Friday, 29 September 2006

The Bicycle Thieves (aka Ladri di biciclette) (1948) - ickleReview (DVD)

De Sica's masterpiece of Italian Neo-Realism. Shot in beautiful black and white in post-war Rome, it tells the story of Ricci, a poor bill poster who loses his livelihood when his bike is stolen. He searches all over the city for it, helped by his devoted son, Bruno.

Nugget: a wonderful, sad, but touching film.

Read the full review on FilmExposed.

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

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Blow-Up (1966) - ickleReview (TV)

Film by Michelangelo Antonioni set in London, based on the short story Las babas del diablo by Julio Cortázar. A photographer (David Hemmings) inadvertently photographs a murder when he is taking pictures of a couple cavorting in a park. The woman (Vanessa Redgrave) asks for the pictures back when she sees him, but he refuses. She tracks him back to his studio. He fobs her off with the wrong film and develops the right one after she has left. It is then when he is blowing up (enlarging - hence the title) the pictures that he notices a gun and a corpse in the bushes.

There are early scenes of him shooting models in the studio. He treats some of them quite harshly. He is over-exposed to beautiful women and doesn't treat them with much respect. Yet the women are desperate to be photographed by him and use their bodies as lures; but because he sees so many beautiful women, he is hard to impress. When he does let a couple of groupies in, there follows a number of artful but nevertheless gratuitous and quite inexplicit semi-nude erotic scenes.

The remarkable thing about this film is the almost total lack of significant dialogue. Most of the story is told just in pictures. It's so pervasive one doesn't notice the characters aren't speaking most of the time. This is nicely rounded off at the end when the photographer watches a group of mime artists collecting money for charity play a mime tennis match without balls or racquets. They even make the photographer go to fetch the ball and throw it back to them.

For film buffs, the most interesting thing about this film is the influence it had on Brian Da Palma's Blow Out (1981), which develops the detective aspect much further. The best scenes are those in which the photographs are being developed in the dark room. The pictures-within-the-picture are telling a hidden story within the pictures.

Nugget: not quite the blow-me-up-and-away cinema classic I was led to expect. Not a bad film, but not a world-breaker either. Some rather artificially lit night scenes when the photographer goes to look for the corpse and the fact that he never appears to have to change films when stalking the couple outdoors puncture the plausibility of the film.

This review was also posted on Blogcritics.

Amores perros (2000) - ickleReview (cinema)

Debut feature by director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who went on to make 21 Grams (2003). This film about dog owners, set in Mexico City (and hence in Spanish with English subtitles),is indebted in some respects to Quentin Tarantino in its structure of three interrelated stories told out of chronological order, which collide - in more ways than one - in a car crash at the beginning of the film, which recalls the crash scene in Pulp Fiction (1994) when Butch (Bruce Willis) runs over Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames).

Octavio (Gael García aka Gael García Bernal) and his buddy are being chased in a car when the film opens. A body is bleeding on the back seat. Only later do we realize it is a fierce fighting dog called Cofi. In their attempts to escape their pursuers, they crash side-on into a car at a crossroads.

Octavio, we later learn, as the film goes back in time, has an infatuation with his sister-in-law, who has fallen pregnant for the second time and is afraid to tell her husband Ramiro (Cofi's owner), a violent, volatile thug who robs convenience stores and fucks checkout girls at the place he works. Octavio builds up a stash of money using Cofi in highly profitable dog fights and asks the sister-in-law to run away with him.

The second story, whose characters we have caught glimpses of already, is about a magazine editor who leaves his wife for a perfume model. They move into an apartment together, overlooked by one of her huge billboard advertisements. They have anything but a smooth start to their lives together and even lose her beloved dog, Richie, when he falls down a hole in the floorboards, chasing a ball.

The third story features a tramp, also a dog-owner, a former university professor who became a militiaman and now survives by doing contract killings. He, too, has appeared in the earlier stories and ends up nursing the wounded fighting dog, Cofi, back to health after the car crash. He claims to have given up being a hitman, but agrees to one more job, killing a man's partner.

The film is quite long at 153 minutes, but each story is engaging and could be a film in itself. It doesn't reflect very well on dog owners. (There is a disclaimer right at the beginning of the film that no animals were harmed during the making of the film. Usually this appears in the end credits.) The dogs become characters, a big influence on the lives of their owners in each stratum of society.

Iñárritu is a compelling storyteller, ingeniously linking the three stories. After the first crash, one can sense it coming from the other characters' points of view. One of the best aspects of this film, uncommon in Hollywood narratives, is the lack of plot resolution; but nevertheless it retains a sense of closure.

Nugget: a fresh way of storytelling. The title translates roughly as "Love's a Bitch", punning on "perros" meaning "dog". The main characters are all, of course, driven by the love of their dogs.

This review was also posted on Blogcritics.

Saturday, 16 September 2006

Turning the vicar's bike around

The euphemism "I'm just off to turn the vicar's bike around" means "I need to go to the toilet". I am fond of this expression and can be heard using it in special company.

Books I have read

Here is a list of books I have read recently. Each time I finish a book, I'll add it to the list. You may also be interested in what I'm reading on t'interweb.

* denotes a book read (either whole or in part) while turning the vicar's bike around.

May 2014
106) David Eagleman, Sum: Tales from the Afterlives (2nd reading)

December 2013
105) Michael Lewis, Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life
104) Michael Lewis, Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood

August 2013
103) David Eagleman, Sum: Tales from the Afterlives
102) Michael Holley, War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team

February 2013
101) Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction
100) Margaret Forster, Diary of an Ordinary Woman

January 2013
99) Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics

July 2012
98) Roman Krznaric, The Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live

June 2012
97) Hugh Warwick, The Beauty in the Beast: Britain's Favourite Creatures and the People Who Love Them
96) Hugh Warwick, A Prickly Affair: My Life with Hedgehogs
95) Rob Brydon, Small Man in a Book

May 2012
94) Roman Krznaric, How to Find Fulfilling Work
93) David Allen, Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-Free Productivity
92) H. G. Bissinger, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream

December 2011
91) Michael Lewis, Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour

August 2011
90) Gregg Easterbrook, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse (audiobook)
89) Simon Gray, The Early Diaries: "An Unnatural Pursuit" and "How's That for Telling 'em, Fat Lady?"
88) Michael Lewis, Next: The Future Just Happened (audiobook)

December 2010
87) Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

March 2010
86) Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
85) Reviel Netz and William Noel, The Archimedes Codex: Revealing the Blueprint for Modern Science

February 2010
84) Alan Bennett, The Habit of Art
83) Lynne Truss, Get Her Off the Pitch!: How Sport Took Over My Life
82) George Plimpton, Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback

January 2010
81) Simon Gray, Key Plays: "Butley", "Otherwise Engaged", "Close of Play", "Quartermaine's Terms", "The Late Middle Classes"

December 2009
80) Deirdre Wilson, Slave of the Passions
79) Michael Lewis, Liar's Poker
78) Michael Lewis, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game
77) H. D., Palimpsest

November 2009
76) Richard Ford, Women with Men

October 2009
75) Stephen Potter, The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship; or, The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating

September 2009
74) Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot
73) Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

July 2009
72) Joe Simpson, Touching the Void

June 2009
71) Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief

April 2009
70) William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
69) Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot
68) A. Walton Litz, The Art of James Joyce: Method and Design in "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake"
67) Little Gidding: An Illustrated History and Guide
66) Mark McCallum, Home Truths: The Peel Years and Beyond: Real Stories from British Life as heard on BBC Radio 4

March 2009
65) Azar Nafisi, Reading "Lolita" in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
64) Philip Welsh, The Single Person
63) Tom Paulin, The Secret Life of Poems: A Poetry Primer *

January 2009
62) Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

December 2008
61) Simon Gray, Enter a Fox: Further Adventures of a Paranoid
60) Gillian Butler and Tony Hope, Manage Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide

November 2008
59) George Bornstein and Ralph G. Williams, eds, Palimpsest: Editorial Theory in the Humanities
58) Simon Gray, Coda

September 2008
57) Eviatar Zerubavel, The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books
56) Sarah Dillon, The Palimpsest: Literature, Criticism, Theory
55) Ed Morrison and Derek Robinson, Better Rugby Refereeing: Guidance, Tips, Warnings, Insights and Advice on Refereeing at Every Level
54) Simon Gray, Fat Chance
53) Simon Gray, The Last Cigarette

August 2008
52) Sarah Dillon, The Palimpsest: Literature, Criticism, Theory

May 2008
51) Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers

April 2008
50) Geert Lernout, The French Joyce

March 2008
49) Michael Groden, "Ulysses" in Progress
48) Fritz Senn, Joycean Murmoirs: Fritz Senn on James Joyce, ed. Christine O'Neill
47) Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of "Ulysses": And Other Writings

February 2008
46) Richard Bath, The Scotland Rugby Miscellany *

January 2008
45) Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader
44) Karl Beckson, The Religion of Art: A Modernist Theme in British Literature, 1885-1925

December 2007
43) Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
42) Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, trans. Geoffrey Wall

October 2007
41) Richard Ford, The Lay of the Land
40) Arthur Power, Conversations with James Joyce, ed. Clive Hart

September 2007
39) Laura O'Connor, Haunted English: The Celtic Fringe, the British Empire, and De-Anglicization
38) Know Your Traffic Signs *

August 2007
37) The Mays, 15, ed. Sean O'Brien, Colm Tóibín, and others
36) The Highway Code, rev. 2004 *
35) Fitz Hugh Ludlow, The Hasheesh Eater: Being Passages from the Life of a Pythagorean, ed. Stephen Rachman

July 2007
34) P. G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and Wooster Omnibus: The Mating Season; The Code of the Woosters; Right Ho, Jeeves
33) Philip Larkin, Collected Poems, ed. Anthony Thwaite *

June 2007
32) Imre Madách, The Tragedy of Man, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes *

May 2007
31) James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ed. Jeri Johnson
30) Clive Hart, ed., James Joyce's "Dubliners": Critical Essays
29) Thomas F. Staley and Bernard Benstock, eds, Approaches to Joyce's "Portrait": Ten Essays
28) Ian Halperin, Fire and Rain: The James Taylor Story *
27) James Joyce, Stephen Hero, ed. Theodore Spencer, John J. Slocum, and Herbert Cahoon

April 2007
26) David Norris and Carl Flint, Introducing Joyce, ed. Richard Appignanesi *
25) Steve Fuller, The Intellectual: The Positive Power of Negative Thinking... *
24) Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother's Keeper: James Joyce's Early Years, ed. Richard Ellmann
23) Conor McPherson, The Seafarer
22) The Dublin Diary of Stanislaus Joyce, ed. George Harris Healey

March 2007
21) Pound/Joyce: The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce with Pound's Essays on Joyce, ed. Forrest Read

February 2007
20) Samuel Beckett, Happy Days
19) Conor McPherson, The Weir
18) Gérard Genette, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, translated from the French by Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky

January 2007
17) Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, 2nd rev. edn (1982)

December 2006
16) A. S. Byatt, The Biographer's Tale

November 2006
15) Homer Obed Brown, James Joyce's Early Fiction: The Biography of a Form
14) Richard Ford, A Multitude of Sins
13) James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ed. Jeri Johnson
12) Instructions for British Servicemen in France, 1944 *
11) Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, 1942 *
10) Roman Krznaric, The First Beautiful Game: Stories of Obsession in Real Tennis *
9) James Joyce, Stephen Hero, ed. Theodore Spencer, John J. Slocum, and Herbert Cahoon

October 2006
8) Patrick Dunleavy, Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation
7) Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast *

September 2006
6) Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
5) James Joyce, Exiles

August 2006
4) Tom Stoppard, Rock 'n' Roll *
3) Tobias Wolff, Old School

July 2006
2) Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare & Company *

June 2006
1) The Mays, 14, ed. Don Paterson, Jeanette Winterson, and others

See also books to read.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Movies beginning with V

Looking through my list of ickleReviews, I realize I've reviewed a film for every letter of the alphabet except V. Any suggestions for how I should plug this gap? V for Vendetta springs to mind, but I've never been particularly keen to see that. I'm sure I've seen a few V's in my time, just not in the past couple of years.

Shin

Don't step on my blue suede shoes!

Clouds above Oxford


This one looks like a painting. I love the way the sun highlights the top right corner.

An Inconvenient Truth (2006) - ickleReview (cinema)

Documentary featuring Al Gore's slideshow presentation about global warming and climate change. For a film so full of scientific evidence, Gore does a much better job of presenting it than The Corporation (2003), without the sense that he's bashing you over the head with it.

Gore comes across as so much more statesman-like than he did in the 2000 presidential election campaign. He is a highly skilled, engaging spokesman. The visual aids he uses come across superbly on film. There is no doubt at the end of the film that global warming is a real and impending danger; and yet Gore's message is uplifting, not depressing.

The film is all about Al Gore. It's called "his" film about global warming in most media summaries, although he doesn't direct it (Davis Guggenheim does). It is a cutting together of a number of slideshow presentations he gave in cities across the world.

There are some moments (shot away from the presentation in hotel rooms, in the back of cars, in airports) where he talks about nearly losing his six-year-old son when he was run over, which feel like a presidential TV commercial, showing that he is a real person, not some political robot. He also has an annoying habit of calling the scientists who supply his data "a friend of mine", "my friend Joe Schmo". He probably has befriended them or knew them at college, but drop the act, bozo!

Nugget: everyone, including George W. Bush, should see this film.

Every Little Thing (aka La Moindre des choses) (1997) - ickleReview (DVD)

A documentary about a French sanatorium where the inmates rehearse and perform an annual summer play.

Nugget: not Philibert's best, but certainly still worth watching.

Please go to FilmExposed to read this review.

See also In the Land of the Deaf (1992) and Être et avoir (2002) by the same director.

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

In the Land of the Deaf (aka Le Pays des sourds) (1992) - ickleReview (DVD)

A magical, informative and entertaining documentary of the highest order, In the Land of the Deaf brings a whole new meaning to the concept of foreign language film by exploring sign language and the lives of deaf people in France.

Nugget: on a par with Être et avoir.

Please go to FilmExposed to read this review.

See also Every Little Thing (1997) by the same director, Nicolas Philibert.

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

Monday, 4 September 2006

Eeking into the top 10 in the world

My housemate Emma-Kate Lidbury, a journalist at the Oxford Mail, only started competing in triathlons a year ago. Now she has finished 8th at the World Triathlon Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. Well done, Eek! I wonder if she'll make it to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when she'll only be 28.

Devastating new drugs craze

Drug users in parts of Yorkshire have started to inject ecstasy into their mouths. It's called "E by gum".

Source: my housemate Dafydd.

Sunday, 3 September 2006

Dogville (2003) - ickleReview (cinema)

Quite simply one of the best films you will ever see. Lars von Trier reinvents allegory for the modern day. Filmed on a bare soundstage with chalk lines marking out a set that isn't there, the visual paucity of this movie is at first unsettling. We hear the scrunch of feet on a dirt track or the sound of a door opening and closing; but we cannot trust the images alone. After a while, the understated flare of the acting takes over, suspending our sense of disbelief.

Nicole Kidman's performance is enchanting. She plays Grace, a gangster's girl mysteriously on the run, who finds temporary asylum in the Southpark-like secluded town of Dogville. At first, Grace finds it difficult to fit in; the townsfolk won't even let her lend a helping hand; they deny that their life could be made any better. But then, as Grace becomes more accepted, thanks to the support of the frustrated writer Tom Edison (Paul Bettany), the people of Dogville begin to take advantage of what she offers them. The purity of Grace and the innocence of the Dogville townsfolk gradually become besmeared as the nine pre-defined episodes progress. It seems inevitable that the gangster Godfather/God the Father (James Caan) will come to reclaim Grace.

Von Trier was co-founder of the Copenhagen "Dogme 95" group of directors who devised a set of avant-garde rules a decade ago known as "The Vow of Chastity" designed to reclaim the new wave in film. Yet Dogville consciously disobeys some of these rules - stating its intention in the mesmerizing opening crane shot, which slowly tracks in from a high-angle bird's-eye-view, all the way to street level. (Dogme dogma states that "The camera must be hand-held.") Despite the loss of "Chastity", the Dogme ethos is never lost: Dogville looks and - more importantly - feels unlike any other film. It seems to be leading you one way, only to baffle your suppositions, leaving you feeling wounded by the end, and lingering with you for hours, even days, afterwards.

Nugget: charming and unnerving; highly-suggestive, without ever being heavy-handed, John Hunt's quirky narrator tells it like a bedtime story, relating choice details which grate against his idyllic tone of voice. A pile-driver is pounding in the foundations for a nearby penitentiary, but it seems that Dogville is too innocent to be harbouring criminals. Outward appearances often hide a grotesque inner vision; but Dogville is beautiful by the very virtue of its darkened grandeur.

AKA (2002) - ickleReview (cinema)

Three is the magic number in director Duncan Roy's ambitious digital video portrayal of identity fraudster Dean Page (Matthew Leitch). Miserable in his middle-class life in Romford, Essex, with no chance of going to college and an abusive father, 18-year-old Dean is mesmerised by the glamour of the high-class clientele in his mother's posh restaurant.

Through a succession of lucky breaks, Dean slithers his way into the upper echelons of Londons fashionable Eaton Square, where he is adored by the camp aristocracy. Soon he too is wearing expensive clothes and eating in exclusive restaurants, all paid for on a bogus credit card. Dean's naïvety leads him into a homosexual Bermuda love triangle with fellow con man Benjamin (Peter Youngblood Hills), on the run from obscurity and family troubles in small-town Texas, and David Glendenning, a detestable free-loader who lives by the axiom that he makes even the royal family look "positively middle-class".

But Dean's masquerade soon melts under the heat of passion and the pursuit of two credit fraud investigators who hunt him down following his lavish spending trail in London, Paris and the south of France. On the brink of being accepted into the high society that he craves, Dean ultimately faces a choice between love and society status.

Roy tackles this re-working of his own true-life experiences with a refreshing vigour of originality. The entire film is presented in three simultaneous square frames, which show the action from concentric camera angles - sometimes in sync, sometimes ahead of each other, like a Bruce Nauman video installation at Tate Modern. The first twenty minutes of viewing is consequently very demanding, but one soon adapts to the format and appreciates the nuances it allows. The action appears to be filmed from three cameras recording at the same time, but the triangulation reveals that each frame represents a different take - as if three versions of the same story are happening at once.

Nugget: the end product is a visual banquet; but Roy's writing is at times unbelievable and potholed. Despite flashes of genuine humour and pathos, it is nowhere near as accomplished as Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley, but perhaps this is a deliberate move to mimic the crass falsity of polite society. Nevertheless, the sheer bravado with which the film ravishes class posturing in late-1970s Britain makes it more than worth a three-way look.

Documentary: The Margins of Reality (2005) - ickleReview (book)

Timely but disappointing short study of the documentary form in cinema.

Nugget: there will be better books on the subject out there with fewer irritating ticks.

Read the full review on FilmExposed.

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

Saturday, 2 September 2006

Pierrepoint (2005) - ickleReview (DVD)

Film about Albert Pierrepoint, the best of Britain's last generation of executioners.

Nugget: one of the best British films of the last decade, with a brillig performance by Timothy Spall in the title role.

Read the rest of the review on FilmExposed.

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