Wednesday 22 February 2006

March of the Penguins (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

Enchanting National Geographic feature-length documentary about the breeding cycle of empire penguins in the Antarctic. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the tendency is to anthropomorphize the penguins' behaviour, imbuing them with emotions of loneliness, love and grief. They are a remarkably resilient species. Director Luc Jacquet shapes the footage into an epic narrative, but leaves plenty of breathing space to let the pictures make their own impression. It is a compelling story and some of the photography is stunningly beautiful and poignant - from the close-up intimacy of the male and female when they have found their annual mate (it's a distortion to call it "monogamy", even though they have only one partner each year), to the ethereal underwater feeding of the mothers, to the other-wordly time-lapse shot of the southern lights in the winter sky.

The last ten or twenty minutes of the film feel a bit rushed, once the chicks are old enough to take care of themselves, but this acceleration is a necessity to keep the running time under 90 minutes to make it family-friendly viewing.

The penguins do look funny, like little butlers in morning jackets, but that is partly because we've seen them so often in comic advertisements with human voice-overs. It has all the polish one would expect of the world's favourite doctor's and dentist's waiting-room magazine, but, on the whole, it avoids being twee.

Nugget: a beautiful and endearing film which makes you smile with joy, especially for the first half hour.

Derailroaded (2005) - ickleReview (DVD screener for cinema)

Documentary about a crazy LA street performer who once recorded an album with Frank Zappa in the 60s.

Nugget: painfully raw but catchy music.

Please go to FilmExposed for the full review.

[Update: Friday 17 June 2011: looks like FilmExposed is no more, so that link is broken.]

Tuesday 21 February 2006


The Pythagorean Theorem employed 24 words; the Lord's Prayer has 66 words; Archimedes' Principle has 67 words; the Ten Commandments have 179 words; the Gettysburg Address had 286 words; the US Declaration of Independence had 1,300 words; and finally the European Commission's regulation on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words.

Source: Hertford College MCR Bulletin, 6th Week, Hilary term 2006.

Tuesday 14 February 2006

Moving stillness

Literature lives in the silences between sense, as music exists in the stillness between notes.


"Inverted commas": the poor man's underline.

Underline: the poor man's italics.

Punctuation is the body language of a sentence.

Friday 10 February 2006

Hidden (aka Cache) (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

French film directed by Michael Haneke. Tricky to write about because I don't want to give too much away. A married couple begin to receive video tapes from a hidden camera filming the outside of their house. The husband, Georges (Daniel Auteuil), presents a book discussion programme on TV; the wife, Anne (Juliette Binoche), works for a publisher. They have a twelve-year-old son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). The videos are wrapped in child-like drawings of a head or a chicken bleeding from the neck. They don't know who is sending the tapes - is it one of Georges's fanclub? Is it a schoolboy prank? Is it someone from Georges's past?

The film starts unusually with the credits appearing gradually in small print as if typed up, and remaining onscreen until their end. In the background is a stationary shot of the exterior of a townhouse in close streets. It becomes apparent that we are watching one of these surveillance tapes. There are a number of other slow-developing shots like this throughout the film, which at first appear like establishing shots or continuity editing (a man's-eye-view behind the wheel of a driving car; an exterior shot of the house from another angle). They are allowed to run, however, leaving the viewer plenty of time to think about and explore the full canvas of the mis-en-scene.

There is an unsettling, voyeuristic feel to the whole thing (as in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960)). We see a scene from one angle, then we see it again - shot from the same take, from an apparently hidden camera. We sympathize with the protagonists and share in their confusion, but begin to doubt their moral impunity, when we learn more about their past lives and see them react to their stressful situation. They are a very affluent couple, but their lives are hectic, we learn; they rarely see each other because they work so hard.

The film's title refers to these hidden cameras (there is a remarkbly shot scene in a lift with internal mirrors, where, with great skill, the camera remains hidden, unreflected in the mirror), but also to these dirty secrets we have in our pasts and try to forget because they provoke painful memories. It also invokes the hidden meaning of the film, which is never fully revealed. It plays with the conventions of the thriller genre, making the viewer play along complicitly, trying to complete the gnomon of meaning; but, as in Memento, we aren't given enough information to be sure what's going on, to know if we can trust our (or the characters') hunches.

A delightfully morally ambiguous film, which, in refreshing, if unnerving style, allows no sense of closure. We are not privvy to all that the characters say or think - we are kept at a distance - in long shot - of what is going on, hidden inside. Also a stark indictment of the countless hidden truths (or lies) we tell one another every day. I'd like to see this film again to note down each time a lie is told. I'm sure there's close to one in every scene. Makes one wary, in a healthy way, of the syntax of cinema that we so often take for granted.

Nugget: Not so much a whodunnit as a whoisdoingit.

Wednesday 8 February 2006

Film titles ending in full stops

Blood Simple.
Good Night, and Good Luck.

Don't really counts:
A.I. (abbreviation)
Monster's, Inc. (abbreviation)
Mulholland Dr. (abbreviation)

I'll add to this list as and when new suggestions are made. If you have any ideas, please leave a comment. The idea for this list came from my review of Good Night, and Good Luck.

Sunday 5 February 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

Very slick noir flick about the CBS covereage of the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s. Directed by George Clooney with old production colleagues from Ocean's Eleven, the look and feel is sumptuous. Cinematographer Robert Elswit's black and white film stock sets the tone with beautiful lighting, elegant shot set-up, and subtle side-tracking dollies, turning an office environment into visual splendour. Archive footage is skillfully and seamlessly blended in - usually over studio television monitors - much more discreetly than Oliver Stone's JFK.

The film's focus is very narrow, following the brave journalistic decisions of Edward R. Murrow (the majestic David Strathairn) and his editorial team on CBS's flagship current affairs programme, See It Now. There is no attempt to show the wider significance of McCarthy's Communist witch-hunt, or to explain the background to McCarthy's own views. It is a one-sided portrayal, but one that is tremendously compelling - still painfully relevant today. From the eastern side of the Atlantic, it still appears that the American news media do not have the freedom to speak truth to power, so reliant are they on commercial sponsors who have big interests to protect. One wonders, for a nation that prides itself on its constitutional rights of liberty, that a single ideology (even if it was that of "the enemy" at the time of the Cold War) can be so persecuted. In McCarthy's 50s, being Commie was like being a suicide-bomber paedophile. Murrow and his production team, led by Fred Friendly (George Clooney), know they are taking risks in their controversial programmes that aim to reveal the ludicrous frenzy and illogical methodology of McCarthy's senatorial hearings, routing out all the Reds from the Establishment. The journalists are portrayed as having great integrity: they are doing it more in the spirit of liberty and free speech than for their own personal gain; in fact, they know they are jeopardizing their careers. Even if they are factually correct, their temerity to fight the industrial capitalist hegemony will not be allowed to go unheeded and unpunished. (You can see why McCarthy might accuse anyone who spoke out against him of being Communists themselves: essentially, they opposed his conservative capitalist word-view.)

The film has moments of great humour: the occasional one-liner, archaic habit or mannerism, or the blatant advertisements for Kent cigarettes, which quote their own market research back at the "above-average intelligence" of the audience. (It evidently worked because most of the characters chainsmoke as if they're in a Dirk Bogarde movie.)

Around one-third of the movie is without dialogue - either with appropriate jazz soundtrack ("I've got my eyes on you") or with emphases on the actors' body language, which conveys just as much meaning to an attentive audience as a juggernautical dumbfuck's verbal explanation (maybe they didn't run the usual Hollywood test-screening surveys). This movie respects the intelligence of its audience and is all the more respectable for it.

Nugget: impressive piece of cinema all round. Can't really fault it. It chooses a narrow focus (not one allusion to the Hollywood witch-hunt that victimized directors such as High Noon's Fred Zinnemann) and delivers all that it promises, without over-reaching. I assume all this is based on a true story, real events and characters, although I was glad not to be told so and didn't stay to the end of the credits to see what disclaimer there would be.

The title derives from Murrow's summing-up catchphrase, which brings up this movie trivia: does anyone know any other film titles that end with a full stop?

Saturday 4 February 2006


View from the Martello Tower, towards the Forty Foot bathing club at Sandycove, near Dublin Posted by Picasa

The Forty Foot

The Forty Foot bathing club (togs must be worn) at Sandycove, south of Dublin Posted by Picasa