brilliantly: cocky, masculine, harsh, but with a tinge of sympathy, only to turn into a right bastard when he plays the cruel psychological trick on Jude Law just as he is about to leave. The women don't have lines quite as cutting as the men, especially Owen's character, who is a bit too much of a slimy get in the first few scenes, but really comes into his own in the scene where he returns from America and Julia Roberts is dressed and waiting for him, ready to break up. That sadomasochism is a wheeze, torturing himself with the gory details of Roberts's affair with Law, as, I think, most men would want to do in his position, perhaps not having the balls to do so in real life.

Nugget: if you've seen the film before, there's no harm in seeing it again. I noticed a reference to The Talented Mr. Ripley, when Jude Law says "Americano" to Natalie Portman, which reminded me of the song he sings in the jazz club in Italy with Matt Damon. A better investment, though, might be the play script, so that you can compare it to the screenplay, yet still appreciate Marber's keen dialogue.

Friday, 16 September 2005

Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.

I shall not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green & pleasant Land.

I wonder if people realize what they are singing when they join in this now patriotic anthem, sung before play on the last days of the Ashes at The Oval cricket ground. Do they realize (as Tom Paulin pointed out in his Radio 4 programme "And Did Those Feet", broadcast on Tuesday 28 December 2004) that Blake's words are interrogative? They question whether Christ really did walk upon our lands, whether London really is the New Jerusalem. This is a radical, anti-monarchical, revolutionary hymn, a call to arms "against a sea of troubles", hoping, "by opposing", to "end them". Blake was a Nonconformist; yet now this hymn is sung at Women's Institute meetings in church halls all across England (as, for example, in the film Calendar Girls (2003)), partly because it was sung by the Suffragettes (and thus, was again about overturning the current order). It is a central tenet of the common worship of the Church of England, a symbol of gentle conservatism, and is often sung at funerals and at public school memorial day services - even in Scotland at my own alma mater, Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh. It is often associated with socialist ideals: fighting together to improve society. I suppose, even despite these paradoxes and contradictions, that it is a suitable English anthem, for England prides itself nowadays on being a relatively tolerant and forgiving place (how true this is one could dispute), embracing these sorts of cultural anomalies and traditions, which don't always mean what they did when they started out.

Blake wrote it as the preface to his work Milton: A Poem (1804), but it is mainly known now as the hymn "Jerusalem", set to music by C. Hubert H. Parry in 1916. Its patriotism is echoed in Rupert Brooke's famous First World War sonnet, "The Soldier", the last of a sequence entitled "1914":

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Its sense of liberty echoes also in my memory of the nineteenth-century American poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, the concluding lines of which are inscribed at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty (and which I know through the opening animated sequence of Channel 4's old American Football programme, hosted by Gary Imlach in the early 90s):

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Inevitable, also, must be the connection with John of Gaunt's vaunted speech from Shakespeare's Richard II:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,-
For Christian service and true chivalry,-
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's Son:
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leas'd out,- I die pronouncing it,-
Like to a tenement, or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots, and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah! would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death.

Thursday, 15 September 2005

Rothko's Seagram murals

Rothko, Black on Maroon (1958)Jonathan Jones wrote an enlightening article about "How Rothko's Seagram murals found their way to London" in the Guardian on Saturday 7 December 2002. I wasn't aware of what his influences had been. The article includes a number of useful links at the bottom, including one to Tate Modern, which has good quality reproductions of seven of the paintings.

Monday, 12 September 2005

Garden State (2004) - ickleReview (DVD)

Second time I've watched this and it's still good. One of the best films I've seen in the past twelve months. The scene at the abyss which I complained about in my cinema review isn't all that bad, although the CGI isn't totally necessary.

The bonus features are quite good. Once more, you realize the editor's craft because the deleted scenes would have slowed down the movie too much, or spoilt the rhythm of a scene or section. There's a particularly tedious one where Largeman (Zach Braff) talks to his dad (Ian Holm) about how his mom died. Holm hardly features in the film as a result, but it was necessary to cut it.

The Making of is better than average. We learn that Braff wrote the screenplay sporadically throughout college and had incorporated some of the stories he'd been collecting from his hometown and his friends. There are two commentary tracks, but I only listened to parts of one with Braff and Natalie Portman, which seemed worthwhile. There's another with Braff and the techie people like the DOP, which I didn't try. Disappointed that the trailer isn't on the DVD because it's one of the best I've seen, although I'm suspicious that some of those shots were contrived just to make the trailer look good. They give a good sense of the tone of the movie, though. A bit like The Terminal, it gives away some of the funniest bits - most notably the shirt made from the same stuff as the wallpaper.

Nugget: I really wonder if Braff can live up to this. I see on IMDb that he has two in post- and one in pre-production.

Sunday, 11 September 2005

Inspector Bowden

The curled dismissal finger is not the only thing that cricket umpire Billy Bowden of New Zealand has in common with his cartoon alter ego, Inspector Gadget. Just look at him taking off with a Gadget Copter, when he should be trying to signal six to the scorers! Thank goodness that light meter is working properly!

Heesh

An imaginary dialogue on the articulacy of men and women, and the decoding of a kiss

He to she: I had a good time tonight.
She to he: Me too. [Pause] Well, I suppose I'd better -
[Pause. He looks at her. She looks at him. Pause. He kisses her, unexpectedly, like the first time she kissed him. It's not exactly unpleasant, so she doesn't exactly resist that much. Neither of them know if they mean it, or what it means. It goes on because neither wants to be the first to pull away.]
She: I thought I said...
He: I thought you did too...
She: I thought I said I didn't want to.
[Pause. He looks over her shoulder, his right, her left. He tries to look her in the eye. He wants to. It's the right thing to do, or feels like it.]
He: I don't know.
She: I told you about my last...didn't I?
He: Yes, you did. I don't know if I want to believe that.
She: What do you mean?
He: I don't know. It seems like a dream, I've thought about it so much.
She: What do you mean?
He: I don't know. It's just...not what I wanted, want to hear.
[But he keeps telling it to himself anyway.]
She: But...
He: But what? That felt good, didn't it? It was nice.
She: Yes. Yes, I suppose it was.
He: What's the problem then?
She: I don't know.
He: You said yourself the first time didn't mean anything. Didn't mean anything to you. It meant something to me. Did you mean that?
She: Mean what?
He: That it didn't mean anything to you. It must have meant something at the time. Some impulse was true enough at the time to make you do it. I don't usually kiss my friends good night, much as I might like to.
She: Then why did you kiss me tonight?
He: Maybe you're more than a friend.
She: Maybe?
He: Yes, maybe. I know what I want. I don't know if you do.
She: No, nor do I.
He: Then what's the problem of just, you know, going with it? It felt good. I felt good. I hope you felt good. Did you feel good?
She: Yes, I did.
He: Would you like to do it again?
She: When?
He: Right now?
She: Not just yet.
He: Why not?
She: I don't know. I'm confused.
He: Me too, but I do know that felt nice and I'd like to do it again sometime. We should practise and maybe I should take off my glasses so they don't smudge or your cheek.
[Pause. Neither really knows what to say, but he feels like he wants to kiss her again. It's easier that way, not having to say anything - not with words, anyway.]

Orwell and good

So yes, the Spanish Civil War. A source for Nineteen Eighty-Four? What with all the confusion on the Communist-Republican side during the street fighting in Barcelona in May 1937. The propaganda didn't help. Makes one wonder how much of our press today is impartial in its foreign news reporting. The disadvantage of CentCom during the Iraq war (from our point of view) was that the press core had it too easy, being spoon fed their "facts" by Allied press officers - hardly from the horses mouth; more from its manure. How were they supposed to double-source their stories? Comical Ali would hardly be a sensible counterweight, even though he sometimes made more sense than the Yankee poodle. (Back in Spain) a rather sly manoeuvre to accuse the POUM militia of being Fascist (the so-called Trotskyist pro-revolutionary group of gumboots with whom Eric Blair (George Orwell) was fighting. I wonder what his passport said, and how he introduced himself when he turned up ready to have a scrap for the Reds. Does a pseudonym ever really penetrate the bearer's mind as one's own real name does? I can't imagine being called anything other than my moniker, except maybies "Claire", which I was going to be hight if I'd been a girl (some might say I am. When was the last time I relished a game of rugger? Not enough cunt in my game, as Hilly, B.A. Hons., so eloquently put it. Others might say too much).

War is a bloody thing, but it provides the occasion for compelling literature and the odd cracking motion picture. Hemingway faffed around on the front too, although I image he was more cock than Robin, yet - in the words of any shite football pundit, player or manager, to be fair to the lad - he did have the courage to aim the gun at himself in a hotel room, I believe, toward the end of his life, in fact, at the end.

Friday, 9 September 2005

Rocky Road to Dublin

Went to a sparsely attended (count 3 of us) press screening at the ICA in London today for the 1968 documentary about the repressed Irish way of life, Rocky Road to Dublin. They were supposed to show the new Making of as well, but the projectionist wasn't told. ::D'oh!:: My review will appear on FilmExposed in due course, and I will link to it from here.

[Update: Friday 17 June 2011: looks like FilmExposed is no more, so that link is broken.]

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Crash (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Independent American movie directed by Paul Haggis dealing with racial prejudice in LA. Don Cheadle plays a detective who realizes from the start the problem with the City of Angels: "It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In LA, nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something." It's this fear, which in September 2005 has be exposed in New Orleans and the Louisiana-Mississippi Gulf Coast basin after hurricane Katrina. There are parts of America (and the world over) where the separate, segregated ethnic communities don't trust one another, aren't prepared to give each other the benefit of the doubt. It's not just white against black; it's Hispanic against Persian, white against Chinese, black against black. Hip-hop artist Ludacris plays a black guy who is prejudiced against himself, assuming all the worst that everyone else can think of him...and then fulfilling it in spite. Moments of violence are oddly comic, the bigot becomes a clown, morality is inverted. Challenged with a dilemma, the characters do the right thing, only for bad things then to happen as a result of that choice. We, the audience, see that had they taken the other option, they would have been saved.

The abundant handful of stories interweave in the manner of Robert Altman, colliding, crashing into each other in moments of crisis and coincidence too serendipitous to be realistically plausible; but Haggis isn't aiming for that sort of scientific realism; he tells a fable that shuffles closer to the truth of human relations. Too often we imbue the words "humane" and "humanitarian" with optimism. Isn't it just as "humane" to take the selfish option, the easy way out, leaving principle behind and your fellow human beings to suffer?

Haggis's vision is troubling and yet important. He doesn't offer any solution to our problems, but some of his characters learn that the way they behave towards others cannot go on. This time they have got off lightly, but there will always be another outlaw cop, safe from redress in an institutionally racist police force, another customer or tradesman trying to screw you over, another black guy who's going to mug you or steal your car. All this is "humane"; all of us are "human". And yet, inexplicably, when we to crash into one another, there is something reassuring about that human contact, which otherwise we might not have; there is in it a thing of beauty. In Louisiana, middle-class white families are meeting their black neighbours across the blown down garden fence for the first time. They might still go off inside to reload their shotguns, but isn't it better that at least they have realized the other person is human, is more like them than they think, is infinitely capable of breaking down those convenient and necessary stereotypes we burden upon each other?

Nugget: a challenging and important movie, which raises more problems than it solves; but then social cohesion is not the job of the artist, nor of the politician or the policeman; we are all responsible for it and we should all realize our interdependence, regardless of who we are, what we do and where we find ourselves.

P.S. I changed my mind about this film when I saw it on DVD.

Saturday, 3 September 2005

Rothko's Prison

Rothko's Prison
Rothko's Prison
Originally uploaded by FredR.

How many other works of art are hiding in the quotidian sights?

Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Last Days (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

The third in a trilogy of films upon death by Gus Van Sant, following Gerry (2002) and Elephant (2003), Last Days is a rhapsody upon the suicide of brilliant but troubled young artists like Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.

Nugget: refreshingly unconventional, but you will need to be patient with it.

To read the full review, go to FilmExposed.com.

[Update: Friday 17 June 2011: looks like FilmExposed is no more, so that link is broken.]

Sunday, 28 August 2005

You've Got Mail (1998) - ickleReview (TV)

Nora Ephron remake of other Nora Ephron scripted movies (When Harry Met Sally... and Sleepless in Seattle), but still with her charm. One senses, though, that there was scriptural interference, as the surface is not always smooth.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan play Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a romantic movie. I mean, Hanks is Joe Fox, son and partner of Fox Books, a large chain store who open around the corner from Kathleen Kelly's (Ryan) family owned independent children's bookshop, The Shop Around the Corner. What they don't know is that they email each other on AOL every day and have fallen for each other, even though both are in somewhat unsatisfactory relationships. As Joe and Kathleen there's friction; but as NY152 and Shopgirl the friction turns into sparks. So boy meets girl online. Boy meets girl in person. Boy loses girl before he even gets her. But will boy get girl at the end? Come on! It's a Nora Ephron movie.

There's a load of product placement in this movie: Starbucks, AOL, Apple Mac - but then, I've realized, these products are part of our landscape, and to exclude them would somehow be false. Nevertheless, it's interesting to note that AOL joined up with Warner Bros to form AOL Time Warner not long after the making of this movie (in 2000). Funny how that evil corporate book chain was called Fox. Hmm. What does that remind you of in the movie and media industry?

Okay, so they used cheese to stick the edits together, but, being Ephron, it's still watchable and ever so slightly annoyingly endearing. This is what she does. And she's one of the best at it. Even though you've seen it before. From the very same actors.

Nugget: it's amusing to see how movies made in my own short lifetime are starting to show their age: dial-up internet connections, old versions of AOL. (And on the other side they were still using 3.5" floppy disks in Mission Impossible!)

On a Clear Day (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

British movie, set in Glasgow, about a shipyard foreman who loses his job and his morale. Peter Mullan plays Frank, said down-on-his luck, whose wife, Joan (Brenda Blethyn), won't tell him she's trying to qualify for a job as a bus driver. He finds talking to his son difficult, too, because the other son drowned when they were kids. This son in turn has twins, who symbolise the lost brothers of the past. One day on a booze cruise with his old workmates, Frank gets the idea of swimming the channel. It gives him a purpose in life because he just can't face getting a job. Chan, the local Chinese chippy owner acts as his coach, which in turn gives him the self-esteem to stand up to the racist bigots who trouble him at his shop.

The premise sounds boring and bleurch, but it's surprisingly handled, not with subtelty, but with charm. It is a feelgood movie - no shame - but it tugs on the heartstrings without first soaking them in schmalz.

One of the most amusing things about this viewing (a free members' preview at my local Picturehouse), was that one of the reels half-way through the movie was back-to-front so that the picture was upside down, the action backwards and the voices like some Baltic tongue. Cue a ten-minute interval while the projectionist sorted it out.

Peter Mullan's performance is quite endearing, although his most expressive scenes are the ones in which he fails to say anything in manly, Scottish reticence. Billy Boyd (a hobbit from The Lord of the Rings movies) plays the clown friend, a rather stock role in British movies, and one which doesn't really stretch him as an actor (as this is what had been asked of him in LOTR). Not all the arty flashbacks and cut ups are successful, and the mis-en-scene is somewhat conventional; but there are some creative shots of the last ship leaving the Govan yards, visible from on top of the hilly streets of Glasgow, above the tenement housetops. It's nice to see Glasgow in the movies again, even if the film overlooks its hardness and sectarianism.

Nugget: a tear-jerker if you're in the right mood and are prepared to let it work on you, not sneer at it too much.

Monday, 22 August 2005

Cookie's Fortune (1999) - ickleReview (TV)

Robert Altman movie set in smalltown Holly Springs, Mississippi. Cookie (Patrician Neal), a grand old lady with a cheerful demeanour but still grieving at the loss of her husband, Buck, commits suicide. Camille (Glenn Close) and Cora (Julianne Moore) try to disguise it as a murder. Camille is hungry for the inheritance of her aunt and claims not to want to bring shame on the family; Cora is too dumb and simple to object. Meanwhile, Willis (Charles S. Dutton), Cookie's best friend, ambles around the town running errands with the Best Walk in Motion Picture History, before he is arrested on suspicion of murder, even though everyone at the Sheriff's office knows he didn't do it. Emma (Liv Tyler), Cora's illegitimate daughter, sits in the open cell with him, playing Scrabble, making him coffee with bourbon, and escaping now and again for a quickie with her boyfriend, Deputy Jason Brown (Chris O'Donnell), even though she's the town's petty crook.

An endearing and mildly humorous story of backwoods smalltown America, gentle police incompetence and complicated family relations. Glenn Close's character, Camille, stands out as an uppity snob, lacking the easy-going nature of the rest of the town - and it comes back to bite her in the end.

Nugget: a leisurely paced film with quirky characters, slightly exaggerated in the quaint way that Hollywood tends to portray the Deep South. Race, it seems, is no longer such a big issue in this part of Ole Miss. But worth watching just for That Walk...

Sunday, 21 August 2005

Blogger for Word

Blogger have started a new thing to publish from Microsoft Word. Let's see if it works.

Scent of a Woman (1992) - ickleReview (video from TV)

Al Pacino shines as a blind ex-Army Lieutenant Colonel who's a right ol' bastard. Chris O'Donnell is Charlie Simms, a prep school scholarship student from Oregon who chaperones the Colonel on a Thanksgiving weekend jaunt to Manhattan, where the Colonel splashes out on a suite at the Waldorf Astoria, dinner at the Oak Room, high class prostitutes and tailor-made suits - living it up before he plans to blow his brains out. Charlie carries the weight of the word upon his shoulders having witnessed some misbehaviour back at school but refusing to name the culprits, thereby keeping his honour among the rich kids but jeopardizing his chances of going to Harvard.

This film is so bursting with schmalz that Al Pacino has to carry the weight of the whole film upon his shoulders. But, being Pacino, he pulls it off - and indeed won a Best Actor Oscar for it (not that that means anything). Of course it was an Academy Award vehicle with the rest of the acting so hammy and stilted you could almost smell, nay taste, not the scent of a woman, but the stench of bacon fat-soaked cardboard. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the spoilt rich kid who won't squeal but then gets his powerful daddy to help him out of a jam. James Rebhorn turns out his conventional authority-figure character acting as headmaster Mr Trask, the victim of the practical joke that causes so much trouble for Charlie.

The scenes are long and drawn-out, like unbreakable Cheestrings®, making the film feel calorie-heavy at 157 minutes; but most of them feature Pacino and his honeysuckle bonecrunching voice, so it's good to loaf, if you like the taste. The title comes from the Colonel's ability to guess a woman's name, appearance and personality by the perfume she is wearing. He's a real womanizer, but has great charm and charisma; unlike preppy O'Donnell, so stiff he'd never be short of work as a bookend. There's a muddied moral pickle at the end, set up for a great speech by Pacino (but not quite at the standard of his half-time pep-talk in Any Given Sunday).

Nugget: thick tosh, but a glut of Pacino. A little heavy on the cheese.

Friday, 19 August 2005

Oxford Muse portraits

Here are the Oxford Muse portraits I have created:
  • What you can discover if you do not drink or dance: self-portrait (also available here)
  • Why being a hairdresser satisfies the need for perfection: Alan Cooksley
  • How a retired human resources manager copes with being a widower: Brian Edwards
  • What to do with the clutter of life: Chris Fitzgerald [unpublished] :(
  • Why I painted my face, tooth and glasses black: Anna Jackson [unpublished] :(
  • Nobody told me about the starting gun: Why the years from sixty to seventy were the best of my life: Eve Hoare
Other portraits I've encouraged during the creative process:
  • Finding other places: Mark Grimmer [unpublished] :(
  • "How does it matter whether you gain the world or not?": Melanie
  • Over and over again...: Johanna Sohn
To find out more about the Oxford Muse and what it does, visit the website: www.oxfordmuse.com. To join our email conversation group, visit here.

Thursday, 18 August 2005

What to do if you're an Elgin Marble

Dionysos or Herakles, British MuseumDismayed at the loss of his hands, Dionysos could not think what to do with his time.

(Actually, it could be Herakles as well, but the curators aren't sure.) I think it's about time we owned up and stopped calling it the British Museum. How much of the stuff in there is actually British? Is there a single item that wasn't pilfered? It's like a giant pickpocket's hoard. Actually, it's more blatant than that. [What the] British [stole from the rest of the world and refused to give back, even when asked] Museum.

The wain

Rebecca is her name. She was born on Tuesday 16 August, a week before her mother's birthday, but six weeks premature. She's been in an incubator, but she's already breastfeeding, which is great news. They used a steriod during labour to ensure that she'd be breathing when she came out; and when she did, she was bawling, so at least her lungs work. Laura, my sister, said that the world is a different place with Rebecca here. Both she and Andy, the father, are delighted. They sound different, somewhere dreamy.

Laura had been at work all day, complaining of stomach ache as she minded the gallery in Cork. Then on the train she found herself crying amongst all the other passengers uncontrollably. When Andy picked her up from the station in the car, he could tell it was on the way, so they went straight up to the hospital. It was born with little fuss, although the nurse at first didn't realize Laura was in labour. Every time she was examined there was a period of calm; then when the medics left the room the contractions started again - they thought she was having them on!

Laura's going home tomorrow, but the little one - as Moira, the grandmother (and what a grand mother she is) calls her - is staying in hospital for up to another ten days. Laura will keep going back to feed her, though.

So this all makes me an uncle, or a nuncle, as I prefer to say, as the clown in King Lear says. Rebecca Angel her name will be. Not a miracle - don't be ridiculous! Just another ordinary, happy birth; but one closer to home than usual. I look forward to seeing her in mid-December at the end of my first term back studying in Oxford. Maybe by then she won't be quite such a baby dwarf at 4lb 11oz.

Happy birthdays!

I've been writing this website for three years now. Some sort of landmark, I suppose. And yesterday I became a nuncle! I think my sister will either call her Aoife ("Eefa") or Lamb. It wasn't due for another month, but when I spoke to Laura on Sunday we were joking that it could pop out at any moment. And so it has.

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

The Shining (1980) - ickleReview (DVD)

Stanley Kubrick adaption of the horror thriller novel by Stephen King. In the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Overlook Hotel shuts down for the winter months - the place totally abandoned, except for the newly hired caretaker, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duval) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Jack plans to work on a writing project, so in the job interview he welcomes the prospect of solitude; nor is he disturbed by the story of the former caretaker Charles Grady (Philip Stone), who in 1970 killed his wife and two daughters with an axe, chopping them up neatly into little pieces before shooting himself in the throat with a double-barrel shotgun - cabin fever, they call it.

Danny, the son, is a solitary child, with an imaginary friend, Timmy, in his right index finger. The departing chef, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers - what a name!), shares his powers of perception and intuition. They are both people, he says, who "shine". Timmy tells Danny bad things about the hotel, about room 237, and Danny starts to see visions of the two murdered daughters and a river of blood flowing down the corridors as he plays, alone, riding along in his tricycle.

Jack, too, begins to break down, acting harshly towards Wendy and later threatening to "correct" his wife and child after a vision of the former caretaker, Mr Grady, whom he encounters as a waiter at a party in the Gold Room of Jack's now disturbed imagination.

As ever with Kubrick, the film is beautifully shot, with breathtaking helicopter aeriel views of Jack's car winding its way through the Rockies over the opening credits (look out for the helicopter's shadow!). The rest of the film is shot on very sumptuous and realistic sets in Elstree Studios, England. The empty hotel, with echoes of the life out of season and its threatening maze outside, is a character in itself.

The soundtrack is particularly chilling: harsh, disonant strings rarely let you relax and can be really quite frightening when paired with the visuals. There is something Omen-like about the steadicam shots of Danny on his trike, wheeling down the empty corridors, not slowing down as he rounds the corners. One always expects something to jump out and scare him (and us!) on the other side.

Jack Nicholson in The ShiningThis edition of the DVD includes Making "The Shining", a documentary shot by Kubrick's then seventeen-year-old daughter, Vivian, much more interesting and revealing than the typical big studio Making ofs. Shelley Duval is made to look like an awful prima donna attention-seeker, jealous of Nicholson's charisma and popularity (but then the rumour is that Kubrick made her do 127 takes for a single shot! Looky here on IMDb for some more interesting trivia). Nicholson himself says that the average celebrity meets in one year ten times the number of people an ordinary person meets in their lifetime. The film suggests that Kubrick was not always easy to work with, that he didn't always want his actors even to contribute their ideas; but they nevertheless respect him afterwards - and he certainly produced tremendous (and in this case very successfully scary) films.

Nugget: features one of the most famous images and soundbites in cinema: Nicholson's demented "Heeeere's Johnny!" with head showing through an axe-hewn door - also rumoured to be improvised.

Monday, 15 August 2005

Small Time Crooks (2000) - ickleReview (DVD)

Woody Allen movie in which Allen and Tracey Ullman play a married couple, Ray and Frenchy, from New Jersey, unusually for Allen, working class. Ray is a bit thick, nicknamed sarcastically "The Brain" when in prison. He has a plan, however, to rent a shop a few units down from the bank and tunnel into the vault. Frenchy's cookie business, intended only as a false front, is so successful, however, that they make a fortune out of that instead.

This early part of the movie, covered mostly in the trailer, is over very quickly. Despite all their money, they do not fit in with the New York socialites, so Frenchy hires David (Hugh Grant), a private art dealer, to educate their manners and cultivate a taste appropriate for high society. Frenchy wants to become a patron of the arts but Ray would rather eat turkey meatballs and watch TV in his underwear.

The beginning is it its strength: there is a wonderful rooftop scene at sunset over Manhattan, beautifully composed with Ray and Frenchy visible in the mid-ground through a gap in the washing hanging on the line in the foreground. It's refreshing to see Allen writing and performing about a different strata of society, more down to earth, but a little cartoony, yet not without a great deal of affection for the way they talk and behave.

Nugget: a weaker Woody movie in the writing, perhaps a little too ambitious, but not without its glorious moments.

Sunday, 14 August 2005

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) - ickleReview (DVD)

Woody Allen movie, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Larry Lipton (Allen) and his wife Carol (Diane Keaton) are invited in by their neighbours Lillian and Paul House (Lynn Cohen and Jerry Adler), who bore Larry silly with the husband's stamp collection. The next day, however, Lillian dies of a heart attack. Carol suspects murder, but Larry is doubtful; so Carol colludes instead their mutual friend Ted (Alan Alda, a regular Woody Allen actor), who is more drawn to the conspiracy theory. A light comedy, easy on the soundtrack, but with some beautiful footage of Manhattan at night.

Also featuring Anjelica Huston as Marcia Fox, a writer at Larry's publishing company who helps them piece together the plot when Larry also gets involved in the intrigue of the chase. There's a surprising cameo by Zach Braff (Scrubs, Garden State) as the Lipton's son, Nick.

Nugget: an enjoyable, light-hearted comedy with an amusing performance by Allen as a nervous sidekick to Keaton. There's a brilliant thriller scene with guns in an old cinema, in a room full of mirrors behind screens showing old black and white movies such as Double Indemnity - very stylish.

Thursday, 11 August 2005

The bollock(s) they print in the local rag...

Here is a picture published on page 54 of the Oxford Mail on Wednesday 10 August 2005. It's the men's steeplechase at the World Athletics Championships currently being held in Helsinki.

"So what?" you might ask. "It's just a picture of some guys clearing the water jump."

Well, here is a loose reconstruction of what seemed like a routine call to newsdesk.

"Hello, Oxford Mail newsdesk...Yes, sir...Page 54...I see...Okay...Thank you. I'll let the editor know...Good bye."

[Puts phone down.]

::Guffaws::

Newsroom buzzes with intrigue. Has another nutcase phoned in to compain about the "wogs" on the front page? Has another ticket agent scammed the innocent public, expecting to hear light opera (no reduced fat)? Have Oxford United signed another no-hope striker or sacked their sixth Latino manager in four days?

No. It's just bollocks.

Or one bollock, to be precise. (Journalists are wont to get their facts right.)

Now look more closely at the Moroccan athlete on the right of the frame. Notice anything unusual about his appearance? He has his eyes closed! How embarrassing. No, that's not it...His number doesn't match his shorts? No, that neither. His shoe's come off? Close, but no cigar. Shall I tell you?

Take a look at this close-up. (You may want to squint out the corner of your eye.)

I did warn you.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Last Days

I've been commissioned by FilmExposed to write a review of Gus Van Sant's Last Days. I went to the press screening today in London. I'll post a link here when my review is published on their site.

[Update: Friday 17 June 2011: looks like FilmExposed is no more, so that link is broken.]

Saturday, 6 August 2005

Sweet and Lowdown (1999) - ickleReview (DVD)

Woody Allen movie about the fictional second best jazz guitarist in the world, Emmet Ray (Sean Penn). Talking heads in the documentary style recount various infamous episodes from the musician's life, very little about which is known. It's the 1930s and Emmet is a heavy drinking and unreliable performer, who either turns up tight or late or not at all. One day he meets a mute girl, Hattie (beautifully played by Samantha Morton), whom he keeps with him for a time, indulging her with presents, before suddenly walking out on her. We later learn that he marries an amateur writer, Blanche (Uma Thurman), but still refuses to express his feelings in any other way than through his music. He idolizes the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, but makes only a few recordings because he's afrait that when he does, other musician's will be able to steal his stuff.

Penn plays Ray as petulant, egotistical and slightly hammy, with the quickjerky movements of an undercranked film. Morton is adorable as the simple mute, somehow managing to speak without words. Allen's pencilled sketches are plausible within the Hollywood biopic genre, but the whole thing has a Miramax give-me-an-Oscar feel about it without any of the genuine polish of the big studios.

Nugget: an entertaining film, nevertheless, with a superb soundtrack and plausible miming by Penn at the guitar.

Friday, 5 August 2005

Everyone Says I Love You (1996) - ickleReview (DVD)

Woody Allen movie musical starring Julia Roberts, Goldie Hawn, Alan Alda, Edward Norton, Drew Barrymore, Tim Roth, and a young Natalie Portman. The plot is not as icky as most Broadway shows. Joe Berlin (Woody Allen) is still friendly with his ex-wife Steffi Dandrige (Hawn) and her husband Bob (Alda), a rich couple who live on Park Avenue with their four girls and a boy (a conservative Republican hawk, in contrast to the rest of the family who are liberal Democrats). Joe and Steffi's daughter, D. J. (Natasha Lyonne from American Pie) coaches Joe through a courtship with Von Sidell (Roberts). They know all her secret fantasies because the sisters' friend's mother is her shrink.

Holden Spence (Norton) is a friend of the family, engaged to Skylar Dandridge (Barrymore), who keeps swallowing her engagement ring because he puts it in her food, thinking it would be romantic when he gave it to her.

The songs are not all that frequent and aren't an inconvenient bore - as they can be in some musicals. The dance numbers are fantastic, full of energy and with a knowing, slightly understated campness that is a delight to watch. Particularly wonderful is the dance in the hospital corridor where an escaped mental patient flees his nurses in a strait jacket and porters bounce off the walls and skid along the floors.

Like any mid-late Allen movie, the plot is engrossing. It could be a film on its own without the music, but Allen blends the two parts together with real aplomb.

Nugget: a tremendous score with many of the numbers performed by the actors themselves, accompanied by the brilliant Dick Hyman and the New York Studio Players.

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Deconstructing Harry (1997) - ickleReview (DVD)

Harry Block is a writer who loosely veils his own sexual foibles and family life in his novels. He's about to be honoured by his alma mater in upstate New York, even though he was kicked out as a student, but he can't find anyone to go with him; so he takes a black prostitute called Cookie. Then his friend, Harvey, with a heart complaint, joins him before he kidnaps his son, Hilly, from his school chaperone.

Meanwhile, his ex-wife (one of three), ex-therapist (one of six), Joan (Kirstie Alley), is irate with him and keeps interrupting a session with one of her patients to shout at Harry for being such an unapologetic lover of whores and a terrible influence on their son. Oh, and this: "So now you're blaming me because I don't go out with you enough, to meet strangers to FUCK!" (He had been sleeping with one of her patients.)

The movie has a fast-paced feel with jump-cuts like Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (1960). Intercut are scenes from Harry's fiction, such as when the Harry character is caught fucking his sister-in-law by their blind grandmother while the rest of the family are outside having a barbecue; or the short story about Mel, an actor (played by Robin Williams), who goes out of focus on a movie set and has to make his family wear thick, black-rimmed glasses to see him in focus.

There is a great cast including Billy Crystal as Harry's writer friend who marries Fay (Elisabeth Shue), a young admirer of Harry's whom he tells not to fall in love with him before falling for her himself. Crystal also plays the Devil, who has some brilliant lines:

Harry: What? You have air-conditioning in Hell?
The Devil: Sure! Fucks up the ozone layer!

or

The Devil: You ever fuck a blind girl?
Harry: No. That I never did.
The Devil: Oh, they're so grateful.

Plus Demi Moore, Mariel Hemingway (from Manhattan (1979); Ernest Hemingway's granddaughter), Tobey Maguire and Bob Balaban (a regular in Christopher Guest's movies).

Nugget: written, directed by and starring Woody Allen - as if you hadn't guessed by now.

Monday, 1 August 2005

Gerry (2002) - ickleReview (DVD)

Minimalist Gus Van Sant movie starring Matt Damon, Casey Affleck (Ben's brother) and a lot of sand. Two guys called Gerry drive into the desert and get out to follow a "Wilderness Trail" on foot, looking for what they call "the thing". It takes 7 minutes for the first words to be spoken, Van Sant putting the audience on something of a "Wilderness Trial" (sic.) of their own. The long takes reveal, slowly, that Gerry and Gerry have "gerried" a turn, losing their way in a barrenness of dry shrubs and tumbleweed, devoid of any landmarks by which to navigate.

Initially their mood is amusal. They spend a night by the fire, smoking and talking nonsense. Affleck's Gerry talks about what sounds like a roll-playing computer game such as Civilization or SimCity, in which he conquered Thebes, but then was overrun in a revenge attack when he couldn't grow wheat and consequently couldn't raise an army because he only had 11 horses when he needed 12. Another time they talk about a gameshow sounding like Wheel of Fortune where the contestant can't guess the final lettering in "BARRE_ING DOWN THE ROAD", guessing "Y" instead of "L"

There is a comic sequence when they agree to split up and return to "the spot" if neither of them finds anything. For a few terrible moments, we fear that they have lost each other. Eventually, with a long shot of Damon with Affleck in the foreground, they come back together - only problem being that Affleck is stranded on a high rock outcrop. Damon has to build him a "dirt mattress" to break his fall - a terrifying moment, farcical and frightening.

In one shot of 7 minutes' length, the landscape is like the planes of Death Valley at sunrise, turning them from silhouettes into colour and the sand into what looked like ice. In another, we see the Gerrys' heads side on, bobbing up and down in synch, then out of synch, one eclipsing the other, then revealing it again; accompanied by the scrunch of their boots, urgent through the gravelled sand. The takes are as drawn-out as 2001: A Space Odyssey with landscapes reminiscent of Kubrick's Fall of Man.

As they get further and further lost, they talk less, yet Van Sant and cinematographer Harris Savides convey their characters' inner frustration, partly by replicating it in the audience, who must show patience and a willingness to let the shots develop. If they do, they will be rewarded with a surprising beauty - much like Van Sant's Elephant, which was to follow a year later.

SPOILER WARNING! Towards the end, when both are collapsing from exhaustion and thirst, Damon crawls up to Affleck as if to hug him in consolation, yet appears to suffocate him - presenting the audience with a mirage equivalent to what both wanderers themselves have been suffering.

Nugget: director Gus Van Sant at his best: fiercely independent, not worried about commercial success. A great kidname for this movie would be My Own Private Idiolect, in honour of Van Sant's earlier movie and this one's private language between the Gerrys.

Thursday, 28 July 2005

Drugstore Cowboy (1989) - ickleReview (DVD)

Gus Van Sant movie. Possibly an influence on Larry Clark's Another Day in Paradise (1998). Matt Dillon plays Bob, a dope fiend who runs a two-boy, two-girl crew who rob drugstores - not for money, for pharmaceuticals, which they cook up and inject. It's 1971 in Portland, Oregon, where the gang move around the city, raiding and shooting up until the police get too close for comfort and force them to move on.

Kelly Lynch plays Dianne, Bob's bad influence girl; James Le Gros is Rick, the dimwit of the group, whose naive girlfriend, Nadine (Heather Graham, then only 19), hexes the crew by talking about dogs and putting a hat on a bed (superstitions established by previous bad and busted experiences of Bob and Dianne).

Then, as the ominous hat-on-bed suggests, it all goes wrong. Bob decides to get out and go straight on a 21-day methadone programme, and Gentry, the cop who has been chasing him all this time (played by James Remar), seems to be relieved and not unsympathetic that he's sorting himself out. Bob struggles less than expected to stay with it, despite his druggy past trying to catch up with him and tempt him back.

Van Sant's movie does not glamorize drug-taking and is uplifting in the sense that it suggests (without stating categorically and without ambiguity) that drug users can clean up their act to live normal, responsible lives. Tom the Priest (William S. Burroughs) provides a cameod counterpoint, reminiscing about the old days when the authorities weren't so hard on drug abuse, and fearing the future when the police might take the opportunity to establish a worldwide police network to counteract the narcotics industry.

Nugget: not always clear in its intentions, partly due to slightly deadpan acting and an ambiguous script, mottled with grey areas, which is not necessarily a bad thing because it gives the movie more life and encourages us to think for ourselves.

Sunday, 24 July 2005

Finding Forrester (2000) - ickleReview (DVD)

Gus Van Sant directs this good-looking New York story about a 16-year-old black kid from the Bronx, Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), who wins a scholarship to a good private prep school in Manhattan. Sean Connery plays William Forrester, a writer who becomes his tutor and mentor. Forrester has published only one book, which Jamal's new English teacher, Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) claims is the great twentieth-century novel. A number of other story threads show through, but merely hint at a wider tapestry, thereby avoiding any over-familiar dead-end alleyways.

The central relationship between Forrester and Jamal develops slowly (Connery playing the eccentric recluse role he practised elsewhere in movies such as Entrapment and The Rock). Brown's performance is remarkable for its natural warmth. His is a real and positive portrayal of a smart kid from an underprivileged background who shines when he is given an opportunity. It's cool to be bright and well read with a switched on attitude. He challenges both Forrester and Crawford (old literary rivals). His friendship with Claire (Anna Paquin) is subtle and plausible - again one of those wisely subdued plot elements, alongside Busta Rhymes's low-key performance as Jamal's older brother.

Nugget: Even the sports action scenes are well acted and choreographed. Van Sant barely puts a foot wrong.

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

The Mirror (1975) - ickleReview (cinema)

There is a joke in my family that my dad is awful at choosing videos. He sometimes goes for Russian directors, picks an awful film that is awkward to watch, too difficult to understand and not right for the relaxing weekend mood everyone else was in. This may have been one of them.

Tarkovsky is a name I first heard of in relation to the Ewan McGregor film Young Adam that came out in 2003 about something that happened, something sexual, on a barge. I gathered that Targovsky was revered, but I was unsure whether he was a poet or a filmmaker, or even what nationality he was, perhaps Scottish. (I played rugby with someone at school in Edinburgh called Targowski.)

I was unsure what was going on in this film. There was a blond woman who featured prominently, and a few young boys, who didn't seem to be brothers. There were hardly any men, except the one the blond woman sometimes spoke to off camera. Early on a teenager overcomes his stutter in black and white. Then the blond woman sits on a fence and smokes while a man who says he's a doctor walks towards her, flirting. He sits next to her and the fence breaks. He makes some joke about falling in love. Soon after there is a stark change in the tone of the colour film. It may have been accidental, a process of ageing and restored prints, but it was quite clear that it got darker. There are many variations in film stock, black and white, colour, soft lighting, overcranking, archive footage of the war and Mao's Chinese cultural revolution. I didn't follow what was going on and how all these people and incidents were related. There was not a conventional narrative - not that it's a bad thing. Just don't expect it.

The overall feel I got was that I was watching someone else's dreams. There were many things that were Symbolic, but as these were someone else's symbols, they were often lost on me. There was still a certain beauty to them, though. Many books, sitting on the sill beneath an open window, or reflected in a mirror; lights of gas and fire; rain and wind. One wonders how they created such wind in the fields and the woods. Did they have a huge blower and dub the sound afterwards? There is also a beautiful shot of the blond woman levitating three feet above a bed, her hair stretched out horizontally, as if supported on a pillow. Some of the overcranked shots of rain and running are also majestic. It reminds me now, somewhat, of the avant garde films of Maya Derren, an obscure Ukranian-American filmmaker I discovered when I was writing my essay on time and space for the Anglo-American Film option of my Oxford English degree: the way that characters seemed to float and appear again in unexpected places within the same take; the merging of time and space; the blurring of narrative.

I am comfortable not being able to understand the Meaning of films (I didn't even gather the plot until I read a synopsis afterwards). That's not what I will take from this, though. I will remember an image of a rural Russia, blighted by war; stark like a Chekov story, imbued with a literature of Dostoevsky, Mandelshtam and Tolstoy that remains alien to me. Instead, I found other things to appreciate, such as the long tracking shots through the rain, or in the printing press, or through the fields and back into the woods at the end. He may not be the greatest storyteller I have ever encountered, but there is something unique about Targovsky's cinematography, something that might make him worth another look with more patience.

Nugget: I noticed the shadow of the boom mic in the opening scene of the teenager being cured of his speech impediment. Could this be an oversight when everything else seemed so carefully choreographed and edited?

Tuesday, 19 July 2005

The Weight

After Finals at Oxford, he waited upon his first like a dying old man wondering if he would go to heaven. And when it did come, he realized that heaven was just like earth, except a little superior. He was glad all the same that he didn't go to hell.

Monday, 18 July 2005

L'Argent (1983) - ickleReview (cinema)

French film directed by Robert Bresson based on the Leo Tolstoy short story "Feux billet". Two schoolboys use a forged bank note at a photography shop, who, dismayed at being fooled, pass it and others on to a truck driver, who is caught trying to use the fake notes (unbeknown to him) at a cafe. He is charged by the police and loses his job. In a desperate attempt to support his family, he aids a bank robbery and goes to prison. His wife leaves him and things continue to deteriorate. Meanwhile, the clerk who committed perjury to cloak the guilt of the photography shop slips into petty credit card crime and ends up in the same prison as the truck driver.

Bresson is a master storyteller, although he doesn't use the same syntax as most other cinematographers. His shots are carefully planned, the camera pans coming to rest at an exact point - the boot of a car, or a table at a cafe, having tracked a woman walking along the pavement. Everything is interconnected, so when you cheat one person with fake money, you cheat many; every action has a consequence. There is barely any dialogue. It's almost like watching a cartoon strip or an animated storyboard.

Bresson's cold morality is more refreshing than chilling. His actors are bland, almost robotic in their uncomfortable, rehearsed movements; and yet there's something oddly vital about them, as if Bresson strips them down to the bare bones of humanity.

Nugget: an astonishing, accomplished, and finely crafted film, which expects a lot from its audience, who must be attentive and prepared to join up some of the dots themselves. Rarely is anything telegraphed and illuminated by searchlights, as the same material might have been treated by one of the big Hollywood studios. A cinematic voice I haven't heard before; but shall seek out again.

Sunday, 17 July 2005

Euphemisms on the Tube

On the London Underground right now there are, as expected, a number of disruptions and line closures. Over the tannoy they make announcements to warn passengers that such and such section of the District line is closed; this part of that line, which was supposed to be shut down for engineering work, is no longer going to be out of service; or there are delays because a station was evacuated for a time. Yet they never actually say "because of the terrorist attacks" or the "bombings"; there's instead some bland phrase to placate passengers that may panic at the thought that they might be in danger: the "security incident" of last week or the "emergency" - the high alert equivalent of "leaves on the line", I suppose.

Silver City (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Independent film written, directed and edited by John Sayles (who discussed the movie after this preview screening at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford). Chris Cooper plays Dickie Pilager, the right-wing gubernatorial candidate in Colorado. Richard Dreyfuss is his campaign manager, Chuck Raven, who hires an investigator, Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston), to find three characters from Pilager's past (Miguel Ferrer, Ralph Waite and Daryl Hannah) who are known to bear grudges against the would-be governor, and let them know they're being watched.

Danny uncovers more than his brief, however, joining up the deregulated dots as he attempts to identify the Hispanic alien whom Dickie Pilager unwittingly pulled out of a lake while shooting a compaign ad on location. He reveals more about the troubles of Bush's America than he solves.

Sayles attracts an impressive cast, including minor roles for Tim Roth and Thora Birch as left-wing anti-capitalist web campaigners, and Kris Kristofferson as Wes Benteen, the Colorado billionaire entrepreneur. His writing of Dickie Pilager is clearly an atack on George W. Bush, whom he says was bought the Texas governorship by big money because the previous governor Ann Richards had not been friendly enough to business. Cooper's performance closely mimicks Bush Jnr, from the Spaghetti Junction sentences to the cowboy numbnuts swagger. His father in the film, Senator Jud Pilager (Michael Murphy) is an amalgam of George Bush Snr and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Dubya's brother.

The plot structure is rather like a slick US TV drama thriller with Danny Huston stumbling from lead to lead joining up the facts in his case by writing upon his wall at home in magic marker. There are familiar dramatic elements (treated, admittedly, without the Hollywood schmalz), such as an ex-girlfriend (Maria Bello) who regrets dumping him for her own career ambitions as a reporter; a broken marriage from a wife we never see; and a one-night stand with the nympho daughter of Senator Jud Pilager, Maddy (Daryl Hannah).

As Sayles himself said after the screening, it's important to show an alternative view of America (not that Newmarket Films would have won him much distribution at home). This movie was released in the months before the 2004 US election, but was drowned out somewhat by the less subtle diatribe of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Both Sayles and his partner, Maggie Renzi, seem despondent about the current political climate in the US, where analysts talk of red "facts" (Republican voting states) as if this "democracy" is a fait accompli.

Nugget: a smarter-than-average political drama with thinly veiled attacks on Dubya Bush and Karl Rove (Dreyfuss's character), but nevertheless strong performances from an impressive cast and an unconventionally open conclusion. Pessimistic realism: the good guys don't always win.