Monday, 29 December 2008
The DVD includes a few extras of his tour of Scotland and his sketches from Rush Hour, in which he plays a roadside recovery worker who tells his customers what he thinks about their lives.
Nugget: foul-mouthed bad-taste jokes from the sarcastic ginger Scotsman.
Saturday, 27 December 2008
Documentary about Hunter S. Thompson, "journalist" and writer whose drug-fuelled style became known as "gonzo". He wrote books and articles about the Hell's Angels motorcycle gangs; running for sheriff in Aspen, Colorado; and the 1972 presidential election campaign. He drank and got high on drugs and therefore appeared to write more about his hallucinations than the reality that other people were seeing. At the time, this is precisely what made him a celebrity. Johnny Depp played him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) and reads some extracts of his work for this documentary. There are numerous other talking heads, including Senator George McGovern, who won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, Jimmy Carter, and Thompson's friends, wives, and employers. The best visual parts of the film are the illustrations by Ralph Steadman, which often accompanied Thompson's pieces in Rolling Stone magazine. Thompson eventually committed suicide in 2005 by shooting himself with one of his many guns. A huge monument was erected on his estate featuring the gonzo symbol of a fist with two thumbs.
The most interesting thing I learned is that the Doonesbury comic character Duke is based on Thompson.
Nugget: I'm not really interested in Hunter S. Thompson, so this film was always going to be of limited value to me.
Friday, 26 December 2008
Nugget: well worth the diversion if you get the chance.
Thursday, 25 December 2008
Computer-animated film set in the distant future featuring WALL·E, a lonely robot left behind on Earth to clean up all the rubbish piled so high that humans have long ago abandoned the planet. A return to the early storytelling technique Pixar shorts as the narrative is conducted with barely any dialogue. As with Cars, the inanimate machines are heavily anthropomorphized. It's a tub-thumping parable about environmental waste, commercialism, and the loss of human intimacy. As ever with Pixar, the animation is beautifully detailed, often making me laugh with delight. The running time is just about right at 98 minutes.
Nugget: the best Pixar movie since Toy Story 2.
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
Last week Jerry Falwell said fundamentalists would work harder to defeat a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy than if Lucifer were running for president. On an exclusive basis, TMQ has obtained this transcript of a recent K Street meeting between Satan and his campaign consultant.
CONSULTANT: Let's go over these focus-group results. First there's the name thing. Voters like casual -- Bill Clinton, Bob Dole. "Satan" sounds kind of stiff and formal. Do you have a first name?
SATAN: I have many names. Abaddon, Ahriman, Apollyon, Asmodeus, Azazel...
CONSULTANT: Gotta be informal.
SATAN: My friends call me Steve.
CONSULTANT: Steve Satan. That's great, sounds like the guy next door. Now let's be honest, you have negatives. For example, you want everyone to suffer horribly for all eternity. How am I supposed to sell that to voters?
SATAN: We've made a lot of changes in hell -- now we're customer-conscious. If you're willing to sell your soul, we pledge to have the demon there with the contract that day or your first month in hell is pain-free. Plus we've got a mission statement and a philosophy of Total Quality Torment.
CONSULTANT: Now your position on the issues. Iraq war?
SATAN: Strongly in favor.
CONSULTANT: Universal health care insurance?
SATAN: Strongly opposed.
SATAN: Let 'em die in the desert.
CONSULTANT: United Nations?
SATAN: Don't mention that I run it.
CONSULTANT: Education reform?
SATAN: Everyone should learn Latin. I hate it when people come to hell and don't even speak our language.
CONSULTANT: The television coach will be here in a minute to work with you. We need to eliminate the hissing.
SATAN: Sorry. I do that when I'm nervous. Guess I shouldn't have quit smoking!
CONSULTANT: Fund-raising is going well. I hope you don't object to taking money from Persian Gulf oil sheiks.
SATAN: Of course not. But do you have any qualms about working for me?
CONSULTANT: Qualms! I'm a political consultant.
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
If I was doing the same thing in the States, I'd probably be getting lot more criticism, not only from the fans but also from the people themselves.I also recommend Carlson's weekly column on NFLUK.com, Friday Morning Tight End, the title of which nods a wink to Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN.com, formerly on NFL.com and Football Outsiders.
Sunday, 14 December 2008
The film gives an insight into the dramas of college football: player recruitment, the booster club, steroid abuse, athletes' poor academic performance, Heisman candidacy, positional rivalry; but the writing is limp and the acting often second-rate. Some of the on-field action is quite well shot but is never really dramatic and there isn't much of it; most of the interest comes from off-the-field issues. The opening sequence is ridiculously shot in unrealistic darkness with heavy rain and deep puddles (similar to The Last Boy Scout).
Nugget: cardboard cut-out characters, clichéd scenarios, and limp, unremarkable acting drop this movie below .500. If it were a college football team, it would be lucky to get a bowl bid. Only really suitable for those with an interest in college football, but it's still watchable. One way to keep yourself entertained is to spot a number of continuity goofs.
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
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Clinton is featured, but Carville and Stephanopoulos really are the stars of the show. Jennifer Flowers makes an appearance, prompted by the Republicans, to make allegations that she had an affair with Clinton. Clinton and his team deal with it with remarkable skill. There are also shots of Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. Hillary has remarkably long hair and looks disturbingly a lot like Jennifer Flowers. No wonder she eventually cut it short.
Nugget: a brilliant insight into the excitement and tactics of political campaigning.
Sunday, 7 December 2008
The highlight of this harmless diversion is Peter O'Toole's masterful performance as a grumpy old man with a sharp tongue and a pocketful of withering one-liners. Judy Parfitt also excells in the supporting role of Frisk Senior's cynical old housekeeper, Mrs Brimley. Bryan Brown (the familiar-faced eccentric Australian character actor whom you may recognize from Gorillas in the Mist, Cocktail, and Along Came Polly - not to be confused with Paul Hogan) plays Wrather, a "conveyancer" who helps Frisk Junior procure his Tokay for Dean Spanley.
Nugget: I started to fall asleep during the climactic scene at the morning preview screening in the Phoenix Picturehouse. I get the feeling I didn't quite get the full effect of whatever snap in the tail this film had. I was enjoying the film up to this point, but it was not gripping enough to force me out of my Sunday morning drowse. But it was worth it just for O'Toole's masterclass.
Friday, 5 December 2008
Although Lay and Skilling are in some senses detestable characters (to my liberal morals) there is something compelling and charismatic about them and their rise to power and wealth. There is something of the Gordon Gekko about them.
It's a slick, fast-moving documentary of talking heads, reconstructions, and stylish montages of stock market tickers, high-rise office blocks, and trading floors. There are some astounding audio tapes of Enron's traders' conversations about manipulating the California power grid during the rolling blackouts. Their greed and ruthlessness is disgusting, but compelling.
Monday, 1 December 2008
The gist of the film is that there is more to sports than winning (apparently contrary to the American ethos, but well familiar with us Britishers, which is perhaps why Ian McShane doesn't look out of place). Although the movie treatment does conventionalize some of the plot elements, there are some powerfully moving cinematic moments (usually avoiding schmaltz) that can move you close to tears even if you're in a cynical mood. The on-field action is convincing and dramatic without being quite as brutal as Any Given Sunday.
Nugget: not bad as American football movies go. It wouldn't be out of place on a long coach journey, although it's not quite as inspiring or entertaining as Remember the Titans or Friday Night Lights. The film is directed by some guy called "McG" - what's that all about?
The Bell brothers were slightly fat kids and not exactly the most gifted at sports. But they trained hard at the weights and found they could achieve quite a lot with dedication and hard work. They became accomplished weight-lifters and one of them went on to play American football at college. However, he found training there too tough and turned to steroids for help. The other wanted to become a professional wrestler, so he, too, took steroids. Chris, the middle brother, followed his dream to work out in the same Gold's Gym that Arnie and Hulk Hogan had used in Venice Beach, California. Their success stories created the myth that if you could build a perfect body, the opportunities could come your way. There is a sad interview with a 50-year-old who is still working out, hoping his day will come.
Chris is more troubled by the moral quandary of taking steroids. He wonders if it is ethical, if it is cheating. The film explores the arguments in detail. Although it doesn't come down clearly in favour of either side, it suggests that steroids are perhaps a symptom of deeper problems within American culture: the belief that "bigger" and "better" are synonymous, the damaging obsession with body image, the hyper-competitive culture in sports that spreads into other parts of life, including politics and military power.
This is both an indictment of those who choose to take steroids, but also an empathetic portrait of them, revealing some of the reasons why some athletes abuse this substance. This comes highly recommended for sports fans; but it will also appeal to a wider audience interested in American culture.
Nugget: a personal documentary in the style of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. Good stuff. The asterisk in the title points to the tagline or subtitle: "The side effects of being American."
Friday, 21 November 2008
Nora Ephron co-writes and directs this film, which is in a similar vein to her other stand-out writing credits When Harry Met Sally... (1989) and You've Got Mail (1998), both of which are more successful: the former for comic wit; the latter for intricate meet-cute plotting.
Nugget: more You've Got Mail than When Harry Met Sally...
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
The latest edition of collected pieces from Carbon Commentary includes data on UK energy consumption trends, an assessment of the economics of Scottish wind power, and on using offshore wind farms as part of the pension planning of individual investors. Articles on global average temperatures in spring 2008, the connection between biofuels and rising food costs, and UK government energy policy complete this newsletter.
Carbon Commentary has recently been included in the Guardian Environment Network.
Sunday, 28 September 2008
A collection of amateur archival footage of my neighbourhood, Jericho, in Oxford, shot in the late 1950s by Wally Peedell. Most of it was filmed on an 8mm camera with no sound. At the beginning of the film there are video interviews with some old ladies reminiscing about life in Jericho when they were younger. The rest of the hour or so of film is of special occasions in Jericho such as the street parade, the flooding, Guy Fawkes' Night, election day 1959, summer festivities, and playtime at St Barnabas School. Most of the people in the audience at the Phoenix Picturehouse were local pensioners. There were frequent giggles of delight and recognition of the old shops and way of life. People seem to have fond memories of community life in Jericho 50-odd years ago. The 8mm film looked great. It was accompanied by a pleasant musical soundtrack. The inter-titles were sometimes amateurishly fashioned and not always readable. These were essentially home movies of everyday life. An hour was just about the right length. It was just starting to get a bit boring when it ended.
Nugget: free to get in and probably just a one-off showing for the locals. Don't expect to find this at your local multiplex.
Friday, 5 September 2008
This is an unusual but powerful fictionalized adaptation of Eric Schlosser's non-fiction book about the production of fast food in the USA. Director Richard Linklater tells the interweaving stories of Mexican migrant workers; the Vice-President of Marketing for Mickey's (Greg Kinnear), a leading burger chain (like McDonald's); a Mickey's employee (Ashley Johnson); and lots of other characters around them. The impressive supporting cast of familiar faces includes Kris Kristofferson, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Avril Lavigne, Luis Guzmán, and Bruce Willis.
Guzmán plays a people trafficker who helps Mexicans cross the border at night and ferries them to Cody, Colorado, a commercial strip of a town with a depressingly long line of fast food restaurants. The Mexicans have come to work in the meat packing factory that is fed by the huge cattle ranches. It's gruesome and dangerous work, but they can earn more in a day ($80) than they would earn in a whole month back in Mexico. Kinnear's character, Don Anderson, has been sent by his boss at Mickey's on a fact-finding mission to investigate claims that faecal matter (i.e. cow shit) has been detected in the patties used in Mickey's successful Big One burgers, which are manufactured at the meat-packing factory.
It feels like a John Sayles film with a powerful political message. It's not always subtle, but then it is dealing with a brutal trade in people and animals. It's a brilliant way to realize the documentary quality of Schlosser's investigative journalism in a narrative fiction format.
Nugget: polished and important stuff.
Comic film about an unwanted pregnancy with some bad taste jokes that are on the borderline of going too far, but still made me laugh most of the time anyway. The characters are likeable and it's quite sweet in parts without being too mushy. Seth Rogen, who plays the main character, Ben Stone, reminds me a bit of someone I went to college with: Ben McDermott.
Nugget: a slightly more grown-up take on the gross-out movie.
Thursday, 4 September 2008
A disappointing Woody Allen film shot in black and white. Allen plays a comic film director who no longer wants to make funny films. He goes to a film festival that is showing a retrospective of his films. He stays in the Stardust Hotel and reminisces about his life. There are three female love interests. The film doesn't have a clear structure. It's a bit like Fellini: artfully shot, good-looking, but a bit boring and lacking in substance.
Nugget: one of Allen's missable misses.
Monday, 1 September 2008
The premise of this spoof documentary is great: what would happen if the Southern Confederates had won the American Civil War? Slavery would still exist in America! The reality is a somewhat slow and boring film, which is witty rather than laugh-out-loud funny. It's cheaply produced and made to look like a TV documentary produced by the "British Broadcasting Service", complete with ad-breaks and programme trailers. Part of the problem is that it doesn't look real enough - especially the spoof film excerpts. I'm sure it would be funnier to someone who knew more about American history and so would understand the clever tricks the writer/director Kevin Willmott is playing. I was so bored by it, though, that I couldn't face sitting through it all again to hear his director's commentary. I was hoping to see more of what life in Confederate America would be like now, but the only glimpses you get of that are in the hammy adverts and the last few minutes of the film. Most of it is a subjunctive retelling of American history.
Nugget: good idea, poor execution. Profoundly disappointing.
Murderball is a sport invented in Canada also known as wheelchair rugby. It is played by quadriplegic athletes in teams of four and is a cross between basketball, rugby, and ice-hockey. Each athlete is given a points value of 0.5-3.5 depending on their level of ability and movement. A team can have no more than 8 points on the court at a time. A quadriplegic is a person who has impairment in all four limbs, usually from a spinal injury, but it can also include amputees. This documentary directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro follows the USA quad rugby team for two and half years from the 2002 world championships in Stockholm to the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. It also tracks the Canadian coach, Joe Soares, star of the USA team at the 1996 Atlanta games. The USA and Canada were the two best teams in quad rugby leading up to 2004.
This is a great sports movie. The athletes have a brilliant attitude. Some of them say their lives changed for the better since they became quadriplegic, mainly because it has given them the opportunity to play quad rugby. It is a thrillingly fast and violent sport, played in customized wheelchairs with added armour and rollerblade front wheels, which look like the machines from Robot Wars.
The filmmakers give the film balance by telling the stories of long-term quadriplegics like Mark Zupan and Joe Soares alongside Keith Cavill, who sustained a spinal injury in a motocross accident shortly before the film was made. We see Keith in rehab, coming to terms with his new way of life; and we see Zupan, who has lived with his wheelchair for 11 years, since he was 18, and Soares, who had childhood polio. Zupan is a real star. He's an asshole, just like he was before he got injured, but a likeable asshole with a fuck-you attitude well suited to the tough, intense sport of Murderball, where one of the main aims is to run into your opponent so hard that you knock him over, out of his wheelchair, and out of the game.
It's quite appropriate that one of the extra features on this DVD is a Jackass Murderball special. That's the sort of attitude to life that some of these players have. These characters are surprisingly ballsy, overturning some of the stereotypes attached to people in wheelchairs. They still have an active sex life, enjoy drinking and going out, and are fiercely independent.
The film is given a natural trajectory by the build-up to Athens, and a plot-line through the rivalry between the USA and Canada. Coach Joe Soares fell out bitterly with the USA team when he was dropped for being too old and too slow, so he moved to Canada in defiance. Some of the American players and officials goad him with betraying his country. He just wants to win to prove them wrong.
Nugget: Murderball is a tremendously funny and moving film. It will change the way you think about people with disabilities.
Friday, 29 August 2008
Boxing is a full Blue sport at Oxford University, alongside rowing and rugby. Those students who aspire to win a Blue by competing against Cambridge in the annual Varsity match see it as a great honour and are prepared to make many sacrifices to get it. This documentary by Stevan Riley (a former Oxford University boxer himself, although he never won a Blue due to a concussion) follows a number of boxing novices in their first season. There's Kavanagh, a spindly first-year Philosophy student; Charlie, a doe-eyed Fine Arts student who sings and paints nudes; Fred, a gritty Biochemist from a single-parent family who resents his father and takes to the sport like a natural; Boiler, a Mathematician rugby player desperate to win a Blue to impress his father; and Justin, an American Astrophysicist from the US Air Force Academy who fancies himself as a Christian Chuck Norris. They're coached by Des, a local builder.
The Varsity season gives the film a perfect teleology, although for many of the boxers, the experience of training and getting in the ring, of winning their Blue, seems more important than beating Cambridge at the end.
Having watched the boxing Varsity match myself a few years ago, it is a special occasion with a raw and passionate atmosphere. You cannot really appreciate how brave and brutal a sport boxing is until you see it live and up close. It's also much more about technique than fighting ability. Some of these boys are badly exposed due to their inexperience. There's a trip to Sandhurst to fight in front of the Army; and the annual Town vs. Gown match hosted in the Oxford Union debating chamber where students fight non-students.
It's odd seeing people I know on camera in a proper film. I played rugby with Boiler. I also recognized Andrew Buchan, Mark Hudson, and James Glancey (in the gym), Andrew Clements, Graham Barr, Ed Wilson, and James Grigg (in the crowd), and Guy Reynolds (who is briefly interviewed as Boiler's former rugby team-mate, and who captained the U21s in my second year).
Nugget: an excellent film that really immerses you in the spirit of Varsity, but also doesn't take itself too seriously.
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Beautiful little Shane Meadows film set in Somers Town, a high-rise housing estate near St Pancras station in London. Thomas Turgoose (whose face will be familiar from Meadows's previous film, This Is England) plays Tomo, a young boy who has come to London from Nottingham. It's not clear why he has left home, but he doesn't want to go back. He makes friends with Marek (Piotr Jagiello) a Polish boy who lives in one of the high-rise flats with his dad, Mariusz (Ireneusz Czop), a builder working on the new St Pancras International rail terminal. The two boys befriend and fall in love with Maria (Elisa Lasowski), a pretty young French waitress from the local café who let Marek take her picture.
There isn't really a plot to this film; but this is not a flaw. We never find out why Tomo left Nottingham. Meadows only sketches a faint background for the characters. But they are warm and believable. It's an affectionate portrait of Polish migrant workers. Both Marek and his dad are noble and upbeat characters. Mariusz is proud that his boss says he is one of the best workers he has ever had, which is typical of the work ethic the Polish workers have earned for themselves all over the UK. The film also deals with violent youth culture as Tomo is mugged by three local lads who take his bag with all his possessions in it and his money.
The film is shot in black and white with the exception of a short colour sequence at the end, the details of which I shall leave as a surprise so as not to spoil it any further. Gavin Clark's acoustic soundtrack perfectly complements the images.
Nugget: a lovely, gentle film about friendship, love, and life in modern Britain, which works perfectly alongside the short film Dog Altogether with which it was shown at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford.
Short film directed by Paddy Considine starring Peter Mullan (from My Name Is Joe) who plays a horrible man who kicks his dog, is racist to his local sub-postmaster, and violent towards young boys in the pub. He is a hateful character, but Mullan's performance elicits great sympathy. Olivia Colman plays an English Christian charity shop worker who prays for him and gives him the love that is obviously lacking from the rest of his life. Presumably set and shot on location in Glasgow.
Nugget: a great wee film shown before Somers Town at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford.
Nugget: funny little animated short film about a man who calls up God via the telephone operator. This is a Virgin Media Shorts selection that was shown before Dog Altogether/Somers Town at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford.
Saturday, 23 August 2008
This Nick Broomfield documentary is about the murders of US rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls (aka Notorious B.I.G., Christopher Wallace). Broomfield snoops around the dodgy characters that surrounded these people, including ex-LAPD officers, Voletta Wallace (Biggie's mom), Marion "Suge" Knight (Tupac's producer at Death Row Records), body guards, associates, and lawyers. It's a very confusing case, and Broomfield doesn't really do anything to clear it up. There are too many names all loosely related. Too many conspiracy theories and rumours, such as that the FBI were involved in the murders to smear the reputation of hip-hop. The East Coast - West Coast rivalry stops hip-hop being positive and thus supposedly prevents hip-hop becoming a uniting and revolutionary force like the Black Panther movement of the 1960s and 70s, which the government would see as a threat.
Broomfield is often on camera with his boom microphone. One of his potential interviewees actually complains about one of his previous films that makes Broomfield look clever and all his interviewees look stupid. He is good at just letting these characters come out on camera. They are sometimes surprisingly candid, but these hip-hop people tend to speak in code, so when they say, "You know what I'm sayin'?" it's often not clear at all what they're getting at because they assume you know so much more than you do.
Nugget: not a particularly good film. Certainly don't watch it if you want to know what actually happened.
Thursday, 17 July 2008
Bit of a weird one, this. It's about an old video rental shop in Passaic, New Jersey, where jazz pianist Fats Waller was born (according to legend). Mike (Mos Def) works in the video shop owned by Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover). Mike's friend, Jerry (Jack Black), gets himself electrocuted during a sabotage attempt on a power station. This doesn't kill him. He is magnetized. When Jerry returns to the video store, he unwittingly erases all the tapes. To make up for the blunder, Mike and Jerry record their own version of Ghostbusters for Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow), one of Elroy Fletcher's best customers. The DIY remake is a success and starts to generate unprecedented interest in the store in the local community. Soon, customers are queuing around the block to place their own requests for "Sweded" movies. Meanwhile, Elroy Fletcher is scouting out local rivals West Coast Video, who have made the successful transition to DVDs. His business, "Be Kind Rewind" (no customers ever rewind their rented video tapes), is failing, and local real-estate developers are threatening to have his building condemned so that they can replace it with high-end apartments. Will the "Sweding" project be able to generate enough income to save the store, the legendary birthplace of Fats Waller?
This is an uneven and on the whole unsuccessful film, although it did make me laugh out loud with Jack Black's slapstick humour and some clever visual jokes. It is directed by Michel Gondry, progenitor of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and music videos for Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers.
Nugget: more miss than hit.
Friday, 27 June 2008
How many punk rockers does it take to change a light bulb? None, because punk rockers don't change anything. Thirty years on from The Sex Pistols, The Damned, and The Ramones, punk bands are still making the same bad noises, protesting against the same failures of society, and wearing the same clothes and hairstyles.
Punks never were good musicians. And that's partly the point. "It didn't matter if anybody had any talent or could do anything," says Bruce Loose from Flipper. "It was whether they had the balls or the guts to get up and do it." This is DIY music for the underdog, music that anyone could get up and play in their local basement club (and anyone often did get up and play). Punk was a reaction against prog-rock, arena gigs, 7-minute guitar solos, vocal harmonies, and light shows. Punk was music with a message, a raw message screamed in your face with all the subtlety of a toddler's tantrum. Punk was "hippies with teeth". But hippies didn't change the world with their message of peace and free love; and neither did punks. "Things that we sing about could be construed as cliché, as far as punk rock is concerned," admits Kevin De Franco, lead singer of The God Awfuls. "But it's not us that is cliché. It's the fucking world. Nothing ever changes."
Kevin De Franco of The God Awfuls. Film still from Punk's Not Dead.
But as Punk's Not Dead so clearly shows, punk itself has changed. Green Day, The Offspring, Good Charlotte, and Sum 41 have brought their brand of pop-punk to the mainstream - "brand" being the operative word. The Warped Tour is backed by big corporations. Kids can buy their entire punk outfit from Hot Topic stores at the mall. The whole look of punk has been commercialized as advertisers realize there is a self-made demographic to exploit for profit. This selling out has made the older generation of punks quite snobbish and protective of their punk status, claiming that the new generation of commercially successful bands aren't punk because they sell too many records, play to large audiences, and exploit the capitalist mass media to get their music out there. Punk is now more of a fashion statement than an ideology. But as Tim Armstrong from Rancid says, "Who am I to say you're not [a punk rocker]?"
Director Susan Dynner pokes a safety pin into all of these issues, but lets the punks speak for (and against) themselves. Her beautifully crafted documentary features some of her own vibrant photos of the Washington, DC punk scene in the 80s alongside rare (and raw) live footage that really captures the excitement and variety of punk in its various forms. Punk is such an umbrella term, meaning something slightly different for each individual and each punk scene, that the film can offer no coherent answers to the questions it raises, except that punk is still alive and well, if a little richer, more professional, and more mainstream than it was in the beginning.
Dynner also debunks the myth of a punk renaissance. As punk historian Alan Parker points out, there seems to be an invisible line from The Sex Pistols breaking up at Winterland to Nirvana, a gap of some 15 years when punk disappeared from the mainstream consciousness. There was certainly a low point for punk in the late 80s, but it didn't cease to exist; it simply went back underground, where its roots always have been and continue to thrive. Old school bands like Stiff Little Fingers, Social Distortion, UK Subs, The Adicts, and Subhumans have either kept playing or reformed and are still on the road. "Yeah, give it to them raw while you're still alive," says Subhumans front man Dick Lucas.
Dynner used the internet to solicit material from DIY punk scenes all over the world to contribute to the film. 86 minutes in, she includes footage from New Zealand, Serbia, Iceland, Indonesia, Lithuania, Belgium, Russia, Israel, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Finland, Austria, Uruguay, Japan, France, and Australia, capturing the old underground DIY spirit of the early days of punk.
It's this sort of material that makes the film stand out from conventional music documentaries that always feature old-timers proselytizing nostalgically about the old days and harping on about how cool they used to be. There is a fair bit of that in this film, but it's also refreshing to focus on the people and the scene they created rather than the heard-them-once, heard-them-all stories of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' boring roll. (If that's the sort of film you're after, End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2003) and New York Doll (2005) do it very well.)
Punk's Not Dead is fast-paced and stylized, observing a scene talking about itself, rather than seeking to box it into a corner. One of the rare subjective interventions by the filmmakers is a brilliant piss-take montage of new generation pop-punk bands bouncing in slow-mo to Johann Strauss's "Blue Danube" waltz. One senses that Dynner is on the side of the oldies, but is still happy to let the new kids have their fun in their own way.
The film spills over into some valuable extras on the DVD that are rightfully cut from the main feature. Had they been kept in, the documentary would have lost its clear through-line and punk aesthetic of being short, fast, and in your face without messing about. The extras sketch out the wider punk scene, looking into punk housing; Jimmy Carter's presidential decree bribing major record labels not to sign punk bands by offering them tax breaks; as well as short histories of legendary punk clubs CBGB (New York), The Roxy (London), and The Masque (LA). They also include outtakes such as one of the ageing Adicts falling onstage during a gig and being unable to get up; and some of the interviewees messing around with ventriloquist puppets and telling jokes.
Nugget: what emerges from the film is that punk isn't so much about the bands or the music. It's a way of life. It's about the people, the social exchange. The bands are just a point of gathering, an inspiration for creating a radical change within each individual subscriber to the punk ideal. Has punk rock changed the world? "I don't know," says Dick Lucas of Subhumans. "It's changed my world and a lot of other people's."
This review was first posted on Blogcritics.
Note: Punk's Not Dead is being released on DVD (in the US?) on 8 July 2008. It doesn't appear to be stocked on Amazon yet, but it is available through the official movie website. Thanks to Rachel Glass for sending me the screener. The unconventional way of soliciting this review - emailing bloggers like me at random because I appeared to review films - is in keeping with the DIY punk spirit of the film, which, as I said above, includes internet-generated content from local punk scenes all over the world.
Friday, 23 May 2008
As "emissions" is a plural noun, shouldn't it be "Fewer emissions"? How embarrassing for BMW and their advertising agency! See an explanation of the difference between "less" and "fewer" on the AskOxford website. I realize that they're going for the "less is more" connection, but I still don't forgive them.
Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Jesus Camp is a 47-minute* documentary about the indoctrination of children at evangelical conferences and summer camps. Children as young as six are told they are sinners; that warlocks are the enemies of God (ergo Harry Potter is evil); are made to pledge they will fight against abortion; are encouraged to worship a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush; and are, seemingly minutes after their arrival at camp, scared to tears by the fear-mongering preachers. This is a bizarre film, so absurd it's hilarious.
Here's that Harry Potter proclamation in full:
Becky Fischer: And while I'm on the subject, let me say something about Harry Potter. Warlocks are the enemies of God! And I don't care what kind of hero they are, they're an enemy of God and, had it been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death!
Becky Fischer: You don't make heroes out of warlocks!
Becky Fischer, the organizer of these "Kids on Fire" Bible camps (although there weren't many Bibles in evidence - funny that), can be seen with her staff blessing the electrical equipment before the campers arrive:
"Let's just walk around the pews and stuff and just pray over the seats. Yeah, yeah, in the name of Jesus we just speak over every person that's sitting in these chairs this week. And Lord we just ask to be covered with the blood of Jesus. Open hearts, Lord, open hearts! Father we pray over the electrical systems. We pray over the electricity will not go out in this building, in Jesus' name, because of storms or any other reason. Now I just pray over this equipment. We speak over the PowerPoint presentations, all of the video projectors, and we say, devil, we know what you love to do in meetings like this and we say YOU WILL NOT, in Jesus' name, YOU WILL NOT prevent this message from going out. No microphone problems, in Jesus' name. In the name of Jesus we speak that."
The style of worship, when it's not faith-healing, is hip-hop happy-clappy: "He was born to a virgin called Mary on Christmas Day. He bled and then he died on the cross to take sins away. You take him high. You take him low. You take JC wherever you go. Tell me who's in the house? JC! [...] Jesus Christ is in the house. [...] Dance! We're kickin' it, we're kickin' it for Christ!" Another girl likes Christian heavy metal, although she doesn't seem to realize that a lot of the music that would have influenced these Christian musicians is bordering on the Satanic.
Many of the children in attendance are home-schooled. Amongst the parents there is a deep suspicion of public schools and the evil, evolutionary teaching that goes on there, telling children that they are animals rather than gifts from God. Many still lament the banning of prayers in schools, a Supreme Court ruling that was based on the fundamental principle of the separation of Church and State enshrined by the Founding Fathers (particularly Thomas Jefferson) in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Another thing they won't let go is the abortion issue.
These children are brought up to think they are part of a special generation that can somehow reclaim America for Jesus. They truly believe in the Rapture, that the Second Coming is nigh. What's so disturbing for me about this kind of fundamentalism is that it is deliberately channeled as a "culture war". Pastor Becky Fischer again:
"It's no wonder, with that kind of intense training and discipling, that those young people are ready to kill themselves for the cause of Islam. I wanna see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I wanna see them as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all those different places, you know, because we have...excuse me, but we have the truth!"
There really is a martial intent to this. These are child soldiers, trained from any early age to fight in the army of Jesus Christ. Levi, a twelve-year-old preacher, is home-schooled. His father signed up to join the US Army in Iraq because he felt compelled to go there to fight as a Christian. Do they think it's the Crusades?
The film focuses on two kids in particular. Levi, with the ridiculous ponytail and a bright orange college-style T-shirt that reads "Jesus: King of Kings"; and Rachael, a nine-year-old who goes up to a pretty blonde girl at the bowling alley and tries to witness to her about Jesus Christ because she suspects she may be a sinner because of the way she looks.
It's no surprise when Pastor Ted Haggard turns out to be a hypocrite, allegedly being caught with a male prostitute after condemning homosexual activity to his huge congregation. Becky Fischer has also discontinued the summer camps at Devil's Lake, North Dakota after adverse reactions to the film (it was hardly good publicity!).
Nugget: although this will make you laugh, it's also really disturbing. Laughter, I find, is often a defence mechanism. Jesus Camp was Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary Feature in 2007 but lost out to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.
Sunday, 13 April 2008
One of Andrew's inventions, a spirit ball, appears to upset the couples' relationships and reveal their deeper desires. The inevitable partner-swapping ensues (I would call it "bed-hopping" except that most of the love-making appears to take place outdoors by the brook).
Gordon Willis is the director of photography. The night scenes are shot day-for-night with filters and are pretty unconvincing because of all the sunlight on the leaves and the bright sky (although it's not as bad as those old James Bond movies). There are some clever long takes in the interior as the conversations continue while the characters walk out of shot. In one of them, Andrew and Adrian can be seen talking in the kitchen through their reflection in a mirror. There are some other majestic long shots and a beautiful scene-setting sequence of the countryside flora and fauna in midsummer to the soundtrack of Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 (Scottish) in A Minor. The best laughs are generated by Allen's slapstick: crashing his insane flying machines and falling down the trellis at the side of the house (later repeated by Tony Roberts).
Nugget: a mildly enjoyable light farce, accompanied by the music of Felix Mendelssohn. It has, as far as I can tell, little to do with Shakepseare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (except for the love games, the spirits, and the fact that's it's midsummer in a wood), although Mendelssohn's music of that name does appear on the soundtrack.
Nugget: a grave indictment of the US justice system and a superb documentary.
Nugget: mildly amusing, beautifully lit and shot, but not one of Allen's best.
Nugget: an intriguing scenario that is executed with a light touch. Another one of Allen's period films, capturing the power of the movies as a form of escapism during the 1930s. Quirky stuff. Woody Allen doesn't act in this one.
Sunday, 6 April 2008
You can read the newsletter in its excerpted format here; or download the printer-friendly PDF version here.
Friday, 4 April 2008
On the surface, there's the same old Woody Allen plot line of extra-marital affairs, a sister who has taken a different course in life (Blythe Danner), someone who wants to become a writer, and so on. There is a brilliant short comic appearance by Bernadette Peters as Alice's Muse, who even has a pair of trademark Woody Allen thick plastic black-rimmed glasses.
Nugget: a good example of Allen's ability to make semi-serious films, even if some of the plot mechanics (Dr Yang's herbs) are a little bit of movie magic. Features a cameo by Elle Macpherson as a shopper in the Madison Avenue Ralph Lauren store.
Monday, 31 March 2008
Like Radio Days (1987), another of his 1940s nostalgia flicks, the period detail is finely observed. There is a real old-school feel to the insurance office, when women were still treated as objects to be not-so-subtly ogled at. Elizabeth Berkley is one of W. C.'s office floozies, while Charlize Theron plays a notorious high-society playgirl blonde, both, of course, implausibly attracted to the Allen character (he never lets us down - hey, it's the movies!).
Nugget: this is apparently one of Allen's favourite movies of his own making - this usually means the production process went well, with few flaws and much luck. The result is certainly an entertaining and amusing 98 minutes. There are no great secrets about the plot; the joy is in watching it unravel under Allen's customary directorial charm.
Tuesday, 25 March 2008
Nugget: get your popcorn ready. Occasionally hilarious and eminently quotable amongst friends.
Sunday, 23 March 2008
Nugget: not one of the best or the funniest in Woody Allen's oeuvre, but still good stuff, especially for the soundtrack.
Monday, 10 March 2008
Nugget: one of the best and most original war films I've ever seen.
Read the full DVD review on FilmExposed.
[Update: Friday 17 June 2011: looks like FilmExposed is no more, so that link is broken.]
Saturday, 2 February 2008
In its questionable wisdom, HP has decided not to support some of its older scanning hardware for Windows Vista. Here's what it says on its website:
"We are sorry to inform you that there will be no Windows Vista support available for your HP product. Therefore your product will not work with Windows Vista.
If you are using the Windows Vista operating system on your computer, please consider upgrading to a newer HP product that is supported on Windows Vista. HP has numerous products on the market that support Windows Vista."
Anyway, there shouldn't be any need. It is possible to install an HP ScanJet 2200c scanner on Windows Vista using Vista's compatibility settings. Here's how (my solution is based on this post on iP3K, to whom much thanks):
- IMPORTANT! Unplug your scanner.
- Download the ScanJet 2200c driver software from the HP website.
- Right-click on the file you have just dowloaded (by default named sj646en.exe) and select Properties and then the Compatibility tab.
- Check the box next to Run this program in compatibility mode for: and then select Windows XP (Service Pack 2) from the drop-down menu. Click OK.
- Double-click on the file named sj646en.exe to install the scanner software and drivers. You may see a Security Warning dialogue warning you that the publisher could not be verified. The file comes from the HP website, so it is safe. Click Run. You may then see a WinZip Self-Extractor dialogue. Take note of the folder that it is being unzipped to i.e. the default location is c:\sj646. Then click Unzip. The Setup program should start automatically. Make sure you exit all Windows programs before proceeding with the Setup program. Proceed through the series of dialogues to install the program.
- Once it has finished installing, go to the folder in which it was installed i.e. the default location is C:\Program Files\Hewlett-Packard\HP PrecisionScan\PrecisionScan LTX (unless you changed it during the installation process) and sort the contents of that folder by type (this will be easier if you are using the Details setting in Views).
- There should be 9 Application (.exe) files:
- Now plug in your scanner. Windows Vista should recognize the hardware and use the drivers already installed.
I was very disappointed with HP's (lack of) support policy. Even though I'm very happy with the product itself (and my HP LaserJet 1000 series printer - see picture left - which does work on Windows Vista without any problems), I may take my custom elsewhere next time because of this unsustainable after-"care".
Update (6 March 2015): My HP LaserJet 1000 series printer is still going strong! Here's how I got it to work on my Mac.
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
As usual, you can read the excerpted version of the newsletter here; or download the whole thing in printer-friendly PDF.
Monday, 14 January 2008
John Lanchester, "Cityphilia", London Review of Books, 30.1 (3 January 2008), 9-12; http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n01/lanc01_.html [accessed 14 January 2008].
Saturday, 5 January 2008
Nugget: it's easy to see why this was Brosnan's last Bond.