Thursday, 30 December 2004

Breaking the Waves (1996) - ickleReview (DVD)

Cheery Lars von Trier movie...erm, maybe not. Emily Watson plays Bess McNeill, an innocent Scottish lassie living in an obscure island community with a very strict - is it Presbyterian? - church, which does not allow women to speak during the service or attend funerals. When she marries Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), she is still a virgin. She is emotionally deprived and cannot cope with the separation when Jan must return to work on the oil rig. She prays to God to bring him home. Perhaps she wishes she hadn't.

Watson is outstanding as Bess. There is a scene where a light glistens in her eyes, making her look possessed by an angel. She looks so innocent and pure and has such a malleable face that a smile is only millimetres from a frown. The intertitles give the movie (and the audience) breathing space, appearing almost like paintings in a trompe l'oeil. Do not expect to be uplifted by this movie; although von Trier manages to find a strage beauty in its desolation. He tells a modern day version of the plight of Mary Magdalene. His lens is dark. The hand-held Dogme camera records the claustrophobic isolation of faith.

Nugget: perhaps you shouldn't watch this if you're feeling suicidal.

Before Sunset (2004) - ickleReview (DVD)

The sequel to Before Sunrise (1995). Director Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy collaborate again, working more closely together on the script. In an on-the-set bonus feature of the DVD, Linklater calls them his fellow filmmakers. The two actors are also given full writing credits. An inspirational love story that magically avoids the Hollywood ::bleuch:: Moment.

It's nine years later. Jesse (Hawke) has written a book about his one night in Vienna with Celine and is on a promotion tour of European cities, last stop: Paris. Continuing the James Joyce/Ulysses theme (the first movie was set on Bloomsday, 16 June: the day of Ulysses and the day Joyce first dated Nora Barnacle), Jesse is promoting his book in the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, where Sylvia Beach first published Joyce's Ulysses. Jesse even says he spent the previous night in the loft above the store. Celine has read his book and, as she is a regular patron of the bookshop, is aware that Jesse will be in town. Just as his talk is coming to an end, she appears ethereally at the window. They go out for coffee and spend the rest of the day, before sunset and Jesse's pending flight home to New York, talking like they did in Vienna: catching up on each other's lives, but really just picking up where they left off on the platform at the Viennese Bahnhof.

The concept behind this sequel is given in the trailer, which features the scene from Before Sunrise when Jesse persuades Celine to get off the train with him and spend the night in Vienna. Before Sunset fulfills that "what if", a decade later when Celine is stuck in a relationship that is not really fulfilling; and she thinks back to what could have been if she'd stuck with that guy she met all those years ago...

Jesse and Celine dominate even more than in the first film: there are hardly any cameos of Parisian life: they are so much into each other that they barely notice the Paris streets and parks they walk through. Time seems more precious than their first meeting, which seemed suspended in a timeless bliss. Their time together is limited in a more grown-up world of families and responsibilites. The entire film is like those delicious last moments of a conversation where both of you are dallying; neither wants to put an end to it because, in a way, that will be a rejection of the other person.

While Before Sunrise ended with the empty places that Jesse and Celine had populated together, that is where Before Sunset begins: the locations in Paris that they will make their own. This is an outstanding film with one of the most beautifully toned endings you will ever see.

Nugget: features a couple of wonderfully delicate songs written and performed by Delpy: Celine's version of events: her artistic response in complement to Jesse's book about that timeless night in Vienna.

Wednesday, 29 December 2004

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) - ickleReview (video from TV)

Woody Allen movie starring Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Carrie Fisher, Dianne Wiest, and Woody Allen. Hannah (Farrow) is the most successful of three sisters, making the other two feel inadequate in comparison. Only problem: her husband Elliot (Caine) follows through on a crush on her sister Lee (Barbara Hershey). Meanwhile, Allen plays a hypochondriac who thinks he has brain cancer and drops out of his TV work. You know the story: it's a Woody Allen movie. Come on!

It has a great jazz soundtrack and a gratuitous sequence where an architect takes Holly and her colleague, April, around New York to point out his (and presumably the filmmaker's) favourite buildings. There's a brilliant moment when Frederick (Max von Sydow), Lee's partner (a reclusive artist) stays in watching TV, which he doesn't normally do. He thinks it shows the whole spectrum of society: Nazis appear alongside deoderant salesmen. There's another great scene where a rich musician comes to Frederick's studio to buy a painting to fill up some wall space in the new place he's just bought in the Hamptons. Frederick refuses to sell on principal: his works are not to be referred to interior designers before they are purchased to see if they match the colour schemes and the sofa. "It's not a sofa, it's an ottoman!" Dusty, the musician, replies.

The film is structured in little episodes with intertitles, such as "We all had a terrific time", "The big leap", "Summer in New York" and "Lucky I ran into you". The writing has the feel of some of Allen's best stuff from the days in the 70s when he used to publish short funny stories and anecdotes in The New Yorker (collected in The Complete Prose).

Nugget: Woody on good form. As dependable as a BFO* oak sideboard.

* BFO = Big fuck-off

Before Sunrise (1995) - ickleReview (DVD)

The greatest love story ever told. A film by Richard Linklater starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as young twentysomethings who meet on a train from Budapest and decide to get off in Vienna to spend the night wandering around the city together, talking. Simply some of the best dialogue ever written for the movies. They have philosphical, radical, everyday sort of conversations that scratch away that bit deeper than most of us manage. It's wonderfully romantic and ends with such simplicity: the places that they visited together are shown in the cold hard light of the following morning: empty, except for the filmic memories of them together, like a warm breeze blowing through autumn leaves.

Linklater followed this with the best sequel I have ever seen, Before Sunset, which changes the way you think about the first movie if you've seen them both before. (Yes, it's better even than The Godfather: Part II!) And yet the sequel stands by itself as well. Hawke and Delpy are so natural together. In Before Sunrise there's a scene with them listening to a record together in a soundproof booth, where, as one turns to look, the other one looks away, only to look back again. These characters live and breathe in your mind. Watching it for the third time today, I came to realize just how much it has shaped the way I see the world: not only love and relationships, but death and cynicism, adulthood, conversation, and rationalism versus optimism.

Nugget: well worth the hassle finding an Australian import on eBay; even though they're releasing both films together in a box set on 7 February 2005!

Tuesday, 28 December 2004

Iris (2001) - ickleReview (DVD)

Film about the Oxford writer Iris Murdoch, based on the memoirs of her husband, John Bayley. Touching performances by Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent as the older couple; Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville the younger. The Director, Richard Eyre, states that he didn't want to make a film about an illness (Alzheimer's). For the most part, he succeeded; but I think it is more Bayley's books rather than the film that are to blame for focusing too much on the impact of the illness, rather than the achievements of Murdoch the writer. The film is more a love story in two parts: the young, courting couple; and the ageing, mellowing and forgetting Iris and John. There is not much in between. The earlier years are used more as a foil against which to pit the poignancy of the illness, seeing them, perhaps, through a glass, darkly. It is endearing in itself, but this is not a biopic.

Within these narrow limits, however, it is without doubt a success. Jim Broadbent is deserving of his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. His rages and frustrations are particularly well articulated and go some way to repairing the character of John Bayley, against whom there have been many protests from admirers of Murdoch. The film explains well how he was damaged by Murdoch's freer-spirited attitude towards love, her vibrancy and charisma. There is the suggestion that he was always somewhat lonely in the relationship, perhaps felt too blessed and undeserving of such company.

Nugget: a film with modest ambitions but one which fulfills them to overflowing - often with tears.

Sunday, 26 December 2004

Spellbound (2002) - ickleReview (DVD)

Documentary about the US National Spelling Bee. Follows eight kids aged 10-14 from the regional rounds through to the nationally televised championship in Washington D.C. A great way to reflect the diversity of American life: from Angela in Texas, whose parents came to America from Mexico 20 years ago, and whose dad still can't speak English; to April DeGideo from Pennsylvania, who studied her words for up to nine hours a day during the summer; to Neil from California, whose dad paid for 1,000 people to pray for him back home in India.

I usually hate kids, but these ones have started to change my mind. They're all very bright, quite quirky, a little geeky, but in a good way. It's not really all about the winning: Ithaca is all about the journey there: what skills and coping strategies you learn on the way. Spelling is just the end result. The kids learn how to study, how to be independent, how to come to terms with disappointment. A very uplifting movie.

The DVD itself is great: you get the bonus of an Epilogue, which fills you in on "where they are now"; and there are three deleted scenes of kids who didn't make it into the final cut of the movie. Some of these are the best: such as Bradley, who has a crush on his spelling tutor, or Cody, who has a cool philosophy on life and a great little sarcastic attitude.

Nugget: geeks have more fun. I should know.

Alexander (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Oliver Stone version of the legend of Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia and conqueror of the known world - well, from Persia to the east of India, anyway. Stone remains an impressive storyteller; Colin Farrell, who plays Alexander, as flexible as ever; Anthony Hopkins, a stage actor's performance as Ptolemy, who functions as the narrator in between prolonged flashbacks. Stone also gives time and space for good female roles: to Angelina Jolie as Alexander's mother, Olympias; and to Rosario Dawson as Roxane, his Persian wife - both of whom hold considerable influence over him.

Stone's treatment complicates the myth, showing how a mortal human can adopt god-like renown. There's a refreshing readjustment of our modern Western value system: Alexander has both male and female lovers. The only prejudice against his male lovers is that they will not bear him an heir.

There are also some significant coded references to the conflicts of today: the Persian ruler is chased away into the mountains, yet is still said to have the emotive power over his people of an Osama Bin Laden. And when the Alexandrian army enters Babylon (in what is now called Iraq), the native people are made to like them. The rapturous reception given by the conquered is left unexplained.

Nugget: compares very favourably to Gladiator. The epic is in revival.

Sea of Love (1989) - ickleReview (DVD)

Al Pacino cop movie. What are you thinking?! Of course Ally P. rocks. That goes without saying. Some killer likes shooting middle-aged taxpayers in the back of the head while they are getting down to some face-down self-love listening to an old record, "The Sea of Love". Pacino gets assigned to the case along with John Goodman. Pacino's character is a divorcee who drinks. Like Any Given Sunday, he's a lonely wee man who tries to find himself in the bottom of a cut glass. Then they devise a scheme to catch the killer by placing similar rhyming ads in the lonely hearts column of a New York magazine. Follow a series of dates in which Pacino and Goodman must woo the suspected lady-killer into giving them prints on her wine glass. Needless to say, the killer isn't who the film tries to make you think it is.

There are some good wee side stories, like the elderly single woman who looks just as lonely as Pacino, but whom he will obviously never call because he's on a job and he's just trying to be nice to her. They aren't developed, though. That would be another movie.

Nugget: a little eighties dated, but Pacino never disappoints.

Friday, 24 December 2004

Down by Law (1986) - ickleReview (DVD)

Jim Jarmusch movie. A pimp and a radio DJ are set up by separate enemies and end up in the same prison cell, later to be joined by Roberto Benigni, who somewhat steals the show in his pigeon English, dimwit dumbfuck sort of way. Shot in black and white, this looked a bit dodgy on DVD - rainbow flickers kept warbling on the screen. Tom Waits is pretty good as the radio DJ. A good companion piece to Jarmusch's latest release, Coffee and Cigarettes, some of which was shot around the same time in the mid-eighties, but wasn't finished until about a year ago.

Nugget: Would look better from a cinema projector; but let's face it, what wouldn't?

The Incredibles (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

The new Pixar movie about a superhero family. Tom Paulin thinks this is a critique of America as the world's only superpower. It's also a fun movie. Mr Incredible has to give up his identity as a superhero when he gets sued for saving someone's life, hurting the saved one's neck in the process. He has to settle down in suburbia, working a cruel cubicle office job as an insurance man. On the side, he still snoops off regularly with his old buddy Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson - whose superpower is, of course, ice: because he's so damn cool) to listen to the police radio and do the occasional daring rescue. There's one scene that is particularly reminiscent of 9/11 when he and Frozone save a bunch of people trapped in a tall burning buidling just in time before it collapses. (I always thought it was dumb how firemen and policemen were suddenly called "heroes" after 9/11 when all they were doing was their daily jobs and thought nothing of it. Why should these people be called superheroes when they have so much fun doing it? Shouldn't everyone else be called a superhero for slogging away in their boring lives? If everyone's special, no one's special.)

Of course, things can't carry on like this: Mr Incredible is headhunted to join a secret mission to save everyone from a big robot, which is of course a trap set by someone who has a grudge against him. His wife and kids - who also have superpowers - also get involved. There are plenty of laughs and neat Pixar moments, such as the little kid who waits at the end of the Incredibles' drive, waiting for something cool to happen; or the wee fashion lady who designs their new superhero uniforms; or the subplot in which the daughter comes of age, emerging out of the insecurity of puberty.

Oh, and there's no point sitting through the long credits: there's no treat at the end this time.

Nugget: creditably incredible.

Sunday, 19 December 2004

Chris Jericho

I moved into my new house in Jericho today. First time I've been properly independent from any institution: family, boarding school, college. Only staying here one night: flying home to Munich tomorrow for the winter solstice. Will settle in and unpack when I get back here in the new year. Haven't even got a duvet, so it's the ol' sleeping bag for tonight, and maybe the first night back in January.

Friday, 17 December 2004

Live or work

Today someone decided not to offer me a job. But someone else decided that they wanted to live with me. But then I've gone and done the same to other people: I said to someone I'd be able to work for them, but said that I wasn't going to live with someone else. Aren't I part of the proper adult game of dominoes now?

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

How good is "Dracula"?

Bram Stoker's late-nineteenth-century novel Dracula is supposedly one of the great gothic works of literature. (Perhaps an oxymoron.) In a recent review of a biography of Bram Stoker in the London Review of Books, Terry Eagleton points to this sentence in surprise (in truth, it's a bit of a duffer): "Mina came into the room with an easy gracefulness which would at once command the respect of any lunatic". I still laugh whenever I read that.

Monday, 13 December 2004

Word of the day

Came across an Ayrshire dialect word that I haven't heard in yonks today: "keech" - meaning "shite". It's quite often used in the phrase "bird keech"; or as an adjective: "to be keech at something" e.g. "The goalkeeper was keech at coming out for crosses." Brand new. Made me laugh.

It's pronounced - for those of you who are now going to integrate this fine lexeme into your daily vocabulary - with a Celtic "ch" as in "braw bricht moonlicht nicht". Try saying "quiche" with a lisp and you're almost there.

Pot Noodle™ potty

This is a letter I wrote today. Perhaps I have too much time on my hands. I await the response eagerly:

Consumer Care Department
Unilever Bestfoods UK
Brooke House
RH10 9RQ

Dear Sir/Madam,

On Saturday 13 December 2004, at approximately 5.03 and 53 seconds of the post meridian, Greenwich Mean Time, I purchased an 89g Pot Noodle™ Snack (Chicken & Mushroom flavour) from my local Sainbury's supermarket in the Westgate Centre, Oxford city centre, Oxfordshire, England (store address: 21 Westgate, Oxford, OX1 1NX). Please find the lid enclosed. I wish to complain about the quality of the product. I think that, given the current crisis of obesity in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and in the Western world as a whole, this is a problem that you should address with some alacrity.

First of all, I found the food snack located on the lowest shelf on the eastern side of the third aisle from the right, on the half nearest to the check-out payment facilities, but in the middle of the shop floor, by the central aisle. I think a food snack product of this nature should always be placed on the top shelf, especially given your recent pornography-themed advertising campaign, which I found of profoundly questionable taste and propriety. Perhaps you might encourage your retailers to place it next to other illicit supermarket products such as the wines, spirits, cigarettes, and chocolate digestive biscuits?

Secondly, I do not think that you place adequate warning on your packaging as to the 89g Pot Noodle™ Snack's contents. It is a fatty food and, if I may be frank here, it's too gorgeous!

I hope that you address my concerns with the utmost urgency, despite the time of year, taking them to the very highest level of your organisation, and beyond, if necessary. I expect to see an improvement within 72 hours of your receiving my letter. If I find no clear evidence of this, I shall be forced to contact my local Member of the House of Parliament, Westminster, London, with regard to the complaint. I may even draw it to the attention of Ms Diddums-Smythe, who lives next door, and who is Chair Person of my local Neighbourhood Watch Scheme (registered number available on request). Should she react to the news badly - and she has been very frail since she spent two weeks in hospital after she took that fall on her annual holiday in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, England - she may have a heart attack. Should this eventuality occur, I would be inclined to contact my legal representative and may press charges on you for negligence in the line of duty to what is right and proper.

Yours faithfully,
Christopher Whalen, Esq.

P.S. I am writing under a pseudonym to protect my statutory rights. You will still reach me if you use the name and address that I have declared at the top of this letter [removed in this posting - Ed.], but for legal purposes (as you may be hearing from me about Ms Diddums-Smythe in the future), my real name and address is Angry From, Esq., and I live in Tunbridge Wells.

Garden State (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

The first feature film written, directed and starring Zach Braff - he from Scrubs, the quirky comedy TV series about junior doctors. Talented guy. Not sure if he wrote all the script. Maybe he did, but a few moments are slightly off-key - carrying the faint stench of a partial ghost-re-write, as if someone has been smoking in your room while you were out - such as his epiphanic screaming into the abyss in the rain; or the ending: at the crucial pause, at the final change of points before the station at the end of the line, the Fat Controller pulls the same old boring lever and the train idles into the same old boring platform that it always does; some of us were perhaps waiting optimistically at a different platform - just in know?

On the whole, though, a very impressive effort. The dynamic between the two leads, Braff and Natalie Portman, is very similar to the courting couple of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Carrey, however, is slightly more lovable than Braff; as Portman just takes it by a cute nose over Winslet. The courting moments are particularly endearing, without being slushy. Braff has a way of catching the butterfly emotion of that delicious insecurity when you think you know that your innamorata is feeling just as good about things as you are, but neither of you comes full out and says it. There are pleasingly few kisses and they come late in the general Hollywood scheme of things. (Braff's character, Andrew Largeman - perhaps a play on his large Jewish schnozzle - has actually come back East to New Jersey from L.A., where his only acting break to date has been his portrayal of a retarded quarterback.)

There's some delightful Scrubs-style quirky humour, such as the opening sequence when Braff sits placidly serene, doped up on lithium, whilst the rest of the aircraft cabin panics in a crash dive. He's like the calm faces on the safety cards in the seat pocket in front of you, which Brad Pitt's character in Fight Club points out are actually high on oxygen; compared to the panicked faces which the Fight Club dudes switch them over with.

It plays with comedy and tragedy like the latest Woody Allen movie, Melinda and Melinda: the general premise of the script could sound like a depressing Bergman family psycho-drama. Think more along the lines of the weirdness of Charlie Kaufman and Donnie Darko, the visuals of Amelie and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the dialogue of Richard Linklater and the perceptive wit of a stand-up comic - all of this without feeling derivative.

The teaser trailer is not a let-down and is a good aperitif to what is to come. And I love the thought that has gone into lines such as, "You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? That idea of 'home' is gone. Maybe that's all family really is: a group of people that miss the same imaginary place."

Nugget: hot indie yin. I want seconds. I just hope Braff hasn't used up all his stuff.

Sunday, 12 December 2004

Constantine P. Cavafy, [Extract from] "Ithaca" (1911)

If ever you're feeling bluesy, take comfort in these lines and remember that, as J. E. Buckrose says, "Happiness comes more from loving than being loved; and often when our affection seems wounded it is only our vanity bleeding. To love, and to be hurt often, and to love again - this is the brave and happy life."

So anyway, here's Cavafy:

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Festival Express (2003) - ickleReview (cinema)

The boom of brilliant documentaries continues with Bob Smeaton's - and I rarely use this word - awesome festival movie. In 1970, a couple of Canadian festival promotors decided to lay on a private train to carry performers such as The Band, Janice Joplin and The Grateful Dead from a series of summer festivals in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary. The train was stacked with booze, no doubt some drugs, man, and some seriously cool rock 'n' roll. The jammin' goes on all night on the tracks between gigs; in fact, the gig never ends until the end of the line.

Not only does this movie look great, filmed in a cinema verite style; but it sounds sweet as, man. The sound engineering is first class all the way, with only a few quibbles to be had in the rough edged transitions between episodes. Every tune is rockin'; and, unlike most music videos, the visuals are encapsulating. In two Janis Joplin numbers, a single, front-on camera stares at her in close up. It is a shimmering performance. You don't have to know much about the musicians or even like their music beforehand: by the end of it, you'll be shouting "encore".

Nugget: you won't believe how rude and badly behaved those Canadian cats were who tried to gatecrash the gigs. If the best things in life are free, this one was worth paying for, man.

Click here for the DVD review.

Friday, 10 December 2004

Tuesday, 7 December 2004

Why do I do this every day?

There is a painted fence on the road from Oxford to London - I think it's on the M40 - which says "Why do I do this every day? NO WAR" - sometimes in different colours. At the moment, it's white letters on a green background. I always thought this was protest graffiti: the "NO WAR" stood out for me because there are similar daubings on the wall beside the church on Jackdaw Lane, the access road to the Iffley Road sports ground. I thought the question meant, "Why do I keep coming back to repaint this sign every day?" I realized today, however, that it could be - and probably is - intended for the commuters who travel to London to work every day. The "I" I always thought was the soliloquizing voice of the fence-painter, coming back in the middle of the night to redo his protest. It's specially angled for London-bound drivers to see at the bottom of a small enclave of trees. I wonder why I always thought of it from the lone artist's point of view, rather than the wider, more universal, audience's.

Saturday, 4 December 2004

This Is Spinal Tap (1984) - ickleReview (DVD)

A mock rockumentary ripping it out of the likes of Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Kiss. The band tries to "tap" the USA, but slowly crumbles as gigs are cancelled, the album (Smell My Glove) is delayed, and publicity stunts crash and burn. Some great cameos by Bruno Kirby as the limo driver, who, in the outtakes, gets Charles Fostered* and sings Sinatra in his underpants; and Billy Crystal as a mime artist, from the catering company Shut Up and Eat, serving hors d'oeuvres at a promotional drinks party.

Given the recent documentary, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, it seems that maybe this stuff isn't really satyrical: it's not just close to the bone; it's scratching it. The Darkness certainly prove that camp rock is still cool to some people.

Nugget: for funnier Christopher Guest movies, see Best in Show (about pedigree dog breeders) and Waiting for Guffman (about amateur theatre).

* Charles Fostered > Citizen Kane > Charles Foster Kane > Kaned > caned (stoned).

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) - ickleReview (DVD)

Spaghetti Western directed by Sergio Leone. Clint Eastwood (The Good), Lee Van Cleef (The Bad) and Eli Wallach (The Ugly) scrabble against each other to recover $200,000 buried in an unmarked Civil War grave. Yet this is not about plot. It's about the stagnant parts where nothing happens except the twitch of a mouth, the dart of an eye, the rustle of a wagon hide in the wind. As with Sergio Leone's other movies - such as Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) - the soundtrack is vital to the atmosphere: not just the famous theme tune, but the sound effects so obviously dubbed on afterwards. It takes 10 minutes for the first words to be spoken.

There is a pervading sense of falseness in this film: the dirty, greasy faces; the distractingly dubbed soundtrack which doesn't quite sync up (there was a longer Italian version, 14 minutes from which are included on this DVD as an unseen footage special feature); the backlot feel of the shelled, abandoned towns. Yet it still makes compelling viewing.

Nugget: an acquired taste, but one that is well worth getting.

Friday, 3 December 2004

Muse by email

The Muse is a foundation established by the historian and thinker Theodore Zeldin that aims to stimulate courage and invention in personal, professional and cultural life. This discussion group, based on the ideas of the Muse, is a place for adventurous conversations. People from every continent can share their passions, tastes, beliefs, dreams and everything that shapes their understanding of life, and respond to the experiences and thoughts of others. You will be able to take off your mask and say who you really are, and engage in conversations that help you explore where your life is leading or could lead. If you are dissatisfied with superficial talk and want to discover who inhabits the world, please join us. You can find out more about Muse projects and how to become involved in The Muse at the Oxford Muse website.

The Panic in Needle Park (1971) - ickleReview (DVD)

Al Pacino shimmers in a movie about drug addicts in New York City. He is in love with a fellow waster called Helen (Kitty Winn). They scrounge around for dough and scores during a "panic": a time when money and a hit are hard to come by. They rat on each other. It's all nasty, especially when you see them shooting up.

New York's West Side looks ugly and gritty at the intersection at Broadway and 72nd Street. "Needle Park" is how it's known to the pimps, pushers and junkies. Soft and cuddly like a Disney movie it sure ain't.

Nugget: Al Pacino is always worth it. He should do a L'Oréal Elvive ad.

Friday, 26 November 2004


Did you know that "chauvinism" (meaning extreme and unreasoning partisanship on behalf of a group to which one belongs, especially when the partisanship includes malice and hatred towards a rival group) is derived from Nicolas Chauvin, a soldier under Napoleon Bonaparte, due to his fanatical zeal for his Emperor? And it doesn't always mean "male chauvinism", although we of the superior sex are often prone to it.


It's so right, it's wrong.

Words of witan

If Milli Vanilli falls over in the woods, does somebody else make a sound?

Everyone has a photographic memory; some just don't have film.

Why is a delivery on a ship called a "cargo" and a delivery by car a "shipment"?

Most teenagers seem to think that being individual is looking like everyone else.

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

If something is adjustable, sooner or later it will need adjusting.

When you point one finger at someone else, you're pointing four at yourself. Think about that when you want to blame someone.

Is it possible to look cool whilst picking up a frisbee?

Under Capitalism, man exploits man. Under Communism, the reverse is true.

Never fall in love with a tennis means nothing to them.

"I am, therefore I think." Isn't that putting Descartes before the horse?

In 1994, Los Angeles Police arrested a man for dressing up as the Grim Reaper – complete with scythe – and standing outside the windows of old peoples' homes and staring in.

Computer games don't affect kids; I mean if Pac-Man affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in darkened rooms, munching magic pills and listening to repetitive electronic music. (Kristian Wilson, Nintendo, Inc., 1989)

If practice makes perfect and nobody's perfect, then why practise?

If you send someone a bag of snow and it melts in the post, they won't get your drift.

Victor Hugo once said, "You can prevent the invasion of armies, but not the invasion of ideas." What he really meant to say was, "You can prevent the invasion of armies, unless you're French."

(Borrowed from "Things We Didnt' Know" on I'll give them back...honest.)

Thursday, 25 November 2004


I fainted earlier this week. It was quite nice. I had just given blood in the Town Hall and was sitting by the biscuits table, having a drink of orange squash. My vision started to black out, so I asked for more juice (logical step). One of the nurses noticed I was headed elsewhere and, with the help of the man serving drinks, tried to walk me over to the bed to lie down. I wanted to go before then - being a cat - so I curled up on the floor for a snooze. That's how it felt. I had some dreamy thing, then when I came to, I was in the recovery position and the nurse was putting a sinky soft pillow under my head. I was really comfortable in my cosy A&F grey hoody. I've felt faint before after giving blood, and when I dislocated my collar bone, but I've never been unconscious. You should try it sometime.

Silent Shakespeare (1899-1911) - ickleReview (cinema)

A collection of seven silent short adaptations of Shakespeare plays, filmed between 1899 and 1911 in the UK, US and Italy. They have been compiled by the British Film Institute and set to music by London College of Music graduate Laura Rossi (performed live at this screening at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford). The titles are King John, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, King Lear, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and Richard III. They are certainly worth restoring because they are part of the early history of cinema; but by modern standards of film-making, they seem quaint and primitive. Because they are silent, the acting is often exaggerated and melodramatic, and some of the films - notably King John and Richard III - show the heavy influence of theatre on early cinema.

Nugget: turn on the projector and the rest is silence.

Tuesday, 23 November 2004

Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) - ickleReview (cinema)

A collection of black-and-white set pieces of familiar faces in unfamiliar attitudes having cigarettes and coffee. Many of the sketches have an improvised, first-take feel, as if the actors have only been given a few concepts and been asked to ad lib their way through it. Some scenes are more compelling than others. Bill Murray's with GZA and RZA from the Wu-Tang Clang, and Steve Coogan with Alfred Molina are the funniest. Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch somehow manages to fold them all together into some sort of coherence - not that coherence is needed - but some elements recur: such as the remark that coffee and cigarettes don't make a very healthy lunch or Nikolai Tesla's conception of "the earth as a conductor for acoustical resonance".

Nugget: "Isn't it funny how when you can't afford something it costs a fortune, but suddenly when you can afford it it's just, like, free?"

Sunday, 21 November 2004

Chinatown (1974) - ickleReview (cinema)

A late film noir by director Roman Polanski, who in this film has a cameo role where he puts a flick knife up Jack Nicholson's nose and cuts his nostril open, so that Wacko Jacko has to spend the rest of the film with a rediculous bandage on his schnozzle.

It's a hot summer in LA. Water levels are low. Private snoop Jake Gittes (Nicholson) is hired by a distressed wife to expose her husband, whom she insists is having an affair. It turns out he works for the city water board and that not everything is as it first seemed. A great script continually flashes "wrong way" signs, just after it has assured you that this was the diversion to get round the traffic jam. We see things from Gittes's perspective - we feel how he is cut out of the loop and lied to repeatedly by his clients.

There are some odd moments in this film, like when Faye Dunaway rests her head on the steering wheel of her car, accidentally tooting the horn: some odd laughs, that may have been outtakes that were left in, or deliberate jibes by Polanski.

Nugget: shows real affection for an old genre, in which Wilder and Welles used to excel - but arguably does it better. A pleasure to see it for the first time on the big screen, even if the print was ageing and the projectionist fiddled with the focus for the first fifteen minutes.

Rock 'n' Rule

He, and indeed, he Posted by Hello

Friday, 12 November 2004

Fight Club (1999) - ickleReview (DVD)

The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.
The second rule of Right Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.
The third rule of Fight Club is: You do not quote these lines.

(I'm sure those rules were created just to make the trailers sound cool; or to prevent spoilers. Hence, I won't talk about Fight Club and ruin the plot.)

It's a while since I've seen this. Movies like this (and Memento, The Usual Suspects, The Shawshank Redeption, The Sixth Sense) lose their impact on a second viewing. But it's still a stylish and well made film; and Brad Pitt is on form, even if he doesn't have to do much because his character is so cool already.

Edward Norton plays an office bum (like Neo in The Matrix, except not as gay) who is bullied by his boss, unhappy and insomniac. He goes to group therapy for testicular cancer so he can cry on Meat Loaf's bitch tits (contrary to reports, he was not wearing a fat suit: those were real). The plot has the appearance of being all joined up: "It all started when I met a girl called Marla Singer..."; but it's more like a blind person is playing dot-to-dot on a bumpy bus ride.

The best parts of this film are the little things: like the airline safety card that shows the passengers' true emotions during a sea-landing (panic); the line about making expensive soap from liposuction fat: "It was beautiful. We were selling rich women their own fat asses back to them"; or the bit when Norton says if he could fight any historic figure, he's fight Gandhi. On the whole, there's some great writing (most of it, I suspect, in Chuck Palahniuk's novel), like when a cancer patient gets up to talk about her experiences: "Chloe looked the way Meryl Streep's skeleton would look if you made it smile and walk around the party being extra nice to everybody."

Nugget: The fourth rule of Fight Club is: Shut up already!

Wednesday, 10 November 2004

The Corporation (2003) - ickleReview (cinema)

Corporations are inhumane, but they have the legal status of a single human being. This is a documentary which explains how this happened and what the effects are. It is quite lengthy (145 minutes), but the sort of audiences who want to learn about this stuff are going to tolerate it. This - again - makes America look bad (mainly because it is home of the world's most powerful corporations like Nike, Coca-Cola and McDonald's). Did you know, for example, that IBM supplied the "business solution" for Nazi concentration camp administration: an early form of computer: the punch-card database?

This is a well balanced film, with opinion from right-wing think-tankers, Nobel Prize-winning (hawk) economists, reformed conscience CEOs, Michael Moore, and Noam Chomsky. There's a hilarious scene from one of Moore's movies when he goes to sing Christmas carols - in true corporate spirit - in the foyer of a large tobacco company...with victims of throat cancer, who squawk along, holding a finger to the hole in their throat.

But it's not all end-of-the-world stuff. There are some uplifting citings of the people uprising in Bolivia to oppose the privitization of their city's water supply; of advocates for sustainable development; of smalltown American communities boycotting chain stores. We (or our lawyers did) gave birth to this monster; but we can also slay it like Beowulf.

Nugget: Not quite as engaging as Mark Achbar's 1992 film, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, but still makes informative and at times entertaining and funny viewing.

Want to get laid?

Crawl up a chicken's ass...and wait!

Dumb fuck shopping

I went to The Computer Shop to buy some blank CDs for my computer. I got CD-RWs, thinking it might be useful to be able to rewrite them if I make changes to my files. When I get them home, I realize that my drive can't handle Ultra Speed, only High Speed. So a few days later, I take the CDs back to the shop to exchange them; only The Computer Shop has a really narky returns policy and won't allow it. So I wait to speak to the manager, who doesn't turn up for ages, so I just buy some CD-Rs and have done with it. I have my rucksack with me, so I don't ask for a bag. It's crammed full of books and two reams of paper, so it's hard to fit it all in. Later in the afternoon, when I'm meeting a friend for tea and lunch, I realize that I haven't actually packed the CD-Rs; I've got the RWs, which are useless to me, but must have left the Rs on the counter! So I return sheepishly, tail between my legs, later in the day to ask for my CD-Rs, with my receipt to prove what an idiot I have been. Re:tardy?

Sad Night Chorus of the Heart

I feel your cold ear on my cheek
Your hair drooping lilac feather
We hold press longer than longing
Soft felt palm of jacket back
The unspoken sorries of misunderstanding
Are crushed between beating breasts.

Friday, 5 November 2004

Finding Neverland (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Johnny Depp is surprisingly convincing as J. M. Barrie, the playwright who created Peter Pan. He even pulls off the Scottish accent. I was expecting this film to be mush, but it is actually quite touching and well done. Taking its cue from true events, we see Barrie befriending the widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four boys, George, Jack, Peter and Michael, who inspire him to create the story of the lost boys in Neverland. By spending so much time with them, he neglects his wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell), and upsets the snobbish grandmother, Mrs. du Maurier (Julie Christie). And guess what happens.

There's a dizzingly amazing crane shot during the performance of the play, when the camera flies up from the stage and spins around the auditorium before finding Peter Llewelyn Davies (Freddie Highmore) in the audience. In an earlier garden scene, there's some clever editing to show Peter's internal psychology: he is the only one of the five playing a game of cowboys and indians who isn't using his imagination: shots of him are in the garden at home; from the others' perspective, they are on a cowboy movie set.

Nugget: avoids tweeness; sentimental, but not stickily.

Tuesday, 2 November 2004

Melinda and Melinda (2004) - ickleReview (cinema - London Film Festival)

A Woody Allen movie that combines comedy and tragedy in one (hence the double-barrelled title). Former Neighbours soap actress Radha Mitchell plays both Melindas in a cast that is otherwise doubled - one actor tragic, one comic - as two writers debate the true nature of life in Allen's pseudo-intellectual, New York dinner conversation manner. Will Ferrell plays the classic comic Allen lead, bringing his own inimitable style along with some brilliant Woody impressions.

The polar plots develop as two writers sketch out their opposing views by taking the same basic story and making it either tragic or comic. Melinda is a fuckup friend who walks in on a dinner party when her life is falling apart. Her Park Avenue princess friends hook her up with a guy and things - as they tend to do in Allen's worldview - get messy. The plots begin to converge at the end, demonstrating that when tragedy is taken to an extreme, it can seem comic.

Nugget: Allen admits that he just can't do Bergman by letting the laughs seep into the tragic plot by juxtaposition.

Old Wine in a New Skin

For Jamie McKendrick

You stand there half-hunched
Over dust and ash and desk,
Laptop laid out, flopped back to the sky.
Dappled ashen dust screen,
Pockered keys, wires tripping on the floor.
Carpet covered in filing overspill,
Regular chaos in poetic form.
Books beline shelves on all sides,
Knowledge learned, loved, knocked back
Like a bottle and a half of red.
You look apologetic about this den,
This breeding ground of cursed spawn
Of serpents small, error's minions
Nashed up in the pores and breathing space
Of the housetop. What is here
But we may read in books –
And a great deal more too –
Without stirring our feet out of a warm study?
Paper monster, full and black as ink
Spot. Poems clean and polished
Are unearthed here, dug from the depths
Of soily gritty logos worms
Down a hole with beak, chasing juices
Like a morning bird.
After the rains, the dirt washed off,
The gems glisten on plain paper,
Clean not crinkle-bashed,
Panned and sifted, shifted
Above the stream.

Monday, 1 November 2004


Look! I'm linking to Popdex. Shamelessnamelessness.

Spac leg

I was at Tom Paulin's house talking about the contents and acknowledgements pages which I'm helping him to put together for his book of essays, Crusoe's Secret. I mentioned that Jamie McKendrick hadn't got in touch with me yet. Tom had recommended me to Jamie and passed on my mobile number. Apparently he and his partner, Xon de Ros, had some computer-related work that they needed my help with. As synchronicity would have it, Jamie called a few minutes later.

Once I finished up with Tom, I walked down Abingdon Road to Jamie's house. Xon (which I later found out is pronounced "chon") answered the door. She took me upstairs to Jamie's study. He's a poet, published by Faber. His room was suitably lived in. It was amiably chaotic. My job was to help him transfer some files from his old, chugging laptop to his much newer Toshiba. It took us more than a couple of hours. As his desk was so cluttered, I set up my laptop on the floor to receive his files disk by disk on floppy. Then I burnt them all on to CD and copied them on to his new laptop.

Perhaps as a result of all my crouching, kneeling and sitting on the floor, my circulation was beginning to go. When I was sitting on the chair with my laptop on my lap, helping Xon to combine two jpegs into one, I began to get pins and needles in my left leg. I flexed it a little bit, but it didn't go away. When I got up to fetch something, my leg became totally spasticated. I almost fell over. I guess it was like having multiple sclerosis momentarily, or feeling unsteady on my feet like an old fogie. It was quite scary, but funny as well. It was like my leg was stuck in a bucket of gluey quicksand. I felt like Mr Soft from the Softmints advert: "Oh Mr Soft, why won't you tell me why the world in which you're living is so strange?" It went away, eventually, but it's still feeling a little tender a few hours after the event.

First première

On Saturday night I went to my first big movie première at the Odeon West End on London Village's Leicester Square to see The Woodsman. Outside, a crowd of people had gathered to watch Kevin Bacon and his wife Kyra Sedgwick step out of a limo and walk a few steps through some glass doors. They paused to plug their movie to a camera crew, not ten feet away from me as I fought my way through the crowd and walked in with my ticket.

Before the screening Bacon and co. were presented on stage. He said he was glad to be in London, a rare opportunity for him - which always means he doesn't want to be here. His blondie wife stood beside him, hands behind her halternecked back, and only spoke to say her dress was by a British designer. Like I care. But sadly, I know there will be many who were impressed. Then Bacon introduced a blinged up black guy, Damien Dash, whose fat hip-hop producer's cheque book had paid for the movie. Bacon schmoozed that he was wearing a suit designed by said same bling-merchant. Again, like I care. Again, some would have wowed.

Then the movie. Then the questions from a dumb-fuck suck-up sycophant-you-wanna-make-me-rant audience. "I just want to say, I thought your performances were all great...", "I'm from Philly ::Woo!:: and I'm so glad you shot the film there...". Fuck. Off.

I liked the film. I could care less for the event.

The Woodsman (2004) - ickleReview (cinema - London Film Festival première)

Kevin Bacon plays Walter, a convicted paedophile who is released from prison back into the community, in suburban Philadelphia. He gets a job in a timber yard at which his dad used to work, keeps himself to himself, returning to his bare apartment, staring out the window at a school playground across the street. A feisty blonde at work called Vickie (played by Bacon's wife Kyra Sedgwick) notices he always takes the bus home from work and offers him a lift in her macho SUV. She's upfront and blunt. They're soon sleeping together - an implausibly sudden relationship.

Vickie tries to uncover Walter's black secret. Meanwhile, he meets occasionally with his brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt), his only contact with a family that has disowned him. Police Sgt. Lucas (Mos Def) drops by from time to time to harrass Walter, letting him know that he's under constant surveillance. We also see Walter in conversation with his therapist.

New director Nicole Kassell doesn't try to justify or condone child molestation, or explain the why's or the how's of its happenings. We sympathize with Walter's isolation, yet we cringe at his stupidity, following young girls in shopping malls and public parks. We don't understand his temptation. There is a marvellous and frightening scene on a park bench when Walter talks to an eleven-year-old girl (Hannah Pilkes), who rides the same bus as him and gets off at the park to go bird-watching.

The screenplay by Kassell and Steven Fechter is wonderfully poised. At times the characters' words shimmer in poetic simplicity: they talk of one thing, but may mean another. Closure is reached through a final monologue voice-over from the therapy sessions, but without any hint of Hollywood schmaltz. Pictures, rather than words convey meaning.

Nugget: a rare example of good writing and sensible, usually controlled acting. A stand-out performance by Hannah Pilkes.

For more on the London Film Festival première, see this post.

Friday, 29 October 2004

Boston Red Sox

I'm well chuffed that the Sox finally won a World Series. The Curse of The Babe, standing ominously behind Fenway since 1918, is now broken. The names already have the ring of baseball legends: Johnny "Jesus" Damon, David "Who's Your Papi?" Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt "Blood Sox" Schilling, Derek Lowe, Pedro "Who's Your Daddy Now?" Martinez, Keith "Closer" Foulke, Mark Bellhorn, Orlando Cabrera, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, Pokey Reese, Dave Roberts, Trot Nixon, Gabe Kapler, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Timlin, Tim Wakefield, Doug Mirabelli, Jason Varitek, Doug Mientkiewicz, Kevin Youkilis, Manager Terry Francona, Senior VP and GM Theo Epstein - and all the others. Thanks to "I'm your host" Casey Stern, whose weird little online show, State of the Nation, gathered speed as the Red Sox garnered wins. Boston: it's been emotional.

The Last of the First (2004) - ickleReview (cinema - London Film Festival)

A documentary about the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, made up of likeable old guys who used to play with the greats: Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and others. When the club owners and agents realized that you could make more money by cutting a big band down to size, some of these players lost their jobs and had to hover on the breadline selling insurance and houses, driving school buses and delivery vans.

It's amazing to see these old men and ladies play: at 91, drummer Johnny Blowers (Frank Sinatra's favourite) can still pull off a kickin' drum solo in front of a packed house in Moscow. Guitarist Al Casey - a legend amongst his peers - lives only to play. When he falls and fractures his femur, he looks close to giving up and dying. When the band lose their only regular gig at the Louisiana Community Bar & Grill in downtown Manhattan, singer Laurel Watson breaks down. Two weeks later, she suffers a stroke and loses her voice: a poignant moment of synchronicity that not even the best script writers could have penned.

Anja Baron's film is a little rough at the edges (the print used for the screening was not of the best quality) and features repetitive shots of old people struggling out of a van, walking down stairs and passing through doors; but it is held together by a love for the music, for the musicians, and their stories.

Nugget: drums keep pounding a rhythm to the (b)rain...and the beat goes on, the beat goes on.

Thursday, 28 October 2004

The Devil's Advocate (1997) - ickleReview (HD)

Lawyers lie and are prepared to sell their soul to win the big case, and a case full of money...or at least they do in Hollywood movies, where trials are always exciting. Keanu Reeves is the hotshot criminal attorney (what an appropriate, tautological phrase), Kevin Lomax, from Florida, who's headhunted by John Milton's New York law firm. Milton, as we should know from Paradise Lost, is going to be on Lucifer's side.

Things start to go weird when Mrs Lomax (Charlize Theron) gets lonely when hubby doesn't spend enough time with her. To compensate, she goes out shopping with a couple of the other wives. The script loses its plausibility along with the dodgy computer generated effects; only Al Pacino - with a voice like maple syrup dripped over a bed of rusty nails - stands up against the torrent of torrid, horrid writing. Not surprisingly, Reeves and Theron can't pull off the melodramatic acting that is required of them. It climaxes with Lomax having what could be described as a pretty bad day at the office...then he wakes up. Come on, dude! I wrote better endings to my stories in primary school!

Nugget: ever noticed that "lawyer" sounds like "liar" from the tongue of a broad New Yorker? As ever, Al Pacino is worth a look and listen.

Note: "HD" stands for "hard drive", where this movie used to reside. ::Shhh!!:: It's okay, it's now been deleted.

Tuesday, 26 October 2004

John Peel

I learned that John Peel died today. I'm not usually moved when public figures like him pass away, but when I heard it on Radio 4 in my room, I shouted out "Oh no!" and was genuinely upset. I will miss him primarily from Home Truths on Saturday mornings. To me, he seems like the nicest guy in the world, and I'll always associate him with my rugby coach Neil Crossley from the Oxford University under-21s, and vice versa. I think they looked alike and both had a connection with Liverpool (Neil studied Medicine there). Without a doubt, John Peel would be on the guest list at my fantasy dinner party - no matter how short that list would be. I occasionally liked listening to his music shows on Radio 1 and the World Service, even if they were hard work at times. I loved those moments when he realized he had put on the German hard-core techno track at the wrong speed - which was almost every time I listened to him. If I had ever met him, I would have wanted to hug him.

Monday, 25 October 2004

Igby Goes Down (2002) - ickleReview (DVD)

Horrible people doing what they do best: being horrible to each other. A good performance by Kieran Culkin (yes, his little brother), whose younger self is played by him. Igby is named after "Digby", Culkin's teddy bear, whom he blamed for everything when he was a kid. He lied so much that his mum started calling him "Igby" so that he couldn't use that excuse any more.

The acting's good, I guess, because none of the characters are likeable. But there's no real attempt to explain why these people are so horrible, what drives them to pop so many pills, why they're so depressed, why Igby is so dysfunctional and drops out of so many eastern seaboard schools.

Nugget: Kieran saves the family name.

Saturday, 23 October 2004

Saturday, 16 October 2004

Peter Kay

Some of these sound like Woody Allen, others like the Marx Brothers. Either way, they will have you loling anon.

I saw a woman wearing a sweatshirt with "Guess" on it. I said, "Thyroid problem?"

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realized that the Lord doesn't work that way, so I stole one and asked him to forgive me.

I've often wanted to drown my troubles, but I can't get my wife to go swimming.

I was doing some decorating, so I got out my step-ladder. I don't get on with my real ladder.

I went to a restaurant that serves "breakfast at any time". So I ordered scrambled egg during the Renaissance.

I was bullied at school, called all kinds of different names. But one day I turned to my bullies and said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me," and it worked! From there on it was sticks and stones all the way.

My Dad used to say "always fight fire with fire," which is probably why he got thrown out of the fire brigade.

Sex is like the card game bridge: if you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand.

I saw six men kicking and punching the mother-in-law. My neighbour said, "Are you going to help?" I said, "No, six should be enough."

If we aren't supposed to eat animals, then why are they made out of meat?

I think animal testing is a terrible idea; they get all nervous and give the wrong answers.

You know that look women get when they want sex?...Neither do I.

If a person owns a piece of land do they own it all the way down to the core of the earth?

Why is it called Alcoholics Anonymous when the first thing you do is stand up and say, "My name is Bob, and I am an alcoholic"?

Why is there a light in the fridge and not in the freezer?

Why does mineral water that "has trickled through mountains for centuries" have a "use by" date?

Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp no one would eat?

Is French kissing in France just called kissing?

Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here and drink whatever comes out"?

What do people in China call their good plates?

Why do people point to their wrist when asking for the time, but don't point to their crotch when they ask where the bathroom is?

What do you call male ballerinas?

Why is a person that handles your money called a "broker"?

If quizzes are quizzical, what are tests?

If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, then what is baby oil made from?

Why is it that when someone tells you that there are over a billion stars in the universe, you believe them, but if they tell you there is wet paint somewhere, you have to touch it to make sure?

Do illiterate people get the full effect of Alphabet Soup?

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets angry at you but when you take him on a car ride, he sticks his head out of the window?

Friday, 15 October 2004

Monday, 11 October 2004

Red Lights (aka Feux Rouges) (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

A French thriller about a married couple driving south from Paris to pick up their kids from summer camp. They meet after work. He drinks too much on the sly, suspects she's having an affair, drives recklessly, stops off on the way for more drinks. They row. Then she goes missing. An escaped convict is on the loose. It happens.

Brilliantly made film, deliciously paced. Some splendid shots of driving on the road at night. There's something filmic about being on the road. Think David Lynch or the "Karma Police" Radiohead video. I read somewhere that the director Cédric Kahn was someone to look out for: he most certainly is. Sustained and often humorous performance by Jean-Pierre Darroussin as the drunken husband.

Nugget: A demonstration that the genre movie can still be pulled off with panache.

Sunday, 10 October 2004

Up the ante

A new kind of poker incest, involving chips and at least one willing party.

Saturday, 9 October 2004

Hero (2002) - ickleReview (cinema)

A film based on a myth of the unification of China's warring kingdoms. It features martial arts sword-fighting sequences, but it's not really about that. It has a non-Western narrative style, which is, as always, refreshing to see in cinema. The landscapes are too, too breath-taking. There's an amazing scene of a fight between two women, an assassin and her servant, set in an autumnal wood. When the servant dies, the leaves turn from yellow to red - a very simple, but very moving symbolism.

Nugget: majestic.

Friday, 8 October 2004

Tom Paulin, "The Road to Inver"

Went to Far from the Madding Crowd for Tom's book launch of his new collection of translations, versions and imitations. It wasn't quite the networking opportunity that I thought it might be, which isn't such a bad thing because I don't like that word: networking, not opportunity. Tom seemed a little distracted and melancholy. I do think he savours these occasions when he can see all his friends, though. I guess he doesn't like being the centre of attention. He said something later about disappointing a friend at not being able to go to an event in Middlesborough. I think he has to go to London for Newsnight Review on Friday night.

Saw the Scottmeister, who had already had a good few wines. He was drinking with Seamus Perry, whose article on "Romanticism: The Brief History of a Concept" I read just before Finals. I think he's at Glasgow University now. He seemed to think that All Souls is the kiss of death to a career. He was second in his year, but didn't get in. His Finals paper on Romantic prose was marked by Peter Conrad, he who wrote Shandyism. Apparently a good friend of Matthew's friend has just drunk himself to death, having published two ingenious volumes of history while a Fellow of the college. He was in his fifties.

The Hertford undergraduates left early; but they would have loved to have seen Bernard O'Donoghue sing an Irish ballad had they stayed on. Spoke to Emma and met someone whose name I can't remember but whom I guess is her partner. Her book on Othello, which I proof-read and indexed for her, is away to the printers. She's hoping that it comes out this year to mark the 400th anniversary of the play. She suggested we meet up for coffee sometime next week. She was joking that although Tom is rubbish at some things (teaching?), it's good to have someone of his stature (I would say integrity) at the college.

Disclaimer: This entry is more for personal reasons of remembrance than as an exercise in the gravitational inevitability of nomenclature.

Sunday, 26 September 2004

Anti-smoking riposte

S. J. Perelman: Do you mind if I smoke?
Groucho Marx: I don't care if you burn.

Groucho Marx on "You Bet Your Life"

Groucho: You have 22 children! Why do you have so many children? That's a big responsibility and a big burden.
Woman: Well, because I love children, and I think that's our purpose here on earth, and I love my husband.
Groucho: I love my cigar too, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.

Groucho Marx in "The Cocoanuts"

Mrs Potter: I don't think you'd love me if I were poor.
Groucho: I might, but I'd keep my mouth shut.

Wednesday, 22 September 2004

Chariots of Fire (1981) - ickleReview (DVD)

Set in the 1920s, the first group of students at Caius College, Cambridge matriculate after the war. Among them are some keen athletes, one of whom, Harold H. Abrahams, is a Jew with a chip on his shoulder. His main rival for gold at the Olympic Games in Paris is Eric Liddle, a devout Scottish missionary, whose sister disapproves of his running, and who refuses to run on Sundays. The script is a bit hammy, as these based on a true story films can sometimes be. Another excuse to use lots of British character actors and raid the period dress department.

Nugget: not as good as I remember it.

Tuesday, 21 September 2004

Hare-raising argument

The absurdity of it. The absurdity and the irrelevance. The idea of discussing even...a historical event, an invasion already more than a year old. A country groaning under a dictator, its people oppressed, liberated at last from a twenty-five year tyranny - and freed. Free on the streets, and free one day to vote.

How obscene it is, how decadent, to give your attention not to the now, not to the liberation, not to the people freed, but to the relentless archaic discussion of the manner of the liberation. Was it lawful? Was it not? How was it done? What were the details of its doing? Whose views were overridden? Whose views condoned?

Do I like the people who did it? Are they my kind of people? Hey - are they stupider than me?

How spoiled, how indulged we are to discuss the manner - oh yes, we discuss the manner, late into the night, candles guttering, our faces sweating, reddening with wine and hatred - but the act itself - the thing done - the splendid thing done - freedom given to people who were not free - this thing is ignored, preferring as we do to fight among ourselves - our own disputes, our own resentment of each other elevated way above the needs of the victims. "I trust Blair/I don't." "I like Bush/I don't." "Bush is stupid/Bush is clever." This obsession with ourselves! How Western we are. From what height of luxury and excess we look down to condemn the exact style in which even a little was given to those who had nothing.

Saddam Hussein attacked every one of his neighbours except Jordan. Imagine, if you will, if you are able, a dictator in Europe, murdering his own people, attacking his neighbours, killing half a million people for no other offence but proximity. Do you really then imagine, hand on heart, that the finer feelings of the international community, the exact procedures of the United Nations would need to be tested, would the finer points of sovereignty detain us, before we rose, as a single force, to overthrow the offender? Would we ask, faced with the bodies, faced with the gas, faced with the ditches and the murders, would we really stop to say, "Can we do this?" What is the world, then, for those of us in the West who apply one standard to ourselves, and another to others? What is the word for those who claim to love democracy and yet who will not fight to extend democracy to the Arabs as well?

A people hitherto suffering now suffer less. This is the story. No other story obtains.

(From David Hare's Stuff Happens, currently playing at the National Theatre, London.)


There are WMD in Iraq, and they're being dropped from American planes.

Monday, 20 September 2004

Notes and Queries

Why is it that people always seem to sing in an American accent, even if they're English and it's not an American song? When The Proclaimers sing, it's with a Scottish accent. That's why they sound so parochial. Imagine Robbie Williams's "Angels" in a Scottish accent: "An throo i' aaaw, shi offars mi prroteckshun, a lo' a luv an affeckshun, whutharr um righ' orr wrrong..."

Paul Weller: Studio 150 (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Former member of The Jam plays his new album of covers live at Riverside Studios, including a Noel Gallagher B-side and The Carpenters' "(They Long to Be) Close to You". Not mind-blowing, by any sense. Filmed on DV (and projected from a DVD), the show kept my attention visually, but the telephoto lens means that there's hardly any deep focus. I would have preferred more introductions to the songs and the band, like James Taylor does. The promised "interviews and rare footage" never materialized, which would have made up for the measly 60-minutes playing time. There wasn't even an encore; I guess because he was only playing the new material from the album and that's it.

Nugget: not bad for a freebie, but I wouldn't have paid to see it.

Saturday, 18 September 2004

The Color of Money (1986) - ickleReview (DVD)

The sequel to The Hustler, only nowhere near as good, even though this one's directed by Martin Scorsese. Can't believe Newman won an Oscar for his performance. I guess it was one of those lifetime achievement awards from the Academy looking in retrospect, because I don't rate him in this one. The good thing about this movie is its bathos: it goes with the whole spiel of the protégé (Tom Cruise), giving the old guy a second wind, while keeping him on his toes. Only it shrinks from the big one-on-one showdown, and there's no razzamatazz at the end. Just a rather belittling portrayal of the game of pool and its hustlers, who take themselves, and the green baize, too seriously.

Nugget: not essential viewing.

Friday, 17 September 2004

The Passion of the Christ (2004) - ickleReview (DVD)

Melson Gib is not the most subtle director. At least he didn't cast himself as Jesus, although I'm sure he would have liked to. This smacks of hyperbole and self-importance. It takes itself far too seriously. I much prefer the Monty Python approach to the crucifixion. The pathetic fallacy bit at the end was just a bit too much. I bet Melson Gib couldn't thread a camel through the eye of a needle: he'd be way too ham-fisted. He didn't make Jesus a very sympathetic character; more arrogant and stubborn. What if he was just a looney like those who claim they're him today?

Nugget: pretentious title, pretentious film.

Wednesday, 15 September 2004

Super Size Me (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

McDocumentary: McGinger dude eats nothing but Micky D's for a month, gets fat, McBarfs on camera, explains why, gets healthy again, pressurizes McDo's to sell a McSalad that has just as much fat as a BigMac. Funny ha-ha, funny ew as McFat guy with diabetes has his McStomach stiched up to the size of an apple. Make it bacon!

McNugget: there are better documentaries out there at the moment, so there's no rush to catch it before the DVD, but keep 'em coming! (You won't be eating McNuggets for a while after this...)

Monday, 13 September 2004

The Muse

I've just set up a Yahoo Group for the Muse. It's going to be a chance to have email conversations based on portraits created by the Muse. You may have read my self-portrait; well, that's the sort of thing we will be discussing. We plan to post one portrait per week by email. Anyone is free to join the conversation, or just listen in.

Sunday, 12 September 2004

Collateral (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Welcome to a new feature of the site. I'm going to write a mini review for every film that I watch. Given that I've developed a bug for signing up to free trials of online DVD rental clubs, and then cancelling them at the end of the trial, I'm watching beaucoup de movies at the moment - and all for free!

I went to see a preview of Collateral for free this morning, thanks to my Friends of the Phoenix membership. It's an action thriller, but with brains. The first ten minutes develops the characters so that you actually care what happens to them. There are some amazing helicopter aerial shots of Jamie Foxx's taxi driving through the gridiron of LA, and a great montage of his fares during that shift. Tom Cruise plays a hitman who hires Foxx to ferry him around the city for the five hits he has to make. He pulls it off by not being the slimey little snotrag that he sometimes can be.

The dialogue is thought-provoking, which is more than you could say for an Arnie or Van Damme movie - not that Collateral is playing in their ballpark. Stuff about the anonymity of the city, the plod of life, why we put up with it, what would happen if you got outside your comfort zone. A pleasant surprise over all, and I didn't have to pay!

Nugget: see it in the cinema if you can to experience the dizzying shots of the taxi in the cityscape.

Saturday, 11 September 2004

When should I start to worry?

I find myself whistling along - even boogying - to a Blondie track. Why is that? Well, let me tell you, as I'm the one asking the questions anyway. I got a freebie CD of covers by a jazz trio called The Bad Plus. I won it on Altered Radio, the Oxford student radio station. I bet I was the only one entering the damn competition, but never mind that. There's an interesting cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". I also come to like the funky melody at the end of "Heart of Glass". Later, I find out it's a Blondie track, so I track it down (no funny punny intended, well, I suppose maybe an ickle wickle punny wunny). The boogie rhythm is still there, although not as cool as the way The Bad Plus do it. Should I pay my life's membership fee to the Club of Dad Music already, at the tender-eared age of 21? I'm already a fan of James Taylor, and had tears in my eyes at his Earl's Court gig on 22 July. At least I didn't sing along swaying with my eyes closed.

Tuesday, 7 September 2004


When I came home from work today, a programme called "Just for the Love of It" was on Radio 4 about an amateur piano competition. A blind lady was playing a piece so beautifully, it makes you want to cry, even though you have nothing to be sad about. I want to know what the piece is, so I make a mental note. There's no real information about it on the programme or its website, but I track down the webpage to the competition. Still no luck, but I find out the lady's name (Debra Saylor). Meanwhile, I have just downloaded Napster, to take advantage of a free trial - unrelated. So I find out by Googling that it's Debussy's "Clair de Lune" and download it. Awesome music. I listen to it over and over again, fascinated by its familiarity. I know I've heard it in a film before. I know there's water, it's near the end, there's a parting of some sorrow, perhaps some flashbacks of happier times. I can't for the life of me remember where I've heard it. So I Google again: "Ocean's Eleven" (the remake, not the original), which, by the powers of synchronicity, I had just fetched from my trunk in storage yesterday because I wanted to find an easter egg on it. True enough, it's from the closing sequence where they all meet up by the fountain in Vegas before going their separate ways, never to see each other again after the successful heist. As Hannibal from the A-Team would say, I love it when a plan comes together.

Sunday, 5 September 2004


Buddy Rich not only plays the drums like Animal, he looks like Animal. Posted by Hello

Now see the video evidence.

Thursday, 2 September 2004

Bad taste jokes taste good

Q: How do you circumcise a redneck?
A: Hit his sister in the back of the head.

Q: How do you fit 1000 Jews in a Mercedes?
A: Put them in the ashtray.


Wednesday, 1 September 2004

Hello Picasa

Okay, so I wish I hadn't posted so many pics of me when I set up Hello on this site. It's really nifty and everything, but photos of me, generally speaking, are not. It's a bit weird putting photos of me on my own site. Loser. Well, winner at some things, but not this one. Wooden spoon, anyone?

I could just edit them out, but I've got this karma thing going where it would be bad vibes, man, to take anything away that has already been posted. It'd be like erasing history, fiddling with my archives, which is what Big Brother does (George Orwell's, not Endemol's, dummy), not innocent little me, just having an ickle bit of bloggery experimenting fun.

(If I had put "experimental fun" there, it would seem like I only have fun on a trial basis. Three bits of fun at a time for £14.99 a month, 21 days' free trial, cancel any time.)

So anyway, I'm trying to write more posts so that the pics disappear from the front page. Again, I could just change the settings, but I don't want to have to fork out for another Feng Shui consultation.

(A little Googling to check the spelling and capitalization of "Feng Shui" brought up a hit from The Feng Shui Society, based in Brighton. Could it have been anywhere else? I think not.)

Blythey makes films. He'll make some more if you give him a call and some money. Posted by Hello

Coney Island boardwalk, Brooklyn, New York
© Christopher Whalen 2003 Posted by Hello

Coney Island: photo magic

Okay, so that's the best photo I've ever taken. Period. I've had it as my desktop background ever since I got this laptop last May, and I've never really had the urge to change it. You're welcome to set it as your background too. Just don't claim copyright and sell it on for loadsamoney. I know where you live; or I can find out and send those nice people who deal with horses' heads.

I took it in New York, March 2003. I went to visit my friend, James, who's now in his final year at the New York School of Visual Art. (I'll post his call card so you can hire him. ::Hint hint:: Unless you're Jerry Bruckheimer, you evil munchkin.) This was one of the few days when he was free to do stuff with me. I think it was a Sunday. We took the subway all the way to the wrong end of the line, then all the way back to Coney Island. Duh me. It was horrible, cold and drizzly. But I wanted it that way so that I could take pictures like this. I'd wanted to go to Coney Island ever since I saw Requiem for a Dream, with that amazing dolly shot on the pier. There's something that appeals to me about urban decay, so long as I feel reasonably safe there: a little fear is good, though.

If you're really lucky, I might put up some more another time. Why share all the candy at once, eh?

It wasn't me

Disclaimer. This wasn't my thought originally, but I paid my money to go and listen to it at a stand-up gig in Edinburgh, so I feel justified in sharing it here and taking some credit for its wit. At least I made the subconscious effort to remember it. (Although as I write this, I can't remember.) Oh yes, I think this was it. My mental note got smudged when I was doing the dishes, so I can't quite make it out. You know, one of those things when you have to go back into the room where you had the original thought in order to recover it; only I've been sitting here the whole time.

Why are there so many homeless Scotsmen in the south of England, especially London? I've come across a number of them here in Oxford. How proud they do their country! What fine specimens of humanity! What an urge one gets to shout at them, "Get back tae King's Cross!" Kinda like the urge you get, whenever you meet an Aussie, to yell, "Hey, what are you doing here? Get back behind the bar!"

And another thing. Why are there so many retards working in supermarkets? There's this one guy at Sainsbury's who looks like he still lives with his mum. He could be a cousin of Larkin's. All he ever seems to do is collect the empty baskets from the check-outs and take them back to the pile at the door. I don't think he's capable of any more. Don't you sometimes get the urge to spill some milk from the shelf on purpose, just to see what kind of freak they send out to clean it up? No? Well, I guess St Peter will let you through then.

It must be the way I tell 'em.

Note to Self and Others

Don't go to the Post Office on Bank Holidays. It will be closed. Don't go to the Post Office after 4pm. It will be rammed full of people, some of them spilling beer on people and showing no genuine remorse for it. Luckily, I dawdled packing my package and was two places in the queue behind the incident, otherwise it could have been my T-shirt covered in Stella and my white box stained with booze. The yoof of today...tut! Just as bad as the yoof of yesterday and the yoof of tomorrow. Many of them are woofs too.

Monday, 30 August 2004

John Smith

I wonder if John Smith feels violated when he sees a sample credit card. "How did they take a picture of that when it was in my wallet the whole time?" he might wonder. Or "Hey, I didn't give them permission to share my email address when I registered with!" He must be pretty pissed off, too, when he sees other people drinking his beer, which, apparently, is extra smooth. He went to the trouble of labelling all the cans in his fridge with his name on and everything. Still didn't work.

Talking of names: Dell managed to misspell my surname at least twice on my order confirmation form. How so, when I made the order online and thus all my name and address details should have been stored and reproduced electronically? Maybe it's got something to do with the programmers they must have in that lovely Irish shipment depot. (They probably got their bh's and gh's mixed up in the Gaelic translation. Bless.) They had the usual "Whelan", as well as the more ambitious - and, I like to think, amphibian - "Whalan". (Or was it with a double "l"?) A certain mother of mine, whose identity I will not reveal (huh?), likes to say: "It's like the big fish with an "n". Me being me, like to be more pernickety and stick to the laws of first year science: not a "big fish", rather a "big seafaring mammal". I would pick nits, but I don't think whales have them because they (the nits) can't swim, or at least, don't like to get their feet wet and have to suffer the ignominy of getting sand stuck between their toes.

The Information Superhighway

I remember in those days when tinternet was still quite exclusive, and seemed a bit of a futuristic pipe dream. On this computer games show on CITV (what was it called, by the way?), the American presenter was really enthusiastic about the potential capabilities of what he kept calling the Information Superhighway. He said that one day it would be possible to order pizza and a video online. Well, I guess those days are here. But why isn't anyone calling it the Information Superhighway anymore? It sounds so much cooler. "The internet" or "the web" sound samey and kinda geeky after a while, especially when the over-thirties start saying it. "The Information Superhighway", however, has obviously been to a rebranding consultant. It sounds so much more exciting! It does get a bit mixed metaphorically when one starts to talk about "surfing the Information Superhighway" (I think the phrase deserves caps): surfer dudes across the world will be slapping their palms over their ears as I write to shut out the sound of board scraping ol' Mr Tar (short for Tarquin: he lives in Morningside, dontchaknow?) McAdam. Those fins will be a-breaking off. And I haven't even mentioned Helsinki yet. What? When things in this webby world of us are so quick and rushed, why not slow down and say a longer word for tinternet? And why say "the internet" when you can make it seem quainter with the addition of a non-apostrophized - Lynne Truss would be proud of me - Yorkshire "t" for "the"? The campaign starts here. And remember, you read it here first. Remember too, that you're probably not reading this.

Morning pages

I'm not sure whether I should start writing my morning pages on here. Go look up Julia Cameron if you don't know what I'm talking about. I've got a few problems with doing them here: 1) They're not supposed to be read by anyone, not even me. 2) How do I know when I've written three pages, when this baby is all one big long, stretchy page. 3) If I write them on the Information Superhighway (more on that later), then I miss out on using my lovely fountain pen. (My screen would get a bit messy if I tried to write with that here.) Any ideas? Would all you people that are not reading this anyway, want to read my morning pages? It would just be whatever comes to my head at the time, probably quite personal and kind of an inside job.

But the good news if I actually wrote them here would be that I would actually be using this blog, which the lovely people at Blogger keep sprucing up, and all for free, thanks to Google.

The thing that reads this page the most is either me when I check to see how measly my wee counter is doing, or Google web crawler. By the way, you'd think he'd have learnt to walk by now.


What has he done for you, lately?

What Woody Allen has to say

The wicked at heart probably know something.

Wednesday, 28 July 2004

Nice fireplace surround Posted by Hello

Pete and his new Harry Potter girlfriend. As per, I have forgotten her name. Pete, would you be smiling so much if you found out she was Matthew Creasy's sister? Posted by Hello

We weren't smiling quite so much after Pizza Express ripped us off. Posted by Hello

Feeling the pressure. Oh, that's right - we don't have to stress about hexams any more! Posted by Hello

You can't see Pete's Norwegian flag, but he was wearing one, because his mate thought it would be funny. He, and indeed, he. Posted by Hello

Ed, Emily and Sarah at The Turf: what a great afternoon that was! Posted by Hello

Fi after Finals Posted by Hello

Ed in OB Quad after Finals Posted by Hello

Ed and Alban at The Turf, the afternoon after our last English Finals exam Posted by Hello

A long shot of Louis and his family at Fota wildlife park, Co. Cork - a surprisingly good day out! Posted by Hello

Laura and Tiny, the weird dog Posted by Hello