Monday 31 January 2005

Sideways (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Pathetic* comedy with a moving performance by Paul Giamatti in the central role as Miles, an unpublished middle-aged divorced writer, working as an eighth-grade English teacher. He takes his buddy, Jack (Thomas Haden Church), on a roadtrip to the vineyard region of California to taste some fine wines, play some golf and fool around a little before Jack gets married to his Armenian girlfriend. Jack is out for a final fling and intends to get Miles's "bone smooched" to lighten him up. Miles is a wine connoisseur: he detects in a sniff, "Citrus, passion fruit, just the faintest soup├žon of asparagus, and, like, a nutty Edam cheese"; Jack, on the other hand, gulps it down with chewing gum in his mouth, saying, "It tastes alright to me." They meet Maya and Stephanie and go out for a series of double dates, some of which look suspiciously like a wine advert with young people having fun in the setting sun (only these guys are middle-aged divorcees). There's also a bit of the morning afters when Maya looks like she could be in a Nescafe advert, opening her front door to bright, hazy sunshine, hands cupped around a mug of the black stuff. You can almost smell that aroma...

Nugget: a bit of an uneven film, but very touching in parts, especially Maya's speech about what she likes about wine. It's very funny, but I wasn't always laughing when I was supposed to, perhaps because much of the rest of the film is so poignant. Something a little different, with perhaps a dash of rosemary.

* Pathetic in the sense of "full of pathos", rather than "pathetic" in the sense of shite.

Sunday 30 January 2005

Zelig (1983) - ickleReview (DVD)

Spoof documentary in the style of an extended newsreel about Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen), the man-lizard who can change his appearance to blend in with whoever is in his company, from Native American Indians to Chicago gangsters, to negro jazz musicians and French rabbis. Crafted out of archive footage from the Jazz Age of the 1920s, Allen pieces together a zany story with impressive special effects, long before the vaunted "I have to pee" scene from Forrest Gump. Mia Farrow plays Dr Eudora Fletcher, a psychiatrist at the Manhattan Hospital, who diagnoses Zelig as a human chameleon. The jokes are cut from the same vein as Allen's prose pieces for the New Yorker during the 70s. Zelig claims, for example, that he worked with Freud in Vienna: "We broke over the concept of penis envy. Freud felt that it should be limited to women."

Nugget: same old, same old, but in a new skin. He'll never shed it, nor should he.

Saturday 29 January 2005

How's my driving?

You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen. It said, "Parking Fine." So that was nice.

Are you kidding me?

Did you hear that Ellen MacArthur has been over-taken on her round the world record attempt? Yeah, it was by a Sri Lankan on a deck-chair.

Apparently, there's a world shortage of Fairy liquid at the moment. Most of Asia's washing up on the beach.

Sunday 23 January 2005

Saw (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Two guys wake up in a strange sewer toilet room and can't remember how they got there. They're chained up and there's a dead-looking guy in between them. It's all a bit disturbing and could have led to a great, tension-filled film, like a stage show, or like Richard Linklater's Tape, where all the action takes place in the same room. Director James Wan ventures out, however, to explain who they are and how they got there in flashbacks and to wedge in some rather crude fright moments. There is a really clever scene where Adam (Leigh Whannell) wanders around his apartment where the lights don't work: the only way he can see what's there is by using the flash on his camera. This could have been a tremulous psychological scare, but piddles about too much and gets a bit silly at times. It seems like the actors - particularly Cary Elwes, who plays Dr Lawrence, the other guy in the room - are enjoying themselves too much, over-acting and thus being melodramatically unconvincing.

Nugget: a rather unsatisfying and not-so-scary movie. The premise was good, but Leigh Whannell's screenplay crashed and burned a little.

Roger Dodger (2002) - ickleReview (DVD)

Roger (Campbell Scott) is a womanizer who thinks that it's not long until men will become obsolete. He sleeps with his boss (Isabella Rossellini), or anyone else - he claims - that he can schmooze, boasting to his sixteen-year-old nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), as he shows him the ropes of the sex game. Roger somewhat forces Nick to come of age on a wild night out in New York in which he takes him to bars and introduces him to women (Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley). It seems that Nick isn't as naive as Roger first makes him out to be. Maybe it's Roger who doesn't know how to treat women (he's certainly very blunt and confrontational, doing his spiel where he guesses a strange woman's life story, just from the way she looks and the people she's with in the bar).

Nugget: snappy dialogue and great visuals, really capturing the confusing feel and metonymic snatches of things that you see on a night out.

Tuesday 18 January 2005

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - ickleReview (DVD)

Charlie Kaufman movie starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, a couple who had a wonderful relationship which went sour, so they get each other erased from their memories by Lacuna Inc., a memory correction clinic. But of course things go wrong. Director Michel Gondry creates some mind boggling visuals to acompany Kaufman's screenplay, drawing on techniques he developed in his music videos for - amongst others - The Chemical Brothers, and a commercial for Smirnoff: the sort of multi-plane, optical printer effect of a kaleidoscope. By far Carrey's career-best performance, surpassing even The Truman Show. There may be a couple of gratuitous funnyface scenes, but they are, on the whole, justified by the gait of the film. Winslet manages to be both likeably cute and neck-breakingly irritating, sometimes within the same scene. There are strong supporting roles played by Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood and Tom Wilkinson.

This ranks amongst my top films of the year and offered up more riches on a second viewing, like jiggling the pennies out of a piggy bank. Yet it still sounds as if there are more tinkling inside. Kaufman and Gondry ragbag between them some profound insights on memories - good and bad - and the uncanny metaworld of the deja-vu.

Nugget: Joel (Carrey, before undergoing the procedure): "Is there any risk of brain damage?"
Howard (Wilkinson,* the Doctor): "Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you'll miss."

* Any thoughts you may have of former Leeds United and England caretaker managers is purely coincidental: a side-effect of Lacuna's techniques. Presumably they went on to manufacture "the flashy thing" for those MiB.

Sunday 16 January 2005

Bend It Like Beckham (2002) - ickleReview (DVD)

Jess (Parminda Nagra) is a British Indian Sikh girl who is good at football and talks to the David Beckham posters above her bed. One day, a white girl called Jules (Keira Knightley) sees her playing with the boys in the park and invites her to try out for her girls' team, Hounslow Harriers, coached by a young Irishman (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who can't play himself because of a serious knee injury. The rather predictable feel-good plot probes almost every diversity issue you could think of: from inter-racial marriage, to homosexuality; to cultural hybridism and women's liberation. It's all good fun, and Nagra and Knightley provide some wonderful eye candy.

The football action sequences are a little actorish and the plot arc more than a little familiar. I don't know if these films help to dispell stereotypes or merely reinforce them. Probably just a harmless evening's entertainment.

Nugget: I've seen this movie so many times before, even though it was the first time I've seen it, if you see what I mean.

Saturday 15 January 2005

I Heart Huckabees (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) keeps bumping into a tall African man. He thinks there's something to these coincidental meetings. So when he finds the business card of an existential detective agency in the pocket of a borrowed jacket, he goes to get it checked out. Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin play the wacky detectives, Bernard and Vivian, who follow him around, watching him have breakfast, cycling behind him, and placing surveillance bugs in his workplace, the offices of a coalition of greenfingers, campaigning to preserve open spaces from greedy capitalists like the Huckabees Corporation, headed by the slimy Brad Strand (Jude Law) and given a pretty face by his girlfriend (Naomi Watts).

Things get a little too weird, making plot description a worthless exercise. I went into this film not knowing much about it, apart from that it was recommended. I had seen the trailers, and thought it looked a bit oddball, a bit like Garden State. It didn't quite turn out like that: it isn't really a fair comparison. Nevertheless, it supplies just as many laughs, particularly from the superb performance by Mark Wahlberg (Dirk Diggler from Boogie Nights), who plays Albert's "other", Tommy Corn, a post-9/11 fireman who denies he's a "hero".

Writer/Director David O. Russell's screenplay has the same off-the-wall quality as Charlie Kaufman's works. Somehow, as it teeters on a tightrope above incomprehensibility, it finds a moment of absolute clarity, when you think you know exactly what it's getting at. On the page, I imagine it would just make the mind boggle; on the screen, it is motion picture magic.

Nugget: features Isla Fisher (Shannon from Aussie soap opera Home and Away) as the new face of Huckabees, once Naomi Watts starts to dress down on purpose.

Wednesday 12 January 2005

You know what they say about men with big feet...

..."I'm sorry, we don't go up to a size 12."

Tried going shoe shopping yesterday. Went to a few shops in town (about three), looking for a pair of gutties, skate shoes or something retro, something I could wear everyday with everything. Packed it in quite swiftly because I figured nowhere else would have anything that I liked in my size. They seem to think that mingin' black and red Vans suit everyone my size. We're not all metal skaterboys who only wear black jeans and Morbid Angel tees.*

My current Cons have been given that daily treatment and are looking a bit out of puff after 15 months on the go. There's a hole about two and a half inches long, which gives my right pinky toe plenty of breathing space. There have also been worn away bits of cloth at my heals for much longer than that.

I did get summat in the end, but had to use our old geekfriend, t'internet. In the unlikely event that you want to be like me, you can copy my "style" below.

* Thanks to my brother for providing the stereotype and my sister, Laura, for the illustration.

New shin Mohammed

Duffs Earl Posted by Hello

Man in Black

My big brother Gregory Posted by Hello

Tuesday 11 January 2005

Pot Noodle™ payoff

Yeth! I got my reply from Pot Noodle after the letter I sent them.

Pot Noodle Consumer Care
Freepost NATE139
Milton Keynes

17 December 2004

Dear Mr Whalen

I was delighted to learn how pleased you are with an 89g pack of Chicken & Mushroom flavour Pot Noodle.

We spend a great deal of time and effort in trying to create products that deliver great results and that our consumers will enjoy using, so it is always nice to receive such positive feedback.

I will make sure your comments are passed on to the Marketing Manager concerned and I am sure they will be delighted to get your feedback.

We value your feedback and hope you will accept the enclosed as a gesture of goodwill.

Yours sincerely
Hannah Lowrie
Consumer Care Advisor

1 x Unilever Foods Coupon £3

A Mighty Wind (2003) - ickleReview (DVD)

Another Christopher Guest mockumentary, this time about folk music. The spiel is that a bigtime folk record producer, Irving Steinbloom, has died, so his family organize a reunion concert at New York Town Hall to be screened live on PBN. All the old folk acts get back together after years apart, including Mitch & Mickey, The Folksmen and The New Main Street Singers. There are, of course, some bizarre characters, such as Fred Willard's Mike LaFontaine and his cheesy failed TV catchphrase, "Wha' happened?"; Eugene Levy's psychiatric folk genius, Mitch Cohen; and Terry and Laurie Bohner, a couple into their own religion, WINC: Witches In Nature's Colors.

Not as funny as Guest's earlier films, Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman; but it features some great original folk songs, written and performed by the cast. Some of the lines work better on paper. Perhaps a second viewing would do it.

Nugget: Lars Olfen, a Swedish TV producer for PBN, in the meeting with Jonathan Steinbloom, the coordinator of the gig, An Ode to Irving: "The naches that I'm feeling right now... 'cause your dad was like mishpoche to me. When I heard I got these ticket to the Folksmen, I let out a geshreeyeh, and I'm running with my friend...running around like a vilde chaye, right into the theater, in the front row! So we've got the schpilkes, 'cause we're sittin' right there...and it's a mizvah, what your dad did, and I want to try to give that back to you. Okeinhoreh, I say, and God bless him."

City Slickers (1991) - ickleReview (DVD)

Slightly disappointing goofball mush comedy starring Billy Crystal as a 39-year-old mid-life crisee who goes on a cattle trail adventure holiday with his buddies, played by Bruno Kirby (When Harry Met Sally...) and Daniel Stern (Home Alone). Also featuring Supergirl, Helen Slater.

Crystal's plays Mitch Robbins, depressed at his looming mortality, unispiring job selling "air" (air time) for radio commercials, and his stagnant marriage. Cue multiple Red Man Club and coming-of-age moments. There are a few saving graces, such as lines like, "Women need a reason for having sex, men just need a place." But overall, Director Ron Underwood allows far too much schmaltz to stick the rather episodic plot together. Don't expect fireworks; just mild entertainment and a few giggles.

Nugget: look out for a very young Jake Gyllenhaal (he being Donnie Darko) playing Billy Crystal's son.

Sunday 9 January 2005

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - ickleReview (DVD)

Stanley Kubrick's masterwork. Simply some of the best cinema ever made. Filmed on 70mm (twice the normal size) the visuals are breathtaking. I still believe these are some of the best special effects I've ever seen - and this was made in 1968! Some viewers won't have the patience for Kubrick's slow developing, subtle plot, long takes and ambiguous symbolism; but I believe Kubrick is a cinematic equivalent of James Joyce: sometimes the best art is that which humbles you and confounds your complete understanding.

The film's symphonic movements trace life in time and space from the Dawn of Man to Beyond the Infinite. An obscure, black monolith and the most famous cut in cinema history connect the apeman's discovery of the weapon and future man's high technology. The bone was the first weapon, the first technology, and enabled the apes to stand on two feet, defend territory and kill animals for meat. By the time of the Jupiter Mission, the spaceship's onboard computer, HAL, has become so intelligent and self-dependent that he makes the autonomous decision to take over the mission, betraying how much our lives are in the hands of our own technological creations.

Kubrick really forces the viewer to think and feel his images. This remains one of the most physical experiences of cinema I've ever had. When Bowman (Keir Dullea) ventures out to investigate a reported fault with the transmitter, his breathing on the soundtrack coerces you to breathe in time with him, like the feeling you get when you lie next to someone who's already asleep. The images are so vast and, at times, so slow-moving that your eye is compelled to explore the whole canvas of the screen. And the famous musical soundtrack featuring "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and the "Blue Danube" waltz by the Strausses are marvellously incorporated, if a little strange, given all the postmodern treatment they have been given in countless spoofs and re-employments.

Nugget: I wish I'd seen this in the cinema when it was re-released in 2001. It would be awesome* on IMAX!

* Note how I only use the word "awesome" when I mean it as "powerful in a scary way; almost god-like".

Bowling for Columbine (2002) - ickleReview (DVD)

Michael Moore's most assured documentary, about gun control (or the lack of) in America, in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings of 20 April 1999. He investigates why it is that the gun-related homicide rate is so high in the States compared to the rest of the world, discovering that it is perhaps caused by the culture of fear that is perpetuated by the government and the mass media. (See Donnie Darko for a parallel theme of Love versus Fear.)

Moore's film, three years in the making, and which won him an Oscar, demonstrates that activism can bring results. When he visits Wal-Mart headquarters with two of the victims of the Columbine shootings to show them the bullet wounds caused by merchandise bought at Wal-Mart stores, the PR department gets back to them the next day and announces that they will be withdrawing all lines of firearms ammunition withing 90 days. Moore goes on to visit Charlton Heston, the figurehead of the pro-gun National Rifle Association, at his home in Beverly Hills to confront him on why his organisation held rallies just days after the shootings in Littleton, Colorado and Flint, Michigan (Moore's home town, where a six-year-old kid was shot dead by a classmate in Buell Elementary School). The resulting interview will leave you flabbergasted.

Nugget: Moore at his very best: finding humour in such a troubling subject. Canada and its people come out of this very well: even the juvenile deliquents who skip school in order to hang out at their local Taco Bell are charming.

Roger & Me (1989) - ickleReview (DVD)

Michael Moore's first feature film documenary, in which he investigates the effect that the closures of the GM Motor Company car manufacturing plants have on his home town of Flint, Michigan. The title comes from his attempts to arrange a meeting with the Chairman of GM Motors, Roger Smith, who repeated dodges Moore and his questions throughout the movie. It's striking to see prosperity and poverty in such close proximity in parts of America: while the residents of plush suburbs such as Grosse Pointe are having their annual Great Gatsby party, across town poor black families are being evicted by Fred Ross, the local Sheriff's Deputy. Moore finds some moving stories, such as the rather sorry attempt to turn Flint into a tourist hub: within six months, the luxury Hyatt Regency Hotel has gone bust, the new mall is full of empty lots, and Autoworld is closing from lack of visitors. There's also a colour consultant who calls up Moore after their initial shoot and apologizes for having been mistaken about her own colour season.

Moore has a brilliant editing technique in which he juxtaposes images of run down and abandoned neighbourhoods with upbeat comments by the wealthy, making them seem heartless and hypocritical. He really brings out the ruthlessness of industrial capitalism; but it's the nature of corporations not to hold anyone responsible for their actions. Moore tries to portray Roger Smith as a baddie, but it isn't really his fault. His main responsibilities are to the profit-hungry shareholders, who are actually just you and me, or anyone with pensions and mortgages.

Nugget: worthwhile watching, despite its datedness, just to remind you that things haven't changed all that much in fifteen years; and to see how Moore's directing career started out.

Friday 7 January 2005

Bugsy Malone (1976) - ickleReview (DVD)

Kids' gangster musical by Writer/Director Alan Parker (The Commitments) featuring the young Jodie Foster as Tallulah and Dexter Fletcher (Gamesmaster, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Band of Brothers) as the tiny Baby Face. Child actors play adults. Fat Sam (John Cassisi), the mob boss who owns the speakeasy at which Tallulah sings is falling behind the times. His rival gang, headed by Dandy Dan (Martin Lev), have imported splurge guns, which are much faster at shooting than the hand-thrown custard pies that Fat Sam's lot work with. Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio), a real ladies' man, who gets by doing "this and that", is hired by Fat Sam to get some of the merchandise for the goodies.

There are some great songs, such as "Tomorrow", "So You Wanna Be a Boxer?" and "Bad Guys". Parker marshalls his cast brilliantly. Apparently, they all woalked around on set listening to the songs on headphones whenever they weren't shooting so that they became comfortable miming along to them.

This was one of my favourite films as a wain - and is still one now that I'm a slighly bigger wain. The jokes and references to the gangster flicks of the 30s are aimed more at adults (Foster has some great one-lines); but the pedal cars and splurge fights keep the kids bopping along.

Nugget: "Everybody loves that man, Bugsy Malone."

Donnie Darko (2001) - ickleReview (DVD)

Most plot descriptions of this film push you in the wrong direction and can go suck a fuck. They always sound too weird and wacky. This is an 80s retro high school movie, mixed up with a whole bunch of social commentary, philosophy, atmospheric terror and a lot of laughs. Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal play a brother and sister in a regular middle-class American, Bush Snr. voting, suburban 2.4 nuclear family. He (Donnie) sleepwalks, takes pills and sees a $200 per hour shrink (Katharine Ross, the beauty from The Graduate) to talk about his imaginary friends and dreams. It's a month away from Hallowe'en, but already freaky things are happening.

Patrick Swayze atones somewhat for his 80s fuckass movies with a perfect character acting role as Jim Cunningham, a self-help neo-evangelist, preaching his own gospel of Love not Fear. Drew Barrymore is Donnie's English teacher, who tells a new female student to sit next to whoever she thinks is the cutest boy in the class. The private school PTA palpably hums with Republican values.

Writer/director Richard Kelly creates some startling cinematic beauty, right from the opening shots when Donnie wakes up in the middle of the road, on top of a hill somewhere in Virginia (or near Washington D.C. anyway - they watch a Redskins game on the TV). He plays with timelapse and computer animation, and relies on a subtle soundtrack to set the tone.

Nugget: the Director's Cut has recently been released. I haven't seen it; but I don't think you should try to retouch a movie that is so sweetly balanced. It's a thing of beauty.

Memento (2000) - ickleReview (DVD)

One hell of a headfuck. Leonard (Guy Pearce) has no short-term memory. He has to write himself little notes and gets tattoos to remind himself what his car is, where he's staying and who these people are. He thinks the last thing he remembers is his wife being raped and killed; and the men who did it hit him over the back of the head and caused this memory loss. He is out to avenge John G., the man his notes tell him is responsible for "the incident". But his best buddy, Teddy - full name John Edward Gammell (Joe Pantoliano) - is a John G. Neither Leonard, nor the audience, knows who to trust.

Especially as things are backward. The whole movie plays in reverse, with intercut scenes in black and white in which Leonard explains his condition and all about Sammy Jankis, remember Sammy Jankis. Five minutes or so of film goes forward, then it cuts back to five minutes before that. It starts to seem to make sense when you figure out how the scenes overlap. You know what happens, but you only learn the characters' back stories in small increments. You're as ignorant and malleable as the memory deficient protagonist.

A special hidden feature on the DVD replays the whole film in chronological order, yet it still doesn't quite make sense. There are gaps in the plot too. No wonder it messes up your head! Writer/Director Christopher Nolan did wonders with the premise of his brother's short story, which is also on the DVD. Only really the concept of short-term memory loss is carried over. Dody Dorn's film editing is testament to Eisenstein's age old theory that film meaning is all about montage.

Nugget: well worth multiple viewings (in both directions), but it will never have the same impact as the first time round.

Thursday 6 January 2005

Band of Brothers (2001) - ickleReview (DVD)

TV mini-series made by HBO with the backing of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. I discovered this three days ago and have only just resurfaced. It follows the men of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army during World War II: from paratrooper training, through D-Day, the liberation of Holland, The Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne, to the end of the war at Berchtesgaden. There are ten episodes, roughly an hour long, each with different writers and directors, but all based on true events and the books of Stephen K. Ambrose.

Each episode offers a different perspective on the soldiers' lives: from a lieutenant on D-Day, to the ostracized replacements, to the medic struggling for supplies and the intelligence officer who finds outs in Germany that his wife is divorcing him and is even taking the dog.

The excellent bonus material includes an extended documentary featuring interviews with many of the veterans. No matter what you think about war in theory, you cannot help but admire these remarkable men and what they went through. The attention to detail in the making of this is astounding. There is much more space and time in a TV mini-series to develop the characters and their sense of solidarity than there ever could be in a feature film. The only thing that lets it down - despite the trumpeting - is the heavy use of special effects, which, particularly in the D-Day episode, look fake. Besides that, the visuals are great: hand-held cameras in the trenches, grainy footage, bleached colours - all creating a sense of hyper-reality.

Nugget: up there with the very best of war movies: Paths of Glory, Platoon, and We Were Soldiers.

Monday 3 January 2005

Monster (2003) - ickleReview (DVD)

Film about the serial killer Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron, who won the Oscar for Best Actress). Aileen is a hooker and has been since she was 13. She is on the brink of committing suicide when she meets Selby (Christina Ricci) in a gay bar. Their love is Aileen's last chance at redemption. But one night, when she is trying to hook a little money before a date with Selby, she is raped by one of her customers and kills him in self-defence. When she can't get a real job going straight, things spiral out of control. The killings take on punishment status, repaying all the men who have mistreated her and all womankind.

Theron gives a career best performance and Ricci provides strong support. Both of them are likeable: the film goes some way to explaining how and why all these murders occurred - if not fully excusing them. The "monster" of the title refers to how Aileen has been damaged so that she chokes on the things that should be easy and enjoyable (loving, or riding a ferris wheel) and barely hesitates to commit acts of evil. Aileen is a human monster, however: her actions are not entirely her fault: they are a result of how she has been mistreated and the misfortunes she has suffered.

Both Selby and Aileen are lost souls: banished by their families and unrealistic in their aspirations, drunk on the liquor of love.

Nugget: we need more films by women such as writer/director Patty Jenkins.