Friday 29 April 2005

Super Size Me (2004) - ickleReview (TV)

McUpdate: just watched this again on TV. It's better than I remembered: McSpurlock makes some hilarious ironic comments, subtle jibes and jiggles. The hypochondria towards the end is perhaps a little exaggerated to make it a more interesting, tense movie, but I'll forgive him for that.

McNugget: kinda felt hungry watching it, but also felt like I should go outside and do some exercize.

Thursday 28 April 2005

The United Nations Building

The UN, New York: where most of The Interpreter takes place. Posted by Hello

The Interpreter (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

Political thriller starring Nicole Kidman as an interpreter at the UN in New York, who thinks she overhears a plot to assassinate the president of Matobo, a fictional African republic (perhaps a thinly veiled poke at Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe). Sean Penn is the secret services agent assigned to foreign dignitories' protection and to investigate Kidman. This is truly in post-9/11 mode with frenzied security measures, some of which are bafflingly subverted at the end of the movie: a sniper rifle is concealed in a toilet near the UN General Assembly; one of the safe rooms designed for emergencies turns out not to be very secure at all; and the threatened president is allowed to carry his own pistol on him when making his address to the General Assembly.

Two thirds of this film is smart and fast-moving, refusing to be pedagogic in its plotting. I give it credit for this because I often criticize American movies for insulting the intelligence of their audiences by explaining everything as if to a retarded child. However, it's not always clear what's going on - but maybe that's a good representation of what our climate of fear can do to us. There is a bus-bombing sequence, which is remarkably plausible and - as one of the newscasters says in the movie - is more reminiscent of the Middle East than Brooklyn.

The relationship between Kidman and Penn is rather stunted (perhaps a plot-line that was thinned out in the editing). At one point, it looks as if they are about to kiss in what would have been a ridiculous miscalculation of mood. Wisely, Director Sydney Pollack saves us from this barf-fest. Yet another question must be raised over heavy product placement: Nikon, Dell, Apple and Pepsi - but perhaps this is more indicative of my own brand-awareness and the saturation of the American capitalist landscape, than Spielbergesque selling out.

Nugget: perhaps worth a second viewing a few months or years down the line to see whether the plot really does stitch together. Nevertheless, this time round, expect a lingering sense of dissatisfaction to follow you home from the theatre.

Thursday 21 April 2005

Also from Private Eye... Posted by Hello

Lines On The Marriage Of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles

by the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion

I took your news
Into my garden space
(Which is basically a garden
But sounds more poetic)
To think what I could
Say in a poem.

Because that is my job.
I have to write poems on
These occasions.

So, as I said,
I took your news
Into my garden space.

The flowers are blossoming
Like your romance.
There are new shoots
Growing below
The dirty laundry line
Of scandal.

That's a metaphor, you see -
Green shoots are like
Blossoming flowers.
They signify a new

A new beginning. Yes.
That's what the poem needs.
And probably a new end.

But, apart from that, I
Think it's quite good.

© Andrew GoingThroughTheMotions
(from Private Eye)

5x2 (aka Cinq Fois Deux aka Five Times Two) (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Francois Ozon directs a film...backwards. I've always thought there was a certain logic to telling a story the wrong way round - perhaps a response to Lyotard's suggestion that there is no grand narrative in postmodernity. Memento does it for shocks and a headfuck; 5x2 is more subtle and poignant. The first time we see Marion and Gilles (the commendable Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Stephane Freiss) is in the lawyer's office at their divorce; then they go back to a cheap hotel room for a last, mid-afternoon fuck, which turns nasty. The next time we see them, they're preparing to have guests over for dinner: Gilles's gay brother and his new boyfriend, who provoke a daring debate about fidelity in relationships. (There are no Hollywood signposts to say "Hey guys, looky here: this was SIX MONTHS EARLIER." Ozon trusts his audience's intelligence.) Then we see the troubled birth of their son, who had been four years old at the time of the dinner party. Then the marriage, and finallly, their surprise meeting on holiday. They had worked together without really knowing each other and chose the same package retreat in Italy by chance; Gilles with his girlfriend, Marion alone after her friend had let her down shortly before their planned trip to Senegal.

In a similar way to Closer, we see their relationship in five moments of crisis (hence the 5 of the title): the rough edges which lead to the divorce come out of the woodwork as their story is put backwards through the mill. In the final fuck scene, Gilles forces her to have sex when she was refuses (he rapes her); the dinner party reveals that Gilles's attitude towards marital fidelity is at odds with Marion's, and he embarrasses her about it in public; at the wedding there is the suggestion that Marion commits the first act of betrayal with an American stranger (Gilles had been too pissed and tired to consummate their wedding bed - had she gone out looking for it?); then when they meet on holiday, their flirtation together is an act of infidelity in itself, even though Gilles was clearly near the end of a four-year relationship with his present girlfriend.

Ozon's view of human nature in this film is tinged with melancholic pessimism. The men seem like monsters: forcing women to have sex without consent; failing to turn up at births; tolerating infidelity; and yet the women, despite seeming the victims, are also not without blame: Marion's mother is an old witch who nags her husband and evidently irritates him; Gilles's girlfriend (from the beginning of the narrative/the end of the film) is cold and spiteful; Marion ventures out on her wedding night, still dressed in her fancy underwear underneath jeans, seemingly out for an adventure of sorts, although she tries hard at first to block the American stranger's advances; we do not know how far they go together, although she seems to be giving in to his forcefulness.

The final shot, with Marion and Gilles wading off into the sea, towards the familiar sunset, is embittered with irony: we already know that it all ends unhappily: by inverting the film's syntax, Ozon destroys that mythical happy ending which movies so often feed us.

One wonders, also, in which order it was shot. At the divorce, Gilles has a beard; then at the dinner party, he looks younger with shorter stubble; at the birth and the wedding he looks younger still, clean-shaven; on holiday, he has a tan: perhaps that means it was shot in the order 2,3,4,5,1 (2 being the wedding, 5 the divorce and 1 the holiday). Cut together in the right order, it would be nothing special - perhaps a TV drama; shown in reverse, one finds magic lurking in the darkness.

Nugget: perhaps not the masterpiece I was expecting, but certainly a slow-burner that will be worth watching again. (French with English subtitles.)

Monday 18 April 2005

Examining the OED

I've been working on a website for a research project scrutizing the Oxford English Dictionary. The project is led by my former tutor at Hertford College, Dr Charlotte Brewer, who made her name by discovering the Z-text of Piers Plowman in the Bodleian Library. The website is now up and running here.

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2003) - ickleReview (cinema)

Henry Rollins, member of Black Flag and now a stand-up comedian and leader of the Rollins Band, often talks about the Ramones during his gigs. He has this story he tells of when he went to see the Ramones when he was a kid in Virginia or someplace, how raw and intense the experience was. How Joey Ramone came on stage, said, "We're the Ramones. 1, 2, 3, 4," and they were straight into the first song. How they pounded the heck out of you and played song after song after song with hardly a breath in between, leaving you exhausted by the end of the set. Awesome. Hardcore. Intense. Favourite words of Rollins.

This rockumentary never really captures what the Ramones are like live (there is very little decent live footage and often the studio recordings have to be dubbed over the top because the acoustics were so bad), but it does show you who the Ramones were. I only went because Rollins was so enthusiastic about them. I've never knowingly listened to any of their albums. They have very much a cult following, especially from other bands, who often say the Ramones were the reason they wanted to be in a band.

The first part of the film is a little confusing as there are a lot of old rockers' talking heads, often introduced by name only once. It traces the band's roots back to Queens, New York, where they used to hang out together - a bunch of freaks who didn't really fit in and didn't have a great time at school. How they formed a band and started to play gigs at a club called CBGB's, where Television and Blondie used to play. This was at a time when New York was being drained by the "white flight". One thinks of the smackhead era depicted in The Panic in Needle Park: the Bowery was a shithole. The Ramones, I guess, are partly the reason why now it's such a trendy, young place to hangout, where the indie scene is huge and why bands like the Strokes have made it big in this generation.

Slowly, watching the film, you learn that Johnny Ramone was the leader who used to take charge and boss people around. He insisted they wear their "uniforms": jeans and black leather jackets. He got pissed off when Dee Dee hung out with Connie, a crackwhore, and got into fights with her. He would bully Joey, who was an obsessive compulsive and would delay them with all his rituals and superstitions when they were on the road. He would probably be the reason why drummer Tommy eventually left the band when he got so exhausted by the touring schedule.

Later, we find out that Johnny stole Joey's girlfriend and married her - a grudge which they kept for over 18 years - but strangely, they never left the band (perhaps because they had nowhere else to go, nothing else to do), whereas Tommy and Dee Dee did.

Johnny is actually really funny with his pessimistic, conservative arrogance and his refusal to be civil to anyone. Dee Dee is quite charming as the dumbfuck smackhead. You can see why Johnny would never let him do interviews. Joey eventually came out of his shell when all the attention he was getting as the lead singer went to his head and made him speak out, made him want to influence where the band was going.

Directors Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia do a great job of piecing together all the material into a chronological narrative, up to the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, and the deaths of Joey from cancer in 2001 and Dee Dee from an overdose in 2002. You really get the sense of how much they influenced the British punk rock scene, selling many more albums in the UK than they ever managed in the US, where they were never accepted by the mainstream music industry and never allowed radio airtime, for fear they would puke up everywhere and cause havoc. But then, bands like this are never in spirit going to be part of the mainstream; their whole appeal is that they were different from everything else out there at the time, 1974, when 7-minute solos where the prog-rock standard; the Ramones, who were never good musicians, showed that anyone, even the talentless, could do it (their legacy is that many of those others did: that's why we have the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Strokes and, my current personal favourite, Mando Diao).

Nugget: the best moments are about Dee Dee and Johnny, especially Dee Dee's hilarious attempt at becoming a hip-hop star, which you just gotta see. It's all quite conventional in how it's put together, but it's entertaining and informative viewing nevertheless.

Friday 15 April 2005

Donnie Brasco (1997) - ickleReview (TV)

Johnny Depp plays an undercover FBI agent, who infiltrates the New York mafia by being taken under the wing of "Lefty" (Maestro, Al Pacino), a wiseguy who can't get ahead. Something akin to Stockholm syndrome whacks him, as he is rather taken to the life of a gangster. Under the codename "Donnie Brasco", Depp builds a real father-son bond with with Pacino, whose own son is a smack-head. A few other standard Hollywood schmuck writer moments are oiltankered in there, with Depp's wife struggling to cope with the anonymity and the fact that her hubby don't come home anymore. He even misses his daughter's confirmation. Lady: forgedaboudid! There's an interesting build-up of tension and mild confusion as somebody smells a rat when a new scheme to set up an illegal gambling club in Miami is busted by the police on the first night. It ends on what could have been an intruiging note as Depp is evidently a Changed Man. Until, that is, the rather pro-establishment blurt about how many asses the Donnie Brasco case busted.

There's an admirable supporting cast, including Michael Madsen as Sonny Black, the bossman about Pacino who gets promoted; and Bruno Kirby trying to be Joe Pesci in a role which he would have turned his nose up at. Forgedaboudid! He would have said. None of them are really given much rope to play with.

Nugget: worth a look-in for Mohammad Al Pacino (when is it ever not?), but don't expect a GoodFellas or Godfather. At times it's like a rather ironic, self-aware black comedy: all these wiseguys called Paulie and Sonny This, Sonny That. Donnie can't wear a mustache or jeans because he don't look the part. Where did all these big collars and leather jackets come from? Don't they know they look like gangsters?

Wednesday 13 April 2005

The FA Cup versus Charles Clarke

One of them will be presented to the winning captain at the Millenium Stadium on 21 May; the other is hoping for re-election as the Labour government's Home Secretary - but can you tell which one is which? Posted by Hello

Tuesday 12 April 2005

Beaver scores against Chelsea!

Obi baumarkt beaver and Mehmet Scholl (Bayern Munich and Germany footballer) Posted by Hello

Wha be whaim?

Bruno Ganz and Adolf Hitler Posted by Hello

Downfall (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

The Swiss-born actor Bruno Ganz is phenomenal as Adolf Hitler in the last days of the Third Reich. Two strands are rigorously inter-woven: the factual story of the collapse of the German army and the subsequent fall of Berlin to the Soviets; and the human perspective of the same events from the point of view of Muenchner, Frau Traudl Junge (played by the doe-eyed Alexandra Maria Lara), one of Hitler's secretaries, who stayed with him in his bunker in Berlin till the very end. This German-made film is faultless. I can't think of anything that could have been done better. I know some of the events are interpolated from various accounts (that Hitler shot himself and his wife, Eva Braun, whom he married shortly before his death; that Goebbels - played here by the striking Ulrich Matthes - and his wife poisoned their children before shooting themselves; that Hitler asked that his remains be totally destroyed by incineration, as did Goebbels), but all of this seems plausible, even obvious, within the context of the movie.

Hitler's downfall is manic: his generals are baffled by his arrogant optimism, which unwinds into madness, like the forelock that refuses to remain in place above his forehead. He insists that his orders are followed, even though his generals tell him that his 9th and 12th armies have been effectively wiped out. It's astonishing to see how some of his followers remain loyal to the ideals with which they have been indoctrinated; others see that the war is lost and seek to escape or surrender. A young nurse urges her Fuehrer to lead and she will follow, with the Red Army a few hundred metres away from their position.

A couple of things struck me: one forgets that although the war officially ended at midnight between 7 and 8 May 1945, the clean-up operation must have gone on for years. (Think how long the war in Iraq has gone on since the end of "official combat operations" on 1 May 2003.) It's also refreshing that Hitler and his generals are portrayed as human beings, rather than monsters. Ganz has developed a demented tick in Hitler's left hand, which he holds behind him out of view when meeting his officers. And yet there are moments of tenderness, particularly between him and his women, of whom Frau Junge was a favourite. There are also surprising moments of humour: such as when Eva Braun says that she hates Hitler's dog, Blondi, and kicks it occasionally when he's not there; and that Hitler is a teetotal vegetarian.

Nugget: a truly remarkable film: gruesome, touching, and yet still bewildering as to the Nazis' motives and their loyalty to the cause. Frau Goebbels murders her children because, she says, a future without National Socialism is not worth living. Ganz will be forever etched into my visualization of Hitler after this portrayal. It's up there with the greatest war movies of all time: Das Boot, Paths of Glory, Platoon, and Band of Brothers. (German with English subtitles.)

Monday 11 April 2005

Hannah-Barbera at the Masters

Chris DiMarco and Booboo bear Posted by Hello

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) - ickleReview (DVD)

Two young men from Buenos Aires, a 23-year-old medical student and a 29-year-old bio-chemist, decide to travel through South America on a clapped out motorcycle, which they call "The Mighty One". They move through the plains and mountains of Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia, taking in a leprosy clinic on the Amazon. On the way, they witness Poverty and Injustice and face Challenges, such as, "Do I spend this US$15 on a swimsuit as my girlfriend asked me to, or do I use it to fix this shitty bike?" It rather spoils it, I think, if you know who one of these young men turns out to be, so I won't tell you. You're more than likely to find out anyway, if you don't know already. The problem is that if you do know who he is, the things they see on their journey seem a bit corny, a bit too much like the highlights of their travelogues: these are Experiences, stepping-stones that lead towards who these men will become.

The best parts of this admittedly enjoyable movie are the banter and humour between "Fuser" and Granado, and the South American landscapes, which are often shot to look like a thing of beauty. In particular, the ferry across the mountain lake in Chile, and the lost city of Manchu Pichu in Peru. Fuser's character is surprisingly lacking in charisma, yet his psychological change is subtle, almost imperceptible. Even though there's a regular update in the bottom-right corner of the frame of how far they have travelled, one does not get the same sense of the epic distance of their journey as one does, for example, in Touching the Void - the 10,000-20,000km is not made out to be such a feat; and it's almost as if, like gap year students, they left their families knowing that when they came back, Things Would Never Be The Same Again.

Nugget: it's in Spanish with subtitles and it's interesting to see the effect of Spanish colonialization, as so much of this vast continent speaks the same language and in dialects which are mutually comprehensible. In Britain, subtitles were thought to be necessary for the screening of Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen (set in Greenock on the west coast of Scotland) when the BBC screened it in English regions.

Saturday 9 April 2005


On the front page of the Independent on Wednesday (the day after the general election date of 05.05.05 was announced), there was a photo of the leaders of the three main parties, and below each, a soundbite on the "big choice". Here's what Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democracts was quoted as saying:

"I think British politics is at a potentially pivotal turning point and I think the Liberal Democrats are absolutely central to that equation."

Now read that again. It sounded alright first time round didn't it?

Pivotal turning point: show me a turning point that isn't pivotal.

And if the Lib Dems are to be absolutely central to that equation, doesn't that mean in equilibrium: that there won't be any change? After all, what else is central to an equation (e.g. x=3) but an equals sign?

Much as I love Kennedy and what he stands for, that was a pretty tautological, mixed metaphorical piece of pish to come out with as your opening campaign message. He wouldn't look out of place in a booky of Bushisms.

Or is it the Independent's fault for selecting such a shitey quotation?

Sunday 3 April 2005

The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Drama starring Sean Penn as Samuel Bicke, a flailing, failing office furniture salesman, separated from his wife and kids, bullied by his boss and disowned by his family. Reminiscent of Michael Douglas in Falling Down, Penn's demise is a little more subtle; his chosen target of retribution a lot more ambitious. The credits claim that this "dramatisation" is based on real events, on a failed plane hijack in 1974. The viewing is good; but scrutinized objectively (as I keep reiterating in movie after movie) a little over-familiar and Hollywoodized: the plot development and structure tread a path that is well worn and long in need of repair.

What is impressive in this period piece is its displacement of contemporary themes in what now constitutes a historical context. The suburban breakdown is still being manifested by gunmen's suicidal rampages in Littleton, Atlanta, and, most recently, Minnesota - sometimes by kids, sometimes by once respectable, middle-class suburbanite office-workers. Bicke's plan to fly a plane into the Whitehouse is painfully relevant to 9/11; his madness disturbingly plausible; his worry-bead chain of bad luck stories immediately recognizable.

The title at first seems misleading; but Nixon is a contant, menacing presence in the film. Bicke's boss, Jack Jones (Jack Thompson) marvels at Nixon as a master salesman: he sold the American people a lie in 1968 when he stood on the presidential ticket of ending the war in Vietnam. Of course, he then sent thousands more US troops to their deaths. Then in 1972 he stood on the same promise and won again. Nixon figures in the background on television, making speeches and denials, false sales-pitches and truth-pledges; just as Jack Jones and his furniture salesmen, and Bicke's brother, the tyre dealer, lie about the great offers they are spinning for their customers. Nixon becomes the target for Bicke's resentment and anger: towards his boss, his cold-shouldered wife (Naomi Watts), his failure to obtain a small business loan, and the racist treament which he believes his friend and former colleague, the mechanic Bonny Simmons (Don Cheadle), suffers without fighting back. These afflictions are more passively tolerated by Richard Ford's iconic narrator, Frank Bascombe, in his novels The Sportswriter (1986) and Independence Day (1995), set almost a generation later.

The flashback structure is an old trick: we see Penn preparing for the assassination attempt; then we see him recording the confession tapes a few weeks earlier, addressed bizarrely to Leonard Bernstein; then we see him a year before, at the beginning of his new job as an office furniture salesman. It falls down because it accelerates too fast during his breakdown: we don't see how his placid acceptance of his shitty life suddenly turns violent and vengeful.

Nugget: Penn's performance is impressive, even if fledgling Director Niels Mueller does allow him to indulge in a few Miramax Oscar moments of rage and despair (a la Mystic River). He even manages not to shut his raincoat in the boot of the car (twice), when it seems as if he had.

Saturday 2 April 2005

Waking Life (2001) - ickleReview (DVD)

Headfuck of a Richard Linklater movie, animated over the top of video footage. A guy (Wiley Wiggins from Dazed and Confused) wanders around his suburban town, as university professors, blond girls, boatmen and anarchists talk to him about existentialism, love, words as symbol, dreaming and evolution (and a whole load of other stuff). As in Slacker (another Linklater movie), most of the characters appear only once. It's really quite intellectual and mind-blowing in parts; I've benefitted from seeing it three or four times and so find it easier to follow what they're saying. Other viewers have complained that they're distracted by the visuals, which can be a bit trippy and unsettling, but you get used to them. This remains one of my favourite films, as every time I go back to it, I'm stimulated and usually discover something new. I have experienced it dragging towards the end, once I've figured out what it's all about.

Nugget: I love that Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke do a scene together, as their characters from Before Sunrise (this being in the days prior to Before Sunset). They return to their conversations about feeling like an old woman looking back on your life as a young girl and reincarnation.

Friday 1 April 2005

Mirror image

Russell Crowe and David Morse Posted by Hello

Contact (1997) - ickleReview (TV)

Schmaltzy sci-fi drama starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey, which shows promise in the first half, but spirals out of control into a rather shitey puddle of mud. It has the same stink as Robert Zemeckis's other blockbuster, Cast Away (2000, with Tom Hanks). I dread to see what he'll do to Beowulf: in pre-production at the time of writing, but expected for release in 2007. Saying that, I wasn't intending to watch this movie, but it dragged me into its vortex (or wormhole, as Foster would claim).

Foster plays Ellie Arroway, who as a kid discovered the wonder of long-distance contact playing around with her shortwave radio, under the guidance of Super Dad (David Morse, who looks a bit like Russell Crowe - see the post above). The financial plug is pulled on her scatty research into music from the stars and she scraps around looking for moolah backers. Just as she's taking a flakey, an anonymous donor (John Hurt) agrees to support her, setting up the proposterous turn half-way through the movie, from where it's all downhill. Uncannily, just as the green-papered juice is about to be drained again, Ellie and her team of researchers discover a signal transmitting a beacon of prime numbers and a video of Adolf Hitler, which reveals plans to build a Big Machine that will send a human to make contact with whoever sent the signal. (There were no wee green men, but they did have two legs and walk like an Egyptian.)

The pace is slick (McConaughey beds her on their second encounter), but the debate between science and faith is rather staid. Someone should have pointed out that scientists may seek the truth, but just like faith, their practice is based wholly on intangible precepts, which are taken as givens. By the end, the script is swimming, almost drowning, in its own schmaltz. And that wormhole portal sequence is such a rip-off from the Stargate shebang of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie's arc is so Hollywoodized it's Hollowood. You could plug almost any story into these basic plot dynamics.

Nugget: yawned, laughed, but stayed to watch it, even though one could and should have been reading.