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."