Sunday 27 March 2005

Traffic (2000) - ickleReview (TV)

Steven Soderbergh drugs-war drama. Three stories interweave: Benicio Del Toro plays a Mexican narcotics cop, wise against the corruption but unable to do much to stop it. Soderbergh bleaches the colour with yellow filters, exaggerating Mexico's arrid chaos. The blue filter sanitizes the story of a high-powered judge played by Michael Douglas who gets promoted to Washington as the national drugs tzar, but cannot keep his own private school daughter (Erika Christensen) clean. The third thread centres on Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is the wife of a well-respected businessman who traffics drugs throughout California. Two cartels are battling for supremacy and it all gets rather messy. The characters cross paths rather like Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses, brushing shoulders, almost, but unknowingly tangled in the same web. Full of movie-makers' coincidence, but a slick way to interlink the stories, such as the pan across the US-Mexico border from a car in which Del Toro is being hidden in the boot and taken back home; to Zeta-Jones heading back the other way in her white dirty money people-carrier, having done some dodgy business in Mexico.

The best characters are played by Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman, two undercover narcotics agents who snoop on Zeta-Jones from a surveillance van after her hubby is arrested by the DEA. They have the wittiest banter and lighten what would otherwise be a pretty heavy film:

Cheadle: "I lost my virginity when I was 16 on a beach just like that."
Guzman: "Cool, man. He treat you good?"

Maybe it's just my naivity, but the behaviour of the drug tzar's daughter and her rich-kid buddies seems melodramatic to me. Their scenes feel like they've been written by someone who only imagines what these crazy kids get up to. They don't have the gritty realism of Larry Clark's Kids (1995), for example. They're really annoying. It's all a bit too much: "Ooh, look what these drugs are doing to our children! Look how their parents neglect them." All very post-Columbine.

Nugget: as can happen with these critically acclaimed movies, on a second viewing they sometimes don't live up to your memory of them.

Saturday 26 March 2005

9 Songs (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Live rock music and fucking. Director Michael Winterbottom's next film, in post-production at the time of writing, is called A Cock and Bull Story and looks like it's based on Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy but perhaps should have been the title of this film. Larkin writes in "This Be The Verse": "They fuck you up, your mum and dad." Boy meets girl at Black Rebel Motorcycle Club gig at the Brixton Academy. Boy fucks girl. Repeat. She goes back to America. He makes a rather sick-making comparison to Antarctica. Film ends after 69 minutes. ::Arf. Arf.::

You may have heard about this film before. Yes, that was a clever marketing ploy, wasn't it? Cinema history and all that. I bought it. In a way, yes, it's worth it, but they could have done a better job of the in-between bits, like, you know, making it not boring. The gig scenes do look like you're part of the audience, but at one stage, you just wonder why they won't focus the camera lens or spend a bit of time re-engineering the sound. Maybe I'm just spoilt after the treat of Festival Express and now expect too much.

I recognize the dude, Kieran O'Brien (from the waist up ::ahem::), but even with the help of IMDb, can't quite figure out from where. Methinks Stella Artois adverts, or something Scottish. Any boffins? And she (Margot Stilley), rings a few bells. End the sentence there for the subliminal.

Makes a good companion piece to Closer (which shows relationships in crisis); whereas this walks in on two actors in the throes of passion and hangs around rather, pairing its fingernails. The dialogue is minimal and consquently a bit implausible, but only in the sense that it doesn't feel right in a movie; perhaps it is ultra-realistic like the rest of the film. It's good to see he wears condoms, which is more than you can say for most screen sex scenes. One wonders if she ever faked it.

Nugget: maybe one not to watch with your parents.

Juicy tit-bit: there's a 33% chance I was in Brixton on the night the Franz Ferdinand scenes were shot. I was at the Ritzy watching The Last of the First one Thursday night in late October during the 2004 London Film Festival. On the tube I remember noticing three indie kids wearing brand new Franz Ferdinand tees and wondering if they'd just come from a gig. A quick check confirmed that the band played consecutive nights at the Brixton Academy on 28-30 October.

House of Flying Daggers (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Chinese martial arts film in the same ballpark as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. What sets it apart is its opaque beauty and senseless sensuous lapses into set-pieces. The story plays tricks on you and twists like a dying shark towards the end, which can seem comic if you're in the wrong audience. (I was in amongst a class of German teenagers on a school trip to Oxford, so when they giggled at the Chinese language at the beginning, the signs were not good.)

While Hero was about the forging of an empire from disparate parts, House of Flying Daggers is about a regime in decline: the government is decadently corrupt. The "Flying Daggers" are the resistance movement who are being hunted down by the government's police officers.

There's something playfully postmodern about the elaborate feats of skill, such as the "Echo" game, in which a blind showgirl, Mei (Zhang Ziyi), dances in time to the beat of a pebble off an amphitheatre of drums, beating its rhythm in reply with her long sleeves; or the gang's trademark boomerang dagger throws, which find their targets like heat-seeking missiles.

There is a confusing love story between one of the police officers, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), and this blind girl, Mei, as he rescues her and goes undercover to infiltrate the "Flying Daggers". Confusing because the power is constantly shifting between the characters, but also between the film-makers (the Director is Yimou Zhang, whose last film was Hero) and their audience, who are not always clear about what they are seeing.

The ending is slightly disappointing, somewhat melodramatic and a little like the dynamic of a WWE wrestling world championship match or the climax of a Wes Craven movie.

Nugget: I'm sure I would have enjoyed this more if I'd been part of a more interested and respectful audience.

Monday 21 March 2005

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) - ickleReview (video)

Woody Allen melodrama, with, of course, a sprinkling of comedy. A philanthropic optician (opthamologist; Martin Landau) has an affair with a neurotic (Anjelica Huston), who, after two years of deceit, wants to confront his wife (Claire Bloom). Meanwhile, a failing documentary filmmaker (Woody Allen) can't stand his successful TV producing brother-in-law (Alan Alda), who commissions him to make his biography, in which he spouts off his wise theories: that New York is a series of straight lines waiting for a punchline; or that "Comedy is tragedy plus time". The Woody Allen character of course falls in love with another TV producer (Mia Farrow), for whom he leaves his wife.

A well balanced script, with moments where Allen breaks the ice with his customary wisecracks: when Halley (Farrow) returns a love letter, saying it was the most beautiful thing she's read but that it just wasn't right, he retorts: "It's probably just as well. I plagiarized most of it from James Joyce. You probably wondered why all the references to Dublin." These moments of laughter are heightened by the serious story with which you can really get involved. It is from this vein that Allen's most recently released movie, Melinda and Melinda, has been drawn.

Nugget: the highlight? When Allen says, "Last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty."

Sunday 20 March 2005

Mayor of the Sunset Strip (2003) - ickleReview (cinema)

Rodney Bingenheimer is the American John Peel: he has his own radio show on KROQ, which has broken some of the biggest acts in recent times: David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Coldplay, Nirvana, No Doubt (I could go on). He's small and weedy and walks kinda funny, like a kid who was beaten up a lot at school. His friends say he was. And yet the famous names of the music business seem to love him, to let him be their groupie. There's an avalanche of photos of Rodney with the stars, especially girls, in various states of undress. He loved these people, and they seemed to love him. How he differs from John Peel is that he doesn't seem to have had the support of a great family behind him. His mother abandoned him as a kid after she divorced; in his dad's home today, the photo of him as a kid with the Easter Bunny is pathetically hidden down the side of a dresser, away from all the other framed family photos. For all the girls he could have had, the love of his life, Camille, is somewhat frigid and unthankful for the devotion he shows to her. She kinda has a boyfriend at the moment, she tells the camera, as he sits on the bed next to her; you have to be ready and willing to have a relationship, ready for the fall.

This documentary is produced by Chris Carter (formerly of Dramarama, another band Rodney broke to the bigtime), one of Rodney's best friends; but who sells out on him by moving to another radio show at the rival station. Meanwhile, Rodney is shunned with the Sunday graveyard shift at KROQ from midnight till 3am, kinda like John Peel was treated by Radio 1. It's about a remarkable life on the Sunset Strip, of how Rodney built around himself a revolution, of which he was a leader, but never quite a part - or at least he didn't buy shares in it. He was only in it because he loved the music and the attention he never seemed to get from his family or those who should have cared about him. His only profit was the company and a hall of fame of fading photographic memories. It feels like you're prying into this guy's private life; and yet he's lived so much of it for the past 30 years in public: he has the pictures and souvenirs to prove it! It's also about how cold and hard a place Hollywood is, how it shits on you from above and below, how it preys on you like a vulture, characterized by Rodney's rival, Kim Fowley, the sort of man who gives LA its bad name, and for whom the word "creep" must have been invented.

Nugget: only once does Rodney crack, but it suggests that this loving living epitaph isn't quite as reliable as perhaps it should be. A life in pictures will always be two-dimensional unless you can understand the people behind the camera and their reasons for making it. This could just as well be a big industry hoax; but it's nice to believe that there are people like Rodney Bingenheimer out there who somehow slip through the net.

Somersault (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Heidi (Abbie Cornish) makes a cup of coffee for her mum's boyfriend. He says it's perfect. She asks to touch the tattoo on his chest. She kisses him. Her mum walks in on them. She runs away to the mountains (you'd never think Australia had ski resorts) and tries to forge a new life for herself by sleeping with a few guys. One of them, Joe (Sam Worthington), who works on a farm, is reticent and cold in a familiar, macho way; but Heidi somehow gets through to him, under the surface, which scares him. It's like walking through a cloud of perfume, he admits to a male friend: you can feel her on your skin after you've been with her. She's only sixteen.

Director Cate Shortland captures something off-the-wall, something thriving in its syncopation of life, something funny where perhaps it isn't meant to be and threatening when it's harmless. There is a recurring image of the snowflake, the virgin whiteness of a fallen dewdrop of moisture; and the spectre of a buried life in the submerged village under the surface of the man-made reservoir which is the water of life to this smalltown mountain community. Time is suspended: the week or so she is away from home feels like a lifetime and a day in a life all at once. The unusual becomes the normal. Heidi gives all of herself to those who don't want it. She learns what it's like to see more in a relationship than the other person, that there's a difference between physical intimacy and being loved.

Shortland and Cinematographer Robert Humphreys show both Heidi's girlish innocence, her eagerness to explore the junk room of other people's forgotten mementos, her lonely solo playground games; juxtaposed against the maturing womanhood of her body and her self-sufficiency.

Nugget: like an old standup piano, there sometimes strikes an off-key note; but in that honkey-tonk, there's some kind of charming tune.

Friday 18 March 2005

Public health warning

If you're the sensitive type, look away now:

Q: Why should you put a baby in a liquidizer feet first?
A: So that it can watch you masturbate.


I've realized in the last few days that I've had thoughts that are visual, but not about space. I can see a thought, but I can't express it in language, can't even take mental notes on it, not even fragments of words. I say "see" a thought, but I don't really mean that. My eyes are on screensaver mode. I can be cycling down the street on autopilot, eyes open, looking where I'm going; but the perceptive part of my brain is ignoring that input; instead it's looking inward. Sometimes it takes someone else's words to express your thought, or an approximation of it to which you can relate, before the thought is dyed (or died, killed) in language, almost as if it had been intangible before it was given a physical texture (pun intended) - and with the body comes its immortality. I'm not sure that these thoughts have a language. It feels more primitive than that, more gestural.

Sometimes, also, making yourself try to write your thoughts down, or speak them in a conversation can fill them out with the down of language, make you recognize (re-cognize) a thought you've had before and can now have again on demand. This is what some people experience with Muse portraits - both reading and writing them. The Muse portrait is not only a conversation with your readers, but a conversation with yourself and your own thoughts. They are a good way to introduce oneself to oneself - for some people for the first time.

I get this thing, I call it a headfuck, when I'm so far inside my own head that all I can do for a minute or so is realize over and over again, "Fuck, I'm alive. Fuck. This isn't a dream. This is real. I'm here. I'm thinking this thought." I've had an unusually high number of these recently. I wonder what causes them. It's a sort of dizzied tiredness, almost an enlightenment, an awakening, a reality check, as if Bob the Braincell is taking a look around with his torch in the attic of my noggin'.

Is there a non-verbal, non-visual equivalent word for vision or imagination, both of which are to do with sight, inner sight, inward sight. Can you have an internal eye, as you can have an inner ear?

Monday 14 March 2005

The pen may be mightier than the sword...

...but nothing is mightier than the pun.

Quibble till you wobble, wibble

Whilst not being acceptable for academic work (note that you should still denote book and film titles with italics in the Review section), the Guardian style guide is a useful reference to look up when you're in doubt. Remember, however, that I am always right, unless I decide to change my mind. (But I'd probably had that turncoat planned anyway, so don't bother pointing it out.) It even allows you to download it in Word or PDF format. Glad to see that "email" has no hyphen. I wonder why they think "okay" isn't OK. I started spelling it out when someone asked me why I was shouting at them in a text. Someone else might boggle why I keep making reference to the American state of Oklahoma (and someone involved in the bombing might take offence, or go on offense if they're into their college football). Make up your mind Sooners rather than later.

Thursday 10 March 2005

Rad Cam toilet jokes

Now that I've been offered a place on the English M.St. programme here in Oxford, I've got at least another year and a half of being able to read these jokes while I relieve myself on Bodley's finest:

Q: What's the difference between 27 dead babies and a Ferrari?
A: I haven't got a Ferrari in my garage.

Q: What's red and yellow and looks good on hippies?
A: Fire.

Sunday 6 March 2005

Festival Express (2003) - ickleReview (DVD)

Since seeing this film in the cinema, my opinions of it have only heightened. There are some great features on the DVD that fill in some of the background to the series of three concerts that took place in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary in the summer after Woodstock, such as how the main promoter guy, Ken Walker, didn't sleep for four days and was in a right state: his capillaries were so pronounced on his forehead that whenever he wiped it with his hand, blood would come off. Undoubtedly there is some myth-making going on here, but when the quality of the music from The Band, The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, amongst others, is so mind-blowing, they're entitled to a little biguppity. The festivals themselves were a financial disaster because the local kids protested against the ticket prices and demanded to get in for free. Now it must seem like it's been worth it for the great film that reflects upon and is energized by the great time the musicians were obviously having back in 1970.

I've watched this film three or four times over in less than a week and I've got a feeling I'll be coming back to some of the tracks again and again. For the documentary buffs there's a great insight into the making of this movie with stories about how the films were almost forgotten in a lawyer's garage for twenty-odd years before they were rediscovered and mixed superbly with the sound. You may have thought the sound engineering on Sony's James Taylor: Live at the Beacon Theatre was good; wait till you hear this stuff. Director Bob Smeaton, who made the superb mid-nineties Beatles Anthology mini-series for TV, weaves together a fascinating narrative about the five-day party train that was the Festival Express.

Nugget: wow! And again: wow!

Quick Change (1990) - ickleReview (TV)

Bill Murray dresses as a clown to pull off a New York City bank robbery with Geena Davis and Randy Quaid as accomplices. He has an ingenious way to get them all out of the bank unnoticed. The problem is then getting out of the city. A surprisingly enjoyable, harmless bit of fun with Murray carrying most of the weight. A little unsettling that the protagonists are really the bad guys...and they get away with it.

Nugget: New York is made to look like a hell-hole in this movie. There's none of the romance that's been instilled by directors like Woody Allen and Spike Lee.

Tuesday 1 March 2005