Sunday 27 February 2005

Kinsey (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Biopic about the American sexologist, Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) who upset the Puritans of his country by publishing a radical survey about sexual behaviour in the middle of the last century. The film is more interesting in what it reveals about people's attitudes to sex than about the life of Kinsey. It fails to break out of the familiar Hollywood arc of biographical movies, even though it makes a self-referential joke about who the hell would care to make a movie about this guy. There's one hilarious pun about a guy fucking a pony, but apart from that, this is nothing special. I would recommend it for the factual content, but as the rest of the film is so sketchy, I'm not sure it's a reliable source of information.

Nugget: there was a little girl sitting in front of us in the cinema with her dad before the film started, only to be rescued by the Phoenix staff, who made a timely announcement that Finding Neverland was being shown in the other theatre. That would have made for an interesting Q&A session had they stayed to watch this. She can't have been more than 7 years old!

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Bill Groundhog Day Ghostbustin'-ass Murray stars in this Weird with a capital WIE flicker about a phony marine wildlife documentary film-maker. Wes Anderson reassembles the team who made The Royal Tennenbaums and Rushmore with him, but peels off the wall considerably more than that bit of wallpaper what used to hang down high up near the skylight above the stairs of my old Victorian house in Bellevue Crescent. What they come up with is refreshing in the way that being sprayed with salt water standing at the stern of a boat doing 30 knots through rough seas would be refreshing; but also a bit annoying and slightly uncomfortable. It's funny - but mainly in the whaddafu' crinkled brow sort of way. I like the wee CGI animals that keep moseying around, getting flicked off Steve Zissou's wrist as he sits down to talk to someone.

Nugget: can you make a good film by making a film about someone who makes bad films? Oh yeah, and does Wes Anderson have a deal with Adidas? First Ben Stiller's tracky madness in Tennenbaums, now Zissou's custom mades. What's that all about?

Thursday 24 February 2005

The Merchant of Venice (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Al Pacino gristles as Shylock the Jew, a part one might say he was born for, his viscous voice was threaded with gold to enunciate. Director Michael Radford's adaptation is standard as far as interpretations go: shot on location in Venice, in period costume (without Joel Schumacher's Dickensian heavy hand) and with safe casting. It is a little strange seeing Joseph Fiennes again in a Shakespearean role after playing Shakespeare himself in Shakespeare in Love. There are some pleasing details, such as the scene at the butcher's stall in the market as Bassanio begs Shylock for a bond as he buys his pound of meat (if perhaps a little too underlined); or the suggestion of a homoerotic tinge to Antonio's relationship with Bassanio when they kiss on the lips after agreeing to the loan so that Bassanio may go to Belmont to win Portia in marriage. Radford's screenplay teeters admirably between comedy and melodrama, particularly in the trial scene, whose horror and then pathos Shakespeare juxtaposes crudely against the comedy of yet another set of his women dressed as men.

Nugget: I could listen to Al Pacino speak all day. He could make even the traffic reports or the hour-long announcement of award-winners at a school prize-giving sound entralling.

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003) - ickleReview (TV)

Documentary about Aileen Wuornos, the woman convicted of murdering seven men in Florida. Director Nick Broomfield conducts a number of interviews with Wuornos, showing her in alarming states of distress, confusion, paranoia, calm, rage and, at times, bordering on madness. The interviews are the most compelling parts of the film, Wuornos's eyes as deep as a shark's. It's hard to tell when she's being honest. At first she claims the murders were in self-defence; then she confesses that they were in cold blood; then again, when she thinks Broomfield's camera is off, that they were in self-defence. This woman has been betrayed by almost everyone whom she was close to, including these film-makers. In some ways, this is a pro-death penalty film, only in as much as it seems like a relief finally to be executed. That was why she tried to come clean: to accelerate her inevitable death at the discretion of Florida State Governor, Jeb Bush. There is a particularly moving interview with her biological mother, three days before Wuornos's execution, in which the mother claims not to have been aware that her daughter used to sleep outside in the snow and the woods as a young girl, shortly after she gave birth to a child at 13, which was given up for adoption.

Nugget: a compelling companion film to Monster, the Hollywood movie made out of her story, in which Charlize Theron played the part of Aileen Wuornos, and Christina Ricci was her partner, Tyria Moore ("Selby" in the film), who colluded with the Florida police to sell the movie rights.

Tuesday 22 February 2005


"Intelligence is not being at the mercy of your own notions."

Christopher Ricks said something of the sort, developing a quotation from someone else (who, I can't remember), so it may not be right to attribute it to him. It was in his second lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry yesterday.

Sunday 20 February 2005

Gmail invites

I have 50 Gmail invites. If you'd like one, just email me and I'll send you one. Look under "Links of Joy" for my address.

Tuesday 15 February 2005

The truth about cats and dogs

"Marriage is the price men are prepared to pay for sexual intercourse; sexual intercourse is the price women are prepared to pay for marriage."

(Christopher Ricks quoted this in his Oliver Smithies lecture on Henry James, which he gave in Oxford today. I think the quotation is from a woman called Brophy, whom Ricks read when he was about 20.)

Monday 14 February 2005


No Need to Click Here - I'm just claiming my feed at Feedster

Nerdy Shirts

Ever wanted to look like a geek? There's a bunch of guys at the University of Southern California who're willing to help you out with some ironic retro tees. The real geeks don't have to try this hard. They probably don't even care what they put on in the morning. Quite a cool looking site, though.

Closer (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Adaptation of Patrick Marber's play, which, in its initial run, cast Clive Owen in the role played by Jude Law in the movie. There are only four speaking parts: these two men, Larry (a dermatologist: Owen) and Daniel (a failed novelist and obituary writer: Law); and two women, Alice/Jane (a stripper: Natalie Portman) and Anna (a photographer: Julia Roberts). One of the first things I heard about this film was that it featured "lots of fucked up fucking". In one sense, this is true; but you don't get to see any of it. The film essentially revolves around these four people, but all you get to see are their times of crisis when they're breaking up and hurting one another. The title Closer is ironic in the sense that the only times these people are close to one another are when you don't see them. Marber revealed in his Oxford lecture as Professor of Contemporary Drama that the title was in fact a last-minute afterthought, stolen from the eponymous Joy Division album. As it's based on a play, the film feels different from your usual Hollywood affair; but this is a good thing. Its long scenes of dialogue are gripping because, as in a David Mamet screenplay or play, this is where the drama happens. There is no plot; only the aftermath.

Nugget: don't expect any easy ride or to be filled with notions of romantic love. Maybe I haven't quite lived, but I can never imagine being this witty and cutting in a breakup. Maybe these scenes are a series of What I Wish I Had Said's. As Director Mike Nichols is on his fourth marriage, one can imagine why he may have wanted to make this film.

Sunday 13 February 2005

lowercase titles

I noticed that The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner has lowercase titles at the beginning of the film. I thought this aesthetically pleasing phenomenon had sprouted from the text message revolution. It seems it has been around for a while. That's the earliest example (1962) that I've noticed so far. I'll see if I can predate that. Any bids?

What's New, Pussycat (1965) - ickleReview (video)

Gosh darn awful movie, written by Woody Allen, but directed by the directionless Clive Donner, with music by Burt Bacharach. Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole play two incredibly annoying characters: the former a Freudian psychiatrist; the latter a real ladies' man. It's farcical in an undercranked, Keystone manner; and farcical in a don't-ever-watch-this manner. I'm a big fan of Woody Allen, but I guess when he's not directing, you don't get the best out of his material. There's - as ever - some good writing underneath this, but it's lost in the shoddy swinging sixties shite that Donner pukes up. And where's the question mark in the title?

Nugget: I had to pause this movie so that I could fall asleep for a while. Yes, it was that intruiging.

Friday 11 February 2005

Let's have a Bonding session

Looks like the new James Bond movie will be a remake of Casino Royale, with Martin Campbell, who directed Goldeneye, in the chair. Looky here for more details. I guess it makes sense, with the remake obsession that is sweeping through Hollywood like a good bout of rabies. I don't think Quentin Tarantino would have been the man for the job, but it would have been interesting all the same. I know I would have gone to see a QT Bond at the piccies.

Technorati Searchlet

While prostituting my blog in an attempt to get more hits, I decided to include the Technorati Searchlet in my sidebar in the "Somebody hit me" section. It's really good: much better than the Google/Blogger NavBar at the top of the page, which doesn't seem to produce any results when you try to search this site. Try typing in "ickleReviews", for example, and it comes up with all the film reviews I've done so far. Now it'll be much easier to search through my archives. Bonus.

Thursday 10 February 2005

It's grim up north London

Ikea have pioneered a new shop till you drop policy, in which customers fight each other with their wallets on a string (a bit like conkers). The person whose wallet drops to the floor must bend over to pick it up while the rest of the crowd stampedes over the top of them. Anyone with a knife is allowed to stab the customer when they're down, but only if it was purchased from Ikea and you have a receipt to prove it.

Mark Haddon

I went to hear Mark Haddon give the Richard Hillary Memorial Lecture in the Oxford University English Faculty today. One of the best things he said was:

"30 seconds of imagination is more powerful than a million facts."

Wednesday 9 February 2005

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) - ickleReview (DVD)

Free cinema, black and white British-made film about Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay), the son of a Nottingham labourer who gets caught robbing a bakery and is sent to a borstal. Its portrayal of what is now called a young offenders' institution is much more positive than, for example, Alan Clarke's Scum (1979). Based on the eponymous short story by Alan Sillitoe, Director Tony Richardson's film combines documentary realism with lyrical exterier shots of Colin on the run. The governor of the borstal (Michael Redgrave) encourages Colin to train for the cross-country race that is to take place between Ruxton Towers borstal and Ranley public school. We are shown in intercut flashbacks Colin's home life, leading up to his arrest: his father's death, his mother's fancyman, Colin's friend Mike (James Bolam, later one of "The Likely Lads") and their seaside excursion to Skegness with a couple of girlfriends.

Nugget: the simple poeticism of German Cinematographer Walter Lassally is really what makes this film, rather than the acting performances.

Method to madness

The thinking behind the font - Courier New - was to make it look like a typewriter. Old (typewriter style), new (template design and techonology: t'internet), borrowed (from Blogger) and blue (colour scheme, based on the NavBar). All I need now is a wedding.

New look

Regular readers of the site will notice that there have been a number of visual tweaks in the past few days. I'd be interested to know your thoughts on them. I got tired of the dots, partly because it's one of the default templates; in fact, the very first one on the list. Now, at least, I have a unique design.

Tuesday 8 February 2005

When We Were Kings (1996) - ickleReview (DVD)

Documentary about The Rumble in the Jungle: the 1974 world championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. Promoter Don King did a deal to get both fighters $5 million each from President Mobutu. The fight took place at 4am in the morning so that it could be show on American television. Ali taunted the bigger, stronger and younger Foreman with twelve right leads in the first round (an insult to a fellow professional). Foreman snapped and punched himself out within five rounds as Ali played the dope on the rope: absorbing Foreman's formidable thuggery like a sponge under water. Yet this film is not just about the boxing; it's about Ali the politician, the entertainer, the statesman and the black hero; and the soul train that played its way through Africa in a festival of black solidarity, with James Brown, B. B. King and others on board.

A superb DVD with the whole fight added on as an extra as it appeared on the television broadcast, as well as the infamous later fight, The Thriller in Manila, in which Ali is pummelled by Joe Frazier, before he finally overcomes.

Nugget: Ali truly is one of those legends whom you can't properly comprehend until you see him in press conferences, shining with pride; and then backing up the pomp with his panther gliding gleam in the ring. When he knocks Foreman out, the big man unwinds like a gyroscope just before it hits the ground: a moment of beauty and terror at the destructive power of man.

Saturday 5 February 2005

Homophobia in Hollywood

Oliver Stone's movie Alexander is about the Dark Ages...the dark ages of George W. Bush's second term of presidential office, in which he still hopes to ban gay marriage by a constitutional amendment. And then some people wonder why it didn't exactly take off in the US box office. America: what a great country: Land of the Free...unless you're gay. Tom Paulin is reluctant to go there for academic visits any more because he says it's a fascist country. It's not fair to brand everyone with that insignia, given that there are a couple i.e. 260-270 million citizens; but he has a point. Nazi Germany was fascist, although I'm sure not everyone there endorsed the Final Solution.

Wednesday 2 February 2005

Harold and Maude (1971) - ickleReview (DVD)

Harold (Bud Cort) is very young: sometimes he looks about 12; at other times, maybe 18. He keeps pretending to commit suicide in front of his rich mother. She tries to set him up with computer dates in the hope that he will get married. Trips to his psychiatrist and his war veteran one-armed uncle fail to change him. He drives a hearse and goes to funerals for fun. There he meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), an eccentric young woman of 79 who steals cars at will and lives life to the full, without any sentimentality. They spend a lot of time together. Maude teaches Harold how to love - not only himself - but life and other people.

A great little protest movie: life-affirming, wacky, and yet with a strong but subtle political message. It's anti-war and anti-authoritarian. Maude says to a cop who stops her for speeding, "Don't get officious. You're not yourself when you're officious - that is the curse of a government job." It's anti-authoritarian in the sense that you do not have to supplicate yourself to the tyranny of convention. As the lyrics of the Cat Stevens song that accompanies the movie go: "If you want to be free, be free...If you want to be you, be you."

Nugget: you find out just why Maude lives with such zeal when they sit together between the harbour and the freeway at sunset, just before Maude talks about how glorious the sea gulls are. It's not broadsided at all, but that's what makes it all the more charming.

Tuesday 1 February 2005